MR. PHILLIPS: We are pleased to have joining us this afternoon on Viewpoint Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld. He is joining us from his offices there at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
And Mr. Secretary, welcome. Thank you for taking the time to be with us.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you. I’m delighted to be with you. You’ve got a listening audience that, of course, involves an awful lot of wonderful military families and I’m delighted to be able to speak to them as well.
MR. PHILLIPS: Well, we do appreciate your taking the time to do this, especially at this time, as the second MEF [Marine Expeditionary Force] is preparing for deployment to Iraqi Freedom and also we have, of course, a large contingent of soldiers from Fort Bragg going both to Iraqi Freedom and there Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. So again, your presence here this afternoon is particularly heartfelt and greatly appreciated.
Connie, I know you had – one of the questions you wanted to ask.
MS. ASERO: Well, the burning issue of the day which, of course, is about Iraqi elections. And of course, we get mixed signals, we get CIA saying that they believe the country is going to disintegrate into civil war, we get the major news media believing that the Sunnis will boycott the elections and the Shias will win and that will lead to civil war. What’s your best guess on how this is going to work?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I guess the first thing I’d say is there clearly is not a civil war. It’s something we have to worry about in a country like that that has had ethnic conflict over the decades from time to time. And we do worry about it and are attentive to it, but it is not the fact at the present time. What you have today is a relatively peaceful south and a relatively peaceful north. Some 14 of 18 provinces have a relatively low number of violent incidents a day or a week. And then you have four provinces – big ones – including Baghdad and Mosul that have a relatively high level of violence. And the struggle that’s taking place is not between the Shia and the Sunnis or the Sunnis and the Kurds or the Kurds and the Shia, it is really between a small number of Sunni who are pro-dictatorship and joined by the Zarqawi terrorist network and the two of them are contending against the rest of the 25 million people in that country. And that is where the struggle is and that is not a civil war, that is an insurgency of a sort and that’s what’s happening. It is a part of the global war on terror.
They recognize how much they have to lose if elections are held and are successful. And the people have a chance to help guide and direct the course of their country in a peaceful way, free of a repressive dictatorship. So the level of violence ought not to be surprising. It’s been predicted for weeks and months that the closer you get to the elections, the more intimidation would be attempted.
MS. ASERO: Will the Sunnis turn out for the election?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, time will tell. There are a number of Sunnis on the – I guess there are some 205 lists or something for the elections and there are Sunnis on all of those lists or most of those lists, not all probably. And I’m sure there’ll be some Sunnis that will make a big mistake and decide that they think they have an alternative option, that they can through violence and intimidation take back the country. I think they’re wrong. I don’t think they have that option and I think Fallujah showed that they don’t have that option and that when it gets down to it, a large fraction of the Sunnis very likely will vote, but we’ll know in a month.
MS. ASERO: Yes, we will.
MR. PHILLIPS: You know, Mr. Secretary, of course, your title is Secretary of Defense, but you find yourself all of a sudden, secretary of elections there in Iraq. [Chuckles] And did you ever expect this to be part of your job description, yet it is a significant part of the conversation?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, you’re right. The Department of Defense, of course, was organized, trained and equipped to fight big armies, navies and air forces and that’s not what we’re doing here. What we’re doing is something that is a combination of all of the departments of our government really and we have to address the political and diplomatic side. We have to address the economic side and we have to address the military or security side. But instead of competing against an army or a navy or an air force, what we’re doing here is trying to work with the Iraqi Security Forces so that they will be able to take over security in that country. It’s their country. They’re going to have to provide security. Others can’t do it for them over a sustained period. All we can do is create an environment where they can move from where they’ve been to where they need to be in order to deal with their country.
MR. PHILLIPS: That leads to an interesting aspect of our conversation this afternoon -- and again our guest is Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld – secretary, recognizing that we – and you have stated this publicly in many venues that you’re looking at a new armed services. I’m going to paraphrase and please feel free to correct me – a leaner, swifter force. And obviously, we’re seeing the results of some of these changes as we are engaged in both Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. What does this portend for the future of our military services? What might we be looking at going forward in 2005 and the years ahead? What changes might this dictate for our Armed Forces?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, let me kind of refine the way you characterized it. Some people take the word “leaner” to mean fewer.
MR. PHILLIPS: Right.
SEC. RUMSFELD: And in fact, it’s just the opposite. We have many more ground forces today, for example, and more people on active duty than has been the norm for our country because of what we’re engaged in in Afghanistan and Iraq. So we’ve activated a number of reserves as we’ve increased the active force fairly substantially – some 30,000 people just in the Army alone. I would characterize what the goal for the 21st century to be to have a more agile force, a more rapidly deployable force, a force that’s armed and equipped with more precision instruments, rather than dumb bombs or less precise weapons and a force that’s flexible and can do a variety of things. And that is our task because we are up against enemies that have brains. And they know they can’t defeat our Army, our Navy, our Air Force therefore what they do is they try to find seams; they try to find ways that they can adversely affect the things that we hope and wish for our country and for our people.
MR. PHILLIPS: Through activities such as intimidation, as we’re experiencing in Iraq now.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Exactly.
MR. PHILLIPS: With that said and, of course, I mentioned briefly the change in Armed Forces. We have now the North Carolina National Guard’s 30th Heavy Brigade returning from almost 11 months in Iraq and also numerous Army reserve units. Will we see a change in focus for these arms of the military, namely the National Guard and the Army Reserve and all the reserve units?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I think you will. With respect to the Army, the secretary of the Army Fran Harvey and the Chief of Staff Pete Schoomaker are in the process of rebalancing the active components of the U.S. Army and the reserve components of the U.S. Army. They find that the stress on the force is a result of the fact that we had on active duty a number of skill sets that we didn’t really need for the kind of enemies we’re confronting and they had in the Guard and Reserve a number of the skill sets that they did need in the active force. So they’re shifting and rebalancing that right now so that the stress on the force can be reduced which is an important thing to do.
MR. PHILLIPS: You know, it’s interesting, the changes that are being demanded of our military services – and we want to get into this subject – obviously, they’ve been maintaining – they’ve been acting as peacekeepers in the Balkans and now, obviously, our wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but now as recently as two weeks.
MS. ASERO: Disaster relief.
MR. PHILLIPS: Disaster relief. So you know—
MS. ASERO: We’re asking a lot.
MR. PHILLIPS: Yes. I think as a country – and we get a lot from our men and women in uniform.
SEC. RUMSFELD: We certainly do.
MS. ASERO: Talk a little bit about what’s going on with the disaster relief for the Tsunami because, of course, all Americans are worried about this.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it’s just an amazing accomplishment. If you look at the front pages of many papers, you’ll see pictures of U.S. military personnel rescuing people, delivering food and water, assisting with emergency medical types of assistance. We have somewhere in roughly 10 to 15,000 military personnel in one way or another involved with this. There are 19 ships, including an aircraft carrier and a helicopter carrier, coast guards involved, heavy lift strategic, medium lift strategic aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft, 45 helicopters. The effort is just amazing.
And of course, if you look around the world, the reason you see these pictures of U.S. military people doing it is because our country, our taxpayers are the ones who’ve made these investments and have these capabilities and there aren’t a lot of countries where the taxpayers have invested in those capabilities and therefore when an emergency comes, they look to the United States and it’s just been a terrific outpouring and brilliantly organized by our Pacific Command forces.
MR. PHILLIPS: It is amazing, I mean, here they are, they’ve been trained theoretically to break things and yet you can call upon them at a moment’s notice and they can actually repair it and do things that…
MS. ASERO: Get it done.
MR. PHILLIPS: … get it done, to some degree are outside of what is expected of them in their normal job descriptions.
SEC. RUMSFELD: You’re exactly right. I’d like to just on a matter of personal privilege here mention America Supports You Web site, which is Americasupportsyou.mil. People can go to that Web site and find ways they can support these wonderful young men and women in uniform and their families and I hope people will take the time to do that because they sure deserve our support.
MR. PHILLIPS: Thank you.
MS. ASERO: Thank you.
MR. PHILLIPS: And Secretary, we know that you’re coming to the close of this interview and we thank you for your time. I’d like to give you one last opportunity or an opportunity, if you will, if you might have something you’d like to say to the Marines, sailors, soldiers, and coast guardsmen that are in our area and also possibly to their families.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I think the wonderful thing about our country is that everyone who’s serving is a volunteer and they sacrifice, to be sure, let there be no doubt. They put their lives at risk and their families serve as well.
You can’t talk to those families and not feel their strength and the inspiration that they feel and the confidence and pride they have in the service members and their families for what they’re doing. They’re doing noble work. They are doing what they’re doing for a very good reason, for an important cause. They are making a difference in the world, they’re making a difference in south Asia today; they’re making a difference in Afghanistan and Iraq in the global war on terror wherever they serve. And certainly, their mission is achievable. I mean, when you can sit there at the inauguration of the first popularly elected president of Afghanistan in the history of that country and know that 41 percent of the people who voted were women and they weren’t allowed to hardly go outside without a male escort three years ago. It is just a breathtaking accomplishment. This is something that people a year ago, two years ago said couldn’t be done. And there is Hamid Karzai, the new president of Afghanistan. It’s a wonderful accomplishment. And the people who have contributed to that can take great pride in it.
MR. PHILLIPS: Mr. Secretary, thank you for your time. We do appreciate it and wish you the very best over the new year.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you so much. Happy New Year to you all.
MS. ASERO: Thank you.