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Town Hall Meeting with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld at Mosul, Iraq

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
December 10, 2006 12:00 PM EDT

GEN. CHIARELLI: Well, I've had to do a few introductions in my very lackluster career, but I can't think of one that I am more honored to give today, Mr. Secretary, than to do a short introduction for you, because you really don't require any introduction.

Over the last several years, we have watched you formulate Defense policy to change our military, to modernize it, to make it more mobile, more agile. We witnessed that in Afghanistan and Iraq. And now, as we continue to press the fight, we are reminded of your early career as a wrestler. (Laughter.) And sir, we're going to stay after it just like you did in your career as a wrestler. We're not going to give up. These soldiers that are out here are winning. It is a hard fight, as you have pointed out numerous times before. It will take patience. We know that. We have the combat patience to do it. The Iraqi army and police are stepping up every day. And we are confident that, given the time and the resources and the support from the American people, we can win this fight in Iraq, as you have pointed out many times before.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for your support to our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardmen over the last six years. We are honored to have you here today in Mosul to talk to our great soldiers of this great Task Force Lightning.

Mr. Secretary, please, if you would, address our soldiers.

(Applause.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you so much, General. I appreciate those words.

General Chiarelli, thank you for your leadership.

And General [inaudible] I keep thinking he must be from Chicago. But he's not, he's from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

I'm very pleased to be here. For the past six years, I have had the privilege of serving with the greatest military on the face of the earth. And indeed, I would say it is the greatest armed force that's ever existed. I'm told that this is my 14th trip to Iraq since 2003, and it will be my last as secretary of Defense. And as I complete this second tour in the department, I leave understanding full well that the strength -- the true strength -- of our military is not in the Pentagon, it's not in the weapons, but it's in the hearts of the men and women who serve our country. There's not been a day since our country has been in this long struggle that I've not thought about those of you who are deployed 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, to even just get a glimpse of all that you do every day, the lives you touch, the lives you save. I never cease to be impressed by the courage and the resiliency of our troops. And I should add your families as well as I see them around the United States in various locations or see the families of those who have been wounded in Bethesda or Walter Reed. I come away from my meetings with the troops and with their families inspired by your determination and, I should add, by your unfailing good sense of humor.

I think back to a young man I met at Bethesda Naval Hospital not too long ago. He had multiple wounds. It was in the very early stages of his recovery. And he had a tube coming out of his nose, and he looked up at me, and he said, "If only the American people will give us the time, we can do it. We're getting the job done." I know he's right, and I know also that the consequences of failure here in this struggle are unacceptable.

Each of you is a volunteer. Each of you raised your hand and said, "send me." It's worth noting that the highest retention and reenlistment rates are by people who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think it says a great deal about the character and the commitment of those of you here. And it tells a couple of other things as well, that the men and women in uniform believe in what they're doing, they know it's important, they know it's worth the cost. And they're convinced that they can succeed, and that our country can prevail if we don't lose our will.

History will record that this global campaign against violent extremists has been one of the most complicated and one of the most difficult of conflicts. It's a struggle that's unlike any our military has faced before. It's a struggle that, because it's still new and because it's unfamiliar, is even today, after several years, little understood by the American people, indeed by much of the free world. We're up against an enemy that doesn't have big armies, big navies, big air forces. Without the [inaudible], we couldn't lose a battle. Instead, the enemy -- this enemy -- lurks in the shadows, targets civilians, employs every conceivable tool from box cutters and garage door openers as weapons of murder and destruction. It's an enemy that knows full well they couldn't match this Army, this Navy, this Air Force, Marine Corps on any battle field. But they are skillful. They're skillful at using propaganda. They use all the tools of communication. They have media committees. They consciously plan attacks for the dramatic effect. Their goal -- they use the Internet, they use satellite, television. They use digital cameras, and their goal is to manipulate the perceptions and to try to demoralize the folks back home.

You know that in every conflict in our country's history, there have been those who have said let's toss in the towel. "It isn't working," they say. It was true in the Revolutionary War. George Washington was almost fired. That's not quite the way the history books report it today, but it's a fact. And it's been so in every conflict as it is today. But something important is never easy. And to be sure, this struggle is not easy; it's complicated. We're in what will be a long struggle.

As General Mixon said, it's a struggle that will require patience. It will require perseverance. This conflict is unlike World War II with major land, sea and air battles. It's much more like the Cold War. And because this first war of the 21st century -- which is what it is -- is new, is unfamiliar and complex, it's understandable that there would be differences about the direction of the war. Public debate can be heated. Sometimes it can even be nasty, but that's not new. And if you think about it, no war is ever popular except in retrospect.

But we must not confuse the political debates that take place back home with a wavering of support or appreciation for your service or for your achievements. Nor can there be any doubt whatsoever about the importance of succeeding here, even as tactics and approaches are reviewed from time to time and adjusted as they must be to meet the evolving challenges of an enemy with a brain; a thinking enemy that adjusts as we do.

It's true, as some argue, that we could simply leave these extremists and terrorists here in Iraq. But the ugly truth is they will not leave us. Their goals are grandiose, and they strike at the very essence of what we are as free people. If you think about it, the purpose of terrorism isn't so much to kill as it is to terrorize; it's to alter behavior, it's to affect people's behavior. And as free people, it's the one thing we can't accept.

The American people have a good center of gravity. Let there be no doubt about that. The elections and public opinion polls may swing one way or another from time to time, but over time, free people, given sufficient information, find their way to right decisions on big issues. That's a fact. That's our history as a country. And were it not true, our nation would have failed long ago.

When I served as secretary of Defense 30 years ago in the height of the Cold War, that, too, was a difficult time for the military. And it was a difficult time for our country. But who would have thought, then when I left this post as secretary on a cold January morning in 1977, that within 12 years the Berlin Wall would come down, and the Soviet Union would be in the ash bin of history? Very few, if any, would have imagined that. It will be interesting, I think, to see what the true historians will say of this period 20 or 30 years from now when they have that perspective of time.

One thing is for sure: The history of this period will record that after our nation was violently attacked on September 11th, literally hundreds of thousands of young men and women stepped forward to wear our country's uniform. Talented people, people who could have done something else, something easier, something safer, but instead who volunteered to defend our country knowing full well the risks and the sacrifices. You are those young men and women, and you took up the fight against extremists, far from home, for the very good reason of preventing them from attacking our families, our neighbors back home.

When I think of these past years, many things stand out. One thing that stands out is being at the inauguration of President Karzai in Afghanistan. And in the front row, there were some young women who, at one point in the inauguration ceremony, sang. It was against the law to sing in Afghanistan. It was -- under the Taliban, people went to jail for singing. There were reports of young people flying kites, which was also against the law in Afghanistan. Well today, there are 25 million Afghans who have been liberated and have fashioned a constitution of their own -- not like ours but an Afghan constitution -- elected leadership and put in place a popularly elected president for the first time in I don't know how many hundreds of years of their history.

I think of those Iraqis who, through it all, believe that their future can be right and who are working to forge something that they've never had before: a free country where they have a voice and a role in it. Twenty-five million Iraqis have been liberated.

And, of course, we'll remember the host of heroes and Medal of Honor winners, such a Paul Ray Smith and soon Jason Dunham and countless others whose names are now part of history.

I'm told that there are some microphones here. And I'm told that this is my 44th town hall -- think of that -- in six years. And that there may be some folks here who have a question. And I'd be delighted to break here, respond to some questions, and then make a few other remarks in closing. The only thing I ask is at the last town hall, someone stood up, looked at his hand, and he said, "I have four questions." Why don't we just keep it to one per person.

Where's the mike? Where is it? Stand up with the mike so people know where it is.

Q (Inaudible) -- your second -- (inaudible) – will you write a book about being Secretary of Defense?

SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughter.) (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)

You know, in all these years -- some 74 and a half years -- I've been answering that question by saying I'm too young. I've lost that argument. I may do it, I may do it. It's been an interesting life, and I've had so many wonderful opportunities. I left the Navy in 1957 as a pilot and went knocking on doors, got a job in Washington working for a congressman. And in the -- what is that, how many years, 50 years since -- it's been an exciting time. So I may do that. Will you promise to buy it? (Laughter, laughs.) Whoa, it's a deal.

Questions? Yes.

Q: (Inaudible.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: You might want to use the mike.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Specialist Nelson of the 126th Battalion.

Sir, in your time of being secretary of Defense, what do you feel is your greatest accomplishment?

SEC. RUMSFELD: You know, when I was asked -- and I must say, it was wholly unexpected -- asked by the president in late 2000 to come back to the department and serve as secretary, he had charted out his concerns and his hopes for the department, that it would be transformed so that it could be arranged for the 21st century rather than the 20th century. Change is hard for people. It's just natural. It's hard for Washington, particularly. It's hard for the bureaucracies. It's hard for congressional committees and subcommittees to have jurisdictions to change. It's hard for outside enterprise to make adjustments. And so, each time you try to change something, somebody's not going to like it, and you just have to accept that.

Well, the president said he wanted it changed. He wanted a 21st century orientation, and that's what this department's been about. And we have done a lot of specific things, like a new National Security Personnel System, changing the durable force posture away from the end of World War II where it just kind of shrunk and stayed where it was in a static defense mode to a much more expeditionary arrangement. We're shifting our weight in the world away from [inaudible] Europe, as though we are waiting for a tank attack from the Soviet Union, to a force posture that fits the new century. We have invested an enormous amount of time in attempting to move our abilities so that we can do a better job dealing with asymmetric warfare, irregular warfare. We've done a great deal to expand Special Forces. And it's those kinds of things that, I think, have to be considered the most important things we've done.

I suppose I should add one other thing. You don't start untransformed and then end up transformed, because the world's not static. The world's dynamic; it's constantly changing. And it requires that it be a process of transforming that continues over time. We have spent a lot of time in the selection of senior military people trying to find people who could break free of their earlier training and doctrine and experiences and look fresh at the 21st century and the kinds of challenges our country's going to face --people who are comfortable changing things. People who can provide that kind of bold leadership that is a risk when you change something. And I am reasonably confident that the senior people in the department are, for the most part, not service centric but joint in their orientation, that they are looking forward rather than back, and that they will be in a position to provide the kind of impetus to the continuing transforming process that's so important for us.

It is not good enough. You've seen how the enemy here adapts and adjusts and change their tactics, techniques and procedures. We have to be -- despite the bureaucracies, despite all the things that inhibit, change in a department like ours, we have to have to have people who will continue inside that circle and make our adjustments in tactics, techniques and procedures and approaches every bit as rapidly as the enemy does.

So, I would say that the answer to the question is that I think we're on a good track in transforming the department. It has to continue. There's no way you lead this department by command. This department is led by persuasion and by discussion. And it's like dropping a pebble in the pond, and the ripples go out. Well, there's no one single leadership center in this department. There are multiple leadership centers, and you need people throughout the institution to look at it that way and understand the importance. If we're going to be successful in protecting the American people, we simply, as an institution, have to have that approach, that attitude, that willingness to make the kinds of adjustments that this new century requires.

Question.

Q: Mr. Secretary, as the security forces take over Iraq here from us, or take over authority, what are we looking at as far as a draw down of the military once we return?

SEC. RUMSFELD: The task we have is not to finally repress the insurgency in this country. That may take a good, long time. Our task is to create an environment here where the Iraqi people are going to be able to, over time, govern themselves, provide for their own security and improve the circumstances of the people in this country so that they are supportive and recognize that each have a stake in this country. As the Iraqi security forces improve their capability, obviously, they are already taking on more and more responsibility. We just had a good discussion about that before we came in. And as that happens, clearly, the United States and coalition forces are going to be able to reduce the roles they are playing and reduce the numbers in this country.

No one can tell you precisely what numbers will come down at what timetable. All we can say is that as the conditions on the ground permit it, obviously, the goal is to be able to draw down forces. And I have every confidence in the world that the progress that's being made in training and equipping the Iraqi security forces is not going to end up being the pacing issue. The pacing issue's the political issue. You folks are doing your jobs. The military's doing their job. You can't lose a battle here. But you can't win by yourself. It's going to take a political process. It's going to take reconciliation. It's going to take some legislation that persuades this people of this country that they are going to be treated fairly. And it's going to take Iraqi leadership, not just U.S. leadership but Iraqi leadership.

And so, I, personally, think you're on the right track. I feel confident that it's going to work. And I think you folks deserve a whale of a lot of credit for what you're doing and what you've done.

Question? Yes, sir.

Q: (Inaudible. – paraphrased: Why didn’t you have more patience in looking for WMDs before going to war?)

SEC. RUMSFELD: Interesting. Well, if you think about it -- first of all, you say “ you” wouldn't. You're talking to the wrong person. That decision was made by the president. It was made by the Congress.

And second, the premise of your question, I think, is flawed in this sense. If I'm not mistaken, there were 17 U.N. resolutions that proceeded, over a period of years -- many years -- prior to any action in Iraq. They were rejected by the Iraqi government and Saddam Hussein.

Second, the Congress of the United States passed legislation, the Iraqi -- what was the name of it -- the Iraqi something law, and it was back in the '90s. President Clinton signed it, and it was the law of the land, and it had to do with the behavior of the regime in Iraq that had been killing hundreds of thousands of people. And we're pulling up mass graves, offering and paying $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers. Iraq was the only place on the face of the earth where our aircraft crews were being fired at weekly as they enforced the U.N. resolution with respect to the northern and southern no-fly zones.

Anyone can have a different view as to patience and how long it ought to be or how short it ought to be. But in this case, the Congress, the president of the United States went to the United Nations after some 17 resolutions, and I would say that it was an example of patience. (Applause.) And it sounds [inaudible] unanimous. (Laughter.)

(Inaudible) -- question.

Q: Sir, Sergeant Major Pippen (ph), 2-7 Cav. (Cheers.) First off --

AUDIENCE: Hoo-ah!

Q: First off, you're the man. (Laughter.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughs.)

Q: (Inaudible.) (Cheers, applause.) Unless, of course, President Bush is standing next to you. (Laughter.)

Now, I -- kind of a statement, then I'll pose the question. Right after 9/11, our entire country had a resolve that was unprecedented to take the fight to the terrorists and the enemies of our nation, no matter where they are, and to continue that fight until we had no more enemies, which everyone knows is never; we're always going to have an enemy. But we're always going to have people that are going to want to do what happened on 9/11. I don't know where that resolve went. Back then, I was proud to be an American with that resolve, to show that resolve, because 95 percent of the people in our country had that resolve. It's dissipated through the years since 9/11, and it ain't been too long ago when that happened.

I'm wondering where that resolve is. I want to get your thoughts on that.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it's a good question. You're quite right. In the immediate aftermath of September 11th, the American people came together and were united in their concern about the safety of our country and understandably so. As I mentioned in my remarks, there aren't big land, sea or air battles taking place that can attract the attention of the American people in a gripping way. This is a much more complex, much less familiar circumstance we're in. We have been -- and I say this -- we've been fortunate as a country that there's not been another attack in the United States since September 11th. There have been attacks around the world, in many places. And it is possible that some people, the farther they get away from September 11th and the greater the success in the pressure that's been put on terrorists around the world in preventing another attack in the United States, has created a situation where the concern or the approach and the cohesion that the American people felt during that period can dissipate.

And in a sense, that feeling you're describing is a victim of the success that the country's had in not having additional attacks take place in our own country. It's much more like the Cold War than World War II. I mean, in the Cold War, public opinion was ebbing and flowing. People from time to time -- millions of people demonstrated against the United States, not against the Soviet Union. Now communism became very popular in the United States and quite fashionable in Europe. People were elected, communists were elected to participate in these governments. And it was kind of people were granting moral equivalence and equality to the Soviet Union, a vicious dictatorship, in the free countries of Western Europe and the United States. People can drift off into views of that type. But over time, on a sustained basis, administrations of both political parties in our country and the administrations of any -- (inaudible) -- Western European countries did stay the course, they did persist, they did share the patience that was needed. And the wall came down, and the Soviet Union disappeared -- just disappeared. It's gone.

Now, there are plenty of times during that period when you could have said exactly what you just said about our circumstance now. It's true. I mean, during World War II, I was 10, 11, 12, 13 years-old, and there were victory gardens, and we collected metal and sold it for scrap. We collected rubber and -- (inaudible) -- for retreads on the tires. They were selling savings bonds, victory bonds -- $18.75 -- and if you keep it long enough, you get $25, and you buy them one piece at a time, a little coupon, and everyone participated.

That is not true today. But the dangers today, the lethality of weapons today, the risks to our country are real, and let there be no doubt about it. I mean, the Derek Winters study that was done at Johns Hopkins where small pox was put in two or three of our airports led to the death, theoretically -- a tabletop exercise -- of hundreds of thousands of people -- just shy of 1 million people in less than a year. There are real dangers, and there are real people out there, as you well know, that are determined to put in place a small handful of clerics that will tell everyone how they'll live and how they'll behave. And that isn't what we're about.

And I have confidence, as I said, that even though that feeling you described of everyone pulling together may ebb and flow over time, in the last analysis, our country would not be here if we didn't have the ability to ride through some ups and downs with respect to opinion like that and come out at the other end making the right decisions.

Question.

Q: (Inaudible.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: This is a complicated struggle we're in. There's no road map. There's no guide book that says what you do when you get up in the morning. And I suppose General Chiarelli could answer this question or General Casey or General Abizaid.

One of the big debates has been about the number of troops, for example. Should we have more, should we have less? And the truth of the matter is we have had, from day one, exactly the number of troops that, first, General Franks and then following him General Abizaid and General Casey have requested. Their judgment has been the determining factor in it, and it has to be. You know, there's no 7,000-mile screwdriver from Washington, D.C. where we can tinker. And there isn't anyone smart enough in Washington to say precisely -- (laughter, applause) -- to tell you all what you should do when you get up in the morning. (Inaudible) -- to tell them what you ought to do when you get up in the morning. (Laughter.) And I know that General Chiarelli does what we do in Washington. You know, you have intensive discussions and consultations, and then the commanders in each area has to make a set of decisions. And the people under them have to use their brains and make a set of decisions and decide what they're going to do and how they're going to do it, because the situation's different in different parts of this country.

So, the short answer is the military advice, whether it comes from General Chiarelli or General Casey or General Abizaid, General Pace, is in fact what has been making the military decisions here in this theater and indeed in the world.

I don't see -- there's one way back there.

(Laughter, applause.)

I stand corrected. It's right here. (Laughs.) You better use the mike -- that's good -- yeah, talk.

Q: Is it working? Hoo-ah!! Who influenced you and motivated you the most out of your career? Who influenced you and motivated you the most out of your career?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness. Well, my mom was a school teacher and taught English. She kept cleaning up my language -- (laughter) -- or at least trying. I suppose the -- I grew up in the Depression -- 1932 I was born -- and World War II. My father was on a carrier in the Pacific, and it had a real impact on me. It led me to read history continuously and to study it. And for whatever reason -- I'd never met a congressman or a politician in my life -- when I left the Navy, for some reasons, I went to Washington and knocked on doors and found a job working for a congressman from Ohio. I had never met a congressman, and I wasn't even from Ohio. And he had been a wrestler in college, and I had been a wrestler. And he hired me, because I had been a wrestler. (Laughter.) I mean, that's how life works. It had nothing to do with my ability to work in his office and do the things he wanted.

But I think the -- I'd add one other thing. I heard a truly inspirational speech when I was in school by a governor of Illinois named Adlai Stevenson. He ran for president a couple of times against Dwight Eisenhower and lost. But he was a brilliant speaker, and he gave a talk on public service that is very, very special. And as I look around this room and the public servants -- and that's what you all are are servants of our country -- you'd almost believe that all of you had read that speech because of your dedication and your patriotism. And I'll see that General Mixon has a copy of that speech. And if anyone wants to read it, I commend it highly. But I found it inspirational.

I'm getting the hook. And I just want to close by going back to the earlier question which I think is important. The great sweep of human history is for freedom. Go back and look at what's taken place. People want to be free. The creativity that comes from free people is so much greater than can exist in a repressive system, a repressive political system or a command economic system as opposed to a market system. I keep a picture of the Korean peninsula on my desk with the demilitarized zone in the middle, same people north and south, same resources north and south. And it's a satellite shot at night, and it shows all the electricity and all the energy. In the south, it's the 10th largest economy on the face of the earth from a destroyed, war-torn nation in the 1950s. In the north, black, no electricity except a pinprick of light in Pyongyang, the capital. The people there are being allowed to go in the military -- the North Korean military -- under five feet tall, because they don't have enough people who had enough nourishment, who weigh less than 100 pounds -- these are men going into the North Korean military -- because they didn't have the food they need.

And when I say that the great sweep of human history is for freedom, I'm right. And you folks are on the side of freedom, and God bless you for it. Thank you.

(Applause.)

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