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Secretary Rumsfeld Town Hall Meeting at Fort BlissTexas

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
August 23, 2004

Monday, August 23, 2004

Secretary Rumsfeld Town Hall Meeting at Fort BlissTexas

MG VANE:  Sir, on behalf of the members of team bliss, soldiers, sailors and marines, civilians and family members thanks for spending a few hours with us.

Secretary Rumsfeld has been a strong advocate of the transformation of our forces, to better meet the needs of our county and particularly in the line of the changing needs….

 

SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Thank you very much general Vane and all the civilian leadership from the community.  It’s terrific to see you, Congressman Reyes.  It’s always a pleasure to see you and thank you so much for your wonderful support of not just the men and women here in this area, but all across the globe. 

 

            The folks I’ve just been saying hello to, they are the pillars of this community and are important in creating an environment here that is hospitable to the men and women in uniform we are so grateful to all of you.

 

            NOW, this group, look up there, I didn’t even see you up there.  Who’s running the base?  In any event, I’m delighted to be with you.  I know that those of us who work in Washington who aren’t from Washington, know that it’s important to get away periodically and get a little different perspective on the world and certainly that’s the case here and so I’m very pleased to be here.

 

            This morning, General Dick Meyers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I spent, goodness I suppose, four hours with President Bush and on the secure video with General Abizaid and General Casey in Baghdad, talking about the events taking place in Afghanistan and Iraq and the horn of Africa and I was asked by the President to be sure to bring his warm greetings and respects to all of you and each of you, of course, is a volunteer. 

Each person in the armed services in the active force, the guard and reserves, raised their hands and said they wanted to serve and that is something that’s very special.  It’s something that each of us in leadership positions recognize as the strength of all that we do in the world.

 

            As we meet today, there are of course a great many talented and very patriotic men and women—folks from Fort Bliss, White Sands, Holloman and across the state and across America who are serving our country so well and performing such vitally important service.  Also, I do think it’s important from time to time to mention the employers of those who serve in the guard and reserves.  They have to patch around when a key member of their team leaves and it is something that we recognize and we thank them as well.

 

            Your efforts and the work of others in our coalition are helping the newly liberated Afghan people and the newly liberated people of Iraq transition from freedom to freedom from what in each case was a vicious regime and a dangerous regime.  With your help, those countries today have free governments that are not harboring terrorists but they are helping to fight terrorists. 

 

            The third anniversary of September 11th is fast approaching.  None of us will ever forget that day.  I have just returned from Afghanistan.  A country, of course, where the Al Queda launched that attack and had been guests of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

 

Now, despite a campaign of violence and intimidation by the remnants of the Al Queda in that area and the Taliban, over nine and half million Afghan people have registered to vote.   Think of that.  Here is a country that didn’t have elections.  Where they would have, out in the middle of a soccer stadium, they would take people out and execute them as sport to demonstrate to the people that people shouldn’t fly kites, or women shouldn’t were colored shoes, or people shouldn’t whistle or sing in the street. 

 

            Not only have nine and half million people registered to vote, but over three and half million and something like 41 percent are women.  We know that not too long ago, I believe up near Jalalabad, a bus was stopped by some Taliban and they pulled the people out.  They looked at the women’s purses to see if they had voter registration cards and to the extent that they did, they shot them.  And the reaction to that in the community was such that it increased the number of women who came to register to vote. 

 

So these people have suffered Soviet occupation. They’ve suffered drought.  They’ve suffered civil war.  They’ve suffered a vicious rule of the Taliban and today, they have somewhere in their being, have the strength and the courage and the conviction that they’re going to move ahead create a democratic country and keep terrorists out, and in fact, become an alley in the global war on terror rather than [inaudible].

 

This war is a brutal reality of our time.  I think it’s important to remember that while many in the United States may feel like we’ve been at war only since September the 11th, in fact, the struggle started many, many years before.   The decade prior to September 11th, Al Queda terrorists bomb the world trade center in New York the first time in 1993.  Later, there were the attacks against the barracks in Saudi Arabia.  Then the attacks against U.S. embassies in East Africa, and of course the killing of the US Sailors aboard the USS Cole in the Persian Gulf. 

 

During that period, Saddam Hussein’s regime was dispatching assassination squadsd to try to kill a former U.S. President, shooting at U.S. and British aircraft almost on a weekly basis trying to shoot them down, and of course, was paying $25,000 bonuses to the families of suicide martyrs.  So we are not to make the mistake of thinking that the absence of more traditional war or traditional conflict means that we’re at peace because we’re not.  So too the cost and pain of fighting this war so far from our shores should not tempt us to think that if we were simply let events to take their course, somehow the bloodshed, and the sacrifice and the violence would go away.  It would not.  Indeed, it would simply increase and it would increase our vulnerability by inviting still more attacks. 

 

Those in uniform know that the enemies of freedom for what they are and they’re dealt with in Afghanistan and Iraq and are still being dealt with there and elsewhere.  And let there be no doubt, our coalition will succeed against the forces of extremism that seek to take those countries back to a terrorist attack and they’re trying.  They’re trying everyday. 

 

Think back 50 years ago, some doubted the success of another coalition’s efforts--the allies.  First, they doubted they could defeat Germany and Japan.  We don’t think of it that way now because history, we learn it in school that we did defeat them, but there was…our allies suffered defeat, after defeat, after defeat in the early part of WWII and then they doubted that, in fact, over a period of years, that they could be turned into democracies.  But despite the large number of WWII casualties and the series of military setbacks, the allied troops and their military leaders were steadfast and they forged ahead, first to achieve victory and then to transform Germany and Japan into democratic nations that everyone sees today and recognizes today as a follower of the free-world security and prosperity during the Cold War.

 

Fifty years from now, historians similarly will look back on our coalition’s work in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the global war on terror and they will see your service as what made our country and the world more secure.  The great sweep of human history is on your side.  It’s on the side of freedom.  It’s on the side of opportunity.  It’s on the side of the values and the opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan they can now offer their people not just in their countries but also in the region where they are.

 

I was in South Korea several months back and I have on my desk a piece of glass in a little round table and under the glass I have a picture of the Korean peninsula at night taken from satellite and you can see the peninsula and you can see the de-militarized zone and south of that line is electricity, lights all over that country.  And north of that line is blackness, nothing but a pin prick of light in the capital of Pyongyang.   Here are two halves of the same country, one is…same people, same resources.  And, today, South Korea is a thriving, successful economy, a vibrant democracy contributing in the world and North Korea has recently lowered the height to get into the North Korean Military to 4 feet 10 inches because of starvation.  They’ve lowered it to under 100 pounds for young men to get into the military because they don’t have enough people who are over 4 feet 10, or over 100 pounds.  They have concentration camps. They have starvation.  They are involved in counterfeiting and drug trade.  They are the principle proliferators of weapons of mass destruction of the ballistic missile technologies.

 

I was on the top of a building, in Seoul, the capital of Korea, and that hour before, two hours before, I’ve been out at the memorial laying a wreath, I looked up and the names from my state, Illinois, there were people I knew, and this reporter, one reporter, obviously to young to remember the war, looked at me and said--they were just having a vote in their parliament as to whether they should send troops to Iraq—and she said to me, “why in the world should South Korea, Republic of Korea send our boys, young men and young women, half way around the world to get killed and wounded in Iraq?”  I said, “Look out the window.  There is your answer.” 

 

You could just see the whole city booming economically.  Free people--able to do—to get up in the morning do what they want, say what they want and go where they want and work where they want and live as free people, and I said, “we could have said the same thing in Illinois fifty years before.  Why should young people from my school go half way around the globe, put their lives at risk in Korea, which half the people haven’t heard of,” and I think she got it. 

 

So what you have to do is know that what you do is important.  It has great value.  Each generation has had to do it.  And you’re the ones in your generation that are doing it, to your credit and to the great benefit of our country and the world—thank you very much.

 

Now, I’d be happy to respond to some questions, not from the press, not from Congressman Reyes.  I get enough of that in Washington, but from all of you and I will answer the questions I know the answers to.  I’ll respond thoughtfully to the ones I don’t and ask general…you can help me answer them.  Alright, do you have mics or anything here?  There is a couple of people with mics.  If anyone has a question, what you might want to do is get up and go over there or else wave your hand and we’ll pass you one and then if you have a question, raise your hand and I’ll call on you if I see the hand go up.  And if there are any hands behind me, you’re responsible for telling me—fair and good?  Who’s got a  question?  Behind me?  Good for you.  Always scares me a little bit the first question.  You wonder why he is so eager to ask that first question.  What in the world is in his mind?  Yes sir? 

 

Q:            Sir, Private Ellensworth, Bravo Battery 1-56.  Sir, I was wondering how much longer would you estimate the U.S. will be in Iraq and Afghanistan, sir?

 

SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  That is an important question and it is a question that every time in our history someone has tried to answer it—they have failed.  I was listening to some Winston Churchill tapes about four or five months ago and in one of his tapes he said, “do you realize (something like this he said) do you realize that this war could last two or three years,” and of course it lasted well beyond that.

 

I remember when the congress voted to send troops into Bosnia, the speculation was that they’d be out by Christmas some six or eight months from now and of course, we still have troops in Bosnia.  We’re hoping to bring them down by the end of this year but they’ll still be in Kosovo. 

           

Now, I don’t think it will be that long, but I don’t know how long it’ll take.  The situation on the ground has to determine that.  We’ve got a very good start in Iraq, if you think about it.  The schools are open.  The hospitals are open.   Clinics are functioning.  They’ve got a soccer team in the Olympics.  They’ve got a symphony that’s been out and at the same time, we’re getting people shot at and wounded and killed.  So, you have this contradiction.  It varies from various parts of the country.  There is an aggregation of former regime elements, criminals do it for pay, foreign terrorists and a mixture of people involved in this effort against the Iraqi government.

 

General Abizaid and General Casey both believe and are convinced that they have a strategy and a plan that’s in place to train the Iraqi forces, the Iraqi security forces to take over the security responsibilities.  Unlike a country that wants an empire, our country doesn’t.  We want to help a country and then put them on their way, assist them and then leave.  So, our task is to get them on a path that they can maintain the security in their country.

 

We’ve now got about 200,000 people in the Iraqi security forces of which about a hundred, a hundred-five, 110,000 are trained and equipped and functioning as security forces.  We have a plan in place to train and equip roughly another 100,000.  We believe that as they get trained up, they’ll continue to take over more and more of the responsibility in that country and as they do that, there will be less and less a need for the coalition forces and for the U.S. forces.  The plan would be to start first with joint patrols—I like it-- with joint patrols, and then with the Iraqi forces taking responsibilities with the U.S. and coalition forces back available for emergencies. 

 

The situation, for example, right now in Najaf, that’s been very much in the news.  I’ve never seen worse reporting on anything in my life and I’ve lived seventy-two years.  Every paper has got a different version.  Every television station has got a different version and it is amazing, and partly it is because they’re being jerked around by this fellow Sadr.  He is saying one thing one minute and another thing another minute and it’s getting reported as though it’s actually going to happen.  Of course, what’s actually happening is the coalition is working on that city putting pressure on the militia that’s in that city and it’s systematically moving towards those shrines.  They are not in the shrines—coalition forces.  The people that eventually will take over those shrines will either be a leadership group or they will be Iraqis.  They will be positive, not coalition forces.  As that goes forward, there is no question that the Iraqi government recognizes that it is responsible and it cannot have a chunk of it’s country run by militias and terrorist and they intend to do something about it.  The Prime minister, one of the great advantages of having an Iraqi government there, to make those decisions take that responsibility because the ministries and the Prime Minister have been doing a great job.  The short answer to your question is that it’s not knowable when we will leave.  The truth is we will leave.  We will get that country on a path to democracy, and we will leave at a pace when the coalition is able to transfer over the security responsibilities to the Iraqi security forces and we are putting a full court press on to do that as fast a pace as they are institutionally capable of doing and I think we’ve got the right focus on it.

 

            Question?  They put all the smart guys behind me.

 

Q:  Sir, CPT Smith, Joint Task Force-6, in the back sir...way back here.  Way back here sir.  Sir, I’ve recently completed reading the 9-11 commission report, and in that report, it identifies some the challenges our nation faces with interagency communication, information sharing across town and jurisdictions.  The question I have is: what steps are we taking at the national level to continue the mark improvement we seen over the last couple of years?

           

SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I’ve also read that report, as a matter a fact, I’ve spent about an hour talking to the President about it this morning and we’ve got a team of people working to see that we take the necessary steps to strengthen the intelligence community in the United States.

 

One of the problems that you’re all probably aware is this problem with so called problem “Stove Pipes.”  Where for security reasons, we create a compartment and we put information in it and then another compartment over here and we don’t let the people know this and know that.  There is a good reason for it—it’s for security on a need-to-know basis. 

 

The problem is that the information today is moving so fast, a scrap of information that we would call intelligence might simultaneously be important to a person in this compartment and five other compartments.  It might simultaneously be a piece of national intelligence of interest to the President, but at the same time, terrible important from a tactical standpoint, military intelligence standpoint for people on the ground.

 

So, the changes in technology and the pace of events in the 21st century have changed circumstances to the point that we simply do need to make significant adjustments in how we collect, how we analyze, and how we communicate and disburse intelligence information throughout our forces and the various people who make policy judgments in our government.

It is…I think we’ve made some strides since September 11th, significant ones.  We have a new Department of Homeland Security.  We have an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence for the first time.  We have Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security, the FBI...  Of course we’ve never had a domestic intelligence gathering agency in this country.  The FBI was a law enforcement agency, as opposed to an intelligence gathering agency.

 

If your orientation is to arrest somebody and punish them for something they did wrong, that’s a very different orientation than capturing somebody, finding out what intelligence they have, how you can prevent them or the people they are connected to, to engage in another terrorist act.

 

             It’s a totally different culture and our society just never had the domestic intelligence culture, if you will.  That is a big issue that is being addressed now by congress, the congressional committees, the Armed Services and intelligence committees, the government reform committees and they’re going to have to decide how we do that and if we do, in what way do we begin collecting domestic intelligence and how do we do it in a way that is respectful of the freedoms we believe in and the individual rights of privacy in our country. 

 

So, it has to be done in a very wise way and a careful way that’s consistent with our values and it has to be done in a way that is connected to the foreign intelligence collection in which the central intelligence agency and other departments of government are involved in.

 

Today, the difference between foreign and domestic really doesn’t exist.  If you can have a terrorist attack occur from within the United States on September 11th, not from outside, all those people were inside and they were involved in capturing those aircraft and using them as missiles to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. 

 

It is a different set that we have to cope with now and I must say, I’m very pleased with the debate, the discussion, the national dialogue that’s taking place on this important set of questions.  I think the congress is hard at it.  The executive branch is hard at it and I would suspect that we are going to end up with some constructive changes.  We have to be careful about it.  He who would tear down what is, has the responsibility of putting in place something better and you don’t want in a middle of a war tearing up the pea patch.  You want to be thinking it through rather carefully because as it’s been said, the devil is in the details. 

The proposals are interesting.  The debate and discussion so far has been excellent and I think we’re going to find our way clear to making some very sound, sensible changes in discussion and decisions.  Questions?

 

Q:  Private Davis, Alpha Battery 1-56.  There has been a lot of talk about changes in the Air Defense Artillery, and a lot talk about even some of the jobs being phased out completely, so what’s the plan in the near future for the Air Defense Artillery, Sir?

 

SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  You see that man down there—he’s the expert.  I think that what we…let’s face it, you people here are the experts on this and the longer I talk and answer your question, the more you will see that I’m speaking from a pinnacle moderate ignorance.  So, I will give you a relatively short answer.

 

            We tend not today to have our ground forces attacked by fixed-winged aircraft very often.  In fact, I don’t know how many decades it’s been since it’s happened, but it’s been a good period of time.  We do have to recognize the threat from other types of attacks—missiles, mortars and there is a role, a significant role for defense against these evolving threats as we’ve seen. 

 

            We have so many new challenges that it ought not to be surprising that some of the challenges we’ve had in the past have receded in terms of their immediacy, such as a fix-winged aircraft attacks on the ground forces.  Now that doesn’t mean it’s gone for ever, but it does mean at the moment, we can say that’s not happened for a good period of time.

 

            So, what I see is people in these activities have an important, a significant role, along the lines I’ve characterized and we are going to have to constantly be moving people into the kinds of capabilities that will enable us to deal with these evolving asymmetrical threats that are different from the major tank attacks across the north German plain, which we were concerned about with the Soviet Union and in fact represent increased stabilities to do these much…the kinds of things that require much greater agility and flexibility and I would add precision.  What do you think, General, A, B, C,…O.K. good enough.   Question?

 

Q:  Sir, Sir, up in the balcony.  Master Sergeant Terry of the triple six from Phoenix, Arizona.  I’m the new returnee from Iraq and I hear a lot of talk and gossip about reinstating of the draft and if this is anything that is evolving in what capacity will these personnel be brought in such as homeland security, or Iraq or Afghanistan or all of the above?

 

SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  The first time somebody opens their mouth and they’re certain about something it proves they’re wrong, but I am so certain we will not go back to the draft that I will risk it.

 

This country does not need a draft.  What do we have 275 million people and if you add up everyone we are looking for in the active forces, 1.4 million and the guard and reserve and the selective reserve and individual ready reserve and if you add them all up, it’s about 2.5 million.  And all you have to do is alter the incentives and we can attract and retain all the people we need.  We do not need to go to compulsion.  Compulsion was used when we wanted to force people in and then pay them 60% of what the competitive manpower market was and by the way, we didn’t force everyone in.  We said if you’re married, you don’t have to do it.  If you’re a student, you don’t have to do it.  If you’re a teacher, you don’t have to do it.  If you don’t want to, you don’t have to do it.

 

Now, I’ve got a bias.  I was a congressman back in 1962, 4, 6, 8, and I was one of those who entered…it’s hard to believe, isn’t that.  How many were born then?  Not many, few, O.K.  I introduced legislation to create an all-volunteer Army back in the 1960s, why?  Because we owed it to people to pay them and treat them like we would if we had to go out and in market, attract and retain them and that’s what we do.  So there!  Thank you.

 

Q:  Sir, First Lieutenant Albaugh, from 5-52 Air Defense.  Sir, with the extensive borders that we share with Canada, as well as, Mexico and the realignment of troops is there a possibility that soldiers will also be employed to protect the borders that we share?

 

SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  It’s a good question and it’s an important question.   If you think back after 9-11…first of all, this is such an important question…let me take a minute or two on it.  The Department of Defense does not have really a first-line responsibility inside the United States.  We are designed and organized and trained and equipped to deal with threats externally. 

 

The FBI and local police and state and local law enforcement officials have things once they’re inside the United States.  We have a…however, a responsibility that when asked by the President, ordered by the President, to help and serve in a supporting role.  So, after 9-11, we were asked to help with borders.  We were asked to help at airports and we did.  The way we did it was, for example, in the airports, I said to the President, “Sure.  What ever is needed, we’ll do it, and we’ll do it immediately because department of defense is one place where we can actually get talent people quickly to do an important job, and they’re there and they’re capable, highly capable.”  So, we put them in the airports, not because that’s where they belong, that’s a domestic job.  That’s not our job and we did it on the basis that we’d do it for 30, 60, 90, 180 days, whatever it took, an agreed upon amount for the department of transportation and others to recruit and train people to take over those responsibilities and we get out. 

 

            Now, you said it is possible that we would do something on the border—sure, it’s possible.  If the President ordered it on a short period of time but my goal would be to do it on the basis where I have a memorandum of understanding with the cooperating agency that we were supporting, that we would do it for a short period, because that’s not what we’re here for specifically, and that others would take over that responsibility.

 

You know more about this than I do, congressman, you use to be in that business.  In fact, you were the head of it. 

           

But that’s the kind of thing that we can do.  We can be helpful in an emergency for a short period, but I don’t see us assuming, the Department of Defense assuming a continuing long-term responsibility in that regard.  The Department of Homeland Security and other agencies of the states and local governments do have responsibilities in that regard and as they strengthen their capabilities, I’m sure they’ll be able to do a first-rate job. 

 

            I came here to say thank you.  It’s from the heart.  You have no idea how appreciative the American people are to each of you for what you do.  God bless you.


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