MUNICH, Germany—U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld defended the Iraq War on Saturday to some of its harshest critics.
Speaking to hundreds of European defense experts, politicians and officials, Rumsfeld declared that the war had been the right thing to do and suggested that history would vindicate the United States and shame those who refused to help fight it.
Rumsfeld argued that the war freed oppressed people and demonstrated that "the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction can carry with it costs." He also said "seeds of freedom" would spread across the Middle East.
Rumsfeld did not mention the administration's claim before the war that Iraq had stockpiles of banned weapons, and that inspectors have not found them.
During his speech Saturday, he said that a reporter in South Korea had asked him why people in her country should be willing to die in Iraq.
"Look out that window," he said he told the reporter. "And out that window you could see lights and cars and energy and a vibrant economy and a robust economy."
"Korea was won at a terrible cost of life—thousands and thousands of people from the countries in this room," Rumsfeld said. "And was it worth it? You bet."
Rumsfeld was one of the few at the annual Munich Conference on Security Policy suggesting people look back. Many officials seemed willing to agree that they had disagreed with the United States over the Iraq war, and move on.
"Regardless of our opinion of the war, we have to win the peace together because otherwise we will lose together. We have to look forward," said German Foreign Affairs Minister Joschka Fischer. "We are in agreement that the coalition's efforts must be successful. The forces of violence and terror in Iraq must not win the upper hand."
A year ago, it was very different. After giving the opening remarks at the annual conference, the mayor of Munich left to join the 14,000 chanting, anti-war, largely anti-American, protesters in the streets. France and Germany at that time opposed the impending war. This year, the protests outside the conference were small.
NATO has not agreed to participate in Iraq. But Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the secretary general of NATO, said in the future NATO might be involved.
"Let me be very clear: Yes, there were differences over the war. But there cannot be the slightest doubt that winning the peace in Iraq is in everybody's collective interest. If a legitimate Iraqi government asks for our assistance, and if we have the support of the United Nations, NATO should not abdicate from its responsibilities," he said.
Many speakers at the conference made it clear they still believed the war should not have been waged.
"It is wrong to fight terrorism with illegal techniques and only with military means," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.
But, Ivanov added: "Today, our need is to jointly search a way out of the Iraqi crisis. That is why we are interested in success of the United States and their allies in Iraq, and are poised to closely cooperate in order to settle down the situation in the region politically."
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.