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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview for the Discovery Channel

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 29, 2001

Wednesday, October 17, 2001

(Interview for the Discovery Channel.)

Q: Mr. Secretary, let me ask you just what's new today that we might want to know about?

Rumsfeld: Well, the activity is continuing. We have various packages, strike packages that are engaged again today as well as the humanitarian effort that's continuing.

Q: Let me take you back, for one question, back to the attack of September 11th and whether you would have initially described this as an act of terror or an act of war, and whether there's a distinction that made a difference in how President Bush chose to react militarily.

Rumsfeld: I think there isn't a perfect world. It is somewhere in between the two. The difference, it seems to me, from an act of terror, is that it was not an isolated act. It is part of a pattern of behavior. And it is considerably more powerful and more devastating and lethal than had been the case in previously isolated acts of terror, certainly in the United States anyway. Other countries, of course, have experienced terrorism to a much greater extent than we have. We've benefited from having friends to the north and south, and oceans to the east and west -- so this is somewhat of a new experience for us.

But when one thinks about the magnitude of it, the fact that this one network, al Qaeda, has cells in some 50 or 60 nations, and you have to think that the word "war" is not inappropriate.

Q: In regard to fighting terrorism, is there anything that you have the latitude to do now that you did not have on September 11th?

Rumsfeld: Well I think you do. I think the massive loss of life, probably the largest in a single day in our country's history, even more than in the Civil War, is so dramatic and so compelling. Plus the chilling statements by the al Qaeda leadership suggests that they have plans for terrorism in other parts of the world, heightens the awareness of the American people and the people across the globe that this is a problem of considerable danger to all of us.

As a result of that, [you have] the spontaneity with which other countries came aboard to support our actions, the feeling of cohesion in this country, that it is in fact necessary to deal with this problem, coupled with the reality that it is not possible to defend against terrorist acts because they have all the advantage in being able to strike anywhere at any time using any conceivable technique -- and there's no way one can defend against all of those.

The only way to defend is preventive action. That is to take the battle to them.

Then you add the additional problem that we are in the year 2001 living in a world where, because of proliferation, weapons of mass destruction have spread across the globe and any number of terrorist-sponsoring states have weaponized chemical and biological weapons and are seeking to weaponize nuclear weapons -- all of that tells the world that this is something that must be done. We really do not have a choice other than to take the battle to the terrorists and their networks and the people who support them.

Q: I'd like to talk a bit about how you're doing that. The war in Afghanistan started in some small way like the Gulf War with missiles and bombs, but you yourself have said that there's no bomb that's a silver bullet here.

Rumsfeld: That's for sure.

Q: After three or four or five days of bombing and missile strikes, what's left to target and where do you go from there?

Rumsfeld: Of course, Afghanistan is a country that has been badly treated. It was at war with the Soviet Union for a prolonged period. It has been in civil war of various types ever since. And it is today.

There are elements in the north and the south fighting the Taliban occupiers who have taken over the bulk of the country and the ones that are in such close coordination with the al Qaeda, the foreign element that's come in to spread terrorism throughout the world.

There are not a lot of high-value targets. We know that. On the other hand, they do have military assets. They have helicopters. They have transport planes. They have old MiG-21s and some other aircraft. They have a modest number of tanks and surface-to-air missiles -- nothing enormous and very difficult to find and very difficult to hit. But in that ground environment [is] an advantage that the Taliban has. And if the Taliban is denied that advantage -- that is to say, the aircraft and the Stinger missiles and the other capabilities they have -- then one would think that the Afghans on the ground in that country would be advantaged and be more successful and create pressure on the Taliban and on the al Qaeda.

Q: You've indicated there will be lots of special operations involved here, and presumably pretty quickly, if you run out of air targets. Perhaps the special ops have already begun. Have they?

Rumsfeld: I really have not indicated that there would be lots of special operations in this particular case. I have characterized the entire effort as being well beyond military. Military to be sure, both overt and covert, which would include special ops -- but also financial and economic and political and diplomatic. It's going to take pressure across the board on terrorists so that they have to keep moving, so that their financing dries up, so that their recruits go down, so that their supporters fall away, so that defections increase -- and it will be that kind of a sustained effort that will actually affect things on the ground. Certainly special operations, one would think would be a part of that as we move forward and as we try to deal with this problem, not only in Afghanistan but elsewhere.

Q: So you would prefer to see it in some way undermined by lacking in finances, by lacking its support base, by having the Northern Alliance more aggressive in the hope that you don't have to send in ground troops. Is that where your options are?

Rumsfeld: I think I'd put it this way. Because of the power of weapons today that undoubtedly either are or can be available to terrorist networks, and because of the lethality of this recent attack, one would like to do what we have to do as quickly and effectively as is humanly possible so that the risks that people in the world face today because of these people would be behind us.

Be realistic. One has to say that that is not necessarily how it will work. It may be that we will have to starve them, that we will have to drain the swamp that they live in. One would hope not, but if that is the case, it would be much more like the Cold War where after a period of time of consistent pressure, diplomatic and military, but not great battles if you will, it fell apart from within. It just decayed and it was gone. The Warsaw Pact disappeared. The Soviet Union disappeared. The countries fell like a house of cards.

Whether it will be that, or sooner or later, I don't know. Whether the overt military activity will, through some happenstance, be stunningly successful, which is unlikely, simply because if anyone looks at the terrain and the difficulty of dealing with those kinds of problems on the ground, one has to be respectful that it would be a long shot.

Q: You seem to be describing two almost polar opposites here. You saw in this building during the Cold War, and you know that that house of cards didn't crumble very quickly. It crumbled over 30-40 years.

Rumsfeld: That's true.

Q: You're not looking at that kind of a length, I would suspect.

Rumsfeld: Oh, no indeed. The world was shocked at how rapidly it fell apart from the inside. That could be the case here. Not in 40 or 50 years, one would hope, indeed I can be certain. But not in a day or two. We have to be patient. We have to be willing to apply the pressure over a period of time and create conditions that are distinctly inhospitable to those people.

Q: Describe those conditions.

Rumsfeld: Well, they have to find their resources drying up. They have to find that everything they do costs them more because of the pressure that's being put on them. They have to find that it's more difficult to get recruits. They have to find that the people who were supporting them are less enthusiastic because there's pain involved with supporting and tolerating and facilitating and financing terrorists.

Over time that has an effect. What period of time? I can't say. But there's no doubt in my mind but that it will work, and there's also no doubt in my mind that we will find opportunities to do things of a military nature, both as I say, that are visible and those that are less visible, that will contribute to that pressure -- one would hope dramatically -- but if not, at least successfully.

Q: I guess what has happened is that there has been created an expectation that we'll see a lot of invisible actions, as you've described. Maybe not a lot, but that that will be the nature of this war, that to some degree maybe even a flip of Vietnam so that the U.S. becomes the guerrilla tacticians and trying to undermine both the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Is that within the realm of possibilities? Is that within the scope of the things that you're looking at?

Rumsfeld: I would say that that's not off the mark. If you think about it, there have been already, in less than a month, hundreds of bank accounts frozen, millions and millions of dollars blocked. There have been hundreds of arrests all across the globe of people who are suspected of being connected or active terrorists or parts of a terrorist network. Hundreds. Not a handful, but hundreds of them are being interrogated as we sit here today.

The diplomatic pressure has been substantial. Two of the three countries with diplomatic relations with Taliban have stepped away. Countries are banding together in a variety of different coalitions to find ways to put pressure on.

Intelligence information is pouring in from friendly services and from nations that we had no connection with in terms of intelligence sharing. And we're getting excellent information. And we're not only getting it from states; we're getting it from individuals. And I don't know how this is going to play out, but I suspect that in the last analysis it will be scraps of information pieced together, coming in from all different directions and sources, from people who have decided they simply do not want terrorist networks killing large numbers of innocent human beings of all races and of all religions and of all nationalities.

Q: This is the kind of information, the kind of intelligence that to a great degree we're lacking. Are you filling the gaps? Is this what's happening?

Rumsfeld: There is no question but that each day [we are on] the path. We are piecing things together in a way that it paints a considerably better picture, if not a road map -- if not addresses, at least road maps that begin to get us in the right direction.

Q: To what degree do you know whether Osama bin Laden is still in the country?

Rumsfeld: He's received a lot of focus. I must say al Qaeda network, if Osama bin Laden were gone, would function exactly the same tomorrow. So I'm not one for personalizing this much. I think that al Qaeda is a large and clearly dangerous network. There are other networks of terrorists and they are no less important and we need to address them all.

Q: You've led me where I wanted to go, and that's the question of what your objective is with regard to Osama bin Laden, whether there has been too much attention focused on him and whether this is in fact a manhunt or whether there's a risk in it becoming a manhunt. One thinks of Somalia and Aidid.

Q: I don't know that it's a risk or not a risk. It could be, I suppose, but I don't think of it that way. I just don't think of the problem of terrorism as being in the person of any individual, of any name. I think of it as a very serious problem for the world. That it has been reasonably well-financed. They have trained effectively. They have deployed effectively. They have planned carefully years in advance. There is more than one network floating around out there, functioning, dangerous to the world, and I think that it is misguided and misdirected for people to focus on a face and a name and think that, "My goodness, if that were dealt with, we would be free of this scourge." And it's just not true. It would be a dangerous mistake to think that if we were successful in dealing with a single individual that the problem would disappear. It will not. We're going to have to go after it where it is, and we're going to have to go after the countries that create a hospitable environment for terrorism.

Q: Take the flip side. Can you effectively destroy the network without the demise of its head or the arrest?

Rumsfeld: I suppose that would be a by-product, but it certainly isn't the focus.

Q: And what about the extension, as you started to say, other countries? What about the Taliban themselves? Do they have to go, in your judgment, for this to be successful?

Rumsfeld: Well, I would say probably at this point, yes. When one thinks about the fact that they've rejected every single request that the president of the United States of America has made. They have dealt with the Afghan people in a brutal, brutal way. Millions of Afghans are starving because of the Taliban rule. They have linked themselves intimately to the al Qaeda network. It is almost impossible to find daylight between al Qaeda and the Omar senior Taliban leadership. There's no question but that not only are there opposition forces in the north and in the south -- the tribes and in the Northern Alliance, there are also opposition factors and figures within the Taliban. People within the Taliban, not in the senior leadership, but down at lower levels who would dearly love to see al Qaeda gone and the foreigners expelled from their country, and the damage and carnage they've brought to the people of Afghanistan lifted.

But there's no doubt in my mind but that the Taliban leadership have a record that is perfectly terrible and that they ought not to stay in charge of that country. It's not for me to say who ought to be in charge of that country. That's for the Afghan people. But given the external threat that Taliban and al Qaeda pose to the world, they simply have to be dealt with.

Q: Nation-building, replacing the Taliban with someone else -- would that be "mission creep" that you don't want to get into?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't. For myself, clearly, it's not part of the job of the Department of Defense so I wouldn't be involved anyway. But I don't know that other countries do things like that very well. I don't know that outsiders from different cultures and different religions and different continents are wise enough to know what arrangement of people, in a country like Afghanistan, will make the most sense for the Afghan people.

One would hope and pray that it would be a government that would have [at least] some modest interest in the welfare of the people. What that means, what form of government, who those people are, that really in my view is for the Afghan people, and I know I'm not wise enough to take my judgment and impose it on them.

Q: When you talk about the breadth of this network, and the fact that it's infiltrated in we-don't-know-how-many countries, but 30, 40, 50 -- one sees different numbers -- clearly that suggests that simply breaking up al Qaeda, toppling the Taliban, is not enough. You don't declare victory at that point.

Rumsfeld: No, indeed. As I say, al Qaeda has cells in 50 or 60 nations, so you're not going to break up al Qaeda simply by dealing with it in a single location in Afghanistan.

Q: Do you deal with those militarily, or is that going to fall solely or largely in the province of cutting off the finances and the diplomacy?

Rumsfeld: There again, I think it's the full range.

Q: So we could see military action in countries other than Afghanistan?

Rumsfeld: Absolutely.

Q: And with relatively little limits? Where you find it, there you'll go?

Rumsfeld: If you believe, as I do, and as President Bush has announced to the world, that terrorism and the threat of terrorism strikes at our way of life, that free people are denied their very essence, what they are, their freedom, and that the only way to deal with that threat is to attack it where it is -- it seems to me that it's apparent what must be done.

Q: Is any place off limits? What about Iraq?

Rumsfeld: Without getting into individual countries, I can't imagine why places would be off-limits if they house international terrorists that threaten our way of life and the way of life of other free people in the world and nations that harbor and facilitate and finance and foster international terrorists.

And I should add this. I saw a newsmagazine that said, "Why do people hate America," or some nonsense like that. These terrorists are not just against the United States. They're against the West. They're against the Moslem leaders of moderate Arab countries. They have it in their mind to take over and establish a new rule for Moslem nations. It trivializes the purpose of these people to suggest that they simply don't like a single country. They are very serious people and very dangerous people.

Q: How do you know when you've won?

Rumsfeld: I guess it's when you and I and our wives, children, can get up and go out the door and not have to look down to the left and down to the right and be fearful of a hand grenade or an assassin or a bomb, and live as free people, live! Free to go about and deal with other countries and try to find opportunities for the people of our countries and their countries to live better lives.

The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize. And it works. It does not have to be exercised. It can only be. It is equally effective if it is only threatened. And that is something that we can't live with as a people.

We can live in this world very successfully, but only if we recognize how powerful those weapons are, how dangerous these people are, and take the battle to them where they are.

Q: Let me ask you a couple of quick tactical questions because I know our time is limited and I myself am sort of being barraged with questions from different sides of the organization here.

This notion of food and bombs, doing the two things together. Humanitarian aid at the same time as you're hitting your targets. Can you win the hearts and minds and, I guess, stomachs of the Afghan people? Is that the essence of this approach?

Rumsfeld: It is important to remind the world that the battle is against terrorists. It's not against a religion, it's not against a race, it's not against a nation, it's not against a people. It's against terrorists. And the United States has a really remarkable record of helping Moslem nations -- in Kuwait, in humanitarian aid in Somalia, in Bosnia and Kosovo and as the biggest food donor in Afghanistan before September 11th, not after. And now the new program of some $320 million.

So it is important that we do things that demonstrate the truth, and that is the truth.

Second, anyone who looks at the overhead photography of what's going on in that country and sees these poor human beings trekking across drought-stricken areas, looking for food, looking for water, cannot be anything but heartbroken for them. It is a natural humanitarian instinct of human beings that they would want to help those people, particularly when they have been so viciously treated by the Taliban.

Q: You make an interesting point. The U.S. has come to the aid of numerous Moslem countries -- Kuwait, Somalia, the Balkans -- and yet it seems to have trouble generating the response from many quarters of Islam to support it. Why this dichotomy?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think that if we turn on our television every day and we see Osama bin Laden spewing out his venom stating that this is against the Moslem people and this is against Islam -- here's a man perverting Islam. I mean there's nothing in that faith that authorizes the butchery of thousands of innocent human beings. And yet it gets played over and over and over again throughout the world to the Moslem population, and sufficiently in our country, that we end up with the weekly news magazines suggesting that that's the case!

We've got the support of any number of Moslem countries helping us in this effort. We need to remind ourselves of that.

What's wrong with the world is not the United States of America.

Q: And in those terms, are you getting what you need from the Pakistanis? Are you getting as much as you'd like from the Saudis? Are you getting the cooperation from the former Soviet states, the Tajiks, the Uzbeks, the Turkmen, because they have that fear of a fundamentalist Islamic insurrection themselves? Where are the gaps in this alliance? Maybe alliance is too strong a term.

Rumsfeld: I can't tell you why people are supporting them. I know they are.

Q: Are there any areas where you're not getting what you want?

Rumsfeld: I suspect they're supporting us because they agree that terrorism is a danger to the world.

Second, there's no question but that in a number of those Moslem states they have had to deal with terrorists trying to overthrow their regime. And they understand that in a very immediate way.

The coalition is not a coalition. It is multiple coalitions. It's that in every country, people live in a different neighborhood, they have different histories, they have different perspectives, and they ought to be able to deal with this problem in a way that fits their circumstance. And we are very comfortable with that.

We do not expect every nation in the world who wants to be supportive of this to be exactly in agreement with every single thing that we have to do or be publicly supported if they feel better being privately supported. What we need is help. The world needs help. This is a terrible problem, and we are just overwhelmed by the wonderful support we're receiving from countries of all religions, and all races, and every continent in the Earth. I think it's an amazing time and an unusual outpouring of support.

I have purposely left it to those countries to characterize their support for themselves. I used to be in politics. I understand political sensitivities, and they have to manage a whole set of complicated issues. So they ought to be able to characterize their support themselves, rather than me, a foreigner, trying to characterize it for them and doing it in a way that makes it more difficult for them to be helpful.

I want as much help as we can get, and I know that letting them characterize their support is the best way to get the maximum out of them, and we're getting a wonderful degree of support across the globe.

Q: Can I just one last question, because I'm feeling the vibrations from over here.

You touched on this a little bit in reference to the Cold War, and the fact that you've done this before in a different context, a context where you put armies on each side of a wall and a barrier. And even in the Gulf War, where Mr. Bush sent 500,000 troops, it was still in a fairly fixed context. This is a different atmosphere.

Rumsfeld: Very different.

Q: It's different. How, and sort of in your own personal approach to this, did the Cold War prepare you for this? Did the Cold War leave you only as good as you could be for that, and now you've got a whole new set of circumstances that you've got to grapple with.

Rumsfeld: Well it is an entirely different set of circumstances, there's no question about that. I mean I'm 69 years old. I've lived a long time, and when I think about it, when I arrived in January we gathered a group of very fine people and began the process of trying to respond to President Bush's direction in his Citadel speech and in his direction to me as Secretary of Defense, to get this defense establishment and help get our country arranged for the 21st Century.

We concluded something that it turns out was precious. And it is reasonably. The United States has always developed a threat-based strategy. We have looked at the problems in the world -- the Soviet Union, Germany, whatever it was, Japan -- and we said that's the threat -- North Korea, Iraq, whatever --

Let's fashion ourselves to deal with that threat. And we said it's a new century and we need a new strategy, and we fashioned not a threat-based strategy but a capabilities-based strategy. What we said was, "It is not possible to know where those threats are going to come from." With the proliferation of those technologies across the globe, with the increasing number of countries that have access to these technologies, and the enormous power of those technologies, we cannot afford to think that we can predict exactly where those threats are going to come from. What we can predict is the kinds of capabilities that will exist in the world.

Rumsfeld: President Bush gave a speech at the Citadel when I became secretary of defense that gave me a charge to fashion the defense establishment to fit the 21st Century. And it was very clear to us, and the people that we were working with, that it is no longer possible to know precisely where the threats are coming from, which we could do in an earlier era. And that we were therefore almost guaranteed to be surprised and to have very short warning.

What we could predict is the kinds of capabilities that we as a country would have to face, not precisely from which location -- which state or non-state entity -- but the kinds of capabilities.

We fashioned that new strategy well before this September 11th attack and focused on homeland defense, which in retrospect proved to be the right thing to do. And we now have to see that this massive institution is turned and arranged and crafted so that it's able to deal with those kinds of capabilities that are inevitably going to be confronting us.

Q: Thank you very much.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.