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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with George Stephanopoulos, ABC

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 28, 2004 11:30 AM EDT
Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with George Stephanopoulos, ABC

MR. GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:  Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who appeared before the 9/11 Commission one day before the apology that riveted the hearing room.

 

(Video shown.)

 

And Secretary Rumsfeld joins us now, good morning.  Mr. Clarke accepted responsibility and apologized.  Should President Bush do the same?

 

SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  Oh, it's not for me to say what others ought to do.  It seems to me that anyone involved in government over past decades has to just ‑‑ their heart goes out to the families and friends and loved ones of those that have been killed, and the lives not lived, the suffering, the grieving that goes on, that we had people killed in the Pentagon as well as in the World Trade Center, but there were many terrorist acts before that.  I think that the important thing is that the Commission look forward, ask the important tough questions about what ought we to be doing today to arrange ourselves as a country so we can avoid, mitigate, reduce, prevent future attacks.

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  But some people would say that accepting responsibility is part of that.  And I want to show you something that President Reagan said in 1983, after the Beirut bombing.  He said, if there is to be blame, it properly rests here in this office, and with this president.  And I take responsibility for the bad as well as the good.

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  That's always true with a president.  Harry Truman had it on his desk, the buck stops here.

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  But it matters, doesn't it?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, I mean, if you're looking for the president to have said his heartbreak over what took place, he said it.  He said it well.  And he's touched the lives of many of the people who are suffering from that terrible attack.

 

I think one of the things that has to come out of this, I hope, is that a truth, and the truth is these attacks aren't over, there will be other attacks.  And a terrorist can attack any time, any place, using any technique, and there's no way that that can be prevented, there's no way you can defend against every attack, every minute, every day, against every conceivable type.  If people are determined to kill innocent men, women and children, they can do it.  That's why what's being done is the right thing to do.  You have to go after the terrorists, and the haven for terrorists where they are, because it's not possible for a defender to defend against every attack.

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  That all may be true, but even President Bush ‑‑

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  What do you mean, may be true, it is true.  It's a fact.

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Okay, that is.  Let's say there will be another attack, but even President Bush conceded that he didn't have that sense of urgency before 9/11.

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I don't know quite what to day.  That's right.  He has.  I mean, anyone who could look at anything that might happen in the future, I tend to ask myself what we ought to be doing today about what's going to happen tomorrow, or next week, or next month.  The Commission's task is to try to connect the dots after the fact, pouring over mountains of testimony, mountains of hearings, and documents.  Our task is to try to connect the dots before the fact, vastly more difficult.  Without the benefit of those hearings, without the benefit of the documentation that one day may come to light, and that's what our task has to be.

 

MR. WILL:  You described yourself to the Commission as genetically impatient.

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I am.

 

MR. WILL:  Good.  Now, if you had tried before 9/11 to connect the dots, and had done so and said, see, Afghanistan is a snake pit, and it's full of threats, let's preempt.  How would you have gone to the country and done that?  The doctrine of preemption after 9/11 is controversial.

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Oh, it still is controversial and understandably so.  I mean, you don't go from a law enforcement mentality, let's go find somebody who did something wrong and try them and punish them, which is what terrorism was being treated as for much of our history, you don't go from that to preemption.  Furthermore, preemption is a complicated concept.  It's not easy.  It depends on intelligence, it depends on the intelligence being good.  Acting after the fact is ‑‑ you have a lot more confidence because you know what happened.  Acting before the fact to prevent something terrible from happening is a tough thing to do.

 

MR. WILL:  Do you wish you'd been more impatient before 9/11, that's really half of what Mr. Clarke was complaining about was, that there was a loss of energy when the new administration came in.  You said, look, we did not arrive as cellophane packages, you said to Senator Kerrey, you were not innocents about this.  Do you feel there was a loss of energy?  Do you wish you'd been more impatient?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I suppose it would be not unfair to say that every time there's a transition between one administration and another that there is not perfect continuity although the people were kept in place, and, sure, my goodness, in retrospect with 20/20 hindsight, one would say you wish more had been done, or something else could have been done.  I don't know quite what.

 

MR. WILL:  Deputy Secretary Armitage of State said stunning continuity between the two administrations.  Do you think that's overstating it, or do you think that's fair?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  There was continuity, a lot of the same people stayed in place.  I mean, there's a realistic matter when a new person comes in as Secretary of State or Defense, or National Security Council, most of the people underneath there are there for five, six, seven, eight months.  I didn't have half of my people confirmed in the Department of Defense for months after I came into office.  The process for clearance just takes so long.

 

MR. WILL:  A member of the Commission, former Senator Slate Gordon, said to Mr. Clarke, if you'd got everything you'd asked for four days after the inauguration, January 25th, was there the slightest chance it would have prevented 9/11.  Mr. Clarke answered with one word, he said, no.  And then he went on to say, look, the reason I'm strident ‑‑ and that was his word ‑‑ the reason I'm strident is Iraq.  Iraq, he said, has drained energy from the war on terror.  Is that fair?  Has it taken assets away?  Some people say, look, we have special forces there withdrawn from Afghanistan in March, 2002 to prepare for Iraq.  That hurt the chasing of bin Laden and al Qaeda, is that fair?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I don't think so.  I mean, if one looks at what was done, we went to Afghanistan, we didn't go to Iraq.  And it wasn't an easy task.  It was a highly successful effort.  And, it did not destroy al Qaeda, but it certainly took away their training, their haven, and it certainly destroyed the Taliban, and eliminated them from running that country.  That's what the president's action was, it wasn't Iraq, it was Afghanistan.

 

MR. WILL:  How degraded is al Qaeda now?  I know it's hard to put a percentage on it, but is it decapitated, is it disorganized?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Sure.

 

MR. WILL:  Is it underfunded?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  It's tough for them.  Every day is tough, a lot tougher than it was.  A large number of their senior people have been taken out.  It's harder to raise money.  It's harder to move money.  It's harder to recruit.  It's harder to retain people.  It's harder to communicate.  But are they still there?  You bet.  Are they still capable of conducting an attack?  You bet.

 

MR. WILL:  Is this why we haven't been attacked since?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I can't say that.  That requires insight and knowledge that just doesn't exist on the part of anybody.

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  When I spoke with President Musharraf of Pakistan earlier this week, he said that because they're on the run, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri basically have no more operational control over al Qaeda.  Do you believe that's true?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I don't know.  I think that part of it is definition, what is operational control.  If one is thinking of highly centralized organization, single organization, where instructions go down, and they're obeyed, I think that's not likely.  I think there's too much pressure on them.  If you're talking about a relatively decentralized organization that has a lot of affiliates that end up cooperating together, other terrorist networks, and that people have a general idea of what they would like to accomplish, I think that that kind of effect is undoubtedly under way.

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  That's basically the point he was making, saying all they can do is put out general messages now, and everything now happens at the local level, all operational control is with homegrown groups.

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  No.  I wouldn't go quite that far, I think there's still a global ‑‑ it's a global threat.  It is not simply local or homegrown.  I think there are facilitators and financiers that are unquestionably contributing significantly to the successes they're having.  Think of what's taken place, I mean, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, and Bali, and Spain, and country after country has faced terrorist attack.

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  You said in the 9/11 hearings that even getting Osama bin Laden before 9/11 probably wouldn't have stopped the attack.  What difference would getting him make now?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  It would be a good thing, but would it end terrorism, no.  There are people, lieutenants, down below who would step in, and they might not have the charisma that he seems to have, they might not have the access to the money that he seems to have, but it would continue for a while.

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  The Pentagon announced this week that 2000 more Marines are going to be sent up into Afghanistan as part of this operation to clean out al Qaeda along the Pakistan-Afghani border.  What's the specific goal of this operation, how long do you expect it to take?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, people are talking about it as though it's a single operation, and it really isn't.  Every year, if you take a whole year, there's always a rhythm.  You can do certain things in certain weather, you can do certain other things in different seasons.  The activities that have been going on have been, in a very real way, a continuum.

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Let me stop you there.  It is true though, isn't it, that in March of 2002, special forces were conducting the hunt for Osama bin Laden, specialists in Arabic were taken out of Afghanistan, brought to Iraq, and now they're being put back into Afghanistan?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I don't think that is accurate.  I think that probably what you find is, you take these special forces operators, you move them into an activity, they're there for a period, and then they go back to be reconstituted, refitted, get some rest, and live a normal life for a short period, then they go do something else.  We have had them in Afghanistan; we've had them in Iraq.  We've had them in other parts of the world.  They move around.  And I think that that's simplistic.

 

MR. WILL:  The terrorists in Madrid managed to precipitate regime change, as we know, using cell phones and backpacks, two ubiquitous aspects of modern life.  The timing was crucial, it was on the eve of an election.  I'm not saying this would fairly read the Spanish mind, but might al Qaeda read the Spanish mind and say, if we did that in the United States in October, we could have a similar catalyzing effect.  Is there a danger in your mind, and if so what are we doing about it, that they could come to that conclusion?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I don't know that the terrorist attack necessarily changed the election in Spain.  It may have.  I just don't know.

 

MR. WILL:  But they could conclude that it did.

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  They could conclude it without question.  And there are a lot of people who do think that that's the case, and it may very well have been the case.  But, there is no other answer to your question other than certainly.  There's no doubt but that people ‑‑ the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize, it's to alter behavior.  It's to go out and engage in a threat, or an act that forces others to do something you want them to do.  And to the extent your goal is to have people acquiesce and to have people intimidated and fearful, and doing what you want them to do through your terrorist acts, obviously they're going to do that.  And there's no doubt in my mind, but that what's taken place there will be an incentive for them to try to do it elsewhere.

 

MR. WILL:  Do we approve ‑‑ the administration's position was unclear at the time, does the United States approve of what the Israelis did in killing the spiritual leader of Hamas this week?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  The president and the Secretary of State have both spoken on this.  They have acted on a U.N. resolution, and I don't know that there's anything I can add to it.

 

MR. WILL:  It's sort of what we're trying to do to bin Laden, is it not?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  No, I just ‑‑ what we're trying to do with bin Laden is, here's a man who we know was involved in the attack on the United States that killed some 3,000 people, innocent people, and we're trying to find that individual, we're trying to stop him, preferably capture him, and prevent him from continuing to operate the al Qaeda network, and fund and finance not just that network, but probably some affiliates, as well.  It is certainly ‑‑ any country has the right of self-defense to do that, and certainly Israel does.

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Let me ask you another question abut Pakistan and charges that it's a nuclear proliferator.  When I spoke to President Musharraf, he downplayed the damage that was done by Dr. Khan's network, selling material to Libya, to Iran, and North Korea, and he denied that there was any complicity by the Pakistani military.  Here's what he said.

 

The CIA, many other intelligence services, the International Atomic Energy Agency say it is impossible that this kind of activity could have happened without the complicity of the military.

 

PRES. MUSHARRAF:  These are not said by people who are in the loop of investigation and knowing the realities, these are said by in the media, these are said by people who don't know the realities, and just give opinions.  Nobody ‑‑ if you go to the State Department and find out from there, those who know the reality, those who have examined, those who have access to intelligence and information, none of them will say this.  They know that neither the military nor the government was involved.  It was individuals.

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  He didn't mention the Defense Department there, do you buy that blanket denial of any military complicity with Dr. Khan's network?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I don't know that that's what he said.  My impression was he said something slightly different, but it would be a very ‑‑ 

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  It was only individuals, not the military.

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Exactly, that's a distinction, which is something ‑‑ it's quite a distinction.  I have great respect for President Musharraf.  He is a person with a lot of courage, they've several times tried to kill him recently.  He has moved his country, as part of the global war on terror partnership and coalition, in a very bold way that was not always possible in that country, and indeed is highly unpopular with large portions of his population.   And he has been tremendously cooperative.  No question but that A.Q. Khan has damaged the civilized world, by engaging in the proliferation of nuclear technology.  And doing it systematically, and doing it aggressively, and doing it with multiple countries, over a sustained period of time.

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  But, the question is, could he have done that without the knowledge, and in some cases the assistance of high officers in the Pakistani military, including perhaps General Musharraf, who was chief of staff since 1998, when the bulk of the activities started?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I do not believe that there's any evidence, or any suggestion that President Musharraf was involved, and I have no knowledge that would permit me to support the allegations that you cited in your interview with Musharraf.

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Or any high level military officials?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I'm not going to say that.  Listen, you can't prove a negative.  You can't say that I know that every person connected with the Pakistani military over some sustained period of time had no knowledge or participation whatsoever.  That's silly, I couldn't do that.  But if you're asking me, do I think Musharraf either now or when he was head of the military was engaged with that, I don't believe it.  And I have no reason, and see no evidence to suggest it.

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Secretary Rumsfeld, thank you very much.

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Thank you.

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  We'll be back with two members of the 9/11 Commission.

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