SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld turned up the heat on critics of US policy in Iraq and the war on terrorism in a speech on Tuesday recalling the world leaders who sought to appease Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
"With the growing lethality and the increasing availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?" Rumsfeld asked the American Legion US military veterans group.
"Can folks really continue to think that free countries can negotiate a separate peace with terrorists?"
The Bush administration is coming under increasing criticism from congressional Democrats and some Republicans over the direction of the Iraq war nearly 3-1/2 years after a US-led invasion toppled President Saddam Hussein. Opinion polls show eroding US public support for the war.
Rumsfeld said it was important to note that "any kind of moral or intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong can weaken the ability of free societies to persevere" in any long war.
In a speech heavy on condemnation of news coverage of the war, Rumsfeld told the American Legion that insurgents and terrorists are waging a campaign to demoralize the American public.
Rumsfeld, in his second speech in as many days to military veterans, tried to draw links between the current hostilities and World War 2.
Taking on the Bush administration's current critics, Rumsfeld referred to the period before the earlier war, and said that "some seem not to have learned history's lessons."
"It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among Western democracies, when those who warned about a coming crisis - the rise of fascism and Nazism - they were ridiculed or ignored," Rumsfeld said.
"Indeed, in the decades before World War 2, a great many argued that the fascist threat was exaggerated or that it was someone else's problem. Some nations tried to negotiate a separate peace, even as the enemy made its deadly ambitions crystal clear."
"It was, as Winston Churchill observed, a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last," Rumsfeld added.
"I recount that history because, once again, we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism," he said.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada took issue with Rumsfeld's comments.
"The Bush White House is more interested in lashing out at its political enemies and distracting from its failures than it is in winning the War on Terror and in bringing an end to the war in Iraq," Reid said in a written statement.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also addressed the convention, telling veterans if the United States pulled out of Iraq too soon it would embolden extremists.
"We should not assume for one minute that those terrorists will not continue to come after the American homeland. That is why President (George W) Bush calls Iraq a central front in the war on terror," said Rice.
Bush is scheduled to address the group on Thursday.
Rumsfeld's comments come as members of the Bush administration, ahead of November elections to determine control of the US Congress, connect the Iraq war to the broader fight against terrorism.
Rumsfeld also condemned two news organisations, CNN and Newsweek magazine, for comments by some of their senior officials about the US military.
In separate speeches on Monday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, both Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney said pulling out of Iraq prematurely would be a sign of American weakness to terrorists and other foes.