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Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Roundtable Discussion

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
November 15, 2004

Monday, November 15, 2004

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Roundtable Discussion

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Saw some beautiful vistas and it’s a wonderful location for a defense ministerial meeting.  Do you have questions?  I have no further [Inaudible].  [Chuckles]


            Q:  Secretary Powell and three other cabinet members submitted their resignations. 


SEC. RUMSFELD:  Who else? 


Q:  One…


SEC. RUMSFELD:  Who else? 


Q:  I think the education.


SEC. RUMSFELD:  Rod Paige.


Q:  [Cross Talk]


SEC. RUMSFELD:  And Evans, I thought, there.  


Q:  And Evans.  You know, I think it was--


SEC. RUMSFELD:  And somebody else. 


Q:  [Cross Talk] 


SEC. RUMSFELD:  And Ashcroft did, so, yeah. 


Q:  [Inaudible]


SEC. RUMSFELD:  Oh, absolutely. 


Q:  All four announced today.  Have you’ve submitted your resignation?  Are you – do you plan on or can [Inaudible]?


SEC. RUMSFELD:  I have not discussed that with the president and I think I’d prefer to discuss that with him before I do with you Charlie.  And I think I’ve answered that same question… 


Q:  I understand. 


SEC. RUMSFELD:  … previously, almost exactly the same way.  And one would have thought that it would have penetrated. 


Q:  Might we ask have you submitted your resignation and can make a decision on it?


SEC. RUMSFELD:  I haven’t discussed that with him at all and in writing or oral.


Q:  If I can ask, Mr. Secretary, you are the secretary of defense right now you’re focusing on going forward.  If you were deciding on some mileposts, some goals that you have and however long you remain serving as secretary of defense, what are those goals that you would like to achieve in the new Bush administration?


SEC. RUMSFELD:  I tell you, answering a question like that, having not discussed the subject with the president, it would be a positioning, it would be unfortunate as you well know.


Q:  Let me try to rephrase it then, what are your priorities now as secretary of defense?


SEC. RUMSFELD:  They are what they’ve been: is to win the global war on terror; and to continue the work in Afghanistan and Iraq which is a part of that war; and to see that we move the department and continue to process of transforming it so that it’s appropriate for the 21st century.  And we have a good team of people that have been working on that for a good many years and have made a lot of progress and feel good about it. 


Q:  Mr. Secretary, could you – do you have a sense of the policy that would be post Colin Powell - a good man [Inaudible].  Do you have a sense of where?  Are there likely to be changes or are we just going to wait and see who winds up in the job? 


SEC. RUMSFELD:  I think the way to think about it is that the president is the commander in chief and the chairman of the National Security Council.  Any policies they’ve seen over the last four years are not any one person’s policies; they’re the president’s policies.  They’re the country’s policies.  They are the product of a range of advice that he receives, interaction with the Congress, interaction with other countries and then judgments he makes.   And then with the direction that flows from those judgments, he provides that direction to the members of the national security team and they are his policies.  So one would think that he had his policies for the last four years.  He ran for re-election on those policies and one would, I would think, expect to see a continuum and an approach that is appropriate to the times and to our country’s circumstance. 


Q:  You don’t specifically see much change in the way things are going now though?


SEC. RUMSFELD:  That’s really for the president to say. 


Q:  Sure. 




Q:  Unless he makes some changes you don’t see a difference in where it’s going no matter who’s there? 


SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, no, but if you think about it, Colin Powell and Condi and I talk once a day and have lunch once a week with the vice president.  And along, quite simply principals committee meetings and National Security Council meetings and discuss the full range of issues and provided the advice – our best advice – as individuals, as well as individuals representing statutory departments and perspectives to the president.  And the president made the calls on the things that he believes were in the best interest of our country, a strategic direction as well as a tactical call.  And it’s hard for me to expect that that approach would change.  I just doubt that it will.   He’s very much a president who probes deeply with questions.  I had a National Security Council meeting with him this morning with Colin and Condi, and the vice president, on a subject and he pressed, and prayed, and asked, and challenged, and tested a whole host of ideas and he does that frequently on a whole variety of subjects.  And in fact, it’s impressive to me how he moves from economic issues to domestic issues to foreign policy issues to national security issues all in a day.  So he’s very much engaged in these issues and cares deeply about them. 


Q:  Mr. Secretary, having worked with Colin Powell for almost four years now, what was your reaction to his resignation and how did you know that it was his intent to resign from the post? 


SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, you know, four years is a long time and these are tough jobs.  I have not pressed anyone in the cabinet as to what their future plans were and I’ve enjoyed working with Colin.  Needless to say, we’ve covered a lot of miles together.  He’s… So I was not aware that he was going to resign, if that’s what you’re asking, nor was I aware of any of the individuals who resigned were going to resign.  He is an enormously talented individual, obviously.  He has a broad background.  He’s very articulate in expressing the policies of the United States of America.  And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with him.  I’ve been kind of amused that the press desire to sell newsprint while constantly creating – trying to fabricate friction. 


But the truth is that if you go back in history, over different administrations and secretaries of state and secretaries of defense and national security advisors and others in the process, from – throughout my adult life, you find that the reality is that presidents tend to like to have people who are not carbon copies of each other. 


The way our government is organized from a statutory standpoint, the departmental system, gives the leaders of those departments a statutory responsibility to understand the perspectives that those interests represent and see that they’re represented in the National Security Council process.  So I did that with Henry Kissinger and we had instances where he had one view, I had another view, and we were friends then -- since in the 25 years since then and we’re friends today.  And that is the wonderful thing about our country, if you think about it. 


I think that – I forget which columnist it was; it might have been George Will who opined one day that most American politics are conducted between the 40-yard lines.  And that’s a healthy thing; it’s a good thing.  One of the results of it is that there is a strong degree of continuity in U.S. policy.  And so needless to say, having worked so closely with him, and we’ll miss not working closely with him, but I wish him well in whatever he decides to do and we’ll be visiting with him when I get home. 


Q:  Could you bring us up to date on the latest from Iraq, particularly how Fallujah is stabilizing, to what degree, and also on the reports of attacks taking place in other parts of the country in Mosul?


SEC. RUMSFELD:  I’d rather not do it on the record.  What else?


Q:  Can I ask about the ministerial meeting?


SEC. RUMSFELD:  Sure.  We’ll go back on the record.


Q:  Thank you.  What – I know about the initiatives that are on the table.  What’s the single most important thing to you that you want to make sure when you leave here has been accomplished and what do you plan to propose to ensure that? 


SEC. RUMSFELD:  I think that in the broadest sense, it is strengthening the inter-American system.  And then the question is, well, what does that mean?  And I think of it from a defense ministerial standpoint as being – it’s a continuing effort that some of the initiatives we began two years ago -- a continuing effort on the part of these countries throughout Latin America, but also particularly even in Central America where they have some good things going for its security cooperation.  To see that the countries, in their own way, develop an understanding of the 21st century and the roles and missions of the various security forces, whether it’s military or police or what have you.  And the reality that the enemies -- in this case terrorists, narcotraffickers, hostage takers, gangs, the people who do things that make the lives of the people in this region harder and poorer -- that the security cooperation in the region develops and evolves in a way that fits this new period and it is a different period.  The enemies of order and democracy and freedom and civil society and rule of law have brains, regrettably.  And they use those brains and they adapt.  And to the extent there’s a seam that exists and there are all kinds of seams.  There may be seams between different kinds of security forces.  There may be seams between countries.  There may be ungoverned areas and you should make sure you don’t miswrite it as misgoverned areas.  Someone did that and it was awkward.  It’s ungoverned, not being governed at all, as opposed to being misgoverned – which is a totally different concept. 


But there are ungoverned areas and the borders between countries have been used and they’re being used effectively against civil society.  And it’s different today.  It’s different.  And these countries are overwhelmingly democratic.  They are countries that want a rule of law.  There are countries that are in many instances fighting corruption, there are countries that are interested in cooperating and they’re taking steps to cooperate to a greater extent. 


Certainly, an obvious example is maritime security and cooperation.  But if you think about it, no country, including the United States or any other country in the world can deal with these problems alone because these problems are not problems that are located and contained within national boundaries.  That would be too easy.  So the enemies, the people who are against civil order, do use their brains, they look for weaknesses, they probe those weakness, they take advantage of them.   And what we have to do is be smarter and quicker and find new ways to cooperate, recognizing that it will take the best of all of us cooperating to improve the way we do things - the sharing of information, the cooperation among law enforcement and the cooperation with respect to financing of illegal activities, the recognition that things that are against society can happen in the air.  You have to think of the air bridge - correction… the air interdiction cooperation between Brazil and Colombia and the United States and other countries.  And things can happen in water.  So the maritime cooperation is important and things can happen on land.  And it’s just like we’re in the United States, attempting through the Department of Homeland Security come from our border capabilities and understandings, improve visas and management of the flow of humanity across borders, so the same thing’s true with other countries.  And it’s a good thing for all of us. 


Q:  Mr. Secretary?




Q:  The issues you just brought up, state sponsored terrorism is not an issue.  But it used to be an issue with Cuba.  And some people have thought in the case of Venezuela are sponsoring or sort of encouraging movement that could destabilize other countries in Latin America.  Is that an issue that’s not going to be discussed?  Is there any reason why?  Is that off the table or it’s just not a threat anymore?  


SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, there’s no question but that there are terrorist organizations that are functioning in the United States, North America and in South American and in Central America.  We know there are cells of people that are engaged in a variety of different terrorist activities.  Now -- so it is an issue.  Where does it rank at any given time?  I mean, we have to worry about all of those things that I mentioned and certainly the flow of narcotics is an important one, certainly, hostage taking has been a problem, the problem of gangs is a serious one.  And from our standpoint, obviously, the risk that some of these human smuggling routes into our country from this hemisphere could be used just as easily for terrorists.  So that’s – these are issues, but they are important ones.  


Q:  Do have something for the ministers beyond this?


SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, they are what they are.  They’re quite transparent.  There’s no big secret about what they are.  I think that the way I’d characterized it probably reflects the answer – the proper answer to the question about these defense ministerial meetings.  How are we doing?  It’s getting warm in here. 


Q:  [Inaudible]




Q:  Can I just ask something else?  And if you prefer to go on background, off the record.  You seem to indicate when I asked about the possibility of a resignation, that you haven’t discussed this with the president, either orally or written…


SEC. RUMSFELD:  That’s right. 


Q:  … did that, if you’d prefer to say off the record, if you did that you haven’t submitted a resignation, meaning that you haven’t gone to him formally.  You all haven’t discussed the future and you haven’t submitted any resignation? 


SEC. RUMSFELD:  OK.  Go on and go totally off the record.


Q:  Just so we know [Cross Talk]…


SEC. RUMSFELD:  I will now go…


Q:  You say you’ve indicated you haven’t submitted your resignation, but it wouldn’t be wrong since you’ve said orally – orally or written?


SEC. RUMSFELD:  OK, we’re off the record. 

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