PHILLIPS: Welcome to Viewpoints this afternoon, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, thank you for taking the time out of a very busy schedule, because I know that earlier today you had a press conference, and I do appreciate you taking this moment to talk to us here in Eastern North Carolina, so welcome to Viewpoints.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Thank you very much, Lockwood. I’m delighted to do it.
PHILLIPS: I know we’ve been hearing a variety of comments recently, criticisms of the war, and then just recently I heard a positive remark which caught me by surprise, but I would like to just for a moment, and recognizing that we are talking to the Marines of Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point, and the Coast Guardsmen in our area as well as Army Reservists and National Guardsmen, I would like to ask you to comment, if you would, on the criticisms that have been leveled against both the prosecution of the war and the administration, just in general, and how this impacts both your perspective and your decisions there at the Pentagon.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well you know, I’ve been around a few years and read a lot of history and lived through World War II and the Korean War, the Vietnam War. There have always been criticisms in wartime. Wars are not popular things. They’re ugly things. They’re difficult things.
I have to say that your audience in the Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point area, and the Reservists and Guardsmen, Coast Guardsmen - God bless them. They’re all volunteers. They’re all people who put their hand up and said they’re willing to defend our country, and they put their lives at risk, and we are deeply in their debt.
But I think that they’re pretty sophisticated. You go over in Iraq - I was over there a week and a half ago and spent time with the troops - they know what’s going on over there. There’s 133,000 of them and they send e-mails back to their families, and they tell the truth about what’s going on and they’re proud of what they’re doing. They know progress is being made. They saw the election work out successfully. They saw the Constitution drafted and ratified, and I know they’re sending back information to their families that’s the truth. They recognize the sacrifices that their families are making as well.
I think that our great country - and it is a great country - is a strong democracy and we are used to criticism. It happens. You think about one of the people; they called Abraham Lincoln an ape and a gorilla and vilified him throughout. They vilified Franklin Roosevelt during World War II. They criticized every single President that I’ve been around since the 1950s in Washington. So I think it’s expected.
PHILLIPS: Obviously then you see this as part of the overall horizon, and as you said a moment ago, expected.
What surprised me was the most recent remark from former General Barry McCaffrey who came back after a visit in Iraq, himself a former significant critic of the war particularly in Iraq, and came back with comments that there is a definite, almost the opinion of he smells victory.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I read - I don’t know if it was the entire report - but it was a four or five page report and you’re right. He has been a critic. He served in the Clinton administration, as I recall, and I found his report interesting and insightful. It had some criticisms, to be sure, but it had a number of very positive comments, and I found it helpful and constructive.
PHILLIPS: I was surprised. One of the remarks was that “they’re showing a marked ability,” and he was talking of course of the Iraqis, “a marked ability in their ability to fight the insurgents,” and as a matter of fact was very critical of the insurgents and again, the issue of how we are proceeding.
With that, I want to address that subject of your assessment of several factors; one - the dialogue on the war. Are we in fact having a dialogue? Is it sufficient to call it a dialogue? Has it been too much of a - pretty much a one-track approach that we’re looking for either the absolute positives and the absolute negatives. What is your opinion of the dialogue?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I think you’re right. I think it has been, let me be gentle and say it has been imperfect.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: There does tend to be, particularly in an election year, and the President has asked me to stay out of politics so I’ll be careful what I say. But, particularly in an election year people tend to get a bit polarized. You get a little shrillness occasionally from people, who are trying to achieve something politically, and then it gets a little shrill on the other side, and that’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is.
Our guest again is, by the way, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld. We have him for just a few more minutes here on Viewpoints, and again, Secretary, thank you for taking the time to be with us.
Recognizing that you described your description of the dialogue on the war, let’s now approach the progress of the war, and I would like to do both elements of the war. So often we are focused on the war in Iraq, the Iraqi freedom, but we also have the ongoing war of Enduring Freedom there in Afghanistan - your opinion of the progress so far in both theaters.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, the progress has been impressive, in my view in Afghanistan. If one thinks about it, that country has had successfully its first popularly elected President in 500 years. It has a parliament that’s been elected. It has provincial leadership. It is wrestling with problems that poor countries face. It’s wrestling with some drug problems in terms of the growing of poppies. It’s got a neighbor that is not totally helpful in Iran. It’s working with its other neighbor, Pakistan, to try to reduce the Taliban influence that persists to some extent. But, all in all I think it’s been very impressive accomplishments and I give President Karzai and his team high marks.
On Iraq, they’ve now had two free elections; they’ve fashioned a constitution; they’ve approved the constitution; they’re now in the process of forming their government. The new Prime Minister Designate Maliki has been saying things that are very constructive and very hopeful. He recognizes that this is their opportunity and it’s a struggle, it’s a conflict between moving forward with a free system, or going back to the dark ages. The damage to that region and the damage to those people and the damage to our country and the free people around the world would just be terrible.
PHILLIPS: Recognizing that also we have a tremendous amount of, numerous commitments in areas like the Balkans, also Korea, and you mentioned a moment ago Sudan, Africa, has that in any way impacted what you see as the future of our military services?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I would say that we have today the finest armed forces in the history of the world, ours or any other country. I think that people who have run around wringing their hands saying we have a broken Army just don’t understand it. We don’t have the kinds of drug problems, we don’t have the kinds of desertion problems, we don’t have the kinds of recruiting and retention problems that a volunteer Army would have if that were true. We’ve got superb military people and their families, God bless them, we thank them as well for supporting them so much.
With respect to the Balkans, we’ve been reducing our force levels there. With respect to Korea, we’ve been reducing our force levels there. We’re perfectly capable of managing the requirements we have.
PHILLIPS: You mentioned the support, and I do want to give you an opportunity to mention this. Of course the web site AmericaSupportsYou.Mil. If you could address that briefly; we’ve only got about two minutes, and Mr. Secretary, we do appreciate your time.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Thank you very much, Lockwood. AmericaSupportsYou.Mil is a web site where anyone who wants to can go find out what other people are doing to support the troops and their families. What schools do, churches, organizations, corporations, individuals, and the message out of it is the American people are wonderfully compassionate and generous, and God bless them for it.
PHILLIPS: Mr. Secretary, I know we’re short on time. I did want to address the subject of Memorial Day with you briefly. I know we’re coming to that event just the end of this month. Any comments you’d like to make relative to our families here, homeport, but also those who are overseas.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well you know - we are all so deeply grateful to them for volunteering to help defend our freedom, for making sure that we fight the terrorists over there rather than here at home, and for doing so much to help make our country free and safe.
PHILLIPS: Mr. Secretary, we do appreciate your time and also the effort to reach out to our men and women here in the area in uniform.
Any final comment before we allow you the rest of the day to other events?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well as we approach the end of this month and Memorial Day it is a time for us to reflect how each generation in our country’s history has done so much to preserve our freedom.
If you think about it, had any generation along this long path of 200-plus years failed to defend our freedom we would have a very different country.
PHILLIPS: No question about that.
Mr. Secretary, we appreciate your time and wish you the very best in your endeavors. Obviously we’re looking for total victory, as I know you are as well.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: We sure are. Thanks so much.
PHILLIPS: My pleasure, Mr. Secretary.