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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Larry King, CNN

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
April 12, 2002 9:00 PM EDT

(Interview with Larry King, CNN)

King: We welcome a return visit from Donald Rumsfeld here at the Pentagon, lots of areas to touch. You were the youngest Secretary of Defense ever.

Rumsfeld: I was.

King: You're now the oldest.

Rumsfeld: Almost, not quite.

King: Who was older?

Rumsfeld: I think Cap Weinberger was.

King: What's the biggest difference in the job now to the job when you had it then?

Rumsfeld: It's such a different city, Washington, D.C. has changed so much. I suppose the Vietnam War, and Watergate, and the coming of age of television, the growth of government, it's just a very different place. It was a much more collegial and smaller town.

King: Is the job tougher now?

Rumsfeld: Well, with the war going on, it's a pretty tough job, yes, sir.

King: How involved are you with the Mid East situation? I know we're going to talk a lot about Afghanistan, how's it going, it's like a six-month review we're going to do here tonight. How involved are you in the whole structure and discussions?

Rumsfeld: I'm involved in the sense that I just came from a National Security Council meeting where the subject was the Middle East for the most part, and I talked to the president and the vice president and the secretary of state on those subjects. The department is not involved directly because it is essentially a foreign policy issue. And, as a result, the president, the vice president, and secretary of state have the action, and they're all working very, very hard, and on a terribly difficult set of issues. It's the kind of thing that's not going to get solved in five minutes. I was Middle East envoy for President Reagan close to 20 years ago, and there have been many Middle East envoys who have wrestled with this problem, and the same problems that Secretary Powell is dealing with.

King: In many administrations.

Rumsfeld: In many administrations of both political parties dating back to President Truman.

King: Is it solvable?

Rumsfeld: You have to have hope and say, yes, it is. That ultimately something is going to happen so that people are going to decide that they're better off living in peace than continuing to kill people.

King: Which seems so logical.

Rumsfeld: Yes, it does. On the other hand, there are countries where people have gone on for an awful long time killing each other. So, one would hope that that won't be the case in the Middle East.

King: What is the secretary of state's mood?

Rumsfeld: His mood?

King: Yes, you spoke to him.

Rumsfeld: He's an optimistic person, and you have to be when you're dealing with difficult situations like that, and he's clearly going to be doing everything humanly possible to try to see that the parties are able to find some way to reestablish a security situation.

King: Is he going to stay?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I think I'll let the president and the secretary announce their travel plans.

King: Do you agree with his meeting with Mr. Arafat?

Rumsfeld: I don't think he has met with Mr. Arafat.

King: No, he's going to.

Rumsfeld: I don't --

King: And there's been criticism of that.

Rumsfeld: I don't know that he is. I just -- I think until something like that happens, it may or may not occur.

King: It may not occur?

Rumsfeld: I have no knowledge. I was just looking before I came down to be with you that there has been another suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

King: This morning.

Rumsfeld: Yes. And I have no idea what effect that could have. It's entirely up to the secretary of state.

King: How do you fight something like that? You've been fighting it. Israel, many countries are trying to deal with it, Great Britain. How do you fight people who kill themselves to fight you?

Rumsfeld: Well --

King: Kamikazes.

Rumsfeld: Well, free countries have a wonderful advantage that the energy, the vitality that comes from freedom and opportunity is just a great advantage. And as a result, countries that have free political institutions, and free economic institutions tend to be the most successful countries on the face of the earth. They also have a disadvantage. Because we're free we want an open society. We don't want to spend our time living in basements. And we don't want to spend our time going around carrying weapons, and looking around the corner to see if anyone is going to throw a hand-grenade, or blow up the bus we're on, or you can't go to a pizza parlor. So free people are vulnerable. And, there is no question but that a terrorist that is willing to kill themselves, and is determined to kill innocent men, women and children can, in fact, achieve that.

King: And fighting it is very difficult for a democracy, too, because it wants to remain a democracy.

Rumsfeld: Yes.

King: So, when Mr. Netanyahu the other day says, what we're doing, what you're doing in Afghanistan is what we're doing now, how do you counter that? He's doing what you're doing, fighting terrorism the only way it knows how, by retaliating back.

Rumsfeld: Well, as the president has said, a terrorist can attack any place at any time, and it's not physically possible for a free people to defend every place at every time. And, therefore, you really don't have much of a choice. You simply do have to decide that you're going to put pressure on terrorists and terrorist networks, and countries that harbor terrorists. And try to root out those terrorists and prevent them, dry up their funds, arrest people who do that, and create a situation that's so inhospitable for terrorists that it eventually dies down. Now, it's never going to be gone completely. There are always going to be people who are going to do things like that. But in terms of major global networks of terrorism, I do think we can be successful if we keep the pressure on.

King: Isn't that what Mr. Sharon says he's doing?

Rumsfeld: I think that it isn't Mr. Sharon, it's prime ministers of Israel from the beginning of the country that have had to deal with terrorists.

King: But now we're trying to stop them, we're saying, don't do this.

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't think it's quite that way. I think the president has said that anyone dealing with terrorism has to make a judgment and balance things as to how they do it, and degrees they do it, and where they do it, and when they do it. I am, having been a Middle East envoy, I am sensitive to the importance of allowing a relatively few people talk about something this sensitive. There are people being killed in the region. And my instinct is to let the president and the vice president and the secretary of state, all of whom in my judgment are doing a very good job on this, and investing a lot of time, and not have other cabinet officers opining on it in a way that someone could take, oh, just a shading of how I'm going to say something slightly different from the president.

King: In other words, you might have some disagreements, but that's in-house.

Rumsfeld: It might just be in the words one uses, and someone would then say, oh, my goodness, he thinks this and someone else thinks that. So, I stay away from the Middle East, and leave it to Secretary Powell, who I think is doing a good job.

King: Mr. Secretary, is this a regional question? Bahrain, a friend of ours, demonstrations in Bahrain against us. Is this going to -- is it natural what happens here is going to affect what happens there, that you have to think of it regionally?

Rumsfeld: Well, you know, the United States has a wonderful record of humanitarian assistance, and caring about people, and participation in funding of medical activities, and food programs for people, and we're not against any religion. As a country, we're not against any race. We're not against any country or any people. We're against terrorism in this case, and we're against people who try to impose their will on their neighbors. And, as a country, I don't -- there have always been demonstrations in most parts of the world. There are demonstrations of various types in this country, and other countries all the time. I think the fact that there may be demonstrations of some small numbers of people in different countries who look at things one way differently from other people in their government, or other governments is acceptable.

King: Is this a difficult -- as a former envoy, a difficult balancing act when, let's say, we would like to see Israel do something, and they do something, yet the Arab states support -- Saudi Arabia had a telethon yesterday to raise money for the Palestinians.

Rumsfeld: If you think about the Palestinian people, they have had a tough life. I don't know what the gross national product per capita for the Palestinian people is.

King: It may be the lowest in the region.

Rumsfeld: For sake of argument, let's say it's $2,000, and in Israel it's $20,000. Israel is a free country, they've got good leadership, they have energy and vitality, and they trade, and they make things, and they look forward, have freedom and opportunities, they have political elections. The Palestinian people don't. Except for Sadat, and Menachem Begin, the only time any real estate has changed hands, that was the Sinai. The Arafat leadership has not been able to deliver any land. It's not delivered any economic prospects.

King: So you understand Saudi helping them?

Rumsfeld: Well, yes. I mean, we've provided help to the Palestinian people. I think that the people in the region and around the world ought to provide help. I don't think that people like Saddam Hussein ought to offer $25,000 a family every time some suicide bomber blows themselves up and kills a bunch of innocent people, and that's not the kind of help.

King: So, because, you're saying then, because you help the Palestinians doesn't mean you're helping terrorists?

Rumsfeld: Oh, no.

King: We'll get a break, and we'll talk about the war in Afghanistan and how it goes in this six-month juncture. Don't go away.

(Commercial break.)

King: How goes the war, your war?

Rumsfeld: No war is ever perfect, and there' s no road map for this, that's for sure. We didn't have a war plan for how you do this. So, we've had to fashion it as we've gone along. But it's going pretty well if one thinks about it. No one dreamt that the Taliban would be out of power in Afghanistan as rapidly as it happened. And, the al Qaeda are no longer training terrorists there, hundreds of terrorists, as they were six months ago. They're on the run, and a lot of them have been killed, a lot of them are in jails, a lot of them have been arrested around the world. And they're having more trouble raising money. They're having trouble transferring money. They're having trouble for their members, their terrorists, to move between countries. They're being checked much more carefully. And, we don't see a lot of Osama bin Laden's videotapes coming in, so he must be moving too fast to do that.

It seems to me that there has been good progress. Does that mean there won't be another terrorist attack? No. I suspect there will be. There's no question there are people who were trained two, three, four years ago who would love to do it, and are anxious to try to kill more innocent people.

King: Will that set it back a lot if that happened?

Rumsfeld: Would that set what back?

King: The whole concept of this war?

Rumsfeld: Not at all. Not at all. In life, nothing's perfect. I mean, what you do is, you go out and do the best you can, and we'll stop a lot of terrorist attacks, and we'll make it difficult for them, but that doesn't mean you'll stop them all. There will still be some.

King: Has this war going as well as you thought it would, better or less?

Rumsfeld: You know, I really didn't have an expectation, because it is so different, it is so totally different from anything this country has ever had to do that there wasn't any bar to measure ourselves against. What we knew we had to do was hard.

King: It wasn't -- you can't compare it to the War of 1812.

Rumsfeld: You can't, or the Civil War, or the World War II, or Korea. We knew what we had to do was hard.

King: So, it's your own expectations.

Rumsfeld: It is. And, we knew it's hard to try to find individuals. If there were an army or a navy or an air force that the al Qaeda had, or the Taliban, or any worldwide terrorist organization, this institution, the Department of Defense, knows about that. We could go out and do that. We could find that army, that navy, that air force, and take it on and do something about it. This is different. These terrorist networks don't have armies, navies, and air forces. They work in the shadows, in the caves, and the tunnels, and they use anonymity, and they don't attack our army, navy or air force, they attack innocent civilians, and they try to kill men, women and children. And they try to terrorize. I think it was Lenin who said the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize. And it works. If you can -- a single terrorist act has the effect of killing innocent men, women and children, but it has another effect, it terrorizes everyone who wasn't killed.

King: So, therefore, it -- it's a perverted word -- it succeeds.

Rumsfeld: It does succeed. It forces people to behave differently. And if you're a free people, it forces you to behave sufficiently differently that it impinges on your freedom to a certain extent.

King: So you have to put people in places where you normally might not put them.

Rumsfeld: Exactly. I mean, think, everyone in this country is willing, and God bless them all, to take an hour to get through security in an airport. We didn't used to do that. But, why are we doing it? We're doing it because everyone has made a calculation that that makes sense.

King: All right. Since you had nothing to go on, Mr. Secretary, what has surprised you?

Rumsfeld: A lot of good surprises. The number of countries that have just almost spontaneously come forward and cooperated has just been breathtaking. We like to say that we've put together a wonderful coalition. In fact, we didn't put together a wonderful coalition as much as it put itself together. The NATO allies, without hardly even being asked, for the first time invoked the treaty, and said an attack against one is an attack against all. Sent AWACS airplanes over here to help guard the United States. Countries all across the globe have started sharing intelligence. They've started allowing people to share this information in a way that they can improve their law enforcement.

I asked General Tom Franks, the combatant commander for the Central Command the other day, I said, how many ships do we have in your command right now, and I think he said 101. And I said, how many are U.S., and he said, less than half. So think of that. These ships are from all over. They came from Japan, and Australia.

King: There's no way you could have expected that?

Rumsfeld: Well, it's just a wonderful response, and I think it reflects the reality that this is a terrible problem. And there were people from 80 countries killed on September 11th, in this building and in the New York Trade Centers, 80 countries, every religion.

King: What, Mr. Secretary, surprised you on the negative side? Anything in the past six months that you said, this hurt? Minimum loss of life, but any loss of life hurts.

Rumsfeld: Any loss of life hurts. There isn't an instance where these wonderful young men and women in uniform for our country, and for our coalition partners, when they get killed that your heart just doesn't break. They every day put their lives at risk. And you think about that, and you say to yourself, that's amazing, that's wonderful. They have decided that they're going to volunteer.

King: They don't have to do that.

Rumsfeld: They don't have to do that, there's no draft, there's no conscript military in the United States. And they put their hands up and say, well, I'll do that. That's admirable.

King: Do you have a time table, ergo is next?

Rumsfeld: The timetable is you keep at it until it's done. And you can't know how long it will take. And there won't be a brilliant sunset when the whole thing --

King: No VE day?

Rumsfeld: No, VE day, or VJ day, or signing ceremony on the Missouri. What will happen is that we'll at some point feel that we have put so much pressure on terrorist networks, and have had so much cooperation, and helped to strengthen other country's anti-terrorist capabilities by training and financial assistance, that things are pretty good, and that we can say to ourselves, we've been on a heightened state of awareness, we don't want to go down to no awareness, because it's still a dangerous and untidy world, but by golly we can do about our business, and we can send our kids to school, and expect them to come home.

King: We'll have our remaining moments with Secretary Rumsfeld and touch some other bases right after this.

(Commercial break.)

King: We're back with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Is Iraq inevitable?

Rumsfeld: It's hard to know, you know. Expecting good things out of that regime would be really excessive hopefulness. He has behaved so badly, he has killed so many of people.

King: So therefore, is it inevitable we're going to go?

Rumsfeld: I don't know about that.

King: What's the other alternative?

Rumsfeld: The policy of our country, and of many countries, is that there should be a change of regime, that in fact, he is so repressive to his own people, he's killed so many of his own people, he's used gas on his own people, chemicals, he's invaded his neighbors, he's developing weapons of mass destruction, he's a person who threatens his neighbors, and describes them as illegitimate repeatedly. You know, you could live with that in an earlier era where a person was a dictator and a vicious, repressive person, as long as he was basically harming his own people, and didn't have weapons of mass destruction, the world kind of set it off to the side and said, that's not right, and we recommend against it, but we're not going to do anything about that. And they would not use diplomacy or economic sanctions or military power to change it.

With weapons of mass destruction on the horizon I think that people do have to use diplomacy and economic power, as well as military power.

King: Does this conflict in the Middle East, and the attention it gets prevent your doing something, with regard to Iraq, you might have done?

Rumsfeld: Well, it hasn't thus far. I think there's no question your heart breaks to see people being killed every day in the Middle East, and thank goodness that the president, and the vice president, and Secretary Powell are working as hard as they are to try to do everything humanly possible to see that the violence is tapped down, and that the process has started, but no, it seems to me if what you're dealing with in the war on terrorism is terrorists who are going to kill a lot of innocent people, we can't let up, we have to go find them, and we have to deal with them.

King: And Iran is a haven for it, is it not?

Rumsfeld: Iran has been helping the al Qaeda, there's no question. They have a long border with Afghanistan, and there's no question but that al Qaeda have moved in, and found sanctuary. Some have stayed there, some have been in transit, and that Iran has not been helpful to the war on terrorism.

King: Can you cross that border to get al Qaeda?

Rumsfeld: We haven't.

King: Might you?

Rumsfeld: That's not for me to decide.

King: If you had input what would you recommend? Well, you do have input.

Rumsfeld: I give my advice to the president. As much as I like you, Larry --

King: How about the complaints by the media that you really are controlling things in all of this in Afghanistan, that they can't get anywhere, that this is a Rumsfeld concept here?

Rumsfeld: Well, it's just not true. The reality is that any reporter who wants to can just go into Afghanistan anywhere they want, any time they want, any time of the day, day or night, right now. They can go. They do, they're all over the place. Some have been killed, it's a dangerous place.

King: So what's the basis for their --

Rumsfeld: I think it's genetic. I think throughout the history of warfare the press, in any country with a free press, has always believed they didn't have enough access. It was true in World War II, it was true in Korea, it was true in Vietnam, it was true in Desert Storm, and it's been true here. On the other hand, we've given incredible access. The folks here in the Pentagon understand the importance of the American people having access to events taking place. We draw the line, I do, I draw the line. I'm darned if I'm going to tolerate people giving classified information to anybody, whether it's the press or other people, because it puts men and women in uniform's lives at risk, and that's wrong. And I'll be darned if we're going to talk about operations and put people's lives at risk.

On the other hand, we've put press people embedded right with the Special Forces groups. They've had access to see what's going on, they've been on ships, they've been in direct actions programs that the Special Forces have conducted. I accept the world that the appetite of the press is insatiable. There is no amount that they could be fed that they would not want more. My job is to see that they get the maximum amount that's responsible, and by golly, not anything that's irresponsible.

King: And still retain the fact that you are a public employee.

Rumsfeld: You bet, we are, and we ought to -- the things that are classified ought to not be given to anybody except those that are cleared for classified information.

King: A couple of other things, should the secretary of the Army think about resigning over the Enron situation?

Rumsfeld: Oh goodness, I'm don't think I'm going to get into that subject. Here's a person who's had a wonderful career and done a fine job for the country, as an Army Officer, as well as a secretary of the Army, in so far as I'm aware I have every confidence that he has provided all the information that he's been asked for. You know, the way you cast the question, for the good of the Army, and those are tough calls for him.

King: Have you spoken to him?

Rumsfeld: We've talked a number of times, and he's a fine person, but he has complied with every request that has been made, and there hasn't to my knowledge been an allegation leveled against him that --

King: Warrants his leaving?

Rumsfeld: Suggests any impropriety. Now, these are complicated, and of course someone can say, well, yes, but the charges alone are enough to make it a problem. We've talked, and I've told him that at that point where he's not able to do his job, he's too busy defending himself, that he ought to make a good judgment about taking a leave of absence or making a decision. And he said, look, that's exactly what I'll do, if I can't do that job, I'll do that. But, I think that people are pecking away at these things, they seem to have a life of their own.

King: One other quick thing, the Washington Post has an article today, the Pentagon missteps, stalled new vaccines. Do you know what that's about?

Rumsfeld: I don't.

King: It contends that military planners repeatedly ignored warnings that the Pentagon's vaccine program was inadequate.

Rumsfeld: On anthrax?

King: Yes.

Rumsfeld: This is an issue that's gone on for years, there's no question. But, it turns out there was only one supplier in the United States, and the company could not get its product cleared through the Food and Drug Administration, and as a result the anthrax vaccinations, which had been underway two, three years ago for any number of people, had stopped, because there was a very limited amount left.

King: In other words, there was nothing you could do.

Rumsfeld: Now, it's back and it has been approved, and it is now producing vaccine, and that issue as to who ought to be given the vaccine first, second, and third is something that's very close to being brought up to me.

King: Always good spending time with you.

Rumsfeld: Thank you, I enjoyed it, appreciate it.

King: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

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