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Secretary Rumsfeld – Anderson AFB Town Hall Meeting

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
November 14, 2003
Rumsfeld:  Thank you very much.  General Larson and Admiral Dunn and Colonel Mugg, members of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, the Coast Guard.  I guess there are no Japanese Defense Forces here today, but civilians and contractors.  It's awfully nice to see all of you and to be able to get out of Washington, D.C. and have a chance to look you in the eye and tell you how much we appreciate what you do.

 

            It is a very special thing you do.  Each one of you is a volunteer.  Each one of you put up your hand and said that you wanted to serve and participate and help defend freedom.  Your country is grateful. The American people recognize what you're doing and value it.

 

            The tasks that you have are difficult ones.  Often you're away from home for long periods of time.  I was glad to see these computers out here that give folks some access to the Internet and to e-mail which is a good thing.  And gives you a chance to -- Look who's hanging around outside here!  [Laughter]

 

            The importance of this region really can't be overstated.  This part of the world has I suppose 50 percent of the earth's surface, but nearly 60 percent of the world's population. It’s probably got six of the largest militaries on the face of the earth.  It is an area that is growing, that is, the countries are emerging into the world in ways that are hopefully going to be constructive as opposed to destructive.  This island is an important one and certainly what you do here is important.

 

            There was a time when, if you think about it, the men and women in the armed forces were organized, trained and equipped really to fight large armies, navies and air forces.  And that still is a task that we have to train for and think about and the capabilities of deterring and defending against.  But the greatest threat we face today really is a quite different one. 

           

            As you know the threat of terrorism and the nexus between terrorist networks around the world and very very increasingly powerful weapons -- weapons that can kill tens of thousands of people.

 

            If you think about it, free people are people who can do what they want and say what they want and go where they wish, and someday [inaudible] they're going to come home.  And terror has as its purpose to terrorize.  It is to really strike at the heart of what free people are about.  It is really a choice between freedom or fear. And free people cannot live in fear.

 

            We've certainly experienced the enormous damage of terrorism on September 11th.  We have witnessed that result of course then in New York and Washington, D.C. at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.  We've also of course seen terrorism more recently in Bali, in Mombasa, in Riyadh, in Jakarta and other cities around the world.  So it's not something that's unique to America, it's not something that's restricted to the United States.  It is a problem in the world that some people wish for a calmer time and they'd like to be able to just hope it will go away. Hope that it won't happen and hunker down and hide or pretend that if we don't notice it or don't worry about it it won't happen.

 

            I'm afraid that's not a choice we have.  The terrorists can attack at any time using any technique in any location.  And it's not possible to defend everywhere at every moment of the day or night against every conceivable type of technique of terrorist attack. That's just not doable.

 

            I remember when I was Middle East Envoy for President Reagan back in the early 1980s and 241 Marines were killed at the barracks in Beirut. There was a car that came in and hit the [barracks] and blew it up and killed all these fine young men and women.

 

            The next thing you see, everyone put these barricades around the buildings.  Logical.  Then of course the next step is to fire rocket-propelled grenades over the barricades.  So then you'd go down to the [inaudible] or the big street around the water in Beirut, and pretty soon they started draping the buildings with wire mesh to try to repel these rocket-propelled grenades.  Of course the next step the terrorists would do is they'd stuff it in [inaudible], going to and from [inaudible].

 

            So everyone goes to school on everyone else. The thought, the comforting thought that you can just kind of defend against it and hide and it won't happen is unfortunately in valid.  Which is why your country, our country, is doing what we're doing.  We're taking the battle to the terrorists, to the terrorist networks, to the countries that harbor and provide haven for terrorists.

 

            It is a unique time in our country's history, and we are engaged in a very real sense in a battle between freedom and fear.  Each of you play an important part in this and we recognize that and we value it and we appreciate it.

 

            The task is a different one than many of your predecessors faced. We're going to be heading for Japan and Korea soon, and think about the Korean War and how different it was to the global war on terror that we face today.  Deadly, to be sure, just as this global war on terror has been, but different.

 

            The folks in Iraq are doing a truly outstanding job.  We are proud of what they're doing.  They understand the mission and they are doing it exceedingly well.  It's a tough, dangerous business, however, and there is no question but that we have a way to go to find success in transferring, and I would describe success in Iraq as transferring responsibility for that government to the Iraqi people and transferring the responsibility for the security of that country to the Iraqi people.  That's the process we're in.

 

            To get from where we are, a country that has lived under a truly vicious dictatorship for decades, where mass graves of tens of thousands of people dot the countryside, and there was torture and beheadings and all kinds of inhumanity against the Iraqi people took place.  And the people are starved in a very real sense by an economic system that denied them; by a political system that repressed them; and it will take some time for them to be able to assume the responsibilities of governing themselves, and we're trying to do it as fast as seemingly possible.

 

            I want to answer some questions or at least respond to some questions.  If you ask me difficult questions I might not be able to answer them, but I'll respond. [Laughter]

 

            But I do thank each of you for all you do to ensure our freedom of the country.  I thank you also for your families who also serve and sacrifice.  And I certainly wish all of you full success in everything you do.

 

            With that I'll stop and answer some questions and then I want to have some time at the end so I can shake some hands and personally thank you.

 

            You don't need a microphone in a room this small.  You have them anyway?  Who has a question?

 

            Yes, sir.  I always worry about the first one.  [Laughter]  [Inaudible] has got something in his mind, and I wonder what it is.  [Laughter]

 

            Q:  Mr. Secretary, I'm [inaudible].  I was wondering, two questions actually, sorry about that.

 

            Rumsfeld:  You should be in the Washington press corps!  [Laughter]  You can have two questions and then a follow-up, I think.  There are some of the Washington press corps standing back there, way in the back.  You can get a good look at them.  See them?  Holding up their microphones or dictaphones or whatever they are.

 

            All right, let's hear them.

 

            Q:  I wonder, are there plans to bring a naval air station back to this island since the island seems to be growing more [inaudible].  And also for the troops who are here, the plane tickets are a bit expensive, like $2,000 to go home.

 

            Rumsfeld:  [inaudible]

 

            Q:  I'm wondering, is there plans, because usually there's extra military discounts, but $2,000 [inaudible].  I don't understand [inaudible].  [Laughter]  I was wondering if you had plans to get an airport eventually and have a partnership with them so flights can get a little bit cheaper for the military.

 

            Rumsfeld:  I knew it would be a tough one.  [Laughter] 

 

            To the first question, there are a lot of plans floating around about the way the United States of America is arranged in the world.  We pretty much have a footprint, so to speak, that is where we were at the end of the Cold War.  There have been some changes but in large measure we have a base structure and an organizational arrangement that dates a little bit back into the last century and to a set of problems that really have changed and evolved.

 

            So what the President has asked us to do and what we've been doing for the better part of the last three years is to take a comprehensive look at the world and ask ourselves what are the kinds of challenges and capabilities we're facing, and how might we be best arranged in the world to deal with those problems?  And as you do that you look at, for example, a large force structure in Europe that was in pretty much a static defense to defend against the Soviet Union which doesn't exist today.  And the static defenses elsewhere in the world where the problem we face require not so much a static defense but a dynamic capability of being able to move with some agility in hours and days rather than weeks and months and years.

 

            As a result we have gone through each of the areas of responsibility around the world.  We've asked the combatant commanders to look at their circumstance and think a bit about the future rather than the past, and come in with recommendations.  We then took those recommendations and considered them across the seams of the different combatant commands.  We're now just in the process of starting to -- We came up with some preliminary thoughts as to how we might be better arranged with bases and access and the like, and distributions of people, and things, ships, guns, tanks, planes and the like.  And we're now in the process of talking to our allies about it.  We began the process really with some discussions with our European allies when many of the Ministers of Defense were over here.  And clearly Guam is a part of that footprint and it's a valuable part of that footprint.  It is well forward, which is attractive.  It obviously has a number of characteristics, and it's the kind of place that in the calculations that people make we'll be thinking about what we might do here.

 

            We're not at a stage where we're ready to announce anything, so notwithstanding your penetrating questions, I will put it off.  But I'm confident that over the period, I would expect that we're going to be talking to our friends and allies and the Congress about these things, and we very likely ought to be able to make some announcements during the latter portion of this year, the early part of next year, and then very likely the roll-out of the changes that we might make would take, I’m going to guess two, four, six, eight years in some instances to get readjusted.

 

            I don't do airline tickets.  [Laughter]  I can't believe they raised the rates for a nice guy like you, though.  But you're a long way from home.  I don't know what it costs to operate an airline to bring people back and forth, but it clearly has to be expensive.  I wish it were otherwise.

 

            My guess is there are lots of ways to get the lowest rates off the internet, but I'm not sure they apply out here.  I know a lot of people are shopping in the United States.

 

            What else?  Who's got questions?

 

            Q:  Sir, I'm Master Sergeant Palosima, United States Air Force.  How credible is the North Korean threat and how vital is Guam for defending the peninsula?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Guam is clearly an important element in United States national security.  We know that, you know that.   You saw how important it was, those of you that were here, during Operation Enduring Freedom, activity in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It is a valuable location and certainly important.

 

            What was the first part of the question?

 

            Q:  The North Korean threat, sir.  How credible is it?

 

            Rumsfeld:  How do you describe it?  It's got a big army, military, large, over a million.  Has a lot of special forces.  It has  ballistic missiles -- short, medium and long range.  It has weapon of mass destruction programs and capabilities.  They have recently made a number of statements as to what their capabilities are, some of which we can validate and some of which we can't.  It's a closed society.  That's on the one hand.

 

            On the other hand it is a country that many of the people starve, a great many of the people are trying to flee that country and get out of it.  The number of refugees, people who try to get out and have difficulty is growing every year.  They have large concentration camps where they imprison large numbers of people.

 

            If you look at a satellite photograph of the Korean peninsula at night you look and see the demilitarized zone.  South of it it's filled with lights and energy and things happening.  North of it, there's not a single light except for a pin-prick in Pyongyang, the capital city.  It is a country that I'm told recently lowered the height that they will allow people to come in the military down to 4'10" because they could not get enough people of normal stature because of the starvation that takes place in that country, and the weight limits were reduced down to the point where people who are accepted in the military look not like they are 17 or 18, they look like they're 14 or 15 in size. 

 

            So it's a tragedy, is what it is.  It's just a terrible thing to think that here's that peninsula, same people, same size, same resources, and south of the DMZ with a free economic system and a free political system, a vibrant democracy, and a country with an enormous gross domestic product that is contributing to the world; and north of it is a tragedy where people are repressed and denied and live in fear.

 

            Is it a threat?  You bet?  Is it a danger? Yes.  It's not a democracy.  The saying is, democracies tend not to declare war on other democracies, and it's a country that has leadership that from time to time makes threatening statements to others.  And it's unfortunate.

 

            The President in my view is doing the right thing.  He has undertaken a diplomatic course --

 

            (NEW TAPE)

 

-- North Korea and with Japan, with the Peoples Republic of China and with Russia, their neighbors in that part of the world to try to work with the North Koreans and have them conduct themselves in a civilized way.  Time will tell how successful that will be, but certainly that's the hope, that's the President's hope, that's my hope, and that's the path we're on.  In my view it's the right one.

 

            Q:  Hello, Mr. Secretary, [inaudible] Petty Officer 2nd  Class Jessica Cowden, U.S. Navy.

 

            Recently we're hearing on the news about the President's decision to make the pull-out of Iraq sooner than originally anticipated.  I just was curious as to how you think that will affect some of the infrastructure -- water and power plants and schools and things like that.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Right.  I know you read that and the stories that suggested that are inaccurate.  There is no decision to pull out early.  Indeed, quite the contrary, the President's made the statement that we'll stay there as long as is necessary to see that that country is put on a path towards the key things that he outlined.

 

            Number one, that it remain a whole country, that it not be a threat to its neighbors, that it not have powerful weapons, and that it have a system of government that is respectful of the various religious and elements in the country.

 

            What was announced was that the Governing Council in Iraq has indicated they would like to see a turnover of some elements of sovereignty earlier than they had previously indicated.  At one point the program had been to not have a turnover of sovereignty until there had been elections, a constitution ratified, and then elections under the new constitution.  It now looks like the experts say to do that would take a very long period of time, a couple of years.  And the Governing Council has come up with some ideas which they communicated to Ambassador Bremer and which he then communicated to the President and to the National Security Council earlier this week.  He now has gone back to work with the Governing Council to see if there's a way we can find some transfer of responsibility at a pace that's earlier than that.  It does not mean that we would physically leave the country any sooner.  What it means is that the Iraqis would begin to take on a greater portion of responsibility for governing themselves sooner than the original thought was with respect to first a constitution, then national elections because of the time involved.

 

            There are several things that have happened.  One is there is a UN resolution that is looking for a time table by December 15th.  Several other things have happened.  There has not been the intercommunal conflict that could have occurred among the Shia and the Sunis and the Kurds.  It has been relatively peaceful from that standpoint.

 

            Another thing that's happened is that the Iraqi security forces have been developed at a much faster rate than we had originally thought possible.  We've gone from zero about sometime around June 1st, Iraqi security forces, up to something like 131,000 today which is more forces than we have there.  We have about 123,000 I think there right now; and the coalition has probably another 25,000.  So the Iraqi security forces are now the largest element of providing security in the country, and as a result, the discussions now will take place and we'll see what the Governing Council of Iraq comes up with by way of ideas as to what might happen.

 

            But the presence of coalition forces would I am sure continue and the responsibility we feel as a country to contribute to the reconstruction of the country would continue, and as a matter of fact we've been able to get some excellent contributions, donations, from other countries at a recent donors conference which is an encouraging thing.

 

            Q:  Good afternoon, sir.  My name is [inaudible] Collins.  I work at the Naval hospital.  I have a two-part question [inaudible].

 

            How do you feel about the media putting out mostly negative things [inaudible] the U.S. military is doing in Iraq?  And how do you feel about the news media putting out so much information to the world on our whereabouts and our mission that we're going through with?

 

            Rumsfeld:  First, with respect to Iraq, there is not -- General Abizaid who is the combatant commander had a press briefing that I read this morning over breakfast. He was in Tampa [inaudible], I believe, and it was excellent.  He pointed out that there may be a few thousand people who are fighting the coalition aggressively in that country of 23 million people.  I think he said 5,000, but let's say he's wrong.  Maybe it's 10,000 or some number like that.  It's a very small fraction of the population.  And it is the remnants of the regime that wants to take over control of that country again.  And some foreign Jihaddists are coming in because they want to kill innocent men, women and children.  It is not, in his words, it is not a major military threat to our forces.  Our forces can manage that problem.  It is a terrorist threat and it is a low intensity conflict and people are getting killed, let there be no doubt about it, and wounded, including a lot of Iraqis.  Not just Iraqi security forces, but Iraqi civilians who are around.  So it's a problem.

 

            Their goal is not to win militarily.  The goal of these Ba'athists, the remnants.  Their goal is to have the United States leave and they take the country back over.

 

            Now if they can't win militarily, which they certainly cannot, the only way they can win is if there is a lack of will, a lack of willingness to do the job.

 

            There are several media networks in that part of the world that are beaming into Iraq things that are just simply terribly distorted.  Al Jazeera and Al Albiyah, two Arabic networks out there, are putting so much information out that is not correct, and is so biased and so harmful that the Iraqi people and the people in the region are just bombarded with information that isn't so.  And it is terribly imbalanced.  That is a very tough problem for us and it is a real problem because it contributes to the problem of to what extent are the Iraqi people going to have the courage and the willingness to be supportive of what we're trying to do?  How long will they be fearful that we'll leave, and therefore the Ba'athists would come back in, and therefore they would not want to have been associated with the coalition? 

 

            If you watch the targets, the targets are targets of success.  The terrorists, for example, if there's a police academy graduating a class they attack the graduation class. If there's a woman serving on the Governing Council, they kill her.   They make threats to the local mayors and city councils that have stepped forward, that are beginning.  They caution people in the security forces not to be supportive of the coalition.  That is a very small number of people.

 

            So what we have to do is to see that that changes over time.  So when you ask how do I feel about some of the media problem, it is a serious problem in that part of the world and it's something that we have to find as a country better ways to deal with.

 

            What was the second part?

 

            Q:  [inaudible]

 

            Rumsfeld:  Yeah.  It's a problem that a free country always has.  We've had a major experiment with the media of embedding them with our forces in Iraq and it worked wonderfully.  They agreed to certain rules, they lived up to those rules -- overwhelmingly they did.  They sent back home slices of what was happening, a picture of what was happening that was true, was accurate.  They were there, they saw it, they recorded it, they represented it in the media and in television and in print.   And I think it actually gave the American people looking at the war an insight into what kind of people the men and women in uniform are, and they're wonderful people.  And they did a wonderful job.

 

            It's the people who were not embedded, who often sit in one place and comment and don't have that kind of an insight that tend to talk about what they see and what they see is in a specific location and it's not as representative as the people who were embedded, their viewpoints and their perspective, so it was a different thing.

 

            The risk of revealing information that puts people's lives at risk is always there. It is a problem that a free country decides to live with, and we do.  What we do is we do our best to keep information that could put people's lives at risk, we do our best to keep it private. In many cases we're successful, in some cases we're not.  And it is a burden that goes with the benefit we have of being free people and it's well worth it.

 

            Q:  Sir, Lieutenant First Class [inaudible] Kronkowski.  I'm just wondering what your --

 

            Rumsfeld:  Are you from Chicago?

 

            Q:  No, sir.  New York.

 

            Rumsfeld:  With that name?  Darn.  [Laughter]

 

            Q:  My question is what is your sense on the proposed [inaudible] tanker release and the deployment throughout the theater?

 

            Rumsfeld:  I think we have a solution, and I think it's actually passed the Congress at this stage. It was hotly debated. There was no doubt in my mind but that we needed additional tankers.  They are expensive.  They are cheaper if you buy in quantity.  The expense of purchasing all of them is sufficiently great that there was an effort to try to avoid that by the Congress and therefore they put a provision in law whereby some could be leased.  Then there was a big tug of war between the Air Force and the Congress, and within the Congress, as to how many should be leased and how many should be purchased.  They came to a solution.  As I recall it was something like I think they're going to lease 20 and purchase 80 over a period of X number of years.  There is going to be, nonetheless, a big bulge, like a snake swallowing a pig in terms of cost. It's going to hit us I think in '05 or '06 or '07, in that range.  '07-'08.  I think it's probably a good compromise.  When we get the people who were as hot against the thing together under a compromise like that I suspect that it probably is a pretty good one.

 

            I'm mostly just relieved that it's over.

 

            Q:  Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary.  I'm Scott West.  I'm with [inaudible] out of Gulfport, Mississippi deployed here to Guam.

 

            Is there any current plan for Congress to get extended deployment pay or deployment pay at all for like the SEABEES?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Not that I know of.  You didn't mean like the SEABEES, you meant [inaudible] the SEABEES, didn't you?  [Laughter]

 

            Q:  It's been a pay issue for years I've heard.  I just got here a couple of months ago myself.

 

            Rumsfeld:  I have not heard anything about that.

 

            Q:  There was an article in the Navy Times that was talking about extended deployment pay, maybe like over six months, over 181 days that was being passed through Congress.

 

            Rumsfeld:  No one here seems to be aware of it, and I'm not either.

 

            Q:  Yes, sir.  Petty Officer [inaudible] Hamill from [inaudible].

 

            As the situation in the Philippines continues to isolate [inaudible], are there plans to go in there and neutralize the threat?  And in the States, I'm with security and we just got through a weapons of mass destruction drill.  [inaudible] there is going to be chaos.  Are there plans to train the civilians in how to respond to that if it goes down?

 

            Rumsfeld:  First with respect to the second part of the question with regard to training civilians, the answer is yes.  The Department of Homeland Security and others have developed programs where each state is developing some competence in dealing with these kinds of problems.

 

            As you point out, a serious biological attack would be an amazing thing.  There was an exercise, a scenario I think that was developed by Johns Hopkins on I think it was smallpox in four or five major airports in the United States and how it would spread and what would happen and the devastating effect in terms of loss of life.  It could go up to several hundred thousand, more than that in a relatively short period of time.

 

            What would happen is that the first responders at the state and local level would begin the process of dealing with something like that and within five seconds a phone call would be at the Pentagon.  The Department of Defense, of course, is the only place that has the numbers of people and the competence and the discipline that could step in and work with a state or local government to try to deal with that kind of a mass problem and that very likely would be what would happen.

 

            It is not a prospect that anyone would look forward to.  It is a terrible thought and a serious danger.

 

            On the Philippines, there are terrorist groups operating there, of course.  The Abu Sayyaf.  And the United States military has been in there helping to train a Philippine army and others, and working with them on various types of activities to improve their capabilities.  They've also been assisting with various types of construction activities to assist the Philippine government with trying to pacify difficult portions of the country and find improvements in roads and wells and that type of thing as part of their involvement with the training of the Philippine army.  That has been and very likely would be the extent of our involvement.  One would hope that as we continue to work through those problems that they'll have success in dealing with that. There's more than one terrorist network in that country, but the Abu Sayyaf is the most active.

 

            Q:  Hello, Mr. Secretary.  Collette Bohannon from the U.S. Navy.

 

            I'd like to know if there's a projected date of when there will be the first female put on U.S. submarines.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Who else had a question?  [Laughter]

 

            That's a question I'd have to ask the United States Navy, and I just simply do not know.  Do you know?   You don't think there is a projected date?  Or do you think there is one?

 

            Q:  [inaudible]

 

            Rumsfeld:  You think there is.  Aha, I just don't know.  Does anyone here know?

 

            Here's an admiral and he doesn't know and you're a submariner.  Look at you.  How could I know?  [Laughter]

 

            All right.  Thank you.  I wish you all well. I want to shake a few hands and I really do appreciate your service, the service to your country.  Thank you.

 

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