The nation's top military officer came to Baltimore last night to say that the war on terrorism would take patience, commitment and will, and that "steady progress" was being made in rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the likelihood of additional terrorist incidents "the biggest threat our nation has faced since the Civil War, perhaps ever." And he said "our government is absolutely committed to winning this war."
Myers was met with skeptical questions from the crowd of several hundred who attended the speech before the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs at the Sheraton Inner Harbor.
Several wanted to know whether it was wise to pursue regime change in Iraq when the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were the work of Osama bin Laden, who remains at large, not Saddam Hussein.
"We can do both of these," Myers said. "Nobody took their eyes off the al-Qaida ball."
What is needed in Afghanistan for success is security, a stable economy and government. The same is true in Iraq, he said, "and we're making steady progress there as well."
Another questioner wondered how America would ever know whether it has won the war on terror or whether a "permanent national security state" was being created.
"I think we can win this war," Myers said, although "it cannot be the military alone." He said terrorists are able to recruit young people, particularly in the Middle East, who have no education or prospects. The United States must work with other countries to "create an environment where young people have a future."
"It's going to take all of us pulling together," he said.
The soft-spoken four-star officer, who is the top military adviser to the president, was asked whether Hussein is cooperating at all with officials on the issue of his supposed stock of weapons of mass destruction, which coalition forces have yet to locate.
"He has not been particularly cooperative, as it turns out," Myers said. "I'll just leave it there."
Myers was asked whether the country could dissolve into civil war, with the Shiite majority pressing for quick elections, and Sunnis and Kurds fearful they will be poorly represented.
"We're working very hard right now not to let that happen," he said, hopeful that all groups in Iraq can be persuaded to pull together and build a government and heartened that about 200,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained. "We're going to do our best to avoid a situation of a civil war."