(Interview for ABC News "This Week" with Sam Donaldson, 16 September 2001)
Donaldson: Joining us now to discuss this is the secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, with whom we spoke within the hour.
Welcome, Mr. Secretary, good to see you.
Rumsfeld: Thank you very much, Sam.
Donaldson: Well, how are we going to "smoke them out," as the president said?
Rumsfeld: Well, by taking the battle to them. The terrorist activity that we experienced this week, and that others have experienced over the years, is something that strikes just directly at our way of life — the way of life of a free people. And it is — to be realistic, we have to recognize that a terrorist can attack at any time, in any place, using a variety of different techniques. It may be an airplane one day; it may be a ship or a subway or a car.
Therefore, the only thing we can do is what the president said: We have to wage a war, and it has to be taken to them, where they are. And it will be a broadly based sustained effort, not in a matter of days and weeks but over years. People think of the wars we have seen lately, the kind of antiseptic wars where a cruise missile is fired off, shown on television landing in some smoke and so forth. That is not what this is about.
Donaldson: Okay, that is not what this is about, as you say. The last time people thought about a war involving the United States it was the Gulf War. We saw large armies engage each other. That’s not this one, is it?
Rumsfeld: The people we are dealing with have no armies or navies or air forces or battleships or carriers — or capital cities even — or high value targets. What they have is a lot of people — in the case of el-Qaida, the network that has been designated as one of the prime suspects, they may be operating in 50 or 60 countries, including the United States. And that means that we will have to use the full weight of the United States government — political, diplomatic, financial, economic, military, and unconventional — and I would underline that.
Donaldson: Let’s talk about that, because in 1998, as everyone knows, President Clinton — his administration lobbed in some cruise missiles at Osama bin Laden — didn’t get him — at some of his bases. I take it we are talking about something more than that?
Rumsfeld: Indeed. This is serious business. We just lost more people than we did at Pearl Harbor. We lost more people than we did all the way until the Civil War. It is — and it is not over. They are purposeful people. They plan carefully. And we have to be — we have to get back to our lives, but we have to do it with a heightened state of awareness.
Donaldson: Mr. Secretary, you are not going to tell me — nor should you — anything about military operation specifics — I understand that. But I think very clearly you’ve said that this may require ground forces of some type. If bin Laden hides in that hole that the president talked about, to smoke him out requires men on the ground.
Rumsfeld: Yes, I mean cruise missiles do not get people who are operating in the shadows. We need — we will need to do a host of things. And I should underline these people, these terrorists, are clever and they are purposeful and they are well financed. But they cannot function except for the tolerance with other countries — with countries, real states that do have capitals, that do have armies and navies, and that do have high value targets. And it is the fact that countries around the world have been harboring and permitting the terrorist activities, and in some cases facilitating, in other cases tolerating. That has to be dealt with as well.
Donaldson: We’re told that a delegation from Pakistan is going to Afghanistan on Monday to talk to the leadership of Afghanistan, the Taliban, and say to them very directly that if they don’t turn over bin Laden and his associates they themselves will be at risk.
Rumsfeld: "They themselves" meaning the people of Pakistan or the Taliban?
Donaldson: The leadership, Omar.
Rumsfeld: Well, my goodness, the Taliban has harbored fostered and fostered and encouraged and assisted the el-Qaida network. There is no question about that.
Donaldson: But a cruise missile wouldn’t work on them then either. It would also require ground troops?
Rumsfeld: There — it will take the full force of our government and our friends around the world — political, economic, financial, military and unconventional. I am not going to suggest what kind of operations we might have to contemplate, but we do know that Afghanistan is a country that has been at war for years. It has I suppose a GDP [gross domestic product] per capita of about $800 — about the price of a ticket from Washington to LA. And there are not a lot of high value cruise missile type targets there either. And —
Donaldson: I bring up the business about ground troops not just to inflame the situation, but we have already, as other news organizations — perhaps you yourself — received e-mails from people in this country who worry about the loss of American life, meaning the soldiers and sailors and Marines and all of the other service personnel. What would you say to people who may have to face more losses on this battlefront against terrorism?
Rumsfeld: That what this war is about is our way of life, and our way of life is worth losing lives for.
Donaldson: All right.
Rumsfeld: And the era of antiseptic warfare — planes dropping bombs from 20,000 feet, cruise missiles flying off in the night, no one getting hurt on the United States or the coalition side. That will not work with this enemy. Let there be no doubt.
Donaldson: Let me bring up a couple of things. Let me see if I can dismiss one thing immediately — or maybe not. There are some people who are saying a tactical nuclear strike would be used. Can we rule out the use of nuclear weapons?
Rumsfeld: You know, that subject — we have an amazing accomplishment that has been achieved on the part of human beings. We have had this unbelievably powerful weapon, nuclear weapon, since, what? — 55 years now, plus — and it’s not been fired in anger since 1945. That’s an amazing accomplishment. I think it reflects a sensitivity on the part of successive presidents that they ought to find as many other ways to deal with problems as is possible.
Donaldson: I’ll have to think about your answer. I don’t think the answer was no.
Rumsfeld: The answer was that we ought to be very proud of the record of humanity, that we have not used those weapons for 55 years. And we have to find as many ways possible to deal with this serious problem of terrorism. And if, Sam, you think of the loss of human life on Tuesday, and then put in your head the reality that a number of countries today have other so-called asymmetrical threat capabilities — ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, chemical weapons, biological weapons, cyber warfare — these are the kinds of things that are used in this era of the 21st century. And a germ warfare attack anywhere in the world would bring about losses of lives not in the thousands but in the millions.
Donaldson: Let’s talk about the Special Forces, the Delta Force, the Rangers, the SEALs, other special units. About 40,000 have been authorized, but you have yet to appoint a civilian director of the Special Operations Forces. Are you going to do that now?
Rumsfeld: We are going to be addressing the priorities in the department, and interestingly the review we just completed very much focused on homeland defense. It focused on these so-called asymmetrical threats. I’ve been talking about these problems since I assumed this post, at the request of President Bush in January.
We clearly — we have a number of vacant posts that still haven’t been confirmed in the department. But I am sure that they will be confirmed promptly.
Donaldson: Well, I bring it up because General Shelton, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said on the first day your military is ready. [ Transcript ] But is our military really ready to fight this kind of war? We haven’t made the full transition from being postured against a Soviet Union which no longer exists.
Rumsfeld: Indeed we haven’t. And the general is absolutely correct when he says our armed forces are ready, if you mean, as he did, that these are volunteer people who are willing to put their lives at risk, any day, any place on the globe. And God bless them for it.
In terms of being —
Donaldson: It would have the tools though?
Rumsfeld: In terms of being and transformed to deal with these asymmetrical threats, the short answer is clearly we are not. Clearly we are still to some extent organized and arranged to deal with the kinds of threats that are still there. They are not gone. But not fully arranged to deal with the new set of threats, and that is why we have been focusing on it.
Donaldson: How quickly can you ramp up? Apparently there’s not a lot of time to waste here.
Rumsfeld: No, there isn’t. And it is not something that can be done instantaneously, although there is a good deal we can do. But we will be working with the Congress. And I must say that the support we received from the Congress on these kinds of things has been very encouraging, as well as the country. And I’ve got a lot of confidence in the American people.
Donaldson: Mr. Secretary, a lot of people in Washington in high places have told us recently on background or on the record that they expect more attacks. There could be more attacks. To what extent is the U.S. military today, this very day — specifically I suppose the United States Air Force — prepared to meet an attack like the one that came last Tuesday?
Rumsfeld: Sam, you have to be expectant. That’s why the president said we should all have a heightened sense of awareness. A terrorist can do any kind of an attack any place at any time. It is not physically possible to defend every place at every time. We have a combatant commander for Europe. We have one for the Pacific. We have one for the Persian Gulf. We’ve never had a combatant commander for the United States. Under our Constitution, under our laws, the United States military’s task is to defend against foreign invasion and foreign threats. The threat we saw recently was from a person in our country in one of our airplanes filled with our citizens. This is a law enforcement job. It is a job for the FBI. It is a job for the police —
Donaldson: Well, sir —
Rumsfeld: Just a minute. And we have a whole set of arrangements and rules that have existed since decades. And what we need to do, and what we are doing is to review those and ask ourselves how we have to shift our arrangements. Now —
Donaldson: Sir, I — excuse me for interrupting you, but along with other citizens, I have seen the fighter planes now, high-speed jets circling Washington, D.C. They’re up there for a purpose.
Rumsfeld: They are.
Donaldson: And I suppose one of the purposes is that if, God forbid another airliner is hijacked as we are talking, they are going to take action. Am I right?
Rumsfeld: They are up selectively in the United States. They have been since this event. We have not had fighter aircraft protecting the United States for ages.
Donaldson: Do you now though?
Rumsfeld: Sure we do. We have it in very selected places across the United States. We had much broader several days ago. We have in 26 bases across the country we have pilots in fighter aircraft on —
Rumsfeld: Today on strip alert available to take off in 10 to 15 minutes. But —
Donaldson: Am I correct on Tuesday —
Rumsfeld: Sam, what does that do if it is a subway? What does that do if it’s a port? What does that do if it’s a ship? What does that do if it’s a truck bomb?
A terrorist can use any of those techniques.
Donaldson: Your point is well taken, sir, I understand that, that couldn’t do anything. But if they tried the same MO again and get on an airplane, despite the increased security at the airports, do you now have standing orders well thought out that could be implemented quickly to prevent a civilian airliner again, with all the humanity aboard, from striking the White House or the Capitol, or the Pentagon once more?
Rumsfeld: We have in the — in certain parts of the country, including Washington, we have aircraft in the air. In other parts of the country we have them ready to take off. The set of decisions that would have to be made as to whether or not a plane was threatening a high value target in the United States are complicated, and but the short answer is, yes, we have people who are prepared to do what might be necessary —
Donaldson: On Tuesday I am told the FAA notified someone in the Pentagon that there was a rogue plane apparently headed toward Washington. But you didn’t know it, am I correct? — until it hit?
Rumsfeld: I was in the Pentagon and felt the shock of the attack, and —
Donaldson: What did you think it was?
Rumsfeld: A bomb? I had no idea. I looked out the window and raced down the corridors till the smoke was too bad and then went outside, and saw the devastation and talked to an eyewitness who told me that he had seen an aircraft plow into the Pentagon between the first and second floor.
Donaldson: Could you believe it?
Rumsfeld: No. It’s just — it was a sight — just amazing.
Donaldson: But today if the FAA called you would know it?
Rumsfeld: Well, yes. But think about it, Sam. If the call came now — let’s take that plane. That plane took off from Dulles, I am told, went west, circled all around Washington. No one knew — they knew it was off a flight path — they had no idea where it was going —
Donaldson: What was the target? Two senators from Pennsylvania say they think the target was the Capitol building? Do you know? Do you know?
Rumsfeld: How do you know what’s in the minds? There was a plane that crashed, and I would suspect that one of them was heading for the Pentagon and one may have been heading for the White House or the Capitol. Clearly they all had an assignment, and this one found it, and came in and hit the Pentagon.
The — knowing it’s filled with Americans — American Airlines, right on the side of it, filled with our fellow citizens, and without airplanes on alert — I mean, you don’t have airplanes in the air day in and day out — you couldn’t afford to do that —
Donaldson: Well, you didn’t, but you just told us selected places in this country you do today.
Rumsfeld: We do. And we have some on strip alert. But who knows where the next terrorist attack will occur, but one has to assume that it may be different than that one.
Donaldson: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for being with us.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.
Donaldson: Let’s all hope that it won’t happen, but I think you’ve made the point everyone need to be on their guard.
Rumsfeld: Indeed. Thank you.
Donaldson: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Cokie?