Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
|Friday, Oct. 12, 2001 |
Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Parade
(Interview with Lyric Wallwork Winik, Parade Magazine)
Q: Let me start by asking you, most of us are programmed to
leave a building with smoke. What made you go towards the fire
here a little over a month ago, and what was going through
Rumsfeld: Well, I was sitting here and the building was
struck, and you could feel the impact of it very clearly, and
I don't know what made me do anything I did, to be honest with
you. I just do it instinctive. I looked out the window, saw
nothing here, and then went down the hall until the smoke was
too bad, then to a stairwell down and went outside and saw
what had happened. Asked a person who'd seen it, and he told
me that a plane had flown into it.
I had been aware of a plane going into the World Trade
Center, and I saw people on the grass, and we just, we tried
to put them in stretchers and then move them out across the
grass towards the road and lifted them over a jersey wall so
the people on that side could stick them into the ambulances.
I was out there for awhile, and then people started
gathering, and we were able to get other people to do that, to
hold IVs for people. There were people lying on the grass with
clothes blown off and burns all over them.
Then at some moment I decided I should be in here figuring
out what to do, because your brain begins to connect things,
and there were enough people there to worry about that. I came
back in here, came into this office. There was smoke in here
We made a judgment about where people should be. The
chairman was out of town, so he was separate. The vice
chairman was with me. We had my deputy go out to another site.
At a certain point it got too bad and we went into a room
about 30 yards away here in this building, in the same general
area but back that way that is sealable. But as it turns out
it wasn't sealable for smoke and so forth. We worked in there,
and we kept being told the building had to be evacuated
completely except for the people that were in that group that
were assisting me, and they kept saying you should get out of
here because these people have to stay if you're here, as I
recall. I said fine, we'll do that at the appropriate time.
They were able to get enough of the fire out and then move
some air out that the increasing smoke stopped. It did not
disappear, but it stopped. We were in there throughout the
day, and never did go to (inaudible).
The advantage for me was I could be here near where the
problems were and I had full communications from the area --
to the president and the vice president, the secretary of
state. I guess he was out of the country, wasn't he? It was
Q: In the interest of time I'm going to move you along. I'm
sorry if I seem rude --
Rumsfeld: Not at all.
Q: This is a question that's been asked by many Americans,
but especially by the widows of September 11th. How were we so
asleep at the switch? How did a war targeting civilians arrive
on our homeland with seemingly no warning?
Rumsfeld: There were lots of warnings. The intelligence
information that we get, it sometimes runs into the hundreds
of alerts or pieces of intelligence a week. One looks at the
worldwide, it's thousands. And the task is to sort through it
and see what you can find. And as you find things, the law
enforcement officials who have the responsibility to deal with
that type of thing -- the FBI at the federal level, and
although it is not, it's an investigative service as opposed
to a police force, it's not a federal police force, as you
know. But the state and local law enforcement officials have
the responsibility for dealing with those kinds of issues.
They [find a lot] and any number of terrorist efforts have
been dissuaded, deterred or stopped by good intelligence
gathering and good preventive work. It is a truth that a
terrorist can attack any time, any place, using any technique
and it's physically impossible to defend at every time and
every place against every conceivable technique. Here we're
talking about plastic knives and using an American Airlines
flight filed with our citizens, and the missile to damage this
building and similar (inaudible) that damaged the World Trade
Center. The only way to deal with this problem is by taking
the battle to the terrorists, wherever they are, and dealing
Q: Please briefly explain to our readers why it's not
enough just to get bin Laden and al Qaeda. Why this threat
ought to extend beyond that.
Rumsfeld: Well, because they have trained any number of
people that are spread all across the globe, but there are a
number of terrorist networks in a number of countries that
have harbored terrorists, and to deal with one and ignore the
rest would be to misunderstand the nature of the problem.
There is a correlation, really, between the countries that
sponsor terrorism, and the countries that have been
weaponizing chemical and biological, and they're working
diligently to develop nuclear capability for the most part.
Not in each case. But that nexus is something that ought to be
of concern to people. Were that connection to occur, obviously
you're talking not about thousands of people, but hundreds of
Q: What it sounds like you're saying too in this process
then is that we're going to need to address Iraq's weapons of
mass destruction, particularly in the light of even the
evidence that with inspectors Saddam continued to build his
arsenal through the 1990s and now we don't know what exactly
has happened. Is that going to be a top priority as well?
Rumsfeld: Those are decisions for the president, but he has
been very clear that he is deeply concerned about the problem
of terrorism. He is going to find terrorists and keep them out
and root them out, and he's going to create an environment
that suggests to countries that are harboring them that they
ought to stop.
Q: Unlike some of our previous conflicts abroad, a lot of
our efforts at the moment are concentrated in a part of the
world where portions of the population are hostile to us, both
allies and enemies. A Washington Post editorial spoke pretty
eloquently to this subject yesterday.
Can you talk a little bit about your thoughts about the
balance we have to strike between the politics of the reason,
even some of the propaganda that exists in the region, and our
own security interests?
Rumsfeld: We have to look at our security interests for
sure. Given the lethality of weaponry today and the
proliferation of those technologies, we have no choice.
By the same token we have to be sensitive that there are
inevitably going to be at least the potential for secondary
effects or non-intuitive threats that could occur. Some of
those can be advantageous. That is to say people can change
their ways, or there may be new alignments where we share
common problems, that our relationships with people three,
four, five years down the road might be notably different than
they were previously, for the good.
By the same token, to go to the heart of your question,
you're right. It is important that we do everything humanly
possible to do what we must do in a way that is sensitive to
our many allies in the region and the problems they have
because of, to use your words, the propaganda that is being
put forward by terrorists. This effort clearly has nothing to
do with any religion, it has nothing to do with any race, it
has nothing to do with any particular country. It has to do
with terrorists and terrorist networks. In the case of
Afghanistan they've pretty well taken over the country. But
Q: In hindsight, might the last decade be called the decade
of neglect? We didn't even maintain spare parts for our
military planes. What lessons should we as a people and our
political leaders learn from the 1990s?
Rumsfeld: You're correct. They called it a procurement
holiday, which is a euphemistic way of characterizing starving
the defense establishment from needed capabilities.
The lesson is a lesson that it's a shame, but we really
ought not to have to keep learning it. One would think we
would be wise enough as a people to learn from history and to
know that today we're spending a very modest percentage of our
gross domestic product on defense. When a crisis occurs we
suddenly say oh, my goodness, we can spend all we need to.
Well, of course we can. But the thing to do is to spend it
when you don't need to. Then you don't have to spend as much.
Then it's the deterrent effect and the capability effect that
you have that dissuades people from doing things like this.
But to the extent you get relaxed and say well, my goodness,
there's no real threat today, we can not worry about things,
and allow your investment to decline, you then find that you
have to increase it more than you otherwise would have and you
have to do it because of a crisis. I guess Benjamin Franklin
or somebody said that necessity is the mother of invention,
but this country can afford to spend anything it needs to on
our national security.
When I first came to Washington in the Eisenhower/Kennedy
years, we were spending 10 percent of our gross domestic
product on national security. When I was here as secretary of
defense some 25 years ago, it was 7, 6, 5, percent, in that
range, as I recall. Now it's down in the 2.8 or 9 percent.
We are perfectly capable of spending whatever we need to
spend. The world economy depends on the United States
[contributing] to peace and stability. That is what underpins
the economic health of the world, including the United States.
To think that we want to skim on our national security and
put in jeopardy the world economy, put in jeopardy our
economic circumstance in this country it's so short sighted
and so immature and reflects a lack of a capability to
Q: Looking forward as well as looking back, you've been
very forward looking in your plans for the RMA. Now we're
looking at transforming the military under duress and in an
accelerated timeframe in a conflict. How do you prepare for
the next war while you fight this one?
Rumsfeld: You're looking for bumper stickers.
Q: No, not bumper stickers. You can go more in depth than
that. We can handle it.
Rumsfeld: Well, one would hope our country would be wise
enough to do it skillfully, but what we have to do is not look
at existing threats, meaning countries or people. We need to
look at capabilities. The kinds of capabilities that exist
across the globe and that are revolving and spreading.
So rather than having a threat-based strategy we have
fashioned a capability-based strategy that says we can't know
of certainly knowledge where a specific threat will come from
or when it will come because capabilities are so widely
disbursed today. But we can expect those threats to come, and
we can make a reasonably good estimate as to what kinds of
capabilities we will need to deter and defend against those
threats when they do occur, regardless of where they come
It was a paradigm shift in thinking that has been lost as a
result of these terrorist attacks. But it is a significant
conceptual transition or paradigm shift for our country that
has taken place.
Q: Bio-terrorism is threatening a lot of Americans. How
serious is this threat? Do we need a new Manhattan style
project to deal with this? Are there other asymmetrical
threats that you're more concerned about? And then one little
tag on the end of that, given the concentration of political,
government, and military leadership in Washington, how safe is
this city in particular?
Rumsfeld: I worry about all the asymmetrical threats. One
must do so. We know there are not significant armies, navies
and air forces that can [test] us. Now one of the reasons
there aren't is because we have capable armies, navies and air
forces, and that dissuades people from thinking that that
could be an asymmetrical advantage for them if we lacked a
Navy or an Army or an Air Force.
Now therefore, what do they do? They go to the seams. They
look for ways that they can advantage themselves using our
technology, our capabilities, because of proliferation, things
that we have pioneered, and for which we do not have ready
defenses, and those are the ones you mentioned. They are
terrorism, they are ballistic missiles, they are cruise
missiles, they're weapons of mass destruction, chemical,
biological, and nuclear, and cyber attacks potentially.
I mean of all the countries in the world, we are more
dependent on space and more dependent on information
technology than any nation on the face of the earth, and
they're all, they all represent weaknesses, if you will --
strengths on the one hand, but weaknesses on the other,
because we have not hardened ourselves against those kinds of
In the case of terrorism, because it's so difficult to do;
in the case of -- We're working on cruise missiles and
ballistic missiles, but there's been some sort of a battle in
our country on the issue for many years, which has delayed and
impeded progress. With respect to cyber warfare and weapons of
mass destruction, those are things that are going to take a
great deal more effort on our part. And homeland defense
clearly was part of our defense strategy review well before
the September 11th attack for the very reason that you
suggested in your question, because of these asymmetrical
I'm talking as fast as I can.
Q: You're doing a great job. You're making life much
Mr. Secretary, what goes through your mind when you commit
American troops to war?
Rumsfeld: Well, if you're going to put people's lives at
risk you better have a damn good reason.
Q: If things become difficult in this war -- it looks like
it's going to be long, if there are setbacks or losses, what
will you turn to for strength? What are you drawing strength
Rumsfeld: Say that again.
Q: If this war becomes increasingly difficult, lasts for a
long period of time, if there are setbacks or losses as there
almost always are in most wars, what will you turn to for
strength? What will you draw upon? And is there anything in
particular that you're drawing upon already now?
Rumsfeld: Well, I guess you'd say the United States of
America represents something so important to the world, our
way of life, our free way of life. If one looked down from
Mars on earth you would find that only a handful of countries
are really capable of providing for their people, and where
the people provide for themselves. That is to say where the
political and economic structures are such that the maximum
benefit for the most people is achieved.
That is a big idea. That is something that is important.
And we have to see -- if you care about human beings across
the globe, you have to care that that example and that model,
that engine for prosperity that benefits not just the people
in our country but people across the globe, succeeds.
And in a world where, as human beings we know that people
are imperfect and there are a lot of people who are, for a
variety of reasons, engaged in doing evil things. And vicious
things. And lethal things. Therefore, if we value that and if
we value the people of the United States, there's no question
but that we have to be willing to defend that way of life and
to do that, people have to voluntarily put their lives at
risk. Thank goodness we've got wonderful people, men and women
in the armed services, who are willing to do that.
Q: Finally, one last question. Many people today shun
public service, avoid public office. Why serve? Why did you
choose to serve again?
Rumsfeld: I guess I had a practice of that over the
decades. That plaque says, "Fighting for the right is the
noblest force the world [affords]." (inaudible).
Q: I need to wait for the photographer to come in.
Are there any special challenges that we're facing as a
nation as part of this war? Something that you think the
American people need to be aware of?
Rumsfeld: There is one. Throughout our history, free people
are free to be wise, and to be unwise. That's part of what
freedom is. We've concluded that it's better than philosopher
kings or dictators. If that's the case and one looks at our
history and knows that that's the case, that means we can make
mistakes, and if we're what, 260 or 70 years old, 80 years old
as a country, we know we've made some mistakes. We've behaved
in ways that have allowed crises to turn into conflicts
through inattention, by thinking something was improbable,
like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; by saying something
that led people to believe it was okay for them to do
something like invade Korea. We survived all of that in
reasonably good form. There's been a lot of loss of life in
human treasure as well as material treasure. But that was a
different period. That was before weapons of mass destruction.
We do not have that, what do you call it, a margin for error?
Q: That luxury.
Rumsfeld: Yeah. We don't have the luxury of making a
mistake that big today. We have to be sufficiently -- We have
to behave to a higher standard as free people. We are not as
free to be as inattentive as we have on occasion been in the
past. We're not as free to make a misjudgment as to what's
probably or not probable because if we do make that mistake
instead of hundreds of people or thousands of people, it's
hundreds of thousands of people and potentially millions of
people. That's (inaudible).
Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. It was fascinating.
I have something quickly for you from my husband who I
think you know. The president loved the book as (inaudible)
and Secretary Cheney (inaudible) on Saturday night for dinner,
and we wanted you to have a copy. I don't know when you'll get
the time, but --
Q: Am I allowed to accept this?