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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with the Wall Street Journal

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
May 29, 2001 10:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, May 22, 2001 - 10:30 a.m. EDT

(Interview by Greg Jaffe, Wall Street Journal)

Rumsfeld: -- speech. And it's a good one, to be a good thing, but it's not a -- How would you describe it? You've been there?

Voice: It's an inspirational speech about leadership and about being a great part of a great institution, the Navy.

Rumsfeld: I don't know where that idea came out.

Q: It's good to get that straight. Do you have a sense of what your time line in terms of hoping to have a speech about the strategy, or when you'd like to see that?

Rumsfeld: Yeah, I guess I do in a sense.

It's a subject that we've been asking a lot of questions about and visiting with a lot of people about. Tomorrow I'll be meeting with folks on the Hill and discussing aspects of it. It ultimately fits under a national security strategy that is something that will come out of the president and the White House with the participation of the National Security Council. And then defense strategy fits as a piece of that. It will undoubtedly follow theirs and, the one that is being fashioned there. I'm trying to think timing wise. I don't know. I suppose actually it would be --.

The discussions that have been taking place obviously are in people's minds and as they proceed with the QDR and end up building the budget, that will be a part of it. The defense guidance comes what month?

Voice: It's going to be in the late summer.

Rumsfeld: Late summer.

So what comes out of that Andy Marshall piece would be fed into the defense guidance.

Q: Can you give me a sense of what you're going to talk about on the Hill tomorrow?

Rumsfeld: Sure. I very likely will be talking about -- I'm not sure I want that in the paper tomorrow morning before I talk to them. I'm just trying to think this through. Is that -- I hadn't thought about that when you asked me to...

Q: I could do it on background as a defense official if it makes you more comfortable.

Rumsfeld: The issues that I've been thinking about are several. One is the way this institution functions and how we might find ways to make it function better. As you know, there have been a number of looks at acquisition reform and finance reform. There is a series of fairly sizeable issues that I want to talk to the Congress about and get their perception as to how the Defense Department's functioning.

A second chunk is how the department interacts with the Congress. There again, I want to get their thoughts about how that could be improved. You wouldn't have the -- The practice as it exists today wouldn't exist if there hadn't over a period of decades been a series of problems and then a series of corrections to those problems, or seeming corrections to the problems, or monitoring the problems, or oversight of problems.

I think what we've got to do is to look at those two things first. How can we get the Department of Defense operating on a basis that is more efficient and more effective and more responsive? Then second, what can the department do to improve the relationship between the executive and legislative branches in terms of how we interact in hearings and appropriations and normal day to day type of things.

Larry DiRita's been down, acting head of the Office of Legislative Affairs for the past several months prior to when Tom Moore was confirmed, and he tells me we've got something like 400 or 500 people spending full time doing various types of legislative affairs.

Q: Either responding to Congress or...

Rumsfeld: One thing and another.

Q: Interacting.

Rumsfeld: And that there are something like a couple of thousand interactions a week by phone or mail between the legislative branch and the department. That we have some 900 plus reports that we file with Congress every year. And some 24,000 auditors and inspectors of various types who monitor everything that's going on in the department. The question is how can we -- Is it possible to talk it through and figure out a way that we can get that so it works better from everyone's standpoint. From the standpoint of the Congress. And we'll be talking about that.

The third big issue that would very likely get discussed, and again, I'm trying to think how you could know this. I don't know how you should handle it, but I think announcing it all the morning before the briefing is a little unseemly isn't it?

Voice: Off the record.

I think saying you want to have these conversations with them is important.

Rumsfeld: Is useful. And having it in the paper is okay.

Voice: Uh huh.

Rumsfeld: Okay.

That is the purpose of these discussions. And I've asked for them. I went up last week and met with the chairman and my key members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and said I would like to do that. Since we don't have a budget up there as such, and we have some time here before all the NATO meetings start and the various recesses start, it struck me that it would be a good idea to have a chance to talk to them and raise these kinds of questions with them and hear their answers as we go into the process of the QDR and go into the building of the '03 budget which starts soon, in summer, and ends up in late fall.

Q: What was the third point you were going to ask about?

Rumsfeld: The third piece is what you were talking about really, which is your defense strategy and getting their sense on what obviously is the driver as to how you organize and drive your forces. Your assessment of the world, what do you think the world's likely to be like in the period ahead? And what our circumstance in that world is, and therefore, what kinds of things this department needs to be arranged to do.

Once you think that through and try to answer those questions to your reasonable satisfaction, then you go about the more detailed business of actually sizing a force and organizing a force. Then you get next to the question of what are the kinds of decisions you have to make with respect to equipping the force.

Several of us have been -- I'm not going to leave that with you, but if you glance down it, you'll see things you remember from history. But I'm going to probably use that with them.

The point being that as obvious and certain as we can feel at any given moment, the reality is that every decade in this century things have switched and changed fairly dramatically in a relatively short period of time.

Second, that in the last half of the century they have tended to change and shift even more rapidly. Rather than at a slower pace, a quicker pace. That has to force a person who is given the chance to plan and look ahead and to fashion a force for the future which is what we do each year, practically nothing that is decided during his president's term is going to affect the capabilities during this period. It will affect the capabilities that will be left for the successors. And what we're left with is the decisions of our predecessors, and that's the way it has always been.

But you can't go down that list and not come away with a healthy respect for how difficult it is to be certain about what the future looks like.

As you've undoubtedly read, or maybe even written, one of the thoughts in the Marshall paper is the idea of looking not so much only at threats, but at the kinds of capabilities.

Q: What do we mean by that, by a capabilities-based as opposed to threat-based?

Rumsfeld: If you look today, the sizing of the force tends to be based on a Korean Peninsula conflict and an Iraq conflict. And you look at those two things and then you arrange yourself so that you can deal with them.

A different way of doing it would be to look at, for example, the last decade and say what's actually happened? We haven't had a major theater conflict, and we have had lots of things like Bosnia, Kosovo and dozens of other things.

As a result, as you may recall, there was an issue about the 3rd Infantry Division being not ready, C3. Because it had to have 29 days of training and it was only receiving 28, and of course the reason it was only receiving 28 was because it was in Bosnia, which is what the president asked it to do and the Congress asked it to do, and its headquarters was split, and people were churning back and forth. Therefore it was ready to do what it was being asked to do, but it was not being ready to do theoretically what it was supposed to be doing.

Q: Sure.

Rumsfeld: -- to be prepared.

So the question is, if you, instead of looking at those two threats, let your mind drift forward and say what are the kinds of events that might occur in the future, and then what kind of capabilities might one have to deal with those various types of contingencies and activities.

I think you don't change something like that without a great deal of thought and a great deal of care and a great deal of attention to know the second and third and fourth level of facts. And that's to me such an important issue, and I don't have -- If you're going to change what is you've got to have a better answer, and until there's been a great deal of discussion and thought and attention given to it, it seems to me you can't be certain you have a better answer. And certainly the Congress deserves to be engaged in that process. So that's a part of it.

The next step from that, obviously, is okay, if those are the kinds of capabilities, then how ought forces to be arranged to deal with them? Ought they to be arranged the way they are? Or is it conceivable that having standing joint task forces of various types ought to be considered, or if not considered, maybe tested as a model for a period, and see if it adds any value.

So it's those kinds of questions, being broad, elevated issues that I think I need to talk to Congress about, and they have said they would very much like to do that, and that's what's going to take place in the House and Senate tomorrow.

Q: The joint task forces, I'd heard the phrase I guess rapid strike force. Are we talking sort of the same thing?

Rumsfeld: There are various types. There is one standing joint task force and it's the special ops. It has the characteristics you just indicated.

You can have other types. For example, Kosovo, when it began, the commander said okay, there's going to be an air war. Let's stand up a standing joint task force to deal with the air war. To do that you then have to designate a person, a location, a staff, start pulling together pieces, and assigning forces.

If you think about it, the air war in Kosovo lasted only 78 days I think. If you have to start fresh or reasonably fresh when you decide you want to do that, the question has to be asked, if you think that kind of a thing might happen again, mightn't you want to stand up that kind of a task force on a more permanent basis so that it's ready to go and doesn't require bringing together people who have not exercised together, trained together, and worked together.

I don't have an answer there either, because I don't think you start making those kinds of changes without a good deal of discussion. And all of these issues are the kinds of things that are going to get chewed through in the QDR. Then they're going to get addressed again when you build the budget for '03 this fall.

Q: I've been told you put together a QDR committee to start looking at what are some of the questions you want to ask and how do you structure the QDR.

Rumsfeld: Uh huh.

Q: Do you have any answers along those lines in terms of what questions would you like --

Rumsfeld: -- certainly. On all three of these big issues, they will be a part of that presumably.

Q: Do you have a sense of when you'd like to get something in the services in terms of how you'd like to start for the QDR?

Rumsfeld: I'm trying to recall...

Voice: We're still really working through that.

Q: Do you have a sense of why the past QDR, I guess the '97 QDR is widely considered not particularly effective, that it kind of seemed to ratify the status quo and nobody seemed to like it, not the services, not the congress, why that one didn't work and why this one will be different?

Rumsfeld: No. I don't know. I've heard -- I wasn't here. I didn't walk in the shoes of those that had to go through that process.

Looking at this one, the timing is poor. In fact you've got basically a good idea that the Congress has asked the department to look at those important questions, but if you think of the circumstance that we're in. We had a delayed election result. I've been here four months. Paul Wolfowitz has been here less than half of that time. And we haven't had any other Bush appointments here until a week ago Friday. Zero.

Second, the decision was made in the White House that they wanted to get away from a supplemental cycle so we don't have a supplemental up there yet. Or an '02 amendment, both of which are required. Yet we're starting to go into the '03 budget building cycle.

So I don't have the answer, and we're going to try to do what the Congress has asked of us and to try to use it as instructively as possible. But clearly it would be, I think, better in a cycle if rather than thinking you could start that process the minute a new administration arrives, if you want it to really represent good input and thought it's very difficult to do, and it might be better to slide the thing into some future quadrennial cycle to a somewhat later period.

Q: Have you thought about asking Congress --

Rumsfeld: The disadvantage, of course, is you lose a year. So life's filled with tradeoffs. And I don't know, having not been through one of these previously, I don't know what you're getting for what you're getting by doing it the two ways.

Q: Yesterday Senator McCain raised questions about whether there would be enough money for defense left over after this tax cut. And I've seen William Hoagland and CSBA have suggested that for the next five years...

Rumsfeld: CSBA?

Q: That's Andy Griffin. That was his group. Center for Strategic Budgetary Assessment.

Rumsfeld: That's what it's called.

Q: Yeah. He's got a good budget guy, Steve Kosiak, who put out a paper that suggested that in terms of defense spending, without dipping into the Social Security Trust Fund, that you're really not going to have more than 10 to 20 billion a year to add on to the '02, '03, '04, '05 defense budget. Do you have a sense of what the upper limits are there?

Rumsfeld: No, I don't.

Having been involved in those subjects in an earlier iteration of my life, there are so many variables involved. Whether you use static or dynamic analysis; and the [evenness] of projections in out years. If you think about it, the paper points out we were the biggest creditor nation, then the biggest debtor nation, and now suddenly we're talking about a trillion dollars surpluses. Anyone who thinks they can project a straight line through those gyrations I think don't think, they don't learn from history.

And furthermore, I have been so dad burned busy since I've gotten here that I haven't really screwed my head into the issues of medicare and the various things that are going to affect all those outcomes.

Q: Have you guys, has the Bush administration as a whole been surprised by how much money it's going to take to fix some of the problems that you found?

Rumsfeld: I guess you hear the numbers when you're outside of government, and if you think about it the Congressional Budget Office was talking about the need for large numbers like $30 or $40 billion a year.

Q: Just for procurement.

Rumsfeld: -- the Schlesinger and Harold Brown figures were I don't know, $50 or $60 billion a year. The CSIS train wreck report by -- Isn't it CSIS? Was even higher.

So anyone reading the papers and over the prior two years has to have known that we've gone through a period of neglect. That in fact there is a considerable need to see that the infrastructure of the department is brought up to something approximating the best practices in the civilian world in terms of personnel housing, in terms of facilities and hangars and what have you. If anyone has seen the photographs of expensive airplanes falling into grates that are broken because they haven't been repaired, and that type of thing.

So I guess it's hard to say you're surprised, yet nonetheless when you get in and look at it and you see it in detail and go down to Fort Stewart and look at the quality of the housing that we're asking these people, the men and women in the armed services to live in, you can't help but be floored. And the recapitalization rate that the government of the United States and the process between the executive and legislative branches over the past period has produced is multiples of what it should be in terms of periods of time.

The problem with all of that is that it sends a terrible signal to the people that you're trying to attract and retain in the armed forces. These are human beings. And if you're telling them in the case of the readiness thing that they're C3, that the government doesn't care enough to see that they have the kind of training and readiness that they will need for the task that they've been assigned, the real question is ready for what? They were just very ready and doing an excellent job for the job they were doing in Bosnia, but the system is not working well if it tells them at the same time that they're not ready and that we don't care enough to make them ready. The same thing is true of the other aspects of where they work.

And the aircraft. If you're going to allow your aircraft fleet to age you're going to end up spending an awful lot more money on maintenance and repairs than you would if you have managed to maintain the average life of the aircraft at something approximating a sensible level.

So we have to do a better job in my mind.

Q: Do you have any sense of what kind of numbers are involved? I've heard and seen reports that $20 billion, a $20 billion plus-up to the current '02. Is that realistic?

Rumsfeld: I don't have a number. I just don't. I think I know where the '01 supplemental's going to be, and the president very likely is going to send that up sometime soon, a matter of days I think. But the '02 process is underway but has not come to resolution between the department and the OMB.

Q: The '01 supplemental that's floating around, the number is $6.5 billion. Is that reasonable?

Rumsfeld: Yes. That's the ceiling.

Q: Oh, that's the ceiling.

Rumsfeld: The ceiling for total government, unless you want to go break the caps and go for a 60 vote -- Go for a 60 vote (inaudible). So my hope is we get most of that. But obviously there's the rest of the government as well.

There are also some rescissions and reprogramming both here and in the rest of government which can, where money for whatever reason isn't going to be spent, where you can then add that in as a boost.

Q: Let me ask a quick Iraq question in terms of changes in the frequency of the no-fly zone. Are you guys looking at that? Has the risk increased? Is that what's driving the reassessment?

Rumsfeld: The reassessment started when the president came into office and the NSC has held a number of meetings on the subject of the Middle East and on Iraq. How to best fashion sanctions and how to best arrange the no-fly zones have been under discussion at some length.

There haven't been any recent changes or decisions of any note.

With respect to the risk, there's no question but that the pilots are getting shot at, radars get turned on -- U.S. and British planes, both North and South -- and that from time to time...

The no-fly zone is not a great phrase. The purpose of the flights is not so much to prevent flying there, it is to see that Saddam Hussein does not impose his will on the people who live in those areas as he has tried to do and has in fact done in the past. And that he does not marshal his forces and attempt to invade his neighbors. So it is a watch zone, I suppose, is maybe a better phrase than no-fly.

But what happens is periodically he has access on the ground to some major portions of those, but not all portions. There are big chunks of land that Iraq, the government in Baghdad no longer controls. But they will move SAM sites or artillery into those areas, and have from time to time, as you may recall, attempt to upgrade their air defense system and radar systems, in which case when that happens the U.S. and the U.K. have gone in and attempted to degrade those capabilities because to allow them to persist puts pilots at risk unnecessarily. So they've gone in and fulfilled the obligations that we have under our understandings as to what should be done. And if we're fired on, obviously we fire back.

Q: Where are they getting the equipment to upgrade?

Rumsfeld: Well, they obviously make some, they buy some. The borders are not barriers, they're somewhat porous, as everyone knows. Third, there's a lot of equipment that's dual use, that some of it can go in quite legitimately, and then end up being used for a military purpose.

Q: Have the Russians been involved in supplying them? Do you have a sense?

Rumsfeld: They are getting a lot of things surreptitiously, and from various borders. We know for a fact that the Chinese were in there assisting with...

I might leave you --

Voice: Why doesn't he read it after tomorrow's testimony.

Rumsfeld: Okay.

Q: Oh, come on. Let me just read it now.

Rumsfeld: You can read it, but just don't write it today.

Q: Okay.

Rumsfeld: But that, and it isn't testimony.

This is the forward by Tom Schelling to the book on Pearl Harbor. And it fits with this on surprise and warning. And it helps one put into context and perspective the difficulty you have when you lose the Soviet Union as a point of focus, and you're dealing with a series of things that can occur that result from capabilities and proliferation of technologies and the relaxation of tensions in the world since the end of the Cold War. They can be in the hands of nations, they can be in the hands of Usama bin Laden people. And they're the kinds of things that we need capabilities to deal with, even though they are improbable as you'll find the word in that wonderful forward to that book.

I very likely will talk a bit about that tomorrow too. So you will have it before that happens.

Q: I've been following Admiral Cebrowski around, who's got the streetfighter concept, and who makes the argument that gosh, we need 10 percent of our force just to experiment with new platforms, whether they work or they don't work. Can you do that without impacting readiness? Are you guys looking at doing stuff like that?

Rumsfeld: You have to answer the ready for what? You simply must be willing to invest in research and development and experimentation and large exercises, and particularly in a period like this. And not only can you afford to do it, but I would even reverse it. I would say that because we do not have a peer competitor in the world from a military standpoint, this is the opportunity to assure that the United States invests the funds in research and development and in testing and in experimentation and in exercises and various types of training, and systems of systems. But we have a particular obligation to do it during a period like this.

Now does that mean that you might end up with 28 days instead of 29 days of training for some major theater conflict in an instance? Well, it depends on how you calculate that. That is to say you have to get risks up and trade those risks off, one against the other. And the risk of not doing what I just described I think deserves to be up in the equation. When you're looking at risks in the Middle East, or risks in Northeast Asia, or risks elsewhere in the world.

Q: Otherwise you always rob modernization to pay for today.

Rumsfeld: Exactly.

Q: I won't take any more of your time. Thanks very much.