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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Brett Baier, Fox News

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
September 12, 2002

Monday, August 19, 2002

(Interview with Brett Baier, Fox News)

Q: Thanks for coming in.

Mr. Secretary, it's one year after 9/11. When you look at the overview of where we had been, where we are, what is your perception today of how things are progressing on the war on terrorism?

Rumsfeld: Well, it's just about on plan, if you will. If you think back, the things that we had to wrestle with very early on were important. We knew we wanted to develop a coalition but because of the wide variety of things that needed to be done it couldn't be a single coalition. Countries had to help do those things that they felt were appropriate to them in their part of the world and their circumstance. So we allowed the coalition to form around a series of missions, just to make one example.

Another was it was pretty clear that the enemies did not have armies, navies and air forces. Therefore it was going to take a full spectrum of capabilities across the span of government. Economic and political and financial and law enforcement as well as military, overt and covert. It also was very clear it was going to take time. The kinds of tasks that we were facing were not the kinds of things that you would have a set piece and start in a battle and end and it would be over. People can hide, as they are, and we warned the world that it would take a good deal of time and indeed it is taking time. But I feel that it's been enormously successful. And while not complete by a long shot, what's been accomplished in a relatively short period of time I think is notable.

Q: How soon after the attack here at the World Trade Center did that planning start?

Rumsfeld: Oh, instantaneously. We were thinking about those things and indeed beginning to talk about those things in the first days after September 11th and certainly in the first two or three weeks.

It was very clear that there were not enough visible targets that you could use aircraft or ground forces or naval forces to deal with them on a continuous basis. You'd run out of targets. Therefore it was quite obvious that this was going to be more like an iceberg. There would be some small portion above the surface of the sea, and then the bulk of what was taking place would be down below and not visible. You can recall me talking to the, in a press briefing about this, the fact that it would not be a set piece war.

Q: In those press briefings, there was a time there when the word quagmire was used again and again in questions. There was this time when maybe there wasn't a lot of visible success on the ground.

What's your perception of that time? Did you always know it was moving forward?

Rumsfeld: Oh, sure. Sure. I felt good about it. First of all thinking back, the fact that we were able to take a problem where there was no road map, no history that you could go and say here's how this was done before and we have a plan for this. There was no battle plan for this.

Thanks to the President and his very clear, unambiguous leadership early on from the first days to his speech before the Congress, he set some standards out down the road that we've all tracked towards. And so I think that that was enormously important that that could be done by him and by his team.

The team was a group of people who knew each other, we worked together. So the fact that it was a whole new set of problems, it was not a whole new set of people. The people had confidence in each other and were able to work together and fashion a plan that made sense.

But the word quagmire was from one of the reporters, wrote it in a prominent newspaper as I recall, suggesting that it was a failure, and that all the effort that we were putting into Afghanistan to eliminate the al Qaeda and to chase them away and turn the government away from the Taliban to a freely selected government by the Afghan people wasn't happening.

Of course I don't know if it was 24, 36, or 72 hours later, the cities started to fall one after another -- Mazar and Kanduz and finally Kabul and Kandahar. It was never known precisely when that would happen, but what we had to do was to get people on the ground with the Northern Alliance forces and have them begin to leverage our capabilities in a way that was connected tightly with the Northern Alliance forces on the ground. And they had to develop confidence in that. They had to see that in fact that would work for them before they were willing to put their troops' lives at risk. And when that judgment would be made was not knowable, but each minor success persuaded incrementally successive Northern Alliance leaders that in fact it did work and could work, and indeed it has. The Taliban are gone and the Karzai government was selected through the Loya Jurga process, and people have been liberated in Afghanistan.

Q: I remember that one slide that you brought out the picture of the Special Forces guys on the horses and said this is what we're doing on the ground.

Was that a turning point when we had guys with all of those groups --

Rumsfeld: Oh, absolutely. It was critically important. That's what made the difference was to embed U.S., talented U.S. Special Forces people in with each of these various so-called warlords or local armies, regional armies that existed and develop confidence, have them develop confidence in each other and then begin to connect our air power to what they were doing on the ground. That turned the tide.

The problem of getting our forces in there was very difficult. There was bad weather. And of course there were a whole series of things that were mused over -- quagmire, not going anywhere. Then there was you can't bomb on Ramadan. Of course these folks have fought each other for decades on Ramadan. It never bothered them and the implication that we couldn't was not right. Then once the winter started nothing more could be done. When winter comes, why everything has to stop. It's too harsh.

We didn't stop. We kept right on going and we still are.

Q: You call it a success, yet we don't have Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Mullah Mohamed Omar. The top leaders are not in custody. How do you call it a success?

Rumsfeld: Well, it depends on what your goal is. Our target was never to collect those three individuals. Our target was to free the Afghan people from the Taliban and the al Qaeda repressive leadership and get them out of the country and that's been done. It was to have the Afghan people elect their own government and that's what they've done. It's to make sure that Afghanistan no longer was a terrorist training ground where they previously had been producing thousands of terrorists, spread all across the globe. They're not doing that today. They're not training terrorists today. We'd see it. We'd know it.

Now, have we collected everybody? No. Have they dispersed? Some of them have. Some are dead, some are captured, and some have moved into neighboring countries and other countries around the world and we're still looking for them, and we knew that when we started as well. That those borders were porous and there was no way in the world to expect that you could collect up every person.

On the other hand, the people that you've mentioned, if they're alive and functioning physically they're not being very successful. They're having trouble moving around, they're hiding, they're not on television providing charismatic leadership as they had previously to try to attract and recruit others. I don't know where they are but I do know that if they're alive and functioning they're having a dickens of a time running their terrorist network and that's just fine for us.

Q: You've often talked about --

Rumsfeld: It doesn't mean there won't be another terrorist attack. These people trained thousands of people and they're all across the globe, so I don't mean to suggest for a second that that's the end of the problem of terrorism simply because they're having difficulty managing their networks.

Q: You've talked about the nexus between terrorist groups and terrorist-supporting states with weapons of mass destruction. Looking forward, are we going to have to go after one of those states, multiple states that are supporting terrorist organizations?

Rumsfeld: It's a call that the American people and the other countries of the world and the President of the United States are going to have to make.

I was thinking the other day, I have a friend from high school who's wife was being harassed by a neighbor. They went to court and they asked the court to issue a restraining order against that person. The woman was killed. Went back for the funeral. The mailman arrived at the door and handed the letter from the court and in the envelope was, they declined to issue the restraining order. There wasn't good enough evidence. There wasn't hard enough evidence that the individual was harassing this woman, and she was dead by that person.

Now those are the judgments that are going to have to be made. What evidence do we want? What do we need to think through as a people? Those are hard calls. I don't suggest they're easy at all.

Waiting to be attacked in a Pearl Harbor-like attack where several thousand people were killed results in several thousand people being killed. Waiting to be attacked by someone who has been developing and has used weapons of mass destruction, you're looking at risking not several thousand people but potentially several tens of thousands of people or hundreds of thousands of people.

It's quite a different thing, and the calculation on that is not an easy one.

So it's something that Presidents and Parliaments and free people have to think through.

It is always easier for a -- Think of the prelude to World War II. Think of all the countries that said well, we don't have enough evidence. Mein Kampf has been written. Hitler had indicated what he intended to do. Maybe he won't attack. Maybe he won't do this or that. There were millions of people dead because of the miscalculations.

Had he been stopped early as he might have been done at minimal cost in lives, but no, that wasn't done.

So the people who argue have to ask themselves how they're going to feel at that point where another event occurs and it's not a conventional event but it's an unconventional event. And ask themselves the question was it right to have wanted additional evidence or additional time or another U.N. resolution? These things are had to judge and I'm not the one to answer them. They're to be answered by societies, they're to be answered by time and history, they're to be answered by Presidents. I can only help elevate the discussion so it's looked at in a rational way.

Q: Knowing the intelligence though, isn't it the Bush Administration's job to let the people know --

Rumsfeld: Sure it is. Absolutely. There's no question but that the government and people in responsible positions have an obligation to see that the facts, the circumstances to the extent they're known are in fact put before the world and the American people.

The problem with that is that we have a way in our society of looking for evidence, if you will, that you could take into a court of law and prove without a reasonable doubt. What we've found is that as good as our intelligence is, we know of certain knowledge that country after country, event after event occurred and we don't know about it for two, four, six, eight years afterwards. We can't know everything that's happening in the world.

So to the extent, the hard evidence we have is brought forward, it has to be brought forward with the admonition, the caution -- Reader, listener, viewer of this evidence, be on notice. We have consistently not known about important events in important countries with respect to weapons of mass destruction for two years after attack, for four years after it happened. I know an instance in double digits after it happened before we were aware of it.

Q: The status of Al Qaeda right now. Have you seen the new tapes that surfaced today about -- No? You haven't seen the new videotapes that CNN had about training camps, new training camp video, using chemicals -- No?

Rumsfeld: I've not seen any tapes.

Q: Has anything changed in your perception of al Qaeda as far as where it stands now?

Rumsfeld: As a result of what?

Q: In recent weeks.

Rumsfeld: No. This is a worldwide network. It has relationships with other terrorist networks, it has relationships with terrorist countries. It has trained thousands of people. It has had an enormous appetite for weapons of mass destruction. We have been successful in arresting a large number of their folks and killing a not trivial number and we're still at it, we're hard at it and we're not going to stop.

Q: Thank you. I appreciate it Mr. Secretary.

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