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Secretary Rumsfeld Remarks at National Press Club Luncheon

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
September 10, 2003 1:15 PM EDT

(Also participating was Tammy Lytle, National Press Club president.)

Lytle: (Sounds gavel.) Good afternoon, and welcome to the National Press Club. My name is Tammy Lytle, and I'm the Washington bureau chief of the Orlando Sentinel, and president of the National Press Club. I would like to welcome Club members and their guests in the audience today, as well as those of you watching on C-SPAN, or listening to this program on National Public Radio. Please hold your applause during the speech, so we have time for as many questions as possible -- and we do have a lot of questions today.

For our broadcast audience, I'd also like to explain that if you hear applause it may be from our guests and members of the general public attending the lunch.

The video archive of today's luncheon is provided by ConnectLive, and is available through the National Press Club Web site at For more information about joining the Press Club, contact us at 202-662-7511. Press Club members also can access transcripts of our luncheons at our Web site. Non-members may purchase transcripts, audio and videotapes by calling 1-888-343-1940.

Before introducing our head table, I would like to remind our members of future speakers. On September 17th, David Walker, comptroller general of the United States, will be with us. On September 18th, Tommy Thompson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will be our guest. And on September 22nd, Grammy Award winner Wynton Marsalis, artistic director of the Lincoln Center, will be with us as well.

If you have questions for our speaker, please write them on the cards provided at your table, and pass them up to me. I will ask as many as time permits.

I'd now like to introduce our head table guests, and ask them to stand briefly when their names are called. Please hold your applause until all head table guests are introduced. From your right, Richard Parker, New Republic, and a Press Club member, like all the other members at our head table, except for our speaker; Jim Puzzanghera, San Jose Mercury News and Knight Ridder; John Donnelly of Defense Week, and vice chairman of the NPC Board; Ivan Scott, Pentagon correspondent for WTOP and other radio stations; Rick Dunham of Business Week, and treasurer of the Press Club; Vickie Walton-James of the Chicago Tribune; Katherine Skiba of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and chairwoman of the NPC Speakers Committee; skipping over our speaker for a moment, William Neikirk of the Chicago Tribune and member of the NPC Speakers Committee who organized today's luncheon; Elizabeth Auster of the Cleveland Plain Dealer; Adam Belmar producer of "Good Morning, America"; Richard Whittle of the Dallas Morning News; Marc Heller of the Watertown Daily Times; and Ed Epstein from the San Francisco Chronicle. (Applause.)

Today's guest is nicknamed "Rummy," like the card game. But knowledgeable sources tell us Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld leaves very little to chance. He has turned around troubled businesses, run successful political campaigns, chaired important commissions, and twice been in charge of that bureaucratic challenge known as the Pentagon. Donald Rumsfeld may be 71 years old, but he has demonstrated in his latest incarnation as Defense secretary that he has lost none of his reputation for being energetic, ambitious, probing, charming, calculating and cantankerous -- or so they say here in Washington.

Our guest today was chosen by President Bush as his Defense secretary on the basis of his experience and knowledge. Senator Warner of Virginia called him a "tested, tough-minded old hand," one who people say -- you know, occasionally people say that you can judge them by the sports that they pick younger in life. Well, our guest today chose wrestling, and was very good at it. He wrestled at Princeton, where he had an academic and naval ROTC scholarship, and he was a champion wrestler in the Navy, as well as an aviator and flight instructor. These days he wrestles mostly with the press corps of course. (Laughter.)

He served as Defense secretary once before, from 1975 to '77, when President Jerry Ford put his young chief of staff in charge of the Pentagon. Now he holds the distinction of serving as the youngest Defense secretary in U.S. history and the oldest. (Laughter.) That's quite a record. (Laughter.)

In his second go-around as Defense secretary, he has begun remaking the military, emphasizing technology, mobility and modern weaponry over increasing troop strength. It's a strategy that some, particularly in the Army, find objectionable. Criticism though is something familiar to Secretary Rumsfeld in his career, and he has a philosophy about it. Quote, "If you are not criticized you may not be doing much," he said.

The September 11th attacks vaulted Secretary Rumsfeld onto center stage, where he led the U.S. war in Afghanistan and a war to oust Saddam Hussein in Iraq. He ruffled some feathers in the State Department with his "Old Europe/New Europe" characterizations, and his criticisms of the United Nations, and he has been seen as the driving force for the campaign to go to war with Iraq. In Washington at least the Pentagon, not Foggy Bottom, was seen for a time as having gained the upper hand in foreign policy. In the postwar violence, now there's talk that Foggy Bottom is making a comeback, as President Bush reaches out to the United Nations for help. Perhaps the secretary can shed some light on that subject today.

His hard, charging style attracted the attention many years ago of President Nixon. He had first jumped into elected politics in 1962, when he won his first of four elections to the House of Representatives. He quickly established himself as a presence, leading a group of GOP congressmen, known as "Rumsfeld's Raiders," and helping later to elect Congressman Gerald Ford as the minority leader, upsetting the old guard.

President Nixon, in 1969, then lured him to the White House. His deputy there was a young man with some promise by the name of Dick Cheney. Now it's the other way around, right? In 1973 he headed off to Brussels to become NATO ambassador. Not long after that, his old friend Gerry Ford became president, and he became White House chief of staff. In that job he distributed a manual to the White House staff, called "Rumsfeld's Rules," the first rule being, "Don't play president -- you're not." (Laughter.)

Under Ford he also served as Defense secretary, where he built up the military and opposed the SALT II strategic arms reduction treaty. After Ford's defeat, he launched his career in the corporate world, first as a chief executive officer, president and then chairman of the pharmaceutical giant GD Searle and Company, and later as chairman of General Instrument Corporation. But he kept his hand in foreign policy as President Reagan's special envoy to the Middle East, and he served on many commissions over the years, including a 1999 panel that concluded that the nation needed a missile defense system.

Those who watch Secretary Rumsfeld's briefings on television can't help but be entertained by some of his quotations, such as, "Let's hear it for the essential daily briefing, however empty and hollow it may be." (Laughter.)

With so many important defense and foreign policy issues on the agenda today, we hope his appearance here will be just the opposite. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld. (Applause.)

Rumsfeld: Well, I resolve to be brief. If I started commenting on that introduction, I would have broken my resolution. Tammy, thank you. It's a pleasure to be with you all. Bill, how -- I came to Washington, Bill, in 1957. Eisenhower was president. When did you arrive?

Answer: Nineteen sixty-nine, sir.

Rumsfeld: That late. Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were of my vintage. Sorry. You know, I -- the one thing that Tammy left out was that in 1962 -- 1 -- 2 -- I decided to run for Congress -- I was 29 years old, and I managed to get elected. And the first year I was in Congress, I was in bed one night reading a doctoral paper about politicians and Congress, and it said that if you look at the members of the House of Representatives, you can learn a lot about their congressional districts, because they represent their congressional districts reasonably well. And then this fellow, this smart PhD, went on to say that Rumsfeld is the exception that proves the rule -- (Laughter.) -- "Rumsfeld is distinguished principally by his total lack of social, financial and political standing in the community." (Laughter.) Well, I woke my wife up, and I said, "Joyce, listen to this -- isn't that terrible?" And she said, "Yes, but it's tough to argue with -- go back to sleep." (Laughter.)

Well, tomorrow our country will mark the second anniversary of September 11th and the terrorist attacks, though in truth it's really our third national remembrance of that day. The first was a month after the attack, as you may recall. It was a moment to breathe, to console those who had recently lost loved ones in Washington, New York, Pennsylvania, people from all walks of life, all religions, all races, nationalities. And it was a moment to steel our country for the war that was just starting to unfold. The second remembrance came one year ago on September 11th. We gathered to remember the dead, and to take stock of what had been accomplished since September 11th. There have been some notable accomplishments. The Taliban had been driven from power. The al Qaeda had been put on the run. Terrorists were beginning to recognize that far from driving the United States and the free people of the world to retreat or isolation or fear or being terrorized, the attacks on September 11th had in fact awakened our country and other nations to action.

Tomorrow we will pause again to remember that day, and tomorrow will be different in an important sense. Two years will have passed since those attacks. And while the passage of time heals injured hearts, it also poses a bit of a danger, a danger that as those events grow more distant there's at least the possibility that people hoping to get on with their lives will begin slowly to forget. And it's important that we not forget. So tomorrow, with coalition forces risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and many other spots on this globe, it's important to pause and to remember.

The war that began two years ago tomorrow, the global war on terror, is well begun, but it has only just begun. A good deal has been accomplished. The president has rallied and sustained possibly the largest coalition of countries in human history -- some 90 nations, nearly half the world, are engaged in the global war on terror. Within weeks of being attacked, coalition forces were responding in Afghanistan to remove the Taliban and put al Qaeda on the run in a matter of months.

Heckler: Mr. Rumsfeld, you're fired! Your foreign policy is based on lies. The war in Iraq is unjust and illegal, and the occupation is immoral. There are U.S. soldiers dying in Iraq --

Heckler: Go home!

Heckler: -- every day! Still dying! Bring the troops home now.

Heckler: Tell us when the troops are coming home!

Hecklers: (Chanting.) Hey, Rumsfeld, what do you say? -- How many troops did you kill today?! Hey, Rumsfeld, what do you say? -- How many troops did you kill today?! Hey, Rumsfeld, what do you say? -- How many troops did you kill today?! (Hecklers escorted out of room.)

Rumsfeld: Well, now. (Laughter.) You know, I just came in from Baghdad, and there are now over 100 newspapers in the free press in Iraq in a free Iraq, where people are able to say whatever they wish. People are debating, people are discussing -- something they have not done for decades. So, if one looks back just four and a half months ago, that regime was still in place, it was still creating mass graves and filling them with bodies of innocent men, women and children. It still had prisons still where they were executing people. It was still repressing thought and speech in that country, and that has ended. Those people are liberated. (Applause.)

The -- interestingly, about, oh, a month or two after September 11th I was in Oman, meeting with the sultan of Oman in a tent south of his country -- he was visiting his constituents. And he said, "You know, as terrible as September 11th was, it may very well be that it's a blessing in disguise." And I said, "How so?" And he said that it was terrible, the loss of 3,000 human beings, but he said if it will awake the world, if it will cause us to act, if it will cause people to stop people from teaching it is a good thing to kill innocent men, women and children -- if that were to happen before we had a September 11th, where now 3,000 were killed, but 30,000 or 300,000 -- through a biological attack, or whatever -- he said then it would have served a useful purpose.

That is in a very important sense a task we have, a responsibility we have to do everything we can as people to see that we don't have an event of that magnitude.

The global war is not a war that we fight so that we can declare victory and go home, really. The world was changed on September 11th, and if we are going to be able to live as free people and say what we want and go where we wish, and send our children off to school knowing that they will be able to come home, not be terrorized, not alter the way we live our lives, then we have to recognize that we have to change. We have to deal with these new threats in different ways.

On September 11th, we had to face our vulnerabilities. In a world of international finance, communications and transportation, even relatively small, isolated organizations and individuals can in fact have global reach and the ability to cause unprecedented destruction. We became aware that some of the world's most irresponsible regimes are aggressively pursuing the means to attack others, and the threats posed by those regimes was really once confined largely to their country or their neighbors. They could murder their own people, as they have; they could wreak havoc in the neighborhood, but they possessed only modest capacity to bring war to our cities and streets and to affect our lives.

But we have, in fact, entered a new security environment in this 21st century. We're living in an age when new threats can emerge suddenly with little or no warning. We face adversaries (who) have shown that they are willing to use the various capabilities at their disposal. We can no longer stake our security on the assumption that terrorist states can be counted on to avoid actions that lead to their own destruction -- the old concept of deterrence. That theory has been overtaken by events. Certainly, such logic did not stop the Taliban regime from harboring al Qaeda as it executed attacks on the United States. They were not deterred, if you will. It did not stop the Iraqi regime from defying the 17th U.N. Security Council resolution, even with thousands of coalition forces massing on its borders. They, too, were not deterred. Why would these regimes take actions that resulted in their destruction? Well, we may never know precisely what was in the minds of those leaders that caused those actions. But we do know this: regimes without checks and balances are prone to grave miscalculations.

As the president said in his address to the country, "For America, there will be no going back to the era before September 11th, 2001, to false comfort in a dangerous world. We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength, they are invited by the perception of weakness."

And that's why our coalition has to take the battle to the terrorists and the regime remnants in Iraq. We're doing so alongside military forces from 29 countries. It is a very broad coalition. And we're continuing to work to expand the number of countries involved in both security and reconstruction. As we do so, our coalition is encouraging the Iraqis to take charge of their own lives politically, economically, and from a security standpoint. We're paving the way for an orderly transfer of sovereignty and authority to the Iraqi people.

It's impressive, I think, that in just four and a half months, we have gone from zero Iraqis involved in their own security to 55,000 who are currently engaged in border patrols, site protection units, local police, civil defense and the beginnings of a new Iraqi army unlike the old one. It's important, it seems to me, to do that.

There are a number of people calling for additional U.S. forces to go into Iraq. And our commanders, to a person, have told me, from General Sanchez, General Abizaid, General Myers, all have said they believe that they have right number of U.S. forces in the country at the present time.

What they want is what we're doing, and that is to increase the Iraqis involved in providing for their own security. Ultimately, every country has to do that. And rather than flooding the zone with more Americans, which means you have to have more force protection, more support, it is, we believe, vastly better to continue to invest in encouraging the Iraqis to provide the kinds of increases and ramping up of their own security capabilities.

Looking back over the last two years, the American people can be proud of the men and women in uniform. I just returned, as I said, and they are really remarkable, what they're doing. They -- the coalition forces, U.S. forces, from -- coalition from dozens of nations, are doing very little of a military nature. That is to say, General Sanchez said they have -- they're down from about 25 to 26 incidents, country-wide, down to about 14 or 15 a day in this country of 23 million people, the size of California. He said they last -- the incidents last about two or three minutes, they involve very small numbers of people, and the forces are aggressively dealing with them.

The bulk of the time, the forces are engaged in fixing schools, digging wells, repairing hospitals, providing soccer -- filling -- making soccer fields and providing soccer games for people, doing medical assistance, dental assistance, a whole host of things like that. And the overwhelming majority of the time of our U.S. forces is involved in those.

The other thing they're doing is they're helping to create -- they're training the local police forces. They're training the site protection people. They're training the border patrols. They're helping to form city councils. City councils have sprouted up all across that country.

Now is it a perfect situation? No. Is it a tough situation? You bet it is. It is going to take some time? Indeed it is. It's going to take patience. It's part of the global war on terror; let there be no doubt.

So as we celebrate their accomplishments, we also have to recognize that those threats are not likely to end immediately. That's why, this year, September 11th we will stop to remind ourselves what befell us that day. Three thousand innocent men, women and children, of all races and religions, died. And tomorrow we'll remember them and let those memories steel us for the difficult challenges that remain. Certainly it is our responsibility to try to do everything in our power to prevent another or worse September 11.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Lytle: I'm sorry about the protestors. I bet that's happened to you before, though, right?

Rumsfeld: You're right. It has happened before.

Lytle: I said I bet that's happened to him before -- protestors. So, my apologies for the interruption.

First question: What mistakes were made by the U.S. in the war with Iraq?

Rumsfeld: Well, I should say that General Tom Franks and his team were really superb joint warfighters. (Applause.) They did what they had to do. They did it with great precision. They did it with a minimal loss of innocent life. The infrastructure of that country was not terribly damaged by the war at all. It was damaged by 30 years of Saddam Hussein, with a Stalinist-like economy, denying the people of that country the money and the funds and the resources and the investments that they could have had. The neighboring countries are, in many cases, prosperous, and this country is rich in water, it's rich in industrious people, it's rich in oil, and to have presided over that country and left it as bad he did -- so, the idea that it has a big reconstruction effort is true. But it's a result of the effort.

Now, what are we -- did we underestimate something? Yes. I don't think people really fully understood how devastating that regime was to the infrastructure of the country; how fragile the electric system is, how poorly the water's being managed, and how -- the extent to which the people are being denied. On the other hand, so many other things that could have gone wrong didn't. There was not a humanitarian disaster. They did not flood the -- open the damns and flood the areas they did in the south. Oh, we prevented the oil wells from the environmental disaster that could have been caused, and was caused in Kuwait.

So, in life, is anything perfect? No. But I would say, in answer to your question on the war, I would say that General Franks and his team did a really superb piece of work.

Lytle: How -- to follow up on that, how do you respond to critics who say the U.S. did not have enough of a postwar plan for winning the peace?

Rumsfeld: Well, I guess I'd say this: Jerry Bremer, who was here recently, he gave me a piece of paper when I was over in Baghdad this week. He pointed out that the independent central bank of Germany, it took three years after World War II to establish it -- it was established in Iraq in two months; that the police in Germany were established after 14 months -- in Iraq, they were established in two months; that a new currency in Germany took three years -- it took two and a half months in Iraq. The cabinet in Germany took 14 months. Iraq has a cabinet today after four months. Now, how did you go from zero to 55,000 Iraqis providing for their own security?

I think the biggest difference is that we now have 24-hour news, and everyone is examining everything every second, and it feels like it's been about four years since the end of the conflict, and it was May 1st. (Laughter.)

And I give Jerry Bremer a great deal of credit for what he's doing. I think Jay Garner before him did a wonderful job. It is tough work. There are problems. There are difficulties. There are people being killed. There are people being wounded. There is sabotage taking place on the infrastructure because there are the remnants of the Ba'athists that are there. There's foreign terrorists that are coming in from neighboring countries. And Saddam Hussein opened his jails and let out somewhere between 110(,000) and 115,000 criminals and put them loose on the Iraqi population. These people are out there doing bad things.

It is going to be a tough job, but it's a job well worth doing. And our folks, in my view, are hard at it, doing a good job and proceeding purposefully and, I would say, proceeding at a pace that very likely is faster than happened in Japan, faster than happened in Germany, faster than happened in Bosnia, faster than happened in Kosovo. Is it instantaneous? No. But are things happening? Yes.

Lytle: You mentioned the sorry state of the infrastructure. How come U.S. intelligence didn't give a better warning of how bad that was?

Rumsfeld: Well, resources are finite, and they were worrying about more important things.

Lytle: Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said months ago that the U.S. could finance the Iraqi reconstruction with oil revenues. What changed? Or was that a miscalculation?

Rumsfeld: I have, at my advanced age, developed a policy of not commenting on quotations that I haven't seen myself and seen in context. That is not to say that I question the accuracy of that. But I have so often had people say things I said that I didn't say or, if I did say, I shouldn't have -- (Laughter.) -- (Laughs.) -- that I'm not going to comment on that question.

The short answer is, however, that the country has a great deal of potential. It has potential because of its water resources, which could conceivably be as valuable as their oil in that part of the world. They have oil. They have tourist sites. Babylon. You cannot walk around in Babylon and just not be moved by being there. I think tourism is going to be something important in that country as soon as the security situation is resolved, and I think that will be resolved as the Iraqis take over more and more responsibility for their own government.

Will -- the Iraqis are capable of lifting a great deal more oil than is currently the case. But they also have -- in my view, are ultimately going to have to recognize that oil revenue is not the only answer. There are a lot of countries in the world that had oil that haven't managed it very well, where the government has managed it, and in the end, their people have not really benefited greatly.

My view is -- maybe it's because I've been a business man for so many years, but my view is that governments can do relatively little for people, and that investment, outside investment, inside investment, people voting with their dollars that they want to make something work in a given place, is what really is the engine that drives things. Government doesn't create the jobs, the opportunities, the wealth in our country; it doesn't create the jobs and opportunities in most countries. Private investment does, human capital does. And that's ultimately what will have to be the case in Iraq. Although they have the benefit of oil, and with some significant investments in their infrastructure, they could get significant increases in revenue from oil above where they currently are. But there's no one thing that is the answer, in my view.

Lytle: How long -- how much will the war cost American taxpayers in total? Senator Biden was at this podium yesterday, and he said he thought the $87 billion figure for this year was an underestimate.

Rumsfeld: I guess the answer is, I don't know. Nobody knows. I don't believe it's our job to reconstruct that country after 30 years of centralized, Stalinist-like economic controls in that country. The Iraqi people are going to have to reconstruct that country over a period of time.

We, in my view, are properly, as the president indicated the other night, stepping forward with a significant investment. We are also going out to the other countries of the world who have an interest in the success of Iraq and asking them to continue contributing. A lot of them already have. There's also resources that the Iraqis have that have been frozen in countries around the world, and those funds ought to be available. There's also the so- called oil-for-food program that the U.N. has, that has sizable sums still in it. There's outside investment. There's the international lending organizations -- the World Bank, the IMF, and so forth. So, there will be a variety of things that will contribute to that country's success.

But in the last analysis, they have to create an environment that's hospitable to investment and to enterprise so that they create that energy that is the driving force in the countries of the world that are succeeding for their people. If you look down from Mars on Earth, there are a handful of countries where the people are doing well, and they're the countries that have freer political systems and freer market systems, economic systems. And the ones that don't, aren't doing very well for their people.

Lytle: So, do you feel fairly certain that you won't need to ask for more than $87 billion this year?

Rumsfeld: Look, I'm not in the budget business. The president has announced a number. I work for the president. If you want to know what I think of his number, I like it. (Laughter.)

Lytle: How long -- how long will U.S. troops be in Iraq?

Rumsfeld: The president has said as long as they're needed and not one day longer. We have -- we have no interest in occupying a country. We -- we don't do that. We want to create, help them create a circumstance where they can get on a path towards democracy and a path towards an economy that can begin to lift them out of the terrible, difficult circumstance they're currently in.

There are a variety of factors that can affect that, that can shorten it or lengthen it. Our hope is that we can begin to transfer the political responsibility quite rapidly. The next step would be a constitution that the Iraqis would fashion for themselves. On the heels of a constitution would be an election which would produce directly elected officials for the national government. The outside assistance ought to be helpful. The fact that we're continuing to put pressure on the terrorists and the criminals and the remnants of the Ba'athist regime in that country, to the extent we can double the number of Iraqis involved in the security side of it, I believe that they will have a crack at increasingly assuming the responsibility for their own country. And to the extent that happens, we're able to reduce our involvement, and at some point end it.

I mentioned the troop issue, the number of troops there. People are saying, Gee, if X amount that you have there now is good, why not double it, why not triple it, that'll be better? The truth is, that's not true. It really isn't. Our goal is not to create a dependency in Iraq by flooding it with Americans, our goal is to get a broad -- still broader international face on it, and then a considerably greater Iraqi face on it as they contribute more and more to their own political future and their own economic future.

To the extent you are too heavy a footprint, you don't help them, you hurt them. Because foreign forces in a country are an anomaly. They're not natural. They're unnatural. And to the extent they're there, people tend to rely on them. And we don't want to create a reliance or a dependency, we want them to begin steadily increasing their assumption of their own responsibilities.

Lytle: How will the extension of the reserve tours affect retention and recruitment in the future of the Reserves and the Guard, and will the Navy and Air Force do the same with their reservists?

Rumsfeld: We have an obligation -- the armed forces of the United States are just enormously important to our country. And they're all volunteers. Every single one of those fine young men and women -- and they are wonderful, what they're doing -- volunteered. They said, send me. We'll do this. We want to be a part of that. And they're proud of what they're doing. And they know that what they're doing is important. And indeed, it is important.

We have to manage that force in a way that we can continue to attract and retain the kinds of talents and skills and dedication that we have. That means we have to be very careful how we manage it. We cannot stress it excessively. At the present time every one of the services is meeting both its recruiting and its retention goals. That means at the moment things are good.

Now, is it possible to do things in a way that that changes? It is possible to do that. And it's happened from time to time, and we've got to be darned careful we don't. So we've got a whole series of things going on in the Department of Defense to make sure that we are managing that force in a way that is respectful of the Reserves and the Guard and their families and their employers, who have been wonderful in stepping forward and supporting the people that work for them as they were called up to go do the nation's tasks. Each of the services is spending a good deal of time thinking through ways they can reduce that stress, just as the rest of us are.

Lytle: For years it was U.S. policy to maintain enough military strength to fight two medium regional conflicts at the same time. With troops still in Iraq, if the U.S. should become involved in another such conflict, are there enough forces out there?

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Lytle: What is the U.S. exit strategy in Iraq?

Rumsfeld: It's what I just described. It is to see that we work with the Iraqis to pass off to them political responsibility for their country -- they already have a cabinet, they already have a governing council, they already have city councils all across that country, they're working on a constitutional process -- and see that they assume more and more of that responsibility as fast as they're capable of doing it. That's our goal. And the same thing's true with respect to security. That's our exit strategy.

Lytle: And what are you willing to offer Europeans and other allies in exchange for their increased military and financial contributions there?

Rumsfeld: That's a question that the president and Secretary Powell are discussing with the folks in the United Nations at the present time. The expectation is that you would not get a large additional number of forces as a result of an additional U.N. resolution. The value of a U.N. resolution, it seems to me, is -- if it is phrased the right way, and that's what the countries are now discussing -- is that it does put -- the U.N., of course, is already involved. Obviously, Mr. de Mello, who was killed, was the U.N. representative, and the U.N. has been assisting. A new resolution would, however, provide some countries with a feeling that it was more of an international activity that they were engaged in, which would be a good thing, and it also would ease the process for some people to give additional money. Now, how much; who knows? But those are the calculations that are being discussed at the present time.

Lytle: On March 30th you said, referring to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, quote, "We know where they are." Do you know where they are now? And will they be found?

Rumsfeld: When you quote me, as opposed to somebody else, I do remember the context. (Laughter.) And in that instance, we had been in the country for about 15 seconds; sometimes I overstate for emphasis. The truth is, we'd been there about two weeks. And the forces were fighting up from the south -- maybe three weeks -- fighting up from the south, heading towards Baghdad. And we were besieged with questions: "You haven't found any weapons of mass destruction yet. Why not?" And I said, very simply: Because all of our information is that they are in the -- more -- closer to Baghdad, in the area from Baghdad north, and we were not physically on the ground in that area at the present time.

What we had, as Secretary Powell told the United Nations, is a long list of suspect sites. And they were sites that the inspectors had been in the process of looking at when they concluded that the inspection process really wasn't working, because of lack of cooperation on the part of Saddam Hussein's regime. And I said, "We know they're in that area." I should have said, "I believe we're in that area. Our intelligence tells us they're in that area," and that was our best judgment. And we were being pressed to find them while the war was still in its earliest, earliest days. And it seemed to me a somewhat unrealistic expectation.

And needless to say, here we are now, the major conflict ended May 1st. It's now September 10th. And the process is still going on. We've got hundreds and hundreds of people there under the leadership of Mr. David Kay, a former U.N. inspector, and they are proceeding in an orderly way, interviewing and interrogating people.

It was always pretty clear, to me, at least, that we were unlikely to just find something or discover something by going out and looking. It had to be because somebody told us where to look. And so, it's the interrogation process that is what's taking place, and that information is being accumulated, and they will make an interim report at some point, and then a final report at some point, and we'll have the outcome of it. But that is the -- I think the date on that was well before May 1st.

Lytle: But you do believe that they will be found at some point?

Rumsfeld: I do. I think that the U.S. intelligence and the intelligence services of the other countries were never perfect, and it was a closed society, but sufficiently good that we'll find the kind of evidence of programs that Secretary Powell presented to the United Nations.

Lytle: Has Iraq become more of a terrorist threat since the war? And have you had to reassess your military tactics in light of the terrorism threat there?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know what "more" means in this case. Here you had a country that was giving $25,000 to the families of anyone who would go in and innocent men, women and children as the suicide bombers. Not your friendly neighbor.

Is it more of a threat today? I would think not. I would think, with the end of that regime, they certainly are not as much of a threat. The regime's gone. The Iraqi people are liberated and free.

Are there still terrorists in there? You bet. What happened was, as the forces fought north and got close to Baghdad, the Iraqi forces disappeared. They dissipated. They fought coming up from the south towards Baghdad and in Baghdad, but the ones that were from Baghdad north up to Tikrit pretty much disappeared, went into the countryside and went into the communities. And they're still around, these folks. It's too bad we didn't have a chance to capture or kill them, but we didn't, because of their decision to do that.

That means they're still there. They're still a threat. That means a low-intensity conflict is still under way. Major combat activity, of course, is over, but this very low-level terrorism and conflict is continuing. But I don't think anyone could reasonably say the threat's increased. It's clearly decreased.

Lytle: You said about a year ago that there was bulletproof evidence that Saddam -- of links between Saddam Hussein and the September 11th attacks. When will the American public see that sort of evidence?

Rumsfeld: I did not say that.

Lytle: Okay. (Scattered laughter.) September --

Rumsfeld: And whoever said I said it is wrong. (Scattered laughter.) And if they're here and want to show me the citation, I'd be glad to see it.

Lytle: Moving on, your -- (Laughter.) -- your comments recently about President Bush's critics have been seen as chilling debate. Can't dissent and debate be patriotic?

Rumsfeld: Well, I brought along what I said, and I reread it. (Chuckles.) I kind of like it. (Scattered laughter.) Some papers carried it quite accurately and others didn't. Others used part of it.

But the part that tended to get dropped off is that debate is healthy; that we understand that; it is good for this country; that we can manage debates over issues like this, as a free people; we expect it. And I did say that it -- to the extent it's elevated and civil, that's better. I don't know a lot of people who would disagree with that. (Pauses.) I'm trying to think. There were two or three other pieces to it. But, I was asked the question, is it harmful? And I then had a discussion of an issue that is -- was true, accurate, as to Saddam Hussein's words to his troops, and Osama bin Laden's words to his forces.

But I'm a believer in our system. I believe in debate, I believe in the right of everybody to say what they want to say, and it ought not to be inhibited at all. And I don't intend to suggest in any way -- nor did I say anything, in my view, in any way that would suggest that.

Lytle: How do you respond to Congressman Obey's suggestion that you resign? (Laughter.)

Rumsfeld: I guess -- (Chuckles.) -- I guess the short answer is I serve at the pleasure of the president.

Lytle: Can you talk about the -- in light of the $87 billion request, do you have any concerns that you'll have to reduce other DOD programs to help pay for that?

Rumsfeld: The request has not been put forward yet. The outside number has been discussed. The consultation process is currently taking place with the Congress. And I have no idea what the Congress will ultimately decide. But the Congress is Article 1 of the Constitution, and the president's Article 2, and the president proposes and the Congress disposes, as they say.

Lytle: Last year, at a meeting with representatives of several defense think tanks, you said you'd like to discontinue a number of weapon systems, including the V-22 Osprey and the Army Stryker system. These projects are in the new budget. Have you changed your views?

Rumsfeld: That also is false. I didn't say that. I said it about the Stryker, and the Stryker has been ended. The V-22 is not something that I said should be ended, I said it was something that had had a troubled past; it was currently under a very rigorous testing program to see if it's safe. And a number of people have been killed in that aircraft. Since that time, the aircraft has done quite well in its tests. And to the extent it continues to pass through these various test hurdles, my guess is it would go forward, because it is something that the Marines and the Special Operation Forces are quite interested in having, and it's currently in the budget.

Lytle: Given that you've just returned from Afghanistan, can you tell us, is the Taliban regrouping there?

Rumsfeld: (Pause.) Oh, I'm sorry. I misspoke myself. I was thinking of the Crusader when I said that the Stryker is cancelled. It's the Crusader we cancelled. The Stryker is doing fine. The Stryker is in train. We're planning to have some six brigades of Strykers. And -- did this say Stryker? It did. I never -- never in my life have I said we wanted to cancel the V-22 or the Stryker. (Light laughter.)

Where do you get these questions? (Laughter.)

Lytle: (Laughs.)

Rumsfeld: You're really reaching down in the duffel bag here, Tammy. (Laughter.) Whoever sent me this note, thank you.

Lytle: And the Taliban --

Rumsfeld: Ah, the Taliban. Yes. The Taliban have been trying to re-form in various parts, the east and the south of Afghanistan. It's hard to get good, hard intelligence as to the numbers. But the numbers I have heard and seen have been in the neighborhood of somewhere between a hundred and 200, which is fairly large number for Taliban forces, given the current situation.

As they formed, they were found and discovered. And as they were found and discovered, they were attacked. Interestingly, they were attacked by a combination of coalition forces and Afghan national army forces that we had trained and deployed. And they were working in close contact.

The day I was in Afghanistan, two or three days ago, I went to Gardez and I met with a Special Forces group that had just come in from that battle. And they had been -- they were very pleased at the success that the U.S. forces had, but they were particularly pleased with the conduct of the Afghan national army forces, and felt that they counted, that they had been successful with respect to a relatively large number of Taliban that they had captured or killed.

So to the extent they don't re-form, it's very hard to find them. To the extent they do re-form, we have the capability -- come back together, we have the capability in both Afghanistan and in Iraq to deal with them. And, in fact, it's an advantage for the forces, because they can locate them and they can address them in a way that discourages them.

Lytle: Could you clarify the situation regarding military tribunals? Will they happen?

Rumsfeld: I don't know. I think so. If you think about it, we have this problem: A number of these people were unlawful combatants. They were people that were picked up on the battlefield in Afghanistan, and they were brought to Guantanamo Bay. The purpose was not to punish them -- that is to say, take them before a court, try them, send them to jail because they had been bad and were trying to kill Americans and Afghans. The purpose was if they are terrorists, which they were -- they had been trained in other countries and in that country, and they were out there fighting against the coalition, and the purpose, as in most wars, was to get them off the battlefield; to keep them from going back and fighting again and killing people.

It isn't like a car thief, where you arrest them and you do something to him to explain to him that it's not a good idea for him to steal cars, and we prefer he not do that, and therefore, you have to go to jail for a year or two and stop doing that, then we'll let you out and try you again. In this case, if you start letting terrorists out -- our interest is in not trying them and letting them out; our interest is in, during this global war on terror, keeping them off the streets. And so, that's what's taking place.

It's the president's decision as to whether or not he wants to have a military commission actually take an individual and take them before a commission and address them in that process of trying them. He has not done that yet. We have a very distinguished group of lawyers, Republicans and Democrats from past administrations. They've been advising us and assisting us as we go forward on this process. We're prepared to do it in the event the president decides that there's somebody that for some reason he believes is an appropriate candidate for a commission. But thus far, we have the apparatus arranged, ready, and we have a very fine group of advisers as to how to do it in the event it has to be done. But for the moment, we don't have any candidates.

Lytle: When is there -- Congress this week is discussing a proposal to allow military retirees to receive both disability pay and retirement. Do you support that, and where will the money for that come from?

Rumsfeld: (Sighs.) There's a phrase for this.

Lytle: Concurrent receipts.

Rumsfeld: Concurrent receipts, there it is. The administration has been faced with this issue on several occasions. The last time it came up was a year or two ago, and they fashioned a compromise with the Congress. That conceivably could happen again, at the present time. It's an issue that involves so many billions of dollars that it is the -- the OMB and the White House are currently addressing it. It's more of a veterans-type issue.

Lytle: As a Florida reporter, I have to ask you, what is the Department of Defense doing to ensure that all members of the military and their families -- their ballots are counted in the next election? (Laughter.)

Rumsfeld: Well, my predecessor, Bill Cohen, after that last election, properly impaneled a group of people to look at the arrangements for military personnel's ballots. And the analysis went forward. There were a whole series of recommendations made as to how that process could be handled better. Those recommendations have been implemented. And I guess the next thing is to have an election and see how successful we are. I hope -- I hope that people are not disenfranchised -- anybody, whoever they may be.

Lytle: What's your assessment of the embedded reporters program?

Rumsfeld: I think she was terrific! (Laughter, moans.)

I had a dickens of a time talking Torie Clarke into letting me do that. (Laughter.) If you're listening, Torie, I'm just kidding. (Laughter.)

I think it was a roll of the dice. It had never been done before like that. The war in Iraq was not a normal conflict, and it was a risky thing to do. And I think it worked out brilliantly. I think Torie's advice to Dick Myers, Chairman Myers and me, was good advice. We did it. We've got a lot of wonderful people who went out there and did a lot of reporting. What they reported was what they saw. It was a slice of what was going on, it was not the war. It was not the Army, the Navy, the Air Force or the Marines or Special Operators, it was a slice of what they were seeing, and it was an accurate, true picture. And the public, then, has to take all of those slices and bring them together in their minds. And I think that they were probably, undoubtedly, better able to do that because of the presence and the access that these folks had. And I think across the board, they generally did a very, very good job.

There's one other thing that might have happened, I think, and that is this. You know, when I was the age of most of the people in this room --

Audience Member: (Laughs loudly.)

Rumsfeld: Why do you laugh? (Laughter.)

Most people served in the military. Today they don't. And that means that there is -- there are fewer people in Congress, fewer people in the White House, fewer people in the reporting business, fewer people in business who have that experience and understanding of what it's about and how it works. And back in those days, with the draft, so many people came in that almost everybody knew somebody in the service. And that isn't true today. But suddenly we have these hundreds of people who were there, who were working with the men and women in uniform, seeing what they are, seeing how good they are, seeing how real they are, seeing that they're very much the people that live next door. And God bless 'em. And I think all of those reporters who come back cannot help but, the rest of their careers, do a better job for their readers, do a better job for their viewers, because they have an insight that they never would have had otherwise.

I'm going to have to, I think, wind this up.

Lytle: Yes. We have one last question.

I just want to thank you for being here. We have a certificate and a mug.

And our last question is, what's your favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger movie? (Laughter.)

Rumsfeld: I don't do politics. (Laughter.)

Let me make one last comment, and that is to make sure that anyone here or listening understands that the Stryker program has not been cancelled. (Laughter.) I can just picture the mail. (Laughter.) But I misspoke. I apologize. And it was the Crusader. And the Stryker is alive and well in America.

Lytle: Thank you very much.


I'd like to thank you all for coming today.

I'd also like to thank National Press Club staff members Melinda Cooke, Pat Nelson, Jo Anne Booze, Melanie Abdow Dermott and Howard Rothman for organizing today's lunch. And thanks to the NPC library for their research.

And please do stay seated until the secretary leaves.

Thank you, and good afternoon.

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