Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld joined me this morning:
HH: As we head into Memorial Day, I’m so pleased to welcome back former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who did not one, but two tours as chief of the Pentagon, also White House chief of staff, also a member of Congress, also a veteran and fighter pilot. Secretary Rumsfeld, welcome back to the program, great to talk to you. You’re now also a game developer, an app developer.
DR: Can you believe that in my mid-80s, that I’ve ended up helping to create an app? I didn’t even know what an app stood for before all of this.
HH: Well, now you’ve…
DR: But, now the Winston Churchill Solitaire game has been a booming success. There have been something like more than a million downloads of the game. It’s a terrific game.
HH: And they go to the iTunes store, any app store, the Android store, and they type in Churchill Solitaire Rumsfeld, and they will find it. How did you discover Churchill Solitaire, by the way?
DR: Well, it’s interesting. Back in World War II, the Belgians were overrun by the Nazis, and the government went into exile in London. And Winston Churchill befriended a young Belgian diplomat. And many years later, in 1973, I was at NATO as a young diplomat, and by then, the young Belgian was an old dean of the whole council. And he had learned this game from Winston Churchill. And he taught me. The man’s name was Andre de Staercke.
HH: And you took it, and you got a web developer, obviously, to help you transfer it. And it is unique. I haven’t yet played it, but everyone likes it, and the proceeds from this, on this Memorial Day Weekend, all go to benefit veterans charities, correct?
DR: Exactly. I decided that when we first developed the app, that all of the profits, all of my profits from that app would go to military charities. And one of the ones we’ve been supporting is the Travis Manion Foundation, which does such an excellent job in helping people in our society learn more about the military. And veterans go out and families of veterans, and meet with people. And they’re a fine organization.
HH: My friend, Mary Katharine Ham, ran for them in the Marine Corps Marathon. The Travis Manion Foundation benefitting from Winston Churchill Solitaire. Now Mr. Secretary, you just mentioned, and now we turn to the news, that you were also, among your many jobs, not only the author of Known and Unknown, your wonderful memoir and Rumsfeld’s Rules, but you were the ambassador to NATO. President Trump was at NATO yesterday, and here is what he said to our allies.
DT: If all NATO members had spent just 2% of their GDP on defense last year, we would have had another $119 billion dollars for our collective defense, and for the financing of additional NATO reserves. We should recognize that with these chronic underpayments, and growing threats, even 2% of GDP is insufficient to close the gaps in modernizing readiness and the size of forces. We have to make up for the many years lost. 2% is the bare minimum for confronting today’s very real and very vicious threats.
HH: So Secretary Rumsfeld, what do you make of the substance of his critique and the fact that he delivered it with the heads of government standing next to him among our NATO allies?
DR: He’s exactly on the mark. When I was ambassador, we were working with our allies to try to get them to make larger investments in their national security. And today, our allies are largely below 2% of GDP invested in defense. The United States has now dropped from 10% under Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, 10% of Gross Domestic Product going to defense. We’re down below 4%. So President Trump is exactly right. He’s talking to the right people. And there’s no question but that the deterrent effect if the NATO allies do what President Trump is suggesting, the deterrent would be vastly greater than it is today. And that’s the goal. It’s not to win a war. It’s to be prepared for a war so that it doesn’t occur.
HH: How about that he did with them standing right there, in which some people have said is undiplomatic and unnecessarily embarrassing to them?
DR: That’s utter nonsense. If you’re not going to stand up and look people in the eye and tell them the truth, these people are not youngsters. They know. They’re heads of government. They run those countries. And they need to hear it directly from each other, and certainly from the United States.
HH: Let me move to some other major issues, Secretary Rumsfeld. Secretary Mattis and Chairman Joe Dunford are basically running the Pentagon on their own. Where are the appointees? There aren’t any service secretaries confirmed, yet.
DR: Oh, and you know, that’s not unusual. When I went in there as secretary the second time in 2001, it was months, literally months before we had a deputy and the assistant secretaries, and the undersecretaries and the service secretaries. As a matter of fact, I picked up the phone the other day and thanked my predecessor’s deputy for sticking around and giving me a hand. And he reminded me that his military assistant back in 2001 was a brigadier general in the Marines named Mattis. And now, he’s secretary of Defense, which is wonderful. He’s a very talented, and a fine individual.
HH: So you’re not worried, but I have a piece in the Washington Post today because the Navy got rolled by the OMB in the budget. The President promised a 350 ship Navy with 12 carriers. That budget breaks that promise. It’s impossible to make it with that. That’s what happens, right, when you don’t have a Navy secretary.
DR: Well, that’s true, and you need people not simply running the department, but you need people at those multiple layers, leadership levels, interacting with the rest of the government and with the White House, and with the Congress.
HH: Are you afraid that OMB has rolled the Department of Defense on spending?
DR: Well, OMB does what the President tells them to do, eventually, and what the Congress allows them to do. And it seems to me that if you’ve got a brand new administration, they’ve been in there only a matter of weeks, and they’re going to figure these things out, and go forward. They have put together a superb national security team. In fact, if the most important thing a senior leader does is pick people, I give the Trump administration high marks. They picked an excellent Supreme Court nominee, and excellent, Trump picked a good vice president. They’ve got a cabinet that’s first rate, a national security team that’s excellent. I give him high marks.
HH: Did you approve of the strike on Syria?
DR: I’ve been out of there for ten years, Hugh, and it seems to me that I’m not close enough to know what the arguments were, the decisions, the pros and cons.
HH: Then let me ask you about, you were there when you were studying the North Korea problem deeply. You know the consequences of a strike against their nuclear facilities. Do you believe it’s feasible to have a first strike against North Korea without massive carnage following in its wake?
DR: Well, if you look at the situation, you’ve got a peninsula, you’ve got a demilitarized zone in the middle, you’ve got the same people north and south, the same neighbors, the same culture, the same history. And down in the south, it’s the 13th largest economy on the face of the Earth. It’s an amazing success story. In the north, people are starving while they develop their nuclear and ballistic missile programs. A conflict is inevitably going to be a very difficult thing, because if you look at the high South Korean population, in Seoul and right near the demilitarized zone, it seems to me that people thinking about what might be done have to think very carefully about it. It’s a tough decision.
HH: Let me turn to leaks. Theresa May said this today, or yesterday, when she went to meet President Trump in Brussels, cut number 15:
TM: We have a special relationship with the USA. It is our deepest defense and security partnership that we have. Of course, that partnership is built on trust. And part of that trust is knowing that intelligence can be shared confidently. And I will be making clear to President Trump today that intelligence that is shared between law enforcement agencies must remain secure.
HH: Secretary Rumsfeld, she did share it. The President agreed with her. But these leaks are at a volume that I don’t recall being around since the Nixon years. Do you find them singularly disturbing and of a kind quality and volume that is unprecedented in many years?
DR: Hugh, I certainly do. There’s no question but that no one country has a monopoly on intelligence gathering and knowledge. And the strength comes from sharing intelligence with other countries. And every country has to be very careful about managing intelligence, or the other countries are not going to be willing to share it with them. And it’s most unfortunate that there are leaks out of the administration. I guess there have always been leaks, at least in my adult life. But the number of leaks during this period, it strikes me, is a problem that needs to be addressed very seriously.
HH: I assume you agree that the Russians attacked our election via false news and cyber hacking and all that, do you, Secretary Rumsfeld?
DR: Sure. I mean, in that the Russians and other countries have an interest in what goes on in the United States. And to the extent they have the kinds of capabilities the Russians do, they have the ability and capability of engaging in things that are disruptive and harmful to other countries, including the United States.
HH: I’m just curious. I have not yet seen, I agree, too. They attacked our election, just as the Chinese attacked the OPM under the last president, under the last watch. But I have not seen evidence, yet, of the so-called collusion. Have you?
DR: No, I don’t, these people who are, I suppose, they’re running around trying to compare what’s going on today to Watergate, which I think is ridiculous. I was in government during those years, and I, thus far, I haven’t seen any there there, so to speak. The press is, maybe they have a lot of folks want to run around and be the new Woodward’s and Bernstein’s, and they’re trying to create the kind of even that will put them on the map. But thus far, at least, I haven’t seen anything that would even begin to compare.
HH: All right, Mr. Secretary, I want to close by talking about a very old memo you wrote, and a very current story. On October 16th, 2003, you wrote a memo to then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Dick Myers, Paul Wolfowitz, your number two, General Peter Pace, the deputy chair, Doug Feith, your undersecretary, asking are we winning or losing the global war on terror? You wrote, “Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?” I want to link that with this morning. Jeremy Corbyn, who if a disaster unfolds could be the next prime minister of Great Britain, is making an argument that many experts, this is a direct quote, “Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government have supported or fought in other countries and terrorism at home. That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children, but informed understanding of the causes of terrorism is an essential part of the response that will protect the security of our people, that fights rather than fuels terrorism. We must be brave enough to admit that the war on terror is simply not working. We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism.” He both agrees with your basic premise from 14 years ago that we don’t know, we’re not winning. But he’s suggesting it’s in part our fault because we’re fighting.
DR: Well, I’d have to read the full statement to know what I thought about it, but I think right now, we’ve just seen President Trump go into the Middle East, speak directly to some heads of state of 50 countries from that part of the world, and enlisted them and explain to them, and try to persuade them, that their role in dealing with this struggle against terrorism is critically important. It’s not the kind of a problem that’s going to be won only with bullets. It’s going to take people trying to persuade people that the thing they ought to do as they go through their lives is not get trained to go out and kill innocent men, women and children, but get trained to get a job and contribute to society. And unless you get that kind of leadership within that faith, and he talked to exactly the right people about it, it seems to me that we don’t really face up to the fact that this conflict is not going to be won with bullets alone. It’s going to take that kind of leadership.
HH: Last question for you, Mr. Secretary. Is the press tougher on Donald Trump than it was on you?
DR: Well, they certainly are not cutting him any slack at all. There’s practically nothing he does that 2, 3, 4, 5 or 10 people aren’t willing to complain about it, fuss about it, critique it, argue about it. And it’s become kind of a way of life for some of those folks. I think anyone in those jobs, in a democracy, recognizes that what they do is subject to examination. And that’s fair enough. And I was comfortable with that. I think, however, that I’ve not seen it quite this where so many people seem to be almost rabid on the subject.
HH: I think you’re exactly right on that. Have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend, Secretary Rumsfeld. The app, the Churchill Solitaire App is available. Just search Rumsfeld Churchill Solitaire app. All the proceeds that Secretary Rumsfeld would have had goes to the Travis Manion Foundation, wonderful way to begin the weekend. Thank you, Secretary Rumsfeld.
End of interview.