US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged on Thursday that US efforts to stabilize Iraq have not gone well and that the military is ill-suited for imposing US will on violent extremists.
In his first speech since President George W. Bush abruptly announced his defense secretary's resignation on Wednesday, Rums-feld told an audience in Kansas that a democratic and peaceful Iraq was "the hope and prayer of everyone involved."
"I will say this: It is very clear that the major combat operations were an enormous success. It is clear that in phase two of this, it has not gone well enough or fast enough," he said.
Bowing to voter anger over the course of the war in Iraq, Bush picked former CIA director Robert Gates to replace Rumsfeld and gave him a mandate to apply fresh thinking to the US strategy there.
Welcomed by Democrats as a pragmatist more open to a change in direction than Rumsfeld, Gates must first be confirmed by the Senate.
Rumsfeld will remain in charge until then to ensure a smooth transition, Pentagon officials said, insisting that day-to-day military operations will be unaffected by the changeover.
"We'd probably hold off on things that have a long term effect. For things that need to be done, there will be no lag time," said a Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Rumsfeld addressed the US shortcomings in Iraq in a question-and-answer session that followed a warmly received speech to students and soldiers at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.
Iraq had made tangible progress, he said, but the sectarian violence and the killings of Muslims by Muslim extremists had created "a much more complex situation."
"And quite honestly, our country does not have experience attempting to impose control and our will over vicious, violent extremists that don't have armies, that don't have navies, don't have air forces and operate in the shadows," he said.
Rumsfeld said the president and his new defense secretary will continue to make adjustments in Iraq, but he cautioned that dealing with Muslim extremism will take patience and perseverance, just as the Cold War struggle against communism did.
"If we have the perseverance and the resolve, we will end up seeing the Iraqi people ultimately take control of their country, govern their country, provide security for their country. And certainly that's our hope and our prayer," he said.
He also emphasized the need for all government agencies to pursue joint strategies against extremism, while at the same time building the capacity of friendly Muslim countries to confront it within their borders.
Rumsfeld's surprise resignation came the day after US elections that stripped the Republicans of control of Congress.
Asked what grade he would give his performance as secretary of defense, Rumsfeld said: "Oh, I'd let history worry about that."
Retired general Richard Myers, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who introduced Rumsfeld to the audience, disputed the widely held view that Rumsfeld gave short shrift to the advice of his senior military advisers.
"He has had many opportunities to deflect the arrows coming his way to the military. Many opportunities. He has never taken one of those opportunities," Myers said.