Le Sumier: It’s going to be a mix of questions – political questions and more personal questions because we’re doing this story because we thought that, I mean the French people don’t really know you and we want to introduce you to – They only have this very vague picture of you and we want some new things.
When you were first appointed as Secretary of Defense in 1975 you were the youngest ever in history. Today at 70 you are the oldest. What are the main changes? You’re in the same office. What are the main changes you’ve noticed from that first experience?
Rumsfeld: There are similarities and dissimilarities. One of the things that’s the same is that we have an all-volunteer force, that they are wonderful young men and women, and they are well trained, they’re intelligent. The fact that they have self-selected, if you will, by stepping forward is a wonderful thing and we’re fortunate to have them.
Needless to say the budgets have gotten larger. The century has changed. The Soviet Union is gone. The Cold War is over. And the challenges that we face have evolved. The 21st Century security environment is different, and as such the challenges in that new security environment are different. And as a result an institution like this, the institution, our allies and friends and alliances all have to adjust and evolve as well. And that’s not easy. Change is not easy for people.
We’ve spent an enormous amount of time here, and effort, trying to make adjustments in how this department is run so that we can do things more rapidly, so that our forces are more agile and lighter and have greater flexibility.
Le Sumier: Especially to face the new threats and to adapt to --
Rumsfeld: Indeed. Another thing that’s changed is the role of the Congress. Over the two or three decades, I guess three decades almost now since I was involved last time, the Congress has become more involved in the management of the department, if you will. So we’ve been working with the Congress to get some adjustments in that as well and have just had a very good thing happen. We were able to get some legislation through the Congress that gives the managers here in the department considerably greater flexibility in how they manage the affairs of the department. My hope, needless to say, is that with that flexibility we can do it in a more efficient and more effective way and therefore have a healthier deterrent and defense capability at a more efficient price.
Le Sumier: You stood as one of the biggest [partisans] of the American intervention in Iraq. Eight months after the start of the war the American Army is facing an enormous challenge there, in this country. What went wrong, and do you admit you made a mistake in underestimating the post war?
Rumsfeld: First of all, the decision to go into this conflict was a decision that was made by the country through the Congress. It wasn’t by one individual or one cabinet member, and I don’t know that your characterization of my role is necessarily quite right. I fully support the decision and the Congress fully supports the decision. I think that when one looks back in history and thinks that there are 23 million people who have been liberated from a dictator that used every conceivable repressive technique or device to repress his people, that most people with the benefit of some time will agree that it was a good thing.
It was done I should say with a minimum loss of life, with as much precision as any conflict’s ever been conducted probably, with great care to avoid the death of innocent men, women and children – Iraqis, with a great deal of effort to have the Iraqis surrender, their security forces surrender rather than go down fighting. The outcome, as a result, it was relatively short in time and there were a great many things that we planned for that worked out exceedingly well.
There was no humanitarian crisis. We had good plans. We planned for that, we prepared for it. There were not a lot of starving people. We planned for the problem of refugees and internally displaced people which happened during the Gulf War. That did not happen. There were minimal numbers of refugees and displaced persons.
We planned for the ability to see that the oil wells were not put to flame as they were in Kuwait. Some were in this case, but relatively few. Our plans called for people to put those fires out in a very [inaudible] way. We’ve had a series of techniques and procedures that were used to avoid having infrastructure destroyed, bridges blown up. We found explosives on some bridges but we fortunately had people there in advance of our forces, Special Operations Forces, that were able to keep the infrastructure basically intact.
The things that were planned for worked out exceedingly well like that.
Now there were other things that were planned for as well, and where we are today could not have been achieved absent extensive planning and care. We have in a relatively short period of six months a central bank, a new Iraqi currency, the schools are open, hospitals and clinics are open. There’s a Governing Council. The Governing Council has appointed Ministers. The Ministers are functioning. The essential services are for the most part at or better than prior to the conflict. The things you say do you admit something wasn’t planned for, no one ever has a plan that’s perfect. You have to plan for things that you can see and plan for things you might anticipate and we worked to do that.
What we’re seeing is that the infrastructure was much, had been starved of investment funds by Saddam Hussein to a greater extent than was anticipated. And for example the electric grid was more fragile than people had anticipated. Therefore it was more difficult to put back in place.
The intelligence anticipated there would be resistance by the Fedayeen Saddam and there has been, by the remnants of the former regime leadership. That’s going on. Needless to say it’s caused some deaths and some injuries to people that are certainly one feels terrible about and wishes weren’t happening.
There are Iraqi people being killed also. But if you think about it, the big problem the last time was ethnic cleansing and religious strife. That’s not occurred. We’ve not seen that. We had anticipated it. We’d planned to figure out ways we could deal with it. And while we are seeing Iraqis killed today, they’re being killed by Iraqis. They’re being killed by the Fedayeen Saddam. They did that during the war as well, the Fedayeen Saddam. Instead of letting people surrender, were shooting them in the back as they tried to come out to cross the bridges, for example, down south.
But certainly everything hasn’t been anticipated perfectly, but on the other hand most of the things were anticipated and have been dealt with. We’re proceeding at a pace, the coalition is, with 34 countries now involved – a very large coalition --
Le Sumier: We’ll come to that a little later. But you declared victory on May 1st President Bush did. What --
Rumsfeld: What he said was not victory. He said that, on May 1st he said that major combat operations had been concluded. He was correct. Other people characterized that as claiming victory. We said all along that it would take time.
Le Sumier: What would be the criteria for victory? According to you.
Rumsfeld: For me victory is having, and I think for the Coalition it’s safe to say, the goal is to have a single country, not break it up in pieces, that’s at peace with its neighbors, that has a system of government that is representative and not abusive or intolerant of its religious or ethnic minorities, and that is in charge of its own affairs – both governance of the country and the security of the country. That is the goal. That is clearly what the purpose is. There’s no one in the coalition who has an expectations or desires to do anything other than that.
Le Sumier: Are you still sure that Saddam Hussein had or has weapons of mass destruction?
Rumsfeld: Certainly in the United Nations there was no country arguing that they didn’t. Everyone agreed broadly that they did. The prior Administration here, other nations with intelligence services. Our intelligence argued that they had chemical and biological weapons. They did not have nuclear weapons, to our knowledge. They had programs, a reconstituted program was what our intelligence indicated. It was broadly agreed by the countries that have intelligence capabilities of that type.
The declaration that was made was generally and broadly agreed to be fraudulent by the Iraqis.
What we’ve seen since is that a country the size of California with a pattern of denying and deceiving, with a pattern of burying things – they buried 12 jet airplanes, if you can believe that. In that situation we have not found hard evidence of these programs yet. We have an interim report from the Iraqi Survey Group by Dr. David Kay, a former U.N. inspector, that has evidence of active denial and deception and we’re waiting now for a final report.
The reality is that I believed the intelligence before the war, I believe it today, and well all know more over some period of time. But we’re not likely to just go discover things or find them. You’re more likely to find somebody who will tell you about them through an interrogation of some kind.
There is resistance on the part of the key people who were in positions of responsibility, and maybe even partly because Saddam Hussein is still alive, it might give people pause to be forthcoming.
Le Sumier: Saddam Hussein being alive and two years after 9/11 and seven months after the fall of Baghdad, bin Laden and Saddam Hussein remain at large. How come these two guys can defeat, still, by their presence, by sending tapes, messages and stuff. Do you take it like a failure personally to have these two people at large?
Rumsfeld: I think the way to think about it is that if you look at the major nations of the world and they have their most wanted lists of criminals?
Le Sumier: Yes.
Rumsfeld: People are on those lists for five, ten, fifteen years.
Le Sumier: But those two, just everybody is after them.
Rumsfeld: Take Saddam Hussein. He stole, we know, I don’t know how much he stole before the war, but towards the end of the war I’m told he stole something in the neighborhood of a billion dollars out of the central bank. We found maybe a quarter to a third of that, some of it with the sons when they were killed.
If you look at the top 55 Saddam Hussein supporters and leaders, I think we currently have captured or killed 42 of the top 55. That’s pretty good. There are the remainder, 13 if that’s the number. But the United States, the Department of Defense was never organized, trained and equipped to find specific individuals. It was organized, trained and equipped to deal with big armies, navies and air forces. What suddenly has happened as we’ve gone into the 21st Century and the new security environment, all of the elements of the governments, not just ours, but all the 90 nations that are in the coalition on the global war on terror have a task of through intelligence sharing, through closing down bank accounts, by sharing law enforcement techniques and procedures to cooperate, to try to do this, to perform this new challenge. And it is a new challenge and it’s a difficult one in many respects. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.
When you have a person who’s got a billion dollars and has hundreds of supporters that benefited from his dictatorial rule, it’s not surprising that he’s able to find assistance and a haven some place.
Now is he effectively doing much? No. He’s probably spending most of his time trying to hide and not get caught. But it’s the nature of our world.
Le Sumier: In 1983 you met Saddam Hussein when you went to Baghdad. What do you remember of this man? What did you say to him at that time?
Rumsfeld: Iraq was in the Iran War, and we had a problem with Syria and Lebanon in the Middle East – 241 Marines had been killed by terrorists that had operated out of Lebanon with the assistance of Syria. We were talking to Saddam Hussein about… and a great many Gulf states were concerned that Iran would prevail into that conflict and spill over into the region. We were talking to the Iraqi government about that and about what might be done to be of help with respect to the problems we had with Syria and Lebanon. That’s basically what it was about.
Le Sumier: Do you remember him like somebody cold or somebody --
Rumsfeld: I’m not one who jumps to conclusions on first impressions. Clearly – I knew a great deal about him before I met him. So you know he’s a dictator, you know he was brutal. You know he had been engaged in a brutal conflict with his neighbor, Iran. So you go in knowing those things.
Le Sumier: What did you guys say to each other?
Rumsfeld: I delivered the messages on behalf of our government is what I did. And met with Tariq Aziz as well for many hours.
Le Sumier: To go back --
Rumsfeld: One other thing that’s the same, you asked me your first question. Our alliances, if one things about it. I’ve just been in Korea and Japan, for example, and I’m getting ready to go over to NATO for meetings, our annual ministerial meetings in December. Those alliances were there then, 25-30 years ago, and they are if anything as strong or stronger than they were 25 years ago. The relationship with Japan is a very healthy alliance, the relationship with the Republic of Korea.
I was asked by a Korean journalist, a woman, a big issue was being discussed at the time in Korea about the number of troops they would send to Iraq. Both countries of course have troops in Iraq. And the Republic of Korea had indicated they were going to send some additional forces. She said in effect, I don’t want to pretend I’m quoting her exactly because I like to be quoted exactly and I don’t have the transcript. But she said something like explain why Koreans should go all the way around the world to Iraq and put themselves at risk. I said to her, it’s a fair question and it’s probably the same question an American journalist could have asked somebody, why should Americans 50 years ago go all the way to Korea and put their lives at risk?
The answer is just look out the window. Korea today after 50 years is a vibrant, healthy, free enterprise, free political system and the people there are living in prosperity, they’re living in – And here’s the peninsula. The Korean peninsula taken from a satellite at night. There is the demilitarized zone. That’s freedom – that’s repression. The only light is in Pyongyang, a pinprick. And south of the DMZ is just brilliant with light at night from the satellite.
Was that worth it? You bet.
Le Sumier: On the level of electricity, actually, it was --
Rumsfeld: That symbolizes a lot more than electricity.
Le Sumier: I know that.
Rumsfeld: But the reality is that in 25 year or less, for sure, someone will look at Iraq and say the same thing. If we are able to free 23 million people, liberate them, put them on a path towards a non-repressive system as a peaceful neighbor it will be of enormous benefit in that part of the world. It will be a help to their neighbors, and it will be well worth having gone through a difficult, tough situation.
Le Sumier: You spoke about --
Rumsfeld: Take NATO.
Le Sumier: Well about the alliance --
Rumsfeld: We just had all the Ministers of Defense over in Colorado Springs here and we had, I think, one of the best NATO meetings we’ve had. We have an alliance that has gone from when I was there 15 to 19 now, ready to go to 26. It’s moving itself into the 21st Century with a NATO response force which gets at the ability to do the kinds of things we’re trying to transform the U.S. Department of Defense to be able to do, to be more lighter, more agile, more flexible.
They have done, again what we’ve been trying to do, they’ve changed their command structure, dramatically streamlining it which is tough to do. It’s tough to do with one country because of the resistance to change, but it’s particularly tough to do with 19 countries and it’s being done.
Le Sumier: It’s working in Afghanistan for instance.
Rumsfeld: Exactly. NATO has stepped forward and for the first time gone – well the first time they went out and implemented Article 5 was to come to the United States and assist with AWACS. The first time they’ve gone out of the NATO treaty area is into Afghanistan. That’s an enormous step. Now they’re in Kabul. Now they’re discussing ways they can come out of Kabul and broaden that responsibility. Simultaneously, NATO stepped forward and is supporting the Polish and Spanish Division with support and assistance and assisting with force generation.
So all of these things – Here’s an alliance that as old as it is is doing things that fit the 21st Century, and that’s a good thing.
Le Sumier: But we have to admit in a way that the war in Iraq has somehow, there has been this quarrel between France and the USA and Germany and Russia, in a way were standing with the French position. Do you think that quarrel in a way went too far and eventually was unnecessary?
Rumsfeld: You know, I was Ambassador to NATO in 1973 and 1974. That was a difficult period with the alliance. Michelle Jeaubair was the Foreign Minister, Henry Kissinger was the Secretary of State here. They went back and forth.
I am 71 years old. This has been going on most of the history of NATO, that every three or four or five years there’s some issue that pops up like that. There was the neutron bomb issue during the Carter Administration. During the Reagan Administration there was the natural gas pipeline. You’re not old enough to remember these things, but you go back and look at history and you’ll find that about every three, four or five years there’s been some --
Le Sumier: Not to mention deGaulle and --
Rumsfeld: Exactly, at the outset. Go back to 1967 when Mr. DeGaulle invited himself out of NATO’s integrated command structure and invited NATO out of France. So there’s never been a five-year period that I can remember where there hasn’t been something of the kind and we’ve survived all of that.
Here we are in the 21st Century. It’s still there, it’s still working.
Le Sumier: But to go back to Iraq, I mean the absence of France, Germany, Russia on the level of troops and experience. Do you admit in a way “old Europe” as you named it, would have been useful after all?
Rumsfeld: Everyone said it would be useful from the first start. Who ever suggested it wouldn’t be useful? It happened that they made other decisions but the United States went to the United Nations – first they went to the Congress, then went to the United Nations, went to the United Nations twice. So it wasn’t as though the United States was “going it alone”. The United States went to the United Nations twice. The United States went and looked for other countries and asked for assistance and got it from 34 countries now in Iraq.
You phrased the question “don’t you admit now that it would have been helpful”, the United States was looking for help from the beginning. And some countries made their own decision not to help, and that’s their right as sovereign countries, and that’s fine. Every country gets to make their own decisions like that.
Le Sumier: But it’s --
Rumsfeld: I would say that those countries are helping in the global war on terror. Those countries are helping in Afghanistan.
Le Sumier: If they would be in Iraq, for instance, I heard that the Pentagon was showing some footage of the film about the Battle of Algiers to some of, there was an article in the Washington Post. The French had the experience in dealing with guerrilla warfare in the urban context.
Rumsfeld: You’re exactly right.
Le Sumier: In the Iraq world. And something like that could be useful today in Iraq to finish the job.
Rumsfeld: Indeed. And the U.K. has experience with low intensity conflict up in Northern Ireland, and there are other places in the world where people have had that experience. The Philippines. There are other places. And a number of those countries have forces, and some of the countries have had the experience don’t have forces in Iraq. But that knowledge is useful, unquestionably.
Le Sumier: You, during 9/11 you were the only one of the Administration who actually put his life to risk being here in that office, I understood.
Rumsfeld: Sitting here.
Le Sumier: How did that happen? Did you hear the noise?
Rumsfeld: Sure, oh yes. The place shook. My goodness, yes. There’s a piece of the plane that hit the building.
We never shut the building down. It was filled with smoke but we had places in it that we could function relatively free of smoke.
Le Sumier: You had smoke in here?
Rumsfeld: Oh, it was all over the place, yeah. There were a couple of places that were not bad, command centers. As a matter of fact we had a meeting, I stayed here most of the night I think.
The people here responded wonderfully and a lot of lives were saved. We used, simultaneously used an alternative location to have a second separate capability in place in case this --
Le Sumier: In the Pentagon?
Rumsfeld: No, at an alternative site. In fact you went out to the alternative site.
Rumsfeld: But it was one of those things that happens and life goes on.
Le Sumier: What did you think when you heard the noise? Did you think it was a terrorist act right away, or --
Rumsfeld: As I recall, I was having breakfast with some congressmen and it just ended. Someone walked in and said that a plane hit the World Trade Tower. I came in and turned it on and I had my CIA briefer here for my morning briefer, sitting where you are, and I was here. And then someone came in and said a second plane had hit. I forget the times but it was like 9:00 or 9:15.
Voice: 8:30 or 9:00, a quarter to 9:00. Ours was at 9:00.
Rumsfeld: So it was a short briefing. [Laughter]
Le Sumier: When you --
Rumsfeld: And a lot of fine people regrettably were killed here and in New York and in Pennsylvania.
Le Sumier: When you visited Guantanamo, 10 Delta, what was your impression when you saw the face of the people that were – some of them at least were behind that. What was your impression of that?
Rumsfeld: What a shame, what a waste of lives to be trained to go out and kill innocent men, women and children instead of being trained in language or mathematics or something that could be useful to the world. A lot of them are young. You just think man’s inhumanity to man. Why would they do that? Why would that make sense? What is it we all need to do in the world to reduce the number of people who are trained to go kill innocent people and to think that’s a good thing to do, whether because they believe it or because of money or because of something else.
Le Sumier: Still today you have those 680 enemy combatants. That’s quite a burden. There are some issues with putting them into a judicial process and stuff. How did you explain you can’t find a solution to treat their case, whereas, for instance, Roosevelt had managed to properly judge the Nazi leaders in Nuremberg?
Rumsfeld: You need to refresh your history.
Le Sumier: I would be delighted to.
Rumsfeld: If you go back in history you’ll find that most countries engaged in a war captured people and kept them off the street so that they could not go back and kill again. They didn’t start trying people. Nuremberg was in what year?
Le Sumier: ’46?
Rumsfeld: Yeah. The war had been over for a year before trials had occurred. More, two years in the case of Europe probably. The task, if a person steels a car in France of the United States, the task is to find them, arrest them, and then punish them. And the purpose of punishment is to dissuade people from stealing cars or robbing banks or killing people, whatever it is. Your purpose is not to interrogate them and find out who their co-conspirators were.
But when you scoop up an enemy combatant and you have a prisoner of war or an enemy, what’s the phrase, EPW, enemy prisoner of war, or a detainee, depending on which circumstance they’re captured in, the purpose is not to punish them immediately.
Le Sumier: To keep them off the street.
Rumsfeld: The purpose is to keep them off the street. Which is why we had thousands of German prisoners here in the United States, and Japanese prisoners in various places, and why folks in Europe had during every war. The idea that this is something new is, it’s only new to some people who don’t have a memory about what’s going on.
Why is that? There are two reasons. One is to keep them off the street if they’re a determined terrorist. The other is to interrogate them and find out what’s going on, who their friends are, who trained them, where are they getting their money, who re the likely people to do something terrible again, where are they likely to do it?
So the process of doing that is what’s been going on. It’s not to punish them, and they’re treated very well.
Le Sumier: Do you think that after two years they’ve said all they have to say?
Rumsfeld: Some have. Our goal is not to keep people here in the United States. Our goal is to get the people back to the countries where they came from after the value they may have in terms of getting information is completed. And it has been completed, I believe, with respect to some people. And we’ve returned some.
Le Sumier: Saudi Arabia, I think.
Rumsfeld: On the other hand, some of them appear to be out of information and then an event takes place somewhere else in the world and we find out more about them, at which point we go back to them and talk again.
Is it worth the expense? We’ll only know later. But I can tell you this, we’ve picked up people in Afghanistan, interrogated them, and been able to stop terrorist attacks in Singapore.
Now thanks to the Singapore government, thanks to their knowledge, thanks to their cooperation, thanks to piecing together information. But just little scraps of information, pocket litter, whatever, words. Some innocuous thing somebody says gets pieced together with something else and lives are saved. That’s valuable. That’s terribly important.
We’ve been working to try to work with countries to send, I think we just sent back another 20 today –
Voice: Soon anyway.
Rumsfeld: Soon. And the number you cited, I don’t know if it’s right or wrong --
Le Sumier: At the time I visited the base it was 680.
Rumsfeld: Of course it goes down and then more get added from time to time.
Le Sumier: Yes.
Rumsfeld: So it’s a moving number.
Le Sumier: Recently when Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz escaped miraculously a bombing in Baghdad. Do you when you travel, like Korea, do you think of death and that something --
Le Sumier: Never?
Rumsfeld: No. That’s life. I’ve been doing things like this a lot over my lifetime. You get up in the morning and you go about your job and you try to do the best thing you can. It’s no different for a single human being than it is for a country. A terrorist can attack at any time at any place using any technique. It’s impossible to defend everywhere at every moment of the day or night against every conceivable technique – a car bomb, a rocket propelled grenade, anthrax. You can’t defend totally.
So the idea that you could just hunker down as a country and guard against everything else and hope it will all go away, it isn’t going to all go away. The only way to do it is to deal with the global war on terror for what it is, attempt to find the terrorist networks, to break them up, to arrest the people, and to stop their financing, and to over time reduce the number of people who are being trained to go out and do that.
A free people by definition have to be free. That’s what we are, in your country and in my country. Once you decide that you’re going to be terrorized, which is the purpose of terrorism. Terrorism means to terrify people, implant fear in their heads so that they’ll alter their behavior. And once you become terrorized, once you become fearful, they’ve won. They’ve achieved what they want. They’ve altered your behavior. That’s as true for an individual as it is for a nation.
Le Sumier: But you cannot --
Rumsfeld: I can’t just sit here in the office and hope that something won’t happen to me, just like a country can’t sit there and hope something won’t happen to them. This is a very serious problem for the world.
Le Sumier: When you wake up in the morning and you switch on the TV and you learn that young soldiers have been killed in Iraq, what do you think?
Rumsfeld: Well, as I say, it is something that your heart goes out to them, to their families, to the life that won’t be lived, to the loved ones and family members, and as I go around and visit, I visit the wounded in Walter Reed Hospital and Bethesda Hospital and elsewhere. They’re proud of what they’re doing. They all volunteered to do it, every one of them. They recognize the importance of what they’re doing and their families are proud of them.
You think back over history. There are things that are worth putting your life at risk for. We would not have a free country today if there hadn’t been wonderful Americans and allies of America who have come together over the decades, many decades, and said that is something that’s worth putting your life at risk for, and they’ve done it, and God bless them for it. The world’s a better place because of them.
Le Sumier: Do you still wrestle?
Rumsfeld: No, I don’t.
It’s nice to see you, sir.
Le Sumier: Nice to see you. Thank you very much.
Rumsfeld: Thanks you.