(Interview with Scott Hennen, KCNN/WDAY Talk Radio Network)
Hennen: :Our next guest is an Assistant U.S. Defense Secretary for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke, also known as Torie Clarke, joins us now and we're pleased to have you on Hot Talk. Torie, how are you?
Clarke: I'm fine. Thanks for letting me do this.
Hennen: :We're excited to have you. First of all, kudos to you in managing the information flow from the Pentagon. You do a great job of letting us and the media and the world know what's happening.
Clarke: You're nice to say that. It's the understatement of the day to say it's important stuff so we try pretty hard to get as much of it out there as we can.
Hennen: :When you were first offered this job as Assistant U.S. Defense Secretary you probably had no idea what you were in store for, did you?
Clarke: That's the second understatement of the day. When you sign up at the Pentagon you fully believe and anticipate that at some point there will be some military action, thus the U.S. military. It just never occurred to anybody that it would be planes flying into the sides of buildings that would start it all.
Hennen: :Give us a little update, by the way, on how the rebuilding is coming at the Pentagon. I was in Washington over the weekend and I had a chance to drive by and I was amazed, quite honestly, at how much that hole is already filled in. They're ahead of schedule, aren't they?
Clarke: It is absolutely phenomenal. There's a wonderful team of people headed up by a man named Lee Evey. They're called the Phoenix Project, the Phoenix Group, and they are exceeding everybody's expectations. They work incredibly hard. They're bound and determined to try to get the job done before the one-year anniversary of 9-11 and it sure looks like they're on track to do it.
Hennen: :You were in government for a time working with President Bush 41, correct?
Clarke: I am one of your classic Washington hacks, just keep bouncing around from federal agency to administrations to the Hill and occasionally dabble in the private sector, and here I am back on the public sector side again.
Hennen: :What brought you back? I know you had left for the private sector and then came back to take this post. What was the lure?
Clarke: The lure was the military. In one of my private sector lives actually a few years ago, 1999 I guess it was, I had worked on a study, a review of all the recruiting efforts for the military, and a handful of us got to spend about six months, day in and day out, with everybody from the senior brass on down to brand new recruits, and it was just a phenomenal experience. I've always been a fan of the military, had never spent much time with them. But at the end of the six months I found myself saying to a big general -- and he was big, he was about six and a half feet tall -- I said, you know, if I knew when I was 18 what I know now I probably would have signed up.
So when it was, very unusual circumstances, but a little bit over a year ago some people approached me and said would you be interested, and just the opportunity to work with these kind of people was just too much to turn down.
Hennen: :When did you first meet Don Rumsfeld?
Clarke: You know, a couple of times we've tried to figure that out. I honestly don't think I had met him until February of last year. I certainly knew who he was, but I don't think, in all my different jobs and running around in this town, I don't think I'd ever actually met him.
Hennen: :What's it like to work for him?
Clarke: It's an extraordinary experience. He is, obviously, in the tank form as they say very, very smart, and extraordinarily dedicated. You talk about somebody who didn't need to have another job like this, and his willingness to come back and work so hard just says volumes. And he's extraordinarily good at what he does. So it's a real privilege to be around that.
He also, quite honestly, in terms of my job, the communications side of things, is the easiest part of it. It's the well-known secret around here that you don't have to prepare him for things. You don't have to spend too much time getting him ready for anything. He really knows what he's talking about so it's very easy for him to get out there and tell people what's going on with the war, what's going on with what we're trying to do with the overall transformation of the Pentagon. So he's probably the easiest part of the job.
Hennen: :I've been a Don Rumsfeld fan for a long time. I'll never forget when I first heard his name rumored to be joining the new Bush Administration, Bush 43. First it was talked about as CIA Director and then ultimately the Defense Secretary post, which took everybody by surprise. I was thrilled. I even in the private sector followed his work and efforts with the commission he co-chaired regarding missile defense. He just is an incredible American, and his history going back all the way to the previous administrations is phenomenal.
I ran into him a year ago at the White House Correspondents Dinner and met him for the first time. I'd interviewed him a number of times previously but hadn't met him. And struck up a conversation with him and ended up talking to him about 15 or 20 minutes.
I went back this year, just last weekend, the White House Correspondents Dinner, and I really expected a very different Don Rumsfeld given what had happened in the last year and I didn't find a different Don. In fact it was just absolutely amazing. One would think he has the weight of the world on him considering this effort and the war on terrorism, but he certainly seems to have the mettle to handle it, doesn't he?
Clarke: He really does. It's funny you say what you say because everyone, especially people in Washington are always struck by how well grounded he is. I give enormous credit in that category to the fact that he hasn't lived here for 20 or 25 years. He was not part of the process, wasn't part of the system, so he's just got a remarkably fresh and candid way of looking at things and it sure comes through.
So I don't know if you noticed the other night at the White House Correspondents Dinner, but obviously one of the biggest laughs of the evening was the President talking about Ozzy Osborne and sort of making suggestions about Ozzy Osborne's past and Ozzy Osborne's show today. I looked over at Secretary Rumsfeld, and I went over to his table, and I said you probably don't know who Ozzy Osborne was or is do you? He shook his head and said no, sorry. So missed one of the biggest moments of the evening. [Laughter]
Hennen: :I don't think that's anything to be ashamed of, quite honestly.
Clarke: You're probably right about that.
Hennen: :I'm ashamed to say I've seen it and I know --
Clarke: You watch it. Do you watch the show?
Hennen: :I don't know. I have, just to kind of figure out the fascination of it, and I've said, I've admitted I laugh at it but I'm also at the same time worried that it's as popular as it is with Generation X; wondering what that says for the future of America, you know?
Clarke: That's what they say. I have yet to see it myself.
Hennen: :You're not missing a heck of a lot.
Let me talk to you about a couple of current issue things. One is the war on terrorism. It seems as though the situation in the Middle East has taken the focus a little bit off of the war on terrorism. Has in any way the war effort to route out terrorism been stalled by the situation in the Middle East?
Clarke: Not at all. One thing you can say about us around here, we're pretty consistent and pretty repetitive which I think is a good thing, especially when you talk about such an unconventional war that we're engaged in. But in the earliest days of the action after 9-11, and military action started on October 7th, we said there will be times when you see and hear a lot about military activity. There will be times when you don't see and hear a lot about military activity. That doesn't mean things aren't going on. And for starters, it's not just about military action; it's about working with countries around the world on law enforcement. So a lot of these terrorists and those who are harboring and fostering and sponsoring them are locked up. It has to do with freezing assets of organizations that would fund terrorist organizations like the al Qaeda so they lose their sources. Then on the military front sometimes there is covert activity, sometimes there are things that just don't have as high a profile as others are, but they're going on. Those things are going on. We continue to make progress.
Where we are militarily right now is about where we expected to be, even though I cannot say that there was a road map for this kind of operation and we don't have a defined time line. But we've said it's going to take a long time. We have to continue to route out the remaining pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban that do exist. We've got people on the ground working hard on that. We continue to search out the leadership of the al Qaeda and the Taliban and it will take time.
You get down to the ones that are still holding out. If you think about the kinds of fighters that are still holding out and still hiding and still trying to find ways to resist and to attack again, they're among the most hard bitten, they're among the most determined. I think the Secretary calls them the dead-enders. They don't have much else to do and they don't have much to lose so it's tough sledding, but that's what we expected.
Hennen: :Will ultimately whether or not bin Laden is found to be dead, found to be alive, apprehended, whatever, will ultimately you think that be how this effort is measured as far as success is concerned?
Clarke: Well, it shouldn't be because it's not just about bin Laden. It's not just about al Qaeda. But al Qaeda has cells in some 50-60 countries around the world that have varying levels of activity. There are any number of people, probably a handful of people in the senior leadership of al Qaeda who would be happy and perfectly capable of filling the role UBL has. So we certainly want to get the UBL's of the world and I think we will eventually, but it's not just about that.
Hennen: :We all know about Afghanistan and the effort there, and there's been some talk recently of the Philippines and Yemen. Give us a sense of where are we in this war on terrorism.
Clarke: Sure. Part of the road ahead in the war on terrorism, just to repeat myself, it's not just about one network. It's certainly not just about Afghanistan. Part of the road ahead in the war is to work with like-minded peoples and governments who don't want to become the next Afghanistan, that don't want to become the next free and open haven for terrorism to flourish. So we're working with them to combat the terrorism in their backyards.
The Minister of Defense of Georgia, the former Soviet Republic, was just in the building yesterday and met with the Secretary and others. We are providing them with some people, not more than 150, and some training and some equipment to help them fight terrorism. We're working with Yemen and obviously, as you said, with the Philippines as well.
Hennen: :How about Afghanistan? Is there a danger that we'll lose focus? I noticed the democratic candidate for President which explains a lot recently was critical saying well, things are going back to the way they were in Afghanistan as we lose our focus from there. How much will basically keeping law and order be a part of our efforts in Afghanistan as the focus changes to these other locations you mentioned and possibly ultimately Iraq?
Clarke: I don't know if this is what you meant, but it's less about us keeping law and order in Afghanistan; it's more about helping the Afghan government do what it needs to do to have long-term stability and security.
So for instance the Department of Defense here is very heavily focused on helping them to begin to create an Afghan National Army. The Germans are working very hard with the Afghan government to train a police force. Others are helping them train people who would be good for border patrol. So if you're truly committed and you really want long-term stability in Afghanistan, then the best thing to do is to help Afghanistan do it for itself.
Clearly we all have the same goal. We want long-term stability. We do not want Afghanistan to go back to the way it was where it's just a free running field for the terrorists from which they could operate. But there's a way to do it that we think better ensures it really holds and it really sticks. Rather than putting a band aid on it and saying okay, we'll do that for you for an undetermined period of time, we're going to help you do that for yourselves.
We were just over there two weeks ago, I guess it was, three different places in Afghanistan with the Secretary and met with different people including Chairman Karzai who in a press conference with the Secretary acknowledged that probably, in terms of security, the best use of U.S. resources and time and effort out of the obvious military actions would be helping them to build that Afghan National Army.
Hennen: :So many questions, so little time. I know your time is precious. We'll let you know. Our best to Secretary Rumsfeld and the entire crew at the Pentagon, and really know that out here in the heartland the men and women of the U.S. military make us proud day in and day out. So thanks so much, Torie.
Clarke: You're absolutely right about the military. Thanks so much. Bye.
Hennen: :Torie Clarke --