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article imageSecretary Rumsfeld Interview With Jim Lehrer, PBS ''Newsmaker''

By Digital Journal Staff     Feb 5, 2002 in Technology
JIM LEHRER: Now our newsmaker interview with the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, welcome.

DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: Thank you.

MR. LEHRER: The president's budget is being called a war budget. What would you call it?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I would say that it is a budget that reflects the priorities that are appropriate to our times. The pattern always is that if you're in a war, if you're in a conflict, that you need to fund that conflict. Some have tried to do guns and butter, both, in the past, as we recall. In this case the president decided to moderate and hold down spending for things other than defense or homeland security, and so for the most part that's been the case. This is, I think, a very appropriate and thoughtful, wise budget.

MR. LEHRER: Before 9/11, you talked much about reforming the military, changing the way things work, changing the culture. Does this budget reflect any of that?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, indeed, it does. The 2003 budget, which was part of the President's budget announced today, has a great deal of transformation in it. There's some who define transformation one way, would say that there's some $20 billion worth of transformational activities; another way of defining it would say $50 billion. I think it's almost inappropriate to look at dollars. I think that transformation is not an event; it is a process. It is something that involves a mind set, an attitude, a culture. It is something that, for example, might not even involve a new weapons system. It might just be the connectivity among existing weapons systems. It might be a different way of organizing or fighting, as we found in Afghanistan. So I think the transformation - the word - needs to think about it and understand that it's more of a process than an event.

MR. LEHRER: But if somebody were to look at this budget - forget the money for a while - just look at what it buys, does it buy anything that different than what we already have?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I think when you say "that different," it's important to understand that you can - when the Germans transformed their armed forces into the Blitzkrieg, they transformed only about 5 or 10 percent of their force. Everything else was the same, but they transformed the way they used it, the connectivity between aircraft and forces on the ground, the concentration of it in a specific portion of the line, and it - one would not want to transform 100 percent of your forces. You only need to transform a portion.

MR. LEHRER: 14 percent increase will bring it to - as we just reported - the biggest military spending in 20 years, the largest outlays for the military. Why do you need so much money?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it's interesting. If you take the increase and break it into pieces, a big chunk of it's for inflation. A large chunk of it is for the healthcare programs that were passed that had not been funded previously for retired military. A portion of it is for the war. And what's left is a relatively small number of something in the neighborhood of $10 billion. I mean, that's not a lot of money; it is a lot of money but as a part of a total budget it's a very small part of the total budget. That's the amount of free money, if you will, that can be used for something in addition to the war. So it's a fairly modest increase in that sense.

That forced us -- actually to our benefit - to make sure we did things within the budget to stop doing some things we don't need to do and to do some things that we really ought to be doing to modernize and transform the force. The other thing that's in there is a pay raise for the military, because if there's anything that's central to the success of the armed forces of the United States, it is that the men and women be properly treated. These are the people who voluntarily risk their lives for our country. And we need to have talented people capable of doing the important jobs and increasingly high tech jobs. So we're competing in the civilian and manpower market.

MR. LEHRER: Again, when you came in you were concerned with - you came on the program and expressed the concern about how the money was being spent and controlled at the Pentagon. You wanted to get a control on that; you wanted to get your hands on that. And then 9/11 came along. Do you think this money can be well spent? Is the structure in place at the Pentagon to make sure this money is not wasted or poorly spent, whatever?

SEC. RUMSFELD: That's a good question. And I guess I would have to say that after 11 months or a little more in the saddle that I'm encouraged. The Department of Defense has been characterized by a lot of people as being very difficult to change, resistant, set in its ways, but if you think back over the last 11 months, what's happened, we have a new defense strategy. We have moved from a threat-based strategy to a capabilities-based strategy.

MR. LEHRER: What does that mean?

SEC. RUMSFELD: It means that instead of deciding that you're going to look at a threat in North Korea or a threat in Iraq or a threat somewhere else, the old Soviet Union and fashion your force to fit that, what you do is look at capabilities that exist in the world-- chemical, biological, nuclear capabilities-- the ability to... for cyber attacks, that type of thing-- and you say to yourself, it's not possible to know precisely where the threat will come from or when, but you can know what the nature of that threat might be and what capabilities we need to deal with that.

MR. LEHRER: You may not even know what country it's coming from.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Exactly.

MR. LEHRER: In the past it was all directed at the Soviet Union or a particular country.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Exactly. The other thing we did is we have a new force-sizing construct. Instead of the old two major theater wars we've adjusted that in a way that's appropriate. We have a new nuclear posture. We've rearranged our missile defense research and development programs. We've rearranged how we deal with space. The Department has had a record of enormous accomplishment in the last 11 months. And I think that it suggests that the men and women in the Defense Department do... uniformed and civilian-- do understand that we do need to transform and that they're willing to get about that task. So I feel very good about the last year.

MR. LEHRER: Is there a simple--you can use the word simple any way you like-- but is there a simple military strategy that underlines the numbers? I mean what the United States military should be capable of doing -- before it was fight two wars and two -- what is it now?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Okay. The force sizing approach or construct was, as you said, two major regional conflicts. That is to say, the United States should be able to fight two conflicts anywhere in the world, be able to occupy the countries and take over the capital and change the regime. We have changed that. We weren't able to meet that. We had too little airlift. We had too few forces, and the world wasn't like that. We had lots of these other contingencies so we changed it.

We still have to be able to win two conflicts but we only have to be able to occupy and change the regime in one while stopping the other, and in addition be capable of engaging in the kinds of other lesser contingencies or non-combatant evacuations or an event like Kosovo or something like that which is the more likely case. We're in Bosnia. We're in Kosovo. We have these different activities so we're structuring a force to fit that.

MR. LEHRER: Where does terrorism fit in there?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Terrorism is one of the problems of the world-- cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, terrorism, cyber attacks-- that would be characterized as so-called asymmetrical capabilities that we need to be able to deal with, ways of attacking the United States where they don't have to go straight after our Armies or Navies or Air Forces which they can't do, the rest of the world; they're too capable. So we can deter those kinds of things. But these are the vulnerabilities we have, for example. We're so dependent on space assets and information technology that it's an attractive thing for someone to try to attack that.

MR. LEHRER: Here again you don't know who the someone might be but you're gearing up to combat it if somebody does want to do it, right?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Indeed. And we know a lot of countries that are actively trying to be able to do that. The al-Qaeda, we didn't know precisely where they would attack or when they would attack. And in this case it was not even knowing that they would end up using box cutters to turn airliners filled with Americans into missiles.

MR. LEHRER: Now, when you and your colleagues sat down to draw this budget and the strategy, did you do it with the idea almost that if this was going to be done, if this capability was going to be reached, it was going to have to be done by the United States alone or did you figure, oh, well, the Brits got some of those and the French have some of those and we can do this? Or is this a go-it-alone budget?

SEC. RUMSFELD: No, no, it clearly isn't. There's no question but that... let me just say what the United States' responsibility really is today. The question suggests the truth, and that is that the United States is looked to by our people and by others to be able to contribute to peace and stability in the world. And we know that everyone's life-- our opportunity to go work and to pray and to travel and to be free-- depends on a peaceful and stable world.

This budget and the United States' armed forces are "the" thing that contributes to that peace and that opportunity more than anything else. We do it with our allies and our friends. And we do it using their bases. We do it in their cooperation.

There're six, eight, ten, twelve countries right now in Afghanistan with forces on the ground doing things. The United Kingdom has forces. Canada does. Australia does. Jordan does. A number of countries are involved. They have ships at sea that work with our ships every day. And there must be what, 20, 30 countries have liaison offices down in Tampa with Central Command with General Tom Franks. So it is a cooperative arrangement. We have alliances. We have treaties, not just NATO, but we have a close relationship with Korea and with Japan and with Australia.

MR. LEHRER: But as a practical matter, Mr. Secretary, Tom Friedman of the New York Times pointed this out in his column yesterday, that we're it as far as high-tech weaponry, as far as air power is concerned. Our budget, this budget if it goes through will be equal to the next 16 countries combined in terms of what they spend on military. I mean we're pretty much it when it comes to major military operations, are we not?

SEC. RUMSFELD: That is true. We have "the" greatest capability. On the other hand, we can't and don't function alone. We have wonderful cooperation from literally dozens and dozens of nations in the war on terrorism. We're sharing intelligence. We don't have a monopoly on intelligence. We do have certain things. We do have more high-tech weapons, that's true. We do have more airlift, that's true. But the cooperation we get is enormously valuable to us.

MR. LEHRER: There's been some grumbling I'm sure heard from some NATO people saying, well, NATO has just become kind of a mop-up operation in the United States. The United States goes in and wins the war and then says, okay, now you guys come in and keep the peace and, et cetera, and the U.S. goes away.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, you know, you said grumbling. Any country that wants to make the investments can make the investments. Any country that wants to cooperate at a level that's higher, fine. The NATO countries have talked year after year about the importance of those countries increasing their defense budgets and doing a better job of investing in the future. Some have done it. Others haven't.

The fact that our country recognizes the nature of the threats that exist in the world today and the lethality of the weapons of mass destruction and their destructive power and have been wise enough to make those kinds of investments -- it seems to me -- is a credit to the United States.

MR. LEHRER: President Bush has issued these strong warnings about Iran, Iraq and North Korea. You mentioned a couple of them in passing just a moment ago. As Secretary of Defense, what would you add to the president's warning?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I thought he did it very, very well. I thought he was clear. He was specific. He talked about the nexus between terrorist countries and each of those countries are on the terrorist list and there are others on the terrorist
  1. and their active weapons of mass destruction programs and the risk to the world if those countries make the terrible mistake of providing weapons of mass destruction to terrorist networks like al-Qaeda.

    We know what al-Qaeda is willing to do. We know that several terrorist networks have active programs to acquire biological weapons and chemical weapons, as well as radiation and nuclear weapons. We've found intelligence in Afghanistan that attests to the enormous appetite and effort they've put into this. And we're still finding documents as recently as this week that demonstrate that fact. We don't know precisely how successful they've been but we know they want them and we know there're countries that have them. And the power of a biological weapon, for example, is something that we have to be very respectful of as a country.

    MR. LEHRER: So if one of these three countries, for instance North Korea, has a nuclear capability, what the president is saying to North Korea, "If you give this or share this capability with a terrorist, or if we think you may use it against a neighbor or anybody else, you are now being warned and we'll take action against you?"

    SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I am kind of old fashioned. When a president says what he says, it seems to me we let those words stand. And if I were living in any one of those countries or participating in the government of any one of those countries, I don't think there would be any doubt at all as to what he meant.

    MR. LEHRER: Iran. You said yesterday on another television program that Iran helped some of the al-Qaeda escape from Afghanistan. How many? How major a deal was this?

    SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, first we have to recognize that the borders of Afghanistan are porous. There are four or five countries around the periphery. Iran is along the border. They have tribes that move back and forth for centuries so it's not as though there's a border patrol or an electronic barrier that stops things. We do have a good deal of information to the effect that al-Qaeda and Taliban have taken refuge there and others have used it as a transit point. We have no evidence at all that Iran has tried to stop them, that Iran has tried to turn them over to us or some other country or to incarcerate these people, the al-Qaeda, a terrorist network.

    We know simultaneously Iran is very active in sending Hezbollah terrorists down through Damascus into the Baca Valley and down in to Lebanon. We know that Iran has been selling or giving, probably giving weapons to Afghan elements in the country, which we find notably unhelpful. So that's a fact. These are facts. That's a behavior pattern not by the people of Iran. I think a lot of the people of Iran would like to throw off that regime. I think that there's a lot of young people and women in that country that feel repressed. And I also there's some people in the political process who feel that it ought to be changed. But the ones that have the control have been doing the things I just said. Let there be no doubt.

    MR. LEHRER: You say the evidence is clear. The president -- you say what the president said is clear. So what is the message to Iran -- stop it or we'll take you out or we'll do something to you?

    SEC. RUMSFELD: I'll give you the same answer I gave before.

    MR. LEHRER: Okay. Okay. But I mean, for instance, let's say... Let's don't be specific because I understand why you would not want to talk specifically about Iran, Iraq or... What about Iraq? I mean what is it you want, you and the president want Saddam Hussein to stop doing? And then we'll get to the general thing.

    SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, Saddam Hussein has been a threat to its own people. It's used weapons of mass destruction on its own people. It's a threat to its neighbors. It's invaded Kuwait. It is constantly calling neighboring regimes illegitimate and suggesting that its intent is to take them, if they're allowed. It is a country that has had and does today a very active weapons of mass destruction programs. It threatens Israel as well as some of the moderate Arab regimes continuously. It is a repressing its own people. It has thrown out the inspectors. It has been a number of years since the inspectors have been in there.

    They have had free play to develop these weapons of mass destruction. The technologies have enabled them to make advances to be sure. And they have obviously the ability to deceive and deny others from knowing precisely what they're doing through a variety of underground capabilities and mobility. Absent the world -- someone, the United States, other countries-- pointing out the danger they pose to their own people and to their neighbors, they would run free and they would invade Kuwait again to be sure. They might invade Saudi Arabia, which they threatened to do. They clearly are no friend of Jordan. They're no friend of Israel. And this is a vicious, repressive regime.

    MR. LEHRER: But from US policy standpoint, since the president's speech the other night and the reaction to it and follow-up statements from you, Secretary Powell and others, there have been some people-- the French, the Germans, the King of Jordan today-- have all said wait a minute an action against Iraq might not be in the interest of the region, whatever. Is the message that the President is giving is that the United States, if necessary-- I'm not saying they will-- but if necessary would act alone if they felt that this was a threat...if Iraq or any other country was a threat to stability or to peace?

    SEC. RUMSFELD: I think the, what the president is saying to the world and to those terrorist countries and weapons of mass destruction countries is very clear. He's saying, "Look, world, be on notice. This is a very dangerous time for the world; that these weapons are enormously powerful. They can kill not thousands of people but tens of thousands of people and that these countries that have engaged in a behavior pattern of terrorist acts cooperating with terrorist networks, providing haven to terrorists, that have those weapons pose a threat that we need to be conscious of and attentive to."

    What the next step might be is a question for the president not for me. But I don't think there's any doubt in those countries but that they now are on notice that the rest of the world also knows that they pose a threat to their people, their neighbors and indeed other countries.

    MR. LEHRER: You made a speech last week in which you talked about the lessons of the Afghan war. One of them was that you said preemption may be necessary in the future. You said, quote, "the best, in some cases the only defense, is a good offense." Now that's a major change of US defense policy, is it not? Have we ever taken a preemptory strike against another country without them first attacking us?

    SEC. RUMSFELD: We did in Afghanistan. Yes. The answer is. If you think about, we have no choice. A terrorist can attack at any time at any place using a range of techniques. It is physically impossible to defend at every time in every location against every conceivable technique of terrorism.

    Therefore, if your goal is to stop it, you cannot stop it by defense. You can only stop it by taking the battle to the terrorists, where they are and going after them. Now, you can tolerate it if they're not going to have access to powerful weapons and not going to kill thousands of people. If it's one or two or three people, the world has learned to live with a level of carnage that's modest. You don't like it.

    But when it's not modest, when it's large numbers, when it's something like smallpox or anthrax or a chemical weapon or the radiation weapon or killing thousands of people at the World Trade, then you say to yourself, well, if we can't stop terrorists at every location of every technique at every moment of the day or night, what must we do -- Just sit here and take the blows like the World Trade, take the blows that biological weapons would pose to us? The answer is no. You have a responsibility to defend your country.

    Everyone in the world knows-- even the UN Charter provides-- for the right of self-defense. And the only self-defense, the only effective way to defend is to take the battle to where the terrorists are. They are planning. They are plotting. They have trained thousands of terrorists very well, and we have no choice but to find those people and root them out, as the president said, and stop them from doing what they're doing and stop countries from harboring them.

    MR. LEHRER: But we only did this after we were attacked which is the traditional-- I'm just saying just as a matter of history the United States has always been attacked and then react. You're saying no more, not... this is a different kind of warfare.

    SEC. RUMSFELD: We were attacked. So it is self-defense to go out.

    MR. LEHRER: But you're saying that now we're not going to sit back and wait for another World Trade Center, we're now doing that.

    SEC. RUMSFELD: We've already been attacked so what we're doing is in self-defense.

    MR. LEHRER: Well, but we haven't been attacked by North Korea. We haven't been attacked by Iran; we haven't been attacked by Iraq. You can have a whole list of other countries. But you're saying... I'm just trying to understand how you define preemption under your definition of the lessons of Afghanistan.

    SEC. RUMSFELD: It is what we are doing. We identified the reality of al-Qaeda in all of these countries and the reality of Taliban harboring them. We said that we have no choice but to defend ourselves, and the only way to do that is to go find them. We have gone in to Afghanistan and we are working the problem very hard. We are also working the problem elsewhere in the world: Where they hide and where they operate and where they train and where they find haven from other countries. And the president has said if you're harboring a terrorist, you're supporting the terrorist. That means that the countries that engage in terrorist acts and harbor terrorists and provide haven for terrorist and run the risk of transferring weapons of mass destruction to terrorists, that they pose a danger to the world.

    MR. LEHRER: And we may not wait, we will not wait for you to strike us before we strike you?

    SEC. RUMSFELD: Certainly self-defense suggests that if we had reason to believe that that nexus was being bridged or that al-Qaeda and terrorists were being provided haven, clearly we have an obligation to try to find them.

    MR. LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

    "THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS PREPARED BY THE FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE INC., WASHINGTON, D.C. FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE IS A PRIVATE COMPANY."

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