(Editor's note: Donald Rumsfeld, in his first interview since announcingin early November his resignation as secretary of defense, discussed hisconduct of the Iraq War and other world defense issues with Cal Thomas, themost widely syndicated political columnist in the U.S. Secretary Rumsfeld'slast day in office is Dec. 15. His successor, Robert Gates, is scheduled tobe sworn is as the new secretary of defense on Dec. 18.)
Cal Thomas: We meet on the 65th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.People compare wars - Vietnam to Iraq - but there were lessons that came outof World War II. If you were to compare the public's attitude during WorldWar II and the public's attitude over Iraq, how would they compare?
Secretary Rumsfeld: It's dramatic. In World War II, the attack on PearlHarbor was stunning, but it followed a long series of (events) in Europe,and even in Asia, that were not stunning to the American people. The threatthat was anticipated on the West Coast was real and palpable. Themobilization of the country, and declaring war, moved us to the next step.The large number of people who went to serve from almost every community inthe nation, was an example of the extent to which people were engaged.
I can remember having a victory garden. I can remember buying war bonds for$18.75. If you held them long enough, they'd be worth $25. You could buythem in coupons until you had a whole (book); I remember collecting paper,collecting old rubber; collecting hangers and metal to be recycled into warmaterials. We were all engaged.
Furthermore, the movie industry was mobilized to support the war. They(filmmakers) wanted us to win, which was an important factor. The situationtoday, the success that has been achieved in not having another attack onthis country in the last five years, has allowed the perception of a threatto diminish, even though the threat has clearly not diminished and, indeed,is real and lethal and dangerous to the safety of the American people.
The fact that it's the first war of the 21st century and notably differentfrom World War I and World War II, is also a problem in the sense that it isunfamiliar ground. There are not big armies, navies and air forcescontesting against each other with visible results and unambiguous outcomes.We have, without question, the finest military on the face of the Earth and,indeed, in the history of the world. We can't lose a battle. And we haven't,and we won't.
But the military, given the nature of this conflict, can't win alone. Thereis no way the military can prevail, because what we are engaged in, in avery real sense, is a battle of ideas (and) a struggle within the Muslimfaith between the overwhelming majority of mainstream Muslims and arelatively small minority of violent extremists who have access to all themodern technology - off-the-shelf stuff, very lethal weapons, increasinglylethal and dangerous weapons - and all the technologies of wire transfersand e-mail and the Internet to communicate with each other. So the absenceof a good, clear, readily understandable and, indeed, visible war, throughphotographs and images, creates a notably different environment.
Second, all of the changes in the media in the 21st century. Not only isthis the first war of the 21st century from a military and technologystandpoint; it's also the first war of the 21st century in terms of themedia realities - 24-hour news and bloggers and digital cameras - all thethings that can be used and manipulated by the other side, which they dovery skillfully.
CT: You've read the Iraq Study Group Report.
DR: I haven't. I've read reports of it and gone through the executivesummary.
CT: From what you've read, what is the good, the bad and the ridiculous inthe ISG Report?
DR: All I'm going to say about it is what the president said. He has cooperated with it; he has met with them (the ISG) and received theirrecommendations. Every six to eight weeks he meets with a cluster of people.He has listened to the advice and counsel he gets from Generals Abizaid andCasey and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the period immediately ahead, hewill be making some judgments.
It's fair to say that he is faced the country is faced with a situation in which, because of the nature of the struggle and the fact that it is notwell understood by the American people, the president has the task of managing and maintaining sufficient support for the things he believes arenecessary for our country's safety. He has to take into account the realitythat, only if we persevere, do we have an opportunity to succeed. Thepenalties and consequences of failure are so dire for the country that he has to recognize the center of gravity of this struggle while, to someextent is in the Middle East, is (also), in a very real sense, here in theUnited States of America. He has to take that into account in reviewing andconsidering the variety of proposals and suggestions he has received.
We have been working with the military and the joint chiefs and the CentralCommand. Some time back, I drafted a memo that took into account a varietyof suggestions offered by various people inside the (Defense) Department andelsewhere and I asked Gen. Pace to use it as a discussion piece with thechiefs, which he has done as a way of stimulating their thinking. They havebeen interacting and plan to report to the president in two (meetings).
I personally believe that the consequences of allowing the situation in Iraqto be turned over to terrorists would be so severe not simply because ofIraq's oil, water, wealth and geographic position, population size andhistory but also because Iraq would become a haven to plan attacks on themoderate countries in the region and the United States. (It would diminish)the ability of the United States to provide protection for the Americanpeople.
CT: Dr. Gates, (Robert Gates, Rumsfeld's replacement as secretary ofdefense) in his confirmation hearings, answered Sen. Carl Levin's question,'Are we winning in Iraq?' with a 'No.' Later on he added, 'We're not losingeither.' This question seems to fit into the template feeding the withdrawalsyndrome.
DR: I didn't see his testimony and don't want to comment on it at all, butif you ask me my view, it is that the military can't lose, but the militarycan't win alone. It requires political solutions. They've got to havereconciliation. They simply have to take a series of steps that they've notyet sufficiently taken. Set aside World War I and set aside World War II.Think more of the Cold War.
At any given moment during the Cold War, which lasted 50 years, you couldn'tsay if you were winning or losing. The Civil War, as well. There aren'tstraight and smooth paths. There are bumpy roads. It's difficult. The enemyhas a brain. They're constantly making adjustments. Think of the faces ofthe Cold War when Euro-communism was in vogue, and people were demonstratingby the millions against the United States, not against the Soviet Union. Andyet, over time, people found the will - both political parties and WesternEuropean countries - to persist in a way that ultimately led to victory.
The circumstance we are in today is more like that than it is like World WarII. People are going to have to get more familiar with that idea. It's not ahappy prospect. There are people in the world who are determined todestabilize modern Muslim regimes and re-establish a caliphate across theglobe and anyone who wants to know about it can go on the Internet and readtheir own words and what their intent is. They're deadly. They're not goingto surrender. They're going to have to be captured or killed. They're goingto have to be dissuaded, people are going to have to be dissuaded fromsupporting them, from financing them and assisting in their recruitment,providing havens for them.
We're in an environment where we have to fight and win a war where the enemyis in countries we are not at war with. That is a very complicated thing todo. It doesn't happen fast. It means you have to invest the time, effort andability. We don't have the institutions, we don't have the organization andwe haven't had the training, as a society, to rapidly develop the skill setsso that the countries that are cooperative with us develop the capacity todevelop their own real estate, which they don't have.
CT: With what you know now, what might you have done differently in Iraq?
DR: I don't think I would have called it the war on terror. I don't mean tobe critical of those who have. Certainly, I have used the phrase frequently.Why do I say that? Because the word Œwar' conjures up World War II more thanit does the Cold War. It creates a level of expectation of victory and anending within 30 or 60 minutes of a soap opera. It isn't going to happenthat way. Furthermore, it is not a Œwar on terror.' Terror is a weapon ofchoice for extremists who are trying to destabilize regimes and (through) asmall group of clerics, impose their dark vision on all the people they cancontrol. So 'war on terror' is a problem for me.
I've worked to reduce the extent to which that (label) is used and increasedthe extent to which we understand it more as a long war, or a struggle, or aconflict, not against terrorism, but against a relatively small number ofterribly dangerous and violent extremists. I say violent extremists becausean extremist who goes off in a closet is extreme, but he's not botheringpeople. An extremist who has those views and insists on imposing them onfree people strikes at the heart of who free people are. There are peoplewho want to be able to get up in the morning and go where they want, do whatthey want and that is exactly the opposite of the vision of violentextremists.
People who argue for more troops are often thinking World War II and theWeinberger Doctrine, which is valid in a conflict between armies, navies andair forces. The problem with it, in the context of a struggle againstextremists, is that the greater your presence, the more it plays intoextremist lies that you're there to take their oil, to occupy their nation,stay and not leave; that you're against Islam, as opposed to being againstviolent extremists.
People who argue for more, more, more, as I would in a conventionalconflict, fail to recognize that it can have exactly the opposite effect. Itcan increase recruiting for extremists. It can increase financing forextremists. It can make more persuasive the lies of the extremists that weare there for the oil and water and want to take over their country. Thereis no guidebook, no map that says to Gen. Abizaid or Gen. Casey what theyshould recommend to the secretary of defense or the president as to numbers.It is a fact, whether or not it flies in the face of the popular media, thatthe level of forces we have had going into Iraq, and every month thereafter,are the number of troops the commanding generals have recommended. I havenot increased them or decreased them over the objections of any general whois in a position of authority with respect to that decision.
Is it the right number? I don't know. Do I have a heckuva lot of confidencein those two folks? Yes. Do I think it's probably right? You bet, or I wouldhave overruled it, or made a different recommendation to the president. Butthey have to walk that line; they have to find that balance.
There are two centers of gravity. One is in Iraq and the region; the otheris here. The more troops you have, the greater the risk that you will beseen as an occupier and that you will feed an insurgency. The more troopsyou have - particularly American troops, who are so darn good at what theydo, the more they will do things and the more dependent the Iraqis willbecome and the less independent they will become. If there's a ditch to bedug, an American does not want to sit down and teach an Iraqi how to dig theditch. He'll go dig the dad burn ditch. But that is not what the task is.The task is to get the Iraqis to dig the ditches.
On the one hand, you don't want to feed the insurgency and on the other youdon't want to create dependency. So at some point, you've got to take yourhand off the bicycle seat. You've got the bicycle going down the street.You're pushing and holding it up, and you go from four fingers, to threefingers, to two and you know if you let go they might fall. You also know ifyou don't let go, you'll end up with a 40-year-old who can't ride a bike.Now that's not a happy prospect.
Simultaneously, you have the problem here at home. The more troops you havethere, the more force protection you need, the more food you need, the morewater you need, the more convoys you need, the more airplanes you need, themore people get killed, the more targets there are. If part of the center ofgravity is back here in the United States and they constantly see moreAmericans getting killed, they ask, 'Where are the victories?' 'Where's theland warfare victory?' 'Where's the sea victory?' 'Where's the air victory?''Where's the body count?' 'How many of these people are we killing?' 'Howmany are we capturing?' 'How do we know if we're winning or losing?' Themore people you put in, the more you're going to get killed.
The argument has been unimpressive, not terribly thoughtful (or)multidimensional and a bit narrow in this regard. Do I know that the rightnumber is there? No. Do I think it is? Yes. Is there anyone who is smartenough to prove it is or isn't? No.
CT: Where are we on missile defense? We have rogue nations like North Koreaand now Iraq threatening with possible nuclear missiles.
DR: When we came in (2001), the president wanted to proceed with missiledefense. Even the proponents didn't agree with each other. Some wanted land,some wanted sea. And the opponents were viscerally against it. It was callednational missile defense so our allies were against it. To the extent wewere successful in defending ourselves, they felt they would no longer beprotected. So we had many meetings. We ended up calling it missile defenseand not national missile defense and our goal was not to separate ourselvesfrom our allies and friends.
Second, it meant the concept of a perfect shield, which is the way PresidentReagan's proposals were characterized by people who wanted to be dismissive.We decided to say that the reality is that this was in an early stage. Wewanted to do the developmental work to see what was possible and what madesense and what kinds of capabilities might be developed. That requiredgetting out of the ballistic missile treaty, which the president stepped upand did, to his great credit. That permitted us to do the necessary researchand development. We have been proceeding to do that.
I've always believed the way you get something is not by sitting aroundtrying to develop it full blown before you put it out there, but you testit, use it, play with it, evolve it, and that's what we've been doing. Wehave evolved to the point where we have an initial missile capability toshoot down a missile from a rogue state. We've not had to do it yet, but weare prepared to. Each month that goes by, additional elements add to thatcapability; whether it's an additional radar here, or a sensor there, anadditional interceptor, or a ship that can help triangulate and addinformation, or whether it's the development of information about thecapabilities of others Š all of that adds to a growing body of knowledgethat gives us increasing confidence we will continue to evolve thiscapability at a pace we believe is appropriate to the threat.
You'd like things faster, I suppose, but the North Koreans put thatTaepodong-2 (missile) on there and it didn't work. What we have to do isrecognize there is a threat to our country and there will be a growing treatto our country and we have to invest and evolve this capability, as we havebeen doing. We're now discussing things with European countries as to ways we could add radars and interceptors and various sensors that would improvethe capability to intercept an Iranian rogue missile.
CT: What are you most proud of in this, your latest, service in Washingtonand what is your biggest disappointment?
(Rumsfeld's aide handed me a stack of papers, in which Rumsfeld outlined his career high points, which included the liberation of 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq, which led to elections in Afghanistan and Iraq,capturing, killing the senior leadership of America's enemies, the shapingof forces for asymmetric warfare and humanitarian efforts, such asassistance for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the modernization offorces, organizational transformation, and moving toward a more agileinstitution.)
DR: We've achieved a number of accomplishments and a number of initiatives.We face risks down the road from things like cyber attacks, given our highdegree of vulnerability. Given our free way of life, we face risks fromchemical, biological as well as nuclear devices.
CT: Biggest disappointment?
DR: It's the inability to help the free people of the world to understand that this new century and the struggle we're engaged in is real, is terriblydangerous to their safety and regrettably, it is not going to be as easilyseen in terms of pitched battles.
CT: Will it take another 9/11 to make people wake up?
DR: There are people who have written that this administration is a victimof its success, due to the fact that there hasn't been another attack insidethe United States. I remember shortly after Sept. 11, I met with the Sultanof Oman in a tent. It must have been 150 degrees. We were perspiring throughevery piece of clothing we had on. He said this terrible thing that'shappened might be a blessing in disguise. It may be the thing that will wakeup the world to the danger these extremists pose, before those people gettheir hands on chemical, or biological or nuclear weapons where they couldkill many multiples of what they were able to kill on Sept. 11.
This was a man sitting in a tent in the desert with that perspective andunderstanding of the dangers of extremists. It did for a short while, butthen that threat diminished in their minds, whereas it not only has notdiminished in reality, it has grown because of the advances in technologies.Look at the Johns Hopkins exercise with small pox called Dark Winter. It wasput in three airports in America. Something between 800,000 and 1 million people 'died' in some number of months, or a year, from a disease people areno longer vaccinated against. So there are things that can be done. There'sa tendency for a lot of people to be dismissive of this and to ridicule it.
Churchill's phrase about the gathering storm - there was a storm gathering,but there were people in Europe who didn't believe it and who didn't takethe periodic storm clouds and the squalls as a real threat. They thoughtthey were transitory and, of course, paid an enormous penalty in treasureand life for their failure to understand the nature of that threat. I worrywe are in a gathering storm and we do not, as a society, accept it. Many ofthe elites of our society, the key opinion leaders, are unwilling or unableto accept what an awful lot of people believe to be the case. The penaltyfor being wrong can be enormous.
CT: Gen. MacArthur said, Œold soldiers never die, they just fade away.' Whatabout old secretaries of defense? A book?
DR: I don't know. I haven't given any thought to it. There are a lot ofpeople who think I should write a book and I may very well. Life's been goodand we feel very, very fortunate to have been able to be here and to beinvolved in something as important as this. Its' been an enormouslychallenging time for the country. I feel so fortunate to have had this veryintimate relationship with these amazing people in uniform - the young menand women who volunteer - who represent the best led, the best equipped, thebest trained, the most capable military in the world. They're motivated.They're proud. The people who are dismissive of them don't understand what'sgoing on in our society.
These are terrific people and they are doing a superb job. The fact thatit's tough; the fact that it's long; the fact that it's hard; the fact thatit can be ugly at times should take nothing away from what they're doing.They're doing everything a military can do.
Health care for Iraqis and Afghanis and prisons for criminals is not the jobof the military, all of those things are the tasks of other elements of ourgovernment and coalition partners and they take time. I read where someonewas saying this is longer than World War II. Germany didn't even have agovernment until 1949, as I recall. And you were dealing with a verydifferent environment in Western Europe than you are here. So the progressthat's been made in these countries, when the uniform personnel look backfive, 10 or 15 years from now, they're going to know that they helpedliberate 50 million people. That is a big thing. It is historic. They'regoing to know they've given these folks an opportunity to succeed in anenvironment that is not a repressive political system, but a free politicalsystem.
Is it easy to get from where they were to that? No, it's hard. It's darnhard. But is it worth it? You bet. People said the Japanese could never havea democracy. It didn't fit their culture, they said. Well, the Japanese aredoing pretty well with the second biggest economy on Earth. I feel thesefolks can be darn proud of what they've done and what they're doing.Fortunately, the history won't be written by the local reporters who arelooking for bad news to report because it's newsworthy. It will be writtenby history over time and with perspective.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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