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Town Hall Meeting with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
December 10, 2006 12:00 PM EDT
AUDIENCE: Hoo-ah! (Applause, cheers.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you very much. It is -- thanks for that warm welcome.

General Chiarelli, General Zilmer.

This is a mixture I'm told. We've got some soldiers here, right?

AUDIENCE: Hoo-ah!

SEC. RUMSFELD: And a few Marines.

AUDIENCE: Hoo-rah!

SEC. RUMSFELD: And some sailors.

AUDIENCE: Hoo-ah!

SEC. RUMSFELD: And some airmen.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah!

AUDIENCE: Hoo-ah!

SEC. RUMSFELD: And some civilians.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Haa-ah! (Laughter.)

And some contractors -- not a one. (Laughter.)

Well, I must say that this one last time I wanted to come and personally have a chance to look you in the eye and thank you, and tell you how deeply I appreciate and respect what you're doing for our country, and then to take a few minutes and respond to some questions as well.

For the past six years I have had the opportunity, and indeed I would say the privilege, to serve with the greatest military on the face of the Earth. (Cheers.)

AUDIENCE: Hoo-rah!

SEC. RUMSFELD: And indeed the greatest armed force in history.

And as a I complete my second tour -- and the good Lord willing my last -- I leave an understanding that the true strength of the United States military is not in Washington, it's not in the Pentagon, it's not in weapons; it's in the hearts of the men and women who serve. It's your patriotism, it's your professionalism, and indeed your determination.

There's not been a day since our country has been in this long struggle since September 11th that I have not thought about those of you deployed around the world in foreign posts and battlefields, far from home -- far from your friends and loved ones. I wish it were possible for every American to see firsthand -- even a glimpse -- all that you do every day, the lives you touch and the lives you save.

I never cease to be amazed at the courage and resiliency not only of the troops, but of your families as well. You have undergone hardships and endured sacrifices, yet I always come away from my meetings with the troops -- and indeed, my meetings with your families -- with my spirits lifted, inspired by your hope, your determination and your unfailing good humor. I see it in the field, I see it in the theater, I see it in the hospitals here, and I see it in the hospitals at home.

I think back to a young man I met at Naval Hospital in Bethesda just within the last week or two who was recovering from some wounds he received very recently. And he looked up at me with a tube in his nose, and he said basically: If the American people will only give us the time, we can do it. We're getting the job done.

I believe him. I know he's right. We feel a great sense of urgency to protect the American people from another 9/11 or another 9/11 times two or three. And at the same time we need to have the patience -- the patience to see this task through to success. Let there be no doubt; the consequences of failure are unacceptable.

A soldier not long ago said to me, "I can't believe that we're allowed to do something so important." And I feel the same.

We all know that every one of you are volunteers. Every person in the military is a volunteer. What's interesting, as I travel around, it's clear that most people don't just volunteer; they enlist, and then they reenlist, and then they reenlist again, and then they volunteer for some of the most dangerous possible military assignments.

Not enough of the American people seem to understand this as yet, but the fact is that the highest retention rates we have are those folks -- soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines -- who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is where the highest retention rates are.

It says so much about the character and the commitment of those of you here, and it tells some other things as well: that the men and women in uniform believe in what they're doing, they know its importance, they know it's worth the cost and, in some cases, the tears. And they're convinced that they can succeed and that our country can prevail, but only if we don't lose our will.

You're part of the military in a nation that's the greatest force for good the world has known, and don't let anyone tell you different. America's not what's wrong with the world. The violent extremists, those who kill innocent men, women and children -- that is what's wrong with the world.

And history will record that the campaign against extremists has been one of the most complicated and one of the most difficult conflicts, a struggle that is unlike any our military or our country have faced; a struggle that's new, that's unfamiliar, and that even today is not fully understood.

Our country and free people everywhere are up against an enemy that does not field armies, navies or air forces. They understand that. It lurks in the shadows. It targets civilians. It employs any tool, from box cutters to garage door openers, as weapons of murder and destruction. It's a vicious enemy, knowing full well that they cannot match any of you on the battlefield anywhere.

Nonetheless, they skillfully use propaganda and tools of communication -- the Internet, satellite television, digital cameras -- to manipulate perceptions in their efforts to demoralize the folks back home.

We find ourselves in a long struggle with a strong sense of urgency to do everything humanly possible to protect the American people. It's a struggle that will require patience. This conflict will prove to be much more like the Cold War than World War II -- World War II, with its major land and air and sea battles, whereas this long struggle is more like the Cold War, which lacked those major land, air and sea battles.

And because this conflict is new and unfamiliar and complex, it's understandable that there are going to be differences about the direction that our country should take. These public debates may be heated, even on occasion nasty, but that's not new. As one who has read a good deal of history and over some 74 years now has lived a good bit of history as well, I can say that it's always been so, and particularly so during wartime.

But we ought not to confuse the political debates that take place at home with a wavering of support or appreciation for your service or your achievements, nor can there be any doubt whatsoever about the critical importance of our succeeding in this struggle, this conflict. Even as tactics and approaches are reviewed from time to time and adjusted, as they must be, to meet the evolving challenges of a thinking enemy, let there be no doubt; the enemy must be defeated. As General Abizaid said recently, the ugly truth is that we can certainly walk away from this enemy, but they will not walk away from us. Their goals are grandiose and they strike at the very heart of what we as free people are, what we believe, and what we live every single day.

You know, the American people have a good center of gravity. Elections and polls may tilt one way or another, but over time, free people, given sufficient information, find their way to right decisions. We've seen that. Were that not true, our nation would have failed long ago.

On the flight over last night, I reflected on the fact that most of the folks I would be with today here in Iraq had not been born when I was secretary of Defense the first time around, some 30 years back. That, too, was a difficult time for our military and for our country. But who would have thought then, when I left the post as secretary of Defense on a cold January morning in 1977, that within 12 years the Berlin Wall would come down, and shortly thereafter, the Soviet Union would be in the ash can of history. Few, if any.

It will be interesting to see what true historians say 20 or 30 years from today -- not the daily news reports in the local press, but as the historians reflect on this period. The history will record that after our nation was attacked on September 11th, hundreds of thousands of young men and women stepped forward to wear their nation's uniform, talented young people who could have done something else, something easier, something safer, but instead, volunteered to defend our country, knowing full well the risks and the sacrifices involved. You are those men and women. You're the ones who took up the fight against the extremists far from home to prevent them from attacking our families, friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens back home. For your service, your sacrifice, and for the professionalism and the dedication that you demonstrate very day, you have my profound appreciation and my deep and everlasting respect. It's been the honor of my life to serve with you, and I will never forget it. I will treasure it always.

Now I'd be delighted to answer a few questions. I will answer those I know the answers to, and I will respond gracefully to those I don't. (Laughter.) And if you throw some really tough ones up here, by golly, I've got General Chiarelli behind me and he can handle almost anything.

Q: Sir, I have a question.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Do you want the mike down? Thank you.

Yes, sir?

Q: Good morning, sir. Corporal --

SEC. RUMSFELD: I always worry about the first question. If someone is that eager to ask a question -- (laughter).

Q: I just want to start things off right, sir.

SEC. RUMSFELD: All right!

Q: Sir, I had a question about technology. I know our country is heavily dependent on it. And as far as the military is concerned, when can we see an alternate shift in the way we carry things on?

SEC. RUMSFELD: You know, we spent decades in our country developing the ability to mass armies and navies and air forces and contest those of other countries. And today we find that because of our capabilities, we don't find major armies, navies and air forces contesting us. Rather, it's asymmetrical and irregular warfare that we're facing. And the technologies that exist today could not be developed by our enemies, by the terrorists, by the extremists, but they can be used by them. And as a result, we are constantly faced with the challenge of having to not just develop additional technologies, but we also have to constantly adjust tactics, techniques and procedures to stay ahead of a thinking enemy.

What specific technologies do you have in mind?

Q: As far as new weaponry.

SEC. RUMSFELD: New weaponry.

Q: Communications.

SEC. RUMSFELD: The Army is working very hard and investing a lot of money in an attempt to bring greater information down to the smaller and smaller units and give situational awareness to the individual soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines. That is a process that's been under way. They're making good headway, and I'm generally pleased with their progress.

If someone were to ask me, what am I most worried about in terms of technology, it would be cyberattacks. Our country is so dependent on technologies and electronics and digits that we have a vulnerability in that regard. And our folks today are working very hard to try to develop the ability to see that we can defend against cyberattacks, which are certainly inevitable as we go out in the years forward.

Thank you.

Q: Yes, sir, thank you.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Questions? Yes, sir. No, yes, ma'am. Look at you. (Laughter.) Look at all that hair on the back of your head!

Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. Sergeant O'Hare (sp). My question was, do you believe the Marine Corps is expanding in end strength?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Is doing what to its end strength?

Q: The Marine Corps is expanding in end strength.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Expanding?

Q: Yes, sir.

SEC. RUMSFELD: It is. And it's changing in a number of ways. One way is we very recently agreed that we're going to add another regimental combat team and probably one battalion next year and then I believe a battalion the year thereafter to complete the regimental combat team.

The other thing the Marine Corps has done is it has, for the first time, decided to participate with the Special Operations Forces very directly. And a number of Marines are now participating in the Special Operations Command and engaging in the types of activities that that command undertakes, which clearly is needed, given the nature of the war -- the conflicts today.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you.

Questions?

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I'm Sergeant Fox. My question is, do you see any radical changes for our roles and missions between the armed forces and specifically the Marine Corps?

SEC. RUMSFELD: One shift for the Marine Corps clearly has been the decision by the commandant to take the Marines into the Special Operations field. That is new and different and all happened within the last year.

Roles and missions -- they only thing I'd say besides that is that if you look at the Air Force and the Navy, they are today leaning very far forward, trying to relieve some of the stress that exists for the ground forces, for the Army and Marines, by having their troops, their forces come in and undertake the kinds of activities that need to be undertaken, given the circumstances we're in here in Iraq and in Afghanistan and elsewhere. They are taking over responsibilities that historically might have been undertaken by the Army or the Marine Corps, but, given the fact that the Marine Corps and the Army are being called on to perform so many tasks, it is an enormous help for the fact that the Navy and the Air Force have stepped forward as they have to take some of that stress off the ground forces.

Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Question?

Q: Sir, I'm a MIT grad here and just having served here with the -- help out the war effort here.

I have four questions here. I'm not sure we have time to go through them all. (Soft laughter.)

The first question is, since the counter-IED fight is so important to the American people, why are we -- and since the insurgents themselves are using open-source (blueprints ?) to formulate their ideas and test out their methods, why are (sic) we using open-source methods as well in terms -- like, for example, translating the material that the insurgents themselves have in their Web and getting it to the American people so that they themselves -- we can harness the talents of the entire American country to deal with this -- (word inaudible) -- policy.

SEC. RUMSFELD: The -- you say we are or are not using open-source?

Q: Oh, we're not, sir. Right now, open -- (off mike).

SEC. RUMSFELD: And you're saying that with respect to intelligence, basically?

Q: With respect to developing gadgets and simply in terms of giving the information to the American people so that we can have their help in terms of developing ideas and brainstorming methods.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, that's a tough question to answer. First of all, the -- I believe we do use open-source. I know the intelligence community does, I know that the Department of Defense generally does, and that enormous numbers of ideas come from the private sector and from the academic community and non-uniformed and non-military, non-governmental people.

We recently went through, for example, a problem, and it involved Iraq, and it was the Iraq Survey Group had accumulated a lot of Iraqi documents. And the question was, should they make those documents -- just put them on the Internet and make them available to everybody, have anyone who wants to translate them, and get it done, because it would take years to take these millions of documents in any classified basis and translate them and then decide what you wanted to publicized.

So they did a little bit of it, and the first thing they knew, some of the material that went up had information as to how to develop various types of weapons. And there was criticism of it. And so once you open up, you run that risk. On the other hand, if you stay closed in and don't allow large numbers of people to have access to information as your question suggests, you lose the benefit of those ideas and that information. So it's a tension that exists, in terms of the use of open-source and making information available.

Q: The next question, sir, is about the Key West Agreement -- (inaudible). Why are we still abiding by the Key West Agreement? For example, the Army has urgent needs for the Joint Cargo Aircraft, but we're having to wait on the Air Force to give out their specifications so we can get on with the Joint Cargo Aircraft -- (inaudible). For example, sir. As well as other parts of the Key West Agreement that limits the roles --

SEC. RUMSFELD: I would not say that we're bound by antiquated agreements in the Department of Defense. I know that there is a debate that's taken place with respect to the cargo aircraft. But my impression is that the senior people in the Army and the Air Force and the Navy have developed, in the last five, six years, very much a joint approach. They work together continuously, they do try to solve those kinds of issues, and some of them just take some time. Some of them are complicated and difficult and it's not readily apparent. It can look quite easy from the outside, but I know these folks, and they're intelligent, they're hard-working, they're decent, and they're trying to do the best they can, and my impression is that they're not bound by agreements or understandings that aren't relevant today.

Q: The next question is about the -- (inaudible). Why is it that the home stations --

SEC. RUMSFELD: We probably ought to make this the last question for you.

Q: Yes, sir. (Laughter, cheers, applause.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: Three will do it, right?

Q: Yes, sir.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Good.

Q: Why is it that units at home station are limited by peacetime training standards? For example, at least in the National Guard right now, the home station units are only allowed 120 bullets per person in terms of annual qualifications and training for just rifle marksmanship. And we're fighting a war here. Isn't that inadequate?

SEC. RUMSFELD: The services, under the Goldwater-Nichols legislation, are responsible for organizing training and equipment. And they make hundreds and hundreds of decisions as to what is appropriate, what people need to be trained for, what kinds of equipment is important, and they then proceed to organize their activities to do that.

In peacetime, they organize their activities to try to have people available and train for a variety of things across the spectrum. Sometimes they call it full-spectrum training, so that almost no matter what might occur, these forces would be capable and ready to function.

In a war time, obviously you cannot have the luxury of doing that, and so you need to get prepared for the task you now you're going to face in the next month -- two, three, four, five months. And as a result, what they do is they organize, train, and equip towards a task, and then to the extent they can, continue full-spectrum training.

But the Army is engaged in that process. General Schoomaker works on it continuously, as do his associates. And my impression is that, given the pace of activities in the world, they've done a darn good job of doing it.

Thank you.

Q: Yes, sir. Thank you.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you.

Question? Why don't those who -- if you have questions, come on up and stand in line, and then we won't take time for walking up. Come on up.

Yes.

Q: Good morning, sir. Sergeant de los Santos (sp).

My question is, in your opinion, how do you feel the military will be affected now that most of the Democrats are taking over? (Laughter.)

(Pause, laughter.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: I'm old fashioned; I like to engage my brain before my mouth. (Laughter.)

You know, this is an amazing country we have. We've staked everything on the idea that the people can guide and direct the course of our country; that they can do it -- individual citizens, by voting, by participating -- can guide and direct the country, even during wartime. And we've managed to go through these long, long -- many decades through difficult, tumultuous times, and it's worked.

One wag one time said that politics in the Untied States is basically between the 40-yard lines; that we don't ever really end up off the edge; and that the debates are fierce and the arguments are fierce, and as I mentioned earlier, sometimes they're even nasty. But over time, successive administrations of both political parties have managed to basically see that our country stayed on a reasonably steady course, and I think that that will be our experience in the coming period.

Q: Thank you, sir.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you.

Yes, sir.

Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Good morning.

Q: (Name inaudible) -- from (MCVAT ?) Medical Department.

I would just like to say first I know you've had the unenviable job of trying to manage this conflict, and I would like to say to you thank you for your years of service.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you very much.

Q: We appreciate it. (Applause, cheers.)

AUDIENCE: Hoo-rah! (Applause.)

Q: That was the good part. This is the hard part. (Chuckles.)

Part of our mission here I know is to train IPs and the IAs so they can someday take over and manage their own country. However, with all the desertions and with the recent discovery of many of the weapons that we've given them turning up missing, are we sort of training some of these terrorists to come back one day and fight us?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't think so. We've seen situations where if a government collapses -- we've seen situations, for example in Lebanon, where they had multiethnic military and government difficulties and sometimes the -- there was a breakup of the military.

The situation here is, I think, different. Thus far, vetting in the Army in my impression has been quite good, the vetting in the police less so. And the sectarianism in the police is more pronounced. For one thing, they're hired locally and then tend all to be of the same religious view -- of the same tribe because they are local -- which is what we do in our country.

The vetting's never perfect. There's always going to be people who creep in. Even in our country in city police forces we find some bad apples ending up getting in there, and they have to be dealt with.

I know that General Casey and General Dempsey and General Chiarelli have been taking the police and taking them offline and revetting them and reorganizing them, and taking people out that they worry about might be engaged in sectarian violence or not loyal to the government. And it is never going to be perfect, but I would say that the Ministry of Defense forces have moved rather well along and are doing a good job and are reasonably well respected. The police forces less so; probably two years behind in their development and in need of some real attention and some real organization in the Ministry of Interior.

Does that square about with what you hear and see?

Q: Yes, sir.

SEC. RUMSFELD: But in the last analysis, it's not easy. But that's the task -- we simply have to prepare the Iraqi government to have the capacity, the capability to govern themselves and provide for their own security. Over time -- it's their country, they're going to have to do it. We can help them get there, but we can't do it for them. They're going to do it differently than we would, and that's fair enough. It's their country. But our task is not to have them do it exactly the way we would want to do it, our task is to have them find Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems, get to a point where they can govern themselves, provide for their own security, and consistently take over more and more of the responsibility.

Thank you.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Q: Good morning, sir. I have two questions as well.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh no!

Q: I'm just kidding! (Laughter.) I'm just kidding!

SEC. RUMSFELD: Don't do it to me!

Q: Well, sir, my question to you is, where do you see our nation's military as far readiness is concerned for another conflict, let's say, in the next five years, and why would you say so?

SEC. RUMSFELD: You know, the readiness concept is something that is fascinating. You can take a readiness chart, our old system, and look at it and say five years ago or 10 years ago your readiness was X. And then you can look at it today and you can say, well, it's gone down; it's X minus 5. But the fact of the matter is, we've been changing our requirements. Five or 10 years ago, you might have needed 50 humvees, and today the requirement is for 400. And you might have gone from 50 to 200, but you only needed 50 before, so you were at 100 percent of readiness. Today you need 400, but you've only got 200; therefore you're at 50 percent of readiness, and you've actually gone up four times in terms of your capability.

This Army has never been more capable. It has never been better equipped. It has received investments of billions and billions of dollars. However, the challenges that this Army's facing are different today and it requires some different capabilities, some different numbers of weapons and vehicles. And so what we have to do is see that the readiness is ready for what? It has to be ready for the task that we're facing. And that, it seems to me, is the challenge that the Army's been addressing.

So I feel pretty good about the current readiness situation, not because every one of the numbers is going to be perfect, but because we have adjusted upward the kinds of capabilities and refocused the kinds of capabilities that this Army is going to need to do the jobs that it's facing today.

Q: Thank you, sir.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you.

We'll take one or two quick questions here. And I'll try to be briefer in my responses.

Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Good morning.

Q: (Lieutenant ?) Myers, 102 Marines Company. My question is, with the release of the Iraqi survey group report, and the instability of the Iraqi government, now will they put on some an unofficial timetable to put their house in order?

SEC. RUMSFELD: The president -- the circumstance in the United States is roughly this -- and I know it's hard to sift through all you read here -- but it's basically this. The president is anxious to have the progress here be faster and -- as all of you are, and as certainly General Chiarelli and General Casey and General Abizaid are. We know that you can't lose a battle. And we also know we can't win this militarily because it's got a heavy political content, as your question suggests. The Iraqi government simply has to step forward, it has to take responsibility in its country, they simply have to proceed with the reconciliation process, they have to see that the ministries are functioning more effectively. And they're working on it.

The president's listening to various views and advice from the Iraqi group that just met, from the Department of Defense, the Department of State.

And most -- the most difficult pieces of it are not the military part. The difficult pieces are the political part. And they're the ones that are lagging. It's going to be a -- for this country to stand, it's got to be a three-legged stool. In the military piece, we're working hard. It's the political and the economic pieces that the Iraqi government is going to have to move forward on.

What the president will pull out of all these various recommendations he's getting over the coming week or two, we'll just have to wait and see. I expect he'll probably be making a major speech on the subject sometime prior to Christmas or between Christmas and New Year.

And I can tell you this. He is determined to succeed in Iraq. He recognizes that the problems in Iraq are really a microcosm of the problems in the region, that there is a Sunni-Shi'a divide that exists in this region, that the consequences of failure here would be dire. The thought of this country becoming a terrorist haven and focusing on destabilizing the neighboring Sunni countries is unacceptable.

Exactly what formulation he'll come up with, we'll see. But there's no question but that it will involve encouragement to the Iraqi government to address the fundamental issues of the militias, of reconciliation, the hydrocarbon law, provincial elections, and the things that they simply have to do to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that they in fact can govern themselves.

Yes, sir? Thank you.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Specialist Hugo Fortes (sp), 7th Transportation Company. How would you advise the Iraqi government in dealing with the sectarian violence when they insist on making religion their own policy?

SEC. RUMSFELD: You know, we have our system. Other countries have their system. I don't think it's possible for any country to fashion a template that fits in their minds and impose it on other people. So I'd be careful about giving advice to the Iraqi government in terms of what the -- what roles different elements of their history and their backgrounds ought to play.

I do know that if anyone looks around the world, the people that are doing well are the people that are in countries that have free political systems and free economic systems. And the power of freedom -- the great sweep of human history is for freedom, and that's the side we're on.

And those systems, the system where a small handful of clerics try to control what everybody does and what everybody thinks and how everybody behaves, are repressive and totalitarian, in a sense. And we've seen in modern history so many totalitarian systems ultimately fail. They fail because they don't work. They don't work because they don't exploit the power of freedom and free economic systems and free political systems.

I'm getting the hook. I want to thank you very much. You -- I thank you. I thank your families for your service and for their service. And I want you to know that you will be in my thoughts and my prayers always. God bless you all. (Applause.)

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