(Interview with French Television)
Q: Can you explain what is the new national Security vision of U.S. policy since 20 September?
Clarke: I know in September was the formal roll-out, if you will, of the national security strategy for the United States. I think it started a lot longer before that. I think it actually started when President Bush took office. One of the first things he talked about was how dramatically the world has changed over the last several years and that as part of the national security policy approach we had to shift accordingly. As the Secretary often says, it's less likely that we'll know from whom the threats might come, and for so many years it was the United States versus the Soviet Union, smaller activities we've had, less likely from whom the threats would come, more likely the kinds of threats, and they're very different. It's less likely the threats to civilized nations come from armies, navies and air forces. It's more likely the come from terrorists or cyber attack or the threat of ballistic missiles, those sorts of things. Since the world's changed so dramatically, we need to change how we're equipped and how we're organized and how we're structured, and how we approach that kind of situation.
One of the things you can't do is wait for the bad things to happen. We are still, this country is still profoundly impacted by what happened on September 11th, 2001, in which a few terrorists with a few airplanes killed thousands of people. And terrorists have made it clear that they are willing to commit suicide to accomplish whatever their horrible aims are.
If you think about the damage that can be caused by a terrorist willing to commit suicide with a chemical or biological or nuclear weapon, you aren't talking about a few thousand people. You're talking about tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands. Americans dead, friends and allies around the world.
Given the possibility of that happening, we can't just wait. Once something like that has happened it's too late for a real response, so you have to organize yourself and prepare yourself and perhaps act in a way to prevent those things from happening before they happen. It's a fundamental shift, it is a fundamentally different way of looking at the world, a fundamentally different way of approaching national security, but given how much the world has changed, we think it's a very appropriate shift.
Q: So the new idea is a concept of preventive war?
Clarke: Well, that's part of it. I wouldn't call it, I don't think preventive war is correct. I think it's really important for people to understand context, and I think the national security strategy really laid that out. Let's really understand how profoundly the world has changed. And that's not a matter of opinion, that's just a matter of fact. Understanding that, and you have to get pretty steeped in it to understand it, let's talk about how we're going to address it. Not that it means -- we would like the world to be different, a different circumstance, but it's not. So let's accept the fact that the world has changed so dramatically. Let's accept the fact that those threats are out there and that they are real and they are growing. Let's accept the fact that there is the potential of a horrible nexus of terrorist states that have made clear their intent and desire to hurt us and our friends and allies around the world, weapons of mass destruction which can do enormous, enormous catastrophic damage to many many people, and terrorists have made it clear their intent and desire to use those. We have got to act in a different fashion to prevent that nexus from occurring.
Q: How will the U.S. government decide the limit and when its time to act?
Clarke: Very very carefully. I think one of the things you've witnessed over the last several weeks, close to eight weeks now, is how carefully and deliberately and thoughtfully the United States has worked through with countries around the world, how to deal with Saddam Hussein. Now seeing the unanimous passage of the UN resolution which in essence said it's no longer a matter of whether the world will deal with Saddam Hussein, it is how are we going to deal with him, and the threat he poses. We'll do it very carefully and very deliberately. We've spent many, many weeks and hours over the summer talking to our people around the country, around the United States, and their elected representatives in Congress saying we understand. We're talking about very different circumstances here. We understand we're talking about something that's fundamentally different than say 20 or 30 years ago. So let's be thoughtful about it and let's be deliberate about it. Let's air issues and concerns and dialogue and debate. That's very healthy, and decide together how we're going to move forward.
Q: Where is the limit? What can make you for sure decide to act?
Clarke: I don't understand the question.
Q: You told me that the main idea was, if you had to act and make war before something bad happened to you.
Clarke: It's not always war. It's not always military action.
For instance the global war on terrorism right now, which for many, many months has focused primarily on Afghanistan but it's actually underway in many countries around the world, is legal efforts, it's diplomatic efforts, it's economic efforts, it's law enforcement efforts, it's the sharing of intel, it can be a variety of things and a variety of pressures brought against forces say of terrorism in different ways. So it's not always military action. It's just a clear recognition that the world has changed fundamentally, we have to organize and prepare ourselves to deal with that world, and we have to recognize that sometimes we may need to take action. We and others may need to take action before something happens. And you may need to take action without perfect information.
I think that's one of the biggest challenges for some people in getting their head wrapped around. Everyone likes things simple. Everyone loves perfect clarity. Everyone wants absolute evidence. It's just not reality. It's just not the way the world is. Especially when you talk about the kinds of things we're up against -- armies, navies, air forces. They're easy to see, they're easy to spot. Buildups take a long time.
Those aren't the kinds of threats we're talking about. It is much more likely we won't have perfect evidence and we and others have to put together the body of information that we can and make the really sound judgment that something preemptive is the right approach.
Q: If you take military action?
Clarke: Military action is always your last resort. It is always your last choice. You can't work in a building like the Pentagon for more than a week and not appreciate what it means to put somebody's life in danger. It's an incredible responsibility so it's always your last resort. You want to exhaust every other possibility. You want to exhaust economic sanctions if that's appropriate, diplomatic pressure. So it is always the last resort. In terms of the United States, it just doesn't make sense tactically to take anything off the table. So we don't rule things in and we don't rule things out in terms of our military options.
Q: We'll now talk about communications. What is the challenge now in terms of communications?
Clarke: It's helping people understand just how fundamentally -- It is helping people understand just how fundamentally different the world is. We live in a country that for many many years has been blessed by unique geography and wonderful neighbors, and unlike a lot of other countries around the world including the countries in Europe, we haven't had attacks or threats on our own soil. We're now in a completely different era. Because of that completely different environment we have to act differently, we have to organize and use our military differently. But that is a hard thing for people to understand. It really is.
So we spend an enormous amount of time with every opportunity possible, [the media] is our primary means of communicating, going out and giving speeches, doing things on-line, various web sites, and a lot of outreach activities, trying to talk to people as often as possible, people from every walk of life. That's something very different for this Pentagon from previous Administrations. We don't talk to just people in the military. We actively go out and speak. We speak to educators, parents, students, across the board, every constituency from A to Z because we think it's important for them to try to understand what it is we're about. It's really important for people in this country to be actively engaged in what their military is doing. And it's really helping people understand just how fundamentally different the world is and circumstances are. That's our biggest challenge.
Q: Why is it so important, this communication?
Clarke: Boy. I've worked in a lot of different places in Washington. Different agencies, on Capitol Hill for Congress, those sorts of things, I've worked in the private sector. I can't imagine a topic that is more important than the common defense of this country and how we approach national security with our friends and allies around the world. I just think it's the number one responsibility of the government. And as hard as it is for some people to understand, I think it's the number one priority for the American people in terms of understanding it. It's so important. It's so important to the future of this country, it's so important to the future of the world. I think they should be engaged, understand it, agree with us, disagree with us, that's less of a concern. But being engaged and trying to understand what's going on I think is really important.
Q: You have to win the battle of communication first?
ASD Clarke: Any sustained action, any sustained activity such as the global war on terrorism, you have to have as much public support as possible. You've got to build that public support and you have to sustain it because there's just no way, again, it's really important given the huge impact of what the Department of Defense does, there's no way you could continue on a course of action without public support. So we need to invest the time and energy -- everybody from Secretary Rumsfeld on down needs to invest the time and energy into building that kind of public support and capital.
Q: You told us your first way to communicate is through the media.
Clarke: Uh huh. That's the primary way of communicating.
Q: Providing information to the general public all over the world.
Q: And what kind of information?
Clarke: It's interesting. Different people, if you don't work here, you're not actively involved with the military, you probably think the only things we deal with, for instance, right now is the global war on terrorism or what's going on in Afghanistan or Iraq. That's the furthest thing from the truth. Those are the sorts of topics that right now tend to break through in the news media, whether it be the networks on TV, or the newspapers or radio. But if you work here it's every topic under the sun. We have two-million-plus workers in the Department of Defense around the world. Our issues get into so many, affect so many different constituencies. We just spent an hour and a half with the veterans organizations talking about what sorts of benefits, what sorts of activities do we have for the veterans of this country after they've served? So every topic from vaccinations to veterans benefits to training and readiness for the forces, and literally hundreds of issues that we deal with. Different entities have to deal with different constituencies; different media have different levels of interest. So it'll be probably 20 or 30 trade magazines, for instance, that will cover just the very minute details of procurement, but we still want to work with them so we've got teams of people who work day in and day out trying to provide information for them.
We try very hard just to put out the news and information very straight. This is the information, it is what it is. The only restrictions we put on it is if information could in any way put a military operation at risk or could endanger somebody's life. But other than that, we just try to put the information out in as straightforward a fashion as possible.
Q: The era of the OSI?
Clarke: Gone. Gone, done. It was over a year ago? Much earlier. Gone.
Q: Was it a mistake?
Clarke: I wasn't part of it so I don't know what it was, I don't really know much about its intent, but it's gone.
Q: You were not working in the Pentagon?
Clarke: Sure, I was working in the Pentagon. As I said, there are two million people who work for the Department of Defense around the world. There are 25,000 people in this building alone. So to say you can be on top of every single person, every single issue is just not true.
Q: It was dealing with communication and media?
Clarke: Well, you don't know for certain. We don't know for certain what its activities were going to be because it never really got stood up and was never really operating. There were enough concerns and enough issues that very quickly Secretary Rumsfeld said close down the office, it's not going to work. So it no longer exists.
Q: Why was it a bad idea?
Clarke: Well, you can't even say it was a bad idea because the office never really got stood up, it was never really functioning. There were concerns and there were enough issues about it Secretary Rumsfeld said whatever it tries to do it's not going to be effective, let's shut it down. So we did. And it no longer exists.
One of the issues came up which is very very important to us. And that is that we try to put out news information in as straight forward, as credible a fashion as possible. We always tell the truth. We make mistakes. And when we make those mistakes, and we actively encourage the staff around here, for instance if you're in a briefing room and you make a mistake and somebody knows, the staff is under express orders to bring it to your attention right away and we clear it up right away.
We have made mistakes in the briefing room or in other interviews and we go to great lengths to go back and correct the information. So we always tell the truth. Sometimes we make mistakes but we clean them up as quickly as possible.
Q: And even if the countries and the press [inaudible], you don't think that it's sometimes useful to not tell exactly the truth --
Clarke: No. It's exactly the opposite.
Going back to what I said before, it's just not a topic or an issue that is more important to the future of this country than what we're trying to do. There isn't an issue that people should, the American people should and do care a great deal about how we prepare for and organize and take care of the common defense of the country. We have to be absolutely straight with them. Absolutely have to. The risks are so great when you talk about putting lives at risk; the responsibilities are so great; the impact of what we do is so great; we have to be absolutely straight with them. To be brutally honest, as the Secretary says. They will handle that information in a wonderful fashion. If we try to shade the truth at all, if you lose credibility then you lose any right, I think, to be in a place like this.
Q: There's been [inaudible] for months now, Donald Rumsfeld and the President, talking with Iraq every day. Is it part of the strategy to communicate that much with this matter?
Clarke: People give too much credit when it comes to things like strategy. Most of the time we end up talking, for instance in the briefing room at the Pentagon or in an interview, most of the time what we end up talking about, even if we don't want to, is whatever somebody asks us. And we tend to answer the questions in a pretty-straightforward fashion. So almost every time Secretary Rumsfeld, for instance, has talked about Iraq over the last few months it's because somebody has asked him a question and he answers them and he answers them straight.
The same, for the most part, holds true for the President as well. But I do think the President is absolutely right when he started as long ago as his State of the Union Address in January of this year, several months ago, I think he's absolutely right to draw the attention of the world to what is a real and growing threat to the region, to the world.
It's an interesting thing, I've lived here for so long and I've seen [several] Presidents give their State of the Union Address, and it's usually very domestically oriented. It's usually a long list of here are issues that are important to the United States of America. I've worked with some of these people. It's kind of a disappointment. It's a wonderful forum, it's a platform to talk about something important. This President chose his State of the Union Address to talk to the American people and talk to the world about what he sees that is a very, very dangerous situation that is growing. Talking about the axis of evil, talking about countries, talking about people like Saddam Hussein who is a real and growing threat to the region and to the rest of the world. So he put that four-square on people's radar screens, if you will, and even though it has not been an easy topic, even though it has been uncomfortable for a lot of people, even though it's very hard, he has made a point of saying folks, you may not like it, but this is reality, and how are we going to deal with it? How are we going to deal with it as a country? How are we going to deal with it as the United States Congress, how is the United Nations, the most important multilateral organization in the world going to deal with that?
So I think he was absolutely right to put it on people's radar screens and keep it there.
Q: I heard that the Pentagon was hiring private companies like the [Renning] Group. Why? What do you use the private services?
Clarke: I don't know about any contracts about the [Renning] Group. I know there may the Joint Staff, our Joint Staff may have been in contact with them. I don't know the circumstances of it. Again, we have a $369 billion budget which is pretty good, a pretty healthy budget. And underneath that we often contract out to the private sector for different circumstances. There are all sorts of guidelines and criteria about hiring outside consultants. There are a lot of functions that aren't appropriate for, they aren't a core mission for the military. So often those sorts of things, I'm not familiar with the contract on the [Renning] Group so I can't speak to that one. But it's a fairly common practice for certain things, certain functions, to contract it out to the private sector.
Q: What can it provide to you, the private companies?
Clarke: It depends. I'm not familiar, for instance, with the procurement process. I'm not familiar with what it takes to actually build an airplane. But there are things that are very appropriate for the private sector to be doing. It's not appropriate for people in this building, for instance, to be building airplanes so they work with industry to build those things. But literally thousands of contracts, all of which have a lot of scrutiny put on them in terms of the criteria and policies and what's appropriate and what's not.
Q: Could you define what is public diplomacy?
Clarke: Public diplomacy? Well, people at the State Department could define it better than I could. It is probably changing, just like everything else, the world around us is changing so much public diplomacy is probably changing. I think the shorthand of it is trying to explain to people around the world what it is the United States is about, what we're trying to accomplish, what we stand for, what we don't stand for.
Q: What's the difference between public diplomacy and propaganda?
Clarke: The short answer is, I don't know. I'm not very good at definitions. Propaganda has a very bad connotation in lots of different places for different reasons. Saddam Hussein is terrific at propaganda, at the worst kinds of propaganda. He takes propaganda to lies and deception, deceit of the kind that means people's lives.
So I'll leave it to others to come up with a definition.
Q: And in case of a war against Iraq, what will be the new challenge in terms of communication?
Clarke: It's a big "in case." I know we start and end every conversation around here by saying the President hasn't made any decisions about military actions in Iraq. If he does decide and others decide that military action is the right course to pursue, the U.S. military, and I'm sure we will have, if there is military action -- if there is military action -- the President hasn't made a decision -- if there were to be military action it will be done with the cooperation of friends and allies in different parts of the world including that region of the world. I don't know that it will be the biggest challenge, but I think it is the biggest priority, and that is to keep people informed. It is to keep people informed with as much news and information about what is going on. I think it will be, we will be brutally honest with them as we always have been about the risks that are involved. Any military action, any military action at all puts people's lives at risk. Flying helicopters is risky business to start with. It's particularly risky in wartime conditions. Airplanes, ships, etc. you've got equipment and people. So I think we need to be brutally honest with people about the risk involved. That's what we do.
Q: The target is the American people?
Clarke: American people and around the world. Just like we constantly say what is true, that Saddam Hussein, for instance, is a threat to the region. He's a threat to his own people. The reason we have U.S. pilots and coalition pilots flying in the no-fly zones every day is to protect the Iraqi people themselves against Saddam Hussein's aggression. It's a pretty stunning thing when you think about it.
So he is a threat to the Iraqi people. He is a threat to the people in the region. He's a threat to decent civilized people around the world. So I think we have an obligation -- Last year at the height of activity in Afghanistan is a perfect example. We have an obligation to work closely with other countries to make sure we're getting out as much news and information there as possible. It's hard. It's only 24 hours a day.
Q: I appreciate it. What are your plans -- What can you use to influence public opinion?
Clarke: We use a variety of means of communication throughout the newsroom. We have the traditional news media which is the television networks, the newspapers, the radio, the web sites. Primary means of communicating. They just have the loudest impact, appeal, it's the primary means of communicating with people.
We also do a whole variety of outreach efforts. We meet with groups, we speak to them and answer questions about what the Department of Defense is up to, what the thoughts may be about the global war on terrorism. We sent out information. If people have said I'd like you to keep me updated on what's going on, then via e-mail and web sites we will send them information. We respond to literally thousands of requests for information from the general public every week. They e-mail us, they send letters, they call and we respond to them as much as we can.
Q: The work that's been done, before the first Gulf War, was it a good job?
Clarke: I wasn't part of it. I was working in another part of the government at the time. I guess it depends on who you talk to. Different people in the media have different perspectives on how it went. Some were happier than others.
Q: [inaudible] public opinion [inaudible].
Clarke: It was another President named Bush and I think he made very very clear what he believes to be the responsibilities of this country. And when you think about what Saddam Hussein had done there, invading a neighboring country and threatening to go into others. President Bush made it very clear to the American people, I think he made it very clear to the American people what was at stake and how important it was for us to be part of the effort to stop that. So I think he did a pretty effective job.