Interview with Michael Smerconish, WPHT, Philadelphia
Q: - come in from the talk radio world and spend some time with you.
Rumsfeld: Well, thank you. We're happy to have folks here.
Q: Mr. Secretary, on a - he needs a little volume in his headset. There you go. Oops, a little too much. There we go.
Mr. Secretary, a recurring theme of the program on a day-to-day basis is the situation in Iraq and the WMD issue. I get a lot of e-mail and I get a lot of phone calls on the issue and I promised the listeners I would tell you a story. Within the last couple of weeks, I received an e-mail from someone who said that, "The only opinion on the lack of having discovered WMD in Iraq that really should matter is the opinion of family members who've lost loved ones overseas." And I shared that e-mail with my audience and then I continued on to the next e-mail. The next e-mail was from someone who said, "In in the post-9/11 world, better to be safe than sorry. We need to be pre-emptive. We need to be looking forward, not looking backward."
I read those two e-mails on the air in Philadelphia and then I took a telephone call from the audience, a random call - it's 45 seconds long and I'm going to play it for you now. Go ahead, guys.
Telephone Caller: (Inaudible.)
Q: Mr. Secretary, that's a father in my listening audience and he's lost his son and he's calling me on my program to say, "I lost my son in the war against terrorism, in response to 9/11, not just WMD in Iraq." Your thoughts?
Rumsfeld: He's right. And the - when one thinks about it, we did lose 3,000 people here in the United States at the September 11th tragedy. And the young men and women who were serving all across the world and particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq are courageous. They're volunteers, everyone of them, and they're proud of what they're doing and they're doing it brilliantly and they're making wonderful progress. Fifty million people have been liberated and one has to say that our hearts go out to all the parents or loved ones of those who've lost people in this war on terror or in the September 11th tragedy.
It is clearly a war on terror. There is no way to defend against terrorists at every moment of the day or night, in every location. The only way to deal with it is to go after the terrorist in the terrorists havens where they exist.
Q: The Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is our guest on the Michael Smerconish Program in Philadelphia on the Big Talker and we're privileged to have him.
I tell you, respectfully, that I think that the administration and the Department of Defense would be well-served taking a page from that caller's book and answering the questions of the national media, when they're continually beating you up on where are the WMD in reminding people it's not a war being waged just about WMD in Iraq. This is a war being waged in the aftermath of 9/11, just as that father said.
Rumsfeld: Well, you're, of course, right. I can remember so many times in the lead up to the war when the president would ask: How will the military handle it when Saddam Hussein uses chemical weapons on our troops. And that's why our troops had the chemical suits and that's why Saddam Hussein had chemical suits, which we found. So I mean, the idea that there was unanimity. And I think we'll eventually know the ground truth on this and there's no question but that he had those capabilities and used them on his neighbors and on his own people. So the question is what happened to them. And we got 1,000 -- 1,200 people worrying that through. But the important thing is what the caller said, I mean, that this is a global war on terror. We have to pursue it. It is better to be dealing with those terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world than here in the United States.
Q: I promised my father that I would play that phone call for the president. I'm going to do that, someday. But at this stage, you're the highest level to which I can play it, so I'm just happy that I was able to bring his thoughts to your attention.
Rumsfeld: God bless him.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the Spanish vote -- to me, it represents a victory for the terrorists. I can't imagine that three days after our 9/11, we would have elected in this country the more lenient - I guess I'll say. I would have thought that they would have elected the more hawkish of the two parties in that country, but that's not what they did. How do you interpret it?
Rumsfeld: Well, it's - first of all, it just happened in the last day or two; and second, I think it's hard to do it from this distance. But when one thinks about it, it was a close election and things swing one way or another on relatively few votes. A terrorist attack is a shocking thing for a country, although Spain has experienced terrorist attacks from - (inaudible) - decades now. But how someone will eventually figure out what the implications of it are, I don't know. The position that the new leadership has announced is the position they had in the campaign and they won, so life goes on.
Q: Is it clear to you, as the secretary of Defense, this was the work of al Qaeda?
Rumsfeld: No. I think it's too soon. I just don't know.
Q: It's not something you're sure of. If I believe many of the press accounts about Donald Rumsfeld -- and the good news for you is I'm not inclined to do so - the picture that emerges is one of you sort of coming into office and drumming your fingers, just anticipating and getting ready to take out Saddam Hussein and then seizing the events of 9/11 as your opportunity to do so. How do you respond to those charges, allegations and so forth?
Rumsfeld: Well, it's nonsense. If there's anyone who recognizes that war is the last - absolute last resort, it's Don Rumsfeld and President Bush. One thinks about it. The United States passed some 17 resolutions, which were defied by Saddam Hussein. The president gave him every opportunity and it was Saddam Hussein who chose war. He could have done what Libya is doing right now and opened up his country and said, "come in" -- see that we're willing to turn over what we have and -- but he didn't. He defied the United Nations and he made a poor choice. But now, you know, in these jobs you take it - some compliments that you probably don't deserve and you take some criticism you probably don't deserve and life goes on.
Q: I thought you got cheap-shotted earlier this week when some folks who wanted to make a big deal out of the fact that, apparently, in your office here in the Pentagon, you've got a piece of the airplane that crashed into the Pentagon. It makes total sense to me that it would be a daily visual reminder of the tragedy of 9/11. You look at media accounts like that and Donald Rumsfeld says to himself, what?
Rumsfeld: Well, I don't really get bothered too much by it. What we did was we took a piece and mounted it on a piece of wood. It belongs not to me, but to the department and it is something that does remind me and everyone who comes in my office of that terrible tragedy and the global war on terror. And I would add, on the success we're having in the global war on terror, it's - if one thinks about it, with 50 million people liberated and the circumstances in Afghanistan and Iraq getting better every day, one has to recognize the accomplishment that's been achieved.
Q: There's a lot of media chatter about events in Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan. There was even a report from a French chief of defense saying that we just missed capturing - you're smiling - this is radio, they can't see that at home. Are you smiling 'cause I'm quoting the French or are you smiling just 'cause the subject matter? (Chuckles.) But anyway, the question's about bin Laden. How close have we come?
Rumsfeld: We don't know. We haven't caught him. Close doesn't count. This isn't horseshoes or hand grenades. This is - we're trying to capture or kill this man. We don't know if - even know if he's alive for sure. So the task is to keep that and put pressure on the al Qaeda network and its affiliates and we're doing that all across the globe. We are capturing, we're killing a large number of terrorists and terrorist affiliates, which is a good thing, and it keeps them from killing more innocent men, women and children. If he's alive, we'll catch him. I don't know when and how close we are at any given moment. We'll, I suppose find out, after it's all over.
Q: Senator Kerry maintains that there are world leaders out there who are supportive of his candidacy. I think a couple of them would be eligible to vote in South Philadelphia, the way we run some of our elections back home.
(Chuckles.) Have you brushed shoulders, Mr. Secretary, with any world leaders who have confessed to you their admiration for the Kerry candidacy?
Rumsfeld: You know, I've been asked to kind of stay out of politics by the president --Colin Powell and I have - and I certainly agree that if that's the case, it'd be interesting for the American people to know who they are...
Rumsfeld: ... and why they feel that way.
Q: Are you sticking around for a second tour of duty in this job?
Rumsfeld: This is my second tour of duty. (Laughter.)
Q: Third. You know what I'm saying.
Rumsfeld: I don't know. That's a matter for the president. But I must say I have great respect for him. He's a well-rooted and solid individual and it's a privilege to work for him and for the country and I feel, what with the difficulties in the world, I feel very fortunate to be able to be a part of it and to try to contribute.
Q: I have to honor your schedule, but I need to pose one concern, before we part company. I'm worried that when all is said and done, with the expenditure of the loss of life and all of the money and getting rid of an evil fella -- that maybe it's five years and maybe it's 10 years down the road -- but what we've done is given them the opportunity in Iraq to elect a government that's hostile to the United States.
Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) Well, you know, there are not a lot of democracies in that part of the world and one would hope that the result of this will be a democracy of some kind. It'll be an Iraqi-type government, not a U.S. model or a UK model or any other country. It has to be an Iraqi approach, and time will tell. But thus far, if one looks at the constitution, the interim constitution they've fashioned, one has to admire it, respect it and say, well, that's impressive that they've given equal rights to women and that they have, in fact, decided to find ways to protect the rights of minorities and religious minorities and ethnic minorities. So I've got confidence that they have a chance at this. Of course, it took us a long time to get our constitution and it didn't happen in a year. It took from 1776 to 1789.
Q: If you had one thought that you wanted to convey to folks who live in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and Delaware who are listeners of mine, about what's going on in Iraq that, perhaps, they're not getting from the major networks, what will that message be?
Rumsfeld: Well, I think two things. One is that every member of the Congress or the Senate that I've talked to whose been over there -- and there have been over 100, 120 of them that have been over to Iraq and Afghanistan to see what's happening - have come back stunned by how much better the situation is than they believed when they went over, from what they'd seen in the press and the media. And the second thing I would say is when you see young men and women in uniform, thank them.
Q: Mr. Secretary, it's a privilege to have you on the Big Talker in Philadelphia. We appreciate your time very much, sir.
Rumsfeld: Thank you. I enjoyed it.
Q: Thank you. It is now 7:51. Fifty one minutes after the 7 o'clock hour. Got to take a short break. We're coming back to the Pentagon right after this.
Interview with Steve Gill, WTN, Nashville, Tenn.
Q: - us this morning, the Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld. And secretary, coming through the hallway the other day, I saw this great painting of a young Don Rumsfeld. I guess my first question is are you going to use that one, when you put a second painting or are you going to keep that one in the years ahead?
Rumsfeld: Oh, my goodness. I haven't given any thought to that. It's a little early for me to be worrying about portraits.
I'm still young.
Q: You're glad to be back in the building.
Rumsfeld: I am. I must say, the chance to work with the men and women in uniform and the dedicated civilian employees in this department is every day a challenge and it's a wonderful, wonderful (inaudible). Earlier this week, I met this Ashley Pearson, the young lady the president mentioned in his State of the Union message and - who said that she believed in the troops. And everyone was so pleased to meet her and appreciative, because they're doing noble work, our folks are. God bless them all.
Q: You know, one of the things folks ask us all the time in Nashville, with the 101st Airborne with Fort Campbell and the president coming to visit Thursday - are you going to join him, by the way, on that trip to Fort Campbell, Thursday?
Rumsfeld: I am not. I'm not going to be able to.
Q: Well, we'll get you to down for another visit day here some time soon. But in Nashville, obviously, there's a lot of attention to what our troops are doing, a lot of love and appreciation for what they and their families are doing, as well. And I know that it is something that's close to your heart of both what the troops are doing and what their families are doing as well because they serve - who also stay at home and keep the home fires burning.
Rumsfeld: They certainly do. They sacrifice a great deal. And all of us know that and appreciate it. But the folks at Fort Campbell have done such a superb job in this conflict. And I remember going down there when I was Secretary of Defense the last time, back in 1976. Colin Powell was a colonel.
Q: (Laughter.) Just to put it in perspective, right?
Q: What is the biggest change? And I know technology - I mean, they didn't have the big flat-screen television we have in the briefing room, you know, when you were the secretary of defense last time. What are some of the biggest changes, other than technology, which has really changed the battlefield?
Rumsfeld: I'll tell you what hasn't changed and that's the people -- the soldiers, the sailors. They're all volunteers and their spirit is so high and they're so well-trained and well-equipped and well-led, I should say. What's changed the most, however, is the media. I mean, it's now 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's continuous. You are constantly being pressed by this or that or the other thing, relevant or irrelevant, accurate, not accurate. And it is a challenge for the department, because there are so many audiences. If you think about it, the only way you can communicate with the people in the Department of Defense - some 2.6 million people - is through the media. You can't do it any other way. So, too, with the troops across the world and the foreign nations and the American people. So it is a challenge and we work hard at it and try to do a good job and make darn sure we're telling the American people exactly the way things are.
Q: Rowan Scarborough, among others, has written that when you came in to the secretary of defense position this time, one of your duties was to - actually, there were about three things that got - one got added to your platter nner, the war on terrorism -- the other two where you had a mission to reassert civilian control over the Department of Defense to make sure that that the civilians were in charge, rather than the military; and second, to make sure that we had really completely made that adjustment from the Cold War, big army's clashing era to faster more pronounced stability to deliver the power and the force necessary. Would you agree with that assessment that those were kind of your major duties?
Rumsfeld: Well, certainly, our constitution calls for civilian control, so that's a given. But the president did specifically ask that we undertake the transformation of the department. That is to say, see that we move from the 20th century into the 21st century from the industrial age into the information age, that we assure that we have the kind of capabilities that are lethal, that are agile, that are readily deployable, and that we look out for the men and women which are clearly their most important asset we have - they are the men and women in uniform. So we've made many efforts to see that the quality of life for the troops has improved and that we've improved the housing and their circumstances, their pay. But beyond that, to see that we have the kinds of leadership and focus that would meet the challenges of the 21st century. There are different challenges than existed when I was here last time, 25 years ago. They're notably different. They're asymmetric challenges, if you would.
Q: The war on terrorism was obviously added to your plate on September 11th in a very real way. You were in the building. You actually went out and helped folks that were hurt on that day, injured on that day. In a very personal way, this war on terrorism affected you and everybody in this building.
Rumsfeld: Well, it did. I guess we're in the part of the building that was hit by the airplane and it's been re-done and we did it within a year and did a great job. We had a lot of folks here who had friends and loved ones that were lost, as many people across the country did, given the 3,000 people that were lost. But it is a national problem that we faced. It's an international problem that we face. And the problem with terrorism is a real one. It is a serious one. It is something that, given the fact that they can use the technologies of the 21st century against us, and we simply have to maintain our focus on that problem and root out terrorists wherever they exist in the world.
Q: Some critics have said that by going into Iraq, we've somehow lost our focus on Afghanistan and getting Bin Laden. Most of us in the business world these days are pretty well accomplished at multi-tasking.
Q: I'm sure whether the media has a hard idea - understanding that you can do multiple things at the same time. But did we lose our focus on Bin Laden and capturing and killing him?
Rumsfeld: Oh, of course, not. We've had a focus on al Qaeda and the leadership of al Qaeda consistently since September 11th, indeed, before September 11th. And the other things we've had to do, we're capable of doing. We've got 1.4 million men and women on active service and another 6 or 700,000 in the selective reserve and another 4 or 500,000 in the individual ready reserve and a large civilian workforce and we're able to do things that need to be done for our country.
Q: The media, not talk radio, but the mainstream media has seemingly so personalized the war on terrorism as a Bin Laden effort and, I think, are kind of given the impression that if you capture or kill Bin Laden, the war is over. Do you share that assessment that somehow you cut off the head of that snake and the things done and that's sort of behind this idea that, well, we lost our focus, we didn't focus on Bin Laden. And if we would just get him, it would be over?
Rumsfeld: Oh, you're quite right. I mean, the reality is that Bin Laden is spending a great deal of his time - if he's alive today - spending a great deal of his time hiding and running and trying to communicate and trying to survive. So what's happened is the al Qaeda and their affiliates are functioning on a decentralized basis. And if he's not there, it would be a good thing, if he were not there, but it certainly isn't going to change the problem We're going to have to find the rest of the terrorist and his associates and see that they're put in jail.
Q: Some media sources have focused on the connections between Iraq and terror - not necessarily September 11th, but they were obviously assisting Hamas and Hezbollah and others. They were obviously harboring folks like Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas and others. Why is this not getting out in the mainstream more, that there was clearly an Iraqi terror connection, just as there's an Iranian terror connection?
Rumsfeld: Sure. I mean, Saddam Hussein was publicly giving $25,000 to the families of every suicide bomber. And why doesn't it get out? I mean, I suppose it's the same reason, why doesn't it get out that in Iraq today the schools are open, there's a central bank, there's a new currency, the hospitals are open, 1,200 clinics are open. The number of automobiles in the country is booming. The number of satellite television is booming. And all one ever reads is hand-wringing. It's because it's not convenience, I suppose, for people and it probably doesn't sell newspapers quite as readily as bad news.
Q: You know, on the front end, a year ago, the media was saying that we would see 10,000 casualties, if we went into Iraq, that they were the fourth or fifth best army in the world. It's kind of like the BCS football standings.
Q: I didn't know they ranked armies in that way. But the hand-wringing from the media made it sound like, you know, this week, the U.S. is going to take on Iraq and were a 14-point favorites kind of game planning it.
Q: And yet, here we are a year later. And if you had gone up to this podium that we're sitting beside a year ago and said: "We're going to go in, we're going to defeat Saddam Hussein's army a lot quicker than anybody can anticipate, we're going to occupy the country. We're going to establish a constitution in less than a year. We're going to give these people schools. We're going to get the oil production back up to where it was before this conflict started and we're going to lose 500 men and women in the process," they would have wrapped you in a cloak, taken you to a loony bin, said you were crazy or lying.
Q: And yet, the same folks that thought we were going to have 10,000 casualties -- and as bad as 500 casualties are - they'd have thought you were crazy, if you'd predicted what has happened a year ago.
Rumsfeld: I don't know. Well, not only that, but we'd only been going about three or our five or five days, when it was described as a quagmire. And I don't know quite what the answer to all of that is. It's - people tend to look for the worst in things often and, fortunately, the American people have got a good center of gravity and they can hear those kinds of things and absorb them and synthesize and integrate it and come out with a very sensible conclusion. And God bless the American people for having that good center of gravity.
Q: Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld with us this morning. Politically, the war on terrorism, the war on Iraq are going to be a keystone of this political year. Traditionally, the defense secretary, the secretary of state, you guys are kind of off limits in playing in the political arena. How can you deal with the top issue facing this country when the guy directing that war on terrorism basically can't play a role in saying this is what we're doing and this is how successful we are?
Rumsfeld: Well, I guess we'll soon find out.
Rumsfeld: I've asked the president about this and so has Colin Powell and the president has been adamant. He said he simply does not want the secretary of state or the secretary of defense engaging in the political give and take that's inevitably going to take place - and properly so - during a presidential election year. So it's off base for us and we're going to stay out of it. We have to, obviously, discuss issues that are important, but not in the political realm.
Q: You can obviously say I'd like to keep my job and I'm likely to do so, under this guy.
Rumsfeld: No, no, no.
Rumsfeld: I'm not going to go there.
Q: (Laughs.) See, I can't even trap you, as a member of the evil right-wing media.
Q: Secretary of Defense, Don Rumsfeld. Thanks for having us into your building today. Thanks for the great service you do for our country and thanks for being a part of the show this morning.
Rumsfeld: Thank you so much and thank you for what you do for the country.
Q: Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld. Stay tuned. We're a little bit late getting the news, but we wanted to give you that.