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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Fox News

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
July 24, 2001 4:00 PM EDT

Friday, July 20, 2001 - 4:00 p.m. EDT

(Interview with Neil Cavuto, Fox News)

Cavuto: Protests are one thing. But are they pointing to a bigger thing, a bigger worry, a bigger problem? In a rare interview, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tells me no, that relations between this country and Europe are sound and getting sounder, that the protests, he says, mask that progress. And he said they can as no real big surprise.

Rumsfeld: Well, no, not at all. I mean there have been demonstrations around the world from time to time, and there's nothing new in that pattern. And as a matter with respect to missile defense, a careful reading of the progress that's being made clearly indicates that country and countries are modifying their positions and that a good deal of support is being achieved.

Cavuto: That being the case, there is a little bit of worry here that maybe the Europeans just like to pick on President Bush or go after him, a few weeks ago, and now again. Is there some European angina going on here? What?

Rumsfeld: Well, you know, it certainly has nothing to do with President Bush. Anyone who's ever met him in the European scene walks away highly complimentary about what a fine person that he is and how easy he is to deal with and how pleasant it is to work with him.

I think what you're seeing really is the fact that with the end of the Cold War, the threat from the Soviet Union gone, the countries of the world always were grateful to the United States for being the thing that kept expansionism from the Soviet Union from dominating other continents. But they never really believed we had a monopoly on cultural wisdom or economic wisdom or political wisdom. And with the end of that threat, why, people are a little freer to say what they think. And that's understandable. We can live in a world like that.

Cavuto: But is this the European way to just go after new presidents? You did this with Jerry Ford. You probably remember that they did seem to be rough.

Rumsfeld: You're right. It's been a pattern president after president. And I don't see it as terribly harmful or destructive. It's, I think -- I'm not a psychiatrist. But it seems to me, to a certain extent, if you can take a shot at the big country or the big president, some people feel that that elevates them. But overall, the relationships are excellent. So I think -- and furthermore, as you and I know, the press tends to be more interested in conflict and controversy and criticism than in praise.

Cavuto: A good point. Let me just talk to you about what's happening with your defense initiative right now. After a successful weekend test, now the fear was among some who were not keen on this system, you know, Mr. Secretary, that this is going to lead to an escalated arms race. And they're worried about them. Assume them they're wrong.

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know where the race would be. Certainly, the Russian economy is such that they're in the process of reducing weapons just as we are in the process of reducing nuclear weapons. I think that the problem is that a lot of people still seem trapped in a Cold War mentality where they're convinced that there still is hostility between the West and the Soviet Union, which doesn't exist, of course, and that, therefore, we need to do things to make a more stable world. The fact of the matter is we don't worry about a strategic nuclear attack from Russia at all. We don't worry about a major tank invasion across the north German plain from Russia. Those days have passed.

Cavuto: But are you worried that you might not have money, sir, for this ambitious program yourself, let alone Russia, that, you know, your own budgetary constraints here at home are preventing you from seeing this through to fruition?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think the important thing on national missile defense is to recognize that it takes about 1 1/2% of the defense budget. It's not like it's a dominant part. All missile defense, including theater missile defense, only takes about 2 1/2% of the defense budget. We had 28 Americans killed in Dhahran ten years ago and 99 wounded by a ballistic missile. These things are very dangerous. And the weapons that they put atop ballistic missiles today are increasingly powerful and weapons of mass destruction.

So I think it would be very shortsighted for anyone to suggest that we need not worry about ballistic missiles. The number of countries that have these weapons is increasing every year. The number of total ballistic missiles on the face of the earth is growing every year. Their ranges are increasing, and the weapons that they mount on the ends of these missiles are increasingly powerful.

Cavuto: All right. When we come back, more with the Defense Secretary Rumsfeld on Hillary Clinton, on tax cuts, on that big defense budget he wanted, but didn't get.

[Commercial Break.]

Cavuto: Welcome back, everybody. More now with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. You know, he asked for 35 billion bucks more for defense this year. He got a little bit more than half that. I asked him if he was disappointed.

Rumsfeld: We have a $22 billion increase over the last budget proposed by the president. It's the biggest increase since 1986. It is a 7% increase in real terms. It is a larger increase than any other department of government in percentage as well as absolute terms.

Now, the problem is that at the end of the Cold War, there was a draw down and so-called peace dividend was taken. But the last administration overshot. And year after year after year, the Defense Department was underfunded. There isn't any way in the world you can correct year after year of underfunding in a single year. It is correct to say that there're a good many of the accounts in the Pentagon that are extremely short. And --

Cavuto: Are you frustrated with the process?

Rumsfeld: No, I'm not frustrated. I've been around this city a little bit over the decades. And I think that's to be expected. I've never known a cabinet officer who did wish that their department had more money.

Cavuto: Got a little bit more money. But the reason why I raise it, sir, is, you know, Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan in The Weekly Standard has offered some editorial advice not too long ago, as you're very familiar with, some unsolicited advice, they said, for two old friends, Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz: Resign!

Rumsfeld: Look, we've been asked by a very fine president to serve our country, and we're here and we're doing it, and we intend to do a good job. I must say, though, that the fact that the Pentagon has allowed the aircraft to age, they've allowed housing to age and go into disrepair, our shipbuilding budget is down to the point where the total numbers of ships is heading from 300 down to 230. That fact that it has been seriously underfunded by the prior administration clearly creates an impetus to see if we can't manage this place better.

Cavuto: You know, Senator Hillary Clinton took great offense to that and raised that with your Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz on that very issue, saying that it wasn't -- obviously referring to her husband -- his fault for this, that this is something and a mess that he inherited from the President's father. What do you make of that?

Rumsfeld: Well, it's factually not true. The reality is that at the end of the Cold War, there was a draw down for a period of years during President George Herbert Walker Bush's presidency. And when Mr. Clinton came in eight or nine years ago, the draw down continued. And it continued for a sustained period of time to the great detriment to the Department of Defense. And let there be --

Cavuto: Were you surprised by her -- my apologies, sir. But were you surprised by her vitriolic attack? That was pretty strong, those words.

Rumsfeld: I haven't even read it. I knew nothing of it, so I couldn't be surprised. But it's factually inaccurate.

Cavuto: Do you think the tax cut has limited your options, sir?

Rumsfeld: Well, I guess time will tell. I know everyone's running around saying "Henny, penny, the sky's falling" because the projections are lower than had been anticipated, and because the Congress took a step to move the tax reduction forward, which ate up a lot of money in 2003. But I've never seen any of those projections that prove to be accurate.

Cavuto: Were you worried, though, Secretary when you saw that a lot of the tax cut would be at least a little more front-loaded than was the original plan, that you said, "Oh, boy, there go my defense spending plans?"

Rumsfeld: Yes. When the Congress moved the tax cut forward, there's no question but that it made our efforts somewhat more difficult. On the other hand, as I say, it does provide an incentive for us. This Department is not operating efficiently. There are things we can do by ourselves to make it operate better, improve our acquisition systems, improve our financial reporting systems. We need to have a base closing round. It's just no corporation, no enterprise would ever carry around 20 to 25% excess infrastructure that we don't need.

Cavuto: I apologize, sir. Do I understand you then that it would be a realignment, I mean the missile type expenditures that you want to see, it would come at the expense of more base closings, maybe shutting part or all of the B-1 bomber building? Is that what you're envisioning, something like that?

Rumsfeld: No. As I say, the missile defense expenditures are only about -- the national missile defense, about a percentage and a half of the budget. What I'm saying is that we need fund to modernize and to transform the defense establishment to fit the 21st Century. We're giving a big slug as a result of the president's budget increase of $22 billion. We need more than that, and we've got to go find savings where we can get that. And I've never seen an organization that couldn't save and operate more efficiently by at least five or ten percent.

Cavuto: Mr. Secretary, you know, the president came under attack the other days from Senate Majority Leader Daschle, who had said that because of him, we're losing some of our international prestige. He rescinded those remarks when he appeared to have made them just as the president was taking off for Europe. But it does raise an issue that others have raised in and outside the Capitol that the President has to be more outside on these international issues, has to be more involved in international lending, has to be playing a bigger role in the Middle East. What do you think about that?

Rumsfeld: Well, two things. First, I think Senator Daschle, who's, in my view, a fine man, made a very serious mistake, both with respect to substance and timing. And I suspect he feels badly about it.

Second, the President of the United States is in Europe. He is very interested in the foreign policy and defense policies of the United States and in contributing to peace and stability in the world. And as a matter of fact, I talked to him this morning. And I think that he will do a superb job. And any suggestion to the contrary, it seems to me, is mistargeted.

[Segment from the same interview, aired later the same day on Fox. This segment includes Fox Anchor Brian Wilson, Fox Correspondent Carl Cameron, Senator Carl Levin, and Representative Norm Dicks.]

Wilson: When George W. Bush was campaigning for the presidency, he stumped on the theme that the U.S. military was underfunded and its service members disserved -- deserved, rather, more money and better equipment. But now that he's in the White House, Mr. Bush is finding that following up on his pledge to revamp the military is more difficult than he expected. And as Fox News Carl Cameron tells us, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld is blaming the president's No. 1 priority.

(Begin Videotape)

Cameron: In the battle to modernize the U.S. military, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is sometimes a frustrated warrior for the president, but few would have expected this Bush loyalist to suggest that when it comes to reform, the enemy is the president's premier accomplishment so far.

Rumsfeld: When the Congress moved the tax cut forward, there's no question but that it made our effort somewhat more difficult.

Cameron: Tax cut opponents have been screaming for months that it would be difficult, if not impossible to adequately fund the budget. The president intended for the tax cut to curb wasteful congressional spending, but now Democrats want to turn the tables and force the president into politically risky or unpopular choices.

Levin: The president has the responsibility, since it's the tax cut that he proposed, of saying now how are we going to fund what we think is essential and what he has said he thinks is essential -- education and health care, prescription drug program and the reform of the defense budget.

Cameron: Strategically, Senate Democrats are juxtaposing education spending against military reforms, so that when the rest of the budget is done and, they predict, not enough money will be left over to pay for both education and defense, Bush will have to make a choice or perhaps raid Medicare. Right now, the president plans to boost defense $22 billion, but Rumsfeld says even that's not enough.

Rumsfeld: We need more than that, and we've got to go find savings where we can get that.

Cameron: In Washington, when budget realities clash with bureaucratic goals, a sure sign of trouble is when officials start saying the solution is improving management practices.

Rumsfeld: This department is not operating efficiently. There are things we can do by ourselves to make it operate better, improve our acquisitions systems, improve our financial reporting systems. We need to have a base-closing round.

Cameron: The defense chief's drive for reform has been complicated by the perception that he's planning changes without much input from lawmakers and the Pentagon.

Dicks: Initially, it was -- he kept them at length -- arm's length, and he kept us at arm's length.

(End Videotape)

Cameron: But Rumsfeld in recent weeks has brought Congress and the Pentagon's generals into his loop, and by most accounts, the situation has improved, though there is no sign that that has led to any easing up of the Pentagon's budget problems.

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