(Interview with Tony Snow, Fox News Sunday, Sept. 16, 2001)
Snow: Now joining us, our first guest, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Secretary Rumsfeld, you’ve heard the president describe Osama bin Laden as the prime suspect. How important is bin Laden in the overall fight against terrorism?
Rumsfeld: There’s no question but that he is a prime suspect. The al Qaeda organization, however, is a large, multi-headed effort that probably spans 60 countries, including the United States. And it is much bigger than one person. And the problem is much broader. It is not just the al Qaeda organization. There are other terrorist organizations in the world that have made it their business to wreak great damage on others.
And the president has properly indicated that it is a war. It’s a new kind of war. The old rhetoric, the old words aren’t going to work quite right for this problem. We’re going to have to reorder our priorities. We’re going to, as he said, be resolute and patient. It has to be very broadly based. It will be political, economic, diplomatic, military. It will be unconventional, what we do.
And the reality is that the best defense against terrorism is an offense. That is to say, taking the battle to the terrorist organizations and particularly to the countries across this globe that have for a period of years been tolerating, facilitating, financing and making possible the activities of those terrorists.
Snow: How do you go after those countries?
Rumsfeld: Well, the terrorist organizations themselves, and the terrorists, don’t have targets of high value. They don’t have armies and navies and air forces that one can go battle against. They don’t have capital cities with high-value assets that they’re reluctant to lose.
They work in the shadows. They operate in safe houses and apartments. And they use weapons that are distinctively different — plastic knives, our own aircraft in this case — to bring about the damage. And they’re trying to strike directly at the way of life of free people of the United States of America.
And we have to understand that. That is their goal. They don’t believe in freedom, they don’t believe in our values. And their hope is to strike at it. And we need to wage a long, broad, sustained effort. And I must say, I’ve been in and out of government for a lot of years. And if I know anything, it’s that we can put trust in the American people.
Snow: You’ve talked about the strikes. Is this wave of strikes over — the terrorist strikes?
Rumsfeld: I think that until — it will take — this is something that involves not weeks or days, but years, this effort. It is not a — we’ve just seen a battle that we lost.
Snow: The American people want to know whether this battle is over for now, or whether in the next few days, or weeks, or even the next month or two, they should be living in fear.
Rumsfeld: One has to know that a terrorist can attack at any time and any place using any technique. And it is not physically possible to defend in every place, at every time, against every conceivable method.
We just saw the use of aircraft. It could be ships, it could be subways. It could be any number of things. We have been deeply concerned, since I assumed my post with President Bush, about the so-called asymmetrical threats — the problems of the reality that people don’t want to contest our armies, navies or air forces. They know they’ll lose.
What they can do, is use these asymmetrical threats of terrorism and chemical warfare and biological warfare, and ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles and cyber attacks. And we need to continue to work those problems.
Snow: Does that mean they now have chemical and biological weapons?
Rumsfeld: There’s no question but that a number of the countries that are harboring terrorist organizations throughout the world, do in fact have chemical and biological weapons.
Snow: And which countries are we talking about?
Rumsfeld: They’re — the list of countries that harbor terrorists is a public list. And we know of certain knowledge that any number of countries have those capabilities.
Snow: You spoke before of unconventional attacks. One presumes that would be on some of those targets. What are we talking about?
Rumsfeld: I don’t quite understand the question.
Snow: You said early on that we were going to have to use unconventional methods in waging this war. What were you talking about?
Rumsfeld: Yes. Well, I mean, if you do not have an army to go after, or a navy to go after, you have to go after the network. And you have to then also go after the countries that are harboring.
Some of the countries that are harboring terrorist networks do in fact have high-value targets. They do have capitals, they do have armies. They do have —
Snow: So you are saying, if some of those nations continue to harbor terrorists, we would not hesitate to strike high-value targets within those borders.
Rumsfeld: We have no choice. Either the United States acquiesces to the terrorists, and becomes isolationist, turns inward, gives up our freedom — the way they strike at us, our way of life, is so fundamental and central. Because what we are is free people. And if we decide we can’t do anything about this problem, we have no choice but to give up that freedom. And we can’t do that.
Snow: Do you trust Pakistan?
Rumsfeld: I guess I’m with President Reagan on things like that. I trust and verify. I am a person who — I don’t think that’s the right word, even. The right question. I think what we need to do is to go to the countries that we have knowledge, and tell them it has to stop. And if it does not stop, we have to help stop it.
Snow: It has been suggested that we might invite Iran in to join the coalition. Is that a wise request?
Rumsfeld: The president and the secretary of state and others have discussed these issues. Our goal is to stop countries from harboring and financing and fostering and facilitating worldwide terrorism against the United States of America and our interests, our friend and allies.
To the extent a country is doing that, they’d best stop.
Snow: Let’s talk about how we respond. Let me begin with a personal experience. You were in the Pentagon.
Snow: This is personal for you now, isn’t it?
Rumsfeld: Well, of course. But I mean, personal in the sense — it’s our country that’s at stake. Think of the thousands of people who are dead, more people than in all the wars up to the Civil War. We lost more people this week than we did at Pearl Harbor.
Snow: Let me ask you a couple of —
Rumsfeld: It’s personal for America.
Snow: You were in the Pentagon.
Snow: People at the Federal Aviation Administration had contacted NORAD. And yet, we were not able to get fighters to knock those planes out of the sky. And in one case, they called Langley Air Force Base in Southern Virginia, rather than Andrews Air Force Base, which is next door. How did that happen?
Rumsfeld: Tony, it happens because the United States has not said to itself that it needs to stay on high alert every minute of the day. The Department of Defense has as its legal assignment, under the law, to defend from external threats.
Here was a person, a group of people in the United States, using civilian aircraft. I mean, the idea of us sending up a fighter plane to shoot down an American aircraft filled with Americans is such an unusual thought.
Now, any time planes go off track, NORAD is notified. But we have never maintained the kind of — invested the kind of money to maintain an air cap over the United States on a continuous basis.
Snow: Are we going to need to?
Rumsfeld: I think that you have to remember that a terrorist can attack at any time and any place, using any technique. And if you were going to do that, you would have to do that with every subway, with every port, with every ship, with every crossroad, with every large gathering of human beings.
The way to deal with this problem is not to suddenly become a police state and say we’re not going to be free, and we’re not going to go about our lives. It’s to go after the people who are posing this very serious danger to the world. And that’s what we need to do.
Snow: There’s been a lot of talk about assassination bans. Is that a bad idea?
Rumsfeld: I guess it’s — I’m not a lawyer. But there’s no question but that the United States needs to deal with the network, and the network involves people. And it’s a matter of going after them, and stopping them from doing what they’re doing.
Snow: In terms of defense, we’ve got to rethink everything. You’ve just been doing a big defense review, but now you’ve got to do it again.
Rumsfeld: No, I don’t. We have to review our priorities. But from January through Tuesday, we have focused on the new world we live in, on the need for homeland defense, on the need to reorder the priorities in the Department of Defense, and in the U.S. government. And the need to recognize that we have to think anew about the world we’re in.
Snow: Let me ask you the questions everybody’s asking. When it comes to fighting back, how soon?
Rumsfeld: Well, see, the question isn’t how soon, or how fast. It isn’t a matter of — this isn’t going to be a few cruise missiles flying around on television for the world to see that something blew up.
The network that did this does not have things to blow up as such. They’re in apartments, and they’re using laptops, and they’re using cell phones. And they are functioning in the shadows, not out in front.
Now, the countries that are harboring them do. So I’m not suggesting that there will not be military action. There very likely will be. But it will have to be abroad effort over along period of time, going after their finances, tracking them down.
A lot of it’s law enforcement. A lot of it will be special operations.
Snow: Well, special operations. Right now, we have 35,000 special operations forces. Do we need more?
Rumsfeld: Time will tell. But there’s no question but that the people who, God bless them, who have volunteered for that work and trained themselves for it, are important to our country. And they’re particularly — they’re unconventional, and we’re dealing in an unconventional time. And we may very well need more.
Snow: The president has called up 35,000 reserves. Do you expect further call-ups?
Rumsfeld: It’s unclear. It depends on what happens next, and the specialties we need to sustain the effort that we’re currently engaged in. It is stressful on the force to stay on high alert. And we’re on alert, DefCon 4 across the globe. And we’re on a state of Force Protection Charlie here in the United States. And a relatively quite high alert.
And that means it takes more people, more effort. We’ve got aircraft that are available on a 15-minute scramble strip alert. But it is a mistake to think of this as something that’s going to be dealt with in a short period. It is a big problem for the world.
Snow: Is there anything to prevent us from going in and taking out Osama bin Laden?
Rumsfeld: Well, my goodness. If that were doable — it isn’t a matter of him, it’s a matter of his network. If he were not there, there would be 15 or 20 or 30 other people who would step in and take care of those pieces. Obviously, he’s a prime suspect.
But we have to be realistic. This is not a person that’s the problem. It is a whole host of people, and a whole host of countries that are harboring those people, and that has to stop.
Snow: Two very quick questions. First, do we need production for the B-2 and cruise missiles?
Rumsfeld: Obviously, we’ll be addressing those, and it depends on what the demands may be. And those are decisions we’ll be looking at in the period ahead, among others.
Snow: Even though there’s been a spike in recruiting, any prospect of reinvigorating the draft?
Rumsfeld: We have no plans to do that at the moment. The numbers of people we’re able to attract and retain have been within the margin that we need. And I don’t see that happening at the moment. I wouldn’t rule out anything, however.