SHANNON, Ireland – Criticism of the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both overseas and from Democrats in the United States, makes fighting the war on terrorism more difficult, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) said Monday.
Returning to Washington after a four-day tour of the two countries, Rumsfeld also said he did not receive any new details on what has been found in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him that false reports in Arab news media and criticism from Democratic lawmakers in the United States complicate the terror fight.
"If you have Al-Jazeera day after day after day pounding the people of the region with things that are not true, that makes it difficult," Rumsfeld said.
Domestic criticism also hurts, Rumsfeld said.
"They studied instances where the United States was dealt a blow and tucked in," Rumsfeld said. "They persuaded themselves they could in fact cause us to acquiesce in whatever it is they wanted to do."
Rumsfeld said U.S. criticism could lead terrorist sympathizers to conclude the United States will give in. He said that idea could prompt more fund raising and recruiting for terrorist groups.
"But that doesn't mean there shouldn't be a debate," Rumsfeld said. "We can live with a healthy debate as long as it is as elevated as possible and as civil as possible."
Part of the reason for Rumsfeld's trip was to counter criticism of the U.S. war and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He visited American troops in both countries involved in humanitarian projects, and said those efforts were winning over local citizens.
Rumsfeld also met with local political leaders who praised U.S. efforts while pressing the defense secretary to bring more aid.
Rumsfeld and the military commanders he met with insisted no more U.S. troops are needed in either country. Sending more American soldiers would antagonize Iraqis and Afghans and provide more targets for terrorists, Rumsfeld said.
Some of the strongest criticism of the war in Iraq has focused on the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found. Before the war, President Bush said one main reason for attacking Iraq was that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons he could pass to terrorists.
Rumsfeld said Monday he is not keeping track of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He called the search an issue for the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
"It's an intelligence issue," Rumsfeld said. "I made a conscious decision that I don't need to stay current every 15 minutes in that area."
Rumsfeld met in Baghdad on Saturday with David Kay, the former U.N. weapons inspector leading the American weapons hunt. Rumsfeld said the two discussed logistics, not Kay's findings.
"I did not ask and did not hear" anything about weapons findings, Rumsfeld said.
"I did not go into a half-hour meeting saying 'OK, lay out what you found.' I'm assuming he'd tell me if he'd gotten something."