Radio Interview with Secretary Rumsfeld and Fred Thompson, ABC News Radio
Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
July 04, 2006 08:00 AM EDT
"Inside the Pentagon - A conversation with Donald Rumsfeld - 4th of July Special"
THOMPSON: In time of war, no member of a president's Cabinet has a higher profile than the Secretary of Defense. Donald H. Rumsfeld continues the tradition of high-profile defense secretaries, even though he came to office with a peacetime goal - the modernization of a U.S. military to fight the wars of the 21st century. Secretary Rumsfeld has joined us today to talk about his long-term goals, as well as the past six momentous years. I'd like to say welcome, Mr. Secretary, but we're in your office and you've welcomed us -- (laughter) -- so thank you very much for allowing us to come here.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, thank you very much. I'm pleased to have you here and look forward to visiting with you.
THOMPSON: Mr. Secretary, I would think that two of the most memorable events in this building would be the day - especially for you - would be the day of the attack on 9/11 when - as I understand it - you ran to the action to help, and a couple of weeks ago when you broke ground for the Pentagon memorial with the family members of the victims. Would you comment on these two days in particular?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Certainly. Of course, September 11th, I think for most Americans, is a day that was shocking, to be sure, but it was an awakening as to the nature of the world we live in and how vulnerable free people are. We've always recognized the threats that could come from nation-states, and we lived during the Cold War and the competition, where the Soviet Union posed such a threat. But the idea that networks and terrorist groups of individuals, as opposed to nations, could undertake the kind of attack they took against our country, killing some 3,000 innocent men, women and children, was a new experience for us in our country. There had been terrorist attacks in other locations around the world, but nothing of quite that magnitude.
This building, of course, was one of the targets, and we lost a lot of people - 184 people here - and it was a day that we'll all remember. We were fortunately able to keep the building open and conduct the business of our country and organize a response against the al Qaeda and Taliban that had launched that attack.
The groundbreaking you mentioned was - was so recently, just a few days ago, out here, where we gathered the families - the surviving, the families of the people that were killed and a lot of the survivors - both from the aircraft and from the Department of Defense, together and had a ceremony indicating that by 2008 we expect to have a memorial in their honor that will assure that we will always remember them.
THOMPSON: As you know, Washington is in the midst of a debate about troop withdrawals from Iraq, and everybody seems to want the troop withdrawals but, it seems, for different reasons. For the administration, it would be a sign that we're winning the war and for the war's critics, perhaps an indication that we'd had enough and that we're on our way out. What are people to make of the recent reports for withdrawal timelines and is this discussion helping or hurting our war efforts?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: It is -- your point is correct. Everyone would like to have our troops home. The troops would; we'd like it. But what we really want is to assure that we've accomplished our mission, that we've achieved success, a victory. And in fact, that terrorists and violent extremists will not take over Iraq or Afghanistan and that they will be pushed back and that responsible government will be at peace in that region. And I believe very strongly that we're going to achieve that goal.
On the other hand, as you point out, there's a debate. But on the other - there's always been a debate. There was a debate during the Revolutionary War as to whether we should even separate from England. There was debate during the Civil War and World War I and World War II. I can remember the debate in World War II, and it was a violent debate. And the opposition to our involvement in that conflict was -- we don't even think of that anymore. We think of that as an obvious thing, that we would have entered the war and prevailed. But there was a big debate, and it's always been so. I expect it; I think most people who read history and understand history expect that kind of a debate.
It is -- the short answer to your question, is it helpful or hurtful - it's manageable. We will survive. Our free system can engage in that kind of debate and survive. It is, however, obviously worrisome to people. It's worrisome to the Iraqis that are afraid we'll cut and run. It's worrisome to the troops that are putting their lives at risk day after day. And if they think, well, my goodness, if they're thinking of debating whether they should pull out, and why should I do that the next day? Someone might ask.
But fortunately, the young men and women over there are doing such a superb job. God bless them. They have volunteered: every one of them is a volunteer. They're all there because they want to be there, because they believe in what they're doing. They're convinced that they're going to prevail. They know what they're doing is noble work, and -- I mean, I remember as a congressman back in the 1960s and as ambassador to NATO in the '70s, there used to be amendments in the United States Senate where you used to serve, to bring back the troops, right in the middle of the Cold War. Euro communism was in fashion, and everyone said, well, not to worry, the Soviet Union won't do bad things. Imagine if we'd tossed in the towel during that period, where we'd be today?
We simply have to recognize that when Osama bin Laden and those people talk about us pulling out of Somalia and pulling out of other places, they are expressing the hope that we will do it again, and that we will not stay the course, that we will not demonstrate the kind of perseverance that this country has generally demonstrated.
THOMPSON: Well, we're also in the era of the battle of the polls -- on Guantanamo Bay -- an ABC News-Washington Post poll just released finds that most Americans continue to favor holding suspected terrorists at the U.S. military prison - and a majority think that it's made the U.S. safer from terrorism. Seventy-one percent think that the prisoners should even be given POW status or charged with a crime instead of holding them indefinitely without charges. Is our policy likely to change here, and if not, why?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: This is a new circumstance for the world, really. It's the first war that's being conducted in the 21st century, and it is a global struggle against violent extremists. It's not a struggle against nation states; it's a struggle against a network. The Geneva Conventions were written at a different era, a different time, and they drew a sharp distinction between people who behaved in a normal, conventional way -- wore a uniform, carried their weapons publicly -- and they were the ones that were supposed to be treated as prisoners of war. And that is exactly what we are doing in Iraq, because that was an army.
Conversely, in Afghanistan, the people that are in, basically, in Guantanamo, are terrorists. They're people from a lot of different countries who were out killing people on the battlefield, and they were captured. And they were in civilian clothes and they did not carry their weapons out and they did not engage in the normal, conventional kind of conflict that the Geneva Convention called for them to be labeled prisoners of war. The disadvantage of doing what you suggested in that question is that you would be diminishing and discouraging people from behaving in a manner that the law of war suggests is appropriate, and we would be according exactly the same rights and privileges to people who do not behave in that manner.
THOMPSON: If you gave them POW status.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: If you gave them POW status, exactly.
With respect to charge them with a crime, the natural tendency for all of us is to think if someone does something bad, they steal a car or they break into a bank, then what we should do as a society is to deter that, dissuade that, by capturing them; putting them in a prison; having a trial and then punishing them so that others will not think that stealing a car is a good thing. The problem with that concept in this case is that these people didn't steal a car. These people are dedicated terrorists who are determined to kill Americans and our friends and allies around the world. And, if we treat them on a law enforcement basis, it would mean that they then would be tried, put in prison and then let loose. And they'd go right back to the battlefield and kill additional Americans.
So we're trying to move away from a law enforcement mentality. We've fashioned a set of military commissions which, if the legal system and the courts will allow it, we will make a number of them subject to military commissions where they will be tried and then they would be imprisoned.
THOMPSON: I think that's consistent with what happened in World War II.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Exactly.
THOMPSON: Let's talk about the troops for a minute. We did a Memorial Day radio program from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio that I know you're very familiar with.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I heard you did, and it was one of the reasons I wanted to come on your program, and God bless you for doing that.
THOMPSON: I appreciate that. As you know, that's where the troops who've suffered horrendous burns and amputations are being treated. I was dreading it, frankly, but after spending a couple of days with these young people, I came away uplifted.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: It's inspirational.
THOMPSON: Most of them were mostly concerned about getting to continue to serve in the military.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Exactly.
THOMPSON: I know how strongly you feel about the programs out there that support these men and women and their families, such as America Supports You program. How are we doing in that regard?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, it's really wonderful. I think it's an example of the human decency of the American people, the fact that they are so generous and so compassionate. The AmericaSupportsYou.mil website has taken a lot of the things that churches and schools and corporations and individuals are doing to support not just the troops, but their families as well. And, it's a chance for people to go onto the website and find all the things that can be done and that people are doing already. And there's just been an outpouring of support for them.
I'm like you; I go out to Bethesda and Chevy Chase, the Naval hospital or the Walter Reed hospital or Brooke Army hospital, I come away inspired. I'm just amazed. And not just the troops, but their families are so strong, so supportive.
THOMPSON: And the people who are there supporting them and helping them.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Exactly. So supportive. Yeah.
THOMPSON: The doctors, nurses, and so forth. The most dedicated people in the world.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Oh, they're getting the best medical care in the -- in the history of the world.
THOMPSON: Speaking of our troops, I think there are a lot of people, even in the media, who would like to recognize our heroes more often. I certainly hear a lot about the deaths. We all do. But there doesn't seem to be enough timely information about those young men and women who are not victims, but who make the enemy the victims. Could we get more information, do you think? I hear Congress even complaining that privacy issues and whatnot keep us from getting enough timely information on those who are our new American heroes.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, we can. We provide information now to members of Congress when there is a Bronze Star for Valor or a Silver Star or a Congressional Medal of Honor, for example, is provided to an American hero. The president was involved in the awarding of the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for Paul Ray Smith to his wife, Birgit. But there has been precious little information about these people and their heroic acts and what they've done, that in prior wars were dramatized and publicized much more extensively. It seems that the American media has more of a fascination with bombs and explosions and people being killed, rather than the heroic acts that are engaged in or even the humanitarian acts that are being engaged in. I mean, we've got people out there that are building schools and fixing hospitals and doing so many wonderful things in the world.
The outpouring of appreciation that we received for our efforts in the tsunami, for example, or in the Pakistan earthquake relief effort, by the Pakistanis and the Indonesians has just been amazing. But the amount of interest here in the United States has been relatively modest.
THOMPSON: Well, maybe we can work with your folks here and do better in that regard.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Wonderful.
THOMPSON: Because I think it's extremely important and I know that you do.
The United States has now captured Saddam Hussein; killed al Zarqawi and Iraq has now formed a new democratic government...a pretty good day's work. Yet many doubt our progress in Iraq, as you know. How are we going to know victory when we see it?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: That's a terrific question. It certainly will not be like the signing ceremony on the USS Missouri at the end of World War II. It will be something quite different. If we separate the two things, we can take Iraq separately from the global war on terror.
Iraq is going to be a victory for us at that point where the Iraqi people are able to govern themselves and provide for their own security. If we measure success or failure based on violence level in Iraq, then the outcome's one thing, because it's a violent country and it's a violent region.
But the task is to put in charge an Iraqi government that's committed to being fair to all the various sectarian elements; that's at peace with its neighbors; that is respectful of all elements in the country and is able to provide for its own security and we're on that path. I mean, we've now trained and equipped 263,000 Iraqis in their security forces. They're taking over more and more responsibility every day.
The terrorists have tried to prevent them from their election last January and they failed. They tried to stop the constitution drafting and they failed, they tried to stop the December 15th elections. Now they're trying to stop the formation of a new government; they're going to fail there, too. There's no way we can lose the battle over there. The only place -- the center of gravity of this war is in Washington, D.C. and in the United States, not in Iraq.
So the success for us will be to have transferred responsibility to them and enabled them to manage their own affairs. But a level of violence will go on for some time and they'll have to manage that insurgency successfully over a period of years thereafter.
In terms of the global war on terror, that's a struggle within that faith, among a very small minority of violent extremists and an overwhelming majority of people in that faith that are moderate. And, that's going to take a real struggle over a period of years, more like the Cold War than the World War.
THOMPSON: Mr. Secretary, let's change subjects just a moment. It's no secret that how, on your priority list when you became Secretary of Defense, was the transformation of the military into a leaner, faster, high-tech organization that can deal with the threats of the future, one much different from the threats we faced during the Cold War. By placing so many resources - necessarily - into the most immediate problem, which is the war in Iraq, are we sacrificing or postponing the building of the military that we need for the future?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I would make the case that it's almost just the opposite. That not only has the events that have followed 9/11 not prevented our engaging in the process of transforming the department, I would make an argument that the events of 9/11 and thereafter have added impetus and urgency to the transforming of the department. And that we have made, in five and a half years - well, five years, actually, since September of '01 - amazing progress in transforming this department, in dozens of different ways. It's an enormous department. It's a very hard thing to change.
THOMPSON: Is it because people more readily perceive the need for the transformation now?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Exactly. They ask the question - imagine another 9/11 attack that's two or three times that in its lethality - six months from now. What ought we to be doing today to protect the American people? What ought we to be -- are all of us doing everything humanly possible to protect them and to prevent that from happening, or, were it to happen, to mitigate the damage from it? And it's that impetus that this department feels and is manifesting in as I say, a great many ways.
THOMPSON: Well, to really shift gears here now, for a second, you've seen several decades of American politics, including the confirmation process, in two different eras, really. What's changed over the years in politics, in your estimation? And with regard to the challenges to those who would come into public service?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, I came to Washington in 1957 out of the Navy, and Eisenhower was president. And one thing that's changed is the percentage of our gross domestic product that we're putting into defense. It was 10 percent during the Eisenhower and Kennedy era, and it's now down to 3.7 percent of gross domestic product. So people who think that the Defense Department is expensive, it's taking a relatively modest bite out of the American dollar, and its well worth it to create...
THOMPSON: Though supervising it has expanded.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: (Chuckles.) That's right. Another thing that's changed is the environment in this town. In the 21st century, there's talk radio, there's bloggers, there's video cams and digital cameras and 24-hour news; everything -- cell phone cameras -- all of these things that have changed the way we live and the way we communicate and the way we function. There's never been a war fought in that environment before, and we have not adapted to it. We have not yet developed an internal gyroscope that we can keep rebalancing ourselves, given the volume of things that come at us, the inputs that come at human beings today.
A third thing is that when I came here in the '50s, it was still a more civil town in many respects. People were partisan to be sure, but the relationships among Republicans and Democrats had not been pounded on the anvil of public television all the time. And, as a Congressman in the '60s, I had so many very, very close relationships in the Congress that today you sense a shrillness that is somewhat different. And I regret to say that. I think that probably that's one of the reasons why respect for Congress is so low today, is the -- it's down, I think, in the 20 percent levels, which is too bad, because we have a lot of wonderful people, talented people, and it certainly makes doing these kinds of jobs much easier if you can sit down and have rational discussions, rather than people yelling at each other over television.
THOMPSON: And challenges to public service, people who would come in, say, from business into the government are greater, are they not?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Oh, it's amazing, the difference today. Today you are -- the rules and the requirements and the process is such that we have been functioning in the Department of Defense during a war. We have 47 presidential appointees that are Senate-confirmed, 47 in a department about 2.6 million people, when you add up the active duty, the Guard, the Reserves, the individual ready reserve contractors, civilian employees...47. And we have operated for five and a half years with a vacancy rate of over 25 percent, because...
THOMPSON: In time of war.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: In time of war. You know if you're trying to pick up something and you have four fingers, you're trying to pick up a -- lift a piano, and the process says you can only use three, think what it does. I mean – it has made this task just enormously difficult. It's a terrible disservice to our country. Any single Senator can put a hold on any one they want, anonymously, and they use it indiscriminately in my view, and to the great harm of the country.
THOMPSON: Mr. Secretary, while understandably Iraq gets most of the attention, your portfolio is much broader and includes all aspects of the global war on terror, which is very dependent upon good intelligence. The Defense Department's responsible for most of the intelligence budget. Apparently, one of the more important intelligence sources our government had developed was a secret financial monitoring program used to find terrorists. What do you think about the decision of The New York Times to reveal this intelligence source?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: When I was a young boy during World War II there used to be signs all over, "Loose lips sink ships." People die when people talk about classified material. When I was up for my Senate confirmation, I was asked by a Senator, "What's the thing that keeps you awake at night?" My answer was, "Intelligence," because this world we're in - there are not going to be big armies, navies or air forces attacking our Army, Navy or Air Forces during the immediate period ahead. The problem we're going to face is a problem that is totally intelligence-dependent. We simply have to find them. We cannot wait to be attacked and lose another 3,000 or 6,000 or 9,000, whatever it may be. We need to find those terrorist networks, and put pressure on them all across the globe. That's why we have an 85-nation coalition sharing intelligence.
The idea that someone in our government would take it upon themselves to take that classified information that you referred to that was published in The New York Times, and tell The New York Times, and that The New York Times, when asked by the United States government, "Please do not do that. It will cause the loss of American lives," and they go right ahead and print it - it tells you about the circumstance we're in. It tells you a lot about The New York Times, and it certainly tells you a lot about the individual who did that. We are losing American lives, military lives, all the time. We lost 3,000 civilian lives, and our government has an obligation to try to protect the American people. And for people to behave in that way, in my view, is shameful.
THOMPSON: Part of your vision for the future has been a U.S. missile defense system. In 1998 you chaired a bipartisan commission that concluded that Iran, Iraq and North Korea could threaten the United States with ballistic missiles much sooner than the CIA had thought. What goes through your mind as you see North Korea apparently prepare for a missile launch that's said to be able to potentially reach the continental United States - especially our progress with regard to a missile defense system?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, what you state is correct. The North Koreans are putting in position a Taepodong missile. It has the potential to become a ballistic missile and attack a country. It also has the potential to not be a ballistic missile and put in space a space-launched vehicle. And because North Korea is what it is as a country, they have not made any announcement. Normally, when a country is preparing to do something like that, they make a public announcement; Notice to Mariners; "Be on notice, we're planning to do such-and-such in such-and-such a time period," and people accept that. In this instance, because they've been so bellicose, obviously Japan and South Korea and other nations of the world look at it and are quite concerned about it.
This is a country that's said they have nuclear weapons. It's a country that has been the principal proliferator of ballistic missile technologies on the face of the earth - so there's a good deal of concern about it. And I noticed that former Secretary of Defense Perry and another associate of his recommended that we attack that missile site. I personally don't believe that that's the right thing to do, and we do not intend to do it.
We do have, as you know well, a ballistic missile system that is in a developmental stage that is in place, at least, oh, 50 -- 60 percent. There are a number of radars and sensors and pieces of it that are still evolving and to be put in place. But it has an initial capability - very likely - of being able to intercept a ballistic missile were such to be launched. It's not been done; it's not been tested fully yet, but needless to say, were they to initiate a ballistic missile launch that looked provocative and looked threatening, and looked like it would hit a U.S. population or friends or allies, we would have to treat it as a threat.
THOMPSON: Recently, part of an intelligence document was declassified and revealed that the United States had discovered certain quantities of sarin and mustard gas in Iraq. In other words, WMD that Saddam claimed he didn't have. Some were quick to point out that these were pre-1991 weapons and not the ones we went to war over, but it does seem legitimate to ask why not declassify the whole document and disclose everything that's been found over there? It seems that there's some difficulty within the government in doing this, or talking about it. Do you think that the WMD that's been found there has any significance, and that we should go ahead and declassify the rest of the document?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: What you have stated is correct. They have located something like 450 or 500 vessels, canisters, or warheads that either are currently filled with sarin gas or had been filled with sarin gas, some of which may or may not have deteriorated. These have been gathered over a period of time. The Department of Defense role is to destroy them as they're found. Needless to say, chemical weapons are weapons of mass destruction and, as you indicated, Saddam Hussein had promised to declare them, said he had declared them to the United Nations and did not declare them. He had not done so. How many more there are, we don't know. We are constantly getting our hands on more of them, and we consider them a threat to our troops and a threat to the Iraqi people. So clearly, Saddam Hussein is in violation of his representations to the United Nations; and clearly these are weapons of mass destruction; and clearly they're dangerous. It is a fact that Senator Santorum and Chairman Hoekstra of the House Intelligence Committee have been discussing.
The process of declassification is a separate issue, and it's an interesting one. There are millions of documents that were destroyed by the Iraqis before we got into Iraq. There are millions of documents that were not destroyed and that have been taken, and they are in various locations in Iraq and in other neighboring countries. They are being read and declassified, and it is an enormous project. There have been -- people have been of different views as to what to do about all of this.
THOMPSON: There's still a great many of them that haven't been read yet.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Oh, exactly. Haven't even been read; let alone translated; let alone declassified; let alone publicized.
Some have said, look, it's going to take too long. Just stick them all, in the language they're in, on the Internet. Let the world see them and let the chips fall where they may. I happen to think there's some appeal to that. There are others who are worried and, I think, with good cause. They say, look, if you start putting out this and you don't know what's in it, you could have formulas as to how you make sarin gas or how you make some biological weapon, or how you do something else, and it could end up on the Internet and everyone in the world could have access to it and you will be sorry you did that and wish you had not. And so there's a tension on that, and that's something that's being debated. The decider of all that will ultimately be the White House and the director of National Intelligence, who is the one who has the control over the declassification of that material . And at the moment, that discussion's going on, and we'll see what actually happens.
THOMPSON: Final question.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Yes, sir.
THOMPSON: Again, looking toward the future and what awaits us after the Middle East settles down – hopefully - and al Qaeda is subdued, the latest Quadrennial Defense Review highlights China's military buildup. They now have almost what, 800 missiles pointed at Taiwan - along the coast there, and are clearly working toward being able to negate our naval and submarine superiority. On the other hand, United States companies keep pouring investment into China. We keep buying their goods; they keep financing our national debt.
Could two countries so economically interdependent - or becoming that way - ever go to war? And why should Americans be concerned about the China of the future and especially, its military buildup?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: These are important questions, and they're questions that I'm afraid are going to be answered, probably, over time. I think the historical construct that works for me is that one would have thought that countries that have extensive economic interaction would not end up hostile to each other. On the other hand, the United States and Cuba for example, had extensive economic interaction and that didn't solve the problem.
THOMPSON: I think the lead-up to World War I makes the same point.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Exactly. Exactly. The thing that tends to lead to the absence of war are democracies. They tend not to make -- democracies tend not to make war on democracies, and China is not a democracy.
Now, you're right, they are building up. They have a growth - economic growth that's in the double digits. They're increasing - their military budget's in double digits, they're purchasing sizeable amounts of weapons from Russia. And they're developing and deploying large amounts of weapons. Fair enough. Any country can do that. They're a big country and they have the right to do that.
The thing that's worrisome to us is not so much that they're doing it, but that they don't seem to have any transparency as to what it is they're doing or why they're doing it. There doesn't seem to be a good logic or rationale to it; that they're comfortable enough to discuss publicly. And I think that that worries their neighbors and I think, as a result, they're going to be pressured by their neighbors and by others to be more transparent and to recognize that they're a stakeholder in the global economy today in a big way. And as a stakeholder, they have a responsibility to the success of that global economy, and things that are done that put in jeopardy that global economy - damage them as well as others.
And so my feeling about it is that they're on a path where there's tension that's going to grow. To the extent they want to be successful economically, they're going to have to behave in a manner that's acceptable to the rest of the world. The rest of the world has a vote. If they want the Olympics; if they want to be in the WTO; if they want to interact economically around the globe and be accepted; they have to behave in a manner that is acceptable to that community and be seen as supporting the global system.
They have an un-free political system and an increasingly free economic system. There's a tension there. How do you keep an un-free political system, with all of these computers and all of the people going into that country and all of the people from their country traveling around the world on economic missions? I think that they're going to face a fork in the road at some point, and I predict and hope and pray that the rest of the world will be interacting with China in a way that the tension is resolved in favor of having their political system become freer, rather than their economic system become less free.
THOMPSON: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for taking time to be a part of our Fourth of July special.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Thank you. I enjoyed being with you.
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