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Remarks by Secretary Rumsfeld in a "Town Hall" Event with U.S. Troops in Al Asad, Iraq - Headquarters 3rd Marine Air Wing

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 10, 2004

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Remarks by Secretary Rumsfeld in a "Town Hall" Event with U.S. Troops in Al Asad, Iraq - Headquarters 3rd Marine Air Wing

              LtGen  Sattler:  Hoorah. Hey, good morning, warriors, how we doing this morning.  Hoorah?

 

             CROWD:  Hoorah!

 

            LtGen Sattler:  It's my distinct pleasure this morning -- I will keep this very brief -- to go and introduce the gentleman who literally needs no introduction.

 

            I'd just like to highlight a couple points.  We all talk about selfless service, and we all know that when you're out there in the fight that you don't have to worry about the warrior on your right or on your left doing his or her job, because selfless service means we put everything ahead of ourselves.  Especially in combat our fellow warriors come before ourselves.

 

            The secretary graduated from Princeton University in 1954, and immediately started a long career of selfless service to this nation, serving in the United States Navy as a naval aviation from '54 to '57.  And he went on and ran for U.S. Congress and was elected at age 30, and was elected for three more terms of office -- a total of eight years -- from the state of Illinois.  He resigned from the U.S. Congress to serve in both the Nixon and the Ford administrations, and under President Ford he was our 13th secretary of Defense, and the youngest in the history of our nation.  He served there until 1977, and went off into the business world, where he was extremely successful, but never turned down the opportunity to serve on commissions, on panels and on boards when asked upon by his nation.

 

            And then, when President Bush came into office, he was asked to leave the civilian sector, where again he was extremely successful, and again served his nation this time as the 21st secretary of Defense.  I would ask you to join me this morning --

 

            I'll make one more point.  The schedule that the secretary keep -- I know we all work long hours out here, seven days a week -- but just reading the schedule the secretary keeps would make you tired.  So I would ask you to please join me in a rousing welcome for our 21st secretary of Defense, the Honorable Donald Rumsfeld.  Hoorah!  (Applause.)

 

            RUMSFELD:  Thank you. General, thank you so much.  It is a real privilege to be here and to see all of you and have a chance to look you in the eye and tell you how much we appreciate your service and what important work you're doing.

 

            I understand that almost everyone here is a Marine.

 

            CROWD:  Hoorah!

 

            RUMSFELD:  On the other hand there are a few soldiers.

 

            SOLDIER:  Raaaa!  (Laughter.)

 

            RUMSFELD:  You can do better than that.

 

            SOLDIER:  Raaaa!  (Laughter.)

 

            RUMSFELD:  And some sailors!

 

            CROWD:  Hoorah!

 

            RUMSFELD:  All right.  No Coast Guard.  Air Force?

 

            SOLDIER:  Yah!  (Laughter.)

 

            RUMSFELD:  That's terrific.  Well, at least we're slightly joint.

 

            I thank you for your welcome.  I thank you for what you're doing for the country, and of course it's a fact -- we all know this -- for over 200 years America, our country, has turned to the Marines for some of the most difficult and some of the most dangerous missions.  They stretched through my lifetime from World War II and Korea, Vietnam, and here to Iraq.  And you are here really today at Ground Zero in the struggle against fanaticism, extremism and terrorism.  And it is where we need some of America's most skilled warriors.  For months you've had some heat, you have lost folks.  I've been to Bethesda and Walter Reed and visited a number of the folks from your units who have been wounded.  You've been separated from families, friends and loved ones.  But because of your efforts, we now have a government in Iraq that will not invade other countries, will not fire missiles at its neighbors, will not seek weapons of mass destruction, will not harbor terrorists, will not slaughter its own people, will not behead people, and you can be enormously proud of the contribution you're making to that important progress.

 

            One of the leaders of the new Iraqi government is here today, and I'd like him to walk this way and step up and be introduced.  With us today is the Defense minister of Iraq, Minister Sha'alan.  We have just been together -- come up here -- at least stand up and let these folks have a chance to take a look at you.  We've been over at the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy yesterday with 18 defense ministers who are all part of the worldwide coalition that's helping here in Iraq, and this is Defense Minister of Iraq Sha'alan.  (Applause.)

 

            Those who are determined to try to take back Iraq, to take it back to a dark place have launched a vicious campaign of kidnappings, beheadings, suicide bombings, and they're trying to derail the new sovereign Iraqi government, and drive it out, drive us all apart, and to separate the international coalition that's helping to build a new future here in Iraq.  They're hoping to snuff out any signs of progress.  So they attack civic leaders, they attack cabinet officers -- they've made attempts to kill the prime minister.  They attack policemen, they go after volunteers -- Iraqi volunteers standing in line to join the National Guard or join the police or join the border patrol or join the new Iraqi army.  And yet there are volunteers standing in those lines day after day ready to serve the Iraqi people.

 

            The innocent people that are being killed, Iraqi people, are not incidental or accidental casualties.  In many instances they are the targets, because this is not a battle against large armies and navies and air forces; this is a test of wills that we are engaged in.  Why else would there be a deliberate massacre of over 30 children in Baghdad recently?

 

            All the terrorist leaders -- Zarqawi, the man responsible for some of the cruelest atrocities here in Iraq, including the beheadings, after being driven out of Afghanistan with the collapse of the Taliban, where of all the countries on Earth, where would he go?  Where would he go?  He came here.  He came to Iraq.  He chose this country to seek shelter.  And it was here in Iraq, a long-time state on the terrorist list, and a country that has been the sworn enemy of the United States of America.  And think about the kind of people that he and his followers are, and consider what would happen if they were to succeed.  What kind of a world would we have if they were to prevail in this struggle?

 

            A victory for the extremists would mean that Iraq would become a base for training, planning of operations for the kinds of people who struck America on September 11th.  We've seen their kind of work around the world.  Their victims have been people -- the people riding those trains, going to work in Madrid, young Australians and Indonesians in the disco in Bali, and the children attending their first day of school in Beslan, Russia.  The goal of the extremists is to impose their will on the way of life of others by terrorizing them and by intimidating free and civilized people everywhere across the globe.  Their goal is to topple moderate governments -- governments in this region, and to impose their view of the world and an imposed rule by a handful of extreme clerics.

 

            The extremists have made Iraq a key campaign in their global struggle.  They know they cannot defeat us militarily, but they are hoping they can win the test of wills.  It's a battle of morale, it's a battle of perceptions.  And they're hoping to cause members of the coalition to decide that it is the pain and the ugliness and the difficulty of the task is simply too great.

 

            But despite the terror, despite the intimidation, tens of thousands of Iraqis have volunteered, and they continue to volunteer.  And they're protecting their country.  They performed bravely in Najaf and in Samarra. And since the beginning of this year, over 700 Iraqi security forces have been killed.  So they're not hiding in their barracks.  They're out there serving their country.   And they are now something close to 100,000 Iraqi security forces.  We expect to have 150,000 by the end of January when the elections are to be held.  The goal is to go up over 200,- towards 225-plus thousand in the period thereafter.  This is their country.  It will be Iraqis who will have to build this country. It will be Iraqis that will have to defend this country.  And our task, this coalition's task, is to be here for a period and create an environment where they can do that, where they can make this a single nation at peace with its neighbors, without weapons of mass destruction, a country that creates a powerful influence in the region for the good.

 

            It's appropriate at a time like this when everyone is caught up with the latest car bomb in Iraq or the latest IED, or another grisly video, to consider some historical perspective.  There can be no doubt but that this global war against extremism is a task for a least a generation.  It is a war that very likely will go on for many years, much like the Cold War went on for many years.  We will look back at the Cold War in the history books as a great almost preordained victory for freedom.  But I was alive during that whole period, and involved in it, and I can tell you that the almost 50-year span of the epic battle between the free world and the Soviet empire was filled with division, it was filled with uncertainty.  There was self-doubt, there were setbacks, there were failures during those 50 years.  Territories were seized, wars were fought -- many times when the enemy seemed to have the upper hand.  There were times when the free world contemplated withdrawing from the Cold War.  It was not simply a smooth upward path towards victory as it looks now in the history books.  Indeed, very few things in life are simply a smooth upward path towards victory.

 

            But our country and our allies showed perseverance, they showed resolve year after year, decade after decade.  Our leaders dared to aggressively confront what many thought was an unbeatable foe, and eventually the Soviet regime collapsed.  That's a lesson that I think realistically almost every generation has to learn for itself.  The lesson is that weakness is provocative, it entices people into adventures they otherwise would avoid; that a refusal to confront gathering dangers can increase, not reduce, future peril; and that victory ultimately only comes to those who are resolute and steadfast.

 

            Just as there are risks to acting, there often can be even more dangerous risks to not acting.  The road ahead is going to require courage, strength, determination.  And thankfully those are exactly the characteristics of the men and women in uniform who serve our country.  We are so fortunate to be able to count on you in this time of peril for our nation.

 

            So I thank you. May God bless you and your families, and we thank you for your commitment to our country and to contributing to a more peaceful, a safer Iraq to be sure, but also a more peaceful and safer world as well.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

 

           Thank you.  Now, there's a couple of things I'd like to do.  One is I'd like to answer some questions.  Let me correct that:  I'd like to respond to some questions.  I'll answer the ones I know the answers to, and I'll respond carefully to the ones I don't.

 

            And the second thing I'm going to want to do is go down there and shake hands with as many of you I can.  And if you want take some pictures and have a chance to say thank you personally.

 

            Are there microphones in this place, or do you need microphones?  You don't?  They do?  Where are they?  Oh, so someone stick up your hand and a microphone will come to you.  Whoops, right here.

 

            Q:  I had a question -- (off mike) -- between Iraq, Afghanistan, and was that a problem, sir?

 

            RUMSFELD:  I don't know.  I'll find out.  I know that the subject has been raised at the moment.  I believe there's one.  Is that correct?  And I know that the proposal has been made to have at least one that is separate for Afghanistan from Iraq, and I don't know if there's a proposal, an additional one, for the global war on terror broadly.  Is there not, Bill?  We'll find out and tell the general and he'll tell you.  W-I-D-E-N-E-R.  All right.  (Laughter.)  Did you hear me, general?  (Laughter.)

 

            Okay, where's the mike?

 

            Q:  Good morning, sir.  Major Ted Crowbert (ph) with Marine Wing Support Squadron 472.  I'd like to know, sir, what the current administration proposes to more share with the American people the positive effects of what's happening in Iraq today.

 

            RUMSFELD:  Well, the last thing I'd ever want to do would be to criticize the press.  (Laughter.)  (Cheers, applause.)  And there [are] some of them right here!  (Laughter.)  Right here amongst us, and they're a good group, they -- they're -- a lot of them from the Pentagon press corps, and they've made a career of understanding a lot about the United States military and the defense establishment.

 

            The administration, folks in the Congress, folks in the Department of Defense, all work their heads off trying to see that the world, the American people, the neighboring countries and the people of Iraq get as accurate an impression of what is actually happening here as possible.  I don't know what's happened.  I'm 72 years old, and I've seen a lot of press in my life.  But it seems that today news is not news unless it's bad news, that there is not much interest in reporting when a hospital opens or a school opens or new textbooks that are available -- that the only thing that's interesting to report for the most part it seems to me is something that's bad.

 

            I was watching television last night in Bahrain, and CNN was on and I looked at it, and there was a woman interviewing somebody about the elections in Kabul.  Here's a country that's never had free elections, here's a country that was hoping to get six million people to register to vote.  Over ten million registered.  Here's a country where 40 percent of the people who registered are women who didn't have any rights under the Taliban to speak of -- they couldn't go out of their house without an escort.  They couldn't go to a doctor and they couldn't practice medicine, they couldn't go to school.  And the person on television on CNN was not praising the fact that there were elections in Afghanistan, which is a breathtaking accomplishment.  It was in October of 2001 that the Taliban and the al Qaeda were running that country.  It was later that year that the forces of the United States and the coalition liberated the 25 million people in that country.  They've had a loya jirga, they've had an interim government, they've had a constitution developed, and now they're electing a president.  It is a breathtaking accomplishment.  And on television they were complaining because of some minor problem about something in the election, looking for perfection and fussing about it instead of praising it, because it was a gigantic accomplishment for this part of the world.  I don't know what the answer is.

 

            On the other hand, I do know something about the American people.  The American people have been able to live in a free society for a lot of decades, and amazingly they have a good inner gyroscope.  They get blown by the winds, to be sure, and all the bad news, and they get disturbed and concerned and down.  And then it balances out, they figure it out, and sometimes the carburetor gets flooded, if you will, but it doesn't take long for them to sort through all that stuff.  And I've got a lot of confidence in the American people. I have less confidence in people in countries where they don't have a free press, where they haven't had the experience of having to synthesize and take in all of that bad news every day.  I mean, there were -- I'm not supposed to mention the city, but in a city that you all know in the United States, it's only 400,000 people, there were 256 homicides last year.  But they were not on the newspaper's front page every single day.  What's on the front page of the newspaper in Washington, D.C. every single day is the beheading in Baghdad or in Iraq some place.  And the media out in this part of the world -- Al Araby and al Jazeera are constantly pounding the negative side of everything that's being done, and that creates an environment that's inhospitable to having this country move forward towards a peaceful and civil society, a moderate society.  And it's going to make the task of the minister and his associates that much more difficult.  But it's doable.

 

            So I can't solve the problem.  There's no magic wand to do that.  But the good things you're doing here -- and you know you're doing -- and the progress you see here.  And the fact that we were told yesterday that the number of incidents, adverse incidents, incidents of violence, was less than four incidents in 14 of the 18 provinces of this country.  Now, the other provinces there are a lot of incidents and there's a lot of violence, and people are being killed.  And I don't want to be accused of suggesting that it's a rosy picture out here -- it isn't.  It's a tough business.  But it's always been tough to go from a vicious dictatorship on that path towards democracy -- I think it was Thomas Jefferson said of our country one ought not expect to be transported from a -- I think from despotism to democracy on a featherbed.  Life just isn't like that.  It wasn't like that for Germany after World War II, it wasn't like that for Japan or Italy, or it wasn't like that for our country.

 

            That was a pretty balanced lecture about the press, wasn't it?  (Laughter.)

 

            All right, where's the question?  Yes, there's one.

 

            Q:  (Off mike)?  (Laughter.)

 

            RUMSFELD:  The question was what's my personal opinion about Senator Kerry running against President Bush.

 

            Q:  (Off mike)?  (Laughter.)

 

            RUMSFELD:  The president looked Colin Powell and me in the eye, and he said, "Colin, Don, I want -- the national security of this country and the foreign policy of this country is too important to get messed up in politics, and I want the two of you to stay out of it."  (Applause.)  So I've stayed out of it.  (Laughter.)  But I do have personal opinions, and sometimes -- if you come and see me afterwards, I'll whisper -- (laughter) --

 

            Questions?  Here's one.

 

            Q:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary.  Staff Sergeant Dower (ph) with Marine Wing Support Group 37 from the Great State of Michigan.

 

            SOLDIERS:  Hoorah!

 

            RUMSFELD:  Why didn't someone say something like "Hoorah" when they said I'm from Illinois?

 

            CROWD:  Hoorah!

 

            RUMSFELD:  All right!

 

            Q:  Mr. Secretary, my question is this:  Is there any relief in sight in regards to the frequency and length of current and future deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan?

 

            RUMSFELD:  The -- there's discussion going on always.  The Marines are currently on a seven-month rotation.  The Army is currently on a 12-month rotation.  The Army gets a week or two back in the middle.  The circumstance on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere in the world is what determines what we have to do by way of deployments and mobilization of Guard and Reserve.  It is constantly under review.  We expect the level of violence and difficulty to increase between now and the Iraqi elections in January, so I don't see any likelihood that we'd have a reduction in U.S. or coalition forces here in this country between now and January, which means that the current rotation schedule very likely will stay roughly what it is.  The president has said that we're here not to stay but to be here to create an environment where the Iraqis can take over their country and to stay as long as necessary and not any longer than is necessary.  So our hope is that as we build up Iraqi forces we will be able to relieve the stress on our force and see a reduction in coalition forces over some period of time, probably close to Iraqi elections.  But, again, it's going to depend entirely on the security situation here in this country and the extent to which the minister of defense of Iraq and his associates in the Ministry of Interior are able to build up those forces and train them and equip them and see that they take over the responsibility.

 

            Questions?  There's one way back there.

 

            Q:  (Off mike)?

 

            RUMSFELD:  I'm sorry, you're going to have to have a mike.  Why doesn't somebody walk a mike over to him.  In the meantime we'll take someone else.  I've got an aviator's ears -- I just can't hear.  Yes?

 

            Q:  (Off mike)?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Reserves?

 

            Q:  Yes, sir.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, this country depends on the total-force concept, and we simply have a -- regrettably, as we moved into the 21st century we had an imbalanced active force component with the Reserve components.  We had too many skills that were only in the Guard and Reserve and not in the active force, and as a result we have had to make excessive use of the Guard and Reserve, greater than otherwise would have been the case had we had a proper balance of skill sets in the Reserve components with the active components.  We're making a very serious effort to rectify that.  The Army has made good progress already, the Marines are working on it.  And I expect to see a situation where our country will go forward into the 21st century continuing to need the Guard and Reserve, but better organized and arranged, so that people who've decided to be on active duty are on active duty, and people who decided to be in the Guard and Reserve are used just for that:  a Reserve capability to be called only when needed, and not simply because were poorly organized, which was the case coming into this century.  So we're going to need the Guard and Reserve, and God bless them, they're doing a great job for our country.  (Applause.)

 

            Yes, sir?

 

            Q:  Corporal Robinson (ph), San Francisco, California, sir.  You mentioned earlier that there is a long struggle for freedom, referencing the Cold War.  And my question specifically is what steps is the current administration taking to ensure that any following administrations in the future throughout the length of this conflict will be as equipped as possible to succeed?

 

            RUMSFELD:  Well, that's an important question, and we have been since the day I arrived in the process of transforming the armed forces of the United States.  If you think about it, the United States of America was organized, trained and equipped to fight big armies, navies and air forces, and that's not what we're doing.  We're doing a lot of other things. We're required to do a number of tasks that are distinctly different from major battles against air, sea or land opponents.

 

            So what we have been doing is adjusting the armed forces of the United States so that they can deal with these asymmetric threats, so that we can live in the world we're living in, where there is a struggle that's global between moderates who want people to be able to live their lives the way they want to live their lives, and extremists who were determined to intimidate and force people to live in a way that they decided everyone in the world should live.  And that means we have to do -- we have to do a great deal better with respect to intelligence gathering, we have to have our units much more agile and mobile, we have to have more modularity, we have to have greater lethality, we have to have greater precision, we have to understand that we're going to be required to sift and sort the bad guys from the good guys, and that is not an easy task, and I know you're living with it every day, and it's tough.  And I have great respect for the complexities that you face in -- every day as you conduct a patrol in a country where overwhelmingly the people are friendly -- and notwithstanding the fact that the high percentage of the people of the people are friendly, there are small minorities of people who are very unfriendly and determined to kill you and to kill Iraqis and to destroy this government, and to prevent this country from being successful, and to prevent this country from creating an environment that's respectful for every religious group and every -- all of the diversity that exists here.  And that's a tough job.  But we are in the process of transforming the armed forces of the United States to be able to live in the 21st century, and we've got a darn good start on it already.

 

            Question?

 

            GEN.:  Mr. Secretary, we need to keep you on your 18-hour schedule, sir.  We could I am sure go on for -- at length -- there was a lot of questions from the Marines, the soldiers, the sailors and airmen.  But on behalf of all the warriors within 1 MEF, I want to thank you for coming this morning and give you the opportunity to get up close and personal and shake some hands and let the warriors have their pictures taken with you.  So without further ado, if you don't mind, sir, we'll cut it here, and I'd like to have a little round of applause to thank the secretary for his time.   (Applause.)

 

            RUMSFELD:  Thank you very much.

 

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