(Interview with Dan Balz and Bob Woodward, Washington Post. Also participating was Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke.)
Rumsfeld: All right. What's up? When they told me what this was about I sat down last night and made some notes.
Q: Oh, my goodness. Thank you.
Rumsfeld: I'm not into this detail stuff, I'm more concepty.
Q: We would like to talk to you about both.
Q: You know the scope of this which is the first ten days, September 11th through the 20th or the morning of the 21st.
Rumsfeld: He gave his speech then?
Q: He gave his speech on the night of the 20th.
Rumsfeld: Terrific speech .
Q: What we're trying to do is do the best serious history we can do of these ten days. The decisions and discussions and choices and all of that.
We would like to start with you back in January.
Rumsfeld: Colin tells me I'm the end of your, he said you've talked to everybody in the world on this. Colin Powell.
Q: We talked to him and the president and the vice president and we did your chairman this morning who was terrific, very, all on background. I've done some books on things like this and this is as close as you can get to what really happened.
Rumsfeld: He's a good guy. Back in January.
Q: You had a conversation with, it was either the newly inaugurated president or the president-elect, about the issue of if this country goes to war it has to be done right. Can you take us back to that? I think it gives us a perspective on the president's thinking from the outset of this crisis.
Rumsfeld: Goodness gracious. I can't remember when it was. It could have been when he was talking to me about doing the job in December. It could have been after he'd decided and before I was sworn in. But I remember talking to him on that subject and expressed my concern that over a period of time in the United States the deterrent had been weakened because we had on a number of occasions seemed to the rest of the world to have been attacked or hit or somebody killed and the immediate reaction was a reflexive pull-back. There were some soldiers who were captured in Kosovo and the reaction was to pull back three kilometers. There was a ship in Haiti that was shot at and we pulled back.
I can remember talking to a wonderful gentleman who's now in his 90s, (inaudible) Rhodes who was the French ambassador to NATO when I was there. I had been with him six or eight months before that. We'd had dinner and he talked to me, said he was concerned about America because that was the perception of our country, and that it weakened the free world, it weakened the deterrent. The capability of the United States and the will of the United States helped discipline the world in the sense that it contributed to stability and peace and order by virtue of the fact that people recognized that we had capabilities and we were willing to use them. And to the extent that we were not willing to use them, we had a reflexive pull-back. It encouraged people to do things that were against our interest.
I remember talking to the president about that and he agreed strongly with it.
Q: Do you remember what he said?
Rumsfeld: He said, it isn't me talking to him, it's me, I was describing this discussion I had had with more than one European, and my own feelings, having been involved as Middle East envoy, and having seen terrorism and how it worked, and we got talking about this. We agreed that it was important that the United States and his Administration be leaning forward and not back. At that moment I can remember we talked, and I left no doubt in his mind but that at that moment where something happened that I would be coming to him to lean forward, not back, and that I wanted him to know that, and he said, just unambiguously, that that is what he would be doing. We had a very clear common understanding.
Q: So kind of a contract in a sense between the two of you --
Rumsfeld: A shared understanding of what had happened in the world and that that behavior pattern, that understanding would be in the best interest of our country.
Q: Let's go to September 11th. Tell us about those first, that first hour and a half. Where were you?
Rumsfeld: Sitting here. I was in the room with a bunch of Congressmen, Senators -- Congressmen I think. I was talking about, they were talking about the problem of the Social Security lockboxes. They were all pro-defense and they were trying to figure out ways to get their colleagues to be more supportive.
I described what had happened since I had chaired the Ballistic Missile Threat Commission with India and Pakistan exploding nuclear weapons, and other countries firing off medium and long range missiles. And said without question in the next six to eight months those same people who were concerned about the Social Security lockbox were going to be wishing they were on the right side of these issues involving national security because our history is just peppered with examples of surprises. And asymmetrical events, that who knows what they'll be or where they'll be or when they'll be. And someone came in and said a plane had gone into the Trade Center.
So that meeting adjourned and they left the building. I sat here, and my CIA briefer was there, and I was -- then the whole building shook.
Q: The whole building shook.
Rumsfeld: Oh, my Lord, yes. You bet.
Q: Then what did you do?
Rumsfeld: I think I looked out the window to see if I could see anything and I knew the building had been bombed or something, and excused myself, and she left and I went out to the site.
Q: What was your reaction at that point? What did you think had happened? What did you think the implication of it was?
Rumsfeld: I don't know that I did think. I went, I remember running down the hall towards the smoke, and couldn't go any farther. Went downstairs, outside, and there were pieces of metal like that over there on the table, spread all over the grass. And people running around. It was -- I asked, I think he was a light colonel, and he said an airplane hit the building.
By then I knew that two had hit the World Trade Center. We were sitting here when the second one --
Q: That was kind of bing/bang.
Q: This was a half hour or 40 minutes later.
Rumsfeld: And then I ended up coming back in here and the building was filling with smoke. We went, worked in here briefly and then went down into one of the, just across the hall here into one of these command centers. There's two or three rooms that have videos and phones and communications, and began the process of sorting through all the things that we needed to do.
Q: One of the first conversations/decisions had to do with rules of engagement that you had with the president. Can you walk us through what went back and forth between you and the president on that and what those rules of engagement, the degree to which you talked about them with him.
Rumsfeld: We talked at some length about them. I talked about them with the president, I talked about them with Dick Cheney.
Q: Did you talk to the vice president first and then the president or vice versa, or do you remember?
Rumsfeld: I don't remember. I talked to General Myers about them. I'd been a pilot and had some sense of that. I remember the Mayaguez incident. A young pilot flying along and he's looking down at the boat that's leaving the islands with a bunch of people sitting with their heads down leaning forward. Remember? And he said I think they might be Americans and I can't tell. You've got a 23 or 24 year old pilot flying in a Navy airplane, milling around, looking down from a distance and trying to figure out what to do and all I could think of was some American pilot flying around trying to figure out what an airliner's doing. Where is it going?
Q: Is it hostile?
Rumsfeld: Is it hostile? Should you shoot it down or shouldn't you? What are the kinds of things? And we talked about hand signals and communications and flying in front and waving at them, and getting them to go in a direction that's not dangerous. And if they're going in a direction that's dangerous you'd have to shoot them down. Dangerous meaning a high value target on the ground of some sort. So we ended up fashioning those and the president approved them and I gave the instructions to [Gen.] Eberhart.
Q: What did you think of that? The idea that as Secretary of Defense you would be doing, authorizing --
Rumsfeld: It was in the morning. That morning.
Q: Right, 10:00, 10:30.
Q: 10:15, 10:30 maybe.
Rumsfeld: I got back into the office at 10:15 and it was sometime between then and 11:15, that hour period, that those things were taking place.
I must have been down there quite awhile, because I came back about 10:15. I went down there I suppose around 9:20, 9:30.
Rumsfeld: Talked to the vice president about CAPs, combat air patrols. Talked about, talked to the president. We went to DefCon 3. The last time this country'd been on DefCon 3 I'd been Ambassador to NATO and it was during the Middle East War.
Rumsfeld: And we went to DefCon 3. Had a video with the vice president. Rules of engagement. Continuity of government discussion. The president executed that. We asked that Deputy Paul Wolfowitz and Secretary White to go to our off-site site, I don't know if the name is classified or not. The Secretary of the Army finally called back and wanted to come back here. He had people who were killed down here, so we substituted somebody for him and he came back.
The building was filling with smoke. We talked to the president.
Q: What did he say, what decisions were taking place at this point, Mr. Secretary, do you recall?
Rumsfeld: I remember telling him he was in the right place. Implementing continuity of government, and I was here, my Deputy was at the off-site site, the president was not here and the vice president was here, and I remember calling and talking to Ivanov, the minister of defense of Russia about -- Wait a second. The president. You said what did he say. He said, "It will come to you." Somebody told me.
Q: We were told that around 1:00 or 1:15 he talked to you and he said, "It's a day of national tragedy and we'll clean up the mess and then the ball will be in your court and Dick Myers' court to respond."
Q: How did you react to that?
Q: That means war, or --
Rumsfeld: He was very decisive. The next day he came, I think it was the next day, met with the chiefs, met with the under secretaries. I can't remember what he said, but he said something to them.
Q: What day would that be?
Q: That would have been the afternoon of the 12th.
Rumsfeld: He in effect said this is it, this is going to be a major something. Does anyone remember? You were there?
Voice: His comment was to the effect that the response was going to be broad and it was going to be resolute.
Rumsfeld: Oh, yes. He said we're going to respond forcefully and across a broad front. You're quite right. And they were quiet. This is the next day, but he had an instinct.
Ivanov had a command and control exercise going on, which he called down.
Q: Putin told Dr. Rice that, too.
Rumsfeld: We called down an exercise we had going on. I don't know what the heck it was called. Guardian or something. Global Guardian. I think that was it.
Q: Where was that?
Rumsfeld: I can't remember, but we stood that down. We got the CAPs up. That evening, I remember briefing the press -- oh, we went down to meet the press.
Clarke: With Levin and Warner --
Rumsfeld: And John Warner and Carl Levin -- Warner called and said I'm coming down. Should I see if Carl Levin's available? They came down, went to the site. They went out. I think by then General Shelton had landed.
Voice: I think that's right, because I think he was part of that.
Rumsfeld: He was in that press brief. And we said look, we're in business. That was still the first day.
Q: That evening is critical. After the president gave the speech where he said we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.
Q: Which was a major, it's now the Bush Doctrine. Do you remember how that was made? Did you get involved in that? Or was that just kind of out of the Citadel speech? Because there was language --
Rumsfeld: You get into meetings with people and discussions and who said what I have no idea. I just know that from the first conversation on the phone with him that day after they had hit the building, that he [logged it here], that he was determined. I wrote down, you're doing the first day. I wrote down a series of things the way my mind goes, which is not this way, what time or who said what.
Q: That's what we're here to find out, how your mind works. (Laughter)
Clarke: We're going to be here for a long time. (Laughter)
Rumsfeld: I wrote down the things that, you cannot micromanage something like this. You've got to think of concepts and strategic direction and the president did. This is what reminded me. You said he said we're going to go after the terrorists and those who harbor terrorists. But I wrote down a series of things that came to my mind when you said you wanted to talk about the first few days that I think shaped the entire process.
One is that we're in business, that first day.
Q: The military's in business.
Rumsfeld: The country, the Pentagon, we're -- we had a press briefing in the building when it was still burning. He made an immediate decision that he was going to go to war. This was, he was going to take this effort to them.
The key thought about this is that you cannot defend against terrorism. I learned that as Middle East envoy. You can't defend in every place at every time against every technique. You just can't do it because they just keep changing techniques, times, and you have to go after them. You have to take it to them, and that means you have to preempt them. He immediately decided to do that, that's what you must do. You certainly have to have heightened awareness, to use his phrase, and you have to batten down the hatches to some extent. But you cannot do that alone. You have to go after them.
That it would be broad-based the first day. That it would take all elements of national power and put pressure on these folks, because they didn't have armies, navies and air forces. He made that decision, and that's why you have to go after the haven, the ones that are harboring as well as the terrorists. That it would take time and be long and hard. That was from the first day, the 12th. By the 12th, which of course is properly getting people to understand and be patient. That it's a very different kind of a conflict.
The coalition issue. The fact that you can simply not have a single coalition when you have a worldwide problem. That we've got to be understanding of people and let them characterize what they want to do to help us rather than we characterize it for them. So I've never once said what other countries are doing to help. I've let them say it. Some countries are doing it publicly and some are doing it privately. Our goal was to get the terrorists, and our goal had to be.
So that idea, which is totally different from a normal campaign of a single coalition where everyone does the same thing and everyone talks about what everyone else is doing.
Q: But there's a related element to that that this Administration has adopted, and that is that you don't let the coalition define the mission.
Rumsfeld: No, the mission defines the coalition.
Q: but that is a different --
Rumsfeld: Very different. Absolutely.
Q: Was he there on that?
Rumsfeld: You bet.
Q: Some of your colleagues said, sir, that you introduced the idea of coalitions. That we need to have not just one coalition. Do you recall that?
Rumsfeld: I guess I did, that you have to understand that people, countries have different perspectives, they live in different parts of the world, they have different problems and different pressures and you mustn't demand of them that they all agree with everything you're doing or else what you're doing is going to be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. You can't have it.
It's not against a religion or a people, but it's against terrorists. The link to the weapons of mass destruction, without saying the sky is falling, without henny penny, we're all going to be blown up, we told the truth. The truth is that if you've got terrorist networks that are global and if they're well financed and if they can plan something like this, and if they have relationships with countries that have weapons of mass destruction, it does not take a leap of imagination to suspect that at some point terrorist networks conceivably could get their hands on those weapons and we have to recognize that and we have to behave in a way that recognizes that.
And the president did it, I think, with exactly the right touch. That is to say he didn't do it in a way that was terrifying for people because that doesn't get you any[where]. He communicated it in a way that was honest and balanced and useful, constructive as opposed to emotional. Which I think is important.
The president's comment, you're with us or you're against us, is a useful thing. It's declaratory policy. And basically what it's saying is, to countries, this is enormously important to this country. It is so important that we are going to have to, in our defense, go after them. And in doing so we're going to have to have help. If you're not helping, you're hurting.
Q: There is a key moment on the first day -- Go ahead, continue if you had more on your list, because this is --
Rumsfeld: We wouldn't rule out anything. The idea that by gosh, we're not going to use ground forces, or we're not going to do this or we're not going to do that demystifies it for the other side, and I just died every time our country has done that.
Q: Particularly Kosovo most recently.
Rumsfeld: I said by golly --
Q: Did that get --
Rumsfeld: You bet. We're not going to do that. We're not going to rule things out. We're going to keep life complicated for the other side, and just to make it further complicated we're going to get boots on the ground early, some way, some how, so that it's clear that we understand that the world, we live in a world that's not risk-free and we can live in that world and we can deal in that world and we're willing to. So we did go with people on the ground rather soon. The not bombing during Ramadan argument. We decided to bomb during Ramadan. When one puts on the scale the fact that some people didn't want us to and we respect that, against the fact that there have been wars conducted during Ramadan since the beginning of time; and second, that we're under, [indistinct], and we have an obligation to defend our people. We made that decision and tried to do it in a way that would [cause] possibly, the least possible offense to others. But, and respectful of others. But respectful of our self defense.
We talked early on, the president did, about the opportunity to rearrange things in the world in a way that would be beneficial to our country and to peace and to stability and to free systems, and how as we're doing this do we do it in a way that because it's such a fundamental shift in how people think about the world, how do we do it in a way that benefits the world after this event is over.
Q: You mentioned declaratory policy. There's a key moment on 9/11 at the first NSC meeting at night after the president has given his speech about the people who harbor them we're going after.
Q: The second meeting. There's the broader meeting and then it's the small group, War Cabinet, if you will.
According to the notes, sorry to burrow in on this but we're trying to construct the narrative. Secretary Rumsfeld says the following, you pose a series of rhetorical questions, and under the [decoding] Secretary Rumsfeld, we have found that it's important to understand that you make your arguments through questions frequently. And often they aren't arguments. You say the following, "These are the questions we have to address. Who are the targets? How much evidence do we need? How soon do we act? The sooner we act the more public support we'll have if there's collateral damage. But some major strikes could take up to 60 days to put together. Are there targets that are off limits? Do we include the allies? We have to set declaratory policy, announce to the world what we're doing."
Does that sound right?
Rumsfeld: Yeah. I do tend to do things like that where I, I try to think something through. It's easier for me to know what the question is than what the answer is. And in most of these cases it isn't for me to answer anyway, it's for the president. So that doesn't sound amiss.
Q: And that it might take 60 days to put major strikes together. Where did that come from?
Rumsfeld: A caution to everybody that there are great distances in the world, there are places that are relatively less accessible to aircraft carriers or fixed bases that we already have access to, that logistics is central to sustaining something, and that we ought to be realistic and manage expectations externally in a way that's consistent with what we conceivably will be capable of doing.
Q: There was no on-the-shelf plan for Afghanistan available, is that correct?
Rumsfeld: No, of course not.
A couple of other quickies here. Afghanistan. Very anti-foreigner. From day one we said this is not about Afghanistan, it's not about the Afghan people, it's about the terrorists who have invaded their country and the Taliban who are harboring them. We have no interest in their real estate, we have no interest in staying, we're going to leave, and trying to make sure that we did not create an environment that was inhospitable to the people we had on the ground in a country that is historically inhospitable to foreigners invading their country. And looking at the humanitarian early on was a piece of that.
We tried hard and probably failed to keep it from being personalized to UBL and Omar. It took a lot of effort. Everyone wanted to have an enemy, kind of like Saddam Hussein.
Q: Even on the 19th you were arguing --
Q: Don't use it in the speech, don't identify him in the speech. Why did you feel that way?
Rumsfeld: Because he isn't the problem. The problem is that there are global terrorist networks in this world beyond al Qaeda. If UBL were dead today there are 10, 15 other people who could run that network, and the worst thing you can do is to misstate your objectives. If you state that your objective is UBL or Omar and you get them and you haven't solved the problem, you've misled people and you've created an expectation that's unrealistic and unwise. It is just something that, the press is just so anxious to personalize things. You know that, about everything that happens in Washington. People are anxious. It's easier to understand.
Q: Why did the president decide he wanted to name him in that speech? The decision was name him once, do it once.
Rumsfeld: I have no idea. All I know is what I think and what I thought and said and have since.
Q: They took that concern to heart.
Rumsfeld: Oh, my goodness --
Q: Late afternoon on the day of the speech they went back --
Rumsfeld: They left an awful lot of it out.
Q: They went back to the president and the president said see what the vice president thinks, and in the mean time made up his mind that he needed to name him.
Rumsfeld: Sure, and they did and that's fine. But they didn't make the whole thing UBL the way it had been. Or the way we were tending to do as an Administration. It's a natural thing.
Q: When did it become not just al Qaeda but al Qaeda and the Taliban, and how did you --
Rumsfeld: After the Taliban refused all of his requests.
Q: But those requests weren't formalized until the night of the 20th. And you already had a plan at that point by the time you got out of Camp David, or by the following Monday, to basically go after al Qaeda and the Taliban. You were planning to go after both at that point. The ultimatum had not actually been delivered.
Rumsfeld: On the assumption that they would regret their decline of those demands.
Q: But initially the issue was, who did this? Al Qaeda. Do they harbor? Then do we go after, do we definitely go after the Taliban, and what does that imply in terms of regime change, putting in a new government in Afghanistan. How much of that was discussed in those first days?
Rumsfeld: And what signal did this send to the rest of the world? You have to remember that everything the president of the United States and the United States of America do, everything we do is seen everywhere else in the world. And to the extent you say well, gee, the fact that Omar invited the al Qaeda in and was hospitable to them and basically behaved roughly the way they did is fine, we'll just take care of the al Qaeda. You're telling every other regime it's fine to harbor, and it isn't fine to harbor. It can't be. We've got to make it uncomfortable to harbor.
Q: Wasn't the CIA arguing that for practical purposes they're one and the same? That al Qaeda is --
Rumsfeld: No, not to my knowledge.
Q: -- a wholly owned subsidiary of the Taliban, and that they bought them, and it's worth a try to get them to --
Rumsfeld: -- but the basis, there were differing views, and one view was that the Taliban was different and it wasn't really a government anyway, and that it was to be sure bought, and maybe we can pry them loose. Others thought maybe you could pry portions of the Taliban loose from the senior Taliban. Eventually some of that actually happened, the latter. But I don't remember who was arguing what.
Q: There is an important, and sorry to be a prisoner of chronology. We had this problem with the president when we went through it, and because all of you have lived this and we're trying to differentiate.
To see how you state the goals exactly right, how did this group of people get there? What was the debate? What were the decisions that the president made?
On September 13th, which is Thursday, just two days after 9/11, there's another meeting. General Myers said there aren't many good targets because normally we're looking for high value targets and they don't have them. And the president said the following. "This is a new world. General Shelton should go back to the generals for new targets. Start the clock. This is an opportunity. I want to plan costs, time. I need options on the table. I want Afghan options by Camp David. I want quick decisions."
At this point --
Rumsfeld: He's driving, absolutely.
Q: He's leaning forward. What was your reaction?
Rumsfeld: Oh, I just loved it. (laughter) To have a president who is decisive, who is an absolute blotter in terms of information, who puts structure into problems and forces discussion and ideas to be channeled in directions that are constructive is -- and then to make a decision and stick with it and have power behind the decision, and clarity. It doesn't get complicated. These aren't 50-part decisions. The clarity that comes out of one of those meetings is refreshing.
Q: Right after this you said, you reminded the president of the Chinese embassy and Sudan chemical plant embarrassments where they bombed, according to the NSC notes, you said, "We owe you what can go wrong, things that can take the wind out of our sails."
I tend to be a conservative, there's no question. We talked about the fact that targets can be wrong. We talked about the fact that people can get killed, our people. We talked about the fact that innocent people can get killed, civilians. And that the military, when you're doing things with ordnance it isn't like a surgeon's scalpel, but that -- and if you're going to put people's lives at risk you have to have a damn good reason, and we did. He made that judgment.
He has been very stiff about it throughout. He understands that the reason people have gotten killed is not because we wanted to be in Afghanistan but because people attacked this country and the only way you can deal with that problem is in self defense, is to take the battle to them.
Q: You gave the prayer at the Cabinet meeting September 14th. We have a copy of that prayer. I should have brought it. Where did that come from?
Q: One of the things we were told you said was you asked the Lord for patience to measure our lust for action.
Q: That's correct.
Q: It's in the printed prayer.
Q: There was resolve, there was patience --
Rumsfeld: Good things.
Q: Yeah. That was a very emotional Cabinet meeting.
Q: That was the most emotional day of the week because it was the Cathedral prayer service, it was the president's visit to Ground Zero, his private visit with the victims' families in New York.
Q: And everyone applauded when he came into the meeting that day. I just wondered how you wound up giving the prayer.
Rumsfeld: He asked me to. The morning before. Absolutely. There's a prayer at every Cabinet meeting.
Q: So you're assigned in advance.
Rumsfeld: No, you're not assigned. Every Cabinet meeting someone gives a prayer. The president or one other member of the Cabinet. And what has happened prior to that was that he apparently would ask somebody, and he asked me if I would be willing to do it. It was a clearly voluntary thing because of the nature of the day. So the Cabinet officer then thinks through what it is they would like to say, and I did, and I remember talking to you, Larry, and somebody else, I don't remember who, and we finally produced those thoughts that seemed to be appropriate. The best words in there were probably Larry's. (laughter)
Q: Can we go back to the second day, Wednesday the 12th. At the afternoon NSC meeting you raised the question, is there a need to address Iraq as well as bin Laden.
Can you take us through your views on --
Rumsfeld: What did they do? Give you every -- (laughter)
Q: No, it's -- we've been working on this for weeks.
Rumsfeld: People told you what I said.
Q: There are notes that we've gone through, and we are trying -- this is the most -- you can come up and string us up after this is over --
Rumsfeld: I think I will.
Q: If anyone ever does anything --
Rumsfeld: -- Washington Post with you. (laughter)
Q: Imagine how I felt. (laughter) I was proud. Two Navy men get together. (laughter)
Q: Part of the value of this whole exercise that we've been on is that this is an important moment in history. Memories fade. People's notes get lost. The more that can be --
Rumsfeld: -- dadburned busy I don't have any notes.
Q: Well, there were note takers in various meetings. At any rate, you said -- Iraq. And this is not a direct quote, this paraphrases. Is there a need to address Iraq as well as bin Laden?
Q: Again, a Rumsfeld rhetorical question. Not saying it, but raising it.
Rumsfeld: I want to make sure -- I always ask myself what's missing. It's easy for people to edit and make something slightly better, but the question is, what haven't we asked ourselves? So I do it all the time. I do it here, I do it in Cabinet meetings or NSC meetings. It was a fair question.
Q: What then transpired in terms of the discussion? We know Secretary Wolfowitz was strongly in favor of using this moment --
Rumsfeld: I don't know that. How do you know that? Was he quoted? Did someone tell you?
Rumsfeld: He wasn't even at the meeting was he?
Q: Not that meeting.
Q: No, later at Camp David when it came up.
It's not a big deal. It is the context in which there is a discussion because when it gets to Camp David we understand part of the reason of re-raising the Iraq issue is it looks like Afghanistan is really going to be hard, and where of the targets can we succeed at this? And I think Paul is kind of arguing look, we've got somebody we can go to because we've got the plans ready, and these are bad people and they have likely culpability.
Rumsfeld: I don't think Paul's involved in these arguments.
Q: Not this early, but --
Rumsfeld: When I'm in these meetings he doesn't tend to talk much.
Q: The descriptions we've got said that he is in some of these meetings, even the principals, that he was involved in some and was raising the Iraq issue.
Rumsfeld: I don't remember it.
Q: Your thinking about Iraq at that point --
Rumsfeld: I don't remember. If I said that I probably said it, but --
Q: Did the president have a view on this that was defined early on? Was his view we should keep this under consideration? Was it, unless we have clear and compelling evidence of a link we can't --
Rumsfeld: No recollection.
Q: No recollection?
Rumsfeld: We were going so fast and so hard and trying to make sure that we didn't forget things.
There was no roadmap for this.
Q: No book, no index. That's why it's such a good story.
Rumsfeld: There was no plan that was on the shelf that you just pull it out and dust it off and calibrate it a bit like there is for North Korea or various other things over the decades, the Soviet Union. There wasn't one. And we simply had to sit down and think through how in the world could we best do this in a way that would be the most effective, that would put the most pressure on terrorists so that they had the least chance of recruiting people and the least chance of attacking us again or attacking our forces or our friends, and we couldn't divine it. We had to sit down and think through all of these pieces.
When I look back on it, I had lunch with someone today and he reminded me that between the 11th and something like the 16th, all the key decisions were made to do something, and between the 16th and the 7th of October a plan was put in place that involved going across the other side of the world to a land-locked country that wasn't accessible to aircraft carriers very well, and that had defeated a superpower, and was hostile to foreigners and between October 7th and whenever the Taliban government didn't exist as a governing force in that country was a relatively short period of time. It's just amazing.
Q: It is. We're doing the ten days, but it is a military accomplishment of some --
When the president gave the Cathedral speech, you went to that speech.
Rumsfeld: I sure did.
Q: It was, interestingly enough, a war speech in a church. I think we may use as the title of this, "An Hour of our Choosing" which is from the speech.
What was your reaction to the speech?
Rumsfeld: I thought he did a superb job. I was amazed he could get through it.
Q: Because at the Cabinet meeting in the morning Powell had slipped him a note -- don't break down.
Rumsfeld: No, that's not what he said. He wrote down on a piece of paper something to the effect that he --
Q: Avoid words like mom and pop --
Rumsfeld: -- use a word that's emotional and you'll make it through, something like that. We were sitting there laughing, the three of us were sitting there laughing about it.
Q: But the president apparently then --
Rumsfeld: He went right ahead and used --
Q: And also said to the Cabinet, advice from the Secretary of State, don't break down. (laughter)
Rumsfeld: Something like that.
Q: There was a concern that day where somebody at the NMCC had called the White House about getting fighter escorts for the president's trip up to New York, and there was a delay in it, and you finally decided to issue --
Clarke: I remember that (inaudible) started down here because it was televised, obviously.
Rumsfeld: What was televised?
Clarke: The event at the Cathedral. And a military aide walks up the long aisle there to go to Shelton.
Rumsfeld: That's right.
Clarke: Shelton gets up and leaves and is gone and comes back, and there were at least 300 people in my office, going --
Q: And that was what it was about.
Rumsfeld: I've forgotten the issue.
Q: It was about whether to put an escort on Air Force One, I believe.
Rumsfeld: There's two ways you can do it. One is you can have a CAP up, an AWACS that is at a distance. The other way you can do it is you can do that plus put escort planes in very close proximity. We have done very little of the latter and a good deal of the former.
Q: You were not happy that somebody had called here to the White House because you wanted to have the communications from Defense to the White House through you basically. Is that correct?
Rumsfeld: I don't recall that, but it's possible because there have been a number of occasions where we've tried to straighten the lines of communication. The national command authority is the president to me, and to the extent you get people down below sending instructions into the building that people then act off of, then the president can't be sure that the actions are going to be consonant with what he wanted me to do. So I have tried to drop a wall down to the extent you can for action as opposed to communication and information. There's an enormous flow back and forth between all the departments and agencies and the Pentagon on information both ways. But the president's got a statutory responsibility as the commander in chief, and it goes directly to me, from me to the combatant commanders. And to the extent people talk to other people and someone then says oh, let's send up an escort, or let's send up a CAP, or let's not, it may very well -- it could be completely opposite of what the president wants or what I want.
Q: You said I will not have that.
Rumsfeld: I do that. (laughter)
Q: No ambiguities. But it's about the chain of command.
Rumsfeld: You bet. There are a few things you do not -- That is something you do not want to mess around with.
Q: Now Camp David, the president asked you and Condi Rice and the vice president and Powell to go up early, and you had a buffalo dinner up at Camp David.
Rumsfeld: And we had a dinner meeting.
Q: We've talked to all the people except you there. Do you remember what happened at that dinner, whether it was a kind of --
Q: Was it a pre-brief? Was it getting ready for the next morning? Was it --
Rumsfeld: Sure. It was allowing people to have that less formal time with him present to kind of bring people up to date, to talk about things that are on their mind, to give people a sense of what they might be recommending or suggesting or questions they want flushed out before --
Q: Do you remember anything that was specific that happened there? The president was quite eloquent on what had been decided by Camp David and what had not been decided.
Q: In his own mind. He just went bing, bing, bing, bing. This had been decided, this had been decided.
Rumsfeld: He knew. There was no question. That was the next day, though, because he --
Q: But by the time you got to Camp David that night after New York, what had been decided in your mind, what had been --
Rumsfeld: Oh, in his mind.
Q: In his mind.
Rumsfeld: Oh, you bet. We don't know what was in his mind except that the next day, we had our dinner, went to bed, and I think he came in and someone said do you want to go to a movie? I didn't want to go to a movie. (Laughter) I'm not sure that was that night, but it was one of those nights. In any event, that's the last thing I need is a movie. My whole life's a movie.
The next morning he then ran that meeting, and we don't know, because he was in a receive mode that morning. And we had had a good discussion and then we had a very good discussion with him. And it was essentially after that meeting. He may well have had his mind made up when the meeting was over but he didn't reveal a hell of a lot.
Q: In the end he said, "I'll let you know."
Rumsfeld: Yeah, he took it under advisement and decided he'd go think it through and thought it through and he came back not very long after that.
Q: Monday morning. And said this is an order session. I want to sign the CIA finding, I want the CIA to be in--
Q: You made an interesting comment at --
Rumsfeld: It ticks me off telling me what I said. How do you know all this? I can't believe it.
Q: You said at that meeting, as we understand it. (Laughter) After the president had gone through the order --
Rumsfeld: You're reported to have said, or you were alleged to have said.
Q: You were alleged --
Rumsfeld: Even a mass murderer, they say alleged.
Q: Many sources say you said -- we'd like to get you to explain it because it's a very interesting line. "This is chess, not checkers."
Rumsfeld: Oh, boy, is it ever. It's not just chess, it's three-dimensional chess. This is so different from a basic fundamental, Mark 1, Mod A conflict.
One day, all I could think of was those boxes at the gas station that were glass and they had a prize in there and you had to use these arms that had four joints and you could turn the knob this way or that way or up or down or pull them in or pull them out, and you had six joints.
Q: My five-year-old daughter loves those things.
Rumsfeld: It's like three-dimensional chess. I don't know if you've ever played that, but it is that difficult. And it is not off-the-shelf stuff, and we had to understand that. And anyone who could, who thought they could get up in the morning and behave in a normal, intuitive way was going to make a mistake in this business. And what we had to do was to establish some concepts, some directional guidance that we could then keep testing what we were doing against to see if it was right, to see if the immediate decision would fit against it, and how we should answer that question.
Normally you could look at the book and say gee, this is how you do that. It's been done before.
Q: Camp David in the morning, CIA Director Tenet gave a briefing of his plan. Very detailed, we understand, about we're going to do this with the Northern Alliance, this with other intelligence services. There was a worldwide kind of attack matrix, to work in 80 countries to do all of this. What was your reaction to what he presented?
Rumsfeld: Well I think to characterize it as very detailed would be kind of a misunderstanding of it. Compared to other plans that were revealed at that stage, it had a level of detail or suggested a level of detail that was probably greater than others, simply because that is --
Q: They'd worked it for four years.
Rumsfeld: Exactly. That's their business.
On the other hand as you move through the period thereafter, obviously, given what we've all agreed is an enormously complicated situation, it doesn't play out the way one thinks. And those kinds of plans, rather than being plans that you consider, decide on, and then implement, what they are is they're initial plans that you go out and test this idea and that idea and then you fashion the next step based on what actually happens in the real world. And that's essentially what happened.
Q: How important was the CIA getting in there, providing introductions to your Special Forces? If you concede that as it was talked about at Camp David, is this going to be important? Does this make sense? Does this --
Rumsfeld: As I say, I was convinced we had to get people on the ground.
Q: And that this was the way to do it?
Rumsfeld: To the extent the CIA had relationships or could develop relationships that would facilitate that, that that would be critically important. We pushed and pushed and pushed through that period. And the minute we finally did get people on the ground the quality of what took place took a quantum jump, in terms of our ability to resupply them, our ability to target things, the guidance we were giving local anti-Taliban commanders.
Q: These decisions involved a significant increase in the authority for the CIA to operate, in operate in ways that they had not before. Was there any concern about giving that kind of breadth of authority to the agency?
Rumsfeld: I can't speak for others.
Q: Did you have any?
Q: This was war.
Rumsfeld: You bet.
Q: Could I just ask you one very specific, on the 17th when --
Rumsfeld: This is the gut cutter, as you go out the door.
Q: No, no. (laughter) Can I put on my trench coat? (laughter)
No, this is interesting, and we've talked to people and it's part of the record here, but after the president -- the president came over on the 17th and that's when he did --
Q: Here. And he did his dead or alive statement. Remember that.
Rumsfeld: It was very interesting. I brought him over. Six days, five and a half days later. I brought him over here to get briefed on special ops.
Rumsfeld: We just knew this was going to be enormously important. And it has been. And we had all of the reserve people in simultaneously. If I'm wrong on this tell me.
Q: This is the right day.
Rumsfeld: We had all the people who were civilians who were on active duty and helping us to begin that process of reserve call-up, and I think we briefed him on the reserve call-up that day. And he was sitting there when the press came in for a few questions, that he did in fact say what you just said he said.
Q: And the special ops briefing was a, there was a slide that somebody had --
Rumsfeld: We have to end.
Q: The slide simply said, "poisoned food supply," and Condi Rice looked at that and came in to you and said we can't show that to the president of the United States. We can't do it because it's illegal, and you looked at it and said you're right.
Rumsfeld: Say it again.
Q: There was one slide that had been prepared for the briefing on sort of special ops thinking outside the box. And one of the slides said poisoned food supply. Condi saw it and said we don't do that, we can't do that --
Rumsfeld: Thumbing through the thing --
Q: She was being shown it in advance.
Q: She then said to you we can't show this to the president.
Rumsfeld: I seem to remember something like that, but I don't remember what it said. [As a follow up to the interview, Clarke sent Balz and Woodward a memorandum containing a rundown on the circumstances surrounding the special ops slide.]
Q: You said you're right, and it was not shown. And the two star who gave the briefing --
Q: Is a lieutenant.
Q: They put him in the Navy. (laughter)
Q: Thank you very much.
Rumsfeld: I don't think I helped you that much, but you all had so damn much information you embarrassed me. You must have --
Q: This is a most serious history, really, and I'm trying to do, and I talked to the president about this, and I'm going to do a book about his first year or first 18 months, so I'll be back to haunt you.
Rumsfeld: -- I said I'm not even going to bother talking to you. My God, I wasted a whole bloody hour and a half with you one night, and you write this book the Commanders, and you didn't even use one thought, and there were big concepts in there.
Q: There were.
Rumsfeld: You may not know that.
Q: Yes, sir. And you wrote me a letter which we did put in the paper which is really an interesting letter about what to expect from a president. Do you remember that? And your expectations. (Laughter) It says, let people see who you are because they're going to find out.
Rumsfeld: It's true of all of us eventually.