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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Washington Times

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
July 19, 2002

(Interview with Georgie Anne Geyer, Washington Times)

Geyer: How do you think our -- how is our situation going there Don? How would you, after all these months? How do you --

Rumsfeld: Well, I think it's going very well. The people who look at it and write about it, of course, are looking for news and front page stories, so they look for spikes, dips and valleys, or peaks and valleys to comment on. But if one steps back and looks at the total scenery, the Afghanistan security situation that gets reported on periodically as being terrible and so forth is really quite good.

I say that because if you watch key indicators like refugee flows it's very clear that hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of refugees are returning from outside, and they're returning from internally displaced camps, and they're voting with their feet. They're making conscious judgments everyday that what's happening inside the country is for the good and that it's better than where they were or are.

Second, for the most part, humanitarian workers are able to move around the country and do their work. Periodically there's a problem, but for the most part that's going forward. Food's being delivered, and roads are being built, wells are being dug.

I think the correct analysis is to say that it's uneven. In the southeast area of Afghanistan, probably is less secure than the rest of it.

If you tried to disaggregate the word 'security' into different categories, you've got the strategic, which we're worried about dealing with the al Qaeda and the Taliban, and you've got regional security. And as I say, except for southeast it's really reasonably stable.

Geyer: Even in the country [inaudible]?

Rumsfeld: You've got local security, which would be crime, and narcotics traffic and crime and that type of thing.

Geyer: Which was bound to come.

Rumsfeld: It's in every country. I mean, particularly in, you know...

[Portion omitted due to established ground rules.]

We have to keep things in proportion. And if we reported the number of murders in Chicago on a hot Saturday night, it would get your attention.

The other thing about security, of course, is the leadership security that you worry about, which is in any country. Of course, the fact that that vice president was killed was notable and most unfortunate.

The Karzai government is still in its very early stages. It doesn't have the institutions of government to direct, to [inaudible] things like police forces, border guards, armies, tax collectors, and internal security. Which, um, fortunately it's got leadership that is thoughtful and approaching things in a very rational way, but without all of the instruments of government.

Geyer: This good analyst -- I don't him personally, but I've read some of his [inaudible]. I don't know what his nationality is, but he's very good. He's written on Islam. And he said the other night on television he thought that al Qaeda was essentially defeated. Coming from him I found that very interesting. He said of course they're there. They're around the world, but all their financial ties have been disconnected. Everything's disconnected. Is it too soon to say that?

Rumsfeld: Yeah. The truth is, we don't know the number of [inaudible]. Let's say for the sake of argument somewhere between five and twenty thousand people were trained in training camps. So, al Qaeda -- just that one global terrorist network. And take your pick 5,000, ten, 15, 20, somewhere. It's not hundreds. But for the sake of argument, I would say ten to fifteen is probably a ballpark number. And, that means there's a lot of them around.

Second, they have raised a lot of money. They have financial backers who give them money. Now. Still today.

On the other hand, the pressure that's been put on them has been significant. A lot of bank accounts have been frozen. Money's dried up. I'm sure that donors have been much more careful about whether they really wanted to do that, and get caught or be seen to do that. Recruiting's got to be harder. Retention has to be harder. Moving between countries is harder. Communicating is harder. But they're still there, and there's a lot of them and they're well trained, very well trained, and they have money.

Geyer: Do they have direction? Who's directing them?

Rumsfeld: We believe that there probably are six, eight, ten people who knew where the bank accounts were and who had been involved in the conceptual development of plans and a good chunk of those are still around. I've got to believe there's eight, ten, twelve people who could provide leadership.

Now, is it going to be as charismatic as UBL? Who knows? Maybe not. Is it going to have the same access to dollars? Maybe not.

Geyer: But we don't know where he is.

Rumsfeld: No, or if he is.

Geyer: Or if he is. It would seem to me to be too quiet, to be alive.

Rumsfeld: For a fellow who likes to be on videos, you'd think that the time between December and July is an awful long time to be holding yourself in reserve.

[Portion omitted due to established ground rules.]

Geyer: Have you come up with any -- it's what, been ten months since 9/11 -- any thoughts on philosophizing about what this has done to the American military these ten months. What the future will be like? I know you don't have time to sit around and get philosophical [inaudible]..

Rumsfeld: No. I do.

Geyer: Your mind is always --

Rumsfeld: I do, I take the time to think about those things.

Geyer: I know you think about them.

Rumsfeld: It has clearly helped to register at the leadership level, the reality that the 21st century security environment is now, and will continue to be, different from the 20th century security environment for our country.

It has raised to a much higher level the reality that there are fewer large armies, navies and air forces to contest us and threaten us because of the deterrent effect of ours. But that there are and will continue to be asymmetric threats that will confront us, and if you think about a military person in any country, they decide to make that their career and they train, they work and they dress in their uniforms, they manage equipment -- airplanes, ships, tanks, weapons -- and get ready. And then a war comes and no one asks them to do anything.

It is, it has to register on them, they want to be a part of an institution that's relevant, and therefore, if the war's going on and their phone doesn't ring, they have to say to themselves I want to be a part of some element of this activity where the phone is going to ring. These people want to be engaged, they want to be involved in it, that's what they do. They care about their country.

[Portion omitted due to established ground rules.]

The other thing that's interesting it seems to me from a conceptual standpoint is the United States spent all these decades defending ourselves against foreign threats and organizing and training and equipping to do that. And against essentially conventional weapons. And, for the most part, reasonably symmetrical threats. What's happened is the armed services are increasingly aware that what we're looking forward to is less conventional and more unconventional, less symmetrical and more asymmetrical threats.

I guess to try to crystallize the thing that the whole world has got to address, and clearly the American people and the Congress and academic institutions, and the defense establishment, is with weapons of mass destruction capable of killing hundreds of thousands and millions as opposed to handfuls and hundreds and thousands. What obligations ought a country or a group of countries undertake if they know of certain knowledge that X number of countries that have hostile intention against their neighbors and others are moving rapidly down the road towards having weapons of mass destruction?

The effects of biological weapons -- smallpox and those things -- closely packed civilian population like we've got in the major industrialized countries of the world, it's just a terrible thought.

But, you can just begin to hear the discussion take place where -- the President used the word preemption I think. There is the word preventive. But what we did in Afghanistan really was self-defense because you cannot defend against terrorists everywhere in every time in every place. You have to go to them. If countries are providing a haven for terrorists, you have to go to it. You can't wait until it comes to you -- in a historical context of a Pearl Harbor attack or something like that.

So what's being discussed and considered in the world today, kind of semi-publicly and... It is -- let me think how to say this -- as you observe countries developing biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, and you know they're countries that have used those kind of weapons against others, and you know they're countries that have publicly expressed hostile intent towards their neighbors and others, and you know that you're not talking about losing hundreds or thousands, you're talking about the dangers of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or indeed millions of people. How ought a country to handle that evolving circumstance, if you will?

Clearly, the old rules are different today. There are new rules, there are new guidelines, because the margin for error has shrunk and the implications of inaction are so sizable relative to anything that others have previously considered. It seems to me that that in kind of a generic, conceptual way is something that folks are thinking about and discussing.

Geyer: That's where Iraq comes down. But other countries as well, you're saying... Can you say what your position is -- your personal position is -- on Iraq?

Rumsfeld: Sure, I do. I give it to the President. [Laughter]

Geyer: [Laughter] Not to Torie and me?

Rumsfeld: No. [Laughter] No, but those are not easy calls, I'll tell you. The penalty for being wrong is enormous. It's not September 11th, it's September 11th cubed and squared. I'd have to really go back mathematically and see what cubed and squared would produce. Do you know?

Clarke: No. [Laughter]

Rumsfeld: No it's a reserve ... These are tough issues.

Geyer: They're very tough issues.

Rumsfeld: I think anyone who is anywhere around them recognizes that, and my guess is that over the coming weeks and months we'll begin to see a more thoughtful consideration of it in a generic sense, a conceptual sense, as the society -- our society -- and other societies around the world think these things through.

And put on the balance, the advantages and the disadvantages and weigh them, and begin to give consideration to what the implications are of doing something and the implications of not doing something. And the implications of time passing. Because there is no question but that any number of those countries are moving smartly down the field towards having those weapons. That means that at varying times they're going to have more of them, more mature capabilities and a more mature ability to deliver them in a variety of different ways.

Geyer: [inaudible] how many are you talking about?

Rumsfeld: Well just look at the countries on the terrorist list. I mean those are the countries that have all been involved in sponsoring terrorism, so the nexus between terrorist states and terrorist networks and weapons of mass destruction is a volatile combination. We know any number of them already have chemical and biological weapons.

Geyer: I think Cuba has them. [inaudible]

Rumsfeld: We know some have nuclear weapons and we know all of them want them and are working on them.

Geyer: But we can't invade all these countries.

Rumsfeld: No. I didn't say that.

Geyer: No, but there are people [inaudible]

Rumsfeld: The question is how do you live in a world like that? What do you want to do? So it's an important issue that thoughtful people ought to engage and consider in a responsible way. And there are pluses and minuses on both sides.

Geyer: What worries me Don is there's been so little discussion about it. I'm a critic of the [inaudible] invasion of Iraq idea. I would never criticize you for anything. You're fabulous. But I am a critic of the -- I mean I don't want you to read something into --

Rumsfeld: No, no.

Geyer: But you probably know what. It seems so out of [inaudible]. I've heard figures of 75 billion dollars it would cost and things like this. Two hundred and 50 thousand men and these [inaudible] these theological ideas of because of the way we saved Israel. So incredibly -- and you may not say it, you don't say anything publicly, that's why I asked you, but your second people are saying it all [inaudible]. I know Iraq. I've been out with that Iraqi military and before [inaudible]. They're not to be taken lightly. They collapsed in Kuwait, which I said they would because they out of their own country.

Rumsfeld: Eighty thousand surrendered in four days.

Geyer: Yes, but they weren't in their own country

Rumsfeld: Pardon me?

Geyer: But they weren't in their own country.

Rumsfeld: They were what?

Geyer: They were not fighting for their own country.

Rumsfeld: When they surrendered they were.

Geyer: Well, they were in their own country, but the war was not -- they were not being invaded. I'm just saying that -- how seriously should we take this idea of an invasion? I mean I'll tell all sides, but I have make [inaudible] to be very cautious.

Rumsfeld: I don't know, those are -- it's about my pay grade.

But it's an interesting problem for the world. We're in a time, and it's an interesting period and it's something that people have got to think seriously about.

Geyer: I saw Prince Turkei when he was here. I met him in Jedda years ago and he said well, we suggested to the Americans in the early '90s to assassinate Saddam and they said no. Of course, this is the Clinton administration. I have to say assassination seems to me to be a very good a very good answer. [Laughter] But I guess we can't do that, can we?

[Portion omitted due to established ground rules.]

Rumsfeld: I think it's not as black and white as you say your position -- you said your position was X. I think people who really get into this and look at it don't have that clarity. I'd look at it generically. I'd look at it conceptually. I'd look at it broadly, as a circumstance of the world. It is damn lucky that the Israelis took out the Iraqi nuclear capability when they did because they were years ahead of our best estimates, as we found out in Desert Storm.

Geyer: I wish there could be more of a discussion about it. There's no discussion in Congress, there's no --

Rumsfeld: There could be.

Geyer: There could be, sure. There should be.

Rumsfeld: They could have hearings, or meetings, or write articles, or have discussions, or go on television, think about it. It's an interesting set of problems. It gets less interesting when you bring it down to Iraq. It is more interesting if one thinks of it in terms of weapons of mass destruction.

The problem of particularizing it to a country forces up a whole cluster of particularized issues that are relevant to that country, and what's interesting about this is that we're in the 21st century, we're in a moment in history where because of the proliferation of these technologies and the dual-use aspects of them and the ease in denial and deception -- I mean biologicals can be done in mobile vans. It isn't like it takes an underground city and billions of dollars to do this. It's doable.

So it loses its thoughtfulness -- the discussion loses its thoughtfulness and its power when it's particularized.

Geyer: That's very good.

Rumsfeld: It is much better to take it conceptually and think about it in terms of the world and the society and a moment in history when, for the first time, these kinds of capabilities that can kill large numbers are increasingly available and when armies, navies and air forces are not deterrents against them And when the kind of people who flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- terrorist networks -- are perfectly willing to kill large numbers of innocent men, women and children, that's when you can really get a fresh, thoughtful discussion going. I think that that is something that is a useful thing to do and there isn't any security aspect to it at all.

People constantly want to bring it down to one country, Syria or Iraq or Libya or North Korea or Cuba or whatever, Iran, which is, first of all, then you get into security issues, then you get into intelligence that's classified. So.

Well, all right. I'm out of time.

Geyer: Thank you so much Don.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

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