“Hot Talk with Scott Hennen”
Fargo, North Dakota
Hennen: On our Hot Talk Newsmaker line, the Secretary of Defense, Don Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, welcome back to the show.
Rumsfeld: Thank you. I'm delighted to be with you.
Hennen: Let me begin, sir, with a question on Operation Iraqi Freedom. I've noticed as per usual, some Beltway hand-wringing over the President's speech on Iraq last week, and some suggestions that his report on the progress is different from yours, given your range of estimates on how long the insurgency could last.
Is there a difference of opinion between you on this?
Rumsfeld: No, of course not. The reality is that insurgencies can last two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve years if one looks in history. That is a fact. It is not a prediction at all with respect to Iraq. So the contention that people have made that there was some difference because of those words, they didn't use two, four, six, eight or ten, they said something like oh, it could last twelve years and that isn't what other people are saying. Of course that's just mischief-making.
Hennen: I also noticed that you made very clear in your comments that you anticipated the Iraqi people ultimately would be the ones to defeat that insurgency and that sort of didn't make the headlines either.
Rumsfeld: No, indeed, and I think it's an enormously important point. Regardless of how long the insurgency lasts, in the last analysis it will be the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government that will effectively deal with that insurgency over some period of time which can't be predicted by anybody. It's going to be a function of how successful they are in moving their political process forward, how successful they are in seeing that they have an effective criminal justice system, and how effective they are in moving the economic progress forward. Obviously the success of the Iraqi security forces as we complete our task of helping to organize, train and equip them.
Hennen: The Vice President also recently suggested that the insurgency was in its last throes. Now I quick-grabbed a dictionary and learned and refreshed my memory that throes can be a very violent time. So I thought about maybe starting a fund for some of the Beltway press corps to buy them a dictionary or two, but --
Hennen: Some have suggested as well that the last throes is very different from your assessment of how long insurgencies can last. No difference there?
Rumsfeld: No. I think what the Vice President was saying is very true, namely that we know that we've seen terrorists who have looked towards the successful development of a constitution in Iraq and the successful elections under that new constitution later this year, and recognized how much they have to lose. That is the reason we've speculated that they might very well increase their level of effort during the months between now and the election under the new constitution in December, because they recognize that if Iraq goes with a democratically elected government, and under a constitution that protects the rights of all those people, that it's the terrorists who have lost an enormous amount. And their goal is to turn back the clock and have this country become a haven for terrorists and for a small clique of people to determine what all the other people in the country have to do.
Hennen: I noticed in the briefing the other day with General Rodriguez, that you're having some success in the west, in slowing down the traffic of, for instance, the western border of these insurgents coming in, and others have suggested that some recent topics up on Capital Hill where one of the generals testified that the insurgents were pouring in, meant that we were losing this. And I notice any time there's any discussion of violence in any of the media reports, it's immediately suggested that we're losing.
Given the fact there is violence still, and the insurgency is still active, does that in any way lead to a conclusion that we're losing?
Rumsfeld: No. Any objective person who looks at this situation has to know that we're not losing. We're not losing tactical battles, we're not losing strategic battles. The political process is going forward which is a part of winning. The economic progress is going forward which is a part of winning. The development of the Iraqi security forces are going forward which is a part of winning. The fact that the level of violence is about level and static as one of the generals suggested, has been seized upon by people to say we're in a quagmire which is just utter nonsense. We're not.
Hennen: This leads me to a concern voiced by General Abizaid in that testimony at the Senate Armed Services Committee, seven or eight hours I think you folks were up there. I imagine that a root canal would have probably been more fun, Mr. Secretary.
Hennen: General Abizaid said the confidence of the troops on the ground has never been higher about completing the mission in Iraq, while at the same time he said inside the Beltway he's never detected it lower.
He said, "We cannot win without the support of the American people." Do the actions of these critics risk eroding support from the American people?
Rumsfeld: Well sure. I mean to the extent people say things that give encouragement, and if you're engaged in a test of wills as we are here, this is partly a battle on the ground using kinetics, and partly it's a test of will as to whether or not we'll be willing to continue to aggressively help the Iraqi people defeat this insurgency, depends on support from the American people. It depends on support from the international community. It depends on confidence level on the part of the Iraqi people. Which side's going to win, they say to themselves. Do we want to support the Iraqi government and the coalition, or do we wait and see maybe they're not going to have the staying power?
So it's important that there be a debate and discussion, that's fine. On the other hand it is also important that we recognize that there are effects from our words. So to the extent that someone says well, we're in a quagmire, we're losing, when that's inaccurate -- If it were accurate that would be one thing. When it's inaccurate it does give encouragement to people who then say to themselves well, if we just hold out we may win this thing in Iraq. Our goal is not to give encouragement to them.
Hennen: You mentioned the quagmire reference. The other one of course is Senator Durbin's comments about our forces guarding terrorists down at Guantanamo Bay. I mean you call it encouragement, but I've had listeners who suggest it's giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Is it?
Rumsfeld: Well you know, I think to have compared the wonderful work being done by the young men and women in uniform down in Guantanamo Bay, in that facility, where hundreds of members of House and Senate and from the journalist community have visited and seen for themselves that it's being handled in a highly professional way. Where the International Committee of the Red Cross was in residence for a long period of time, and has full access to it today, and anyone who had any interest in knowing what was going on down there, had an opportunity to know what was going on down there, and anyone who saw what was going on concluded that it was being very well run. Over 400 visits by a thousand national and international journalists, lawyers for the detainees, 11 Senators and 77 Congressmen have been down there. I think to compare it with Pol Pot and the Soviet Gulag was just terribly unfortunate.
Hennen: Are we doing enough to counter all that? I know you have a fabulous web site out there, AmericaSupportsYou.mil. We talk about it all the time. But do the men and women of the armed forces feel the support of this country? And is it enough to overcome that kind of noise?
Rumsfeld: Of course Senator Durbin's remarks were on Al-Jazeera within 15 seconds almost it seems, and they travel all the way around the world, and people all over the world see a United States Senator saying the things he said which were simply not true. That's harmful.
Now the AmericaSupportsYou.mil web site and the help that the American people have been giving to these wonderful young women in uniform, young men and women in uniform who are doing such a superb job in Afghanistan, in Iraq, here in the United States and elsewhere around the world, I think the support has been so encouraging to them, and I must say I am deeply grateful to the President for mentioning it, for you for mentioning it, for the hundreds of thousands of people who have gone to the web site and found ways they can personally be helpful. It does mean a lot to the troops and we are very grateful to them.
Hennen: I want to ask you a couple of questions about BRAC because it's very important to this part of the country given the fact we have the Happy Hooligans right here in Fargo, the 119th; we have the Grand Forks Air Force Base not far away. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission recently held a hearing here and they've since sent you a letter that you probably have on your desk coming back after the 4th of July. In it the Chairman is asking a few questions which concern this part of the world. One has to do with Grand Forks Air Force Base, and given the fact that you've recently announced that some Predators are coming to the Air Guard in Fargo and the Global Hawks eventually will come to the Grand Forks Air Force Base, some are questioning why the flying mission would be taken away from the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Can you explain why that needs to happen?
Rumsfeld: You know, I think what I had to do was to develop a process and then supervise it for the BRAC which is required by statute. We did it. It was a transparent process. The task then is to take the military services’ estimates of military value and aggregate them and then look at them across services, and then package it and send it to the BRAC Commission.
The BRAC Commission has an opportunity then as you suggest, to hold hearings and take additional information. They've asked us for some additional information as to the nature of the decision. The people who were involved in that may very well present some of that material to the BRAC Commission soon. The BRAC Commission then has a fixed period of days to send it to the President. I think that it's best for me to allow them to do their work without any interventions from me.
Hennen: All right, last question then. This is more of a broad question on philosophy.
Some adjutant generals recently of Air National Guards around the country met and part of the concern that has come from the BRAC Commission also concerns them, and that is that 29 state Air National Guard units will be without a flying mission which has prompted the question from some to say is it our primary goal to protect our citizens of have a streamlined way to go to war? One of the generals asked that question.
Why the realignment and the removal of flying missions at individual Guard units, 29-some states like Minnesota and North Dakota?
Rumsfeld: What's taking place is the following, and there are a variety of things that enter into those calculations, only some of which will I mention.
One thing that's taking place is the movement to a higher number of unmanned aerial vehicles. And so if you're talking about a flying mission meaning for a pilot, that's one thing; if you're meaning for an aircraft, unmanned, we have a great deal of activity going on, particularly in the unmanned area in terms of new assignments.
Second, what became very clear is that we needed to do some rebalancing in terms of skill sets within the services, within the active components, and within the reserve components. And third as between the active and reserve components so that we have the skill sets that are needed on the active force and spread throughout the reserve component so that we will not have to over-use certain Reserve and Guard components. It's just simply not fair to have the skill sets arranged in a way that you have to keep using the same people over and over and over again.
So what's taking place is something that is a macro look across the entire U.S. military and I think that they came out with a very good set of recommendations.
Hennen: Well we're excited about the Predator and Global Hawk missions both targeted for our part of the world, so we look forward to talking more about that role in the war on terror that those two installations will play into the future.
Mr. Secretary, a little different environment here. We're going to make you promise that you'll never resign, okay?
Rumsfeld: [Laughter]. Thank you very much.
Hennen: Your leadership is much appreciated in the heartland, sir, and all the best to you.
Rumsfeld: Okay, thanks so very much. Good to talk to you again.
Hennen: You too. Take care.