Donald Rumsfeld on Known And Unknown
HH: Special edition of the Hugh Hewitt Show today, an extended conversation with former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. His new memoir, Known And Unknown, has skyrocketed to the top of the bestselling charts. It’s available at Amazon.com, I’ve linked it at Hughhewitt.com. Mr. Secretary, welcome back, it’s great to have you on today.
DR: Well, thank you so much, Hugh. It’s good to be with you.
HH: It’s a wonderful read. I’ve been through it extensively, and I hope whether people are interested in politics, history or public service, they get a hold of this. I want to start, though, with Joyce Rumsfeld. It’s now occurred to me, after reading all the memoirs of the Bush era that have come out, that there’s a special book that could be written about the spouses of the war cabinet. She has had, really, quite a remarkable support function for you for all these years, and what an extraordinary woman.
DR: Well, thank you. She really is. I think we’ve been married now for something like 56 years, and she’s had a great many experiences, and founded a Chicago foundation on education 25 years ago, and served on the boards of St. John’s College, and been a great advisor and support system and friend. She’s a wonderful woman.
HH: Now I’ve got to, that leads me, though, to one of the memorable anecdotes from Known And Unknown, on Page 348. Your assistant secretary for public affairs at the Pentagon, Torie Clark, turns to you at the end of 9/11, the longest day probably in your many years of public service, and asks have you called Mrs. R? And you said you had not through that long day. And Assistant Secretary Clark had some choice words for you. But you don’t tell the reader what Joyce said to you when you finally did connect with her.
DR: Joyce said that, when I finally got home, you know, after Eleven at night, and told her what Torie had said, and she laughed. And she adored Torie Clark. And she said that it never crossed her mind that I would call her. And she said she knew where I was, she knew what I was doing, she knew I was busy. And I knew where she was. She was at the Defense Intelligence Agency with a number of the Defense attaches from around the world. And I can well understand Torie, as a spouse, finding it quite natural. But as Secretary of Defense, when our country had been attacked, and there were people in our building that were dying and being pulled out of the burning building, it was the last thing in my mind.
HH: It’s very interesting, the memoir does a fine job of leaving the personal and the public in a way that not a lot of memoirs do, so my congratulations on that. I’ve also got to warn you, it’s a little bit of a, I’ve got to work against being a hometowner here, because I was born and raised in Warren, Ohio, where your daughter, Marcy, was born.
DR: Oh, my goodness.
HH: And in fact, I believe Dave Dennison was my uncle’s law partner about a hundred years ago. So I’ve got to go double down on being tough on some of these things, because you are…did you ever live in Warren, Mr. Secretary?
DR: Oh, I did indeed. I managed his 1958 campaign from Warren, Ohio, which he lost by less than one switched vote per precinct. It was heartbreaking.
HH: Well, that’s just the union vote in Trumbull County, I’m afraid. But nevertheless, so let’s start with a pretty tough one. On Page 659, this interview is airing on the 5th anniversary of the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, February 22, 2006. And you called that, “the most strategically significant terrorist attack in Iraq since the liberation, one that unleashed ruthless ethnic cleansing.” You talk a lot about intelligence failures in Known And Unknown, Mr. Secretary. How did you folks not see an attack on the Mosque coming?
DR: Well, you know, there are a million things happening in your life when you’re secretary of Defense, and we received an indication from the general on the ground there, and his assessment early on was that the reaction had not been as bad as one might have expected. And I believe it was General Pace and I were asked by the press, and we repeated what General Casey had told us. It wasn’t a matter of me trying to make a judgment about what the reaction was from 5,000 miles away. It was simply a matter of reporting in response to a question what we’d been told.
HH: Now I was actually getting to the actual failure to protect the Mosque in the first place, and this goes to were there enough troops, which is extensively discussed in Known And Unknown, because it would have seemed to me obvious that Zarqawi and the rest would have wanted to attack a Shia holy place.
DR: Well, that’s interesting. You use the word obvious and not protect. You know, the country’s enormous. It’s bigger than California. There are millions of people that live there. And if you think of the priorities that the military had, the military had a priority of trying to locate all the weapons caches in the country. Saddam Hussein had moved weapons all across the country to be available for people in the event that the country was attacked. There were important sites like the museums and things that were to be protected. There are Shia shrines all over the country, for example, Najaf and elsewhere. In retrospect, when one is attacked, one would say well, why wasn’t it protected. But there isn’t any way to protect at every location at every minute of the day or night against every conceivable type of attack. It’s just not possible.
HH: I was digging into, I’m wondering if America, being such a Western country, is just simply not equipped to understand the Muslim world and the Arab world for these long insurgencies, because we couldn’t anticipate a target like that, whereas after 9/11, we hardened up all of the symbolic targets in my conversations with your colleagues during those years. Do you think we have the ability to actually understand how insurgency will be waged long term and in a Muslim country?
DR: The implication of the question is that it would be waged in a single way. And it seems to me that probably is never going to be the case. The enemy has a brain. They watch what goes on. They adjust to the tactics, techniques and procedures that we put in place. And as they do so, then we have to adjust those tactics, techniques and procedures to adapt to fit the changing nature of the enemy’s approach. And the battlefield is a continually evolving thing. And what happens in one six month period in one area might be notably different from what happens in another six month period in other areas. And I think that’s exactly what took place. The insurgency, well, let’s use that word as a catch-all. Saddam Hussein let 100,000 prisoners loose in his country as he was being thrown out of office. So you had that element. You had a whole lot of Shia conscripts that went home and left, because they didn’t want to be in the Iraqi military in the first place. You ended up with Saddam Hussein calling for jihad, and bringing in terrorists from Iran, and a lot of them through Damascus and Syria, and coming across other borders in the area, people from all across North Africa. You had the Sunni Baathists who wanted to, they created what was called the Party of Return early on, and that was the beginning of the insurgency. I don’t know that you’d call it an insurgency, but it was an attempt by the Baathists and the Saddamists to try to take back the country. And over time, the al Qaeda came, and various other elements became part of what in the aggregate was called the insurgency. There was the Sadr militia, or army, which wasn’t an army. He just had the ability to put maybe 10,000 thugs into the street at his beck and call. So there were all of these mixed elements that came into being as part of what you and I would consider the broader insurgency.
HH: Well, and it’s all detailed in Known And Unknown. What I guess I’m digging at is does an insurgency in the Muslim world present unique challenges to a Western country which has fought Western wars, cold or hot, with generally Western adversaries? Did it confound us in ways that the Pentagon still hasn’t yet absorbed because of different values, different ways of thinking, different touch points of anger?
DR: I think your comment and question is right on the mark. Countries have different cultures, they have different histories, they have different populations, different languages. And there’s no question but that the United States of America organizes, trains and equips its big armies, navies and air forces to compete in conventional conflicts. And what we’re dealing with, since 9/11, is in no way a conventional conflict. The United States of America wouldn’t lose a single air battle or sea battle or land battle if they were battles. But in fact, they’re not. What we’re dealing with is an asymmetric war, a set of challenges that come from, less from nation states than from networks of terrorists that operate in the shadows. And they don’t even expect to win a battle. What they expect to do is outlast the United States. They expect to be able to use the techniques of a terrorist, where they can attack at any time, any place, using any technique, knowing that we can’t defend everywhere at every moment, against every type of technique. And they know that as they do that, the center of gravity of the conflict moves from wherever they are to the United States, because it becomes a process that lasts time. And their expectation and hope is that the American people will not tolerate a long war. If you think about the Cold War, the Cold War wasn’t like World War I or World War II, or even Vietnam or Korea. It was a competition of ideas. It was free systems versus a Communist system. And the Soviet Union was expansionist, and was making mischief on practically every continent on the globe.
HH: Hold that thought, Mr. Secretary. I’ve got to go to a break. I’m coming right back with Donald Rumsfeld.
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HH: Secretary Rumsfeld, when we went to break, you were talking about the Soviets and the Cold War, and how it was very different from the war we’re in now. That kind of leads us to your famous “long, hard slog” memo, which is reproduced in Known And Unknown on Page 668. And I’d like to ask you those questions that you posed in 2003, on October 22nd, as they are right now in 2011, the first one of which, how do we know if we are winning this war on terror?
DR: Well, it’s a fundamental question. And to know the answer to it, one would have to know whether or not on the one hand we are capturing or killing enough terrorists, whether we are persuading existing terrorists to not be terrorists, when you compare it with the number of terrorists that are being recruited by the enemy. And I suppose that winning would have to be defined as gaining ground by capturing, killing or dissuading existing terrorists from engaging in those acts, killing innocent men, women and children, and as opposed to the fact that they are out recruiting. Now how do you do that? Are there metrics where you could do that? No. My view is we have to engage in the competition of ideas. The reason I think this more like the Cold War than World War I or II is because there, it took, what, forty, fifty years. It took successive administration of both political parties to be willing to compete in the competition of ideas between the Soviet command economy and dictatorial political system, versus our freer political and freer economic systems.
HH: Now you posed that question, though, seven and a half years ago. You wrote this memo. And the other questions are is the U.S. government properly organized to prosecute the war? Do we prevent young people from becoming our ideological, murderous enemies? And the metric you talked about. Do you think that we are yet even organized to begin to answer these questions? Because I don’t think we are.
DR: No, I think you’re right. And I think the questions were exceedingly important, and that the government needs to spend more time thinking about them. I don’t see how we can…well, I do see, I think people are, quite honestly, reluctant to identify the enemy. And if you’re not willing to identify the enemy, it seems to me you’re not likely to prevail in a competition of ideas against that enemy.
HH: I think that’s right. You know, right now, this past two weeks of you being out on your book tour, revolution is sweeping the Middle East, and the Muslim Brotherhood, on the day we taped this, had a quarter million people mobilized in Egypt. And no one quite knows what to think about it. What do you think about the Muslim Brotherhood, Secretary Rumsfeld?
DR: I think the comment by the senior intelligence office in the Obama administration, when he said that the Muslim Brotherhood is largely secular, that that’s not correct, that the Muslim Brotherhood has a history. I don’t doubt for a minute that there are people that vary in their views within that category of the Muslim Brotherhood, but I would characterize them as a danger, more of a kind with Hezbollah, and certainly not of a kind with a democratic political party of some sort.
HH: Do you see this revolutionary moment in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere, Bahrain, et cetera, as an outgrowth of the Iraq war, as dominos falling as a result of turning the table over there?
DR: I don’t know. That would be an awful hard thing to answer. There’s no question but that President Bush believed deeply in freedom. And his freedom agenda resonated. The other thing we know is that if you think of the old saying that there’ll be no peace in the world until every man is free, because to every man, he is the world, that there is a natural desire on the part of people to be free, and to have free political systems. And anyone that looks at that part of the world and sees the enormously young population, largely unemployed, ought not to be surprised that they want something better for themselves. The question is, we’ve seen revolutions occur. Take Lebanon, the Cedar revolution, and that was a popular revolution, and it was hopeful for a while, but then today, Hezbollah is ruling that country. And it’s clearly a terrorist organization. So there’s a risk that the best organized, the best disciplined, and the most ruthless, even though the smallest minority, can conceivably end up, in a popular revolution, controlling the country. And that’s a danger. That’s a danger.
HH: Should our government be out there right now messaging about the Muslim Brotherhood, their history, their tactics, and cautions that are necessary? Because they are on the sidelines. There is no message, other than Mr. Clapper’s message that you referred to, which was so awfully erroneous. But we’re not really trying to define this for the world right now. Mistake, Secretary Rumsfeld?
DR: Well, you’ve got two choices. You could have the United States of America attack the Muslim Brotherhood, or you could have the United States government promote and encourage the concepts of free political systems, and free economic systems, and opportunity for human beings. I mean, anyone that looks at this globe knows that the countries where people are doing well are the countries with the freer systems. And the countries where they’re not doing well tend to be the authoritarian systems with command economies. And I think that promoting the positive might be a somewhat more effective, in view of the fact that arguing against something, even something as undesirable as the Muslim Brotherhood, it seems to me could conceivably generate some support for them by people saying that the United States is trying to decide what the Egyptian people, what kind of a government they ought to have, or who ought to participate. And one might be, I really haven’t thought this through carefully, and I think there’s two ways we do communicate. One is publicly, and that’s one thing. But private diplomacy, I think, is what’s really important in a situation as sensitive as what’s going on in Egypt. And clearly, we ought to be, privately at least, very energetically opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood.
HH: What is your sense of how this is going? You were out of office when the Shah fell. And one of my questions later in my outline is to ask you if Gerald Ford had been reelected, and Dick Cheney had been the chief of staff, and if you had been the secretary of defense, would you have worked harder in, you know, perfect hindsight, 20/20, to keep the Shah on his throne?
DR: I think there’s always a danger where the United States is seen as being the thing that causes governments to topple. And when we have friends that are supportive, there’s a natural tendency to be, to realize the advantage that accrues to us by virtue of the fact that they contribute to stability, from our perspective. What we also have to do, however, is recognize that real stability is going to come from freer political systems and freer economic systems, and we have to encourage other countries to move in that direction. Do it generally, privately, through private diplomacy, sometimes publicly supporting things. I mean, take Iran today. I think clearly, our role should be to encourage the Iranian people to seek a freer political system and a freer economic system, and to rid themselves of the repressive regime of the ayatollahs.
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HH: I have just gone backwards to the late 1970s when the Shah of Iran was toppled. Just prior to that time, I assume, Mr. Secretary, that when you were serving President Ford, that you considered the Shah a stalwart ally. When you were back in Chicago in the private sector watching the Iranian revolution in 1979, were you saying to yourself this is a massive strategic mistake? Or were you caught as unaware as Jimmy Carter of what came next?
DR: I don’t know that I can really answer that question. I think that, and I can’t take myself back and recall my experience at the time. I was heavily engaged in business. I was clearly concerned when it looked like a radically extreme group looked like they might take over that important country, a large country, a country that had been on very friendly relations with the United States. I’m still hopeful today that Iran will find its way to some sort of a popular revolution, and put in place a government that will behave in a way that they will not be excluded from the world community.
HH: Is there any action that was a possibility, obviously you wrote Known And Unknown within the constraints of classified information, but vis-à-vis Iran, is there anything you didn’t do or urge that you wish you had done or urged, up to and including an attack on their nuclear facilities when you were the secretary of defense?
DR: Well, you know, those are decisions that are difficult. The President is the one that makes those decisions. The intelligence information has evolved, and I think that the concern was trying to figure out at what point people thought the Iranians would end up with nuclear weapons and long range ballistic missiles, and capable of threatening the United States and our interests. I think that almost every year, that judgment has been extended out a year or two, which has eased the pressure to make the kinds of decisions you’re talking about. And certainly during the time I was there, now four years ago, there was not a lot of pressure. The pressure was to move diplomatically, not militarily, and the Bush administration during that period was, on some occasions, trying to generate support from other free nations in the world to put pressure on Iran and the Iranian government to behave in a manner, and discontinue their nuclear program. It was with minimal success. And the administration, you know, would blow hot and cold as to how they wanted to handle it. Sometimes, they would avoid negotiations. Other times, they would have Americans actually talking at various venues with the Iranians. But the net of it is that we’ve arrived today, and not having been successful even in a modest way, in changing the determination of the Iranian government to have nuclear weapons.
HH: Now extensively described in Known And Unknown, Chapters 30-31, Out Of The Box and Regime Change, are all the reasons that were given for going to war with Iraq, which you did to as opposed to not going to war with Iran. And among them, and this is really the central intellectual issue in the book, is why does the United States go to war and when. And you detail all of these different things, and you say, though, that bringing democracy to Iraq had not been among the primary rationales. Eight years ago, Nick Lemann in the New Yorker, before you guys went to war and launched it, wrote, “Yet another argument for war which has emerged during the last few months is that removing Saddam could bring about a wholesale change for the better in the political, cultural and economic climate of the Arab Middle East.” And Lemann assigns that to Wolfowitz, your deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense. How much was this democracy movement on President Bush’s mind before the war began, Secretary Rumsfeld? And how much of that is a make good when the WMD weren’t found?
DR: That’s hard to answer. I don’t recall the idea of bringing democracy to Iraq as being part of the discussions in the National Security Council during the period with a build up towards the conflict with Iraq. It is, as you suggest, that, those words tended to become more prominent after the war had, major combat operations had been completed, and the subject of WMD had not been found in the kinds of supplies that had been anticipated, although there were certainly people capable of that. And the Duelfer report shows that Saddam Hussein indeed had maintained his capability to rapidly increase his weapons of mass destruction.
HH: So you don’t recall deputy secretary Wolfowitz making that argument?
DR: I don’t, and I don’t recall the President doing it, or Secretary Powell.
HH: I’ll be right back. The conversation continues with Donald Rumsfeld about his memoir, Known And Unknown. Lots more to cover.
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HH: Mr. Secretary, as you know, you’re one of the more controversial figures in America today, and I hope people are engaging you on the right level on this. I want to bring up something you wrote on Page 682-683 about Afghanistan. You wrote in Known And Unknown, “we were not there in Afghanistan to eradicate corruption, or to end poppy cultivation. We were not there to take ownership of Afghanistan’s problems, tempting though it was for Americans of goodwill. If, as some have contended, we never had a plan for full-fledged nation building, or that we under-resourced such a plan, they were certainly correct. We did not go there to bring prosperity to every corner of Afghanistan. Our more modest goal was to rid Afghanistan of al Qaeda, and replace their Taliban hosts with a government that would not harbor terrorists.” That will come as a shock to a lot of people, Mr. Secretary, don’t you think?
DR: Oh, I don’t know. I suppose in retrospect, some people might be surprised, but if anyone goes to my website, www.rumsfeld.com, what I’ve done is I’ve put in hundreds of documents, and thousands of pages of materials, that track the evolution of the thinking. And in fact, the reason we went to Afghanistan was precisely because of the goal of driving the al Qaeda out, capturing or killing as many as we could, and removing the Taliban regime, a repressive regime, and giving the Afghan people a chance to fashion a future for themselves. But we certainly never discussed in any meetings the idea that we were going to fashion a modern country out of a country that had suffered ten or twelve years of Soviet occupation, drought, civil war, year after year after year, and this terribly repressively regime of the Taliban, which controlled mind, body and thought of the Afghan people.
HH: Now here’s the key question, though. Can you achieve security for the United States without rebuilding a functioning state there, without nation building? Because if you don’t, the Taliban will just come back. They’re like weeds. If you don’t build up a new country, they will never go away, and they will hit us again. So don’t we have to do nation building?
DR: Well, there’s, I suppose, a couple of thoughts there. Number one, you’re probably right, that you might have to do it again if you left and the Taliban came back, and they were hosts to al Qaeda, and al Qaeda, we learned that al Qaeda was again planning additional attacks there. It’s not clear to me that that would be the case, but it’s possible. Then the other side of the question is, I think there’s at least a fair question, as to whether or not the United States is capable of nation building. Do we have the patience? Do we have the knowledge? Do we have the language skills? Do we have the ability to build a nation for people of, that are totally different, totally different in their backgrounds, their history, their culture? It seems to me that they have to build their own nation. They have to fashion something that fits them, fits their culture, fits their circumstance, fits their neighborhood, to be inclusive.
HH: Well, that’s the argument you make about Iraq throughout that big debate that went on with the State Department, which I’ll come back to. But I go back to the Taliban as being uniquely, since they are so pre-modern, do you have any hope that they would ever be other than almost organically opposed to the United States, so that they could do anything other than try to hurt us?
DR: Well, the Taliban was hospitable to al Qaeda, and it was al Qaeda that tried to hurt us, not the Taliban. Now the Taliban was a vicious regime. But it was so bad, that only three nations in the world had diplomatic relations with Afghanistan under the Taliban rule. Are there regimes today in the world that are terrible? Yes. The issue isn’t are there terrible regimes in the world. The issue is are there terrible regimes in the world that are planning, or organizing, or facilitating, or participating in threats to the United States of America.
HH: Actually, it’s a little bit, the question would be are there regimes like the Taliban and others which are, by their very nature, because of their ideology, certain to nest al Qaeda within them, certain to see jihadism come out of them, therefore we can never allow them to nest again.
DR: I think that one hospitable place for al Qaeda, of course, is in ungoverned areas, portions of nations that the nations don’t govern, which is one of the complicating things that the United States faces today. How do you fight a war against people who are in a country you’re not at war with? I mean, think of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. These tribes rule there. Afghanistan doesn’t control it, and Pakistan doesn’t control it. And they cross over those borders at will. They make their own rules.
HH: Now given all that, what’s happened over the last nearly ten years, are you satisfied with Karzai? Or do the allegations about his corruption, his mercurial nature, his various health issues, do they make you think that he’s got to go?
DR: Well, I’m glad you asked me, and I talk about this in the book to some extent. Karzai was selected by the Afghan people. The Afghan people fashioned a constitution. They then elected Karzai. Karzai is in charge of that country. He is there. He who would tear down what is has the obligation of recommending something better. And I haven’t seen anything better. And I must say, I’ve been terribly disappointed at the Obama administration. They’ve had three or four different people. Holbrooke and General Jones, and others, have publicly criticized Karzai. Eikenberry has. Biden has. Now what happens when you do that? Well, you weaken him. Is our goal to have a weakened leader of Afghanistan, a country we’re trying to help create a future for itself? I think not. I mean, we saw that in the Kennedy administration in Vietnam. They criticized the leadership, ultimately changed the leadership, and what came afterwards was not impressive. Take Pakistan. The Bush administration criticized Musharraf because he went to work in his uniform, the implication being that they should be more like us. Our presidents go in civilian clothes. What happened? Musharraf gets heaved out of office, and is replaced by a government that is corrupt, in my view, that is not as strong or as cooperative, necessarily, as Musharraf was. So I personally do not believe [Karzai] is corrupt. I think he is an Afghan, and he’s trying to find his way.
HH: You mean Karzai. We’ll be right back with Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, author of Known And Unknown.
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HH: Mr. Secretary, in hour number two, I want to switch from the wars that we spent most of Hour Number one talking about to talking about your colleagues, present and past, and how you work with them. I want to start with President Bush. Your affection for him, and admiration for him, is palpable. The touching conversation he had with you about your son conveys a great deal in a small space on Page 427. But you also, while you don’t say it explicitly, there’s a concern here that he did not act decisively that bubbles up when it came to intractable problems such as the dysfunction between State and the Department of Defense and the National Security Council. Is that part of his personality that he was just too nice?
DR: No, I think not. I found on any number of occasions when an issue was surfaced to him, that he would listen to the arguments on all sides, and be perfectly comfortable making a decision. In the book, I talk about when the Chinese brought down our EP-3 patrol aircraft, and there were difference of views in the National Security Council, he listened to the different views and made his decision. And I think that the public impression of him is not a good one, not a correct one. He is clearly a thoughtful person, he was knowledgeable, we had developed good relationships with foreign leaders. And I found him to be generally decisive. Now you know, it may very well be that the way things were going were exactly the way he wanted them to go. And it just might have been that I had a different view. And that’s fair enough. He’s the president. I personally felt that I would have liked to have seen the Coalition Provision Authority move more rapidly to put an Iraqi face on the government, and give Iraqis more responsibility. And in my view, reduce the ability of the insurgents to claim that they were opposed to the United States, and force them to be opposing the elected Iraqi government, which is not as attractive a position for them.
HH: But it’s clear that President Bush, and I’m a great admirer of his, hung by his people a long time. You write in Known And Unknown, one of the more underreported, interesting aspects, that you regret deeply not resigning after the first time you’d tendered after Abu Ghraib. The President just wouldn’t let you do it. And in retrospect, you said you ought to have done it. And I thought right then of FEMA director Brown, I thought of Harriet Miers. The President hung by his people. Did he do that routinely too long?
DR: Oh, I think that would be a generalization. He made changes. He made a lot of changes. You know, by the time I left, there was only one other person in the cabinet who was there at the beginning. I don’t think he was unwilling to make changes. I tried to resign twice, and I believed that the Department of Defense, the military and the country would be better off if the world saw that there was accountability. What happened at Abu Ghraib was terrible. It was perverted. It was deviant. It was sadistic. And it shouldn’t have happened. And it happened to people who were in our charge. The big mistake has been that people said well, that’s part of the interrogation process. The fact is not one of those people being abused was a target for interrogation. None of them were being interrogated. And none of the people doing the abuse were doing it as interrogators. They were prison guards. So it was an enormous amount of misinformation. And frankly, a lot of members of the United States Senate, not a lot, but some big, important ones, contributed to the damage that was done.
HH: I’m going to come back to that. I want to stick for just a second, though, on the President’s style of leadership, because I think Known And Unknown’s going to be read in political science courses for a long time because of the portrait that emerges of the DOD, the Department of State, NSC triangle. If you had that kind of a three-way competition, really dysfunctional competition underway within the Pentagon, would you, Donald Rumsfeld, have allowed such a rivalry to fester within the Pentagon?
DR: Well first, I would not characterize it as dysfunctional. Second, I would say it was not unusual. I mean, go back to Brzezinski in the Carter administration and his difficulties with Secretary of State Vance. Look at George Schultz…
HH: Or Kissinger and Rogers, like you describe.
DR: Pardon me?
HH: Kissinger and Rogers, as you describe in Known And Unknown.
DR: Or Weinberger and Schultz. Part of it’s institutional. Part of it is that you’ve got capable people, dedicated people, and they represent big institutions that are overseen by different committees of the Congress. And they bring their differing views in, and it’s not unhealthy that there are different views. It’s healthy, as long as they’re debated, considered, and a decision’s made.
HH: Okay, I’m going to come back to that with Secretary of State Rice in a moment. But before I do that, I want to talk to you about Richard Armitage, because of all the unflattering portraits, and this one is a thousand cuts, Richard Armitage comes off as being, well, an intriguer, and not particularly forthright, and the guy who took out Scooter Libby, and for want of candor with the President and the media. What is your assessment of Richard Armitage looking back, Donald Rumsfeld?
DR: Well, you know, I don’t know the man very well. He was not dealing with me, particularly, very often. It became clear from reading the press that he and others, of people under Colin Powell, were involved in leaking things to the press in a manner that I felt was unhelpful to the President, unhelpful to the administration. I think it’s better to debate those things inside, rather than outside.
HH: Did you ever confront him personally about it? I know you went to Secretary Powell.
DR: Oh, that wouldn’t be right. I mean, he worked for Colin, and I talked to Colin about him, and told him I was concerned about it. And I talked to the President and Andy Card about it. But as I’ve written in the book, it’s not for me to manage people who are second and third levels in other departments.
HH: All right, let’s turn to a couple of those Senators. Carl Levin came over to the Pentagon on 9/11 as you detail. But as you also recount, and it’s a footnote on Page 552, despite twelve nonpartisan, independent reviews of DOD detainee policies, not one of which found that abuse had been encouraged or condoned by the DOD, Levin nevertheless authored a report that claimed “aggressive techniques” were authorized against detainees. Why, what was his motive? What makes Carl Levin tick? It’s hard for me to understand.
DR: I don’t know.
HH: (laughing) It’s a great answer. Do you have any suspicions?
DR: Well, no, it’s not for me. I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist. It’s not for me to go into people’s minds and try to figure out whey they do what they do.
HH: Dick Durbin slandered the military. You take time on Page 551 to talk about this, the comparison of the guards at Gitmo to Pol Pot’s guards and Nazis. And you wrote on Page 571, “Coming from a senior Congressional leader, speaking on the Senate floor, it was particularly damaging and inexcusable.” Did that receive, Secretary Rumsfeld, the sort of scrutiny it ought to have?
HH: Did he get a pass?
DR: He did get a pass, and it’s disgraceful. Guantanamo Bay is a exceedingly well run prison. 150 members of the House and Senate went down and looked at it, and came away convinced that detainees gained an average of 20 pounds. They’ve got health care equal to what our troops get. The International Committee of the Red Cross was there regularly. And yet is has a stain on its name, damaging the wonderful young men and women who served as guards down there. They were keeping off the street some very bad people. And they did it well. They did it professionally. And I would stack that prison up against prisons anywhere in the world. And yet today, if someone says oh, my goodness, Guantanamo, what a horrible place, well if it’s so horrible, why is it still there two years after the President of the United States, Obama, said he was going to abolish it? And the reason it’s there is because it’s very well run, there’s not a better alternative, no one wants the United States to be a jailor for the world. And we did a terrible job defending it, and allowed these Senators and the media, and the opponents to leave people with the impression that it’s a bad place. And it’s not.
HH: That is one of the compelling parts of Known And Unknown, your talk about the 80,000 different detainees who passed through the Pentagon’s hands when you were secretary of defense. Before the break, though, the Supreme Court is a lot in Known And Unknown. Do you think that narrow majority on the Supreme Court has any idea of the seriousness about what they are doing when they hand these decisions down, Secretary Rumsfeld?
DR: Oh, my goodness, I dropped out of law school after a year and a half. It’s not for me to judge the Supreme Court. There’s no question but that the precedents that existed in the United States of America, and from the Supreme Court and appellate courts on September 11th, 2001, have been considerably altered in the years since. Why a court does that, how it does it, what causes those things to happen, certainly, to some extent, the world changes. But the military commissions, for example, were rooted directly in prior presidents’ actions. Guantanamo Bay had been used by Democrat and Republican presidents for detaining refugees and illegal immigrations previously. And suddenly, all the rules were changed.
HH: And the consequences, I’ll say it for you, I did finish law school, I don’t think they know what they’re doing. But I’ll be right back with the secretary of defense during the war years, Donald Rumsfeld.
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HH: Secretary Rumsfeld, I want to talk to you about the media now. And on Page 465, let’s start by saying you express admiration for the New York Times’ John Burns and Dexter Filkins. You cite their “compelling coverage” from the field with stories that hewed closely to the facts. But generally, I think it’s pretty safe to say, that you will be disappointed if your grandchildren turn out to be journalists.
DR: Oh, not at all. I think it’s an enormously important profession. And I think one has to understand and feel how important a free press is, and that it’s critically important that we have people go into that profession who have integrity, who are interested in what the truth is and what the facts are. Now the problem is, there’s a great pressure, for whatever reason, for speed as opposed to accuracy. There’s a great pressure, as they say in the trade, if it bleeds, it leads. The more dramatic, the more, oh, bloody or gripping a story is, the greater likelihood it’ll be on the front page, and the greater likelihood the paper or the television program will sell and get more advertising. And there’s just that dynamic. We have to realize it. A lie can go trip around the world three times while the truth is still putting its boots on.
HH: Well, let me give a couple of examples here of your treatment, why I came to the conclusion of your sort of dark view of the media. The Newsweek Koran story, on Page 570, Seventeen people died in Afghanistan after unrest followed this false story. Newsweek extended its sympathies to those who were caught up in the violence. But you write, “A number of those to whom Newsweek extended its sympathies were already dead.” You wrote with responsibility comes accountability in here. Is Newsweek responsible for those deaths, Mr. Secretary?
DR: Well, I would certainly think so. An inaccurate story that causes people to die is unfortunate. I’m sure they feel it’s unfortunate. And I thought their expression of concern, which was something to the effect that if some portion of our story wasn’t accurate, we’re sorry. And of course, the people were dead. But the fact is, it never happened. The story was about supposedly in Guantanamo Bay, a Koran being flushed down a toilet. It did not happen. And they carried the story that it did, and people died.
HH: On Page 551 of Known And Unknown, you tell the story of the March, 2006 profile in the New York Times of Ali Shalal Qaissi, who claimed to be a victim of Abu Ghraib bus wasn’t. And you write, “The newspaper, among other media outlets, accepted the story without skepticism. It was later exposed as a lie.” How much of the coverage that you read, of what you did and the Pentagon did, and how the war was conducted, was simply outright wrong as a percentage, Mr. Secretary?
DR: Oh, I’d have no way. I was so busy doing my job. But there’s no question a good deal of what is printed in the press and carried on television is not accurate, and over time, it kind of gets sorted out. But one of the most important ones I put in there was the story of Jack Anderson, early in the book, early in my career in the executive branch at the Office of Economic Opportunity.
DR: …claiming we were taking money out of the mouths of the poor, and building a bathroom and a bedroom and all of this nonsense. It never happened, and he never retracted it. And the Washington Post didn’t retract it.
HH: He told you he would lose columns, right? He said he would lose, newspapers wouldn’t carry his column if he had to do that.
DR: Exactly. He’d lose part of his syndicate.
HH: Yeah. You also talk about the looting of the Bagdad museum, and especially the mythology around General Shinseki. And I view both of those as ideologically driven stories, Mr. Secretary. Do you think that was just trying to sell newspapers? Or was that trying to sell an agenda?
DR: OH, I think probably both. Although the museum thing, I don’t know in that case. The…someone in the museum apparently used that number of whatever it was, 170,000 items from the museum, and later contended that he didn’t say they’d been stolen or broken. He said that that’s the total number that the museum had. But as I describe in the book, we had someone go look, and before the war ever started, they looked in the front of the building, and looked around, and the places were empty. Any curator of a museum, when a war is coming, knows enough to move stuff down into the basement and protect it. And that’s what had happened. And the stories of, terrible, terrible stories about how we didn’t care, and the military didn’t care, that the insurgents were using the museum as a place to fight from. And our people did not go after them, because they didn’t want to destroy the museum, and they didn’t want to destroy the important antiquities that were in the museum. And of course, then the press could have said, well, they were just standing there not doing anything about it, and they must not have cared. General Franks had the museum, I think, as number two or three on his list of places to be protected. And the only way they could have protected it would engage in a firefight with the insurgents that were in there. And we discussed this at great length, and it’s an instructive story, I think. People should read it and think about it, and then when they read things in the press, or see things on television, they’ll have a better receptacles, hearing aids, to evaluate.
HH: But do you think that the Pentagon especially has begun to figure out the importance of communication strategy? I mean, you tried the Iraq paper thing, you detail how they immediately got blasted. You talk about the pictures of the Gitmo prisoners being flashed around the world as another example of how little was understood about the war in the information age, the perception that the U.S. had lost in Iraq, all these different fiascos. Does the Pentagon think about this? You just said, Mr. Secretary, it wasn’t part of your job. But it seems to me that the communication of the aims of the war, and factual information, would be the number one job of the administration.
DR: Well, certainly not the number one job of the Department of Defense. Their job is to defend and deter, and protect the American people. And our folks do a terrific job. I think that if one adds a historical perspective to your question, that maybe the answer becomes clearer. What we were fighting was the first war of the 21st Century. If you go back to World War II, you’d learn about World War II in a fifteen minute preview from Pathe’ News before a movie in a theater. We didn’t have television sets. You’d learn something off the radio that was all fed by the Armed Forces to the news media. Then in Vietnam, for the first time, there was some television. But in the year 2000, in the information age, think what we have. We’ve got Twitter and Facebook and emails and 24 hour news cycles. And the government of the United States, to be sure, as you suggest, is not organized or trained or equipped to run a 24 hour media program that’s highly skilled. The government just isn’t highly skilled to do that. Nor, I should add, are the American people. I mean, we all have inner gyroscopes. But when there’s something new, it can get thrown off a little bit. And suddenly, in the information age, we were viewing a war from photographs coming right out of the war zone from people, constant phone calls back and forth through satellites, emails, interaction of all types. And we embedded people with our troops. We embedded many, many, many journalists, gave them a chance to be right there and see what was happening.
HH: I’ll be right back to continue this conversation. This is very important, because of course, the war is ongoing and very few people have had to deal with the communications strategy of the war like Donald Rumsfeld has.
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HH: I’m back talking about communications strategy, Mr. Secretary. In the last segment, and I’m not going to direct quote you because I’ve got to do it from memory. You said, in response to my question whether nor not communications was job number one of the administration, you said it’s certainly not job number one of the Pentagon. That’s the defense of the American people. But isn’t the messaging now part of the defense, because we’re up against this virulent, constantly evolving, very intelligent enemy that is using every means of communication to go around, above, under us to radicalize, inspire and deploy armies of jihadists. And it seems like the Pentagon especially is still in the early 20th Century of communications strategy.
DR: You’re exactly right. It is an enormously important thing when you’re in a competition of ideas against the enemy that’s facing us. As it happens, the phrase public diplomacy is generally used as the phrase meaning how do you communicate with the world, how do you make the case for America. And that’s the responsibility of the Department of State and the White House. The major directional messaging that occurs from our government in any administration, I believe one would say, is essentially there, not in the Department of Defense. And you made a very important point. In the book, we talk about one or two times the Pentagon tried to do something so that the truth could get out, and was roundly criticized for it. So the society is not quite, we’ve not quite figured out how we do this. And I remember back when I was in Congress in the Kennedy administration. A film was made on India that was very congratulatory of the Kennedy family, and Mrs. Kennedy and the President. It was made by USIA to be played in the world. Well of course, the world is such that if you play something in the world, it includes the United States. And the feeling was that it was taking taxpayers’ money to propagandize the American people. Even though the film was made for foreign audiences, it couldn’t be seen by foreign audiences and not be seen also by the American people. So there was a good deal of criticism in the Congress. And I don’t know, we as a society don’t know quite how to do this yet. How do we make our case? How do we discuss our values? How do we help the world understand why people are lined up all across the globe trying to come here, because this is such an amazing country, a country of such wonderful opportunity, and the advantages that would accrue to other countries, and why killing innocent men, women and children, and being trained to do that in these radical madrassas in the world, is a bad thing. It’s a bad thing certainly for us, but it’s also a bad thing for the people, because that is, they ought to be trained how to get a job, and how to contribute in the world, and how to create opportunities and make products.
HH: That’s so interesting, it’s also so frustrating, because during the war years that you were there, we would reach out, I think we had you on this program once, and we got the Vice President, who actually was more accessible than anybody else. But generally, the big guns in the administration, you and the President and Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, would not do extended interviews for fear of, I think, influencing the war message. But when people want to sell things like books, they go on radio and television. They show up on Oprah. They talk to Rush at great length. I just don’t think it was prioritized by the war cabinet to communicate with the American people on the war one on one, other than the old way, which was, you know, the press briefing, which you used to be the master of. They called you the Jedi. Or you know, go on Meet the Press once every six months to talk to Tim Russert for a half an hour. But I don’t think you guys worked hard at selling this. It’s my biggest criticism of the war years, is that the President on down, you guys were old school when it came to communications.
DR: I think someone asked me one time in a press conference what kind of a grade I gave the administration for public diplomacy and communications, and competing in the battle of ideas, and I think I gave us a D minus.
HH: Oh, grading on the curve, I guess.
HH: Let me ask you, though, one quick question before the break, you would never release the count of the terrorists killed. I actually, with some other talk show hosts, discussed this with senior administration officials at length. Why was that, Mr. Secretary?
DR: I had been in Congress during the Vietnam war when the Department of Defense and the White House, in the Johnson administration, actually discussed body counts, how many people were killed in a given period. And I watched it, and concluded that it was not helpful.
HH: Hold that thought. We’ve got to go to a quick break, and I want people to hear this, because this was an ongoing debate during that period of time. I’ll be right back with Secretary Rumsfeld.
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HH: Mr. Secretary, when we went to break, you were explaining why the administration was reluctant to publicize the number of terrorists killed in the war in Iraq or Afghanistan.
DR: I wouldn’t blame the administration. I’d blame me, if there’s blame to be assigned, because it was my decision. And I just concluded that you know, it’s terribly important what measurements someone sets out as being important, and the ones that will in fact win the war, or succeed. And I concluded that putting out body counts was not such a metric, that it would not help us succeed, that what we really needed to do was win hearts and minds. What we really needed to do was to persuade people they shouldn’t be out as terrorists, or being trained as terrorists, or financing terrorists, or being hospitable to terrorists as the Taliban were. We needed to persuade people that. Now is it possible to kill enough people? Well, what’s enough? It depends on how many they’re training, how many they’re financing. And simply giving body counts, I didn’t think, would be helpful. Furthermore, I was, had been around enough to know that it would have been widely disputed. Someone would have said oh, that’s not the right number. And then you’d just end up chasing your tail with a discussion that wasn’t useful in the first place.
HH: Yeah, that policy eventually changed. Did it change after you had left?
DR: Not to my knowledge.
HH: Oh, I thought they started to do that. Let me ask about publicizing the internal debates. Marin Strmecki, he’s an old friend of mine, you sent him off to Afghanistan to do a report that came back and was truly revolutionary. I had never heard of this report until I read Known And Unknown.
DR: Marin is a very thoughtful person, and he’s very knowledgeable on Afghanistan. And I brought him into the government, and I got concerned about Afghanistan, oh, goodness, I think, in ’04 or ’05. And I asked Marin to go back and take a look, and tell me what he thought. I was, we had military people, we had diplomatic people, we had CIA people. But I wasn’t getting the kind of information that I thought I needed, and I wasn’t getting any recommendations that I felt would be useful. And Marin went in, came back out, gave me a report, and it included a series of recommendations which I then had him brief other members of the National Security Council. And then we began to implement his recommendations. And they were helpful.
HH: And they were. It’s fascinating. But I can’t believe that the public didn’t know about this. And I follow this pretty closely. Is that policy not to release the fact that DOD is doing these kind of outside of the box studies?
DR: Oh, my goodness, we did so many studies and had so many…I mean, I sent Petraeus, after he worked on training and equip in the Iraqi forces, and did a very good job there, I sent him into Afghanistan just to take a look at how we were doing on training and equipping the Afghans. And I never publicized that. I had people, Ed Giambastiani at the Joint Forces Command doing lessons learned every year as to what we were doing, and what we were doing right, what we were doing wrong. We did that all the time. That’s just what you have to do.
HH: But you wouldn’t leak it.
DR: No, I’m not a leaker. I’m old-fashioned.
HH: Yeah, but the old-fashioned…the rules change, Mr. Secretary. You know, you got slaughtered on this game.
DR: That’s right. And the narrative’s out there, and that’s why I spent four years working on my book, digitizing this amazing archive I’ve got, and creating the website, www.rumsfeld.com, where I put up hundreds of documents, primary source documents. And the book is rooted in fact. The book is rooted in the documentation, and it’s there. And I don’t know who else has done this with a book. The books we’ve read that created the narrative that exists were written by people who weren’t involved, and they took second, third, fourth hand information.
HH: Doug Feith’s book is very close to this, sort of a precursor. The President’s book is pretty good. George Tenet’s is awful, but I don’t care about the other people who weren’t in there. But you’re right, but you know, I think you said earlier, the lie’s halfway around the world when truth gets the boots on? Well, four years later, the lie’s been at sea for four years going around and around and around and around. Do you hope to reverse those narratives?
DR: I think what’ll happen, and what I hope will happen, is serious people, historians, and people interested in history, will sit down and read this book, and that schools, undergraduate and graduate schools, will use this as a text. I think people will find it interesting, I hope, and that with a little time walking over it, people will, anyone who goes to the website, and looks at the documentation, I think will have to agree the way I’ve characterized things.
HH: It’s very persuasive. A lot of this stuff is very persuasive. But there’s an almost mafia of opinion that is going to look at this and, I don’t know, history is a long time. Let me ask you about lawyers. I am myself a lawyer, and so I found this, and I greatly respected your general counsel and a lot of the team that you had there. But on Page 557, you wrote one of the most extraordinary things. I had no idea. “One of the most notable changes,” you wrote, “I had observed from my service in the Pentagon in the 1970s was the prevalence of lawyers when you returned, in almost every office, and in nearly every meeting. By the time I returned as secretary in 2001, there were a breathtaking 10,000 lawyers, military and civilian, involved at nearly every level of the chain of command across the globe. That the DOD could function at all with 10,000 lawyers parsing its every move is astounding.” It’s actually frightful that there are this many lawyers.
DR: (laughing) Isn’t that amazing? Do you remember the book Gulliver’s Travels?
HH: Oh, yeah, Lilliputians.
DR: Exactly. And you remember the threads that they put over Gulliver?
DR: No one of those threads held Gulliver down. But thousands of those little threads and he couldn’t move.
HH: So what does the Pentagon do about it? You know that you were overlawyered. And in fact, later you write about lawfare, very important subject, I’ve talked about it with our friend, Frank Gaffney, a few times. What…do you have a strategic suggestion what to do about that?
DR: Well, I don’t have a suggestion. I took action. I remember one time when they came in to brief me on rules of engagement. And the lawyer sat to my right, and started the briefing. And I said oh, no. No, no. Rules of engagement for the troops out there are operational matters, and I want an operational person to brief me. I don’t mind having the lawyer in the room, and I don’t mind having the lawyer having reviewed them. But having the lawyer brief me on rules of engagement gets this thing all backwards. And I moved the person on my right, the lawyer, put the person at the end of the table, and got the operations person in to brief me. And that’s what you have to do. You have to say look, legal advice, it’s fine, we need it, it’s helpful, there are rules that we have to obey. But by golly, the people making the judgments have to be the people who have the responsibility for the management of the war.
HH: I’ll be right back with Donald Rumsfeld.
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HH: And believe me, although we have three segments left, and I’ve spent two hours with the secretary, we will have barely scratched Known And Unknown, or the archive, or his long career. I’m going to be interviewing him in early March at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, and I’m going to spend more time on his early career and President Nixon and Ford there. But maybe we’ll find a way to make that audio available. Mr. Secretary, a couple of quick questions about transformation at the Pentagon. You wrote a lot about it. And you wrote as well that the B-1 and the M-1 were controversies that headlined your first tenure at DOD. The second tenure was the Crusader and the F-35. Is procurement, is it possible to fix it so it’s even slightly rational?
DR: Oh, my goodness. You know, that’s an important question. As secretary, I pretty much stayed out of procurement to the extend I could, and the deputy dealt with it. There are so many rules and regulations and requirements, and people, they take so long to produce a weapon system, that you end up having three, four, five different people manage the process over the life of the weapon system. And that’s a formula for trouble. I started to say that the Defense Authorization bill, and I’m going to be wrong with the numbers to some extent, but the Defense Authorization bill passed by Congress in the 1970s when I was secretary were about 16 pages in legislative language. By the time I came back in the year 2001, it was over 500 pages. Now what does that mean? That means that the Congress started imposing all kinds of micro-requirements. Imagine to go from 15 or 20 pages up to four or five hundred pages.
DR: …of requirements and stipulations and rules. That’s why you need the lawyers. And a lot of that involved procurement and various other things.
HH: Do you agree with the decision to have canceled the F-22?
DR: I was not there. I’m not going to try to even second guess. And it’s not clear to me that that’s the characterization.
HH: Okay. What about the current navy that we have. I think it’s about 283 ships.
DR: How many did you say?
HH: How do we get that few, and is that remotely adequate to the task that the United States faces?
DR: No, I think what happened was that during the Vietnam war, you know, if you want to have a navy of 300 or 400 or 500 ships, in the last 20 years, you’ve got to build 1/20th every year. And if you don’t, you can get by with it. And during the Vietnam war, Lyndon Johnson went down to a very small number of ships being built every year, so you end up in a hole. And there’s no question but that the People’s Republic of China is developing a blue water navy. We know that. We can see that. The seas of the world are enormously important to our country, and we’re going to have to have a highly capable blue water navy as a seafaring nation bordered by two oceans. And it seems to me that that’s just something we’re going to have to do. And we can afford to do it. When I went to Congress back in the 60’s, I think the Defense budget as a percentage of our GDP, our gross domestic product, was something in the neighborhood of 9 or 10%. And today, it’s down around 4 or 5%. So it’s not like we can’t afford to invest in defending our country, and deterring others from engaging in provocative acts.
HH: One of your famous sayings is you go to war with the army you have. Good section on that in Known And Unknown. What sort of army do you think we’re going to have given what we’re doing now, in 15 years, Mr. Secretary?
DR: Well, I am just heartbroken about the debt and the deficit, and the way the administration is spending money. I think it’s dangerous for our country. I think it’s imposing a burden on future generations that’s going to be backbreaking. And I think the reality is it’s going to put pressure on everything. The last thing people will want to go to is entitlements, and of course that’s the biggest portion of the budget. And the first place a lot of people will want to go is to the Defense budget. And the reality is, you cannot balance this budget on the back of the Defense budget. It just won’t work. There isn’t enough money there. And one of the worst things we can do is…and this is provocative. And to the extent the United States becomes weak, to the extent we behave in a manner that it encourages others to engage in provocative acts they would never have thought of doing had they been properly deterred and dissuaded from doing it, by seeing, visibly, our military capability. So we put our country at risk if we do that.
HH: What did you make of the decision to cancel the deployment of missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic?
DR: I, we spent a lot of time developing those relationships. And it seemed to me that they were wise and prudent. And if given what North Korea’s doing with their nuclear weapons, and their ballistic missiles, and what Iran’s doing, it’s important that the United States of America not be vulnerable, and not be able to be held and blackmailed because of a threat of a nuclear weapon from a rogue nation. And so I think the plan that President Bush and I put into place with respect to missile defense was sound, sensible, included our allies, and was proceeding a pace in a responsible and constructive way.
HH: Now President Putin figures in this book. And did President Bush fall for a Putin ruse? Or did Putin change over time when President Bush said I looked into his eyes, Mr. Secretary?
DR: I think in the early part of the administration, there was a chance to develop a considerably better relationship with Russia than we have today. I had superb relationship with my counterpart, Sergei Ivanov, the defense minister. And my impression was that it was hard, not just hard, but embarrassing for Russia to no longer be the Soviet Union, to have lost all of those Soviet republics, to be a former superpower. And it was embarrassing and awkward. And what we had to do was to try to work with them in a way that it was not embarrassing, and that reflected their actual circumstance. And over time, for whatever reason, the relationship drifted apart, and I think that’s unfortunate, and possibly even unnecessary.
HH: One of the most alarming things in Known And Unknown is the anecdote you tell about General Yuri Baluyevsky, the country’s number two military leader, saying that Lyndon LaRouche was behind missile defense. It’s breathtaking that the deputy chair of the joint chief of staff, in equivalent, believes that a nut is running our missile defense, Mr. Secretary.
DR: (laughing) It was. It was an amazing comment. And it was revealing. I mean, I think there clearly are gaps in information and understanding with other countries. That’s true with lots of countries. But when you have a big country and an important country like Russia, and an important person like Baluyevsky, it was particularly disconcerting that a man could be that far off in his understanding of how the United States of America functioned, particularly given the fact that we’re a very open country.
HH: I know, it’s one of the things about Known And Unknown that makes it pretty remarkable. A couple of quick questions about personalities, you have a very affectionate portrait of Gerald Ford. “Kindness was a defining trait of Ford’s life.” At another point, though, you quote Admiral Jim Ellis, quoting his Naval Academy professor, saying, “If you want traction, you must first have friction.” Does kindness in a president serve the country well?
DR: Well, it certainly did at the moment that Gerald Ford was there. The reservoir of trust had been drained, and because of the kind of person he was, it was refilled, and our nation was healed. I think that quote from Admiral Ellis’ physics instructor is wonderful. I mean, it’s true. If you want traction, you’ve got to have friction. And by golly, the President asked us to do some things in the Department of Defense. We did it. And there was some friction. And I think that’s life. I do want to say one thing. The proceeds from the book that would come to me are all going to go to the troops, their families, the children of the fallen and the wounded. And Joyce and I have decided that we have so much respect for the men and women who volunteer to serve in our military, that we wanted to do that. And I hope that people who buy the book and read the book will understand that, and also be supportive of the troops in so many ways that they’re able to do.
HH: There are an extraordinary number. In fact, when we used to approach your office to get an interview, your long-standing assistant who was the gatekeeper always said well, we’re going to have to tie this in with something for the troops. And so I appreciate that as well. Let me ask you about Rockefeller. You spent a lot of time on Rocky in this book. Not a lot of people spend much time on Rockefeller. You’re thinking about him still, thirty years later.
DR: He was an unusual man. I think probably when we was Gerald Ford’s vice president, he was not as his peak in terms of what he might have been as a younger man. He was, he kept imagining things, and he expected to kind of be a second president for domestic affairs, not understanding how the White House worked, and that the president of the United States was the president of the United States. And his proposals were important, and the President was interested in them, but the President needed to know what other people thought about them. And when somebody else had a voice to say something about something that Rockefeller had proposed, he went through the ceiling.
HH: Oh, it’s fascinating stuff. I’ll talk a little bit about Nixon when we come back with Donald Rumsfeld.
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HH: Mr. Secretary, on March 8th or 9th, I’m not sure, I’m going to be interviewing you at the Nixon Library about the book, Known And Unknown, but primarily about those early years. But I do want, for the benefit of this audience, the larger national audience, there’s quite a lot about Richard Nixon in here. And that’s where Marin Strmecki and I got to know each other laboring on the Nixon staff many years ago. Just a quick question which you didn’t say in the book, should Nixon have burned the tapes?
DR: Well, there’s an awful lot of people who feel he should have. I should add there are a lot of people who felt he shouldn’t have taped in the first place. But clearly, he must have thought that they would make his place in history, and he of course was a brilliant man and a strategic thinker, and made some enormously important contributions to our country, and brought into government a whole host of people who contributed importantly to public affairs for the next thirty, forty years. The tapes, I would think, probably should have been destroyed up at any point before a special prosecutor or a judge said they could not be destroyed.
HH: And now the other quick one I want to get is about Secretary Rice, who’s been a guest on this program. A very complicated portrait of her emerges in Known And Unknown, especially when she’s secretary of state, and she rebukes one of your generals, and you tell her that’s not your job, that’s my job. Was she better at being secretary of state, in your opinion, Donald Rumsfeld, than being a National Security Council advisor?
DR: Well, I don’t know. First of all, she had four years as a National Security Advisor, so she was a lot more experienced. I mean, this a very accomplished individual. She’s intelligent, and she had a good academic background. She’d had relatively modest experience in the executive branch of the government, having previously served in the National Security Council as a staff member. But I think after four years in the White House…and one of the things she had that was very, a big strength, was her closeness to President Bush. She clearly reflected what he wanted, I believe, and wanted to serve the President in a true way, which is an important thing for a senior foreign policy advisor.
HH: Let me ask you now sort of a global question. You have had two first days as the secretary of defense, two first months, two first years. From that perspective of having done it twice, what’s the most important bit of advice you offer a new secretary of defense in the future?
DR: I’d tell you one of the things that I found very helpful was two things. One is if you come into office, you ought not to assume that everything there is wrong simply because your president just got elected, and he was selected by the American people, and therefore anything that went before needs to be changed. I think the odds are that’s not true. And when I came in, I understood that, having come in for the second time, and recognized that a lot of what was there was there for a darn good reason. And yet the President had said he wants to transform the department, and bring it into the 21st Century. So we had to get moving. We had to start moving from a division concept to a brigade combat team. We had to increase the number of Special Forces. We had to increase the number of UAV’s. We had to do the things that would enable our country to function in an asymmetric conflict as well as in a conventional conflict. The other advice I’d give is talk to your predecessors. I benefited greatly by bringing in the former secretaries of defense, the former secretaries of State, the former National Security Advisors on a fairly regular basis, and talking to them, and listening to their perspective. I mean, these are people who have deep experience, they’re people of both political parties. And I found my interaction with people like Henry Kissinger and Harold Brown and Jim Schlesinger and the former CIA directors, Jim Woolsey, for example, and secretaries of State, very, very helpful.
HH: What’s your advice to the next new president about selecting a secretary of defense? What’s the skill set? You came out of industry. I haven’t even talked about your time at the head of the drug company and the whole Nutrasweet and all that, plus all those years in the Ford administration. What should the next new president look for in a SecDef?
DR: Well you know, it depends on who the president is. Each person comes into that important office, brings a distinctive set of skills, a background that’s distinctive. And second, it depends on what the times are, what’s going on in the world, what are the challenges for the president and the new secretary of defense. And I think to try to do it with a blank blackboard is probably not useful. I think we’re going to have to see…they ought to complement each other, and they ought to also fit the times and the challenges that the country’s facing.
HH: It emerges out of Known and Unknown that the people you admire the most, and you have the greatest record of success in your eyes, and I share that in most instances, are the people with the most experience, whether it’s George Schultz or Secretary Powell and Kissinger, or Baker, or all of these different people. Did President Obama have the necessary experience, just as a macro level, to seek the office?
DR: Well, clearly not. The other thing that is just a gaping hole in his administration, the data that shows that he has fewer people who have ever served in business than any modern president. And here’s…the private sector is so much more important than government. I mean, that’s where the jobs are created, that’s where the products are created, that’s where the energy and innovation occurs in our country. And to not bring people from the private sector into your administration, I think, is just a terrible mistake.
HH: There’s a theme throughout Known And Unknown as well about your style. You tried to engage and question and elicit debate all the time. And you thought that the best briefers and analysts were those who don’t show discomfort by pushing back, et cetera. I get the sense there’s not a lot of that going on in this White House or this administration.
DR: That may be the case. I don’t know, you can’t tell on the inside. But I must say, I asked tough questions, and I liked people who gave good answers. And if they didn’t know the answers, they said they’d find the answer, and were willing to push back and say you think this, and here’s what I think, and I think you’re wrong. I think that kind of discussion and engagement is healthy, because no one has the monopoly on brain power. Nobody has a monopoly on knowledge. And you need that kind of ferment and discussion to take place.
HH: And you also had to interject yourself into the selection of senior officers when you arrived at the Pentagon for the second tour. The senior officers were generally not selected by the secretary of defense. Do you continue to abide by that position that you’ve got to be, the SecDef has got to run that selection process?
DR: I think so. There’s no question but that it caused enormous discomfort and opposition in the services. When the pattern had been that they would make the selections, and the secretary and the President were expected to basically just approve them, and then suddenly a secretary of defense comes in and decides he and the chairman of the joint chiefs, and the vice chairman of the joint chiefs, and the deputy secretary of defense, the four of them, are going to listen to the recommendations of the secretaries of the services, and the chiefs of staffs of the services, but then make their own decisions. Now why did I do that? I did it because the Department of Defense cannot function if the Army is going to fight one war, the Air Force is going to fight a war, and the Navy’s going to fight a third war. You have to pull those together. You have to create, like Goldwater-Nichols legislation did, a joint force. And the leverage, the advantage, the advantages that accrue to our country with a joint force are enormous. And I simply decided that the best way to get a joint force, and the best way to bring the Department of Defense into the 21st Century, was by people, because there’s no way you can do it as secretary of defense. You’ve got to have multiple leadership centers. Therefore, you had to pick people who were willing to look ahead, and help pull that department, an enormous department, three million people, into the 21st Century.
HH: I’ll be right back, One more segment with Donald Rumsfeld on his book, Known And Unknown.
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HH: I want to thank former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld for spending so much time with us talking about his memoir, Known And Unknown. Mr. Secretary, just a couple of quirky questions. What kind of books would you read during your tenure as secretary? Do people like The Pentagon’s New Map came out, Robert Kaplan wrote Imperial Grunts. Would you have time to read any of these books?
DR: Oh, yes. I read, I read almost every day of my life. Someone told me when I was a youngster that if I read 20 minutes or 30 minutes before I went to bed every night, I’d end up pouring through thousands of books in my lifetime. And what I read was history.
HH: Which was the most…
DR: What I read was biography. I don’t read much fiction, and I read some political theory, but mostly biography and history.
HH: Did any of these books like Barnett’s New Map, or Kaplan’s books, did they get to your desk? Did they impact you?
DR: I’m aware of them, but no. I basically, I would read things like, oh, Ulysses S. Grant, or FDR.
HH: Did you see any of the movies about the war like The Hurt Locker or Restrepo?
DR: No. I must say I rarely get to a movie.
HH: And when this information revolution swept through the services, and you had blogs like Blackfive.net, or the Mudville Gazette, did you dip into them as a way of accessing what was going on in your front line troops?
DR: No, as a matter of fact, for a good portion of the time I was there, the security people did not want me to use a computer at all in the office, because of the ability of an enemy to access what was going on in that computer from outside, through the windows. And later on, we figured out a way that I could use a computer, and I did to some extent. But no, what I had was a lot of very talented, bright young people who would access those things, and bring things to my attention, and that was enormously helpful. But if you’re asking me did I do a lot of that personally, the answer is no. But was I made aware of these things, the answer is yes.
HH: Last question, and it’s the long ball question. There’s a great chapter in here about China and the EP-3 crisis. And as you look over the next century, our principal, I don’t know if it’s an enemy, but it’s certainly a competitor, is going to be the People’s Republic of China. Without the sugar coating, who’s ahead in that competition? And what ought the United States to be thinking about that right now?
DR: Well, we are. We have a more capable military. It’s asymmetric. In other words, we don’t have exactly the same things they do. They have a different geography than we do. They have different needs than we do. They have different neighbors than we do. On the other hand, they’re investing considerably more on a regular basis. They pay their troops much less. And so a larger fraction of their defense budget goes into things – ships, guns, tanks and planes, missiles and the like. They are not transparent. There’s a lot we don’t know about what’s going on with their military. We’ve complained about that from time to time. The other thing that’s unclear to me is exactly what the role of the PLA, the People’s Liberation Army is, relative to the so-called political leadership of the country. I think that it is perfectly possible for us to co-exist with the People’s Republic of China over a long period of years. I think it is not written that there would be a conflict. And I think that it’s going to require good diplomacy, we’re going to have to manage our relationships intelligently. I think that they want their economy to grow. To do that, they’ve got to interact with the rest of the world. That means they’re going to have to have computers and cell phones, and various other things in their country. That makes it difficult for a Communist dictatorship, for a repressive regime. So they’re going to hit a fork in the road where there’s going to have to be some give. Are they going to be willing to yield up a little more freedom politically, and allow people more opportunities to interact with the world and through computers and cell phones? Or are they going to be willing to have a slower growth rate and maintain a more repressive political leadership?
HH: Do you think there’s a real danger of them striking at Taiwan, a real danger?
DR: Well, clearly they’ve got the ability to do that. And I think that they ought not to have any real interest. Their closeness to Taiwan is increasing. The interaction, investment both ways is increasing. I think that it would be just a terrible foreign policy failure for the world if that were to happen. It’s not necessary. I think they’re on a track that anything, any differences that they have, which are real, ought to be able to be managed in a responsible, peaceful way.
HH: On that optimistic note, Donald Rumseld, thank you so much for spending so much time with us. Known And Unknown, a memoir of an extraordinary career, and I have barely touched on it in these three hours. It’s available at Amazon.com, it is linked at Hughhewitt.com. All of the proceeds from Known And Unknown go to benefit the men and women of the American military and their families.
End of interview.