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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with C-SPAN

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
January 08, 2002 8:00 AM EDT

(Interview with Connie Brod, Washington Journal, C-SPAN)

Brod: Joining us live from the Pentagon today is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Good morning, Secretary.

Rumsfeld: Good morning

Brod: Thank you for joining us today. You know, we've been spending the last half-hour gathering questions so that you can actually talk to our viewers out there. Do you get a chance much these days to talk to regular folk about what's going on?

Rumsfeld: Oh, my goodness. I meet with troops and regular folk all the time. I meet with folks that represent people across the country. I meet with members of the press. And, you don't get a chance to go out and speak to, for example, high school groups very often, but as a matter of fact on Sunday I did speak to a high school group here in the Pentagon, and was asked an awful lot of questions. It was delightful.

Brod: What was the hardest question they asked you?

Rumsfeld: Oh, goodness. The hardest question was one that had to do with the extent to which the United States ought to deal with countries that have very different values than we do, and how do we make the judgment as to the extent to which we want to deal with countries that don't believe in, for example, a free press, or freedom of speech, or free political system, free economic system. And it is always a difficult call as to the extent of your relationship with countries that are not only different, but engaged in practices, repressive practices that we believe are harmful to human beings.

Brod: Mr. Secretary, let's jump in. Let's start with this e-mail from Ray Cunningham from San Antonio, Texas. Under what circumstances can or will the U.S. government declare we have won the war against terrorism?

Rumsfeld: Well, I would like to take that in two pieces. First, with respect to Afghanistan, it is a question that the president has answered, and he's answered it very clearly. And that is to have the Taliban no longer be the government influencing Afghanistan, and that's been achieved.

And second to capture or kill the senior leadership of the Taliban, and that has not yet been accomplished, although pieces of it have been.

And, third, to capture or kill the al Qaeda at all levels, so that they cannot go around the world killing more Americans or our friends and allies.

With respect to the war on terrorism across the globe, the task is to see that terrorist networks are rooted out, and that the countries that harbor terrorists no longer harbor terrorist networks.

Brod: From Al Jones in Danville, California, this e-mail. I have two sons under 25, one of them is a full-time student. Do you feel that if the war on terrorism is extended over a period of, say, five to seven years, the USA would reactivate the draft?

Rumsfeld: I think that's a question that I can't answer at this stage. It is possible that the war on terrorism could last multiple years. At the moment, we do not feel a need to do that. We have a good reserve and National Guard, and we have been calling up those individuals, and we have put a stop order on people who have decided they'd prefer to finish their tour and retire from the military. And so for the moment, we're able to fill the needs that way. I am hopeful we'll be able to continue to fill the needs that way.

Brod: Brooklyn, New York, a Democrat, you're on the air with Secretary Rumsfeld.

Q: Hello. Good morning.

Rumsfeld: Good morning.

Q: I think I've heard some news reports, tell me if I'm wrong, that one of the terrorists from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing is living in Iraq. And after 1998, after our embassies were bombed, we went and bombed Afghanistan for not extraditing Osama bin Laden. So why aren't we doing the same with Iraq?

Rumsfeld: My recollection is that you're correct, that with respect to the first attack on the World Trade Center several years ago that one of the individuals is in prison in the United States, and another one of the individuals that's believed to have been involved is living in Iraq. That is a report. I don't know that he has been confirmed to be in Iraq, but that's my recollection.

Brod: I'm sorry, go ahead, sir.

Rumsfeld: Well, the question as to what one ought to do about those types of things, obviously we are anxious to get cooperation from countries all across the globe, and we've had wonderful cooperation in the war on terrorism. We have not had any cooperation from Iraq. They are, of course, a country that is on the terrorist list, and has sponsored terrorism in the past. And so it's unlikely we will get any cooperation from them.

Brod: Earlier in our program, this question came in from North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, asking you to compare your experiences in the Bush 1 presidency with the Bush 2 presidency.

Rumsfeld: Well, as it happens, I actually was in the Nixon cabinet and the Ford cabinet, and I was Middle East envoy for President Reagan, but I was not involved in the Bush 1 presidency.

Brod: And how do you compare those administrative actions or those jobs with what you're doing today?

Rumsfeld: Well, of course, the times are very different, and the circumstance of the world is very different. I will say this, it is a real pleasure to work with a president, George W. Bush, who has courage, who is decisive, who is interested in hearing all viewpoints, and then makes a judgment, puts a plan in place and sticks to it. He's doing an outstanding job in my opinion.

Brod: That same caller wanted to know whether you thought Ollie North was the fall guy in Iran-Contra?

Rumsfeld: I was never involved in Iran-Contra, and simply don't consider myself an expert on any aspect of it I'm afraid.

Brod: Next call, La Plata, Maryland, you're on the air with Secretary Rumsfeld.

Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. How are you this morning, sir?

Rumsfeld: Good morning. Thank you.

Q: You're welcome, sir. Sir, I would like to better understand the arms buyback that is proposed for Afghanistan. Is that for the Taliban fighters to relinquish their weapons, and then we give them a certain amount of money for them, or does that also include the Afghan freedom fighters?

And also, Mr. Secretary, I would like to know if, and this is like a long-shot, I know, but would that apply also to the terrorists here in the United States of America to gain back whatever weapons that they might have that they bought locally, or have had transported from overseas?

Rumsfeld: No. I've not heard of anything like that that would apply to the United States. With respect to Afghanistan, there have been two pieces to the arms buyback. One was, for some time the United States has been trying to purchase back various manned portable surface-to-air missiles that exist in the country of Afghanistan, and have offered reasonable amounts of money to reacquire them.

The second piece of it is, in Afghanistan, the government, the interim government of Afghanistan, is in the process of attempting to create a national military, a national army. Instead of having all of the various tribal chiefs and warlords and opposition force leaders have their own separate factions of the army, the new interim president, Mr. Karzai, and the new interim minister of defense, Fahim Khan, are attempting to find a way to encourage private citizens to turn in weapons in various parts of the country, to reduce the crime, and to reduce the risks of violence.

And, second, they're trying to get the various elements to join the national army. And they're using a variety of ways of doing that depending on which county, or which province, and which part of the country.

Brod: From Gina Coleman in Indianapolis this e-mail. Would Mr. Rumsfeld care to share his opinion regarding the lack of support he's getting from the Republican leadership in the House regarding base closure and realignment specifically, and force modernization in general?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know that I would attribute it to the Republican leadership in the House particularly. I think there are Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate who are very much in favor of base closing, and there are, unfortunately, people in the House and the Senate, members from both parties, that are opposing it. It seems to me that it is enormously important that we get the authorization to close bases so that we don't have to take taxpayer's money and waste it by supporting something like 25 percent more base structure than we need for our force structure. We simply don't need all the bases we have.

It's often very hard for members of the House and the Senate who have bases in their districts to find their way to support that kind of approach. On the other hand, every former Secretary of Defense in the history of our country who is alive supports it. Every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff supports it. The logic is compelling, and we simply must get broader support.

The last bill that the president will sign very soon, possibly tomorrow, did provide base closing authority, but delayed it from 2003 to 2005, which I found disappointing on the one hand, on the other hand, I'm delighted we even got it in the bill at all.

Brod: Twenty billion dollars is what's being reported as what additional you're going to be asking the president and Congress for. Is that correct?

Rumsfeld: I have a practice of not saying what I'm recommending to the president, and allowing the president to decide what he wants to decide and make that recommendation to Congress, which he will on February 4 I believe is the date when the president submits his budget.

I will, however, say this about the speculation that's been in the press. On the defense budget, $10 billion is roughly what inflation would amount to. So, if it were to be something like $20 billion, it would be roughly $10 billion would cover the cost of inflation, and another $10 billion, which is a relatively small percentage increase on the defense budget.

The thing that's important for all of us to remember is that throughout our history, the United States has had a tendency that at the end of a conflict, we would bring the defense budget down. Today, it's at one of the lowest levels as a percentage of our gross national product, or a percentage of the federal budget that it's been in my lifetime.

When I came to Washington, it was roughly 10 percent of the gross national product of the United States during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. It then moved down to about 5 percent of the gross national product in the United States. Today, it's less than 3 percent. It is a very small fraction of the gross national product of the United States of America. And what we find is, if we underspend, we weaken the deterrent, and a conflict occurs, then we have to increase a great deal, and it's too late, and we have to do it wastefully.

The wise thing to do is to find an appropriate level of expenditure, spend it in peacetime and wartime to see that this country is capable of contributing to peace and stability in the world, rather than risking war, risking conflict, risking lives, and wasting money.

Brod: Our guest is the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. He's joining us from the press briefing room of the Pentagon today.

Dearborn, Michigan, is the next question, former Republican is calling from there.

Q: Yes, sir. I just want to commend you for your very eloquent and informed representation of our government and our people.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much.

Q: I feel really lucky to have a gentleman like you in this position during this time. What I would like to ask you is about the Middle East. There are some of our callers on this station that keep calling in and talking about Israel killing civilians and so on. Isn't it true that Israeli civilians have been attacked by actually parts of the Palestinian Authority. For instance, Force 17, which is Arafat's personal guard, and the Tanzin which is part of Arafat's organization. Actually, my understanding is that 50 to 80 percent of attacks on civilians in Israel, and these are armed attacks, not kids throwing stones, have been from the Palestinian Authority?

Thank you very much, sir.

Rumsfeld: Thank you. I don't know the percentages, but there is no question that there have been any number of suicide bomber attacks in Israel, in restaurants, at bus stops, over the years that have killed large numbers of men, women and children.

Brod: Next call is Lincolnshire, Illinois, a Democrat. Good morning, Lincolnshire.

Q: Good morning. Thank you so much for your service to our country.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

Q: I'm a Democrat but I fully support I call it your administration.

Rumsfeld: Thank you so much.

Q: You're welcome.

I have two questions for you. Firstly, today, and what is our mission in Saudi Arabia, these are my three choices, protecting the royalty who is hiding behind our military, safeguarding the area, protecting our interest for oil, or none or all of the above.

My second question is, given --

Rumsfeld: Could I answer that one first?

Q: Yes, absolutely.

Rumsfeld: That was a multiple choice question. The role of the United States in Saudi Arabia has been fairly consistent over the past 50-60 years, and it has been the fact that Saudi Arabia has been a moderate Arab regime that has been friendly to the United States, as has Jordan, for example, and for the most part Egypt in recent decades, as well as some other states. And we have been able to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in a way that has assisted us, for example, in conducting the war against Iraq when Iraq invaded Kuwait. And we do have some forces that are there now that enable us to fly aircraft and contribute to peace and stability in the region. It has been in Saudi Arabia's interest, and it has been in the United States' interest to do so.

Brod: And the second question, caller?

Q: My second question is, given the instability in Afghanistan in regard to the different tribes in Afghanistan, and in particular various tribal chiefs. How safe is our military? Yesterday, I was watching CNN and there were some journalists that barely escaped with their lives because people or I guess some of the Northern Alliance had turned against them. And I heard recently that the first casualty was as a result of a tribal chieftain setting us up. And it just concerns me that all of the men and women out in the area, and how long is our role in Afghanistan?

Thank you so much.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

It's difficult to know how long it will take to finish the job in Afghanistan, but we're certainly working hard on it, and the men and women in the armed services that are serving there are just doing a fabulous job. We're very fortunate to have them there. It's a dangerous place. There's no question about it. There's a great deal of crime, there's a great many weapons. There's a good deal of ordinance that's been stashed in various places around the country. There are any number of these tribal factions that sometimes don't get along with each other, and engage in conflict between them even though they both were anti-Taliban, for example.

In addition, there are a number of pockets of al Qaeda terrorists, and Taliban fighters that have not been tracked down as of yet to say nothing of the fact that several of the very senior leaders are still at large.

So, we have a job to do. We have to keep working on it. We are taking reasonable steps to provide protection for our forces. They are taking great care, and yet they have a tough, dirty, difficult job to do, and they're hard at it. We all hope, and I know they hope that we'll be able to wind up this task in the months ahead, and feel that the new government will be able to contribute to peace and stability in that country.

The people of Afghanistan have had a terrible lot. They've had drought, they've had civil war, they've had invasions, they had to fight the Soviet Union. They've had to deal with the Taliban, which was a particularly viscous and oppressive regime. Our hope for the future of those folks has to be one that it will be better than it's been.

Brod: Mr. Secretary, of the over 150 e-mails that we've received from yesterday in asking people what questions they have for you, several of them address what you do in that room, and at that podium behind you right now in the press briefing room in the Pentagon. One caller asked, how do you manage to do your job with such apparent aplomb and conduct yourself so well at these news conferences with, at times, such a constant barrage of hostile questions by the interrogators?

In another e-mail, this one from Joseph Ravel in Pensacola says, please require reporters asking questions in your news conferences to, one, clearly identify themselves, and, two, clearly identify their employing organizations. He goes on to give a fairly disparaging comment about them.

Rumsfeld: Well, that's an interesting proposal that reporters would identify themselves and their organizations. It does have the effect of making people aware that they are who they are, and what they represent. I guess the answer to the question, first thank you for the generous comments, the answer to the question is that when I leave the house in the morning, my wife Joy says, "Now, Don, they have their job, and you have yours." And it's true, they do have their job. And their job is to ask questions, and to contribute to the national debate and dialogue on these very important issues.

The truth is that the tougher the question, the more likely it's a question that people in the listening audience want to hear the answer to. And to the extent that's the case, it's helpful, really, truly helpful, to have difficult questions asked so that you have an opportunity to discuss them, and explain, and add some dimension and texture to the subject. It's an amazing process we have, and it's particularly difficult, of course, during a conflict.

Brod: Martha Borthan of Roanoke, Virginia, takes it one step further. She says this, "How are you handling the fact that you are perhaps the first Secretary of Defense to have a virtual fan club? It is reported that more people watch your daytime briefings than any other daytime show on the air. Do you think there is really that much interest in military strategy, or is it your charisma?"

Rumsfeld: No. It's military. It's the fact that the subject matter is so important to our country, and that the people are interested in it, and I think that that's a wonderful thing that there is that much interest in our national security and the men and women that serve our country, and the wonderful job they're doing.

Brod: Taos, New Mexico, you're next, an independent voter. You're on the air.

Q: Yes, good morning. The quick and easy question is, are you wearing your hiking shoes today? And the serious question has to do with the strategic importance of oil. For example, when the Shah of Iran was placed by the U.S. government, it eventually led to the Ayatollah coming in, et cetera, and wouldn't maybe a few billion dollars thrown at alternative energy change the strategic importance of oil and perhaps reduce the troubles?

Thank you.

Brod: Mr. Secretary.

Rumsfeld: You bet. The answer to the first question is, yes, I do have my Taos, New Mexico, hiking shoes on today.

Brod: I don't know. Can we see them? I don't know.

Rumsfeld: I asked the man not to show them, I'll get in trouble.

With respect to energy dependence and independence, you're quite right. The questioner is certainly correct. It would be vastly preferable if the United States and our friends and allies around the world were less dependent on oil from the Middle East. And certainly the administration is interested in finding ways that we can be less dependent, and I suspect that over a period of time we'll find that we are able to successfully reduce the percentage of oil dependence.

Brod: From Yvonne and Steven, I don't know where they're e-mailing from. But here's a question. Marc Herold, a professor at the University of New Hampshire, calculates that American bombs have killed more civilians than the number of people killed at the World Trade Center on September 11th. America continues to bomb Afghanistan. Has America now lost the moral high ground it enjoyed following the tragedy, and how does the slaughter of thousands of Afghan civilians by American weaponry from 20,000 feet in the air refute allegations that America is a high tech bully?

Rumsfeld: Well, that's a mouthful. First of all, I don't know this individual Herold. And I have asked somebody to try to provide some facts as to how in the world he could have conceivably come up with such a breathtaking statement. I think that if he or others investigate carefully, and analyze it, and talk to people on the ground, we will find that there probably has never in the history of the world been a conflict that has been done as carefully, and with such measure, and care, and with such minimal collateral damage to buildings and infrastructure, and with such small numbers of unintended civilian casualties.

Now, needless to say, any time there's a civilian casualty one can't help but just regret it terribly. On the other hand, if you think about it, Afghanistan has changed power, governments, several times in the past two decades. Each time it has been a horrendous experience with enormous carnage, tens of thousands of people killed. This time, unquestionably, the government has changed, a repressive government has been taken out, and it has been done with the fewest civilian casualties of any time in recent decades. So I think that one needs to go to the source and think carefully about who is saying what, and look at the facts, and the facts are quite the contrary to what he is indicating.

Brod: Overland Park, Kansas, you're next. A Republican, good morning.

Q: Good morning, Mr. Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld: Good morning.

Q: I've got two questions. The first one is, regarding our position with Israel in the Mid-East, are we going to have a full investigation regarding the USS Liberty where the Israelis have killed more than 30-something American soldiers, and wounding 170 others?

Rumsfeld: Well, I guess the short answer is, I doubt it. That was how many decades ago, four, three?

Q: Well, a little over three decades ago.

Rumsfeld: Three decades ago, yes. My guess is that to the extent that issue is to be studied, it has been studied, and historians now can look at it. My recollection of it is that there's no question but that a weapon that came from an Israeli platform did, in fact, do the damage on that American vessel. How it happened, I simply do not know.

Brod: Second question, caller?

Q: The second question is, do you believe that we have lost credibility in the world with our unconditional support for Israel, considering that they violate international law consistently?

Rumsfeld: How do they violate international law?

Brod: I'm sorry. He's already gone. I thought he was finished.

Rumsfeld: Okay. I just don't know quite how to answer the question. I think that Israel is one of the few democracies in the Middle East, in that part of the world. It is a country that has been a good friend to the United States, and we have cooperated on a number of things. Needless to say, the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is something that the United States through successive presidents of both political parties have worked very hard to try to stop, and to assist them in working out a peaceful solution. And I know that President Bush and Secretary Powell, and others in the United States government are working as we speak today.

Brod: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a Democrat.

Q: Hello, C-SPAN, and Secretary.

Rumsfeld: Good morning.

Q: Sir, I'd like to ask you, there was a caller that called in a little before you came on the air here, he was questioning collateral damage, namely he mentioned babies. I was just wondering, with the numbers you might have to date, as far as collateral damage, would you have any idea how many decades it would take to be in war in Afghanistan to equal a one-year total slaughter of American babies through abortion?

Rumsfeld: My goodness, I have no idea. I'm afraid I'm at a loss as to how to even compare it. It's things of such totally different nature and magnitude. Sorry.

Brod: You have a couple of questions this morning regarding your opinion on things that happened in history. Let me ask you this one first. Secretary Rumsfeld, do you think that Eisenhower was deceiving us when he warned us about the military industrial complex?

Rumsfeld: I'm sure he did not intentionally mean to deceive anybody in that statement. I think what he very likely was doing, and this is surmise on my part, was to simply caution the United States that it is important at the end of a conflict, the end of a war, that the country recognize that we need to have a balance in what we do. And as a military person, it was perfectly proper for him to raise that issue. People talk today about the defense industrial base having declined so much and, in fact, it has. We have just a handful of major defense companies left in the United States, and I think the fifth largest isn't even an American company. So that issue is not an issue for today, in my view. But, I think that it's fair to say that President Eisenhower had certainly no intention of deceiving anybody when he made his statement.

Brod: And an earlier caller today, identifying himself as a World War II vet, asked if the records of Pearl Harbor with regard to what FDR knew and didn't know, would ever be completely opened, as he said, so he could tell his grandchildren before he dies whether FDR really knew that Pearl Harbor was coming.

Rumsfeld: My goodness, there's a really fine history book by a woman named Roberta Wohlstetter that's called Pearl Harbor, that goes into all of the intelligence that existed during that period. And I think it probably does as good a job as is ever going to be done in laying out the difficulty of sorting through conflicting intelligence reports, and coming to judgments about what one ought to do about these reports that seem to conflict.

I must say, we face that fact every morning here in the Pentagon, and in the federal government, where there will be hundreds of scraps of intelligence that are different and conflicting. And my guess is the person who posed that question might want to get that book by Roberta Wohlstetter called Pearl Harbor. And I think will probably find as much as we're ever going to know on that subject right in that book.

Brod: Mr. Secretary has to leave in just a moment, we'll take one last call. Perkasie, Pennsylvania, Independent.

Q: Well, one last call. You have a fan club for the old folks, too. I'm 60 and I'm looking at your mileage, and I hope that I'm just a small fraction of your capability when I get to your age. But, you're puzzled about the Israelis violating international territory, where they seized that ship was either Saudi Arabian waters, or in Egyptian waters. It certainly wasn't in Israeli waters.

Rumsfeld: Good point.

Q: The real question I want to ask, it turns out that the Arabs have a problem going back to the Ottoman Empire, very much like the Confederates in the South will rise again. It turns out they were defeated just before World War I, and a whole array of Arabs didn't like the way the Brits sliced and diced the world into Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and all that. And a lot of these Arabs just want to put it all back together again, with their religion, and their whole Pan-Arab community. And that's what they're fighting for. It isn't really Afghanistan.

Brod: Thanks, caller.

Rumsfeld: Let me just comment on the ship seizure by the Israelis. The problem with terrorism is that there is no way to defend against a terrorist act at every time of the day or night, at every location, and against every conceivable technique that a terrorist can employ. Therefore, the only way to deal with terrorism, really, is to go at it, and to attack it where it is, as we are doing in Afghanistan. From the standpoint of the ship that the Israelis intercepted, it turned out that there were something like 50 tons of weaponry on that vessel. They clearly had very good intelligence that those weapons were going to be used against them, and they intercepted the ship. By preempting that ship from landing, and unloading, and then providing those weapons to be used against Israel, we have done -- the United States has done a similar thing with respect to various ship interceptions, and maritime interceptions, as they are called. And it is something I think that is not unusual, or not uncalled for, when one thinks of the magnitude of the weapon stash that was on that ship.

Brod: Mr. Secretary, two quick questions, we'll let you go. There's a report today that you're getting a letter, or have gotten a letter from Congressman McHugh of New York and Congressman Snyder of Arkansas, asking for an investigation into "management and misconduct problems" in the National Guard. Do you plan on working on an investigation of the National Guard?

Rumsfeld: I have not made a decision on that. There was a report of an earlier investigation that found some issues with respect to the National Guard that were questionable. And it is something that our general counsel, and our inspector generals will look at, and then make a recommendation to me.

Brod: And finally, sir, have you seen your picture on the cover of Vanity Fair?

Rumsfeld: No, I haven't. Goodness gracious.

Brod: You're on the cover of Vanity Fair, along with the president and many other members of the Cabinet. Do you remember the day this was taken, that the picture was taken?

Rumsfeld: I do, I do. It was in the Cabinet Room. Is that it?

Brod: That's it, sir. That's it. Unfortunately, you made the under part of the fold. The magazine cover is like this.

Rumsfeld: Good.

Brod: And then you have to do this.

Rumsfeld: That's not unfortunate. That's just fine with me.

Brod: But, the major question is, why do you have a Band-Aid on you thumb?

Rumsfeld: I probably cut it out in New Mexico. Look at that, I do. My goodness gracious.

Brod: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, thanks very much for coming. I hope you'll come back, because we only got to about one-twentieth of the questions that our viewers had. Maybe you'll come back and see us later.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

Brod: Thank you very much.

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