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Embattled Rumsfeld Visits U.S. Troops in Iraq

December 24, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: First tonight, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s Christmas Eve trip to Iraq. It came amid several weeks of renewed criticism of his handling of the war and its aftermath there.

His day started with a short speech to U.S. troops in Mosul, followed by some questions.

SOLDIER: This is my third tour over here and we’ve done some amazing things. It seems like the enemy’s Web sites and everything else, all over the media, love it.

But everything we do good, whether it’s helping a little kid or building a new school, the public affairs sends out the message that the media doesn’t pick up on. How do we win the media war?

DONALD RUMSFELD: That does not sound like a question planted by the press. (Laughter) That happens sometimes. It’s one of the hardest things we do in our country.

We have freedom of the press. We believe in that. We believe that democracy can take that massive misinformation and differing of views and that free people can synthesize all that and find their way to right decisions.

Out here, it’s particularly tough. Everything we do here is harder because of television stations like al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia and the constant negative approach.

You don’t hear about the schools that are open and hospitals and clinics are open and the fact that the stock market is open and the Iraqi currency is steady and the fact that there have been something like 140,000 refugees coming from other countries back into this country; they’re voting with their feet because they believe this is a country of the future.

You don’t read about that. You read about every single negative thing that anyone can find to report. So, it is, I guess what’s news has to be bad news to get on the press.

And the truth is, however, it gets through eventually. There are people in the United States who understand what’s really going on over here.

They do understand that the thousands of acts of kindness and compassion and support that are taking place all across this country, they do understand that large portions of this country are relatively peaceful.

We are a great country and we can benefit from having a free press, and from time to time people will be concerned about it.

But in the last analysis, look where we’ve come as a country because we have had a free press and we’ve… I mean I’ve got a great deal of confidence in the center of gravity of the American people.

What hurts most is in the region where the neighboring countries whose help we need, are constantly being barraged with truly vicious inaccuracies about what’s taking place in this country.

And its conscious, it’s consistent, it’s persistent, and it makes everything we are trying to do in neighboring countries where we are looking for support vastly more difficult.

RAY SUAREZ: Secretary Rumsfeld then flew by helicopter down the Tigress River to Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit where he spoke to soldiers of the army’s First Infantry Division.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I first simply want to say that the reason I’m here is to have a chance to look you in the eye.

I hope I have a chance to shake your hands and tell you how much I appreciate what you do for our country, how much your country appreciates what you do; that what you are doing is enormously important.

It is important to this country to be sure, but it is important to this region, and it’s important to the world. The task is to help to organize and train and equip Iraqis so that they can provide for is their own security.

It’s to create an environment so that progress can be made here as it is being made. They’ve gone from the Iraqi governing council to the interim Iraqi government to be coming up next month, to be followed by a constitution.

And there again people are saying it won’t happen; that the elections have to be delayed. Well, the elections do not have to be delayed. The elections go forward.

And the people here do have an opportunity. And if one looks at the polls, it’s clear the Iraqi people want to vote. They want to participate in helping to guide and direct this country.

I think that it has to be hard for you to be away from your families, particularly at the holiday time. But I see enough families at Walter Reed and Bethesda to be able to say to you that they are strong, they’re proud of you, and I know you know that from your communications with them.

People have a desire to be free, not to be ruled, but to participate in guiding and directing the course of their countries. And we are on the side of freedom. And you are on the side of freedom.

And that’s the side to be on. So God bless each of you. God bless your families. And God bless our wonderful country. And Merry, Merry Christmas. Thank you.

RAY SUAREZ: After Tikrit, Rumsfeld visited Marines outside the volatile city of Fallujah and then traveled to Baghdad, where he met with more U.S. Troops.

He also spoke with Iraq’s interim president, Ghazi al-Yawar, who echoed Rumsfeld’s optimism for democracy in Iraq.