Secretary Rumsfeld Radio Interview with Lockwood Phillips, Connie Asero and Ben Ball of WTKF-FM Radio, Jacksonville, North Carolina
MR. PHILLIPS: Mr. Secretary?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes. Don Rumsfeld here.
MR. PHILLIPS: Thank you very much. Welcome. I’m Lockwood Phillips.
MS. ASERO: Connie Asero.
MR. BALL: And I’m Ben Ball.
MR. PHILLIPS: And we do welcome you. And we’ll begin right now with our conversation because we recognize that you do have a tight schedule. And again, thank you for taking the time to do this. We do appreciate it.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I’m delighted to do it.
MR. PHILLIPS: Again, Mr. Secretary, we’ve been hearing from the politicians about the progress in both Operation Enduring Freedom and – pardon me…
MR. BALL: In Afghanistan.
MR. PHILLIPS: … Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. And I’m curious from your perspective as Secretary of Defense, what is your feeling about the progress of the war at this time?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, the global war on terror is going well. I say that not because it means we’re perfectly safe. When a terrorist can attack at any time at any place using any technique, there’s an enormous advantage there. But the fact that we now have an 80 or 90-nation coalition and are putting pressure on the terrorist financing, making it harder for them to raise money, harder for them to recruit people, harder for them to move between countries, and there’s such a heightened sensitivity to terrorism that the task of the terrorist is considerably more difficult.
In Afghanistan – I think I’ve been there six or seven times, since the war ended, late in 2001. Every time I’ve been there, I can see – physically see – the progress. The refugees are returning home, the schools are open, the medical centers are open. The election that just took place was an amazing accomplishment. Here’s a country where something in excess of 12 million people, I believe, registered in some, they think, maybe as many as 10 million voted and 40 percent of them were women, which they have no experience with democracy. People said they weren’t going to be able to have an election. And women were standing in the snow at three in the morning to get to the polling places. And in one case, there was a bomb that went off, an explosion about 100 yards from the polling place and nobody left. They stayed there and voted. So it’s a wonderful accomplishment.
ASERO: It is really – that is an impressive accomplishment, if you know anything about Afghanistan, although the Afghans are probably the most freedom-loving people, next to the Americans that I’ve ever encountered. Why is it that this amazing feat in Afghanistan has received so little coverage in the United States?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I just don’t know. I’m absolutely amazed. For months beforehand, they said they would have to delay it, they couldn’t do it, that the Taliban and the al Qaeda would disrupt it, that the levels of violence would go up. And on the day of the election, I watched and on television they had people picking because in one or two of the polling places, the indelible ink wasn’t as indelible as they’d hoped. I suppose it’s because good news isn’t news in this funny world we live in. But it is – for me to see 25 million people liberated and to have this unusual process called a loya jirga where they selected an interim government and then to see them proceed in a perfectly orderly way to an election, it is such a wonderful accomplishment for the Afghan people that you just have to be thrilled for them.
ASERO: Well, you do. And you know, we talked to the 22nd MEU that was just back from Kandahar and they helped register I think they said 60,000 voters in the Kandahar area. We’re asking young American 18- and 19-year-old Marines to perform the civic function of helping voters register. That’s pretty amazing.
SEC. RUMSFELD: It is. What the servicemen and women are doing in Afghanistan and Iraq is amazing. They are helping open schools. They’re starting soccer teams, they’re helping people learn how to register and vote, they’re putting generators in hospitals and one thing and another. They are just wonderful representatives for our country.
MR. BALL: Mr. Secretary, what is the status of the Taliban and how present are they still in Afghanistan in the region and isn’t it disturbing that they actually do have a spokesperson? I mean, it seems like they are still around probably in far greater numbers than we would like.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I guess I don’t quite agree with that. But there’s no doubt, but that there are still people in Afghanistan who have sympathy with the Taliban that had previously ruled the country. The interim president Karzai who is very likely to be re-elected, as I understand it, and is running well ahead in some 20 percent of the votes that have been counted, has extended a hand to the Taliban to those who were at lower levels and did not have blood on their hands. But if you think about it, the Taliban were the people that were using the soccer stadium in Kabul to chop of people’s heads in front of crowds. Instead of playing soccer, that’s what they were doing.
And I think that there are some that are still on the border of Pakistan and in havens there that we’ve not been able to root out. But there’s no indication that they are growing in number -- quite the contrary, they’re shrinking in numbers. And I don’t see them as a serious threat over a sustained period of time in Afghanistan. I think the people there want to be free, they do not want to go back to Taliban rule and chopping off people’s heads in the soccer stadium.
MR. BALL: When we spoke to you during radio days, we asked would terrorism end with the capture of Osama bin Laden and certainly and lately, that seems to have been the focus of at least some politicians. And is that still the focus and will terrorism cease?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I think that terrorism has existed throughout the centuries. The purpose of terrorism, of course, is to terrorize, it’s to alter people’s behavior. And I suspect that unless the nature of human beings change markedly, that as long as there are human beings, there’ll be people who have a desire to terrorize others.
Osama bin Laden has just merged his organization with Zarqawi’s – the terrorist that has this apparatus in Iraq that’s been beheading people. We call it the global war on terror, but in fact, what it is, it’s a struggle between extremists of UBL type and people who are moderate in their behavior and who are civil in their societies. And they use terrorism as the weapon of choice. I think the reality is that we are continuing to pursue Osama bin Laden, but the reality is that were he to be captured or killed, there still is Zarqawi and there still are others in that organization in that network that would continue to attempt to terrorize people and to impose their will on everyone and in re-establishing a caliphate in the world.
MR. PHILLIPS: Again, Mr. Secretary -- and again, thank you for taking the time to be with us. One final question and that is, obviously, we are now dealing with a war on terror, which you described it, shortly after the 9/11 explosions, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and, of course, Shanksburg, Pennsylvania. Is there a possibility that the country and the world may be lulled back into a concept that this will be a peace action against international criminals or do we have the willingness and the desire to stick to the war on terror, as you so aptly identified it?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, you’re right. There was a pattern in an earlier period to think of terrorists as a law enforcement problem, as you would a murderer or a car thief or a person who needs to be arrested and incarcerated and punished as a deterrent to others. This is really a very different thing, as your question suggested. And it’s critically important that we recognize that you simply cannot wait for a terrorist to attack and allow them to kill tens of thousands – or in the case of September 11th, 3000 -- innocent men, women and children. The only way to deal with this problem is to recognize that it’s not a law enforcement problem that one must go on the offense. We must find them where they are and we must address countries like Afghanistan that was a safe haven for the al Qaeda and see that they are no longer able to recruit and train and plot the killing of thousands of innocent human beings.
MR. PHILLIPS: Mr. Secretary, we do appreciate your time. The Marines at Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point, and all the coast guardsmen in our community as well as U.S. Army Reservists will greatly appreciate your time and efforts today. And thank you for being willing to address these issues with us.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, thank you so much. And the Marines are just doing a superb job in Iraq and God bless each one of them and my very best to their families.
MR. PHILLIPS: Thank you, sir.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you.
MR. BALL: Best to you, sir. Bye-bye.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Bye.