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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with the PBS NewsHour

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
May 29, 2001 6:00 PM EDT

Friday, May 25, 2001 - 6 p.m. EDT

(Interview with Jim Lehrer for the PBS NewsHour)

Lehrer: Mr. Secretary, welcome.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much.

Lehrer: How are you coming on your review of military strategy and needs?

Rumsfeld: Well, it's complicated. It is interesting. You know, you don't stop doing what you're doing unless you have something that's a lot better. And we are testing various models or alternatives against the so-called two major regional conflict idea, which we've had for about 10 years in our country as a way of sizing our force and organizing our force, equipping our force.

So we're working hard on it. We're talking to an awful lot of people, and I don't know whether there will be a change in strategy. There may or there may not. But there certainly won't be without a great deal of discussion and thought and care and attention.

Lehrer: But didn't you go into this with the idea that something needed to be changed, something very important and large needed to be changed?

Rumsfeld: I guess the answer is anyone who looks at the last decade and sees that we were organized to fight two major regional conflicts and realized we didn't have one, but we did, in fact, have Kosovo, Bosnia, 85 other things that went on in the world, has to ask the question: How do we want to be arranged for the coming decade, decade or two? And my suspicion is that we ought to be arranged somewhat differently. But actually finding that difference, the way it should be, is something that takes an awful lot of care and attention and discussion with all kinds of people.

Lehrer: I noticed you told some members of Congress the other day that you need to be prepared, the United States needed to be prepared for surprises, for the unexpected. How in the world can you be prepared for the unexpected?

Rumsfeld: Well, one thing you can do is expect the unexpected. If you think about it, Dick Cheney's confirmation hearing in 1989 -- not one United States senator mentioned a word about Iraq. The word "Iraq" was never mentioned in his entire confirmation hearing. One year later we're at war with Iraq. Now, what does that tell you? Well, it tells you that you'd best be flexible; you'd best expect the unexpected. You ought to recognize that it's very difficult for force planners to predict the future.

And what we need to do is see if we can't get arranged in a way that we have the kind of flexibility to deal with a spectrum of contingencies and activities rather than getting locked into a fixed set of something that seems probable today, which may very well not be probable at all.

Lehrer: Well, it sounds like you pretty well decided that this two-wars-at-one-time thing is gone.

Rumsfeld: No, that's not correct. What I have decided is that it deserves to be tested; it deserves to be analyzed; it deserves to be talked about, because it is so important. It is a big idea, and we need to address it as a country and in the Congress and in the Department of Defense, and that's what we're doing. I'm raising that issue up and saying, "Let's look at this, let's ask ourselves, what are the real threats?"

We know we don't have a threat from the Soviet Union coming across the north German plain. We also know that, with the proliferation of all these technologies around the world, that many more countries are going to have weapons of mass destruction. Many more countries are going to have the means to deliver them. There's the risks of information warfare. We're highly vulnerable because we're so dependent on high technology as a country. And we need to invest enough in research and development, I think, so that we can stay ahead of those threats.

Lehrer: Now, when you started this, the expectation, right or wrong, was that one on one day in spring, like say right now, there's going to be a Rumsfeld plan for reorganizing the military. Is that --

Rumsfeld: It certainly never came out of my mouth that way. I think a lot of people assume that to come into these -- the president came in with some ideas and he asked me to look, for example, at the morale in the armed forces and the circumstance of the men and women in the armed forces, and we're doing that. And we're going to have some proposals to change the circumstance and improve that; we have to. The whole process depends on the attracting and retaining the very best people.

He asked us to look at nuclear forces, and I'm doing that. I've had my seventh or eighth meeting today, and I have another one tomorrow. We've been doing it repeatedly where we're going through how our offensive nuclear forces are arranged. At some point we'll have some proposals to very likely make some adjustments with respect to it. But I think the expectation that you're going to make an enormous change is not understandable once you say you want to look at something; it's understandable, but it doesn't necessarily follow that that will happen. We certainly think we can come up with something better, but until we do, we have to keep looking.

Lehrer: Is the new Democratic control of the United States Senate going to change anything for you?

Rumsfeld: I don't know. It's been a very bipartisan committee, the Armed Services Committee in the Senate. So, too, the Appropriations Committee has been very bipartisan and the Subcommittee on Defense. I've been working with both sides of the aisle continuously since I arrived several months ago, and we've approached our task in a nonpartisan way.

Lehrer: Well, Senator Jeffords, in his announcement of his becoming an independent, leaving the Republican Party, listed missile defense as one of those issues with which he disagreed with the president and the Republican Party. Does that send trouble signs to you?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I don't think so. I mean, there are people who feel strongly about missile defense on both sides; there have been for several decades, and we're hard at work looking at a variety of different ways, looking for the most cost-effective ways, the technologically most advantageous ways to be able to deploy missile defense at some point in the period ahead. His position hasn't changed, nor has any number of other senators. I think we'll find a receptive group when we finally get to the point where we have some specific proposals by way of architecture.

Lehrer: What do you say to those Democrats and other critics who hammer you on this idea that you have said or suggested, "well, an imperfect missile defense system is better than no missile defense system," that, "okay, it may not work perfectly, but let's do one that kind of works?"

Rumsfeld: Sure. Well, I mean, I suppose it's like if you -- should we abolish automobiles because they don't work every single time we get in them? Of course not. The Wright brothers -- how many times did they fail before they finally flew? We wouldn't have airplanes if we said, "oh, my goodness, the Wright brothers' flight didn't fly; it crashed, therefore, let's not try again." There's never been an advanced research and development project that hasn't had some mishaps in its early period. Furthermore, there's practically no system I know of that works a hundred percent of the time; that is to say, that it does everything anyone could conceivably want all the time.

Lehrer: Well, what about the psychology? Okay, it could be a potential enemy; it even could be a civilian in the United States, and, well, we have this missile defense system, there's a missile coming, I don't know if we're going to get it or not, but they're not going to get ours. Does that confuse things? Does that help things?

Rumsfeld: I don't think so. I think it -- let's say if you have a -- take a medicine. We spend billions of dollars developing new medicines, and, well, they work on some people, but not others, and they work 60 percent of the time for some people and not others. Now, is that bad? Does that mean you shouldn't have the medicine because it helps save lives 60 percent of the time? I think that if one looks at any complicated system, you'll find that it does not work perfectly 100 percent of the time. It may be .9; it may be .7 success; that's plenty.

Lehrer: There have been a lot of news stories about people who are upset at your style in going about this review, particularly the stories say among the brass at the Pentagon that you cut them out of the process. Have you?

Rumsfeld: No, I really haven't. It depends on which brass you're talking about, I suppose. But, I mean, there's 850 admirals and generals in the United States armed forces, and you can't meet with all of them; they won't fit in a room. But I've had something like sixty or seventy meetings with the senior military and have met with personally over 44 admirals and generals, and the materials have been widely circulated among the military.

I think the problem is that you've got a group of people in the Congress and in the Department of Defense who care deeply about the Defense Department; they want it to be healthy; they want it to serve the country well. And in comes a new president who decides that he'd like to have some studies made. He doesn't have a bunch of answers; he's got questions. He wants things looked at. He wants to make sure we're arranged for the future. Well, that's unsettling for people. They say, "Oh, my goodness, things could change."

And, of course, the defense contractors don't want any change. The building is uncertain about change because you don't know how it will affect them. Congressional districts worry about it from the standpoint of contracts and the like. So it immediately injects a little fear and concern into it. And I understand that.

The other thing is the President decided to delay sending up an '01 supplemental for fiscal year '01 and fiscal year '02 budget amendment.

Lehrer: More money for defense.

Rumsfeld: And normally the Congress has those to work on right now. They'd be chewing them up and debating them and discussing them and so forth, and they aren't there, so that creates a little unsettled feeling. Fortunately, the '01 supplemental is going up this week.

Lehrer: You don't feel anybody's out to get you on this?

Rumsfeld: No.

Lehrer: These stories are not a result of this, of some kind of revolution among --

Rumsfeld: No.

Lehrer: -- the admirals and the generals?

Rumsfeld: No, indeed.

Lehrer: You're very secure in what you do?

Rumsfeld: I feel good. They are an awful fine group of people, and what's going to happen next is whatever results from these studies, they go into what's called a quadrennial defense review, and the entire defense establishment engages those subjects and considers them and weighs them and argues them, and then out of that will come the build-up for the fiscal year '03 budget, and everyone will be a part of the normal process.

Lehrer: So there will not be a Rumsfeld manifesto that one day you will hand out and say, "Okay, guys, go do it?"

Rumsfeld: Of course not. It'll be pieces. We've already announced some changes with respect to space. We're going to be announcing some other changes with respect to, for example, the president's initiatives on quality of life for the men and women in the armed services. When we finally finish our nuclear review, we probably won't announce much at all, because it's highly classified. The budget will be announced, and everyone will look to see if their weapons system is in there --

Lehrer: That's when they'll find out, when the budget comes out?

Rumsfeld: Oh, no. Everything in the Defense Department leaks. It'll be all during the build-up of the process. Everyone in town, they'll be writing stories about things that are wrong in this story, and everyone will be trying to be second-guessing what's going to happen. No, it's the great game in this town.

Lehrer: Let me ask you finally, you're a longtime Republican, and you've been in all kinds of jobs in all different levels of the Republican Party and the government of the United States. How do you feel about what Senator Jeffords did?

Rumsfeld: Well, I'm disappointed that he shifted the control of the United States Senate from one party to another, and Senator Warner told me today that he thinks that's the first time in history that a branch of our Congress has changed as a result of anything other than an election. And so it was a big event. On the other hand, you know, every individual can do what they must do, and that's what we all do is get up in the morning and we do what we think is right. I'm sure he decided to do what he thought was right.

Lehrer: What about the basic thrust of his decision, which is, I am too liberal, in effect, to be a Republican? There are a lot of Republicans who agree with him. They don't like the idea that he fouled up the leadership of the Senate, but good riddance. Do you feel that way about him?

Rumsfeld: No. I'm a big tent person. I kind of like to see -- I think we have a wonderful system with two big political parties. I think the umbrellas ought to be large enough for a lot of people under those two big parties, and I'm not one for minority, small, little fractional parties and that complicate things and coalition governments. I mean, I don't know him well. I've met him, but I wish him well. I have nothing bad to say about him at all.

Lehrer: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.


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