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Secretary of Defense Interview with Bob Woodward - 20 Sept, 2003

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
April 19, 2004
Secretary of Defense Interview with Bob Woodward - 20 Sept, 2003

(Interview with Bob Woodward of the Washington Post.  Also participating was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Lawrence Di Rita)

 

            Rumsfeld:  Okay, a couple of things before we start. I am not great with dates or times and I don't have a lot of notes that can be helpful.  The last time we met you asserted things, saying, “You did this or you said that,” as though you knew what I did, and you were wrong a lot.

 

            Q:  I apologize for that.  It was based on NSC notes and what other people said. 

 

            Rumsfeld:  Other people, exactly. And your assumption is, if somebody says that to you, that it is correct.  Therefore you assert it to me.  That causes me a lot of problems, because then I have to stop and say, “No, that's not right.”   Almost everything you asked me was premised with an assertion that was either incomplete or wrong, and it changed the whole nature of it.  You'd be better off with me if you asked those questions about the premises in the question you want to ask.

 

            Q:  My overall goal in this, because I have good relationship with President Bush and he wants me to do this, I think, as you know.

 

            Rumsfeld:  A couple of other things, I tend to ask a lot of questions of the people I work with and I tend to give very few orders.  This place is so big and so complicated and there's so much that I don't know, that I probe and probe and probe and push and ask, “Well, why wasn't this done?” or “Shouldn't this be done?” but it's generally with a question mark at the end.

 

            Q:  I've found that in my research.

 

            Rumsfeld:  I've read a lot of stuff about me that doesn't sound that way and I think you ought to have that fact in your head.

 

            Next, I glanced, last night; I thumbed very fast through Myers' and Pace's transcripts, just to see what it.  I thought that Myers---I really went fast through Pace, but I read some of Myers.  I thought Myers' interview was good.  He did a good job of backing you off and putting things in context, and a useful thing to do.

 

            Q:  I agree with that and that's why I talked to him.  You know, he said like you - he said, I can't tell you, and he was looking for his notebooks and he was trying to get certain things and he said, I can't tell you when this happened but what I can tell you is...

 

            Rumsfeld:  And that's good.

 

            I've read a lot of history in my life, and I don't know if I got it from history, but I decided that it was enormously important that, if I was going to be an effective link between the President of the United States and the combatant commander, I knew my relationship with the President and the access and his interest and how he feels and his body language on things had to be communicated down to Tom Franks and through him to his people. So, I started spending a lot of time with Tom Franks and we've had dinner, and what have you, and talked on the phone.  We talked here and we talked down there, and I decided it was of fundamental importance if we were going to have people's lives at risk. There needs to be a true channel from the President to me, to him; and from him, to me, to the President.  I also took great pains to bring him in contact with the President as often as I could, and in some instances when I wasn't there so it would---

 

            Q:  Like sending him to Crawford, in 2001, between Christmas and New Years.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Consciously.

 

            Q:  And General Franks - you said, you go down to Crawford, and you said, I'm not going without you. And you said, we'll see.

 

            {Laughter}

 

            Rumsfeld:  Okay.  A general fact is that Tom---first of all, just did a terrific job by my standards.  He managed his information and his things.  He was thinking very well and had things in his mind that he didn't always communicate to everybody.  He carefully managed what he was thinking and how he communicated that with people.  Most people were working off something other than a full picture.  It ought not to be surprising that there were people who were critical of him.

 

            Q:  I am totally in sync with you on that and I spent four hours with General Franks, which someone said is ten times more than he spent with anyone else.

 

            Rumsfeld:  I asked him to.

 

            Q:  I appreciate that, and he said that.

 

            Rumsfeld:  And Gary Luck, have you met with him?

 

            Q:  I will.  He said that he had called you and wanted, kind of your "go ahead."

 

            Rumsfeld:  I recommended that you see him.  And the reason is, much to my surprise, it turns out he was in on an awful lot of the communications between Tom and me, and Myers and Tom, during that period.  He is an interesting man.  I had not known him, but he headed up this lessons learned and it turned out that he, because Tom had so much confidence in himself, was willing to let someone like Luck, and 60 or 70 others at various levels of his organization, listen.  A lot of people would not have been comfortable with that because they would be afraid that he's going to say, “Oh, you did this wrong, or you made this mistake or something.  His interest was in getting it right.  It turned out, Tom said to me, that he really felt there wasn't a day he went to bed that there hadn't been value added from the lessons-learned provided by people, who were at various levels including General Luck.   Well after the fact, General Luck made a couple of observations about me to me that I had no idea he would have known, but it turned out he was on an awful lot of those calls and in that linkage.  So he's a person who watched this thing evolve over a sustained period of time and that's why I put him on the list.  Giambastiani is another guy you really have to see because he led that effort and knows an awful lot about it.

 

            Q:  He was your military aide during all of this?

 

            Rumsfeld:  No.

 

            Di Rita:  Well he was until August of '02.

 

            Q: During some portion of it.

 

            Rumsfeld: During some portion of it.  I suggested you talk to Wolfowitz, Myers, Pace, Franks, Luck, and Giambastiani; and then, it's really more up to you.  I don't know what you’re interested in.  The key people were on the team that Tommy put together: McKiernan, Buzz Moseley, Del Daley, Keating, the component commanders, and the SOF guy.  I don't know if you're going to talk to them or not.

 

            Q:  Well I will. I talked to a lot of CENTCOM staff--- General Renuart, who is the J3.

 

            Rumsfeld:  He's an important guy. He was at almost all my meetings.   He was over at the NSC meetings; we'd take him along.  I finally said to Tom---Tom would say who can come.  I always said, “Look, if Gene is around, you can bring him into anything, as far as I'm concerned.”  So he was around a lot.

 

            Q:  He went down with General Franks to see the President in Crawford.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Yes.

 

            Q:  At that time when this kind of all---

 

            Rumsfeld:  Right.  He was really Franks' guy, who helped knit all the things together.

 

            Q:  I got to know him. He's---

 

            Rumsfeld:  He’s quite a man.

 

            Q:  And very clear-eyed and has a good memory and he will go back.  I think he read the whole war plan---the old one and the iterations that you did, and so forth.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Who else? I don't know, but that's the list I made for you.  There was one thing I asked to try to nail down, and we have not been able to nail down.  I can remember an NSC meeting that ended, and the President put his arm on me and said, I'd like to see you for a minute.  So we walked out and the meeting broke up.  We went into one of the two offices at the NSC in the Sit Room.  The two of us went in alone and sat down.  He said: What kind of a war plan do you have for Iraq?  I said that I was concerned about all of our war plans, that they tended to have assumptions that were stale, and that the process was so complex and so long that it was almost inevitable that the assumptions would be stale. What happened was, it would be signed out to a Combatant Command, as opposed to a Commander.  It would go out -- and of course those assignments are two years or three years, it varies -- and they would then begin work on it. They would then do some low level work with the Joint Staff and, at some point, would come in with pretty much of a plan that had a lot of detail work on it.  When I came into the office, 2 1/2 years ago, and asked for these plans, I found plans that had assumptions that were totally different today, as compared to when they were written.  And of course in some cases, the assumptions were back three and four years in a world that's changing very fast.

 

            Q:  And the Iraq war plan was '96 I think, the one that was on the shelf, and there had been an update that Secretary Cohen had not signed off on.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Interesting.

 

            Q:  Kind of flapping in the breeze.

 

            Rumsfeld:  In any event, I said look we've got to do two things:  We owe the country and the President war plans, contingency plans with thinking that is current. The only way we're going to get that is if we can compress that process dramatically and shorten it from years, down to some cycle that can be refreshed with current assumptions.  And so I got started.  What I did was, I came in here on a Saturday.

 

            Q:  And this was in 2001?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Yes, when I first arrived here.

 

            Q:  When the President said this?

 

            Rumsfeld:  No, wait a second.  I don't know when the President said that to me.  It's a full stop after that; I don't have that date.  This is now generally on contingency planning.   Then, I asked to be briefed on a plan, and I was stunned on the one I looked at it.  It happened not to be Iraq and that part of the world. It was a different part of the world.  I was stunned.  Then I looked at the process and said we've simply got to cut the process at least in half.  And I said, what I would like to do is next Saturday, I want the war planners, the contingency planners, to come in and brief me on all of the major contingency plans' assumptions, not the plans.  I wanted to see the assumptions.  I sat in that room down there.  I sat there (and these people couldn't believe it) most of the day. One Colonel would pop up and go through the assumptions, and I'd discuss them and talk about them.  Then the next guy would come up and he went through one after another after another.

 

            Q:  And they didn't in some cases didn't know what the assumptions were. Isn't that true?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Well no, because they'd go through these things.  They'd change people and new people would come in.  They were just briefing what was on the shelf.  Well, that reaffirmed my concern.  There's been a lot of discussion about the Iraq war plan as though it was something distinctively different, and, in fact, it was not.  My concern about it was roughly my concern about most of them, if not all.  It was a concern that ran to a process that needed to be fixed.

 

            Q:  That's consistent with what General Franks said.  And he said you - it was November 27th - you went down to Tampa, now 2001, so this is just 2 1/2 months after 9/11.  You said to him, I want you to look at your war plan.

 

            Rumsfeld:  I did that to every combatant commander in the world.

 

            Q:  But start with Iraq, you told him.  Get that out first.  That's what he said.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Maybe I did.

 

            Q:  And then there was a Commander's estimate request, sent down to him, December 1st, which he was going to -

 

            Rumsfeld:  See, I can't validate these things.

 

            Q:  That's what -

 

            Rumsfeld:  So don't do that to me.

 

            Q:  Okay. I'm sorry.

 

            Rumsfeld:  You tell me he said that.  If I sit here and don't say anything, don't think that makes it right.

 

            Q:  My goal is to get this right.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Okay, now, what I did was I went to literally all of the area geographic Combatant Commanders and said, “Pull ‘em out.”  Let's look at them; let's put them in priority order.  We're going to compress this cycle so that they get done in a much shorter period, and the only way that can happen is if we have an iterative process.  That is to say, we will start with assumptions, which most people don't; most people start with a plan that's there, and then tweak it.  I said we're going to start with assumptions and then we're going to establish priorities, and each of the Combatant Commanders are then going to start working through their plans. The way they were going to work through them is they were going to come back to me every six or eight weeks, and were going to say here's where we are; this is what we think.  That way, all of the grunt work that people have to do, which is an enormous amount of work, won't get done until we get the front right.  I mean, I don't know who it was, Marshall or somebody that said, if you get the strategy right, a lieutenant can draft the plan.  If you really know what you're doing, and where you're going, you can move a long distance in the right way without jerking people around and wasting their time.  It just breaks my heart to see fine, talented people working so hard on something, and when you look at it, you say, well my goodness, we never should have gone that way.  The only way these things can be done well is, if risk is elevated, put it on a table and discuss it, instead of trying to mitigate it down below at a level where you don't have the benefit of trading off and balancing that risk.

 

            Q:  Where they say let's put in another division - let's oh yeah.

 

            Rumsfeld:  So it gets dealt with that way, if it's lower.  It gets dealt with in a totally different way, if it's at a higher level.

 

            Q:  And in the war plans, as I understand it, there is no page with assumptions.

 

            Rumsfeld:  There had not been.

 

            Q:  There had not been, and General Franks and others say you kept saying well what's the assumption here?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Right.  If you then asked, are you assuming that country "X" has nuclear weapons or doesn't have nuclear weapons, or are you assuming that they're within one year of having it or not having it?  Do you assume this?  That is not the case of Iraq, but those are the kinds of issues.  What's happened to their military capabilities of that country?  Have they gone up or down in the intervening period?  All of those things needed to be taken in account.

 

            Q:  And someone said at one point at the briefing, I think before 9-11 on the Korean war plan, you said, well now wait a minute, we have a new Secretary of Defense and a new President; we start talking about guidance and I have had no input.  Is that correct?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Yes, we had looked.  At what year did the guidance come?  The guidance came back in the mid-90's.  The President and the Secretary of Defense wanted this, that or the other thing and yet it had never been even discussed here.  Furthermore, we had a new defense strategy by then.  We had to win decisively and swiftly ensure defeat, and of course the old plans were not looked at that way at all in that new context.  So we had to fix them all.  I think that you need that in your head because---

 

            Q:  Clearly.

 

            Rumsfeld:  ---the way the writing has taken place about Iraq is that the interaction with Tommy Franks was distinctively different in some way.  At a certain point, it became much more intense and it had the highest priority, but the pattern is very similar because I basically said the same thing to all of the others, that we need to fix these plans.  We owe it to the people of the country.

 

            Q:  How many plans altogether?

 

            Rumsfeld:  I don't talk about that.

 

            Q:  Okay, understand.  I hope you don't mind me asking.

 

            Rumsfeld:  No, not at all.  It's our job to plan.  It's our job not to do something, but to be ready and to have thought it through, so that the decision maker, the President, not me, has in his head what his options are.

 

            Q:  And you are in a situation where time is moving and the planners are all organized in a way where a year or two -- I think at one point someone said on Iraq, that the military would kind of say, well tell us when you want to start and we'll just back up.  And you said, we don't know, we don't know whether we're going to start.

 

            Rumsfeld:  We hope we won't start.

 

            Q:  Maybe there will be a provocation, so you have to do kind of short planning.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Maybe we'll be successful in the U.N.  Maybe, just say, we had a concept, that if "X" would happen what would we do?  Then, if "Y" would happen, we'd do that plus something and you'd have a plus, plus.  But on the other hand, the whole process of flowing the forces was designed to support the diplomacy with the hope you would not have a conflict.

 

            Q:  And see if I got this right, as I went through all of this, the discussions and interviews with dozens of people and chronologies and records, I've asked myself what is Secretary of Defense doing?  What he's trying to do is trying to clean formulation of not the problem, but a series of problems, because it might be long plan, it might be short plan.  And as I have it on kind of the first meeting, which I have, you know, in December 2001 when General Franks brought up what was on the shelf, he kind of---they did a briefing.  He said, this is the state of planning, as it exists today.  All of us are going to have a lot of difficulties with this plan, this was the 1003.

 

            Rumsfeld:  I don't remember the numbers but--there's no doubt that the press reports that suggested that Tom presented a plan and I rejected it.  It is just not correct.

 

            Q:  Understand.

 

            Rumsfeld:  We both looked at it.  We both agreed that it was stale, that it didn't fit his view of the world; it didn't fit my view of the world.  It was not rooted in things we knew from Afghanistan.  It wasn't rooted in the new strategy that we had.  Therefore, he needed to do a lot of work.

 

            Q:  And at one point he said, you said, I'm not sure that much force is needed because the plan on the shelf had called for 400,000, 500,000, given what we've learned coming out of Afghanistan.

 

            Rumsfeld:  See, I can't validate that.

 

            Di Rita:  This is what Franks said?

 

            Q:  Yes, this is what Franks said you said.  And Franks said, you'll get no argument out of me.  Which of course is contrary to the press reports.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Oh my goodness, yes.

 

            Q:  That his whole attitude was, I don't think we're going to have to do this either, but it is what we have.  And you essentially said, okay now let's get this process going and there were a series of rebriefings.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Could be, could be.

 

            Q:  Okay.  What did you see the problem as, because it went through a generated start plan that was developed, then a running start plan, and then, in the end, a hybrid they called it?

 

            Rumsfeld:  I remember all of those words.  Of course the complexity was that we had a very different Iraq from Desert Storm.  The war plan was really Desert Storm II "plus," to oversimplify it, the one on the shelf.

 

            Q:  No question.

 

            Rumsfeld:  And the Iraqi capabilities were different than seemed assumed in that plan.

 

            Q:  Because it had been degraded 40 percent or more.

 

Rumsfeld:  Yeah.  Our capabilities were different.  Our knowledge and lessons out of Afghanistan were not taken into account, and there were a whole series of other things that we had to take into account.    One thing was speed.  When you start looking at the circumstances of some of the neighboring countries and the effects of a long war on those neighboring countries, their people, and their governments, one had to say, how might this be done using greater speed rather than a longer period with greater mass?

 

            Q:  And that was the President's direction also and perception of this; is that correct?

 

            Rumsfeld:  You can be certain that the entire National Security Council was sensitive.  All we had to do was visit with the neighbors.  The length of time that conflict persisted would directly affect the number of refugees.  It would eliminate tourism in their countries.  It would cause people in their countries, or agitators in their countries, to have a bigger opportunity to stir things up, make things difficult for those governments. There were a host of things that argued in that direction.  Now, simply because its desirable, doesn't mean it's doable.  That had to become a factor that immediately had to be counterposed with some of the traditional thinking about how you do these kinds of things.  Oh there are so many pieces of it!  The longer the thing went on, the greater the likelihood that the dams would be broken; the greater likelihood that the oil wells would go; the greater likelihood that the bridges would have been blown; the greater likelihood that you'd have internally displaced persons and refugees; the greater the likelihood that you would have a humanitarian crisis: food, water and the like.  So all of those kinds of things had to be factored in.   We are going to have to wind this up.

 

            Do you want to talk process for a few minutes?

 

            Q:  I sure do, absolutely.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Why don't you? How do we proceed from here?

 

            Q:  I want to construct a narrative, because that's the only way you can communicate to a large body of people, what happened.  And there is the perception that the President just decided, Oh let's go to war.

 

Rumsfeld:  Oh, no.

 

Q:  And, of course, I mean, in a way, my point is it's an exercise in patience almost. Would you agree with that on his part?

 

            Rumsfeld:  There's no question, but that it was a long, long period and everyone was respectful of what he was trying to do.  Within the government, there was a great respect for his recognition that a conflict was the last choice; there's just so much that's unpredictable in a conflict.

 

            Q: Even for you?

 

            Rumsfeld:  You bet.

 

            Q:  You didn't want the conflict.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Oh my goodness no, no one with any sense wants conflict.

 

            Q:  But see there's again that perception.  And I have notes of meetings where you're saying in the end of 2002 after the U.N. resolution is passed, the 15 to 0, that you in effect say, we're going to deal with the deployments. We're going to dribble it out, so we support diplomacy so we don't create an atmosphere of we've already decided.  At the same time, we want to keep the pressure on, and that sounds like a really tricky balancing act.

 

            Rumsfeld: It is.

 

            Q:  And tell me how you did that?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Well, our whole system here was designed to the contrary. It was designed with either its world peace or its World War III. Either the switch is off or on, so the TPFDD [time-phased force and deployment data] was designed in a way that everything flowed and you exercised/activated CRAF [civil reserve air fleet] and got all the airlines committed and so forth.  I just said, we're not going to do it that way, because it doesn't make any sense.  Either we do nothing, in which case we don't support diplomacy, or we do everything in which case we're precipitating something and we don't want to do that.  Towards the end, I said we've simply got to give an ultimatum; we've got to give them a last chance to get out of there and if, God willing, if there's something we can do to have them leave and not require a conflict, the world will be vastly better off

 

Q:  What was the most important moment in this for you personally, or in terms of deciding or advising the president?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Oh I don't know. We're over time.

 

            Q:  We are.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Let's talk process.

 

            Q:  My focus is the President.  Did you locate a rough time or moment when he decided to go to war?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Oh hell, I remember precisely. I don't know the date but I remember the event.

 

            Q:  Tell me what.

 

            Rumsfeld:  I don't want to get into this.  We've got to talk process.  You're way over time. We've got to end this.  I'm trying to think how we do this.

 

            Q:  I will do anything literally.  I think if they validate; we get major turning points, some of the concepts we've talked about here, some of the things General Franks said, because this idea of going for the long-generated start to the running start to the hybrid, that obviously, was a turning point because you came up with a plan that was the best of both worlds in a way.   Where'd that come from, do you know?

 

            Rumsfeld:  I kept communicating down to Tom, the President's thinking and the diplomatic circumstance.  And I kept communicating up to the President and the NSC, the facts of the deployments, the mobilizations, the Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch, what was taking place in the region and those kinds of things.  The important thing is to try to connect those things in a way that fit the diplomatic circumstance and did not disadvantage the potential requirement for the use of military force.

 

            Q:  And incrementally improving your position militarily and keep building up a reasonable way and then General Franks developed these idea of spikes. We'll send a second carrier in and we'll take it out. 

 

            Rumsfeld:  We all see things from our vantage point.  I've rarely read a book about events that I was involved in that left me with an impression of the author being a participant, and not an author like you, where I ended up with as favorable an impression of the author as I had previously.  And the reason for that is simple.  They see it through their eyes.  They only see a slice.  They don't see 360 degrees; none of us do.  I've been asked to write books and I've always declined saying, it would take me so long to talk to so many people and try to box the compass, so it was fair.  Their answer to me is, baloney, you don't have to be fair.  You need to present your slice or else your slice isn't in there with those other slices.  History 50 years from now will be fair; it will take all of those slices and do something.

 

            Q:  The President is - the President.  Look, I'm neutral. I am an independent journalist.  I have to be.  Whether you like what the President did or don't like it, it is one of the gutsiest calls in history.

 

            Rumsfeld:  It sure is.

 

            Q:  It is a pivot point in history. He is entitled to a fair clean shot.

 

            Rumsfeld:  That's right, absolutely.  I remember sitting down writing one memo on everything that could go wrong.

 

            Q:  That's what I'd love to get a copy of.

 

            Rumsfeld:  I ended up sitting in an NSC meeting. I made notes while I was sitting there and I listed off 10 or 15 things, and said, “Look, before we go another step we ought to think about all of these things.”

 

            Q:  General Myers said he had it on his desk for a long time.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Is that right?  Then I headed back, and dictated it.  Then I edited it and sent it the President, and to the NSC members, and to Myers. The fact that it took the deployment process and disaggregated it to support the diplomacy was never really understood out there.  I didn't want to say that's what we were doing, so we sat there and took the hit. Good, okay.

 

            Q:  I thank you.