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Secretary Rumsfeld Town Hall Meeting at the Pentagon

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 12, 2004 11:30 PM EDT
Secretary Rumsfeld Town Hall Meeting at the Pentagon

(Participating were Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)


     Rumsfeld:  Please be seated.


     Well, welcome.  Before I begin, I do want to pause to express my deep condolences to the people of Spain and the families of loved ones of those who -- some 200 known dead.  Spain is a valued and key partner in the global war on terror, so our hearts and prayers go out to all of those friends that we have across the Atlantic.  I should add that their loss is roughly the same as we lost here at the Pentagon.


     Next month, on April 19th to be exact, will mark the 229th anniversary of the so-called shot heard around the world.  On that day in 1775, 77 Minutemen faced 700 British regulars on Lexington Green. Their commander, Captain John Parker, told his men, "Don't shoot first, but if they mean to have war let it begin here."  And so began   the fight for America's independence.  Out of that war, our country's first fight for freedom over tyranny, a new nation was born, the first nation on Earth founded on man's God-given rights and freedoms, and Americans have been fighting to preserve freedom ever since.


     Next week, March 19th, will mark the first anniversary of another fight for freedom:  Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Its opening shots, if not heard were at least seen around the world, and remind us that Americans are still willing to fight to ensure that freedom will endure.  And like the patriots of 1775, Americans do not come easily to war.  But also like them, neither do Americans take freedom lightly.


     For 12 years, through 17 U.N. Security Council resolutions, America and the world gave Saddam Hussein every opportunity to avoid war simply by living up to the terms of the first Gulf War -- that they disarm and prove that they had done so.  Instead of disarming, as Kazakhstan, South Africa and Ukraine did in their time, and Libya is now doing, Saddam chose deception and defiance.  He repeatedly rejected those resolutions and systematically deceived U.N. inspectors about his weapons and his intent.


     The world knew that Saddam Hussein's record was a poor one.  He had used chemical weapons against Iran and his own citizens.  He'd invaded two of his neighbors.  He'd launched ballistic missiles at Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and repeatedly fired upon U.S. and U.K. aircraft and their crews patrolling in the northern and southern no-fly zones.


     Recognizing the threat, President Bush went back to the United Nations, and the U.N. gave Iraq one final opportunity, as they phrased it, to disarm, and prove that it had done so.  The president went to Congress, which voted to support the use of force if Saddam did not do so.  And when Saddam passed up that final opportunity, he was given 48 hours to leave the country -- still another final opportunity.  Only then, after every peaceful option had been exhausted, did the president and the coalition order the liberation of Iraq.


     No, Americans do not come easily to war, but neither do Americans take freedom lightly.


     Last November, I was speaking to the troops at Osan Air Base in South Korea, and I told them about a question that was posed to me earlier that day in Seoul, Korea.  A woman reporter, clearly a bit young to remember the Korean War, asked, why should -- this was during the debate in the Korean Parliament about whether they should send troops to Iraq.  And she said, "Why should Koreans send their young men and women halfway around the globe to be killed or wounded in Iraq?"


     And I'd just come from the Korean War Memorial, which -- it's a big wall with the names -- by each state in the union, the wall lists all the Americans who were killed in that war.  And I was going to go out and put a wreath on a memorial out behind there, and I looked up, and there was the name of a close friend.


     I remember saying to the reporter that her question was a fair one.  Why should Koreans send their young people halfway across the globe to be killed or wounded?  And I said it would have been a fair question for an American to ask 50 years ago.  Why should Americans send their young people to Korea?


     And then I asked her to look out the window.  And we were in about the eighth floor of a building in Seoul, Korea, and you look out there, and it's just filled with lights and cars and energy and people doing things, a robust economy that's just an economic miracle, and freedom.  People can say what they want and do what they want.


     And I said to her, "If you look out there and then know that if you look down from a satellite on the Korean peninsula, north of the DMZ is nothing but darkness, with one little pinprick of light in Pyongyang, the capital."  And -- same people, same resources, same opportunities, and in one case, the millions of people are thriving, and in one case they're starving.


     And so Korean freedom was won at a terrible cost, thousands and thousands of lives, including 33,000 Americans lost their lives.  And the question is, was it worth it?  You bet, just as it was worth it in Germany, in France, in Italy and in the Pacific during World War II -- and, I would add, in Afghanistan and Iraq today.  Some 50 million people today are liberated.  Freedom is worth defending, and if it's not defended, it dies.


     Was it easy?  No.  And it's certainly not easy today.  We all know that.  But at the end of the day, when freedom and self- government have taken root in Iraq, and that country becomes, as it will, not a threat but a force for good in that region and the world, the rightness of the coalition's efforts will be just as clear as one could see looking out of that window.


     And that's what I told our forces a couple of weeks ago in Afghanistan and Iraq as I thanked them for the truly great job they're doing for the people of those two newly liberated countries and for the safety and the security of the American people here at home, as well as for the freedom of people across the globe.


     Today I thank you, those here and those in the Department of Defense, military and civilian, serving in Washington and elsewhere across the globe, for those same things because you are the men and women behind the troops, the ones who enable them to do the jobs that they do every day.  So I thank each of you for your service.


     Earlier this week the Iraqi Governing Council signed an interim constitution, the document that will serve as the framework for their government until a permanent constitution is adopted.  It guarantees freedom of religion, of worship, of expression; the right to assemble and to organize political parties; the right to demonstrate; the right to vote.  It prohibits discrimination based on gender, on nationality, or on religion, as well as arbitrary arrest and detention.  One year ago, none of those protections could have been imagined by the Iraqi people.  Today they're real.  It's an historic moment in history, one that shows the power of freedom.


     To be sure, the struggle for freedom has transformed the lives of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.  You can see it just by going through the streets in those two countries, as I did a week and a half ago.  But it's transforming us as well, I would say.  As a nation, we're rediscovering our character and our courage, qualities so profound that even the youngest among us recognize and understand that something momentous is happening.  It's not just in the mountains and the deserts of the Middle East, but in our own neighborhoods and in our communities, which brings me to our guest today.


     I guess it was January 20th the president, in his State of the Union message, introduced Ashley Pearson, who is sitting right over here.  She is a young lady who embodies those qualities to be sure. And even at her young age, Ashley understands the importance of freedom, appreciates the strength of the men and women who guard and protect us every day, and I should add recognizes the responsibilities of citizenship.  In a letter to the president she wrote, "tell me what I can do to save our country" and "If you can, send a letter to the troops" and "please put 'Ashley Pearson believes in you.'"  By reading her letter during his January State of the Union address, President Bush conveyed Ashley's message to the troops.  As for what she and all of us can do for them, the president said, "When you and your friends see men and women in uniform, walk up and say 'thank you' to them."


     So I'd like to have Ashley and her parents, Natalie and Tom, and her brother, Mark, stand.  (Applause.)  Ashley, we welcome you and your family and we thank you for your letter and for recognizing the superb service of the wonderful men and women in uniform and for being with us today.


     As we prepare to mark one year since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom and as we think about the tens of thousands of U.S. forces there, and in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe, fighting the global war on terror, we say to all of them and to all of you here today, thank you for fighting freedom's fight and know that millions of Americans believe in you.  Thank you.


     Thank you very much.


     Now, General Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Pete Pace.


     Pace:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  We want to get to your questions quickly, but I'd be remiss if I didn't add my own personal thanks to what the secretary has already said and that of General Myers and all the joint chiefs, each of you here in this room and all of us in the department.


     We are all proud of what those who are serving in harm's way are doing for our country and I think each of us feels a little bit of guilt that we are not personally at risk right now.  But I also believe that each of us has a job that's been given to us for a very particular reason, and that the way we can help best serve our country and take care of those who are in harm's way is to come to this building every day and do the job to the best of our ability.  You all do that.  You make a difference.  Your efforts are helping keep your fellow service members safe and we all thank you for that.


     Rumsfeld:  Thank you, Pete.


     Just -- I don't know how many of these town halls we've done. What do you reckon?  Six, eight, 10?


     Pace:  (Off mike.)


     Rumsfeld:  Yeah, something like that.  There's always some questions that we can't answer.  I always turn to Pete or Dick Myers and have them answer it, and sometimes they can't even answer it.  So we've got along with us here Dr. David Chu sitting in the front row -- (laughter) -- and Tom Hall, a couple of experts on some of the kinds of questions that frequently get asked, so we may relay some to them.


     Questions?  I'd be happy to respond to some questions.  There's mikes around.  There comes one.


     Q:  Mr. Secretary, I'm Cynthia McKinley (sp).  I work in -- I work for you in Space Policy.  My question relates to leadership. When Time approached you and asked you to be the person of the year, you said, "No, I decline.  It's far more important to give that honor to the men and women in uniform."  That, to me, is an incredible act of leadership and character.


     I would like to get your thoughts on leadership, because I am concerned that some people are put in leadership positions but don't have the kind of character and integrity that you demonstrate to each of us every day.  Please comment on leadership from your perspective.


     And if -- General Pace, if you'd like to add some thoughts, that would be wonderful.  Thank you.


     Rumsfeld:  Thank you.


     You know, in an institution of this size, there isn't "a" leader or even a few leaders, you need multiple leadership centers because it's so big.  And it's so important that -- there's no one that even begins to be smart enough to fashion guidance and direction to people down the line.  I mean, just think of it, what the wonderful folks in the northern and the southern and the western and the central part of Iraq are doing.  General Sanchez can't get up in the morning and tell them what they should do.  They are out in the field calling audibles, making decisions, providing leadership.  And it's a wonderful thing to see.  And it's so true here.


     So I would say that unless you're Einstein or Mozart or one of those people who go off in a room by yourself and do something brilliant for the world, all the rest of us do what we do with other people.  And that means that we need to see that there are those many, many leadership centers at all levels that will provide that energy and that -- oh, guidance and direction to help keep this great institution of the Department of Defense on course.


     Pete Pace.  There is a leader.


     Pace:  Thanks, sir.


     All I would add to what the secretary just said would be that if you are a leader -- and all of us are in one way or another -- it's   not about power, it's about responsibility.  And if you're fortunate to have high rank, what you do with the authority you have is what leadership is all about.  And if you are doing things for yourself and about yourself, then you're not a leader.  But if you're taking the authorities that have been given to you by our government and you're doing the best you can every day to use your authority and ability to have impact in a way that takes care of those who look to you for leadership, then you can go home at night and feel pretty good about what you've done.


     Rumsfeld:  Question?




     Q:  Mr. Secretary, General Pace, my name is Master Sergeant Grouper and I'm a guardsman, and I'm over here with AF/XP.  What I'd like to know is what do you foresee as the Guard's future as far as the war on terrorism?


       We participated in Enduring Freedom and I was very proud of that, but I'd like to know what do you see down the pike for us?


     Rumsfeld:  Well, I'll make a quick comment and then Pete can comment.  But I was en route to Iraq -- coming out of Iraq -- last week, week before, and went into the Shannon Airport to refuel.  And I walked into a exit lounge and there were 250 Oklahoma National Guard.  They were just going in, and I guess it just shows that they're a part of the total force.  They are a critically important part of the total force.


     We have the active force, we have the Reserve and the Guard, and then we have the Individual Ready Reserves, and all of them are part of this great institution and the total force.  We need them all.  We need them all to be rearranged so that we have the right skill sets on active duty and the right skill sets in the Reserve component and the Guard, which we're in the process of rearranging right now.  The Army is well along in that task and knows precisely where they're going, I believe, and I feel good about it.


     But I think that there is no question but that there naturally will be a homeland security responsibility that will fall to the Guard, but so too it could fall to the active force depending on the nature of the crisis, the nature of the problem at any given time. And so too the Guard and Reserve will be serving overseas, as they are today.  God bless them all.




     Pace:  I would simply add that if you hadn't told us that you were in the Guard we wouldn't know it, and that's what I really like.  No matter where you go around the world, guardsmen and reserves, there's absolutely no difference in the way they handle themselves, in the way they contribute and get the job done.  And what you should expect from us is that when we ask you to come on active duty that we have a job for you that the nation needs to be done; that we tell you so that you can get your other life lined up properly, so your family knows what's going to happen to you; that when we do bring you on active duty we train you properly to do the mission, that you go do that mission, and then you go back home on the timeline that we told you you would come on active duty.  That's what I think we owe you.


     Rumsfeld:  Question?


     I'll say one other thing about the Guard.  Every once in a while you read something in the paper or someone raises a question and said, gee, this person's unhappy or they wish this were different.  That's true, I'm sure.  There are always in large organizations somebody who slips between the cracks or somebody who isn't treated exactly the way they ought to be treated, and one wishes it were different.  But everywhere I go, the overwhelming majority of the Guard and Reserve are so proud to be doing what they're doing.


     That group of Oklahoma National Guard people were just up and ready to get into Iraq, and I find that everywhere I go.  I must say you even find it in the hospitals, at Walter Reed and Bethesda, when you go out and visit the wounded.


     Question?  Questions behind me?


     Pace:  One in the back, sir.


     Rumsfeld:  No questions back here, huh?


     Pace:  There's a gentleman in the back.


     Q:  Hi Secretary, Chris Strohm with GovExec.com.  There's been criticism about the Office of Special Plans and the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group that operated in the office of Undersecretary Feith, that the office cherry-picked information in order to build a case for going to war with Iraq.


     This week it came to light that officials within the office had briefed the Office of the Vice President without the knowledge or consent of the CIA director.  And I'm wondering what you think about officials in that office bypassing traditional intelligence channels. And what, if anything, are you doing to reprimand them?


     Rumsfeld:  Well, you've got all the hot-button code words worked out pretty well there.  (Laughter.)


     Let me say several things about it.  It's an interesting issue. Sometimes things get printed by some person in some journal, and then they begin to take on a life of their own.  And then there's a hearing, and then there's articles, and then someone repeats inaccuracies and so forth.


     I'm not an expert, but to the best of my knowledge, it's something like this.  There were a small number -- I don't know if it was two or four; let's double it and pretend it was eight, although I think it was two, but I could be wrong by some number -- people in the policy shop.  And they were asked to review intelligence reports on a certain subject, which they did, which is a perfectly proper thing for policy people to do.  We do it all the time.  There's nothing new about that.  You're not creating intelligence.  You're not gathering intelligence.  You're reviewing intelligence that already exists, so that you can support your superiors in the policy shop.  That is what that was about, as I understand it.


     Second, the idea of going to brief the vice president -- how do we feel about that?  I don't know. [NOTE:  The Vice President did not ask for, nor did he receive, this briefing, although staff in the Office of the Vice President may have received it.]


     (To the general.)  How many times have you done it?


     Pace:  Many times.


     Rumsfeld:  How many times have I done it?  We do it all the time in this department.  We brief the president.  We brief the vice president.  We brief the DCI.  We brief the secretary of State.  We brief people in departments and agencies.  That is not only not a bad thing, it's a good thing.  It's a good thing, A, that they're interested, and B, that they are engaged in these subjects.


     So the idea that there's something wrong with that, it seems -- strikes me as kind of, you know, some people live their whole lives with the conspiratorial view of the world.  (Whispering.)  Why did they do that?  They did it because he wanted to be briefed.  (Laughter.)


     Now, furthermore, you suggest, he bypassed without the permission of the DCI.  If George Tenet, who I have lunch with every Friday, and who is as busy as anyone you'll ever meet, had to approve anyone who was going to brief anyone else in the government on any subject, in this case it was subjects that his intelligence community had produced -- not new intelligence; nothing that I know of that was different, but just what was already produced -- he wouldn't think of asking to approve something like that.  There's no bypassing of anybody.


     Furthermore, in this particular case -- I shouldn't say that.  I think in a case -- either this case or a case like it -- a couple of them came and briefed me.  Someone in the policy shop said, "Hey, we've got some folks who have been looking at this stuff; I think you ought to get briefed."  Well, I didn't ever -- I didn't have the briefing or they wouldn't have offered to brief me, so I didn't know what I was going to get briefed on.  That happens every day.  I get asked to be briefed on something and I kind of put my faith in the people like Pete Pace and others in my office who say you ought to get briefed on this.  So I say fine.


     So in come two people and they brief me.  And I said, "Gee that's interesting."  And I was busy and I said:  "Why don't you go brief somebody whose business that is?  George Tenet."  Nobody was bypassed. I said to these people:  "Thank you for the briefing, goodbye.  Why don't you go brief the CIA and George Tenet?"  I'm told they did go brief the CIA.  So nobody was bypassed.  There was no mystery.  It was written by someone who likes to make something out of nothing in my view.  So that's the best I can answer -- and I forgot what the final statement was after bypassing.


     Oh!  Are we going to punish them?  (Laughter.)  No, I think not. (Laughter.)


     Questions?  Behind me.  Here's a question.  You need a mike. There you are.


     Q:  Mr. Secretary, General Pace, I'll try not to sound too dumb in my question.  But this is a great nation and we have great industry partners and we're trying to upgrade and refurbish and renew our aging fleets and aircraft and equipment.  And sometimes the money is not the right color.  I'll use that terminology.


     Is there any plans or process that might change that would help us who are down here in the field working through renewing our aircraft and our other fleets that would help us work with industry to do that?  Does that make any sense, the way I asked it?


     Rumsfeld:  Sure.  Sure.


     Q:  Okay.


     Rumsfeld:  (To General Pace.)  Do you want to -- (Laughter.).  All right!  I'll do it!  (More laughter.)  You think I can't answer that, don't you?  I'll get started on it and let Pete do clean-up.  (Laughter.)


     Q:  Would you like me to give the microphone to Mr. Chu -- Dr. -- (Laughs; laughter.)


     Rumsfeld:  There's no question but that we do need to recapitalize our assets, and that goes for military equipment and ships, guns, tanks and planes.  It also goes for the housing that our folks live in; it goes for their facilities and bases.  And it is a process that requires attention, and you have to keep at it.


     And it's the kind of thing -- like if you have a house and the paint's getting old and it starts to chip on one side near the sun, and you don't do anything about it, and that's all right, you can live in a house with chips here.  And then pretty soon there's a little leak up on the roof over there, and you don't do anything with that. And then there's a leak in the pipe in the basement and that's a little problem, you don't fix that.  If you'd done it a little bit each year, you're all right.  If you don't do it for about five, 10, 15 years like you ought to, you end up with a lot to do.


     And we have a number of aspects of this institution that we were inattentive to over a period of a decade or so, and we do need to accelerate that.  If you take the facilities -- housing and hangars and offices and all of that infrastructure that exists -- streets, sewers, all of that, and you look in the private sector, I'm told that it's somewhere between every 46 years and every 50 years recapitalization, and if you're not doing that, you're -- maybe it's 47 -- yeah, 47 to 57, I think.  If you're not doing that, you're falling behind and you're going to then have more to do than you're going to like.


     Three years ago when I came on board, I was told that our recapitalization, we were at 192 years.  We are down, I am told, in this budget that's up there, to 102 years, plus or minus.  I could be wrong by a few years, but that's close enough for government work. (Light laughter.)  Now, we've come from 190-some-odd years recapitalization down to 102, for the sake of argument, and we're still twice where we ought to be.


     That's infrastructure.  The question related to equipment.  Now the same thing is true, although it's uneven.  It varies from category to category.  And in some cases we simply haven't been buying enough new aircraft or refitting aircraft to bring them down to a zero base or a new base at the pace we should.  So we have a lot of instances -- not -- well, some instances; I don't want to say a percentage-wise -- some instances where they spend a lot of time in hangars, they spend a lot of time without spares that are needed.  And what we've got to do is to be willing to do the regular stuff as we go along, or else we're going to be playing catch-up, like we've been playing for the last three years.  And it's going to take us, I am told -- I think by the end of this forward-year defense plan, which is in '09, I think, this five-year -- it's a six-year cycle, '09?


     Staff:  (Off mike.)


     Rumsfeld:  Okay.  In that cycle, we're still not going to get down to the 47 to 57 years recapitalization.  We will with some services, but one service I think not.




     Pace:  Sir.


     Rumsfeld:  How'd I do?


     Q:  Pretty good.  (Laughter.)


     Rumsfeld:  Pretty good.  (Laughter.)


     Pace:  Nobody's perfect.


     Q:  (Inaudible.)


     Rumsfeld:  Take the mike away from her!  (Laughter.)


     Go ahead, Pete.


     Pace:  We could talk about this for a long time.  I'll try to be succinct.


     You talked about the color of money.  And the fact of the matter is that when Congress gives us our budget, they put it into certain bins and you've got to spend that money inside that bin.  But for example, right now as we bring forces out of combat, Congress has allocated us resources to rebuild the Army, for example.  What we're trying to do with the assets that the Congress has given us is not to rebuy and rebuild the old Army, but to take today's ideas and the new Army that we need to get to, and take the assets that have been given to us and buy the new Army instead of buying the old one and then changing it to the one we need to use.  So even inside of bins, even inside a color or money, we can get a lot of good things done.


     Rumsfeld:  Question.


     Staff:  Last question -- (Off mike.)


     Q:  Mr. Secretary?


     Rumsfeld:  Yes?


     Q:  First of all, I just want to express something that has been on my mind since we started this, and probably on behalf of a lot of uniformed services personnel.  Ashley, have to thank you for what you've done and what you have said in that letter to the president.  And we believe in you and we love you for being out there and doing that. (Applause.).


     General Pace, Mr. Secretary -- after 9/11, the context of our relations with our allies changed.  Our alliances were energized like they've never been before.  In the context of recapitalization, in the context of -- I don't believe we want to overwrite global security to the degree that we do, and I don't know that we're able to.  In the context of that, how do you see our alliances changing, or new opportunities in the future in terms of how we work with our allies? New opportunities, sir.


     Rumsfeld:   Well, thank you.  I think it's an important question, and let me say this.


     We're in a new century.  The circumstances are different.  We had a pattern throughout the Cold War, after World War II, for 50 years of a certain set of relationships that were fairly fixed up through the early 1990s.  And the task was to resist the Soviet Union's expansion and to prevail in the Cold War, which happened.  That ended, and it's not surprising that as we finished that century and moved into a new one that we end up with adjustments being made in relationships.


     If you think about it, the global war on terror has jarred the world.  September 11th jarred the world.  We have over 90 nations that are engaged in the global war on terror today.  That is a -- I don't know this, but I suspect it's the broadest coalition in the history of the world, and a lot of the countries in it are countries that we normally had not had close relationships.  But here we are: we're sharing intelligence and we're sharing cooperation with respect to cutting off the bank accounts of terrorists, working together in terms of overflight rights and access, and it's been a very good thing.  We have 34 countries in Iraq at the present time with forces on the ground, 34 or 35.  We have a lot of allies in the Afghan effort.


     I think of where I go, and the normal traffic for a secretary of Defense in the previous era would not have been Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and Afghanistan and places that I am going in this period. What's happened is, with the end of the Soviet Union and the freedom of those former Soviet republics, we have a whole new set of relationships with those countries, and they're important relationships.  We also have new relationships in South Asia, if one thinks about it, with India and with Pakistan that are important.  The hemisphere remains critically important to us, and obviously we're being attentive to it in Haiti as we visit here today.


     That is not to say that our two -- oh, historically over the last 50 years, alliances and relationships in Western Europe or in Northeast Asia are not what they were; they are.  They're enormously important, and we've put new energy into NATO.  And anyone looking at the globe and seeing the dynamics and the demographics that are taking place knows how important Japan and South Korea and the countries in that part of the world are.


     So I personally see it not that we've lessened our linkages with some of the other nations, but rather that we've added and strengthened linkages with a good number of countries that over the previous 50 years had not been normal locations where secretaries of Defense or State would visit or where we would see the heads of those countries visiting our country.


     Thank you very much, folks.  We do appreciate all you do, and we thank you for being here.  And Ashley Pearson and Mark and Natalie and Tom, thank you for being here.


     Pace:  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)


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