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Secretary Rumsfeld Town Hall Meeting on USS Essex

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
June 04, 2004

SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Now I am told you have some microphones, and I am told some of you folks might have some questions. And I am told that we have some time for me to try and answer some of those questions. And I would be delighted to do that as long as you make them easy, it’s actually ten o’clock at night for me.  Yes, sir.


Q:  I am sure I speak on behalf of all the Marines on this ship and all the Marines on the Marine division.  Is there any word that we might start rotating out with our brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan?


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I take it you’d like to get over there.


Q:  Yes, sir.


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I tell you -- we’ve been having discussions with the commandant and with the members of the joint staff and the joint forces command looking at rotations and there is no question but that the Marines have a rotation system that is different from the army.  The demand is considerable for ground forces -- capable ground forces -- the kind that you represent, and at the moment the Marines are, I believe, on a ribbon, I believe, of a seven-month service over there.  And I suppose the answer to your question depends on how long we’re there as to what the extent each Marine will or will not get into that rotation, but when I get back to Washington, I’ll talk to General Hagee and tell him you volunteered.


Q: Thank you, sir.


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Thank you -- appreciate it.  I’ll tell you -- those folks over there are doing an amazing job, they really are.  I go over there every few months and I never fail to come back and note the disparity between what I hear from our commanders and what I hear from our troops, the pride in what their doing, the success they’re having, the progress they’re making in terms of providing security, in terms of building hospitals and schools, and putting out textbooks and assisting people with varying essential services.  I come back to the United States and I see in the press the difficulties -- only the difficulties, the hardships, the ugliness -- and goodness knows it’s there -- and the reality that people do get killed and do get wounded and yet this gap between what you see out there and what you feel -- the confidence that is being made by those folks in Iraq and the job they are doing and the concern about the difficulties back here in the United States and elsewhere in the world.  I don’t know quite how to explain that disparity other than to say I suppose that for whatever reason people seem to think that news isn’t news unless it’s bad news because that’s essentially what keeps getting reported.  I often wondered as we approach Normandy and D-Day how that might have been reported if we had had 24-hour news, seven days a week and the folks were being killed as they approached the beach and the riders were being steered across the countryside, many missing their landing targets and our forces were trapped below Point DeHawk and not able to get up.  I suppose they would have been calling General Eisenhower back for congressional hearings.  It probably what would have been the case.


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Questions.  We’ve got some mics.  I think you have to go to the microphone. Oh you have one -- good!


Q: Sir, I was wondering how you felt about the downsizing [interrupted]


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Is your mic on?


Q: Sir, I was wondering how you felt about the downsizing of the navy?


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  The question is how do I feel about the downsizing in the navy.  I guess the answer is that I’ve got enormous respect for Secretary England and Chief of Naval Operations Vern Clarke.  And what they are in the process of doing is trying to invest in increasingly capable and lethal military equipment that is less manpower intensive, and there is no doubt but that the navy of tomorrow and next year and the year after will be a considerably more capable navy, so the downsizing -- I think to use the phrase -- leaves a misunderstanding in people’s minds. What we will have each year going forward is a United States Navy that is increasing capable, more agile, and more lethal.  It may, if for example in some of the new ships they are able to man those ships, or staff those ships with somewhat fewer people relative to the capability of the ship, that there will be a level or modest drop in the total number of people in the navy.  But I think the real way to think about it is a conviction on the part of the leadership of the navy that they have no doubt that the navy is going to be a better navy and a more capable navy every year into the coming period.


Q:  Thank you, sir.


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Questions?   There we go.


Q:  Morning sir.




Q:  I was wondering why is it important to keep this administration in office and not the other one that’s running for president?


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  You know, that’s a darn good question.  And I’d love to answer it. But the president of the United States has asked me and Colin Powell to not discuss anything political.  And so the two of us avoid going to political functions.  We avoid answering questions from the press that could be considered political, so that we don’t have our two departments, the Department of State and the Department of Defense, brought into the political debate.  In our instance, there is no question, but that the Department of State and the Department of Defense get brought into the political debate at the instance of other people--candidates and people running for public office--and that’s fair, I mean, that’s life, that’s the way it works, but he would prefer that the two of us not address questions like that, although, if I were a civilian I could sure give you a whale of an answer.


Q:  Thank you, sir.




Q:   Mr. Secretary … over here.




Q:  We were wondering, probably everybody here, when are we going to start some hunting terrorists in this theatre?


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Well, I would hope pretty soon.  I know that the only way we are going to deal with this problem is to recognize that it’s truly global, that we have to bring all elements of national power to bear on it.   We simply cannot wait for another attack and expect to defend against it.  We have to go out and find those terrorist networks and the people financing them and the countries that are providing safe haven for them.   It is a tough thing to do, and for the most part, our military, for example, was organized, trained, and equipped to fight armies, navies, and air forces, and these countries don’t have, these terrorists don’t have, armies, navies, or air forces.  They don’t even have countries.  They have very little to defend.  Therefore they have to be found through intelligence gathering.  We have to put pressure on them in terms of their ability to move money, their ability to move between countries, their ability to communicate with each other and we have to do counter-terrorism techniques that are increasingly more sophisticated, sharing intelligence as we’ve done.


We see terrorist attacks just in recent months in Saudi Arabia, in Bali, in Spain, and so many other locations.  Each time one occurs, it’s a tragedy and innocent people are killed.  On the other hand, each time one occurs, people are discovered, people are captured, people are killed, pocket litter is found, computers are found, information is gathered, that enables people to go out and stop still additional terrorist attacks.  So I think that the fact that there is not a lot of publicity about what is happening out here may be kind of misleading because there is pressure being put on terrorists on this part of the world every day by the close cooperation we have, for example, with our wonderful friends here in Singapore, but also with many, many other countries in this region. 


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Question?  Yes sir?


Q:  I was wondering how you felt about the media’s focusing on the prison scandal rather than the progress being made by our soldiers, Marines -- people out there? 


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Well, let me say a couple of things about that.   First, anyone who looked at those pictures has to be stunned and heartbroken that Americans would do that to people who are in our custody, who are in our charge, and who are our responsibility.  The scenes depicted in those pictures are inexcusable.  The balance that we need to see in what’s happening is as I mentioned earlier, it seems to me that it is perfectly proper to report things that aren’t going well, things that are unfortunate such as that.  On the other hand, the disparity between all of the good things that are happening -- I mean, think of it, they now have a sovereign government that’s been named and is going to take power in Iraq.  In Afghanistan, 25 million people have been liberated.  They are making progress.  It’s not perfect; it’s untidy; there are bumps in the road, but it’s always been a tough path from a dictatorship to a representative system, to a freer system.  You know when there is freedom, people are free to be wise as free to be unwise. People are free to make good decisions as well as bad decisions.  So what we are seeing in those two countries is not terribly different than what we’ve seen in other countries that have tried to navigate from a vicious dictatorship, if you will, to a freer system.


It wasn’t perfect after World War II in Japan; it was bumpy in Germany; we’ve seen the bumps that Afghanistan has gone through, so the fact it isn’t smooth or perfect in Iraq shouldn’t surprise anybody.  Thomas Jefferson, I think it was, said of the United States of America, when we had riots and we had people killed and when we had difficulties, and it took us, what, twelve years--more than that--to get from 1776 to a constitution in 1789, he said we ought not to be expected to be transported on a featherbed from where we were to a democratic system, and we have to understand that the people on the ground over there are making their assessments of progress, of good things that are taking place in that country, that they see, and that they’re participating in it, and they’re basing it on their personal experience and the impression that’s being cast back in the United States and around the world are of the difficulties, and the ugliness and the problems, and they are there to be sure, let there be no doubt,  they’re there.  They’re basing that on testing what’s taking place there against how they’d like it to be, what a perfect world might look like, what smooth transition might be, but there has never been a smooth transition.  So it seems to me our expectations have to be recast and be realistic.  It is a tough, ugly business to get from a dictatorship to a freer system, and our task is to help them do it.  The president of the United States is determined to do that, the coalition is determined to do that, and I believe we will be successful in doing that.


[Applause, applause.]


Q:   Good morning, sir.   As you mentioned earlier, you mentioned we are building more powerful ships.  Will there be a time when one of those would be coming to our neck of the woods in Japan or that we have a delay in the rotation of that?


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I missed the first part of your question.  


Q:  I said you mentioned about the new warships that are being made, and I’ve seen in many magazines and all.  I’m really curious.  I saw one when we were in Thailand and I’m kind of curious as to when we’re going to get one of those very nice looking ships, sir, in our own neck of the woods in Japan.


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Well I’ll tell you, you keep resigning, keep reenlisting and by golly, I bet you one day you’re there when it happens.


Q:  Question?  Good morning sir.  With your marked success as a wrestler, naval officer, and service as a civilian, would you please give me and my peers some advice on how to be successful?


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  How to be successful?  Live a long time.  I’ll tell you.  I have been so lucky in my life, and so fortunate.  The only advice I could give anybody is to do things you enjoy because you will find that you do them better and you’re willing to spend more time and invest more of yourself in doing them successfully. Do things that you think are important and that are worth doing, and that matter, and to the extent you’re doing things that you feel are important and matter, you’ll find you’re working with other people who care about what matters, and that’s important.


I think doing a variety of different things has been a big help to me.  I have been so fortunate to be a civilian and a military person, to be in the legislative side and the executive side, and I think getting to look at things from different perspectives helps one better understand the totality of what it is we’re about as a people, and so, I guess the only other thing that I would say is, if you have a choice who you work with, work with people who have integrity and who have a decent sense of humor because you will have a lot better time doing it.


Q:  Thank you very much, sir.


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Thank you.  [Applause, applause.]  Yes, sir?  


Q:  My question is what were the findings of the board or commission on the 9/11 attacks, and do you think we had enough intel to prevent the attacks that happened.


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  The findings have not been made [yet] by the so-called September 11th Commission.  They’re probably two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through their meetings.  They have got some more meetings scheduled.  I don’t know what their findings ultimately will be. 


Did we have enough intelligence?  We clearly did not by the testimony of the intelligence people before that committee.  We lacked the intelligence that might have prevented it, that is to say that we did not have a source inside the group of people that had planned and executed those attacks on the Pentagon, the World Trade Center, and the one that crashed in Pennsylvania.   Needless to say, had we had visibility into that plus or minus 20 people, plus the people who financed them or assisted them or facilitated their activities, had we had a source inside there, we undoubtedly would have been able to stop it.  We did not.  It would have been terrific if we had.  Is it a terrible failure that we did not?  Well if you think of the task—of all of the terrorists on the face of the earth, and all of the people doing all of the things that they are doing in different countries, and all of the terrorist attacks that have been thwarted and stopped successfully because we did have intelligence to stop them, it strikes me as a big order to think that we’re going to be successful in having visibility into every conceivable terrorist attack on the face of the earth.  I think that is unlikely.  It is too easy for a terrorist to attack in any place at any time using any technique, and it is not possible to defend at every place.


We have to try -- we have to keep putting pressure on them, we have to keep capturing and killing them, we have to keep squeezing down their funding.  But I think we have to be realistic and expect that there will be additional successful terrorist attacks and we just need to keep doing everything we can to see that there are fewer and fewer of them and that fewer and fewer people are killed when they do occur.


Q:  Thank you, sir.


Q:  Good morning sir. I was just wondering how close are we to finding Bin Ladin?  There have been several reports, but I haven’t heard anything lately.


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  When I walk out of the bedroom in the morning, my wife frequently rolls over and says, “Where’s UBL?”  The reports you see on him, I think, are not something, that if I were you, I would rely on.  Close doesn’t count. In horseshoes, yes; in finding a terrorist person, no.  There are a lot of people looking.  If he is alive and well out there, my guess is he is very busy trying to avoid being caught.  I doubt that he is doing much communicating except by courier and only occasionally. He is under pressure.  Where he is we don’t know; if we know, we’d go find him.  And the idea that somebody pops up every once in a while and says, “Gee, I think I know where he is,” or “Gee, we were close and we didn’t get him,” I just take that with a grain of salt.  Until he is caught, he is not caught.   And until he is not caught, my guess is he’s going to stay awfully busy trying to avoid getting caught. 


If you think of the last days of Saddam Hussein’s freedom, he was in that spiderhole for months.  He’d come up, walk around that little shed that was over the spiderhole.  Our folks went past there day after day after day, and had no idea he was down there.  The only way we ever found him is finally somebody put enough pressure on enough people to find out that somebody had an idea where somebody might know somebody who might know somebody who would know where he might have been.  And then we start unraveling that chain and pretty soon they found somebody who in fact took them right out to that spot.  Even standing over the spot you couldn’t tell he was down there, or that there was a hole.  It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.  And it will not come by just discovery process, it will only come by successful interrogations and cracking people with some connection one way or another, and our folks are working their heads off trying to do that, and they are every day capturing people who have knowledge of something or other, and it just happens that thus far we have not captured the right people, who have enough knowledge--current knowledge--about that particular individual.  But we will find him.


Q:            I would like to know what is your overall desire for terrorism?  What do you plan on doing?  What is the goal?  Is it to minimize it to where it is very insignificant?  Or?


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  The question involves what the overall goal is with respect to terrorism and I think the best way to think of it is this.  The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize.  It is to alter your behavior.  Terrorism is not a thing, it is a technique, it is a weapon that people use--extremists use.  By threatening its use or by killing people, innocent people—men, women, and children--civilians generally, they feel they can alter the behavior of those people, and the people that are engaged in this global struggle that we see taking place in the world--on every continent--are determined to defeat the moderate Muslim regimes and replace them with a handful of clerics that will see that the behavior in those countries adhere to the strict rules that they would like adhered to. 


They don’t believe in freedom, they don’t believe in free choice, they don’t believe in the role of women, they don’t believe in many instances in technology or advancements.  They are attempting to hijack that religion--a small minority--are attempting to hijack that religion away from the overwhelming majority of moderate Muslims and in the process to drive the West and progress out of those countries and out of their lives.  They’re not going to succeed, and the outcome will be free people, civilized people, the state system of countries that are accountable for the things that go on in their own countries, that give opportunities to people, and representation and protection of minority rights and women’s rights.  When the majority of those countries are able to live as free people and enjoy the prosperity and the opportunity and the freedom that come from the trust we have in our free system, and to the extent terrorists are successful in repressing that freedom, altering behavior, preventing us from having the opportunities that come from free economic systems and free political systems because of fear or being terrorized then the terrorists wins, and we can’t allow them to win.


Q:  Thank you, sir.




Q:  My question, sir, is we’re beginning to see some of the repercussions of the financial shortfalls due to the cost of the war on terrorism.  I know that in our home port of Sassabo some of the programs are losing funding.  There’s also some talk about some ships being tied up to the pier.  I was just wondering if you’d comment on if those rumors are true, and if so, how we’re going to correct that problem.


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I can’t speak to specific rumors or that type of thing because I just don’t have that kind of visibility into what may be happening to a specific ship or situation.  I can say this:  I met with the Chiefs, and with the service secretaries, and the financial people, some weeks ago.  We did the mid-year wrap-up on how we were doing in this fiscal year, and we came to the conclusion that additional funds were going to be needed, and we went to the president and even though he had announced that he did not believe that he would need an additional supplemental during this fiscal year. he agreed to an additional $25 billion supplemental.  We went to the Congress.  It’s in the process of being approved, and the hope and expectation is that the Congress will approve it soon, that they will approve it on the basis that it will be available when enacted as opposed to waiting until the next fiscal year.  We’re now of course in June.  The fiscal year starts October 1.  Therefore, if we are successful in that, and if it is passed soon as we hope it will be, and it is passed on a when-enacted basis, then that additional $25 billion will be available during the remainder of this fiscal year and the early part of the next fiscal year prior to the time that we’re able to go in with still better visibility and know precisely what we’re going to need for fiscal year 2005 by way of an additional supplemental.  I don’t want to get into a lengthy budget discussion.


The reality is that you develop a budget starting say in January, and you build it all year long, and you then send it to the Office of Management and Budget late in the year -- you’ve been working on it for a whole year now.  It goes to the Office of Management and Budget; the president looks at it.  He sends it up to the Congress in January or February of the next year, and it’s for the year that doesn’t start until the following October.  So we started working last January, send it up to the president in December.  He sends it to the Congress in February, and it’s for the year that doesn’t even start until the following October.


Now if you think about it -- think about how the world changes in the intervening period.  Therefore, when there’s a war, or conflict, and events occur as they do in this dangerous and untidy world of ours, the only choice you have is to go up and ask for a supplemental and say “things changed,” just like they do in a family budget they change, and therefore you go up and say, here’s what’s changed. 


We know what’s changed:  the level, the tempo of activity in Iraq today is higher than General Abizaid had anticipated, so he came in and he said, “Look, we’re now at about 113,000 troops in country, and we’re going to have to increase that and keep an extra 20,000.  We now today have about 140,000 there, and that number, he said, I will need for some period, because I see a higher level of enemy activity, and I anticipate a higher level as we pass sovereignty and as we move towards an Iraqi government taking over that country and elections being held later this year for an elected Iraqi government in 2005.  And the president said, “Fair enough.  If that’s what you need, that’s what you’re going to get.”  And we went to the Congress and asked for the money.


Now, that’s the broad macro answer.  The micro answer to your question is that nobody’s perfect and sometimes—at least when I was in the navy--sometimes when you get towards the end of a fiscal year somebody in that operation didn’t quite manage it right they ended up with too many paper towels and not enough toilet paper, or vice versa in the last two months of the fiscal year.  Now I’ve never known that to happen anymore, but when I was in the navy it sure happened.  And so you’re bound to get those little uneven aspects that can occur as you move towards an end of a fiscal year, but I don’t envision anything dramatic occurring because I do believe we’re going to get the $25 billion, and I do believe our folks will spend it intelligently.


Q:  Thank you, sir.


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  The last question.


Q:  I just want to ask a question-and-a half.  First, can we expect a pay raise for next year?  And second, due to reports, as far as on the news, it’s believed that there will be an actual terrorist attack this summer in the U.S.  I was wondering if that was true or not. 


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  General Craddock, what’s the answer to the first part of that question, whether there will be a pay raise next year.


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  The plan is for 3.5%, which means that it was in the budget, and the reason we can’t answer it precisely is because we don’t know precisely what the Congress will do with it, but at least that number has been put forward—that 3.5%.


[Now] a terrorist attack in the United States.  The threat levels suggest a good deal of interest on the part of terrorists in attacking the United States, attacking most western countries.  We’ve seen it, as I say, in Spain and many other countries. We saw it here in Indonesia, in Bali.  We’ve seen attempted attacks in five, or ten, or fifteen other countries.  I think one reasonably has to expect that that intention is there.  There’s no question that they’re going to continue to attempt to make it difficult in Afghanistan and difficult in Iraq, the front line of the global war on terror.  I wouldn’t want to predict an attack in the United States, but I think anyone who suggests that we’re immune from that possibility doesn’t understand the threat levels.  That’s a carefully worded answer to a question that is unanswerable, but thank you very much.  


Q:  Thank you, sir.


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I wish you all well.  God bless you.  Thanks for your service.

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