Q: Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld back with us on “Hot Talk.” How are you, sir?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I’m excellent, thank you.
Q: I want to talk about the tragedy in Russia. Ten days of terrorism, started with a couple of plane crashes. There was a subway bombing culminated in this awful siege at this school. What significance should we as Americans take away from the terrorism in Russia?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I think that what the world has to take away is the fact that the murder, the killing of hundreds of school children in Russia - the wounding of hundreds more and open questions as to what happened to still hundreds in addition - is the single most recent example of something that’s been going on for 15 years.
Go back to the bombings of our embassies in Africa and the events that have taken place in Turkey and Tunisia and Morocco and Indonesia and the United States with 3,000 lost almost three years ago this week. It is a vivid recent example of the lengths to which these extremists will go. They’re chopping off people’s head in Iraq. They are cutting off hands and they clearly are determined to try to stop free people from being able to live as free people and to try to impose their will on civilized nations across the globe. And there is no way to hide from it. There’s no free pass. There’s no way a country can opt out or a person can opt out. This global struggle against extremism is the circumstance of our generation and we need to face up to it and stay on the offense.
Q: We’re coming up on the third anniversary of 9/11. Could you reflect on how far we’ve come in these three years?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, we’ve come a great distance if you think about it. The Taliban were in power in Afghanistan three years ago and killing people in soccer stadiums in Kabul. And they’re gone. They’re out. And they were hosting Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda crew. Those folks are on the run and a large fraction of the senior leadership have been killed or captured. Saddam Hussein’s regime, he was trying to assassinate a former U.S. president. He was giving $25,000 to suicide bombers’ families. He was thumbing his nose at 17 U.N. resolutions. And here he’s now in jail and his sons are dead. We have made enormous strides.
We have a coalition of 85 to 90 countries and this is the kind of thing no one country can do alone. It takes a large coalition and probably the largest coalition in human history. We have 32 countries or 30 countries in Iraq and 26, I believe, in Afghanistan helping.
So we are putting pressure on terrorist networks. There’s no way to be on the defensive. We simply have to be on the offensive and it takes a lot of cooperation in the international community to do it and that’s what’s happening. So I think we have made enormous progress.
Q: You had discussed in the past in previous interviews your penchant for lists, keeping lists of things. As you look at your list three years into 9/11, what remains undone? What is yet to be done in the war on terror?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, if there were a single thing that concerns me the most, you know, you look at the pluses. You look at the fact that the schools are open and the hospitals are open and they’re holding free elections coming up in both Afghanistan and Iraq; that’s all on the positive side.
On the negative side is the real battle, the struggle is going to be within the Muslim religion and they are going to have to keep a small minority from hijacking their religion. They’re going to have to find ways to stop the money flowing into madrasses schools that are radical, that are teaching people terrorism instead of teaching them language or math or the kinds of things they can use in a civilized society. And that is something that’s taking time and effort and it’s more complex. It’s kind of the soft thing that needs to be done, as opposed to the military things. We can do a lot from a military standpoint, but ultimately, this battle of ideas can’t be won by military action alone.
Q: Speaking of winning it, is it winnable? I mean, there’s been some debate about that lately. I know the President’s words were taken out of context in a recent interview with Matt Lauer, but do you believe this is a war that can be won?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, absolutely. What the president, I’m sure, was referring to is the fact that this is a different kind of a war. It’s not going to end with a signing ceremony on the U.S.S. Missouri with a piece of paper being signed by the loser. But listen, there will be winners and there will be losers and we have no choice but to win this. And indeed, we will win it because it’ll take perseverance, to be sure. But the thought of turning the civilized world over to people who kill hundreds and hundreds of school children in Russia, who chop people’s heads off is a thought that ought to be unacceptable to any thinking free person.
Q: We last spoke at the one-year anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom. We’re a few months down the road since that time. Could you talk about the Iraqi people now, once again, in control of Iraq and the significance of the last number of months there? How are we doing in Iraq?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, we’re doing well. The new prime minister and his team are interesting people. They’re strong, they are for Iraq and that’s what you need. You need Iraqis to find Iraqi solutions to Iraqi problems. They are finding their way and strengthening the capabilities of the various ministries. They are assisting in training up their security forces. They are now up to, oh, close to 100,000 that are fully trained, fully equipped, functioning, doing things. Indeed, they’ve lost more Iraqi security people [either] killed or wounded in the last two months than the coalition has lost people. So it’s not like they’re sitting in their barracks. These folks are out doing it.
Q: How about the balance between, obviously, the U.S. there to provide security and the Iraqis controlling Iraq and making the decisions? Is that balance working?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, sure. It’s an interesting thing. We’re doing the same thing in Afghanistan. Of course, there you have a sovereign government and we have forces. And what we have to do is to just meet frequently, understand what the task is and then assign responsibilities and get about the task. So we’re at an earlier stage of it in Iraq than we are in Afghanistan, so it’s still evolving, but it’s certainly a perfectly manageable thing because the goals are the same. The goals are to have elections, train up the Iraqi security forces and have the coalition forces not have to be there.
Q: I’m anticipating a rash of stories from the handwringers association of America, also known as the mainstream media, as we approach the…
SEC. RUMSFELD: [Chuckles]
Q: … the unfortunate milestone of 1,000 deaths in Iraq. The question that will be asked will be, you know, has it been worth it? Could we have done anything differently? How would you answer those Monday morning quarterback questions?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, we’ve lost well over 1,000 already in the global war on terror. And furthermore, we lost 3,000 on September 11th three years ago this week in one day. The danger is there. And through every generation in our country’s history, young men and young women have been called upon and volunteered to put their lives at risk to help defend the American people, our country and our freedom and God bless them for doing it.
The cost is a serious one. One life not lived is something that one has to pause and think about and mourn with the families of those fallen. So too, with the wounded that we visit out at Walter Reed Hospital and Bethesda Naval Hospital. But, you know, when you say is it worth it? Is it worth that we’ve been able to preserve our freedom through two world wars and is it worth it that the Korean people lost life and today have a vibrant democracy and a robust economy? Whereas the people in North Korea are prisoners of a repressive regime and concentration camps starving to the point that they had to lower the height to get in the North Korean military down to 4’10” because of the starvation in the country. You bet, it’s worth it. It is worth it.
And I must say, when I visit the young men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa and elsewhere, they know it’s worth it. They’re proud of what they’re doing. They know it’s noble work. They know it has historical significance and that in 10, 15, 20, 30 years, they’ll be able to look back, just as those who fought in the Korean War can look back or in World War II and say – I mean, think of World War II. Japan and Germany, the enemies, and Italy turned out to be the bulwark of strength against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. I have no doubt in my mind but that Afghanistan and Iraq as free countries are in 5, 10, 15 years going to be contributing effectively in the global war on terror.
Q: I want to ask you two other quick questions here. One concerns the contributions of the men and women in uniform you speak of from our particular part of the country, which contributed in great numbers to the Guard and Reserve participation. In fact, North Dakota has the highest per capita participation of any state. In fact, 142nd was deployed in January ’03 and returned in April of ’04, so they were there a good deal of time. I’ve heard you talk about before the fact that you’d like to reform the armed forces use of the Guard and Reserve. Can you give us an update on where that’s at?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, we’re making good progress. Gen. Schoomaker is the new chief of staff for the army and he is working hard to rebalance the skill sets that exist in the active component, vis-à-vis, the reserve components. And what we need to do is to make sure we have on active duty the skill sets that are in the greatest demand so that we don’t have to be calling up the same people from the Guard and Reserve excessively. The total force concept works. And what we need to do is to see that we do our job here to get the balance right. And I think that we’re well along that road. They’re going to be rebalancing several tens of thousands this year and several more over the coming two years.
Q: Final question. In this part of the country, there are some Air Force bases and some understandable nervousness with the upcoming Base Realignment and Closure Commission process that is under way. What would you tell those folks that are, on one hand, patriots and want the United States Armed Forces to be the best and swiftest it can be and then on the other hand, do not want the role in their particular communities diminished?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, there’s a statutory process that’s transparent. It’s passed by Congress. It’s going to be put into play next year. And what we’re doing before that is we’re making decisions about bringing some of our whole forces home from overseas, so they’ll be fewer bases that would have to be adjusted in a base realignment program like that. And the thing we’re looking for is: we’re looking for making sure that our forces are where they are wanted, where it’s hospitable, making sure that they’re in places where we can deploy them rapidly and flexibly with agility, rather than in static defense positions as they’ve been in Germany, for example. And I think that the worldwide effort will be a good one and that it will make a lot of sense and people will see the logic of it.
Q: But did I hear you say the next round of BRAC will not be as large as one thought because of that troop realignment, though?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, there’s no question. If you’re going to bring home a large number of people from overseas, including some – I don’t know – 100,000 dependants, I think, that they will have to fall in on the base structure that exists, which means that any adjustment or realignment of that base structure would be less than it otherwise would be.
Q: Mr. Secretary, it’s always a great pleasure speaking with you. Thank you for your leadership, sir. We appreciate it very much.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you, Scott. My wife used to live in Fargo. How about that?
Q: You told me that at one point.
SEC. RUMSFELD: [Chuckles]
Q: Our best to her, by golly. And we appreciate those good Mid-western values at work in our nation’s capital. Thank you, sir.