Tuesday, October 9, 2001
(Interview with Dan Rather, CBS)
Rather: With the first phase of the war coming to an end, I went inside the Pentagon today for an exclusive interview with former Navy carrier pilot, now Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Mr. Secretary, how long do you expect the campaign in Afghanistan to go along at or anywhere near the current level? I mean you're talking days, weeks, months?
Rumsfeld: Well, I think by campaign, you're probably referring to the bombing and the cruise missiles. The important thing is that the campaign must be used and understood to be in the broadest sense. We're so conditioned as a people to think that a military campaign has to be cruise missiles and television images of airplanes dropping bombs, and that's just false. This is a totally different war. We need a new vocabulary. We need to get rid of old think and start thinking about this thing the way it really is. These people live in shadows.
Rather: Is it or is it not the policy of the United States government to remove the Taliban from power?
Rumsfeld: Well, if you think about it, Taliban has taken over about 90 percent of that country. It has invited in foreign terrorists that are functioning worldwide. It has oppressed its people. It is starving millions of Afghans. It has mis-served the Afghan people. And there is no question but that the United States is determined to root out the al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership that are linked to al Qaeda at the hip.
Rather: But you've been very careful in your language -- if I'm wrong about this, correct me -- in saying bin Laden, the bin Laden network and the Taliban leadership is connected in that part. That's a different thing from saying we're not going to have a Taliban government in Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld: Well, I'd be amazed if there were a Taliban government in Afghanistan when this thing is over. But the reason I'm careful and measured in words is it's not for me to decide. It's for the Afghan people to decide. And what we are determined to do is stop the exporting of terrorism from that country.
Rather: Mr. Secretary, a ranking Defense Department official said privately today that while the air strikes have been what he called very successful, that they have not yet hit -- and these are his words -- targets most important to the Taliban.
What does that mean?
Rumsfeld: The fact of the matter is that we have been proceeding in an orderly way. We've been successful with respect to most of the airfields. And we still have a good many of their aircraft and helicopters and transport planes that have not been hit. I don't know what he might have meant, unless it was the leadership. And we suspect that Omar's still alive. And if that is what is meant, that the command and control and leadership structure may still be intact, I would guess that's probably a correct assessment.
Rather: What about the coalition? Shaky? Would you agree with that description?
Rumsfeld: Well, there isn't a coalition, really. There are "coalitions," plural.
Rather: Can we or can we not fly combat aircraft off of Saudi Arabian soil?
Rumsfeld: Well, Saudi Arabia, and every other country -- I made a decision early on that it made a lot of sense for us to say, look, let's let other countries characterize what they do. Why should the United States run around trying to characterize what other countries are doing.
Rather: I want to move on, but back to the question. Can we or can we not fly combat aircraft off Saudi soil?
Rumsfeld: I'll go back to the answer. We allow each country to characterize their assistance for this effort themselves. And it's the wisest thing to do, and it's working very well for us.
Rather: When will we know we've succeeded?
Rumsfeld: When you and I and our children get up and walk out the door and don't worry that an airplane is going to come down and hit us, or a truck bomb is going to drive into a building, or the World Trade Center is going to fall down.
Rather: Secretary Rumsfeld finds himself at a moment in history unlike any other. He is fighting a war provoked by an attack on his own headquarters. Now the Pentagon is a crime scene, and there is a dreadful not just in the building, but in the hearts of the men and women here who lost 126 friends and co-workers.
You're the only Secretary of Defense in history that had the Defense Department itself hit by enemy forces. How do you feel personally about it? How do you react on a personal level to that?
Rumsfeld: Well, I think it shows that free people are vulnerable to people who decide they want to try to terrorize the world. And terrorists can attack at any time, at any place. It can use any conceivable technique. I was sitting right there being briefed by my CIA briefer when the whole building shook. It is a -- clearly it's a memory you won't forget.
Rather: As regards the attacks of September 11th, was it, in your opinion, a failure of intelligence or a failure of imagination?
Rumsfeld: If you know anyone whose imagination was sufficient to think of plastic knives and the use of a U.S. airliner filled with American people as a missile to destroy a World Trade Center before it happened, I'd be amazed.
Rather: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.