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Secretary Rumsfeld Meeting with Washington Post Editorial Board

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
June 03, 2002

(Meeting with Washington Post editorial board.)

Washington Post: I guess India and Pakistan. I guess you go very first to NATO and then a couple of stops in the Middle East and then to South Asia?

Rumsfeld: Probably, yeah. I think I'm going to actually go to London first, and then Brussels, then there's another NATO function in I think Estonia. Then I'm going to go to the Gulf to two or three countries, and then eventually to Pakistan and India.

Washington Post: What's your assessment at this hour of what's going on today? The potential meeting with Putin. What are you observing in terms of the border and troop deployments?

Rumsfeld: My understanding is that it will not be a meeting with Putin, it will be plural. There will be separate meetings as opposed to a single meeting between the two countries, but you never know.

In terms of the Afghan-Pakistan border, the Pakistanis have moved away some small elements, but not major forces yet. Some reconnaissance people and communications people, things like that. Nothing big. To my knowledge, which was an hour or so ago when I was last updated, the forces are still reasonably in place along the Afghan border.

Washington Post: Why do the Pakistanis keep telling reporters that large movements have taken place that you say haven't taken place?

Rumsfeld: I don't know. I didn't know they were, and I don't know who you mean when you say the Pakistanis. There undoubtedly have been some forces that have been moved away from the western sector to the eastern sector, but I was with Tom Franks this morning and his latest word was that of the forces that have been there, for example, in the last 30 days, to his knowledge they have not been moved.

Washington Post: Does your concern remain high that --

Rumsfeld: My guess is that I'm right and they're wrong. I'm just guessing.

When I say some forces have been moved away, they have, but they've been smaller elements, and that may be what's being referred to, or it may be that some people who were not deployed long the Afghan border for the purpose that we want them deployed there may have moved to the eastern border. But as far as I know what I'm saying is exactly correct.

Washington Post: What is your assessment of the threat on that border of al Qaeda and others infiltrating back in and causing more difficulties for America?

Rumsfeld: It's clearly the same. It has been our worry for the last six months that the border's porous, that people move back and forth going both ways, and that there are pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban that are still floating around on both sides. Our task is to try to find them. We've been getting help from the Pakistani armed forces.

[Portion deleted due to ground rule.]

Washington Post: Do you think that Musharraf seriously intends to stop incursions across the line of control? And what evidence have you seen so far about performance along the line of control towards Kashmir?

Rumsfeld: Well, here we are again. I'm going to be going over and visiting with those folks and I have various things that we're going to want to talk about. I don't know that sitting down and talking about them to the media before I go is helpful.

Washington Post: I guess both sides are looking to your neutral assessment about performance along the line of control and I wonder what signs of change if any you've been able to witness so far?

Rumsfeld: Well, if you think of our border with Canada and Mexico and if you think of the line of control which is what, 15,000-20,000 feet. You've probably been there, Tom. But it's a brutal place. The top three-quarters of the line of control is rugged mountains. There are people on both sides of that line who think both ways, are pro one side or pro another side.

Is it likely that if you decided you wanted to stop it -- how many observers are there now? There's UN folks up there, there's all kinds of things, but it's just a terribly difficult thing to do, to stop people who want to go kill somebody from moving around in that area. People can move around. That's just the way it is. I guess that's an answer.

Washington Post: Could you do a confidence-building measure of any sort by providing [inaudible] in the treaty? Has that been discussed yet with either side?

Rumsfeld: I don't know if it's been discussed. There's no question that people are discussing, various other countries are discussing various types of confidence-building measures, but I honestly don't know if that particular subject has come up.

Washington Post: Is that something you might offer when you go? And what else is in your goody bag?

Secretary Rumsfeld: I guess I'm not going over with a Christmas basket filled with deliverables, if that's what you're wondering. I'm not really in that business. I think logic and the interests of each country is more in my line.

Washington Post: How would you define American interests in this crisis?

Secretary Rumsfeld: I guess as citizens of this globe we have to be awfully pleased that nuclear weapons have existed since 1945 and not been used in anger. And given the proliferation of these technologies the hope that one could continue that impressive record, I don't know if there's ever been a weapon that's existed of that magnitude or any magnitude, significant magnitude, that's not been used for that long a period. It's an amazing accomplishment for human beings. It certainly is in our interest that they not be used.

Given the reality that war is not predictable and that things can escalate and move out of control. As we know, for example, between the United States and the Soviet Union. Now that the Soviet Union's gone you can go get access to various records. It's pretty clear that there were misperceptions on our part and their part about each other. And one has to recognize that when people have lengthy difficulties between each other and a long border, that it is possible for people to have misperceptions. So we have that interest.

Second we have an interest obviously in each of those two countries on a bilateral basis. Quite apart from whether or not nuclear weapons are used. That interest is that India is an important country, it's a democratic country, it's a country that we have been improving our relationships with and it is an important political and economic and military factor in the world. And clearly a conflict on the subcontinent would adversely affect India and Pakistan's relationships with the rest of the world.

Pakistan is a country that has the prospects of becoming a model moderate Muslim state and a country that we are intimately involved with in the global war on terror, and troops stationed and aircraft stationed there, and anything that distracts them from helping us in the global war on terror and trying to finish the job in Afghanistan which is not an easy job, it's a complicated job, it's a difficult job, that is notably unhelpful to us from a broader standpoint.

Two countries, if they get into a major conflict, are going to be set back years in terms of their political relationships with the rest of the world, their economic relationships, and that's not a happy prospect for them or the world.

Washington Post: To come back to the India-Pakistan border. What is the current American strategy, the current American operations there? Are the searching operations still going on of the border area there?

Rumsfeld: Uh huh.

Washington Post: Has there been much activity of late?

Rumsfeld: There has been. A lot of groups are out making sweeps and they're discovering large caches of weapons, big numbers of rockets, of small arms ammunition, in some cases some armored personnel carriers and weapons of all types and all nationalities. If weapons have nationalities. Countries of origin is probably a better way to say it.

So they're having good success. The things I went through today probably had four or five different activities either just finishing or underway or starting.

Washington Post: Mostly materiel rather than people?

Rumsfeld: A lot more materiel than people.

Washington Post: And that tells you what then? That they were massing for something with this materiel? Or they stowed it there on their way from one point to another?

Rumsfeld: It's hard to know. It's clear that they thought that was a safe place and we're trying to make it unsafe. We're trying to complicate their lives rather than simplify them. We've got a lot of good coalition countries that are participating and moving around and doing things.

Washington Post: How concerned are you about the elusiveness of the people themselves?

Rumsfeld: I don't know that concern is the right word. I'm not surprised. It's very hard to find individual people. That's really law enforcement, one would think of it in that context.

Following up leads, talking to people, hoping that they don't learn that you're there trying to find them and get away before you can grab them.

On the other hand, given the risk that they pose to our forces, to the Karzai government, it's not a law enforcement task. It's also a military task. It's a task of defending by going out and trying to track them down and if you can't capture them at least keeping them moving, keeping their life complicated, making it difficult for them to mass, making it difficult for them to plan attacks, making it difficult for them to get money and recruit and creating a disincentive for people to want to come back across the borders from Iran and from Afghanistan. Even the IMU [Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan] from up north.

Washington Post: An Afghan interim government minister is quoted as saying that Mullah Omar is alive and spending most of his time nowadays outside of Afghanistan but crossing back and forth. Does that correspond to what you understand of his --

Rumsfeld: I don't know. We hear that kind of thing all the time.

Washington Post: Do you --

Rumsfeld: But we hear conflicting information. It's hard to know when you hear that type of thing if it's disinformation, because they do an awful lot of lying purposely to lead people in the wrong direction. And it might very well be he's in Afghanistan all the time and he's leading people to believe that he's outside of Afghanistan. It also might be that he's dead. I just don't know.

We get so many scraps of information. If they were good, solid, actionable leads, we would have him. Therefore they're not. Therefore that kind of thing has to be taken exactly for what it is. Something other than an actionable piece of information.

Washington Post: Do you have any better sense now than you did a few months ago of how many al Qaeda people have left not just the tribal areas, but have gone into Pakistan cities or other countries since last fall?

Rumsfeld: I guess I don't. I've heard so many numbers as to how many were killed, and we know we've got some handfuls of hundreds, and we know that a lot got away. And we don't know if when they got away they decided they didn't want to do anything anymore, or if they are still active cadre that are waiting to find someone to tell them what to do.

But we know they're in enough countries and have enough money and have enough leadership that you've got to expect they in fact are going to act again.

You kind of walk through what you know. You know there is proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. You know those six or seven terrorist states are testing chemical, biological and actively seeking some of the nuclear and radiation capabilities. And you know there's a linkage between the terrorist organizations and the terrorist states. Therefore it seems to me that reasonable people have got to say to themselves that if left to their own devices they are going to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction.

You can't know whether that's going to happen within a week or a month or a year or two years. But you have to know that it isn't a question of whether it will happen but that it will happen.

I was sitting here having breakfast with congressmen when the plane went into the World Trade Center, and we were talking about surprise and warning and events that would occur in the world.

The way I try to think of it is, for myself, one ought -- assuming that's correct, and it seems to me it's not debatable that terrorists may have those things, they have relationships with global terrorist organizations. We have lots of evidence that the global terrorist networks want weapons of mass destruction. Therefore one has to say they're going to get them at some point unless they're stopped.

The question to provide the sense of urgency for yourself, if you say to yourself, say it's a week, a month, a year or two years, what is it that I wish I had done now, today, starting today, between now and when that happens, that would help improve our ability to prevent it from happening, and you've got to assume it's not a single event, but it's multiple events as we know, it's the way these things work.

And second, what could one do to mitigate the effect if and when it does happen? Because it's not possible to defend every place at every time against every conceivable technique. Therefore you've got to assume something's going to get through the net because you can't stop everything.

So you have to say what ought everyone -- federal, state, local, public, private -- ought we to be doing and how ought we to be getting ourselves arranged so that we can prevent as many of those types of things, given the fact that if it is a weapon of mass destruction, some type of biological weapon, for example, and it's contagious, for example you're not talking about thousands of people, you're talking about tens of thousands of people.

So all of us in and out of government have to have that sense of urgency with respect to this set of problems. They're distinctly different from earlier periods. You could be wrong on a conventional attack of some kind and it's harmful and people die. If you're wrong on something that's less than conventional or other than conventional it is not -- It is something multiples of that.

Washington Post: Do you think to avert a nuclear war, is this unusual for the United States to send the Secretary of Defense rather than the Secretary of State? Could you tell us how you were chosen?

Secretary Rumsfeld: I think it's a mistake to think that I'm being sent to do something like mediate the war between Pakistan and India, not at all.

Washington Post: You're not?

Secretary Rumsfeld: No.

Washington Post: Then who is?

Rumsfeld: Well, Rich Armitage is on his way over there. We've had the president and the secretary of state on the phone with the principals repeatedly. Mr. Putin is meeting with each of them this week. Other world leaders have been involved. There have been meetings between Cabinet level officers in those two countries and our country and other countries over the same period of time.

Is it helpful to have someone else go? Yeah, I suppose it is. But one ought not to say well that's Rumsfeld's assignment. That's actually not my assignment as such.

Washington Post: What is your assignment?

Rumsfeld: Well, I was going to be in the region, nearby, and I've visited there previously, and I have met with each of the senior officials from those two countries here in the United States and elsewhere in the world, and it is useful, I believe, to demonstrate a senior level interest on the part of the United States.

As I indicated, we have, as a citizen of the world we all have an interest in their not engaging in a nuclear conflict as a country. And as a Defense Department we have an interest in their not being a conflict of any type because it is notably harmful to the global war on terrorism.

So it is apparently thought by the President and others that it's helpful for us to have a series of people, more than one person involved in dealing with these two countries.

Washington Post: What are you going to say to them?

Rumsfeld: I'm inclined to say that to them. I know that's kind of strange in this town.

Washington Post: I wondered if you're going to emphasize the hideous consequences of a nuclear exchange? Were you going to give casualty figures? Were you going to suggest what would happen if they do this? It's inconceivable to me they haven't thought about that.

Rumsfeld: They have. They're sovereign states. They've had nuclear weapons for some time. It seems to me -- I've read articles that seem a little condescending to the two countries. My impression is that both of those countries are, they're large, they're seasoned, they've been around a long time, and they've had conflicts with each other previously but not at a time when they had as many nuclear weapons as they currently do, but no. I think they have a pretty good sense of each other in terms of capabilities.

I think there's always a possibility, as I said earlier, that there could be misperceptions as to the extent to which something can be localized or something can be held within limits because in life, conflicts tend to turn out different than you think they're going to be.

[Portion deleted due to ground rule.]

Washington Post: You spoke about our disrupting al Qaeda and impacts of weapons of mass destruction. To what degree do you think the administration is getting distracted from that central task by these other crises that come up? The very fact that you're going to this conflict; George Tenet is in Israel. Is there a danger of the focus being lost that you need on the al Qaeda problem?

Rumsfeld: I don't think so. We've got a lot of people who can worry about things and a lot of people who do. It's hard. Most of these folks are working long hours and long weeks. Long months. But the global war on terrorism and the threat that I see and that all of us are reminded of every day as you feel through intelligence scraps and try to sort through, helps to keep the mind focused.

You're right, Colin and the president and now George have spent a pile of time on the Middle East and still are. Afghanistan takes a lot of time. It's a big world. It's a complicated world. It's a dangerous world. It's an untidy world. It's an imperfect world.

Washington Post: Is this crisis in particular between India and Pakistan, is there a way, do you think, in what's a sort of unintended consequence of the war on terrorism, do you think this crisis was in part brought about by the fact that we launched our own, that we have launched our war against terrorism? That the Indians have been encouraged by that to respond in the way that they have to terrorist attacks?

Rumsfeld: Oh, no. The Indians have responded to terrorist attacks fairly regularly over the years. They have obviously the same concern, and a legitimate concern, that when people in their areas are killed and attacked as they have been; the Israelis have the same problem just as we have. And their concern has not changed dramatically on the thermometer from previous incidents and attacks.

I do worry that if you think about it, you make a big effort one place and things move away and then there can be problems elsewhere.

[Portion deleted due to ground rule.]

Rumsfeld: There's no doubt in my mind but that the al Qaeda have cells all over the world. They've got people that were trained, they'd have to be in an organization that big, all the people that were trained, there has to be six, eight, ten, twelve, fifteen people who know where the bank accounts are, who know the people that were trained, who know what the techniques are, who could pick it up. I don't know whether UBL is active today or not, I don't have any idea. My guess is if he were active that we would know it. We'd have some visible sense of it, which we haven't seemed to have had for some reason. Now maybe he's got a better reason to not than to make himself known, but let's assume he isn't active, that he either doesn't want to be exposed or he's ill or dead. Who knows? For the sake of argument does that mean that that apparatus isn't functioning? No, I think it is. I think I've seen enough evidence to know that it's functioning and that people are talking to each other, people are raising money, people are having a harder time. We are constantly putting pressure on every time we arrest somebody in some country around the world and start asking questions and learn a little bit more. Then that whole network knows that [inaudible] was arrested and he's being asked those questions and he may or may not be providing information.

The problem we've got is the one you're seeing manifested in the press to a certain extent in our society. That is the tension between treating something as a law enforcement problem and treating it as an intelligence-gathering problem, and that is not an easy thing to deal with for a country that has historically, we don't even have a domestic intelligence-gathering entity. Most countries do. Anything that comes up in the United States tends to be looked at as a law enforcement matter. Gee, we just found this person doing something they shouldn't have, let's go punish them. Give them their rights, stick them in a jail, hire a lawyer at government expense and decide whether or not he's guilty or innocent and give him due process.

Of course if you're worried about the problem that I cited at the beginning, that you've got the risk of terrorists getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction or killing thousands or tens of thousands of people, you're not terribly interested in whether or not the person is potentially a subject for law enforcement. Your interest is what in the world do you do to find out what that person knows so that you can prevent an attack with thousands more Americans being killed, and that is a mindset that does not even exist domestically in our country. It doesn't exist in the population, it does not exist in the press, it does not exist in how our government is organized and arranged.

I can remember when we were announcing the rules for the military commissions we received question after question about you mean that even if somebody was tried they might not be let loose? If they were tried for a certain charge, whether or not this person did something bad who's been captured on a battlefield and the answer was yeah, that's an open question whether you'd let them loose for two reasons. One, he might go right back to the battlefield and try to fight you. Second, that person may have information that could prevent an additional attack. We know the person's guilty of something. That is to say they had weapons and were on the battlefield in Afghanistan and we arrested them and captured them and put them in detention at Guantanamo. Then the question was well if you tried them and they were acquitted of that charge, whatever the charge was, some charge, it doesn't mean they're not guilty of the other charge of having been an unlawful combatant in Afghanistan trying to kill people and a potential source of information, intelligence information, which is why people of course, most of the tribunals and commissions in previous wars occurred after the whole was over and with a totally different question because you wanted to keep them away from the battle.

But here, once somebody is in the Justice Department they are looked at as a law enforcement problem as opposed to an intelligence-gathering problem. Therefore the question is how do you deal with that?

It is not an easy question for us and we've got a lot of good, fine people who are worrying that through and wondering what that all means in our society.

[Portion deleted due to ground rule.]

Washington Post: What's the relationship between preemption and WMD? Is the United States contemplating preemptive strikes against other nations' WMD holdings?

Rumsfeld: On the record. Why would anyone answer that question if they were contemplating it?

Washington Post: Because it would be a radical change in U.S. posture that probably would require congressional approval before you did it.

Rumsfeld: Wouldn't you think that if anyone were contemplating that they would know that?

Washington Post: I think we pretty much announced it in '95 when we talked about Korea. North Korea. Secretary Perry later said we had contemplated preemptive airstrikes against Korea.

Secretary Rumsfeld: He had a meeting with the former Secretary of Defense in that office and had lunch and we all talked about it.

Washington Post: On the target [inaudible], are you personally worried about our military being over-extended?

Rumsfeld: You know I keep reading about that in the press. I guess, we're still on the record. Hey, it's a fine question for me.

We're not going to get over-extended. We're going to do those things we're capable of doing. And if the President wants them to do something he would ask us to do something that we were capable of doing.

We've just gotten I think 9,000 Guard and Reserve out of the Air Force. The numbers bear out, they're gone. And other people are there. I think there's only one airport where there's a few people left. We're still ratcheting down in Bosnia. We've got a Memorandum of Understanding on folks that we've got in the INS, Customs, and the Border Patrol where the President said look, we need them there for awhile. I said fine, we'll do it for awhile but that isn't our job. And by golly, we're going to get an understanding and we're going to keep people in uniform doing stuff that people in uniform ought to be doing and let other people do stuff that people in uniform don't need to be doing. That's the way we've been doing it. We've been pulling people away from fellowships and various types of activities. We're in a very serious problem and we have to have a sense of urgency about it and be willing to do it.

We will be able to do what we believe is necessary to do. We've got, I don't know, 70,000 plus people who have been activated and we're going to be able to start letting some of that go down I believe. We've got a number of people on stop loss who we've held in beyond their time. We are getting more volunteers. A lot of the people in the 70,000 volunteered. They weren't required. And they wanted to participate.

So yes, we're going to be able to do what we need to do.

Washington Post: Is Iraq becoming more threatening or less threatening with the passage of time? Is there any evidence in either direction?

Rumsfeld: Sure. If you've got folks who are repressing their own people and who are testing various types, ranges of ballistic missiles, and who have had active weapons of mass destruction programs, and you've allowed them opportunity after opportunity to continue to do that development work and you've got porous borders and you've got an oil for food program that allows them to use the money not for food but for darn near anything they want and bring things across the border, there's no question but that their WMD programs and their military capabilities are going to evolve in a way that's favorable to them.

Washington Post: Are you of the school of thought that thinks the Iraqi people would rise up to greet our forces should we send them into Iraq?

Rumsfeld: You know, that's not the kind of thing you'd ever comment on. But if you go to the last time they did. There were thousands and thousands of people in the first 24-30 hours who surrendered. There were cases where 500 people surrounded to a corporal, one corporal. Over the four day, five day period, the whole thing, there were something like, I don't know whether it's 40,000, 50,000, 60,000 people -- 80,000 people who surrendered.

I just can't conceive of people living in a regime that's that repressive and thinking that they'd like it to go on. So you have to assume some people will surrender. Will they rise up, which is I think the phrase you used, I think that's not likely. I think that people who rise up get killed.

Think, what was it, Hungary or Czechoslovakia where there was, in '56 -- Hungary, where there was a feeling that the West might do something, and they rose up and hundreds of hundreds of people were killed.

Washington Post: People were throwing dinner plates at tanks. But I ask the question because it seems to be central to the planning and strategy of those who think an invasion of Iraq would be a cakewalk.

Rumsfeld: Nothing's a cakewalk and everything's unpredictable and life's hard. Those folks have weapons they'll use. Anyone who thinks it's a cakewalk isn't right.

[Portion deleted due to ground rule.]

Washington Post: So how long can you afford to wait on Iraq without it falling into the category of things that you say two years from now you look back and wish you'd done something?

Rumsfeld: Gosh, that's above my pay grade.

Washington Post: Are you worried about waiting too long?

Secretary Rumsfeld: I've got advice for the president and I give it to the president. What's the matter with you? Why do you do that kind of stuff to me?

Washington Post: We can relay it.

[Laughter]

Rumsfeld: Golly. We can relay it.

Ms. Clarke: In 1988, '85, [inaudible].

Rumsfeld: My secretary's the one who sent it to me in Chicago. It's from 1985. There it is. April 8th of 1985. It is very interesting to read. You'll find I used almost identical language.

Washington Post: Thank you.

Rumsfeld: Well folks, thank you for coming in.