HEWITT: Mr. Secretary, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Hello Hugh Hewitt. Don Rumsfeld.
HEWITT: Thank you for joining us. It's great to have you on, Mr. Secretary.
I watched your press conference and I want to get to some of those issues, but I'd like to start actually with Robert Kaplan's new book, Imperial Grunts. Have you had a chance to read that yet?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I have not.
HEWITT: He spent quite a lot of time across the globe over the last three years with members of the American military in places as far flung as Mongolia and Colombia, and especially in places like Colombia he believes that the force caps in place are impeding our ability to be effective in the global war on terror say down there in combating FARC and cross-border incursions that might be al-Qaida related. Do you think those force caps are a problem, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: What does he mean by a force cap?
HEWITT: The number of forces that can be deployed in country in Colombia. I believe he said it was 400.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Oh, that. It's a statutory requirement from the Congress. Yes.
There's no question but that when you get a rigidity like that, that it has the effect of capping something and preventing you from adapting to an adjustment that might make sense for some period of time. It's an understandable technique that's used by the Congress. They put caps on money, they put caps on people, they put restrictions on your ability to use non-lethal riot control agents, they put restrictions on your ability to sell equipment to certain countries. Under Article 1 of the Constitution they do things like that, but it does have the effect of reducing flexibility.
HEWITT: Do you think they ought to revisit those caps, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I would have to sit down and see if we're bumping up against them in a Colombia. Colombia's just an enormously important country to us, to this hemisphere. If you think of what's happening in Venezuela and Cuba and now Bolivia and the pressures in Nicaragua by Ortega, it is a continent really that's at a strategic crossroads. It's had the benefits of freedom and freer economic systems for a period, and there are some folks taking office now who don't view the world through the eyes of free people and have different views. So it might make sense to review a variety of things with respect to that.
I was very pleased, for example, with the Central American Free Trade Agreement that was passed. In think increasing our economic activity with Central America is a very healthy thing.
HEWITT: Do you see evidence that some of the new regimes and new leaderships are making common cause with al-Qaida? Are you concerned about that?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, there's relatively little al-Qaida activity in this hemisphere, in Latin America. There is some, and there is some fundraising that takes place for other terrorist organizations, Hezbollah and the like.
I do worry about any country that has a tolerance for violent extremists. Today with the technologies available and the risk that they could get their hands on chemical or biological or even radiological weapons, it poses a danger that's of a different order than in earlier periods.
HEWITT: A second critique that Kaplan makes is that in Afghanistan at the forward operating bases where Special Forces are frequently based, big Army from Bagram are limiting the initiative of Special Forces, impeding the ability to strike at al-Qaida and Taliban remnants. Do you agree with that critique, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, there's been a, how do I say this. Terrorists use safe havens, and to the extent they can find ungoverned areas and operate out of them, they pose a danger to free people. In Afghanistan, we are pretty free today to go anywhere in Afghanistan and attack terrorists and deal with them in cooperation with the Afghan army and the Afghan security forces. However, there are terrorists that occupy places just over the borders of Afghanistan where we don't have the ability to function freely. The question then comes, how do you conduct a war against terrorists who are able to function out of countries that you're not at war with? That's a complicated issue.
So the point you make, that apparently Mr. Kaplan makes, of being restricted in your ability, for example, to do something in Iran or to do something in Pakistan or to do something in one of the countries to the north is a fact. It's just a reality that the United States and other, our friends and allies in the 80 nation coalition face.
We have a choice. Our choice is to go in and start fighting a war in a country we're not at war with, which is a very big decision. A second choice is to hope and pray that the country you're interested in, has the military capability themselves and the desire to go after and attack and kill or capture the terrorists. And the third choice you have, if they don't have that capacity or if they don't have that desire, then you have to work with them to try to encourage them to develop the desire and work training and equipping their military, so that they have the ability to do what you aren't allowed to do in their country.
HEWITT: In your press conference today you were trying to instruct some members of the press on how metrics have changed, especially in deployability of forces with the Navy. I'm not sure they were getting it. But it brought back your October 16, 2003 memo in which you said today we lack metrics to know whether we're winning or losing the global war on terror.
Have we got those metrics now, Secretary Rumsfeld?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I think we're developing some metrics in that area. For example, the Pakistanis are providing money to try to send home foreign students in their Madrasa schools that are extremists. They're using money to take the schools and convert them from schools that teach only extremist ideology, to schools that teach the kinds of things that people need if they're going to function effectively in the world. So there are things happening like that.
There are other metrics that are taking place. The numbers of countries that are cooperating and sharing intelligence, the numbers of countries that we're assisting with training and equipping their forces to go after terrorists. The numbers of countries that are increasing security over their borders, for example, making it more difficult for terrorists to move from one place to another, making it more difficult to communicate with each other.
HEWITT: So does that lead you to conclude we are winning now according to measurable statistics?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well we're certainly not losing. I do not have a comfort level that the metrics are sufficiently precise and the data sufficiently ample that I could prove what's happening.
I do know that in some cities, I could name a city in Iraq, where they are now on their 12th al-Qaida terrorist leader. The reason they're on their 12th is because the first 11 are either captured or dead.
HEWITT: That's a good metric.
HEWITT: Mr. Secretary, you also talked about building the Iraqi army. There's one question whenever I hear that conversation in the back of my mind. It's not enough to build an effective and lethal army, you've got to build one that will remain subject to civil control or we'll be back in the Arab world's historic predicament of coup.
How do you teach that? Is it taking hold?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, it's too early to tell if it's taking hold, but they're sure teaching it and it's being taught effectively by our folks and by NATO nations that are in there helping with the train and equip work that's taking place.
The politics of the government are being loudly discussed and debated and energetically, sometimes to our concern, and consternation, but in any event, it's better than having them shoot at each other.
So my hope is that what will happen in Iraq is that they will name a highly competent Minister of Defense and Minister of Interior, that these individuals will be people who want to govern from the center and include all of the various ethnic divisions that exist in the country. And that they will be civilians, obviously, as their constitution provides, and be respectful of civilian authority.
HEWITT: I want to switch subjects, a couple of last questions Mr. Secretary. In 1918 the pandemic really hit the American military hard, killed a lot of soldiers coming back from the war, et cetera. Is the Department of Defense prepared for the bird flu if it in fact becomes transmissible human-to-human?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, you know, you never know because you never know how widespread it would be and how rapidly it would hit, but the commander of our Northern Command and our senior civilian medical personnel have been working closely with the other departments and agencies of the federal government as well as with state and local governments. We have stockpiled various types of things that would be helpful in helping to manage a pandemic of that nature. Our first order of business, obviously, is the force protection for our own people and their families and dependents, and then it's conceivable the Department of Defense could be called in to play a role of one nature or another depending on the severity of the pandemic.
HEWITT: That's what happened in Katrina, obviously. It ended up being your problem, the Pentagon's problem. Do you expect the same thing would happen with an Avian Flu epidemic?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well of course it would depend again on the magnitude of it. We ended up within a matter of days and weeks with something like 22,000 active forces and 50,000 Guard and Reserve forces in Louisiana and Mississippi, in very rapid order with a lot of equipment and helicopters and trucks and medical facilities and the like.
There isn't another institution that can put that much assistance on a particular problem in that short a time. So you've got to know that it is not our responsibility and we're not a first responder. The state and local governments are. We're not in the disaster position of being the first federal agency called. Indeed, we don't have a first line responsibility. It is only when something gets so bad that there is no one else that can handle it. The first responders are gone, the other agencies don't have the resources that we do, and then we get the call and asked to help and then of course we respond as rapidly as possible.
HEWITT: A penultimate question, Mr. Secretary. Your friend and mine, Frank Gaffney, tells me he does not believe rumors of your pending retirement. Are you intending to stay the course in the Pentagon?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: That's funny. Frank's a good guy. You know him, huh?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Wonderful. No, I have no plans other than to keep doing what I'm doing. The President's asked me to stay on and I'm doing that.
I would add this, however, that being able to serve with the men and women in uniform during a time of peril for our country is an honor and a privilege, and I feel grateful that I'm able to be involved and to be working with such truly wonderful people.
HEWITT: www.AmericaSupportsYou.mil is one of your projects we've talked about in the past here where Americans get to support the troops in that way, Mr. Secretary, and we're happy to do that.
Last question. The drones that patrol the border that we talked about, do they have to fire only upon your order or is that delegated down the level so that if they think they've got Zawahiri they have the ability to shoot?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: First of all, drones are controlled by people other than just the Department of Defense. Other countries, other agencies. Second, where one is firing is part of the answer to your question. Obviously if they're firing in free fire zones where people are looking for these people, they have the authority to do that. If they're firing in other countries and that type of thing, that tends not to be the case because obviously there are aspects and implications to it that change that.
In every instance there are written rules of engagement that are prepared for anybody who has their hand on a trigger, so that they know in advance precisely what it is they're able to do and what it is they need authority from someone else to do.
HEWITT: We're out of time, Mr. Secretary. Thanks for spending some with us. Hope to have you back.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Enjoyed it. Thanks so much, Hugh.
HEWITT: Sure thing. That's the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld