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Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's Remarks at Pentagon's Riverfront Entrance

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
September 10, 2004

Friday, September 10, 2004

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s Remarks at Pentagon’s Riverfront Entrance

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Good morning.  Three years ago tomorrow by happenstance, this group of members of the House of Representatives were having breakfast up in the room right up there with me and the senior members of the Department of Defense staff and were there when the first plane hit the tower of the World Trade Center. 


            We gathered again this morning to talk about that day in which we all remember so vividly and to talk also about the things that have taken place since, the work that they and their respective assignments in the Congress and the Department of Defense have worked on together and the progress that’s been made and some of the things that we can look forward to.  And I am very grateful to each of them for their support of the Department of Defense and the men and women in uniform and simply wanted to say “thank you” to them. 


            Do one or more of you want to speak?  Chris, you’re the leader. 


            REP. COX:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.  This is a beautiful sunny day, just as was September 11, 2001.  This breakfast that the secretary was kind to put together this morning for us is, in many ways, a memorial, a remembrance.  This building which was attacked is an American memorial now.  Many of our fellow Americans died here that day.  But it’s also an inspiration because the people who’ve continued to work in this building and the people of the armed forces around the world who look here for their command have accomplished an extraordinary amount to establish anew the freedom of the United States of America and the civilized world. 


            We’ve made extraordinary gains in the last three years and the Department of Defense is taking the lead in making sure that we are not only hardening targets here at home, we’re not only focused on what terrorists might do to us on our own territory, but we are bringing the fight to the terrorists overseas -- the first with Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and next in Iraq and, indeed, around the world where terrorists have been striking. 


            Because of that, in no small part, America has been free of terrorist attacks for the intervening period.  We may not be fortunate enough that that will continue indefinitely into America’s future history, but we know now, as we did not know on September 10th, precisely who we’re dealing with and precisely what we need to do in order to be ready for them. 


            I can’t tell you how proud I am of Secretary Rumsfeld’s leadership, President Bush’s leadership in this effort and the bipartisan support that has been offered throughout as America redoubles its efforts to be safe from terrorists. 


            I’d like to introduce my colleagues to speak on this.  And immediately behind me is Mac Thornberry of Texas, who on both the Armed Services Committee and the Homeland Security Committee has done a great deal of work on the very same subjects I’ve been discussing.  Mac Thornberry.


            REP. THORNBERRY:  The topic of our breakfast three years ago or the primary topic was Transformation:  How can we make sure that nation is prepared for the kinds of threats that are coming that are difficult to expect?  A lot has happened over the last three years and we’ve talked about some of that.  But the importance of being prepared for the unexpected has never been stronger.  And if we just think about the events in the world of the past couple weeks, I think it really brings that home for us.  So I know all of us are committed to supporting the work that goes on in this building behind us to make sure that we are as safe and secure and also free as we can be. 


            John Mica is chairman of the subcommittee that deals with aviation, so you can complain to him about the aircraft noise. 


            REP. MICA:  Thanks, Mac, and thanks, Chris and Mr. Secretary. As you heard, three years ago, the secretary brought some of us together who were supportive of strong defense for this country and that’s why we were here on the morning of September 11th to figure out how we could change some of the policy of downsizing the military of taking on a military that had been somewhat demoralized under the last administration, to be quite frank.  And little did we know that within a few minutes of the end of our conversation and actually at the end of our breakfast, that our world would change and that incident that we talked about would be happening. 


            This morning, we started the breakfast.  I asked that we start it with a prayer.  I lost friends here, Barbara Olson, who I’ll always remember worked for our Government Reform Committee and I remember her smiling face, as I last saw her.  She died on the plane that went into this building.  Terry Lynch, who I worked with in the United States Senate as a staffer was killed in the building and all those who helped me on a hearing in the World Trade Center, including Neil Levin, the head of the port authority were killed on that morning. 


            So we started off this morning with a prayer of remembrance of those people who were lost and also giving thanks that we have a secretary of defense who’s been able to lead this nation through some of the most difficult times.  And I think he’ll go down in history as one of the greatest secretaries of defense that this nation has ever seen.  So that’s a little bit of why we were here then and what we did today.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.


            [Inaudible] Mark Kirk, let me introduce.


            REP. KIRK:  I’m Mark Kirk of Illinois.  I represent the congressional district that Don Rumsfeld represented when he was in the Congress and just want to say that on September 11th, we were all gathered here today and we remember when the post-it note was brought in to tell the secretary that a twin-engine aircraft had hit the World Trade Center.  It was obviously a tragedy, but not obviously an attack at that time.  We continued our breakfast and as we broke up, we heard about the second attack and most of us had left the building by the time the building was struck.  We think about all that has happened now. 


            And I just said to the secretary during breakfast, with all that we’ve done, thank you for having a nice, calm breakfast this time in which nothing happened.  And we think about all the changes, how the terrorists bases have been destroyed and that two-thirds of al Qaeda have been killed or captured.  That false sense of security we had disappeared on September 11th, but now I think we are more secure.  We are far more aware of the danger, but we have been doing so much to limit that danger to the American people. 


            UNKNOWN:  Roger Wicker from…


            REP. WICKER:  Well, thank you very much.  My name is Roger Wicker and I represent the 1st Congressional District of Mississippi.  I, too, remember.  I have my own memories of exactly when we found out about the attacks on the Trade Center.  And then I distinctly remember thinking to myself later on in the day that I, having heard about the terrorist attack, was actually driving from one target to another target, because I drove my own car back to the United States Capitol building after hearing about the New York terrorist attack. 


            We were profoundly fortunate on that day to have at the helm President George W. Bush and also Secretary Don Rumsfeld.  And our thanks and the thanks of the American people go to them.  I think it was Representative Granger who mentioned today in our meeting that we are, indeed, much safer today than we were three years ago.  We’re not completely safe and there’s no way to make us completely safe.  But we’re also more than three years smarter than we were three years ago, when this attack took place.  We are determined, as representatives of the people, to be ever vigilant and we appreciate again the leadership of the secretary and we appreciate his hospitality today. 


            Robin Hayes is a representative from North Carolina and we’ll present him next. 


            REP. HAYES:  Thank you, Roger.  I’m Robin Hayes from the 8th District of North Carolina and I remember well that morning when I asked the secretary who has done a fabulous job throughout, “Mr. Secretary, what’s it going to take to focus the attention, the American people on the fact that national security is the number-one issue?” And his answer was, “Unfortunately, some sort of major incident.”  Well, we know what that was. 


            My question today, as a follow-up with Mr. Secretary, still national security is the issue that faces the American people.  It’s not other issues that are being talked about regularly which are important.  But because of the people in this building, the men and women in uniform, the lives that were lost for which we are ever grateful and our freedom in this country, we are far safer.  Leadership of President Bush, steadfast leadership of our military, Secretary Rumsfeld, makes us safer, but the war goes on and we, the American people, need to focus on winning that war on terror.  We’re doing it.  And our support for the men and women in uniform is crucial, appreciated and a vital part of our national security.  Thank you all.   My good friend Coach Kay, as I call her.  Kay Granger from the Dallas-Forth Worth area.


            REP. GRANGER:  Thank you very much.  Mac Thornberry said this day reminds us so much of the day three years ago, because it was a bright, shiny day.  And we gathered in a fairly unusual way because so often we are faced with what is right in front of us.  And don’t take the time or have the time to look into the future and say let’s make sure we’re planning correctly.  Secretary Rumsfeld has been able to do that and continues to do that in saying, I’ve got to take care of today, I’ve got to also plan for the coming years and that vision is so important.  So we came together and talked about the future of defense and transformation and what would keep us – our superiority in this world – preparing for anything, having no idea literally in a matter of minutes, that our world would change so significantly and, of course, it did. 


            And so today we came back to that -- that conversation -- picked it up again and said, what are doing differently, what are we doing better.  And everyone here is very proud that we have learned so much and that we continue to work to make it safer -- this world safer and this country safer.  And I believe people, I believe in people, first of all, and I believe that it’s important that people be told the truth and they be told very clearly.  And I think people today understand that we’re fighting a war over there, so we won’t fight it right here and that we have to continue to be diligent in saying in every way what steps are we taking to make it safer for us and for our children and grandchildren and the leaders in this terrible war, this long-term war, as the president’s explained the war on terror.  Thank you. 


            REP. SHIMKUS:  I’m John Shimkus.  I’m from Southern Illinois, a West Point graduate and still a reservist.  Two things that I’ll point out is, one, I tell folks in my district -- and this is really a tribute to the leadership here -- is that we now have the next greatest generation.  If you look at the young men and women who are voluntarily signing up to defend this country in very dangerous places around the world, it really does make you proud.  And if nothing can instill pride in our nation like that, then nothing will.  I have a nephew who is now in Germany and he’s scheduled to rotate to Iraq.  He’s just part of this groundswell of young men and women who say this country’s important enough to sign on the dotted line. 


            The other thing is I hope that we are cautious and not rush to quick judgment on intel reform so that our combatant commanders can still get quick and timely information.  And we had a little debate and discussion about that.  It’s important that we move to reforms, but we’ve got to make sure that we don’t harm the ability of our commanders in the field to get real quick, timely intelligence.  And now I get really the distinct honor, an army guy, to always talk the talk – to talk and say something good about a Navy guy, but I’m going to be followed by our top gun Duke Cunningham.


            REP. CUNNINGHAM:  Thank you.  When you’re hot, you’re hot.  When you’re not, you’re last.  We all witnessed the president in the convention lay out where we had been, where we are today and what the future is.  We are safer today.  If you take a look at the Patriot Act, you take a look at homeland security, airline security, how many airlines have you seen fly over here in the last 15 minutes?  All they have to do is turn port -- that’s left for my army friend – and they turn right in here.  The job is on the ground in taking care with air marshals and so on.  My real concern is the future. 


            I think -- and I’ll steal a comment from my friend Chris Cox – we have a whole bunch of surgeons operating that have never been to medical school.  And if we rush into electing and selecting a national intelligence director and take away the ability of the secretary as a war fighter to do his job, it puts this nation in great risk.  And for those reasons, I think we need to move slowly in a politically charged atmosphere.  We need to do this thing right.  We need to worry about 9/11, not 11/2.  Thank you. 

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