Interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with Brit Hume of Fox News Channel
MR. HUME: So, Mr. Secretary, as you leave office, what are you proudest of? What one thing associated with you are you proudest of?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I think that the process of trying to transform this institution and bring it into the 21st century is something that started before I came, it will continue after I'm gone, but I think we did provide a considerable impetus to it. And this institution's here to defend the American people and provide for the safety and security of the American people, and there isn't any way we can do that in this new century unless we get rearranged to fit the modern challenges.
MR. HUME: How advanced is that project? And to what extent did it move when you weren't moving it?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it's well along. There's just no question. We've rearranged our forces all across the globe. We're in the process of adjusting them inside the United States in terms of where they are, making them much more agile and more expeditionary.
We have, without question, strengthened our Special Forces capabilities in terms of numbers and equipment. You know, you think about it. This institution basically was designed to fight big armies, big navies and big air forces, and that isn't what we're doing today. And that isn't what we're likely to do in the period immediately ahead. We simply have to be able to deal with irregular warfare and the asymmetrical challenges that are so advantageous to the enemies.
MR. HUME: Now, what effect did the Iraq war have on that project, in terms of the arguments that were mounted for more troops and -- I mean, how did that all fit together, if it did?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I don't know that there's a connection. We had a plan. I shouldn't say "we." The combatant commander, General Franks, had a plan to bring into train so that we could produce and put into the country something in excess of 400,000 troops. At a certain point he decided he didn't need them. And so --
MR. HUME: And how much -- or was he under any pressure from you to make that decision?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. That's a mythology. This town's filled with that kind of nonsense.
No, the people who decide the levels of forces on the ground are not the secretary of Defense or the president. We hear the recommendations, but the recommendations are made by the combatant commanders and by the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And there hasn't been a minute in the last six years when we have not had the number of troops that the combatant commanders have requested.
MR. HUME: What about --
SEC. RUMSFELD: And the rest of it is mythology.
MR. HUME: Well, there is a notion --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Furthermore, let me add this, Brit. The people who are so certain that it should be more or less -- you know, many of them have never even served in the military -- I think can't have that kind of certainty because WE don't even know what the exact number ought to be. The commanders don't. There's no rule book. There's no guidebook. There's no program that says when you get up in the morning it's this.
Most people who are concerned about that issue and who raise it, I think, are thinking about principles that are very applicable to conventional conflicts. This is not a conventional conflict. This is a new, 21st century conflict, struggle. It's unfamiliar. It's little understood today. And it's going to take some time for the world to appreciate the nature of this struggle.
MR. HUME: So when Generals Abizaid and Casey have recommended what they've recommended, it is clear to you that they're not making those recommendations based upon what they think the boss wants?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, come on. You think these people with four stars on their shoulders run around worrying about that? They've arrived. They are serious people. They're talented people. Ask them. That's utter nonsense.
MR. HUME: How would you characterize your relationship with the combatant commanders? The conventional wisdom in town is that it's been a difficult run, a difficult relationship; that the military have resisted you and it's not -- it's a tense relationship.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah, the relationship I've had with the combatant commanders that I've worked closely with is, I would characterize, very good, very professional. And I could walk you into my office and have you read a series of letters from them and see what they -- what they have said about that relationship. I have valued it.
Now, there are people I've never worked with go off and pop off on one thing or another from time to time, and that's understandable, people who didn't get promoted or people who were unhappy about something.
MR. HUME: What do you think about the argument that there ought to be more troops, that -- how do you feel about that -- in Iraq?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I think that if you're going to put more people into a combat environment, you'd better have a good military objective. You ought to have something that you believe is military in nature that can be accomplished; otherwise, you're putting people into a risky situation where they're just more targets for the enemy to shoot at. And if you don't have an understood military objective, I can't see that there's much purpose in doing it.
There are certainly ways that you can move forces around that advantage -- and General Casey's been doing that. He's been moving them in locations and places that he felt were advantageous. But the problem we're facing today is not purely a military problem, and it's not going to be won by military means alone. It's going to take political and economic progress as well. And ultimately, over time, the Iraqi people and the Afghan people are going to be the ones that are going to prevail over those insurgents.
MR. HUME: You're confident they will, based on current performance?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, they've got every chance in the world of doing it, yes.
MR. HUME: One of the most famous Rumsfeld anecdotes or stories is -- grew out of your statement that some of the critics in Europe were "old Europe" and you had a preference for what you called "new Europe."
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughs.)
MR. HUME: First of all, that is what you said. Question: is that what you meant to say? And what's the story there?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, the story is that I think I was somewhere in town giving a talk to the Foreign Press Club or something, and I was asked a question. And they said, "Well, Europe's against you, the president and the United States and the administration and the country." And there were only two countries that were against the United States -- and as I recall, it was France and Germany at the time -- and I said something to the effect that that is "old Europe" and that a lot of countries in the "newer Europe," Eastern European countries that have come along, are supportive. And --
MR. HUME: What did you mean to say?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, what I meant to say was there's a new NATO and an old NATO. When I was ambassador to NATO, there were 15 countries. Today there are 26 countries. And the ones that have been added are the ones that very recently did not have their freedom, and they value that freedom very highly. And they have added new energy and --
MR. HUME: So you meant to say "old NATO," "new NATO" --
SEC. RUMSFELD: I did. I did.
Now, on the other hand, it turns out that many people wrote me a letter and said if you look at the demographics of Europe, I happened to be right on the mark by accident.
MR. HUME: Now, there was later a dinner held by you with some of those with whom you're believed to have friction, and you chose a particular restaurant for it. What was the story there?
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Chuckles.) Well, that's the restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue called Old Europe that Joyce and I have eaten in over the years. And so we decided to have dinner there, and the combatant commanders had a chance to enjoy it, and we had a good visit and a good time. The fellow who runs the place said he's never had so many hits on his website in the history of the restaurant -- (chuckles) -- than after I used the phrase "old Europe."
MR. HUME: (Chuckles.) Now that brings us to the discussion of NATO and the other international institutions through which the United States finds it necessary to try to work.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Mm-hmm.
MR. HUME: What about that situation? And how well are they equipped or not equipped for this new threat?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, today NATO is better prepared for it than it was six years ago. This Department of Defense has put a lot of energy into working to see that NATO is transformed as well. It's got a NATO Response Force for the first time, a deployable expeditionary capability. NATO is for the first time in its history putting tens of thousands of troops into an area that is totally outside of a NATO treaty area --
MR. HUME: Right.
SEC. RUMSFELD: -- and totally outside of Europe into Afghanistan. And they've reduced the number of headquarters down from I think 22 to 11 or 12 or 13. So they're taking the steps that they need to take.
However, the bulk of the NATO countries are investing less than 2 percent of their Gross Domestic Product in defense. And the world we're living in is not going to tolerate that underinvestment, in my view, and the risk is that over a long period -- a sustained period of time we run the risk of having our principal allies, our major allies there in Western Europe not have the kinds of capabilities that they're going to need in the early decades of the 21st century. They have a different threat assessment. They have an aging population; their demographics are such. They have large numbers of Muslims in their population, and their body politic is adjusting to those things. And those forces are not really likely to lead to an increase in defense investment by the Western European countries.
MR. HUME: How about the U.N.?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, the United Nations, of course, is an institution that has everybody in it, and so you end up with countries like Sudan on the human rights and Iraq and various countries on the non-proliferation committees and disarmament committees. And you know, Venezuela almost got a seat on the Security Council; fortunately, they didn't. And that's inherent in an institution of that nature.
I think that the like-thinking countries of the world, the democracies, are going to have to find ways to work closely together because the problems we face in the world can't be dealt with by any one country. They're global in scope. It's true of terrorism, it's true of drug trafficking, it's true of human slavery, it's true of hostage taking.
MR. HUME: You're talking about a new entity?
SEC. RUMSFELD: No, I don't know about that. I think that if one said that the coalition is the U.N. and it must determine the mission, you would not find many missions because the institution included so many people of countries of so many different views and so many non-democratic countries. Now, conversely, if you say that the mission determines the coalition, just the opposite, and you think about it, we've got about 80 countries cooperating in the global war on terror. We have 60 countries cooperating in the coalition -- correction in the Proliferation Security Initiative. We've got 30 or 40 countries in helping in Afghanistan or Iraq. Those are countries that are like-thinking on those issues, and that's important.
So I think we have to recognize that we're not likely to get a lot of support for some types of activities if you relied only on the U.N. On the other hand, we've been -- the president's frequently labeled unilateralist. My goodness, he's put together some of the biggest coalitions in the history of mankind.
MR. HUME: What's your greatest regret?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, goodness. I guess that one would have hoped that the -- Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts would have been concluded more rapidly. I think that's probably unrealistic, but the --
MR. HUME: Well, you did hope that didn't you?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Sure. And it's taken longer than people had anticipated, it's more difficult, and we're in that unusual situation where the Department of Defense is looked at for the situations in those countries when the reality is that we can't lose a single military battle in either country at all, not possible, but we can't win without help from others --
MR. HUME: Principally?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, the Department of State, the Department of Agriculture, the people who help a country get a agricultural system functioning and get jobs, the people who help create a prison system and a criminal justice system. Go to Iraq and take these soldiers -- Iraqi soldiers that are trained. There isn't a banking system, so they have to go home to get the money -- they get paid every month -- to their family. So at any given time you're going to end up with a large number that are moving back to their homes to see that their families have money so that they can buy the food they need. They get wounded or injured, the health system is not functioning as well as it might. So we end up providing health care for a number of them.
It is a reality that unless there's political progress in that country, unless there's economic progress in that country, and in Afghanistan as well, the military situation cannot advance beyond a certain point, even though we couldn't lose.
MR. HUME: Your greatest personal regret as secretary? I mean, I keeping thinking that -- I mean, you offered to resign more than once.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, sure. Yeah, I think a president has to feel that he has the ability to have somebody in there who fits the circumstance that he finds himself in. And when the terrible situation occurred in Abu Ghraib, I said to the president that I thought that it might make sense for him to have someone else, simply because of the -- how unfortunate that was. But, you know, life goes on.
MR. HUME: Why do you think that happened?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it's pretty clear that on that midnight shift, for a period of some weeks, there were people there who were behaving in a way that was fundamentally inconsistent with the president's instruction to treat people humanely, my instructions that they were to treat people humanely. And they were, for the most part, people involved who weren't doing interrogations. These were not people that were subjects of interrogation, these were -- that were being abused, these were people who were common criminals. And it just was -- you know, look at what happens in the United States in any given day and any given night in any given city -- some very bad things happen. Human beings are not perfect. And the problem was that there wasn't -- it was not -- the people involved were not aware of it at those levels, and as a result, some people were mistreated. And that's not what our country does.
On the other hand, the country, after that happened, demonstrated how a democracy deals with those things. They went about and they had investigations, and they had studies, and they had prosecutions, and they imprisoned people for their conduct -- as they should.
MR. HUME: The difficulties and the setbacks of these enterprises you're talking about seem to exhaust some people, and would exhaust many others, and make them yearn for relief. You seem to respond to all these things with sort of renewed energy, determination. And I don't know where it came from.
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughs.)
MR. HUME: So how do you feel now about leaving?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, you know, I feel so privileged to have been able to work with the folks in this department and the men and women in uniform. They are doing such amazing things in this world of ours. They have saved so many lives in Katrina, and in the tsunami, and in the Pakistan relief. The things they're doing all across the world all the time are not reported, they're not credited, there are no headlines for them. And it is -- to be able to work with them during this period has been wonderful, and I feel I'm a truly fortunate human being.
Now, I would -- I would -- I recognize, however, that nothing's forever, and I think it's appropriate that there be someone else that takes this department for this next period, and I wish them well.
MR. HUME: Why is it, in your view, that this American military, and you, and this department, and this administration, when you cite the things you cite about what we do in the world, is seen as it's seen in so many quarters?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I saw that speech by Kofi Annan at the U.N. the other day, and I thought to myself, my goodness, that's not the perspective, that's not the United States of America. That's not what we're about.
People line up for years trying to come to this country, to visit it, to live here, to be a part of it, to share in the opportunity that exists here. This is a country that has values, and the young men and women who serve in our armed forces have those values; they're our neighbors, they're our sons and daughters. And for people to be disparaging of them and disparaging of what they do, it seems to me says more about them than it does about our country or the men and women in uniform.
MR. HUME: What about Kofi Annan, what about the leadership there?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it's going to change.
MR. HUME: To the better, in your view?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, well, listen, I would think so.
MR. HUME: Is this country set up for, and aware of, and has a sort of full grasp of the threat we face --
SEC. RUMSFELD: No.
MR. HUME: -- in your view?
SEC. RUMSFELD: No. I think that this president, to some extent, is really a victim of the success -- that there's not been an attack in the United States for the past five years. The loss of life on September 11th caused our country to recognize there was a problem, a threat; that we were vulnerable, that we as free people, by our very way of life, put ourselves at risk, and our openness. And the farther we get away from September 11th, the less concern there is about that threat.
Now, that happened during the Cold War as well. But for 50 years, even though it ebbed and flowed -- the concerns, a higher threat assessment or a lower threat assessment at different times -- the fact remains that political parties, both parties, over successive administrations, sustained a level of effort sufficient that ultimately the Wall came down and the Soviet Union ended up in the ashbin of history -- gone.
This problem we're facing today is not like World War II or World War I. You're not going to have pitched battles at sea or air or on land. It's going to take a long time. It's a tough struggle. There are violent extremists who are determined to kill innocent people and reestablish a caliphate across this globe. They want to destabilize the mainstream Muslim governments in the Middle East, and they want to take Western culture and destroy it.
Well, there are not a lot of them. The overwhelming majority of Muslims are in the mainstream and they oppose that, and we oppose that. And over time, we're going to prevail. And we'll have our good days and our bad days. We won't lose battles, because these people don't have armies, navies, or air forces. But they use our modern technology to attack us.
MR. HUME: You sent a famous series of memos -- that never seemed to stop -- to the point where you called them snowflakes, and even a blizzard.
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughs.) I did.
MR. HUME: Is that process now over? And if so, how did it end?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it's over as secretary of Defense. I'll be -- not quite over, I'm still here, I'll be here a day or two more, but I leave Monday.
MR. HUME: I understand.
Was there a last one?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I have drafted a last snowflake --
MR. HUME: What does it say?
SEC. RUMSFELD: -- announcing that the blizzard's over.
MR. HUME: And what does it say?
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughs.) It's in good fun.
MR. HUME: And the overall message of it?
SEC. RUMSFELD: The message is thank you, thank you to these folks who -- the men and women in uniform who risk their lives. They're all volunteers, they sacrifice a great deal, their families sacrifice. So I guess I'd say the message is thank you to them, on behalf of me and the department and the country.
MR. HUME: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you.
MR. HUME: Good to see you, as always.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you.
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