Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Jack Harris and Tedd Webb, WFLA-AM Radio, Tampa Bay Florida
Q: On with us right now is the man who takes all the heat. He is the man at the top, as far as the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan are concerned. He is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. And Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for joining us on AM Tampa Bay.
Again, you have had to take a lot of heat. I mean, going back to Abu Ghraib and then followed up most recently by the so-called “ambush” over the armor on the vehicles and even more recently being vilified by John McCain. You got a tough job. [Chuckles]
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it is a tough job. But I guess it’s always been so. It kind of goes with the territory. If anyone reads back in history, of course, to George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt, any time there’s a war, there’s going to be criticism. In a free country with a free press and free speech, we’ve always survived it.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I can understand that, but someone from your party, someone who should know better -- in fact, another Navy guy -- wouldn’t he have been better served to walk up to you and say, “Hey, Don, you know, I think we need more troops,” instead of, you know, taking the grandstand approach to using the media to run you down?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, you know, let me talk a bit about the troops levels. It’s an interesting issue and it’s an important one. We have, of course, by law the senior military advisors to the president and the National Security Council the chairman and the vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Gen. Myers and Gen. Pace and then we have Gen. Abizaid and Gen. Casey who are in charge of Iraq. All four of them believe and have told me and told the president that we have the right number of troops. I’ve been persuaded that we do have the right number of troops. The president has been persuaded and we have both told the military leadership that if they need more troops or fewer troops that they should tell us and we’ll work with them to see that they have what they need.
The president’s looked them all in the eye and I have and asked them if they have what they need and they’ve said they do. [Cross Talk] Now people can disagree with that. People can disagree with that.
Q: What would you say to Sen. McCain?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, exactly what I’ve just said, that he’s the senator, he has a right to his opinion and he can express his opinion. And the Department of Defense has the obligation of listening to all sides and listening to all arguments in trying to make a good judgment. And quite honestly, I believe that Gen. Myers, Gen. Pace and Gen. Casey and Gen. Abizaid are correct and therefore that is where we’ve pegged the level of troops. And…
Q: Rush Limbaugh made an interesting point yesterday. He was saying that the military was weakened considerably under McCain’s watch, Clinton’s watch, under the powers that be during the 1990s, before you actually came onboard.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, absolutely. There’s no question [that the procurement budgets went down in the 1990’s]. Anyone who looks at the budgets, the procurement budget, for example, the department of Army, it looks like a bathtub. It just went down and back up since we’ve been here. And there’s no question but that during the 1990s in the post-Cold War period, the Congress and the executive branch together interacted and produced a bath-tub shaped defense procurement approach, which we’re now having to fix and take care of.
Q: Mr. Secretary, we were told at the beginning – 9/11 – that this would be a long war…
SEC. RUMSFELD: You bet.
Q: … and that, you know, you look at Afghanistan, you look at Iraq and those are battles; those are not wars per se. We’re sitting here watching China hoard gasoline, hoard lumber, hoard, you know, all kinds of stuff and it looks like a country that is preparing for war. I know that you guys are on top of that situation. Does that concern you what China’s doing?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I think that anyone who looks at the size of China and the fact that their economy’s been growing frequently in double digits, that their defense budget’s been growing frequently in double digits, has to express the concern and the hope that as they enter the world and become less isolated and become more a part of the world economy and more a part of the world political system, that they do it in a smooth way and not with a grinding of gears, but in a smooth manner. And that’s what everyone in the world really looking at China is, in fact, hoping and working to try to achieve.
Q: In other words, along with in a peaceful co-existence kind of way?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, sure. I mean, you’ve got a country that has historically had problems with its neighbors in India, its neighbors in the Spratly Islands, in its neighbors with Russia. It’s had border problems. And one hopes to see them become part of the world’s political system and a part of the world economy and in a peaceful way.
Q: In other words, being – Communism being defeated by capitalism, basically?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Indeed. And if you think about it, as they make their judgments, they have a communist political system and they have an increasingly free economic system. Now, to be successful on the economic side, they’re going to have to allow computers, they’re going to have to have a lot of interaction with the rest of the world. And the inevitable result of that is going to put pressure and strain on their political system which is a more controlling and repressive system.
Q: [Inaudible] see that happening in North Korea. We were talking about it this morning. It’s beginning to happen there. Iran and Syria have both played a role in the disruptions in Iraq. We were reading where intelligence – some leaked intelligence memos say that some of the Baathists that are living in Syria are funding the insurgents, as well as people in Iraq. Are they in the crosshairs for us in this war on terror?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, the president of course has talked about both Iran and Syria as countries that have been on the terrorist list and countries we know that Iran has been helping Hezbollah and we’ve watched Syria and Iran and the porous borders they have with Iraq enable them to allow across their borders, you know, money and weapons and jihadists coming out of Syria, for example. We’ve seen this. And it’s been unhelpful. And we have been doing everything we could to persuade them that that’s not in their interest and that they are making a mistake by doing that.
Q: That’s a diplomatic way of putting it: “unhelpful” and “making a mistake.” In the Iraqi war right now, you had the critical period of time achieve successfully in Afghanistan. That is getting through the elections. And the end of January you’ve got to do it now in Iraq. This is crisis time, really, there for the bad guys. And it’s a critical time for us. What do you see happening between now and the elections and how much activity after the elections?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I think you’re exactly right. I think that if one thinks about the extremists and what they have to lose, if Iraq is able to have successful elections, it’s just enormous which tells me that these people with brains are going to figure that out and they’re going to continue to increase the level of violence between now and the elections and very likely for the period after the elections to try to prevent a stable, peaceful Iraq from evolving. I was over in Afghanistan earlier this month for the inauguration of President Karzai. And if you think about it, it was just a little over three years ago that we went into that country and liberated 25 million people and three years later they have the first popularly elected president in the history of that country.
Q: That’s quite an accomplishment.
Q: It was incredible to see the women in the long lines. That was great.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Just a wonderful, wonderful accomplishment. It’s an amazing thing.
Q: Mr. Secretary, let me take you back to that ambush of that South Carolina reporter that you had when you were visiting Iraq.
SEC. RUMSFELD: [Chuckles]
Q: The story has been going around for a while that our vehicles which, by the way, were produced during the Clinton administration, where they decided to go with wheels instead of tracks, came out with insufficient armor. And they’re saying – the manufacturers are saying that they could equip those vehicles with the armor necessary, but they haven’t been contacted by the Army or the Marines to get it done.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, we had some folks go down and brief yesterday, I believe, who were knowledgeable about it and pointed out that there is apparently a miscommunication between their perception and the other perception. But the important thing about that question that was asked is that the department – by golly, first of all, I go out there to answer questions because I want to be asked questions and I want to know what the troops are thinking. And it’s an important part of what I do. And the department does owe everyone that volunteers to serve that we’re going to do our very best in the department to see that they have all the equipment they need.
Now what happens is that on the battlefield, the situation changes from time to time. And as that happens, the type of equipment has to adjust and change. And of course, there’s a gap frequently between if you begin with very little armored Humvees and you suddenly decide you need them because the enemy has decided to use tactics that take advantage of the fact that you have very few armored Humvees, just for an example. Then you have to get about the task of getting additional ones and you have to look at your tactics, just as they change their tactics – the enemy – we have to change our tactics. And tactics have to fit the equipment available. So I think it’s important that we do everything we can to see that we provide the kind of protection necessary for the troops, given the tactical situation on the ground and the battlefield tactics that our generals have decided to use.
Q: You know, incidentally, I saw today they’re going to do more airlifting to try to avoid having guys on the ground which would help considerably…
SEC. RUMSFELD: Exactly.
Q: [Inaudible] car bombs. One other thing and that’s about conducting a war where there’s a clash of cultures as there is in the Middle East between the Muslims and mostly Judeo-Christian group that’s representing us. It’s got to be awfully difficult to fight this war with one armed tied by political correctness.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it is. First of all, it’s tough to fight any war, but when you’re in a part of the world that walks at life so differently than we do, it is difficult. On the other hand, Afghanistan’s a Muslim country and the success there is just an amazing accomplishment. So it’s possible to do that.
Q: Yeah. We weren’t talking about the PC forces abroad. We were talking about the PC forces behind our own lines [Inaudible].
SEC. RUMSFELD: [Laughter]
SEC. RUMSFELD: I see. Listen, you folks down there have got so many military families that I must say, we talk a lot about the wonderful job the troops do and God bless them, they do and here it’s getting to be holiday time. And you can’t help but think of the fact that they’re going to be away from their families. But their families are also serving and sacrificing. And they’re going to be away from the troops. So it’s important that we remember them, I think and this is the season when I want to express appreciation to all the families and support people that make the work -- that’s wonderful, noble work that’s being done by our troops overseas, all around the world so successful.
Q: Well, we have a lot of them listening to us each morning, For sure. And the rest of them, I’ll tell them what you said when I run into them at Hooters on Wednesday night.
SEC. RUMSFELD: [Chuckles]
Q: OK. Thanks a million [Inaudible].
Q: Thank you, sir.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Good to talk to you both. I appreciate it. Have a nice holiday. Merry Christmas.