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Preventing an Attack is Hard; Convincing World to Take Preventive Action Harder, Rumsfeld Says

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2003 – Preventing an attack is always difficult, but convincing the world to take preventive action is even more difficult, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told guests today at a Hoover Institution luncheon here.

Commenting about the global war on terror, the secretary said after the terrorist attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001, Congress tried to figure out how they happened, what had happened, and how it was possible for three airplanes to hit the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. He said lawmakers pored over information trying to connect the dots after the fact, but ended up with an inconclusive report.

A commission was created to try again, Rumsfeld said, pointing out that, "It's hard to figure out even after the fact, but what we're trying to do today is even harder, and that's to try to connect the dots before the fact.

Rumsfeld implied that the scraps of available information before Sept. 11 wouldn't have been enough to determine what was going to happen. "A phone call here, a credit card there, someone trying to learn how to fly but he wasn't terribly interested in learning how to land," he said.

He mused what would have happened had the president taken the scraps of information to the nation and the world and said, "We need to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban and stop the al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a terrorist training center. And we need to root out the al Qaeda terrorist network and other terrorist networks all across the globe, or we run the risk of suffering a Sept. 11th-like attack."

"How many countries would have joined us in a coalition? Many? Any? Unlikely," the secretary said. "Yet, had that happened, Sept. 11 might have been avoided. And 3,000 innocent lives -- men, women and children of every conceivable faith would have been saved."

Rumsfeld emphasized that failing to act in today's environment could mean the loss of not 3,000 lives, but 30,000 or 300,000. "We're dealing with weapons that can kill tens and hundreds of thousands of people," he told the audience.

The risks of acting can't be ignored, but what needs even greater discussion is the graver risks of not acting, he noted. "The new danger is the nexus (of) terrorist states, terrorist networks and weapons of mass destruction. That is a new thought for us -- for the world," Rumsfeld noted. "It's something we have to think about and come to grips with and make judgments about."

Noting that North Korea is suspected of having nuclear material sufficient to have made one or two weapons, Rumsfeld said if that country starts its reprocessing plant, they could have material sufficient for six to eight additional weapons.

"It's a country that has been very active in proliferating ballistic missile technologies," the secretary said, adding that North Korea deals with terrorist states and terrorist networks. "And I guess the question one has to ask is, does anyone really doubt that they would hesitate to sell some portion of the material for six to eight additional nuclear weapons to the highest bidder?"

The United States is taking a diplomatic approach to the North Korean situation, but Rumsfeld emphasized that, "it's not a problem that is a U.S.- North Korea issue, it is a problem that North Korea has to address with the entire civilized world."

By contrast, he said, the global diplomatic effort with Iraq has been going on for 12 years and hasn't worked. "Diplomacy didn't work through 16 resolutions, economic sanctions didn't work, and the limited military strikes in the Northern and Southern No-fly zones have not worked," he said.

Rumsfeld pointed out that the U.N. Security Council last November unanimously passed Resolution 1441 -- its 17th. He said the council is considering a so-called "second resolution," which is actually the 18th.

"We still hope for a peaceful solution, but as the president has made clear, Iraq needs to be disarmed," Rumsfeld said. "And it's important for us to remember that today, terrorist states and terrorist networks do not need massive economies, large armies, large navies, large air forces to inflict great damage on free people."

Recalling a meeting with the Sultan of Oman after Sept. 11, Rumsfeld said the sultan made a stunning comment: "'Maybe Sept. 11 was a blessing in disguise. Maybe it will be the thing that will wake up the world so that we will, as free people, take the kinds of steps necessary to see that there is not a Sept. 11 that involves biological or chemical or nuclear weapons. And hopefully, we can wake up the world in a way that can save those lives, tens of thousands of lives.'"

"I just pray he's right," Rumsfeld said.

The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace within Stanford University is a public policy research center for the advanced study of domestic and foreign politics, economics and political economy, and international affairs.

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DoD News Transcript: Secretary Rumsfeld Remarks at the Hoover Institute, Feb. 25, 2003

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