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Secretary Rumsfeld's Interview On Face The Nation

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
September 08, 2002

Sunday, Sept. 8, 2002

(Television interview with Bob Schieffer, CBS "Face The Nation.")

Schieffer: And good morning again on this week that marks the first anniversary of the attack. We welcome the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. And we begin this morning with one of the remarkable stories of these past 12 months, the rebuilding of the Pentagon, where 125 people died on 9/11 when one of the hijackers' planes slammed into one side of the building. The secretary was in his office. He had just finished an intelligence briefing. And when the plane hit, he rushed outside to help in the rescue efforts. Well, Mr. Secretary, I went out to the Pentagon Friday to see for myself what's been going on out there since that day. I think we overuse the word "amazing" but that is the only word that really describes the story I found out there.

BEGINNING OF TAPE VIDEO SEGMENT

Schieffer: The plane sliced into the five-story limestone building like a giant cleaver, driving more than 300 feet deep into the structure.

Evey: It came back and flew across this area at about a 45-degree angle, and came essentially right -- right over the spot where we're standing right now, Bob. And --

Schieffer: Where did it hit?

Evey: It hit the building approximately right in this area right here.

Schieffer: Lee Evey is the Pentagon official who was charged with putting the building back together after a day he will never forget. A hundred-and- twenty-five Pentagon employees died that day along with all 59 passengers as the plane exploded -- flame belting from the windows as if the building were bleeding fire. In the unimaginable bedlam, even Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld helped carry survivors to safety. But because this section of the Pentagon had recently been renovated and reinforced with blast-proof walls and windows, it did not collapse immediately, and most of the 2,600 people in this section of the building escaped, including some in offices directly above where the plane hit.

Evey: Well, the building remained standing for about 35 minutes after the aircraft hit. And Bob, those were 35 absolutely critical minutes. This building did a remarkable job of protecting its occupants.

Schieffer: Equally remarkable, in less than a year they have put it all back together -- the sandstone exterior, the long hallways -- it is all as it was, except for one stone left with the smoke stains of that day to remind of just how awful it was. Evey says it was the workers themselves who were determined to finish it in record time.

Lee, what an amazing thing that you were able to do this in a year. Who in the world came up with the idea of getting it done by the anniversary?

Evey: In a very short period of time after September 11th, the workers started coming up to us and saying, "You know, if you told us to, we could get this done in a year." So, when you're faced with a workforce like that and they've already decided you have that goal, well, the best thing you can do is get the hell out of their way and let them do it and accept their goal.

Schieffer: Wow. Well, that's just remarkable. I think the whole country is proud of {what's been done here}.

Evey: Well, thank you very much, Bob. You know, it's been our gift back to the country.

END OF TAPE VIDEO SEGMENT.

Schieffer: And there you have it. Mr. Secretary, you must be very proud of that group of people.

SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: They did a wonderful job. Lee is a -- is really a superb leader, and the construction crews are so proud of what they've done, and they ought to be.

Schieffer: What is your memory of that day?

Rumsfeld: Well, it was a situation, of course, that your awareness as to what had actually happened grew with each passing minute. And, needless to say, when the second plane hit the World Trade Center, it became clear that it was more than an accident. And when the building shook, it felt like a bomb. I had no idea it was an airplane, but it was -- it shook, and we could feel it. And we knew we had a big task ahead of us.

Schieffer: And you went immediately to the scene, and I'm told that after helping in the rescue -- we saw you there -- that somebody said, "Mr. Secretary, we need to get you down to the command center."

Rumsfeld: I guess that's right. And it became clear that there was -- there were finally people there to help, and it was better for me to be where I had to be.

Schieffer: I'm sure you'll never forget it.

Rumsfeld: No.

Schieffer: Let's talk about now. How close are we to war with Iraq?

Rumsfeld: Well, the president has, I think, put it exactly right. He has said that the one choice we don't have is to do nothing. He has decided to go to the Congress and to the United Nations later this week and make the case of what Iraq has done for 11 years. It has invaded its neighbors. It's violated almost every single U.N. resolution that relates to Iraq, and has, against the agreement they had to disarm; they proceeded to develop weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, and nuclear. And they -- they create a problem for the international community that's -- that's significant. And the president has initiated a discussion, a dialogue, a debate, which I think is a -- is a good thing. And there are a variety of ways that the world might approach it, but not acting, I think, probably -- not recognizing the seriousness of the problem, as the president said, is the one thing we can't do.

Schieffer: Well, let me ask you, then, tell me about the seriousness of the problem. We read in the New York Times today a story that says that Saddam Hussein is closer to acquiring nuclear weapons. Does he have nuclear weapons? Is there a smoking gun here?

Rumsfeld: "Smoking gun" is an interesting phrase. It implies that what we're doing here is law enforcement, that what we're looking for is a case that we can take into a court of law and prove beyond a reasonable doubt. The problem with that is the way one gains absolutely certainty as to whether a dictator like Saddam Hussein has a nuclear weapon is if he uses it --

Schieffer: Uh-huh.

Rumsfeld: -- and that's a little late. It's not late if you're interested in protecting rights of the defendant in a court of law, but it's a quite different thing, if one thinks about it.

I was musing over the fact that there are so many books that have been written -- "Why England Slept," Pearl Harbor, what happened, why didn't we know? Right now on Capitol Hill, the members of the House and the Senate are trying to -- are looking, having investigations on September 11th of last year, and trying to connect the dots, as they say, trying to piece together what might have been known, and why didn't we know it, and why weren't we able to connect the dots? What the president is saying very simply to the world is let's look at the dots today. Our task is not to connect -- connect the dots as to why England slept, or what happened with Pearl Harbor, or what happened on September 11th only. Our task is to connect the dots before the fact, and -- and see if we can't behave in a way that there won't be books written about why we slept, or what happened.

Schieffer: Well, is there information, sensitive information that the administration has that it has not yet shared with the public that makes you take this more seriously than say some people on the outside take it at this point?

Rumsfeld: Well, I have found over the years being in and out of government that I think the way our system is such an open system that probably, you know, 80 some odd percent of what is knowable inside the government -- what is known inside the government is probably known outside the government in one way or another, if not with hard facts.

The problem we have, of course, is a real one. Intelligence -- we spend billions of dollars gathering intelligence, and to do it you have to have methods of doing (it) and sources from whom you get this information. And to the extent you take that intelligence and spread it out in the public record, what you do is you put people's lives at risk, the sources of that information, because people can connect the dots there and say "Well, who knew that?" And then they go out and they stop people from helping us learn that type of information. Or, if it's a source, a satellite or some other thing, to the extent that we reveal the information and show our capability, we then lose that capability because they find ways to deceive and deny us from gaining access to it. So, there's a very good reason for not taking all the information. And the short answer is of course there's information inside the government that's not been spread before the public, and there has to be, and there should be.

Schieffer: Will some of that information become known in the weeks to come?

Rumsfeld: I'm sure some of it will; I'm sure some of it won't.

Now, there's a second thing about this. We know of certain knowledge that we know these things -- we know them. We also know there's a category of things we don't know. And, then we don't even know a category of things that we don't know.

Schieffer: Uh-huh.

Rumsfeld: Now, what happens is that if you go back and take a piece of intelligence when you have it, and then I assert to you "this is a fact." Then you ask the intel people, "Well, when did we learn it?" And they say, "Well, we learned it this year." Then we say, "Well, when did it happen?" It may have happened two, six, eight years before, and we didn't know it. After the Iran -Iraq war, Desert Storm, after they invaded Kuwait and did what they did, all the damage, we went in and were able to find out that they were within six months to a year of having a nuclear weapon. The best intelligence estimates at that time, from any country in the world, estimated somewhere between two or three to six years before they would have a weapon.

Now, until you're down on the ground, you can't know precisely, so the intelligence we have is clearly sufficient for the president to say that he believes the world has to recognize that the Iraqis have violated these -- repeatedly violated these U.N. resolutions. They've told the international community they have no respect for the U.N., no respect for their resolutions, and no respect for the agreements they signed, and -- and that they are proceeding to do things that they agreed not to do.

Schieffer: Well, do we have any alternative now -- I mean, does the administration consider this threat so serious at this point that there is no alternative to removing Saddam Hussein?

Rumsfeld: I think that what we'll find is that the president will -- will go before the United Nations and lay out a speech and make what he believes to be is a recommendation to the international community and to the world, and he'll do that later this week, and I think that will answer your question.

Schieffer: Would the United States go it alone if the others choose not to go with us?

Rumsfeld: Well, that's a tough question. Obviously, your first choice in life is to have everyone agree with you. The reality is that that's seldom the case. And, of course, that's what leadership is about -- is deciding what's right, what's important, what's the best course of action, and then providing leadership, going out and telling the Congress, as the president has decided to do, going out and telling the international community what he believes.

The fact that there is not unanimity today should be no surprise. He's not made the case. The case is now -- he said this week, this is the first step, the meeting with the congressional leadership. And it is -- it was the first step. And -- and the case will be made by administration officials testifying before the Congress in the weeks ahead. The case will be made before the United Nations. He met with Prime Minister Blair this week.

The coalition we have today on the global war on terrorism involves more than half the nations of the globe, 90-plus nations. Imagine, it is -- it is the biggest coalition that I can ever -- have ever imagined in my lifetime. That coalition wasn't there on September 11th of last year. That had to be built. It was built one country at a time over a long period of time. And why? Because if you're right, if you provide leadership, and you -- you stake out a direction, people, over time, find a way to support that -- that leadership.

Schieffer: But let me ask you this. I am told -- the Washington Post says, reports that you had prepared a long article for today's op ed page in the Washington Post in which you lay out the argument for unilateral preemptive action should that become necessary. We're now told that that article was withdrawn. Have they muzzled Don Rumsfeld? What's happened here?

Rumsfeld: No. Come on, Bob. You know better than that. I'm not muzzle-able, if there is such a word. I wrote an article and -- and they were discussing it, my staff were discussing it with the Washington Post, and it's a good article. My guess is we'll use it in some period ahead, but I have not finished editing it. And after thinking about it and -- and considering it, I decided that the president was meeting with Prime Minister Blair -- it seemed to me that that was the message that the world ought to be seeing, not some op ed piece by me, and that the president was going to be speaking on Tuesday, and I suspect I'll probably publish that later this week or next week if it still seems to be appropriate and relevant. It's a good article.

Schieffer: If the United States, with or without allies, goes into Iraq, takes out Saddam Hussein, there is a regime change, what happens after that? Are we prepared to stay for a while? Would we have to stay for a while?

Rumsfeld: Well, you know, for me to talk about that presumes that the president will decide to do that and he hasn't. So, I think that it would be kind of like the op ed piece that I hadn't decided to publish. And so then the question will be "Well, why didn't it happen?"

Schieffer: Uh-huh.

Rumsfeld: And I think that if you want to depersonalize it and not talk about Iraq, I think that -- go to Afghanistan. You bet -- I mean, there's no question but that if you -- if you take it upon yourself and with your allies, coalition partners, to go into Afghanistan and -- and take the Taliban out, and run the al Qaeda out, and stop it from being a terrorist training camp, and liberate the Afghanistan people, you can't then just walk away. You -- you have to, with the world community, work in that country to see that -- that something better replaces it. I mean, here you -- in -- you had a repressive regime in that country, and we're working with a government that was elected, the Karzai government, through the loya jirga process, and attempting to see that those people are able to go to school, and humanitarian workers are able to be there, and it's been a wonderful thing that's happened in Afghanistan.

Schieffer: Let's take a break right here, and when we come back we'll talk about all this some more. We'll continue in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK.)

Schieffer: Back now with the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, let me ask you this question. What would Saddam have -- Hussein -- have to do to satisfy you?

Rumsfeld: Well, of course, what's important is not satisfying me, it's --

Schieffer: Yes, I understand that, but let's say the United States.

Rumsfeld: -- it's -- it's -- or the world.

Schieffer: Yes.

Rumsfeld: I mean, the -- the reality is that he agreed at the end of the Gulf War to -- to turn over all of his weapons of mass destruction and discontinue developing them. He didn't do the turnover, and he has continued aggressively to develop them, as you pointed out, from one of the articles today. There were a series -- I think 27, 28, 29 resolutions and stipulations that he would adhere to. He's violated all but two or three, consistently.

Now, what does that mean? It means that the United Nations, the world community, involved itself in this matter, came to some conclusions, and a single dictator in that country decided that he would toy with them -- agree one day, violate the next day, lie, cheat, put things underground -- consistently for 11 years.

Now, does that matter? Well, I think it's probably not a good thing for the United Nations to be laughed at, and sneered at, and disobeyed, and -- and made to be -- to not be significant enough that a country like Iraq would be willing to -- to adhere to it. And for the United Nations to acquiesce in that, it seems to me, is an unfortunate thing.

Schieffer: So he needs to give up the weapons he has?

Rumsfeld: Well, the purpose is disarmament. I mean, clearly, here's a terrorist state, on the terrorist list, who threatens his neighbors, who is continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction, has not disarmed as they agreed to, represses his own people viciously. And so one says, "Well, what would one have to do?" I suppose it depends on who you're talking to. The Congress decided that regime change was the appropriate thing and passed legislation, and it became the policy of the United States government. President Clinton signed the legislation, and that's been our policy of this country for a number of years now.

Schieffer: Let me -- let me ask you about the whole idea of inspections. I hear some people in the administration say we need to make one more try to get the inspectors in there. I have heard others who have said "I'm not sure inspections make much difference any more." What's the situation on inspections? Do --

Rumsfeld: Well you probably hear the same people say both of those things.

Schieffer: Perhaps.

Rumsfeld: I mean, the president's going to make a judgment about that, obviously, and I'm sure there'll be a --

Schieffer: Do you think they're worth anything any more? Can we really learn anything from inspections at this point?

Rumsfeld: Well, inspections would have to be in -- sufficiently intrusive that one could come away and have confidence that you could say yes -- you see, the purpose is not inspections, the purpose is disarmament. So, the question is would -- would -- is there such a thing as an inspection regime that would be sufficiently intrusive, and how -- what would it look like -- that you could at the end of that period say to yourself, "Well, fair enough, he's disarmed. All of these things have been regurgitated and there they are, they've been destroyed. And isn't -- isn't that a good thing."

Now, is that possible? Anyone's guess is as good as anyone else. But he has resisted the -- the much less intrusive inspection regimes repeatedly, and indeed, finally threw the inspectors out completely. So, I don't know the answer to the question. And I think what the president very likely will do is he'll go before the United Nations and give his best judgment on that question.

Schieffer: What is it that we fear most from Saddam Hussein? Is it that he poses a direct threat himself, or that he becomes sort of the wholesaler and has an entire government to develop these weapons which he can then sell or give to the retailers, the people -- the little mom and pop terrorists around the country -- to distribute? What is it that -- that bothers us most about him?

Rumsfeld: It's the aggregation of all of those things. It is the fact that Iraq is a terrorist state, on the terrorist list. It is a state that is developing and has developed, and possessed, and in fact used weapons of mass destruction already. It's one of the few countries in the world that -- where the leadership still is in power that have used weapons of mass destruction against their neighbors.

Schieffer: You know, that's an interesting thing, though -- he's never used them against us.

Rumsfeld: No, he has not. And he has used them against his own people. He's used them against his neighbors. And we would prefer he not use them against us.

Schieffer: Let me just --

Rumsfeld: Is -- is -- that comment, of course, suggests ought we to wait until he --

Schieffer: Until he does --

Rumsfeld: -- uses them against us. Is that -- is that the implication of that question? If you go back to September 11th, we lost three thousand innocent men, women and children. Well, if -- if you think that's a problem, imagine -- imagine a September 11th with weapons of mass destruction.

Schieffer: Let me just --

Rumsfeld: It's not three thousand, it's tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

Schieffer: Sure. Let me, just for the sake of argument, give you the argument that some people have made to me. I was on vacation last week and out in Australia, and one of the things that concerns people there is they say they recognize there's the threat, but they say let's suppose the United States decides to take preemptive action against Iraq and we're tied up with Iraq and China then decides "Well, perhaps we've got a little threat down here from Taiwan, maybe we ought to go ahead and take care of that right now." What would you say to them in response to that? Is that a possibility?

Rumsfeld: I would say to them what we've said to the world, that the United States has fashioned a defense strategy, last year, which has asserted that we will have, and do have a capability in the United States to provide for homeland defense, to undertake a major regional conflict and win decisively, including occupying a country and changing the regime if necessary, and simultaneously swiftly defeat another aggressor in another theater, and in addition have the capability of conducting a number of lesser contingencies such as Bosnia or Kosovo.

Schieffer: And we have to end it there. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

END OF INTERVIEW

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