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Radio Interview with Secretary Rumsfeld on the Hugh Hewitt Show

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
May 09, 2006

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Hugh Hewitt.


            HEWITT:  Mr. Secretary, welcome back to the program.


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Thank you.  It’s good to be with you.


            HEWITT:  It’s good to have you here.


            Mr. Secretary, have you have a chance yet to read a translation of the letter from President Ahmadinejad to the President?


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I have not.


            HEWITT:  Do you find it unsettling or perhaps unusual that an 18-page letter arrived from him?


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Certainly not unsettling.  He’s obviously a communicator.  He speaks almost every day, says all kinds of things.  It’s not surprising that he writes as well.


            HEWITT:  A few minutes ago, Mr. Secretary - I was watching your press conference - you blasted the media’s coverage of the General Hayden nomination saying, quote, “The quality of the debate is pedestrian.”


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  [Laughter].  Did I say that?


            HEWITT:  Yes, you did.  I loved it. I applauded actually.


            Is the American media doing a good job of covering the war and all of its facets?


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Oh, goodness gracious.  I’m not a judge and a jury.  That’s up to the American people to decide and you know where they rank the media.


            HEWITT:  Well transformation has been a watchword of your tenure, but has the Pentagon’s focus on the information war that’s aimed at the American public undergone a similar transformation?


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Well it has to.  I can’t say that it has, but there’s no question this is the first war that’s ever been conducted in the 21st Century in an era of these new media realities where you have the internet and 24-hour talk radio and news and bloggers and video cameras and digital cameras and instant communications worldwide.  And, the enemy understands that they can’t win a battle out on the battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan.  The only place they can win a battle is in Washington, DC, so they have media committees.  And, they get up in the morning and figure out how they’re going to manipulate the American media and they do a very skillful job.


            HEWITT:  Against that backdrop, and that’s really what I wanted to focus on, are pressers like the sort you just concluded - ten minute interviews, an occasional Sunday show - sufficient for you and the military to get across not only the good news but the bad news, the challenges, the strategy?  Are you using last war techniques in the new war?


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  To a certain extent we are still using the old 20th Century techniques and we’re trying to figure them out and then adjust them and adapt them to the 21st Century, but it’s painfully slow.  People get set in their ways and it’s a difficult thing to do.


            We do provide, the Pentagon does, an enormous amount of information.  There’s someone briefing at the Pentagon, somewhere in the world, every day.  And there are people providing information to people in a variety of different ways – through a web site, through the Pentagon Channel, through radio and television and print media.  But it is still basically, I would guess, 80 percent 20th Century and maybe 20 percent 21st Century.


            HEWITT:  You’ve got people like Colonel Austin Bay down in Austin, Texas; you’ve got Mudville Gazette, a bunch of bloggers; you’ve got you Specialist Claude Flowers down at CENTCOM; they’re all fighting the new media battle.  Are any of those inside the E-Ring close to the control of actually the message machine?


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I don’t know how to answer that.  First of all, the truth is, and it’s embarrassing to confess this, that I suppose I work about 13 hours a day and I’ll bet you that twelve and a half or twelve and three-quarters of those 13 hours a day, I spend doing things, instead of thinking about how I communicate and what the message ought to be.  And fighting the enemy on their level against their media committees and their active efforts at disinformation, and I probably ought to spend, and we here in the department, ought to spend more time thinking about those messages and how we can counteract the lies - because they are enormously successful.


            They can put out a lie and then we’re asked the question is that true?  We can know we think it’s not true, but we have to be honest and we have to be accurate.  So we then have to spend two or three days trying to find out what the truth is before we can rebut the lie.  Well the lie’s been around the world 15 times by the time we even get our boots on.


            HEWITT:  Specialist Flowers, for example, sent me your foreign relations speech, your Council of Foreign Relations speech from a few weeks ago where you talk about this new media thing.  I want to press you on this, Mr. Secretary.  Do any of the generals care?  Or do they just view that as the press office will handle the American public’s information and we’ve got an enemy to kill?


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I think it’s uneven.  When you’re coming up through your career, these folks are not necessarily trained extensively in communications.  They’re trained in war fighting and specialties, which is understandable.


            Second, people who stick their head up in the media get bitten, they get hurt.  And, they say something that comes out a different way, or if someone prints it a way that’s different than they actually said it, and then somebody says to them, what in the world, why did you say that?  Then they have to say well, I didn’t say that, they printed it wrong.  Then you’re on the defense.  So people become conditioned and learn that it’s not necessarily career enhancing to stick your head up and be the one out in front on the spear point talking, because you’ve got a whole array of people who are just waiting to pop you every time you open your mouth.


            HEWITT:  That would be disquieting.


            Today Richard Cohen in the Washington Post wrote a column, did you happen to see it, Mr. Rumsfeld?


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  No.


            HEWITT:  In it he said, “I’ve seen this anger on the left before,” and I added the left there, “back in the Vietnam era. That’s when the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party helped elect Richard Nixon.  The hatred is back.  I know it’s only words now appearing on my computer screen, but the words are so angry.”


            Do you see similarities in the hard left’s opposition to this war as the left’s opposition to Vietnam?


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Well you know; there are so many differences between this and Vietnam, in terms of the length of time, the number of casualties, the reasons for it, the threats that we face.  We face today threats here at home - we lost 3,000 people in one day.  The enemy is vicious.  The enemy is determined.  The enemy is not going to go away.  They’re determined to end our freedom and our free way of life, and they find it fundamentally inconsistent with their extremist views.  And so there are so many differences.


            Now in terms of the opposition within the country, one difference is, I was a Congressman during that period and I can remember President Lyndon Johnson couldn’t get out of the White House.  There were times when there were buses around the White House that prevented people from getting near the place.  President Bush is able to get out and give speeches all over the country, so that’s one difference.


            On the other hand, I can remember the Barrigan brothers demonstrating and throwing blood on the Pentagon.  It was a tough time back then.


            HEWITT:  Not as tough now.


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Well, maybe I’m just a little older and a little more seasoned and it doesn’t seem quite as tough.


            HEWITT:  Mr. Secretary, do you think that America can lose this war?


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Oh, sure.  There’s no way we can lose it on the battlefield.  The only place we can lose it is if we lose our nerve and if we decide that it’s just too tough and we’re going to toss in the towel.


            The dire consequences for the world, for the region, for the Iraqi people, for the Afghan people, and for the American people are so serious that the thought of it is just unacceptable.


            HEWITT:  What does that defeat look like?


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Well, the first thing we would have, you’d have Iraq as a country with oil and water and a large population as a haven for terrorists, re-established as a caliphate, a home, a sanctuary for extremists to attempt to re-establish a caliphate throughout that region and to destabilize the Muslim regimes in that region that aren’t extreme, and to then spread that to Southeast Asia and the rest of the world.


            It would enable them to have weapons programs and gain access to powerful, lethal weapons that could put at risk many multiples of the people that were lost on September 11th.  It would be a tragedy.


            HEWITT:  Last question, Mr. Secretary. 


            About 2003 you wrote a snowflake asking your staff, are we winning or losing the global war on terror?  Are we winning or losing the global war on terror?


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Well I think we’re winning, and I say that for this reason.  We’re winning in the sense that because of the Coalition that President Bush and his team have put together, 70 or 85 nations, the biggest in history coalition I think, the pressure that’s being put on terrorists is real.  It’s harder for them to do everything they need to do.  It’s harder for them to talk to each other.  It’s harder for them to travel.  It’s harder for them to raise money.  It’s harder to recruit.  It’s harder to retain.  It’s harder to train.  All the things they need to do to kill people and to threaten people and indeed, to use the proper word, to terrorize people and alter their behavior, are much more difficult today than they were.  We’re fortunate that we’ve not had another terrorist attack in this country.


            And I’ll tell you, the young men and women who are over in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa and the Philippines and elsewhere around the world serving our country - we are deeply in their debt.  They’re all volunteers.  They are helping to fight against the terrorists there so we don’t have to fight the terrorists here at home.


            HEWITT:  Mr. Secretary, thanks for your time.  Good luck in transforming the media strategy as well as the rest of the Pentagon.  Talk to you again soon, sir.


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Thank you very much.

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