The U.S.-led war in Iraq was a historic success that will influence military spending and doctrine for decades, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told cheering troops Monday.
The military, he said, used "an unprecedented combination of power, precision, speed, flexibility, and, I would add, compassion."
"Baghdad was liberated in less than a month, possibly the fastest march on a capital in modern military history," Rumsfeld said.
He spoke to hundreds of desert camoflage-clad troops in a warehouse here at the command headquarters for the Iraq campaign. Though the troops in Qatar were involved in command and logistics, not direct combat, they played a key role, the secretary said.
"You protected our country from a gathering danger and liberated the Iraqi people," Rumsfeld said. Later, he added: "You liberated a country, but how you did it will help transform the way we defend our country in the 21st century."
Rumsfeld is visiting the Persian Gulf region this week to thank the troops and discuss the future American military presence with leaders of allied nations. He was scheduled to meet with Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Qatar's leader, later Monday.
Gen. Tommy Franks, the war's commander, said Sunday he wants to continue using the high-tech headquarters here that was completed just before the Iraq war. U.S. officials say they're considering moving an American air command center from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia - a move that could bring the center to the Al Udeid air base near here, which has the necessary facilities and equipment.
Although Rumsfeld said his trip to the region is not a "victory tour," he and Franks were clearly celebrating the American success in toppling Saddam Hussein's regime.
"Because of all of you, Iraqis are able to raise their voices in debate without fear of torture or death," Franks told the troops Monday.
Rumsfeld also lashed out at early critics of the war.
"There were a lot of hand wringers around, weren't there?" a grinning Rumsfeld said in response to a question about commentators second-guessing the war. Rumsfeld said a Washington humorist told him, "Never have so many been so wrong about so much."
The defense secretary also praised Franks for what Rumsfeld called a great plan with "brilliant execution."
Rumsfeld said Turkey's decision to block the Army's 4th Infantry Division from invading northern Iraq from bases in Turkey was "disappointing." He said Franks turned that disappointment into an advantage by having the ships carrying the division's equipment linger off the coast of Turkey.
That move, Rumsfeld said, gave Saddam's regime the idea that the war wouldn't start until the United States could open a northern front. As it happened, the bulk of the American ground force invaded from Kuwait, Iraq's southern neighbor.
After their speeches, Rumsfeld and Franks posed for photographs with troops and autographed their hats.
One of the soldiers in the crowd, Army Pfc. Michael Gaskins of Tallahassee, Fla., said he appreciated Rumsfeld's visit, but thought other troops deserved the thanks more than those at Central Command headquarters.
"There are a lot worse places than here," he said. "I'd rather be home, but this is not bad at all."
Rumsfeld also dodged some questions from the troops after his speech. One asked whether he would consider lowering the retirement age for reservists because they have been activated so often and so long in recent years.
"How can you ask a 70-year-old to lower the retirement age?" Rumsfeld said before moving on to the next question.