Transcript

News Briefing by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld

Courtesy CQ Transcripts Wire
Tuesday, April 18, 2006; 3:41 PM

SPEAKERS: DONALD H. RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE

GENERAL PETER PACE (USMC), CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF

[*]

RUMSFELD: Good afternoon, folks.

One of the interesting things about this city is that there are so many distractions that people sometimes lose track of how fortunate we are to be a part of what may very well be the most innovative and successful society in world history.

In a relatively short amount of time on this planet, our republic has found its way through a whale of a lot of tough challenges.

I was reminded this week by General Buzz Moseley, the chief of staff of the Air Force, that it was 64 years ago today that Jimmy Doolittle led the against-all-odds raid on Tokyo during the early days of World War II.

After Pearl Harbor, of course, the United States faced difficulties and a long string of defeats. We needed to show the Japanese empire that they, too, were vulnerable.

Colonel Doolittle hoped to score a psychological victory for the American people, and he did. The living survivors of that raid are gathering this week, and I extend my warm appreciation to them for their bravery and their service to our country.

This day has another significance. It was 100 years ago today that the city of San Francisco was nearly destroyed by an earthquake, one of the worst natural disasters in our history. Thanks to the American determination and ingenuity, San Francisco was rebuilt and today is prospering.

I mention these moments of triumph and tragedy because they remind us of the character of the American people and how Americans over time -- and can and do overcome what might seem to be insurmountable difficulties.

Today, it may seem that there is nothing in the world of ours but bad news. Well, that's not the case. There's some encouraging news, as well.

The world today, according to Freedom House, is freer today than in any time in our history. America's armed forces are without question the best trained and the most professional fighting force in the history of the world.

Today, our country is working against the terrorists in more ways, with more countries than perhaps in any time in our history.

And I should add we're pleased to be able to say that our volunteer troops are enlisting and re-enlisting in our armed forces at encouraging rates.

RUMSFELD: Last week, I mentioned that active-duty recruiting numbers had exceeded their targets for the last six months. I could have also added that in the same period, the Army National Guard has recruited some 32,000 soldiers, which is its best performance in 13 years.

We're read about some colleges and law schools that have tried to forbid military recruiters from coming on campus, decisions that under the Supreme Court's recent decision could lead to the denial of federal dollars under the law.

But it's also important to note that many colleges and universities welcome recruiters and are proud of our veterans.

I'm told that the University of Illinois, for example, announced last month that it would offer 110 full master's of business administration scholarships to military veterans, worth about $74,000 each. What a wonderful demonstration of support for those folks who have stepped up and volunteered to help protect the American people and our free way of life.

Anyone who doubts our future need only think about those troops, their families and the millions of Americans who honor and support them. They are outposts of hope and a tribute to the American spirit that has not faltered and will not falter.

General Pete Pace?

PACE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Next Monday, the 24th of April, the United States Navy ship Mercy, a hospital ship, will depart San Diego on a five-month humanitarian swing through the western Pacific and Southeast Asia.

This is a direct result of lessons learned last year during the tsunami relief operations, wherein the Navy medical team on board, the U.S. Department of Public Health folks on board, teamed up, as they will this year, with nongovernment organizations from around the world, doctors who had volunteered to assist.

And they'll spend five months in the region, stopping first in the Philippines and then other countries that have asked for assistance, to provide medical attention -- dental, medical help -- for those ashore.

So we're looking forward to this one more opportunity for U.S. military teaming with others to be able to help folks in need.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, among the criticisms that have been made of you by several retired generals in recent days is that you've been dismissive and even contemptuous of the advice offered by senior military officers.

They've also said that, on a strategic level, they've faulted you for some failures in connection with the Iraq war, including failing to gain sufficient international support for the initial invasion, for example, on the northern front and for post-combat operations and stability operations.

Do you see validity in any of those criticisms? And is it appropriate for these to be aired publicly by retired generals?

RUMSFELD: Well, you know, I've been hearing about all of this, and I kind of would prefer to let a little time walk over it.

There are important issues that are involved. There's no question about that. Change is difficult. It also happens to be urgently necessary. Transforming this department is important.

I think that because of the importance of these matters that are being discussed, I'd like to reflect on them a bit. And I'm a little reluctant to start taking each piece of what people talk about -- or the individuals involved -- and I just am not inclined to be instantaneously judgmental about them.

Coming into work today, I did think about something that happened 30 years ago, I think close to this month. I was secretary of defense. And to my office about 7 o'clock at night came a decision where I was told that the Army was recommending an M-1 battle tank that had a 120-millimeter cannon, as I recall, instead of the 105 Howitzer that the Army traditionally had.

And the Army was in favor of the 105 and in favor of a diesel engine. And the other approach would have been to standardize with our NATO allies at 120 millimeters and also to move away from the diesel engine to a turbine engine.

I decided I wanted to take some time to think about it, and ultimately announced that I thought that the turbine engine and the 120-millimeter cannon was preferable to the 105 and the diesel engine.

RUMSFELD: Well, you would have thought the world had ended. The sky fell. Can you imagine? Can you imagine making that decision and breaking tradition for decades in this country? Can you imagine overturning what the service had proposed for a main battle tank?

Well, it went on and on in the press, and it was a fire storm, and there were congressional hearings and people saying how amazingly irresponsible it was. And it calmed down eventually. The tank has done a great job and served our country very well these intervening decades.

And I mention it because the people involved were good people, and there were differences of views, and somebody needed to make a decision. And the person who is appointed by the president, who is elected by the people and then confirmed by the Senate as secretary of defense has to make those kinds of decisions.

And when you make a decision, you make a choice, somebody is not going to like it.

It's perfectly possible to come into this department and preside and not make choices, in which case people are not unhappy, until about five years later when they find you haven't done anything and the country isn't prepared.

Now, let me just take a minute and tell you what's going on in this last five years.

We have agreed with the Russians on dramatic reductions in strategic offensive nuclear weapons -- sizable reductions.

We have a new unified command plan for the Northern Command and the Strategic Command.

We have made changes in the defense logistics system.

We have provided reforms in NATO to create a NATO Response Force and to reduce substantially the number of headquarters that existed.

We have fashioned a senior-level review group where, for the first time, we really bring the military and the civilians, the services as well as the combatant commanders, into the decision-making process on all major issues in this department -- a different way of functioning.

The special operations forces have been dramatically increased and given new authorities. The Marines are now involved.

Every one of those changes that I just described has met resistance. It's taken years to get the Marines involved in the special forces. And people like things the way they are. And so, when you make a change like that, somebody is not going to like it.

We've had the largest base-closing effort I think in history. We've done two quadrennial defense reviews. We've adjusted our global posture around the world, bringing forces home from Europe and from Korea.

We have gone out to the combatant commanders who have the responsibility for war plans and had them revise and update their contingency plans, and shortened the process so that they wouldn't be on the shelf and be stale and be unusable and irrelevant.

We have passed a National Security Personnel System so that we can begin to get a grip on how we manage the Department of Defense and the civilian population, the workforce, which is so important. And it's tied up in the courts, and it'll take time. It's been three years I think that we've been struggling with it so far. And that's hard for people, that change. The idea of paying for performance is stunning for some people.

We've canceled weapons systems, just like we canceled the -- disagreed with the tank three years ago. The artillery piece, the so- called Crusader, was canceled, and it caused a major uproar. You may remember that. People didn't like it. Other pieces of equipment have been terminated.

The Army is going through what is a major modernization. It's moving from a division-oriented force to a modular brigade combat team force. When it's completed, it will be an enormous accomplishment.

RUMSFELD: And our Army will be vastly better than it was five to six years ago.

And that's hard. That's hard for the people in the Army to do. It's hard for people who are oriented one way to suddenly have to be oriented a different way.

If you think about the movement, we've gone from -- the military -- from service-centric war-fighting to deconfliction war-fighting to interoperability and now toward interdependence.

That's a hard thing to do, for services to recognize that they don't have to have all of the capabilities, but they have to work sufficiently with the others so that we truly get a leveraged capability and the taxpayers get better bang for their buck and the United States military becomes vastly more capable.

The idea of bringing a retired person out of retirement to serve as chief of staff for the Army was stunning and a lot of people didn't like it. The fact that he was a special forces officer, a joint officer added to the attitudes.

The idea of taking a Marine and making him supreme allied commander and another Marine in the Strategic Command, let alone a Marine as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the first time in history -- imagine what a stunning thing to do.

I look back on those decisions, and I'm proud of them. They caused a lot of ruffles, let there be no doubt. I mean, how man years ago -- it wasn't too many years ago that the Marines weren't even members of the Joint Chiefs, let alone the chairman.

PACE: The mid-'70s, yes, sir.

RUMSFELD: Mid-'70s.

QUESTION: Well, you got a good one there.

RUMSFELD: So far.

(LAUGHTER)

Just a minute. Just a minute. I was asked a question, and I'm going to take all the time I want.

(LAUGHTER)

Now, all of this is to say that, at the same time, we had a war in Afghanistan, we've got a war in Iraq, and we've got the global war on terror going on.

Now, that's hard for people. That's difficult. With all of those moving parts, with all of those challenges to try to get from the 20th century, the industrial age, into the information age, to the 21st century, from conventional warfare into a regular and asymmetrical warfare is a difficult thing to do.

RUMSFELD: And, by golly, one ought not to be surprised that there are people who are uncomfortable about it and complaining about it.

It's also true that I have a sense of urgency. I get up every morning and worry about protecting the American people and seeing if we are doing everything humanly possible to see that we do the things that will make them safe.

And that means you have to look out six months and imagine that there was another 9/11 of equal proportion or twice or three times the proportion and ask yourself, what ought we to be doing today to avoid that from happening six months from now?

And that's what we're doing. And we're working hard at it.

I think that...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: I think that it's important to put all of what is going on in context and recognize that people who are often talking about what's taking place inside here do not know what is taking place inside here.

I don't mean to say -- they knew when they were there, certainly. But I think it is important that we recognize that there is a lot of change going on. It's challenging for people; it's difficult for people. And we have to, I think, be reasonably tolerant with respect to things that get said.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there's one thing you may want to comment on. I know you do not like to quote The Washington Post, one of your favorite newspapers, but there was an issue this morning I think you may want to touch on, if you haven't seen it, the lead editorial.

And that is that it might be a bad precedent to have a secretary of defense, a civilian -- given the fact that you have civilian leadership (inaudible) because of criticism by military officers, active duty or retired.

And another brief point, have you considered perhaps or have you talked to the president in this firestorm where you are, as clearly the center of the controversy over Iraq, have you considered resigning to ease his burden and maybe to assist GOP people running for election or re-election in November?

RUMSFELD: With respect to the first, you asked if I'd like to comment on it.

I don't think so. I think I'd like to let the experts and historians talk about that question of civilian-military relationships, leave it to them.

And the president knows, as I know, that there are no indispensable men. "Graveyards of the world are filled with indispensable people," quote/unquote.

No. He knows that I serve at his pleasure, and that's that.

PACE: Let me say something, if I could, about the process. In fact, it's really important that our fellow citizens understand that the process of making decisions and all of the things that the secretary just talked about, as far as issues, all were handled basically in the same fundamental way, which was a great deal of dialogue amongst the people wearing uniforms and those wearing civilian clothes.

A normal day for me -- a minimum of 30 minutes a day. Today is much more of an example: three to four hours per day. Sometimes as many as six, seven or eight hours per day, the chairman and the vice chairman are with the secretary of defense, listening to all of the information that is being provided to him, giving our best military advice.

We are reaching out, either formally through a war plan staffing process or informally just through a discussion process to the combatant commanders and asking their opinions about whatever the issue of the day is.

And if it's important, the combatant commanders have either gotten on a video teleconference or they've come to this city and sat down with the secretary, and they've come (ph) in through the tank and been with the chiefs.

And the chiefs, individually, are with the secretary at least once a week, if not more often, in the meetings that he holds.

And then the additional meetings that have been formed during the course of the last several years, where all of the senior civilian leaders in the department and all of the senior military leaders in the department get together, not for an hour, but for two or three days at a time.

It used to be the combatant commanders would come to town twice a year for two days. Now they come to town three times a year for three days to sit down for quality time, three whole days, with the senior leadership of the department, just discussing various issues.

PACE: There are multiple opportunities for all of us, whatever opinions we have, to put them on the table. And all the opinions are put on the table.

But at the end of the day, after we've given our best military advice, somebody has to make a decision. And when a decision's made by the secretary of defense, unless it's illegal or immoral, we go on about doing what we've been told to do.

RUMSFELD: Don't even suggest that.

(LAUGHTER)

Illegal or immoral.

PACE: But those are the reasons why you would expect somebody to -- after having had the proper opportunity to speak their mind -- I mean, it's important for the American people to understand how this dialogue takes place, that they understand that decisions are not made in a vacuum and that all of those of us who you trust with the lives of your sons and daughters -- you trust us -- that we are going to speak our minds as we should to the leadership so that they can make decisions based on as much knowledge as possible.

So we all have the same facts that lead us to different opinions potentially, that lead us to a dialogue that gets to the right solution.

QUESTION: The outpouring of criticism of you suggests that there's a great deal of dissatisfaction within the office with your leadership. So how can you lead the department effectively if that's the case? And what are you doing personally to address the concerns that they may have?

RUMSFELD: I don't know that that's the case. We've got, what, 6,000, 7,000 retired admirals and generals. Anyone who thinks that they're going to be unanimous on anything -- look at the votes in the House of Representatives. It's 51-49, 55-45. Same thing in the Senate. Look at our country when we vote.

There are always differences of opinion. That's a healthy thing in this country. We ought to respect it and get about our business.

But if it paralyzes people because someone doesn't agree with them, my goodness gracious, we wouldn't be able to do anything.

PACE: It would be unfair to leave that statement the way it is. It is not my experience that that's true.

General Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, just came back from I think it was a week in Iraq. He got exactly zero questions about the leadership in the department.

Last week, while all this was going on back here, guess what they're focused on out there? They're focused on their mission, getting the job done.

The sergeant major, my sergeant major, Sergeant Major Gainey just got back from the Gulf region himself, and he received no questions like that, even though did he a lot of probing.

The fact of the matter is that the folks who are out doing this nation's business are appreciative of the leadership that's being provided and understand the missions they have and the value of what they're doing.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, during the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal...

RUMSFELD: Let's switch over here.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: ... you twice offered your resignation to President Bush, which he rejected, even though there was no evidence that the activities there worked its way up the chain of command, certainly to the Pentagon.

Yet here there are questions about decisions in which you were directly involved regarding the war in Iraq, and you said you don't even consider resignation.

Why in one case and not the other?

RUMSFELD: Oh, just call it idiosyncratic.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, how much of this do you think is simply about your management style?

In this Wall Street Journal opinion piece that was written yesterday by a number of retired generals, it was said that some feel that you have been unfair, arrogant and autocratic. And this was from your supporters...

(LAUGHTER)

... who were supporting you in this opinion piece.

How much do you think this is about your management style and...

RUMSFELD: No idea.

QUESTION: Well, quick follow-up. To the charge that you're arrogant and autocratic...

RUMSFELD: I've said I have no idea.

QUESTION: Are you arrogant and autocratic?

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: You know me.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Could I change the subject for a minute?

RUMSFELD: It depends on where you want to go.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Afghanistan.

I was there last month, and it seems pretty clear that the poppy opium trade is taking over the economy, that it's already become a narco-economy. It's $2.8 billion in illicit drug trade compared to $4.6 billion GDP legitimately. And that that's having all kinds of effects in terms of funding the insurgency, wrecking chances for law and for legal stability, that it's driving farmers into the arms of the Taliban and that it's poisoning western Europe, Russia, the 'stans with cheap heroin.

QUESTION: Two questions: How concerned are you about that? And are we doing enough?

RUMSFELD: We are concerned. We have been from the beginning. It is something that the United Kingdom, under the Bonn process, had agreed to take the lead on.

With the establishment of the Karzai government and a parliament of their own, they have the responsibility for taking the lead. And the U.K. and a coalition of other countries are in support of that.

There's a good deal that's already being done. Obviously, you are correct: A great deal more needs to be done.

The pull of narcotics is powerful. And the money that comes from the narcotics trade is enormous. And it is a risk to Afghanistan. It's a risk that through corruption it could adversely affect the democratic process in that country.

I think that everyone's sensitive to that. The State Department is involved. The Department of Justice is involved. The DEA is involved. We're involved, the Department of Defense. And other coalition countries are working together to try to assist the Karzai government in dealing with it.

You have a very poor country, and, depending on the crop year, they can have a very big crop and have a large amount of revenue. And it is a serious problem that they are attending to and we need to assist them in attending to.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, or General Pace, as the focus has been on all this criticism of you, still, Iraq, there is no permanent government, no decision there. Some Sunni neighborhoods are now reporting increased violence and some Sunni lawmakers are saying it's the result of an unleashed militias backed by the government. They call it even ethnic cleansing.

Can you give us the latest on what your sense of the militias are in Iraq and perhaps the prognosis for the permanent government?

RUMSFELD: Pete?

PACE: Long term, the militias are going to need to come up underneath central government control. And I think that'll be an issue for the new government, when it forms, to determine with what speed they want to deal with that.

Second, with regard to Baghdad, for example, in coordination with the current government, eight additional battalions -- five of which were Iraqi battalions, three were U.S. -- were added to the security in Baghdad to help maintain calm there.

So the current leadership in the country, in cooperation with the coalition leadership, is making the right decisions now to handle the current security environment. And when the new government gets in place, there'll be fundamental decisions that government will have to make about how to assimilate those at arms into their overall security structure.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, are you encouraged by what's happening as far as the development of the new government?

RUMSFELD: Well, needless to say, as I've said before, it is a concern that they have not yet been able to come to agreement with respect to the new leadership of their government of that sovereign country under their new constitution.

On the other hand, they've had a lot of discussions. And everything I see publicly and privately at this stage indicates that the senior Kurdish and Sunni and Shia leadership all recognize the inadvisability of continuing without a government. And the calls that they are putting out to come to resolution of this are serious and repeated.

And I expect that we will see a government formed there in that country in the days ahead. And that my hope and prayer is -- and I know it's the hope and prayer of the people in that country -- that with a government that is inclusive, to be sure, but has also agreed to govern from the center to the benefit of all of the people that voted and every element in the country will have a salutory effect with respect to the insurgency. Time will tell. And we'll have to see.

QUESTION: You said bring the militias under control. Is that a new position? As opposed to disbanding the militias, to bring them under control of the government, is that a new...

PACE: I hope what I said was that they will have to determine how to assimilate them. They will either have to assimilate them back into civilian society without weapons or into the police forces or the army with weapons. But that'll be up to their government to determine.

RUMSFELD: Thank you very much.

END

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