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Senior Defense Officials Interview with Chris Core, WMAL Radio

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 04, 2003

(Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Myers interview with Chris Core, WMAL Radio)

Q: Good evening everybody. We start at the top. Our first guest is the boss of the Pentagon, the man who runs the show around here, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, thank you for taking the time to come on. We're just thrilled to be here today.

Rumsfeld: Thank you. We're delighted to have you in the Pentagon, and I'm pleased to be with you.

Q: Last night I took an hour on my show and I asked my listeners to call or e-mail me with questions they would ask. I said put yourselves in my shoes, what questions would you ask the Secretary and the others if you could be here, and I will just begin by reading one of the e-mails I got today from a listener named Rich. Here's what he writes.

"With all the skills and resources of the world's most powerful countries why is it that there doesn't seem to be any middle ground between inspections, which obviously are not effective, and war, whose consequences could be worse than the status quo? There are an awful lot of very intelligent people in the world who have come to a different conclusion than we have. Why?"

What would you say to Rich?

Rumsfeld: Well I'd say two things. I suppose there may be a middle ground. It's conceivable that he's not going to cooperate with the inspectors in which case inspections can't work as he says.

Q: Conceivable? [Laughter]

Rumsfeld: Highly conceivable, but that's judgmental and I'll leave that to the President.

And the alternative of war. I think in between it's possible that the Iraqi people could decide that they would prefer to have him cooperate and that he's unwilling to and change their leadership.

A second possibility is that he could decide to flee once he decides that it's up.

Why is this debate going on, which is the heart of the question. Because these are very difficult issues. These are tough issues. This is a whole new security environment for the world. This is not something we've experienced before and we can just go to the playbook and play it out again the way we've played it before. This is totally different.

The connection between terrorist states with weapons of mass destruction and terrorist networks creates a danger and a risk to the world of tens of thousands or potentially hundreds of thousands of people being killed so it's of a different order and we've got to think through that. The whole world, the publics of other nations and our nation have to do that.

Q: Which kind of brings me to my second question. I've heard that you have a list in your desk drawer of all the things that might go wrong when this war begins, if it begins. What's your biggest worry about what could go wrong?

Rumsfeld: I wish we were wise enough to think of all the things that could go wrong. I've got three and a half pages that I sat down, last October, September/October and started thinking through so that we could then address them and see that we did everything humanly possible to see that they didn't occur, or if they did that we were prepared to mitigate them.

I think a very sizeable risk is that the regime, once it decides that it is -- If force has to be used and Saddam Hussein's regime decides that the game is up, they could conceivably use chemical or biological weapons on their neighbors, neighboring countries. They could use them on U.S. forces or coalition forces in neighboring countries or in Iraq. They could also use them on their own people and blame it on the coalition forces, which they've done before. They have used these chemical weapons on their own people. So that certainly is a risk that is among those risks that we have to consider.

The other things we have to consider, of course, there's always the risks of acting, and there are also the risks of not acting. And those are the things that make this a particularly tough issue.

Q: Well along that line, you obviously as Secretary of Defense know things that the rest of us don't know and the President knows things. Would you say that any Administration who is in power in 2003, being able to see the sort of intelligence that you're able to see, would conclude pretty much the same thing, that we need to go after Saddam Hussein now rather than later? In other words, whoever had this job if it weren't you, if it weren't President Bush, would have to look at the facts and see them pretty much the same way.

Rumsfeld: Oh, gosh. I can't put myself in other people's shoes, but I think it is very difficult to look at the threat reporting and the intelligence day after day after day and not come to the conclusion that your responsibility is to protect the people of the United States. If you see those capabilities spreading among terrorist states and spreading among terrorist networks, you can't help but say to yourself that there is a very serious risk that those weapons can be used in the period ahead, and that the lethality of those weapons is of such a different order that instead of losing 3,000 as we lost on September 11th, which is a lot of human beings, innocent human beings -- men, women and children of every religion -- we could be losing ten times that, 100 times that.

Q: September 11th, since you mentioned it. How did that change you personally? I know you were in this building when it happened, and obviously it affected all of us but you in particular as Secretary of Defense and as somebody who's been in politics and in government a long time, how did that change you?

Rumsfeld: Well what it did is it brought home to our country and indeed the world the reality that unlike for most of our history we as a country do have vulnerabilities. We have the ability to defend against big armies, big navies and big air forces, but a free people are vulnerable. You're vulnerable because of the freedom that makes you what you are. So a terrorist can in fact get into our country and do what they did on September 11th or things considerably worse.

I think that registering that on the American people as it did --

Q: And on you even as somebody on the inside.

Rumsfeld: Exactly.

Q: It's hard to believe, isn't it? Because we all had this sort of false sense of security about us I think.

Rumsfeld: The two big oceans were a wonderful protection for a long time. They no longer are. A terrorist of course has the advantage. They can attack at any time of the day or night. They can attack using any conceivable technique. And that is a big advantage.

It's not possible to defend at every place at every time against every conceivable technique. So what one has to do is what President Bush is doing and that is to take the battle to the terrorists. It's to go out and find them and to root them out and to stop the havens for the terrorists so that they no longer have safe haven, and that's the only way you can deal with terrorism.

Q: After Iraq is over, I know the job is not done. What's next? Is it North Korea, is it Iran, is it something else that's not even on our -- and by our I mean those of us who are citizens and not privy to that information -- our radar screen?

Rumsfeld: I would say that the good Lord willing, that Iraq is disarmed at some point, preferably peacefully and if not through the use of force as the President has said. The task remains to deal with the global war on terror, and to continue to put pressure on terrorists to make their lives more difficult, to see that their funds dry up, to see that they have difficulty recruiting, to see that they have greater costs in moving around and in moving money and in buying things. That's terribly important. Because to the extent you relax on that they can gain headway and impose great damage on free people -- ours and our friends and our allies around the world.

A second thing I would say is that given the power of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, particularly biological and nuclear, and the fact that the technologies are spreading throughout the world, it seems to me that one task for the world is to come to grips with that and recognize that that's not the kind of a world we want to live in. Free people ought not to have to live in that kind of a world where terrorist states have these weapons and the ability to give them to terrorist networks, and then have them used in a way that gives them deniability, that they're not deterred if they have deniability to put it simply.

I think what we're going to have to do is get the technologically advanced countries of the world to fashion a new regime, a new set of regulations and rules that enable us to interdict and stop, whether it's in the land, the sea or the air, the transportation and the movement of nuclear weapons, fissile material, ballistic missile technology -

Q: We could do another whole show on how we do that, couldn't we?

Rumsfeld: It is. It takes enormous cooperation from countries.

But for example, we stopped that North Korean ship that was headed down towards Yemen and we had to give it up because we had no legal right to keep it. We need the legal right to keep it. We need the ability to do that.

Q: I had some people we were referring to earlier that said we should have sunk it. [Laughter]

Rumsfeld: There were a lot of folks here who would have liked to have done that.

Q: I'll let you go. I've got one last question. I opened with a question from a listener, the last question is from my wife. She asked me to ask you, when you leave the Pentagon and you are civilian Rumsfeld, I mean during a daily basis, and you go home and you live in the Washington community, do you have in your home duct tape, plastic sheeting, and three day supply of water and food as we now do in our home?

Rumsfeld: I would like to say I did. I don't believe we do. But I do have a miniature dachshund named Reggie who looks out for us --

Q: Should we be worried? [Laughter]

Rumsfeld: And I'm going to talk to my wife Joyce and see if we do have those things because I think it's probably a good idea to take reasonable precautions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you for the honor of being on our program tonight. We really appreciate it.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz

WMAL: Our guest in this half hour will be by phone. He was called away from the Pentagon but nonetheless is going to be with us for a few minutes, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, thank you for joining us.

Wolfowitz: It's a pleasure. How are you doing this evening?

WMAL: I'm fine. Thank you very much.

Let me begin by asking you, President Bush outlined his vision of a new democratized Middle East which boy, sounds wonderful to us. The question I guess people are asking, is such a democratized Middle East realistic?

Wolfowitz: I think it is if you take a long view of things and it has to start somewhere. I think there is an enormous appetite for it throughout the Arab world. I met with a Lebanese democrat, excuse me, I talked to a Lebanese democrat on the phone, I'm going to meet with later this week named Chibley Mallat who has organized a petition of Arab intellectuals calling out for the removal of Saddam Hussein as a step towards building democracy in the Arab world. It takes time.

Twenty years ago Japan was the only democracy in East Asia and I was involved at the State Department working for George Schultz and Ronald Reagan and helping the Filipino people bring about a transition to democracy. It's now not all by itself. Korea has made this transition, Taiwan made the transition, Thailand has become democratic, even Indonesia with a lot of difficulties has done so.

I think there's an enormous power of example and if the Iraqi people who have suffered for 30 years under one of the worst tyrannies in the world are free to build their own institutions I think there is good empirical reason to think they can do it and some of that reason you can see if you just look at what's happened in Northern Iraq for the last ten years where the people have been free. Some of that reason you can see if you go to Michigan the way I did and meet with Iraqi-Americans who are adjusting quite well to democratic institutions in this country and testify with powerful eloquence to the hunger for democracy back in Iraq.

WMAL: I read the story about your speech in Michigan and your visit there and the enthusiasm that the Iraqi Americans have for being able to return to their country and how they say that Iraq will stay together because they want freedom so much.

It seemed to me in reading this that this has been a personal mission of yours for about the last 12 years, going back to the previous Gulf War. How much of this is personal for you?

Wolfowitz: It's policy. Do I think, have I felt for a long time it's in our country's national interest? Absolutely. Have I felt for a long time that the people of Iraq deserve it? Absolutely. But it's not a personal thing.

My own view of it has actually shifted over time. I came to a conclusion along with a number of actually our Arab friends in the region toward the end of the Gulf War that Saddam Hussein would be dangerous if he remained in power. I underestimated his tenacity in hanging on to weapons of mass destruction. I underestimated his willingness to engage in acts of terrorism. And then came September 11th and I said you know, we're past the time when we can afford to underestimate threats like that. We better take them seriously.

I also think there is this very strong, in a way moral dimension that the people of Iraq have suffered horribly the kind of tortures they endure on a daily basis are incredible. The idea that any international media would put Iraqis in Baghdad on television as though they were free to talk is a joke. It's worse than a joke. It's a sick joke. But that dimension of the problem is not only a moral dimension, it has a huge strategic significance because it means that inside Iraq we have 20 million plus of some of the most talented people in the Arab world who I think can be our natural allies, especially as we treat them as we should, if we liberate them rather than occupy them.

WMAL: When we did what we did to get rid of the Taliban in Afghanistan there was a leader, Hamid Karzai, for us to turn to who was sort of a uniting figure for Afghanistan. Is there a leading candidate to lead a post-Saddam Iraq?

Wolfowitz: There are many more leading candidates in Iraq than there were in Afghanistan, that's the point. That's why you need a democratic system for the Iraqi people to pick leaders.

If you were to go back and say when the Berlin Wall came down is there a leader for Poland? Is there a leader for Czechoslovakia, it was then, is there a leader for Bulgaria? In some cases you could have picked really distinguished figures like Lech Walesa or Vaclav Havel. There are equivalent figures in Iraq. Kanan Makiya is one who comes to mind as a kind of almost a Vaclav Havel of Iraq. But the real point is that you wouldn't have been able to identify the people who are leading those countries today. Yet, they're all democracies. That's the strength of democracies, that people pick the leaders not some foreign power.

WMAL: But to set up a democracy in Iraq, all the parties would have to have equal rights and equal input in the government and a lot of people are worried that that may be impossible in Iraq because of the three distinctive sects that have historically quarreled with each other. I know you study this all the time, but is it your view that all of them will be able to pitch in together and unite behind one government and one figure?

Wolfowitz: I can't tell you for sure. Nobody can know this kind of thing.

I can tell you that the people in Northern Iraq who are predominantly Kurds have managed in very, very adverse circumstances for the last ten years to develop relatively free and relatively prosperous societies in which other groups -- Arabs and Turkomans, are treated reasonably well.

It was very striking to me when I met with the Iraqi-Americans in Michigan and I said we hear that there are Shi'a and Sunni and Arabs and Turks and it will never be possible to get along. The audience almost collectively shouted out never.

I can't tell you for sure, but I'll tell you two things. Number one, there are these differences but they have not for the most part been as they were in Bosnia, for example, the sorts of one ethnic group massacring another ethnic group. There have been massacres in Iraq, horrible massacres, of Shi'a, of Kurds, sometimes of Sunni, but it's by the government, it's by the Saddam regime.

WMAL: There is some thought there will be scores to settle once the regime has --

Wolfowitz: I'm sure there will be, but even there, I think -- We've seen in a number of places that people have endured terrible tyrannies in the 20th Century, develop a kind of antibody against going backwards. They understand what the price you pay is if you indulge in too much violence, too much demagoguery, too much bloodletting. Is that a guarantee? Absolutely not. But I must say when the dictatorship fell in Romania back around 1990, that was the one I was most pessimistic about because it really was, there were lots of scores to settle. The secret police had penetrated deep into the society because it was a self-imposed tyranny, not imposed by Soviet troops like it was in Poland, yet Romania has managed to do reasonably well over the last ten years. It certainly has a democratic government. It's now a candidate member of NATO. And I think that same powerful force will be at work.

As I say, there is empirical evidence if you look at how the Iraqis in the north have managed for the last ten years. I don't know why people keep going to theories and almost never mention the success of the Northern Iraqis.

WMAL: We're talking to the Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz here on WMAL. I only have a couple more questions for you.

I know you got into it over the last week about the number of troops needed for occupation and how long the troops would have to stay there. Ballpark, how many troops would we need for occupation while we're reconstructing that country? And how long would they been required to stay there at this time?

Wolfowitz: The basic point I try to make is you really can't predict these things. You can't predict how long wars will last and you can't predict what you'll need in the way of peacekeeping afterwards. But the notion that it would take several hundred thousand American troops just seemed outlandish.

First of all the number seems outlandish. Secondly, the idea that they would be all American is outlandish. And frankly, for the kind of functions we're talking about there are probably a lot of regular Iraqi forces that could be mobilized if that's needed for peacekeeping.

WMAL: And how long would we have to stay there would you guess?

Wolfowitz: I don't know. There is a lot to be said for shorter because the longer you stay the more people tend to become dependent on you and then they never want you to leave.

But it's interesting, Chris, the most successful example I know of in the last 15 years of our leaving sort of a stabilization operation quickly was in Northern Iraq. We went in to Northern Iraq I think it was the end of March 1991 to create a sanctuary for the Kurdish refugees who had huddled up on the border. I remember July 1st of 1991 a general named Shalikashvili who later became the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was saying it's time to get out. I was one of the nervous nellies back here who said gee, if we leave everything will fall apart. So I paid a visit there in July and they convinced me they were ready to leave.

We left in September, basically six months later, and the place hasn't needed peacekeepers since. It did get invaded once by Saddam, which is a different matter, but they've managed quite well without any American forces on the ground and that's in Iraq.

Again, I don't know, but the empirical evidence would suggest that maybe Iraqis can do better than the pessimists think. We'll just have to see.

The stakes of getting it right are just huge. Let's put it the other way. If it does take a lot the gains to us are also going to be very large.

WMAL: I will close just on this personal note, I don't think you know this, but you and I live about two blocks from each other. When I go jogging, I go jogging by your house and on Halloween my eight-year-old daughter and I went trick-or-treating at your house. My daughter told me to say thank you very much. She wanted to go trick-or-treat at your house because she'd heard you lived in our neighborhood and so we went and you were very nice to us. If you don't remember me, I was dressed as the big cat.

Wolfowitz: I do remember because you were one of the few trick-or-treaters who were enterprising enough to get past the security. [Laughter]

WMAL: That was part of my challenge, was how are they going to let a 6'2" man dressed as a black cat walk by the Secret Service out in front of your house. But I figured since I had my shield of an eight-year-old blonde girl they probably thought I wasn't too dangerous.

Wolfowitz: Well it was delightful.

If I can just put a personal thing in, there's an article in this weeks' issue of the Weekly Standard called "The Horrors of Peace -- Saddam's Victims Talk". It's a very very graphic --

WMAL: I read it, and it's chilling and excellent, and I agree with you. It's a good read although you'll come away with a different view of dogs after reading it, and I know you know what I'm talking about.

Wolfowitz: I know. Every time you think you've heard how horrible this man is you get a new story.

It was striking, can I say one more thing?

WMAL: Absolutely.

Wolfowitz: If anyone goes to the Pentagon web site and reads a transcript of that meeting or reads this article and hears the stories that Iraqis said out in public, what was really striking to me, after the public appearance one person came up to me and said you know there are people who won't speak in public about what Saddam's done to them or their families because they're afraid even here in the United States he'll reach out and kill them. That was number one.

Number two, someone else came up and said people really don't want to tell you about the most horrible thing which is how widespread is the use of rape as an instrument of terror and intimidation because it's a matter of such humiliation for their families.

WMAL: Dr. Wolfowitz, thanks so much for coming on the program.

Wolfowitz: Thanks, Chris. Thanks a lot.

WMAL: I'll see you around the neighborhood.

Wolfowitz: Good, come trick-or-treating, too. [Laughter]

WMAL: Thank you.

Wolfowitz: Thank you. Bye bye.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

WMAL: Good evening, it's 6:18. Thank you for joining us here inside the Pentagon. Joining me now on WMAL is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers. Thank you so much General, for coming by.

Myers: Chris, it's good to be with you.

WMAL: He just informed me that his real goal in life was to be on the Harden & Weaver show some years ago, so --

Myers: I guess that's passed me by.

WMAL: I'm afraid so, but anyway, thank you for letting me be your second choice here.

Myers: This is a great second choice.

WMAL: How much longer can we wait to attack Iraq without losing the element of surprise, or is the element of surprise very important to us at this point?

Myers: Well, there are all categories of surprises. You've got strategic surprise, tactical surprise, and I think General Franks and the plan he's put together if asked by the President to conduct conflict in Iraq, there will be some elements of surprise in that plan.

I'd also say we can wait almost indefinitely. Obviously we've got a lot of forces over there, but we could get to the point where we'd have to rotate some and so forth, but we're good for the foreseeable future and we're just trying to give the President as much flexibility as we possibly can.

WMAL: So over the weekend when somebody phoned you or paged you and said by the way, they took a vote in Turkey and you're not going to like the result. How formidable of a hurdle is that now for us not to be able to use Turkey from the north, assuming they don't change their mind on it?

Myers: Right. That's assuming they don't change their mind. I talk to my counterpart in Turkey frequently. They're great strategic allies. We're going to be able to I think achieve our objectives in the north without Turkey if Turkey decides not to support the effort. We'll be able to achieve our objectives. It will introduce a few more variables into the equation but in the end the outcome will be the same.

WMAL: Simply because we just have such vast superiority?

Myers: Simply because we've got Plan B and we've got Plan C and we've got Plan D. We always try to plan for various contingencies and we'll just have to see how that Turkish support finally winds up.

WMAL: When you talk about the north some of the worries are that the Kurds might want to break away from Iraq and form their own government. I know that Turkey's possibly worked about that. There are the oilfields that are in the north. There are the SCUD missiles that may be in the north that could be used to hit Israel, for example.

Are we going to be able to take care of all those things effectively without the bases in Turkey?

Myers: I think we will be able to have an effective operation in Northern Iraq without Turkey. It will be much more difficult and we prefer to have Turkey with us on this obviously. That was our going-in position. I think it's probably too early to rule out just what kind of support they may provide us.

WMAL: I wasn't going to ask this but I will because I think the audience wants to know this. Paybacks are hell, and you refer to Turkey as a great ally of ours. If they don't cooperate are they in some trouble with us or do we still consider them a great ally?

Myers: That's a great question for the leadership of this country, the political leadership, and not for the military.

I will tell you that they have fought with us, as you know, in several conflicts. They are very good allies and I think we'll just have to see how this works out in the end. I don't think we ought to prejudge anything, and how they're regarded will be a decision that the President, the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense will make, certainly not the military.

WMAL: Obviously you can't tell me any specifics, but all of us watched the Gulf War the last time around on television. How will this operation differ from the one that we watched before? I've heard somebody use the word blitzkrieg even to say lightening fast. Much different than we did it last time with an air campaign softening it up for the ground.

Myers: It will be different in a couple of aspects. I'll just give you a couple of points where you'll see that it will be different.

In Desert Storm, 12 years ago we used about 10 percent precision weapons primarily because that's all we had we could use. In Afghanistan we used somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the weapons that were used in Afghanistan were precision weapons. The percentage will be at least that, perhaps higher in any potential conflict in Iraq. So we're going to be able to have more precision, which means we're going to be able to hit the targets better and reduce the civilian casualties or collateral damage. So that's one aspect.

The other thing that's really changed is our ability to command and control and communicate with our forces. So I think you'll see much better integration of air, land and sea forces than we saw in Desert Storm.

WMAL: Saddam fashions himself a military man. He's obviously not very good at it, but nonetheless he fashions himself that way. Does he not have a clue what's coming at him? I know you probably try to figure out what his strategy is, but given the overwhelming force that's about to come after him, what do you think is going through his mind?

Myers: It's not clear, it's very hard to read, it's one of those areas where your intelligence is probably less than perfect in that case. But he's managed to stay in power for many years now. He has defied the United Nations since 1991.

One of the conditions for surrendering in '91 was that he rid the country of weapons of mass destruction. He's been defying the United Nations and all the attempts with UNSCOM and now UNMOVIC to come clean with that. So he's certainly a clever man. Who knows what's going through his mind?

I do know this. He is the one person that could make war not happen because he can, the regime could decide to disarm. But --

WMAL: He would have to leave, wouldn't he, at this point? Could he stay there if they disarmed?

Myers: Well that's not my decision. That would be a political decision again.

WMAL: I'll let you go in just a second, and I hate to ask this because I know that this is the nightmare for any military operation, but I think Americans probably need to be prepared psychologically for casualties if we do go to war. How many casualties do we need to be prepared for?

Myers: Well, it's really not knowable. There are lots of variables in that equation as well. Will the Iraqi regime use biological or chemical weapons would be one of the biggest variables, how willing they are to fight is another one, and so forth and so on. So it's really not knowable.

I think though that the American public needs to understand that if the military is ordered to go into Iraq that this will be war, that war is a very dangerous and ugly thing, and that there will be casualties, and there will be --

WMAL: Last time we saw very few casualties. This time we could be talking about thousands or tens of thousands?

Myers: Right. [Answer here refers to first part of question that there were few casualties in Desert Storm - NOT confirmation of casualties estimates posed by WMAL]. And I don't think that that's a promise that anybody in uniform can make, that this is going to be a casualty-free war. It's almost an oxymoron.

WMAL: Right.

Myers: This is war and I don't think anybody should have the opinion that this is going to be antiseptic, that it will be just like Desert Storm was or just like the Kosovo air campaign. It could be different than that and we've got to make ourselves ready.

WMAL: Do you think America's ready for that?

Myers: Absolutely. I think people understand that the threat, the combination of terrorists, safe havens where they can gather and train and plan their next attack, and biological/chemical/nuclear weapons is a nexus that we just can't stand. We've seen some of the effects on 9/11. The next time with chemical or biological weapons it could possibly be worse.

I will tell you one thing, you asked if the American public was ready. I think they understand that, that this is a threat to our way of life, to our well-being. It's a direct threat to the things we hold most dear -- our freedoms and our ability to prosper and so forth.

But I'll tell you who is ready as well, and that is the people of the armed forces. Whether they're in the Middle East or whether they're here in the Washington, D.C. area, every time I talk to these individuals, on a carrier, in Kuwait, whoever they might be, and their families, understand very clearly what this is all about. The American people should be really proud of those who serve in uniform and those DoD civilians that serve right alongside them, and sometimes contractors that are serving right alongside them, because they understand what this is all about and they're ready to do whatever their President asks them to do.

WMAL: General, thank you so much. It's an honor to have you on the program. I really appreciate it.

Myers: Chris, it's an honor to be here. Thank you.

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