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Rumsfeld Describes Guidelines for Committing American Troops

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2002 – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today gave the world a peek at how he thinks.

At a Pentagon press briefing this afternoon, Rumsfeld described guidelines he wrote upon taking office to help him decide when to recommend President Bush commit American military forces.

Defense officials also released written copies of the guidelines after the briefing.

  • Is proposed action truly necessary?

    "Certainly, if lives are going to be put at risk, whether they're U.S. lives or the lives of other foreign nationals, there must be a darn good reason," Rumsfeld said during the briefing. He also suggested all elements of national power be employed before, during and after any possible use of force.

  • Is the proposed action achievable?

    "It has to be something that the United States is truly capable of doing," the secretary said. "We need to understand that we have limitations. There are some things that this country and other countries simply can't do." Officials must decide at the outset what constitutes success, so they know when they have succeeded, he said.

  • Is it worth it?

    "If the engagement is worth doing, then we need to recognize that, ultimately, lives could be put at risk," Rumsfeld explained. "Leaders need to be willing to invest the political capital necessary to marshal support necessary to sustain the effort for whatever period of time conceivably could be required."

  • If there is to be action, act early and don't restrict options.

    "It's important to make a judgment as to when diplomacy has failed and act forcefully during the pre-crisis period to try to alter behavior and prevent a conflict," Rumsfeld said. He also said it's vital to not "dumb down" an operation by promising at the outset not to do certain things. In previous conflicts, leaders have made such pledges as not to commit ground troops or not to bomb below 15,000 feet.

    "Those promises, those declarations, it seems to me, have the net effect of simplifying the task for an enemy, and it makes the task for the coalition much more difficult," Rumsfeld said.

  • Honesty at all levels.

    Rumsfeld said American leaders must be "brutally honest" with themselves and the American people to avoid making a mission seem easier than it will be.

    "Preserving U.S. credibility requires that we promise less or at least no more than we believe we can deliver," he said. "And remember that it's a great deal easier to get into something than it is to get out of it."

    The secretary stressed these issues are guidelines he considers, but not rules that could inhibit U.S. actions.

    "There may be times when national security requires that the U.S. act without clear answers to some of these questions," he said. "These questions that I've posed to myself I think of as guidelines, not a perfect checklist and certainly not hard and fast rules."

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