New Realities in the Media Age: A Conversation with Donald Rumsfeld
Speaker: Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary, U.S. Department of Defense
Presider: Kenneth I. Chenault, Chairman, American Express Company
February 17, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations New York, NY
KENNETH CHENAULT: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to today’s luncheon with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
I want to extend a particular welcome to our members participating via teleconference, and of course, an especially warm welcome to Secretary Rumsfeld.
Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for taking time to be with us today.
Approximately, half our program will consist of the secretary making remarks on an important topic, specifically, the changes our government and military need to make in the way they communicate. In the second half, we will open the floor and the airwaves to questions on this or any other topic. Both portions of the meeting are on the record.
Secretary Rumsfeld is one of the most experienced and dedicated senior public officials in our nation’s modern history. Many Americans know that this is his second tour of duty as secretary of Defense. The first undertaken in a radically different period in the mid-1970s. But many are unaware that he also served as White House chief of staff, U.S. ambassador to NATO, director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, and as a four-term congressman. He also managed over the course of his career to make his mark on the world that I know best—as CEO of two outstanding companies, G.D. Searle and General Instrument Corporation.
I think you would agree that he needed all of this experience and more to prepare him for the extraordinary challenges he has faced from virtually the beginning of this tour as secretary of Defense, beginning in January 2001.
Over the last five years, he has prosecuted two wars—in Afghanistan and Iraq—and dealt with terrorist threats all over the world. Simultaneously, he initiated and is in the process of executing wholesale changes in the way our military is organized in order to adapt it to the needs of the new century.
Now, we will get to some of these subjects during our Q&A session. But now, without further delay, let me present to you the secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. (Applause.)
SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: Thank you very much, Ken. Ladies and gentlemen. Richard. My old colleague in Congress, John Brademas—nice to see you, sir.
I’m pleased to be back. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with this group on a couple of occasions recently, in the last few years. I thank all you members of the council for playing a valuable role in—over many, many years in encouraging an exchange of ideas about our country and the world.
As Ken indicated, we are meeting today in what is the beginning of the sixth year in which our nation has been engaged in what promises to be a long struggle against an enemy that in many ways is unlike any our country has ever faced. And in this war, some of the most critical battles may not be fought in the mountains of Afghanistan or the streets of Iraq, but in the newsrooms in places like New York and London and Cairo and elsewhere.
Consider this statement, quote, “More than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. We are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of Muslims.” Unquote. The speaker was not some modern-day image consultant in a public relations firm here in New York City, it was Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri. I mention this because I want to talk today about something that at first might seem obvious, but really isn’t obvious.
Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today’s media age, but for the most part we, our country, our government, has not adapted. Consider that the violent extremists have established media relations committees—these are terrorists and they have media relations committees that meet and talk about strategy, not with bullets but with words. They’ve proven to be highly successful at manipulating the opinion elites of the world. They plan and design their headline-grabbing attacks using every means of communication to intimidate and break the collective will of free people.
Go ahead and answer the phone. What the heck. (Laughter.)
They know that communications transcend borders and that a single news story handled skillfully can be as damaging to our cause and helpful to theirs as any other method of military attack. And they’re doing it. They’re able to act quickly. They have relatively few people. They have modest resources compared to the vast and expensive bureaucracies of Western governments.
Our federal government is really only beginning to adapt our operations to the 21st century. For the most part, the U.S. government still functions as a five and dime store in an eBay world. Today we’re engaged in the first war in history—unconventional and irregular as it may be—in an era of e-mails, blogs, cell phones—(laughter)—Blackberrys, Instant Messaging, digital cameras, a global Internet with no inhibitions, cell phones, hand-held videocameras, talk radio, 24-hour news broadcasts, satellite television. There’s never been a war fought in this environment before.
I just came back from Tunisia and Algeria and Morocco. In Tunis the largest newspaper, I’m told, has a circulation of about 50,000. It’s a country of 10 million people. But even in the poorest neighborhoods are satellite dishes on building after building after building. Balconies. Rooftops. A few years ago in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, an Iraqi could have his tongue cut out if he was found in possession of a satellite dish or used the Internet without government approval. Today satellite dishes are ubiquitous in that country as well. Regrettably, many of the news channels being watched through these dishes are extremely hostile to the West.
The growing number of media outlets in many parts of the world still have relatively immature standards and practices that too often serve to inflame and distort, rather than to explain and inform. And while al Qaeda and extremist movements have utilized this forum for many years and have successfully further poisoned the Muslim’s public view of the West, we in the government have barely begun to compete in reaching their audiences.
In this environment, the old adage that “A lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has its boots on” becomes doubly true with today’s technologies. We saw this with the false allegations of the desecration of the Koran last year. Once it was published in a weekly news magazine, it was posted on websites, sent in e-mails, repeated on satellite television, radio stations for days before the facts could be discovered. And in those first days, the false story incited anti-American riots in Pakistan and elsewhere. Human beings were killed in the those riots.
Once aware of the story, the U.S. military, appropriately and of necessity, took the time needed to try to ensure that they had the facts before responding, having to conduct interviews, pored over countless documents, investigations and log books, and finally determined that the charge was not correct. But in the meantime, some lives had been lost and damage had been done to our country.
What complicates the ability to respond quickly is that, unlike our enemies, which propagate lies with impunity with no penalty whatsoever, our government does not have the luxury of relying on other sources for information—anonymous or otherwise. Our government has to be the source, and we tell the truth.
These new realities have placed unprecedented challenges on the members of the press as well. Today’s correspondents are under constant pressure in a hypercompetitive media environment to produce exclusives and breaking stories. Daily or weekly deadlines have turned into updates by the hour, even by the minute, to feed a constant news crawl that now appears on most cable channels. And the fact is that the federal government, at the speed at which it operates, doesn’t always make their job much easier.
The standard U.S. government public affairs operation was designed primarily to respond to individual requests for information. It tends to be reactive, not proactive, and it still operates for the most part on an eight hour, five- or six-day-a-week basis, while the world events and our enemies are operating 24/7, across every time zone. That’s an unacceptable dangerous deficiency.
The government is, however, beginning to adapt. In Iraq, for example, the U.S. military command, working closely with the Iraqi government and the U.S. embassy, has sought nontraditional means to provide accurate information to the Iraqi people in the face of aggressive campaign of disinformation. Yet this has been portrayed as inappropriate; for example, the allegations of someone in the military hiring a contractor, and the contractor allegedly paying someone to print a story—a true story—but paying to print a story. For example, the resulting explosion of critical press stories then causes everything, all activity, all initiative, to stop, just frozen. Even worse, it leads to a chilling effect for those who are asked to serve in the military public affairs field.
The conclusion to be drawn, logically, for anyone in the military who is asked to do something involving public affairs is that there is no tolerance for innovation, much less for human error that could conceivably be seized upon by a press that seems to demand perfection from the government, but does not apply the same standard to the enemy or even sometimes to themselves.
Consider for a moment the vast quantity of column inches and hours of television devoted to the allegations of unauthorized detainee mistreatment. Some additional photographs have come out just this week. This, of course, was an event where the policy of the president and the policy of the government was for humane treatment and was against torture. And there were some people on a night shift who engaged in mistreatment of detainees. So this week, again, out of Australia, I guess, some same pictures—similar pictures, same event—of people on the night shift, one night shift in Iraq, who did some things that they have since been punished for under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
But weigh the numbers of column inches and hours of television involving that event, for example, against the discovery of Saddam Hussein’s mass graves, which were filled with literally hundreds of thousands of human beings, innocent Iraqis who were killed.
That’s the reality of the world in which we must operate, and in which our forces are fighting. The terrorists are trained—we’ve seen the so-called Manchester manual—they’re trained to lie. They’re trained to allege that they’ve been tortured. They’re trained to put out misinformation, and they’re very good at it.
Looking ahead, a number of changes are under consideration. First, government at all levels will need to make communications planning a central component of every aspect of this struggle, what will be a long struggle and a difficult one. Despite best efforts, for example, it took many months to put in place an effective communications operation in the post-major-conflict Afghanistan and in Iraq. In some cases, military public affairs officials have had little communications training and little, if any, grounding in the importance of timing and rapid response, and the realities of digital and broadcast media.
We’ve become somewhat more adept in these areas, but progress is slow. And importantly, public affairs posts have not proven to be career enhancing in the military. Quite the contrary. Anyone who looks at those careers and recognizes the near-instantaneously public penalty that is imposed on someone in the military who is involved in anything that the media judges instantaneously to be imperfect or improper and that then requires a long time to figure out what actually took place, people are—you know, military people are intelligent, they’ll move away from those careers.
We need to get better at engaging experts from both within and outside of government to help communicate, to rapidly deploying the best military communications capabilities to new theaters of operation, developing and executing multifaceted media campaigns—print, radio, television and Internet. But let there be no doubt: The longer it takes to put a strategic communication framework into place, the more we can be certain that the vacuum will be filled by the enemy and by news informers that most assuredly will not paint an accurate picture of what is actually taking place.
There are some signs of modest progress. Within the past year and a half, the U.S. military’s Joint Forces Command has developed a rapidly deployable communication team. They are organized and focused on specific geographical areas of the world. For example, soon after the devastating earthquakes in Pakistan, I had occasion to fly over the areas where entire sides of mountains had collapsed because of the quake, and entire cities and villages were gone and just rubbled, where the roofs had all just collapsed down to the ground and there were no walls left. One of these newly fashioned teams—military teams went along with our very sizable military forces into the disaster area. And operating in conjunction with other federal agencies and the U.S. embassy, they worked directly with the commander who was in charge of the humanitarian effort there to help focus the attention on the U.S. government’s truly extraordinary commitment to helping the Pakistani people.
Public opinion surveys taken by private groups in Pakistan before and after the earthquake suggest that public attitudes in that country regarding the United States changed dramatically because of the new awareness by the Pakistani public. Indeed, it was not long before the favorite toy in Pakistan was a small replica of a Chinook helicopter—they were just everywhere in that country—because of the many lives that our helicopters saved and the mountain of relief supplies that they delivered. The communications team was attached to it and rapidly deployable and needed because, frankly, we were concerned about our troops’ safety. Given the number of people in that country that do not favor the West and the potential difficulties that occurred, we were uncertain as to what the reception would be. The reception over time was terrific.
Second, government public affairs and public diplomacy efforts are slowly beginning to reorient staffing and schedules and culture to engage the full range of media that are having such an impact today. Our U.S. Central Command, for example, has launched an online communications effort that includes electronic news updates and a links campaign that has resulted in several hundred blogs receiving and publishing Centcom content.
The U.S. government will have to develop an institutional capability to anticipate and act within the same news cycle. That will require instituting 24-hour press operation centers, elevating Internet operations and other channels of communication to the equal status with the traditional 20th Century press relations. It will result in much less reliance on the traditional print press, just as the publics of the U.S. and the world are relying less on newspapers as their principal source of information. And it will require attracting more experts in these areas from the private sector to government service. This also will likely mean embracing new institutions to engage people across the world.
During the Cold War, institutions such as the U.S. Information Agency and Radio Free Europe—just to mention a couple of examples—proved to be valuable instruments for the United States. We need to consider the possibility of new organizations and programs that can serve a similar valuable role in the war on terror in this new century.
What, for example, should a U.S. Information Agency, or a Radio Free Europe for the 21st Century look like? We remember—John Brademus (sp), I’m sure does, and I do—that the—I think it was—USIA was highly criticized because they did a film on President Kennedy going to India, if my memory serves me correctly, and that film was then used in the United States. And the argument was, of course, that it was taking taxpayers’ dollars, creating a film that was promoting a person running for public office in the United States and propagandizing the American people. Of course, when you speak today, there’s no one audience; there are multiple audiences. So you—we can’t avoid communicating—whatever it is we communicate inevitably is going to be heard by multiple audiences.
So I don’t know the answer. But I do think we ought to ask ourself the question: What should a U.S. Information Agency or a Radio Free Europe for the 21st century look like? These are tough questions, and I suggest that some humility is in order. There’s no guidebook for this, there’s no roadmap that says here’s what you ought to do when you get up in the morning, if you’re in the government of the United States. These are tough questions and it’s tough to find the answers for them and to do it right so that we can tell our hard-working folks what to do to meet these challenges. We’re trying to figure it out as we go along—the country is trying to figure it out.
I noticed this week that Secretary of State Condi Rice offered a proposal to support the democratic aspirations of Iranian people through expanding broadcasting, the Internet and student exchanges. Personally, I think she deserves support in those recommendations. I don’t know quite how it ought to be done. But I notice that she is meeting a lot of resistance and criticism in Congress about that. I suppose that’s because it is new, it’s different, and people need time to adjust and adapt to new ideas.
For the past minutes I’ve been commenting on the challenges facing our country—not just our government, but our country—in fighting a war in this new media age. And while the enemy is increasingly skillful at manipulating the media and using the tools of communications to their advantage, it should be noted that we have an advantage as well, and that is, quite simply, that the truth is on our side, and ultimately, in my view, truth wins out. I believe with every bone in my body that free people, exposed to sufficient information, will, over time, find their way to right decisions.
Throughout the world, advances in technology are forcing a massive information flow that dictators and extremists ultimately will not be able to control. Blogs are rapidly appearing even in countries where the press is still government-controlled. Pro-democracy forces are communicating and organizing by e-mail, pagers and BlackBerrys. Today in Iraq, an energetic media has emerged from the rubble of Saddam’s police state, with nearly 300 newspapers, over 90 radio stations and more than 40 television stations. Iraqis are now accessing the Web in their homes, as well as in Internet cafes that have sprung up in towns and cities across the country.
We are fighting a battle where the survival of our free way of life is at stake, and the center of gravity of that struggle is not simply on the battlefields overseas. It’s a test of wills, and it will be won or lost with our publics and with the publics of other nations. We’ll need to do all we can to attract supporters to our efforts and to correct the lies that are being told which so damage our country and which are repeated and repeated and repeated.
In the early years of the Cold War, another “long twilight struggle,” President Eisenhower made a very perceptive observation. He said—and I understand there’s enormous differences between the Cold War and the struggle we’re engaged in today—but he said something that has resonance even today. He said, quote, “We face a hostile ideology, global in scope, ruthless in purpose and insidious in method. To meet it successfully, we must carry forward steadily, surely and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle with liberty the stake,” end quote.
For nearly 50 years we did just that as a country through successive administrations of both political parties with our allies in Europe. We’ll need to show the same perseverance in the long struggle we face today.
I thank you, and will be happy to respond to questions on this subject or other subjects. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
CHENAULT: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.
We’re going to move to the Q and A section. What I’d like to do is to ask two questions of my own, one question from a national member, and then we’ll open it up to the audience.
From the standpoint of focusing on the content of the message, my question is in measuring the progress we’ve made in Iraq, what are the specific guideposts and indicators that you look at?
RUMSFELD: In Iraq, as opposed to the broader struggle, which is even more critical, I would say that there are several things that one has to look at to measure progress.
If you think of—the enemy is determined to prevent that country from having a representative government. For them to be able to control that real estate with that oil and that water and that history and use it as a haven for terrorists, to establish a caliphate, which is what their announced interest and goal is in that country, and use it as a base would put in jeopardy all the neighborhood and much of the world.
What do we look for? Well, they tried to stop having the elections on January 15th, and they failed. The insurgents and the terrorists tried to stop them from crafting a constitution, and they failed. They tried to prevent the constitutional referendum on October 15th, and they failed. They tried to stop the elections that took place on December 15th, and they failed. They’re trying now to prevent the establishment of a decent government, and I think they’ll fail. So certainly the political progress is something.
Second, there’s been a big debate about how many troops should be in Iraq, and we see some people saying, oh, there should be more or there should be less and what have you, and there should have been more in the first place or there should have been more in the second place, and everyone’s got an opinion. But the fact of the matter is, it is a complex question. There’s a tension between the desire to have enough people there, coalition forces, that you can create an environment that’s sufficiently hospitable for the Iraqi people to build their nation, to make political progress and economic progress—because we’re not going to do nation building; we don’t know how. They’re going to build their own nation, ultimately, and they have to do it in an environment that’s possible. So they need enough security to do that.
On the other hand, if you have too many people, two things happen. One is you create the presence of an occupying force. You’re sufficiently heavy and intrusive that you contribute to the number of people who are willing to participate in the interagency, and it’s self-defeating.
The second thing that happens is, Americans are Americans, and if you’re in that country with 138,000 people and there’s a ditch to be dug or a building to be built or a generator to be put in a hospital, they do it. Our forces do it. They just are can-do people. And the last thing you want to do is create a dependency. You’ve got to—you can’t fill every vacuum in that country. They need to have to step—it’s their country.
They’re going to have to step up, grab ahold of it, and take charge of their country. Therefore, we have to make darn sure we don’t have too many people that we prevent them from having it—that ability to do it. So it’s that tension that’s taking place.
And you asked, how do we mark progress? It seems to me that the progress has to be marked by the political progress and by the ability of the Iraqi security forces to replace our forces. We’ve now shut down or turned over 30 bases to the Iraqis. We’re passing over big pieces of real estate to the Iraqi security forces. There’s 227(,000) or (2)28,000 trained and equipped Iraqi security forces. They provided security for the election. So they’re making good progress, and it seems to me that that’s a measurement that’s important.
Our goal has to be to reduce our forces down, to keep doing it and to do it at a pace where we recognize we’re going to—I almost said, make a mistake—it’ll look like a mistake. It’s a judgment call. We’re going to have to pull out of some pieces of real estate and turn over things to Iraqis. And they’re going to drop the ball; I mean, let’s face it. And we’re going to have to step in, go back in, and fix it, and then turn it back over again. And it’s going to be three steps forward and one step back. It isn’t going to be perfect. It isn’t going to be pretty. It isn’t going to look like a United States of America. It’s going to be an Iraqi solution politically, an Iraqi solution economically, and an Iraqi solution from a security standpoint.
I mentioned the political image and the security, the other is the economic. They’re going to have to keep making progress. I mean, they’ve got a currency that’s been fairly stable. They’ve got a stock market that’s open. They’ve got more companies being formed all the time in that country, and much of the country permits them to do that. It’s stable enough to do it. There are four provinces with a probably 60 plus percent of the population in them that where—I don’t know—90 percent of incidents occur.
And so it’s not the same everywhere; one size doesn’t fit all. We’re working it around the country, but progress is being made in all three of those categories.
CHENAULT: Thank you.
Let me read a question that was submitted by one of our national members, Newton Minow of Sidley and Austin.
RUMSFELD: Is he here?
CHENAULT: No. He submitted it in writing.
RUMSFELD: He’s a friend from 40 years.
CHENAULT: That’s terrific.
RUMSFELD: Let’s get after him for not being here.
CHENAULT: Absolutely. (Laughter.)
RUMSFELD: He’s a great guy.
CHENAULT: Well, Newt asks, is given the impact of Al-Jazeera, why have we been so slow to develop ways to effectively communicate our values in the Middle East?
RUMSFELD: Well, I think my—I’ll send Newt the speech. (Laughter.)
I mean, I don’t know. It’s hard—first of all, it’s hard to do. And second, there’s—Congress and the executive branch are uncomfortable with change, and it’s going to require change. It’s a totally new world. And third, the media—there’s nothing the media would rather talk about than the media. (Laughter.) I see Andrea Mitchell laughing. It’s true. You know it’s true. And therefore, anything we do in this area is like the third rail. And you start talking about it and you start trying to deal with it and try to figure out a different way to do it, and someone’s going to say, “Oh my goodness, you’re trying to manipulate, you’re trying to do something terrible.” And we’re not. We’re trying to—this is a great country we have, and by golly, we’re not seen that way around the world. And we do an enormous number of things that benefit this world. We’re big stakeholders in the success of this world. And when people are supportive, things are easier. And when people are not supportive, things are much harder. I mean, that’s just a fact. And we need to be able to do this better. And I—Newt was an expert on this subject when he ran the FCC for President Kennedy. I’m going to write him a letter and ask him to tell me, instead of me trying to answer him.
CHENAULT: All right, we’ll open the floor now. If people could give their name and also their organization that they are affiliated with.
QUESTIONER: Esther Newberg, ICM. Mr. Secretary, Don Imus has been trying to raise $10 million this week to build a hospital in New Mexico to help kids coming back without arms and limbs from Iraq and Afghanistan. My question is, you’ve asked the government, I think, for $65 billion more dollars—the Congress. Isn’t our first obligation, sir, to take care of these children that are fighting the war for all of us old people sitting in this room and all over America?
RUMSFELD: Indeed it is. There’s—if you have a volunteer force and you have young men and women who are willing to stick up their hands and say, “Send me,” voluntarily, and to go out and to serve our country and to help defend our country, and they lose their lives or lose limbs, needless to say the American people have an enormous obligation to them.
And they are getting the best medical attention that has ever existed in any conflict in the history of the world. And anyone who spends time in Bethesda Naval Hospital or Walter Reed or Brooke Army Hospital or any of the hospitals where these folks are being treated, and talks to them, will find out that they believe what I just said is true. Their families believe it. They are grateful for the support and attention they’re getting.
We have established some new arrangements to try to, at that point where a person’s been wounded and is not able to stay in the military and moves into the private side, is passed over to the Veterans Administration, we’ve established ways to link them so that they don’t drop between the cracks and that they are looked after. And we have that obligation and it is something that we take very seriously in the military and in the Department of Defense and in—I know in the Congress shares that feeling deeply.
QUESTIONER: George Schwab, National Committee on American Foreign Policy. I’m wondering if you would care to comment about the danger that Iran constitutes now to the region as well as to the United States.
RUMSFELD: Thank you, sir. I guess that any time you have a government—first of all, let me say a word about Iran. This is an impressive country from a historic standpoint. It’s a large country. It has an interesting history and an intelligent population, and it’s being run by a handful of clerics that are for the most part very extreme in their views. Certainly the new president has been talking about the desirability of wiping Israel off the map and a world without the United States of America. He and his associates have a view of the world that is, by my characterization, extreme.
And we’ve always had extremists. As long as an extremist goes off and is extreme by themselves, that’s one thing. But when they’re extreme and violent extremists and they’re attempting to impose their view of the world on everybody else, and free people’s behavior is unacceptable, that’s a separate thing.
And so obviously this country and our friends in Europe have been working very hard with other countries in the world attempting to diplomatically find ways to persuade the government of Iran that it’s not in their interest to isolate themselves from the world. Certainly the—if you think of the women and the young people in that country who probably are somewhat uncomfortable with the leadership in that country, they do not have an interest in being isolated from the rest of the world, and my—the behavior of this leadership is having that effect. And one would hope that that would begin to influence them over time.
But a country with those views and that behavior pattern and—is certainly not a country that one would like to see have nuclear weapons.
CHENAULT: But let me just touch on—you had your hand up. And then I’m going to move to this side, a little bit back, and we’ll move back and forth.
QUESTIONER: I’m Ted Sorensen from Paul, Weiss.
First of all, Mr. Secretary, thank you for being gracious and courageous enough to take questions from the crowd. (Laughter.) Not every Council speaker has been willing to do that. (Laughter.)
RUMSFELD: I was a wrestler for 12 years. (Laughter.) I enjoyed it.
QUESTIONER: My—good. I hope you’ll continue to say that. My question—(laughter)—my question relates to your main topic. My own travels abroad convinced me that you are right, that America’s true values are often not getting through overseas, and our image—and as a result, our standing and maybe even our security has suffered. Is the answer to improve our public relations techniques and equipment, as you implied? Or is the answer to improve our foreign policy?
RUMSFELD: Well—(applause)—clearly, policies and communications are both terribly important. And the—you know, I quoted President Kennedy when I said “The long twilight struggle” about the Cold War. Did you write those words? (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: Ask not. (Laughter, applause.)
RUMSFELD: (Chuckles.) I like that. Very good.
It’s both. Clearly, you said change the policy. I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily that. It is—policy makes a difference, and—but how—if you believe your policy is a correct one, there are always times when other countries aren’t going to agree with those policies. And that doesn’t mean you’re wrong. It just means that from their perspective—I mean, they just changed governments in a couple of countries in Europe, and their views changed with respect to our policies—some favorable and some unfavorable. So our policies stayed the same.
So just simply trying to get up every morning and following public opinion polls and changing your views to meet some appetite or opinion that is fickled and can change with one election in another European country, or a country anywhere in the world, isn’t, I don’t think, a behavior pattern that this country’s ever followed or should.
But clearly, it’s both. Our policies make a difference, and they need to be well thought-through, and they need to be well-supported in the country. And the reality is, there’s practically nothing important that needs to be done in the world that we can do alone. I mean, it’s just a fact. If you think of counterproliferation, you can’t do that with one country. The global war on terror—you can’t do that; you’ve got to share intelligence, you have to cooperate on law enforcement, you have to cooperate from a military standpoint.
We are at a point where we must have the cooperation of other countries, and therefore, we have to figure out how to do that. Now, to do that, you’re going to have to adjust your policies because the goal is to get enough people, for example, dealing with the problem of proliferation that you can be successful. And that may require—that desirable goal may require some adjustments as you work with other countries and fashion an approach that enough of them are comfortable with that you can accomplish your goal.
And so I’d say the answer’s both. But I liked your answer better. (Laughter.)
CHENAULT: Yes, right here.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Toby Gati, Akin Gump. Mr. Secretary, you—
RUMSFELD: I couldn’t understand you. I’m sorry.
QUESTIONER: Toby Gati, Akin Gump.
RUMSFELD: Oh, Bob Strauss’s outfit.
QUESTIONER: Yes. Yes. In your closing comments, you said something very important, that free people exposed to information will make the right decision. And I know you were calling for foreigners to get more information, mainly from us. But in case after case, we are hearing from the administration the need to keep information from the American public, whether—and all of it in the name of national security, whether it’s our right to know through expanded congressional hearings, or executive privilege, or the idea that an average citizen who hears classified information will be subject to U.S. laws from disseminating that—and I speak as being a former assistant secretary for Intelligence and Research, so I know what that means.
And it just—I just wonder if—don’t you think it would be nice if we weren’t always talking about the need to make our debates less inclusive, get less information for our own people when we talk to foreigners, because if foreigners get their own television, they also hear what we’re saying to our own people, and it seems that we’re really not trusting our own people the way you’re saying we should trust foreigners with the truth.
RUMSFELD: Well, let me start with the truth. I used a partial quote without attributing it. In my senior year in Princeton, in 1954, Adlai Stevenson came to speak, and he used a sentence roughly like what I said, that free people, given sufficiently—sufficient access to information will find their way to reasonably right decisions over time. Or something like that. I believe that very strongly.
The comment that we need—that we’re not providing information to people I think is so fundamentally inconsistent with reality. Our country disgorges more information than probably any country on the face of the earth. I was one of sponsors of the Freedom of Information law in the 1960s, when I was a congressman, and John Moss was the leader of that. And I was one of the co-sponsors of that legislation. Getting people access to information, I believe in that, and I do believe that over time truth comes out.
Now, the problem is we’re living in a fast-moving world. Do I think that there are certain security things that should not be put out because they put people’s lives at risk? You bet I do! And does it break my heart when some information is leaked that puts American military people’s lives at risk, and they get killed because of it? You bet it bothers the dickens out of me! And I think there are things that need not to be publicized and should not be publicized, and that’s been true of every administration in my adult lifetime for darn good reason.
Now, is there a tendency to overclassify in government? You bet! Pat Moynihan was a leader in trying to lead to less classification of material. It’s a human instinct when you’re involved with sensitive materials to air on the side of—well, you know this; you were in the business—to air on the side of classification. And then we’re all so darn busy that you don’t go back and declassify in a timely fashion the way you should, and the way it would be good if you did.
But—I mean, just think of it. If there are people who killed 3,000 people in our country several years ago, and they are using a method of communicating, and we decide that—some person, some individual in the government, who was given access to information, decides that—on his own hook he thinks he’ll tell the world that we’re actually aware of how they’re communicating with each other; and he tells the world that. Do I think that person ought to be prosecuted for violating the oath they took? You bet! You bet! Now, does it happen very often? No! Is the government very successful? No! Does it build up legal fees for everybody, for—(audio break)—are there any meters working right—no. It does.
But this is tough stuff. It isn’t easy, and there are people getting killed. And there’s information that should be kept secret, and there’s a lot of information that shouldn’t be. And making those calls is not easy. And you’ve got a lot of people—honorable people trying to do the best they can at it.
QUESTIONER: Thank you.
QUESTIONER: John Brademus, New York University, 3rd District Indiana.
RUMSFELD: Now you’re talking!
QUESTIONER: Mr. Secretary, it’s good to hear you again. I remember having worked with you when you were running the Office of Economic Opportunity a little while ago.
QUESTIONER: This is my question, and it’s a—perhaps a softball of a question, but I think it’s a significant one. You’ve been getting a lot of criticism in respect of the Defense Department budget proposals for wanting to give too much money to big defense contractors for huge contracts and not allocating sufficient funds for our armed forces. Would you like to defend your position?
RUMSFELD: Well, John, if you’re reading that, you ought to change your reading material. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: New York Times, The Washington Post.
RUMSFELD: I repeat myself. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: I have to say that I resisted, but with that response I have to say when I saw my dear friend and former colleague in Congress, I said, is this the first “Rummy for Vice President” rally?
RUMSFELD: (Laughs.) Oh, no.
No, here’s the situation. You’re talking about money for the troops. In an all-volunteer military, which you supported and which I supported, it is—you obviously have to do what you have to do in the private sector. You have to fashion a set of incentives to attract and retain the people you need to perform the functions that need to be performed. And it doesn’t take a genius to know how to do that. You just adjust those incentives like you would in any organization—in a law firm or a business or anything else—and keep adjusting them to do it.
They were out of adjustment when we came in five years ago. We have significantly improved the incentives. They are appropriate. The problem we’ve got is that the Congress keeps coming in without hearings and passes additional things that basically go to the people in their districts—retired and Guard and Reserve—as opposed to the active force. So we keep trying to get the thing back in balance.
And it is—we are meeting our recruiting goals, we’re meeting our retention goals, month and month after month the last eight or so months, and obviously, they are being rewarded in a way that’s perfectly acceptable to them, and that’s the test.
Second, the other part of it, you’re right, there are a few critics running around saying, “Oh, my goodness, you didn’t cancel enough big weapon systems, ships and tanks and airplanes, and therefore you’ve got a big”—they don’t use the word, but in the department we say a big “bow wave is building up—” that you’re not going to be able to pay the bills because there are too many major weapon systems coming down the road.”
The fact is—I’ve been around a long time—there’s always been a bow wave and it’s always been dealt with. And the reason it’s dealt with is things drop out that don’t work, you decide something doesn’t make sense and you make adjustments, and you always fit what it is you need to do in a budget that makes some sense.
Now, should we stop doing anything involving conventional war and assume that the world for the next—these things take 20 years to develop, and they last for 30 or 40 years. When I was secretary of Defense in 1975, I approved the M-1 tank. We’re still using it. I was at the flyover for the F-16 airplane. We’re still using them. The B-1 bomber—I flew the third one when it was just being tested I was in it. So these things are—last a long time.
I’m not smart enough to look out there 20 or 30 years and know precisely what it’s going to look like, but I do not believe that we’ve reached the end of history, and I think that we darn well ought—the reason we are not having today to contest with major armies, navies and air forces is because we have capable armies, navies and air forces that make it disadvantageous for people to try to contest us there. Therefore, they’re logically going to compete with us with asymmetrical warfare, irregular warfare. That’s what I would do if I were them. They have brains, they have thinking machines and they use them.
Now, what are we doing? So instead of stopping all of that and starting new, we’re shifting our weight, we’re shifting our balance, shifting our emphasis. And we’re doing it. It’s hard to do. I hope that—I just pray we’re doing it well and right. I believe we are. Goodness knows, I’m not smart enough to know how to do it. So we spent thousands of hours with the senior military and civilian people in the Department of Defense, and what has been produced in the Quadrennial Defense Review is a very thoughtful piece that a few people outside are tossing a tomato or two at on the basis that, “Oh, you didn’t go far enough.” Or—the fact that we cancelled the Comanche and the Crusader Weapon Systems and several other aircraft, discontinued them, that isn’t good enough. They wanted us to cancel something else. Everyone’s got their own opinion, and that’s fair enough.
I’d say it’s a darn good piece of work. The people have invested themselves in it. They believe that what we’ve done and the track we’re on is the right track.
If you think of the task that the military has, it’s to find the enemy, it’s to fix the enemy in time that you can do something about it, and finish. We have overwhelming ability to finish. We are light on the ability to find and fix. We could find the Soviet navy, army and air force. Finding a single individual, finding a network is a totally different task, and it’s a tough task. I mean, just think, the FBI’s had people on the FBI’s Most Wanted List for 20 years! This is not easy stuff! It’s a whale of a lot easier to sit in the outside and toss the tomato. I used to do that! (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, Andrea Mitchell from NBC News.
RUMSFELD: You’re kidding. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: Yes, sir. Last night, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that he believes based partly on this latest report from a panel to the United Nations that the human rights abuses that were alleged at Guantanamo were severe enough that Guantanamo should be closed as soon as possible. And I’m wondering if you can respond to that.
I know the administration has said that the people doing the report never got to Guantanamo, but it was, they claim, because they were told they could not do any interviews if they did go there. So I’m wondering, what do you see as the timetable, if any, for dealing with Guantanamo and for moving people into a state where they either prosecuted or released, as Mr. Annan suggested they should be?
RUMSFELD: Well, I know Kofi Annan, and there are a lot of things you can agree with him on, but he’s just flat wrong. We shouldn’t close Guantanamo. We have several hundred terrorists, bad people; people if they went back out on the field would try to kill Americans. That’s just a fact. And to close that place and pretend that merely there’s no problem, it just isn’t realistic.
Second, he’s never been to Guantanamo Bay. There have been hundreds of members of the United States Congress and their staffs who’ve been there. There have been hundreds of journalists who’ve been there. There have been hundreds of foreigners who’ve been there. The International Committee of the Red Cross stayed there, lived there 24-hours a day! That place is being run as well as any detention facility can be run, and it’s absolutely beyond comprehension that simply because some of the people that have habeas corpus rights and are—have hired lawyers and are telling lawyers exactly what they were trained to tell people in the Manchester document: Tell them you’re tortured! Tell them it’s terrible! Tell them this! Tell them that! That’s what they do.
And then these people from the U.N., who wrote this report, who’ve never been down there—they were invited down there! They could have looked around! They’re talking to their—they’re talking to the lawyers for these people. The International Committee of the Red Cross is not saying that. The members of Congress who have been down there aren’t—isn’t saying that. The foreigners who’ve gone to visit their detainees from their countries aren’t saying that.
Every once and a while some pop—someone pops up and gets some press for saying, “Oh, let’s close Guantanamo Bay.” Well, if someone has a better idea, I’d like to hear it! We didn’t come up with the rule that these people would come to our country and kill 3,000 people. We didn’t come up with the rule—the fact that throughout history, in a war, combatants are kept off the battlefield so they can’t go back and do it again. We’ve released people from Guantanamo on a continuing basis, and we’ve made mistakes. Fifteen of them have gone back to the battlefield and tried to kill Americans and have either been killed or captured. And the idea that you could just open the gates and say, “Gee, fellows, you’re all just wonderful” is not realistic. We live in a tough world.
And by golly, that place is being run. There’s no torture. There’s no abuse. It’s being handled honorably. And to the extent anyone does anything wrong, it’s reported and they’re punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And by golly, that’s the way it ought to be.
CHENAULT: In the back to the right, standing up.
QUESTIONER: Raghida Dergham (ph) of Al-Hayat. My question is about Iran, but I want to follow up on Guantanamo. Those people did not get there, sir, because you did not allow them to have interviews with the detainees in Guantanamo. And we have our friends, such as Blair and others, telling us, close down that facility. So since this is a war of manipulation of the media and we’ve been in the media reduced in this speech to simply pawns in this war of manipulation, I’d like that follow-up.
But on Iran, sir—
RUMSFELD: What was the question?
QUESTIONER: The question is that why didn’t you allow them to interview the detainees? That was the condition. You said to them, no, you cannot interview them.
RUMSFELD: The International Committee for the Red Cross is the group that has historically done that. They do it. They have done it. They are doing it now. This group is not represented from—by the Security Council, as I understand it. It’s a few people from some group in—
QUESTIONER: The Human Rights Commission.
RUMSFELD: Right. Who’s the—
QUESTIONER: That’s from Geneva. This is a U.N. body.
RUMSFELD: I understand.
RUMSFELD: And they were offered the same thing that everyone else in their category was offered, as I understand it. This was not my decision. But they were allowed to do anything that people in their circumstance, not the same thing that the International Committee for the Red Cross allows, not the same thing that the lawyers are allowed, not the same thing that the other foreign people coming in visiting their nationals are allowed. But if you start letting every single person who wants to go in and interview these people, then you can’t manage a facility like that. They’re trying to get information from these people about what’s going on in the world of terrorism.
QUESTIONER: And on Iran, my question’s on Iran—
QUESTIONER: I’ll ask my question on Iran, if I may.
CHENAULT: (Inaudible)—limit the questions just to one question.
QUESTIONER: No, I—
CHENAULT: That’s it.
QUESTIONER: You don’t want the question on Iran?
CHENAULT: That’s it.
Next person. We want to spread it around to give as many people an opportunity. Yes?
QUESTIONER: I’m Carroll Bogert from Human Rights Watch. (Laughter.) You want to wrestle, Mr. Secretary? (Laughter.)
RUMSFELD: I thought this was the Council on Foreign Relations! (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: It is.
QUESTIONER: You bet it is.
QUESTIONER: There have been many panels and commissions that have looked into the question of abuse of detainees in U.S. custody.
QUESTIONER: But not one of them has really been independent of the Pentagon. All but one of them have been led by military officers who weren’t authorized to go above their rank, and the Schlesinger Group drew significantly from a military advisory group that’s associated with the Pentagon. And as you know, there is substantial dissatisfaction among U.S. servicemembers that responsibility for this abuse is being pinned, frankly, as you just did in your speech, on lower-ranking servicemembers.
RUMSFELD: A general was dealt with. A colonel was dealt with. There were other officers that were dealt with.
QUESTIONER: Would you support—
RUMSFELD: The implication of your question is simply not accurate.
QUESTIONER: The—the question—which I haven’t had a chance to ask yet, is would you support the creation of a truly independent investigatory body independent of the Pentagon, that would therefore be credible in the eyes of the public and the servicemembers under your own command?
RUMSFELD: I’ll tell you where we are. There are a lot of people who are very anxious to take this issue and make sure it stays in the press month after month after month because it harms our country. There have been 20 investigations—11 or 12 investigations. There have been over—I think it’s 200 or 300 criminal investigations of individuals. There have been hearings in the Congress. There have been briefings in the Congress—I don’t know, 20 or 30. This has been so discussed, and, frankly, that Jim Schlesinger and Harold Brown, the people on the Schlesinger panel, the Republican, Democrat, are honorable people and did an honorable and it was independent. You can be darn sure they weren’t taking any orders from anyone in the Pentagon.
I think that it has been examined, officers have been punished, enlisted personnel have been punished. Some things were done, mistreatment of detainees—which never should have happened. It’s a terrible thing that it did.
But, no, I don’t think that it would serve our purpose, anyone’s purpose to have still one more—instead of 14 have 15 investigations of this and rehash all of this. I think it’s harmful to the country. I think it doesn’t serve any purpose. Any single example of abuse that’s ever been cited has been investigated and to the extent appropriate, people have been punished, and that’s how it should be dealt with.
CHENAULT: Yes, right here?
QUESTIONER: Mr. Secretary, my name is Roland Paul. I’m a lawyer in Greenwich, Connecticut. Years ago, I was an OSD at the Pentagon.
You know, the press daily reports the casualties suffered by American forces in Iraq and Iraqis on our side. But as far as I can see, they virtually never report the casualties incurred by the insurgents. Would you be willing to give us some idea or an order of magnitude numbers of over any time period you think appropriate that the insurgents have incurred?
RUMSFELD: I can’t. The data is so imperfect that anything I said would be—could conceivably be misleading.
I do know that in the last six or eight months, as we have worked very closely—we’ve had people embedded with the Iraqi security forces. And we do know that they are taking casualties—killed and wounded—that are roughly twice the rate of all coalition forces. So the implication that the Iraqi security forces are not in the fight, that they’re not out there providing security for their country simply isn’t true.
There isn’t any way of accumulating data on the civilians that are being killed by the insurgents. And, of course, those numbers are multiples, many multiples—
QUESTIONER: How many insurgents have been killed?
RUMSFELD: How many insurgents? We have a reasonable count on that, and we don’t put it out. And it’s just—if you’ll recall the Vietnam War, they had body counts that went on day after day after day. The implication of that was that you were winning if the body count went up, and losing if the body count went down. And that isn’t a good metric. That is not the metric that’s appropriate for an insurgency. I’m not making—being judgmental about whether it was appropriate in the Vietnam War. I do know that if we were to report that on a regular basis—now, the people—the journalists out there know how many insurgents are being killed and they report on a daily basis that there were 12 or 15 insurgents that were killed or captured in a certain activity. But to try to aggregate that and then pretend to the American people that that means we’re doing a good job, doesn’t work. It just doesn’t compute for me. But that’s just a personal view.
CHENAULT: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. We’ve run out of time. Thank you for attending. (Applause.)
RUMSFELD: Thank you.