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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Time Magazine

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
December 26, 2001

Friday, December 14, 2001

(Interview with Mark Thompson, Time Magazine)

Q: Mr. Secretary.

Rumsfeld: Yes, sir. How are you?

Q: How are you doing, sir?

Rumsfeld: I've got you on speaker and Torie Clarke is here.

Q: That's good to know. How are you, Torie?

Victoria Clarke: Just fine, Mark.

Q: Thank you for setting this up. Sir, I'll make you a deal. You let us spend a day with you and we put you on the cover and we'll use a color picture. How's that?

Rumsfeld: (Laughter) You're very funny.

Q: I guess it was sort of in keeping with your alleged gray personage, but anyway, we appreciate you taking the time to chat with us. We know you're busy so I don't want to take too much of your time. I'm going to ask some questions pretty quickly.

As Torie may have told you, we're doing this year-end package. It's going to focus on the president and his conduct over the war, and we've chatted with him and with Cheney and with Dr. Rice and with several other folks, and so we'd just like to get your insights on some key military decisions that were taken. Whatever you can share with us, we'd appreciate it.

Can you talk at all on that first weekend at Camp David post September 11th when the debate, as we've been told, dealt with hey, we'll use air power and then we'll either use CIA assets by themselves or we will send in Special Forces as well.

Dr. Rice has made a big deal out of this, saying that decision was a key and a critical one. Can you tell us how that came about and what you advocated?

Rumsfeld: I can. I guess I'm not inclined to say what I advocated just because I give my advice to the president. I can characterize one thing about it that I think is important.

When I took this job I had a visit with the president shortly thereafter, and we talked about the situation that a lot of the people in the world had come to conclude that the United States was gun-shy. That we were risk adverse. And that there had been a series of things that had led people to believe that, and that the cumulative effect of it was to weaken the deterrent effect of the U.S. threat, if they do things that are harmful to our country's interest, and that that was unhelpful to have that deterrent effect weakened, and that I wanted him to know and we discussed it and he and I concluded that whenever it occurred down the road that the United States was under some sort of a threat or attack, that the United States would be leaning forward, not back.

Q: When do you think that meeting was, sir? That discussion.

Rumsfeld: It was probably in January.

Q: Prior to his taking office?

Rumsfeld: I don't remember if it was prior to the --

Q: Okay.

Rumsfeld: -- or after. But it was sometime between the period when I agreed to do the job and February. So sometime in that period. But we discussed the situation in the world and he felt very strongly that we did need to be leaning forward, that we needed to not give the impression that the United States was so risk adverse that people could take advantage.

Q: And did you see that sort of attitude in the wake of September 11th?

Rumsfeld: That's why, I come to that now. One of the things that we talked about in the context of September 11th was that it was very important that we did not run around saying things that we would not do. That is to say, to announce publicly that we're going to use air power but not ground forces would in fact advantage the enemy, would enable them to behave in a way that took advantage of our declaratory policy that we were risk adverse with respect to ground forces.

Q: And this, of course, was a lesson from Kosovo?

Rumsfeld: I don't want to draw comparisons.

Q: Okay, I'll draw it.

Rumsfeld: It's a lesson from prior years.

Q: (Laughter) Two years prior, to be precise.

Let me move on to another topic, sir. So when you talk of risk aversion, putting Special Forces on the ground was a signal that we, to that degree anyway, were not going to be risk adverse, and if we thought this was a better way to conduct this campaign this is how we were going to do it regardless of the risk that that might entail.

Rumsfeld: Not only that, but it was just one of the things we were willing to do.

Q: Okay. Now three or four weeks into the campaign we've been told that you were all either at the Situation Room or at Camp David when the public discussion was dealing with the word "quagmire," which you've have some fun with in recent weeks. But apparently in that room at the time there was some concern about a potential quagmire, and the president basically went around and surveyed the crew that was there including General Franks, and from what we are told the president basically said, "We've got a good plan here, Tommy. Do you think we're in any sort of a quagmire? Do you think we should continue sticking with this plan?" And General Franks said, "Yes, I do. I think we're on the right track." Consequently that was good enough for the president, so the plan continued apace.

Can you flesh that out at all in terms of how that sort of teeter-totter point was reached and dealt with in that meeting?

Rumsfeld: Let me go back to the earlier question. I hadn't finished answering it.

Q: Oh, I'm sorry.

Rumsfeld: It was in fact an important decision that the president made. As you suggested Condi suggested. It was a very important decision.

Q: Because of the signal it sent or because of some military utility or both?

Rumsfeld: Both.

Q: What was the key element of military utility?

Rumsfeld: The deterrent effect of putting people that were opposed to us on notice that they would have to consider a whole host of possibilities and that we were not ruling things out.

Now go to your next question. What was it again? You got going so fast that I couldn't keep --

Q: I understand. I'm trying to make our timeframe here.

Rumsfeld: I'd rather get it right.

Q: I appreciate that, and I'll go more slowly.

The issue of the quagmire being discussed inside the council of government when the president --

Rumsfeld: I've got it.

The short answer is that Tommy Franks, the general, the combatant commander, proposed a plan, it was discussed, it was agreed to, it was put in place, and it involved putting pressure on the Taliban and the al Qaeda and recognizing that some of what was going on would be visible, some would not be visible, and that we needed to be patient and that it would take some time, and that the world was expecting an explosion of cruise missiles on television and that they would have to have, that we would have to manage those expectations down. And we did do that.

As people started worrying about the fact that we were on a track where the Soviets had been, or that some people in neighboring countries were characterizing it as being bogged down, and people in the press were characterizing it as a quagmire, the president was very firm and very stiff and said, "Look, we've got a plan, it's a good plan, we've agreed to it, leave it in place," and General Franks encouraged him to do so, and that is exactly what happened.

Q: Moving on to your mission to Uzbekistan. We have been told that at least at one point in time the president met with his war council and basically said to you and others, "Hey, you guys said the Special Forces were going to be in in four days or in five days or some near term, and that was four or five days ago, and they're not in there yet. What's going on?" There was explanation regarding the weather, there was explanation regarding what those forces in Uzbekistan would be used for.

Just taking a step back from that, can you talk a little bit about the importance of your mission to Uzbekistan and how that played a role in what ultimately happened across the northern half of Afghanistan?

Rumsfeld: I'll answer it in a way that may not be directly the way you've asked it.

One of the principles we adopted, I adopted early on, and others have followed, is that we will not discuss or characterize what other countries are doing to help. We leave it to them. The reason being we want them to get the maximum amount of help, and to the extent we start characterizing it in a way that's different than his aides characterize it, it's unhelpful. So I don't characterize what countries are doing or not doing.

The short answer is that one of the critical decisions was to get Special Forces embedded in the opposition group. The minute we did, there is no question but that everything improved. The targeting improved. Our ability to assist the opposition forces in aggressively dealing with the Taliban and al Qaeda forces. The ability to re-supply ammunition and winter clothing and food and medicine and the like. The ability to advise and serve as a liaison function, and for us to know in fact what they were doing. Were they leaning forward or leaning back? And it's all been very helpful.

Now there's no question but that that took time and part of it was that we needed to get them staged in an area near the country. Second, it required having some liaison on the ground prior to their arrival. Third, we had some very bad weather and there were days that things were canceled. Fourth, we had to deal with opposition forces that from time to time were not sure they wanted our Special Forces not in with them, but in with some of the people that they had less than perfect relationships with.

Q: Understood.

Rumsfeld: The result being that it took a lot of effort and a lot of pushing, but in fact it made a big difference.

Q: You've been defense secretary before. General Powell has a lot of experience in these spheres. How would you rate the president as a student, as someone who basically had been a governor, he'd been a pilot in the Air National Guard, but for you as someone who's seasoned in these affairs, how would you rate him in terms of being aware and learning about this complicated new world?

Rumsfeld: I guess what I would say is that from the day I met him in the year 2000, months and months and months before the election, he was interested, probing, challenging positions, asking questions, and has consistently demonstrated an enormous interest in the subject. And as a result of that interest and that confidence and enormous knowledge of the subject, the team he works with -- the vice president, the secretary of state, the national security advisor -- and, we have a very good relationship and the reason is he is a superb leader. He is a person who has excellent instincts. He's intensely interested. He's decisive. And he's got courage.

Q: Have you ever had to give him one of your Rumsfeld rules of giving him advice with the bark off?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I'm too shy --

(Laughter)

Clarke: We're going to have to wrap this up.

Q: Okay, just a couple more questions. We appreciate it.

What can you say about what the president has done, if anything? Did he just sort of sketch out the broad things, or has he made some narrow military decisions? Or has he left that pretty much in your bailiwick?

Rumsfeld: It's interesting. The most important thing that he decided has not been discussed and that was that our country had been attacked, thousands of people had been killed, and he made a decision in a very short period of time that that was unacceptable for people to attack the United States and kill Americans and that he fully intended to do something about it, and to do something immediately. He put in place a broad plan that needed to be economic and financial and political and diplomatic as well as overt and covert military action. He has put the pressure on this worldwide. Afghanistan is only a piece of it.

Part of what's going on in Afghanistan is a result of the pressure that's been applied across the globe. And he has -- that was the big decision.

Now does he get involved in a whole host of things? You bet he does. He's interested. We have discussions. We have General Franks come up and brief him every couple of weeks. We have National Security Council meetings almost daily. We talk about a full range of things. But he is a person who makes judgments on people. He puts them in place. He's confident in General Franks, and then stays interested and involved in what's taking place.

Q: Did you have any view on the use, the utility of the proxy forces?

Rumsfeld: Did I have --

Q: Who was the father of that idea I guess is the way I'm asking the question.

Rumsfeld: Oh, goodness gracious. You know, you start trying to untangle things like that and say who thought of that and who thought of this. I'm not really into that. I think that the president decided it ultimately and the team decided that what we would do is we would, to the extent possible, we would use the opposition forces on the ground who recognized that the Taliban had invited the al Qaeda in and that they had done great damage to the country and we would try to create a set of disincentives for them to be nice to the Taliban and the al Qaeda and incentives for them to attack them and help us do that and we set about fashioning that.

Q: Right.

Clarke: Thank you, Mark.

Q: Thank you, sir. Have a great trip, the both of you.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

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