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Horowitz: I watched what you were doing at Defense with no military experience of my own. But through the eyes of a former leftist I thought there was a political dimension to your decision to fight with fewer troops. I don’t know if this had any influence on your thinking, but the larger the army you field, the more targets you provide to terrorists. From 1973, which was the year of the Vietnam truce when we withdrew our forces, until March 19, 2003, when we entered Iraq, the United States could not put an army in the field for more than four days because of the political attacks from the left, and in particular, from the Democratic Party.
I remember both with the Gulf War and with this war, how the front page of the “New York Times” was filled with articles about the body bags that would be returning from Iraq and the quagmire we were headed for and so forth. So I thought that what you were doing there was quite brilliant. I’m wondering whether this was any part of your calculation. We had got to a point in our domestic politics where it really was politically so risky to put an army in the field, that no president had done it before George. We had had a little episode in Grenada and four days in the Gulf War and out.
Rumsfeld: Yes. When the United States does something, it’s noticed and if we don’t do something, it’s noticed. And it’s noticed not simply where we do something or where we don’t do something; it’s noticed all over the world and people draw conclusions and not surprisingly.
David mentioned that weakness is provocative the reason it is, is because it invites people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t even think of doing. It would never cross their minds to do something if they saw that there was strength and purpose and resolution ready to oppose them.
People recognize the United States of America has enormous capability in terms of conventional ground forces and conventional naval forces and conventional air forces, and they also notice that we have modest patience as a people, and that their advantage is waiting us out. And there’s no question but that they’ve drawn those conclusions.
We have records of inaction that have accumulated – for example after the attack on the USS Cole and after the attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon and after the attack on our Army Rangers in Somalia, where our decision was to pull back – that incited our enemies. It gave them the conviction that the United States wouldn’t resist and that creates situations that are dangerous.
When Dwight Eisenhower was running for the presidency back in 1952 or 1956 – his slogan was “Peace through strength,” meaning that if you want peace, be strong, be capable, have deterrents, have the ability to dissuade people from thinking that they can take advantage of weaknesses. Because there are people in the world that unquestionably will take advantage of weakness.
Horowitz: That’s really the reason for the invasion of Iraq, which goes pretty unnoticed: That the UN Security Council had voted 15 to nothing to pass resolution 1447, which said to Saddam “Do this or else,” and then not to follow through and punish his for defiance would have been an act of incredible weakness that would have invited other countries, other dictators, to test us.
Rumsfeld: I suppose it would have been a little like the League of Nations after Italy invaded Ethiopia or Abyssinia.
Horowitz: Which brings me to what I think is the most disgraceful episode in American politics, which is what the Democrats did in regard to Iraq. They voted for the war, they made persuasive speeches – Kerry and Clinton among them — to go to war, and then, because of a Democratic primary in which an anti-war candidate, Howard Dean, was winning, they reversed themselves, turned around 180 degrees on their position on the war. And then, to get themselves off the hook for doing this about-face, they said Bush lied to them, which is the biggest lie of the Iraq War. How do you feel about this point to which our country has come, where a major party would do something like that?
Rumsfeld: I talk about it in the book and have some quotes from these people in the Congress who saw exactly the same intelligence reports that President Bush saw. They saw exactly the same intelligence that Colin Powell saw when he gave his speech at the United Nations and that I saw and that George Tenet saw. There was no difference. They came to exactly the same conclusions; they said so publicly. And then within a matter of months, they shifted their position. In the civilian world, people say, “Well, they’re fair-weather friends.” In the military, they have a harsher term. They say, “You wouldn’t want to be in a foxhole with those folks.”
Changing your position, I suppose is one thing, even though you’ve seen exactly the same facts. But to go to the next step and then attribute to the President of the United States, who had sent U.S. military personnel into foreign countries to defend this country, and to say that he’s lying and that the military over there is serving in the line of fire only because a president, the commander-in-chief, lied is going a good distance down the road. And I think you’re quite right to raise it. It’s important that we remind people that that’s what happened.
Horowitz: I have a harsher comment than the foxhole.
Rumsfeld: Why am I not surprised? [Laughter].
Horowitz: I feel the Democrats betrayed our country and our troops in the field, and I wish that somebody had been saying that who had a louder voice than I do. I said this when I introduced Karl Rove at an event I hosted. This wasn’t your responsibility as Secretary of Defense. This is was a political failure. The White House should have defended itself. It should have put these Democrats to the wall on this issue. What the Democrats did was unconscionable.
Rumsfeld: Karl said that in his book, I think.
Horowitz: He did. He wrote the book after I made that point when I introduced him.
Rumsfeld: After that? Good. He agrees today that that was one of the biggest mistakes that the Bush administration made, allowing those false accusations to gain currency.
Horowitz: Yes, because they destroyed the president’s credibility and really, his ability to lead.
Rumsfeld: There’s no question.
Horowitz: I don’t know if you have an answer to this. But what do you think has happened to the Democratic Party?
Rumsfeld: You used to be one.
David Horowitz: I was never a Democrat. [Laughter]. These Democrats who said Bush lied sat on the Intelligence Committees.
Horowitz: They saw the intelligence and yet … Foreign policy is always a bit arcane to most people, which is why this betrayal is even worse. They knew they had a responsibility to protect our troops in the field and to defend a decision they supported — and they didn’t do it. If you have Al Gore calling the president a traitor, that gives license to people who don’t pay that much attention to go even further. It’s very, very distressing.
Rumsfeld: Well, it is, and as I say, I quoted them in the book. I had John Kerry and Hillary Clinton and Al Gore and several others who had every reason to know exactly what the President of the United States knew, and yet, made statements that were terribly, terribly damaging to our country.
Horowitz: I wrote a book about this [Party of Defeat: How Democrats and Radicals Undermined America’s War on Terror Before and After 9/11] in which I described this as a psychological warfare campaign against our own country. I don’t remember when national security programs designed to protect American citizens — the NASA Program, and the program to track the financial resources of the terrorists – were destroyed by organizations like the New York Times, which exposed these programs even after the White House begged the editors not to do it.
Of course, the precedent was set by the Times during the Vietnam War when it printed the classified Pentagon Papers. They were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, somebody I knew, who is a hero of the political left. These people want us to lose our wars. Leaking classified secrets with the intention of helping the enemy to win is the definition of treason right there. The Constitution’s definition of treason, however, makes it exceedingly difficult to charge anyone with crime because of course our founders were sensitive to the issue, as traitors to the Crown. As a result, nobody has been tried for treason since Tokyo Rose.
Rumsfeld: She was from Chicago too. [Laughter].
Horowitz: I did not know that.
Rumsfeld: Yes. She lives in Chicago.
Horowitz: Well, some good things have come from Chicago, like that negotiation with the Belgian Minister of Defense.
Rumsfeld: [Laughter]. I never even called back to Washington to get any guidance or instructions on the Belgian Minister of Defense.
Horowitz: Easier to get forgiveness than permission.
Rumsfeld: Yes. It was a lot more fun just to wing it. [Laughter].
Horowitz: One of the requests I’ve been given from the audience is that you tell what it was like to be at the Pentagon on September 11th.
Rumsfeld: Oh, my. You know, the first plane hit the tower and it looked like an accident to me, and then of course, the second plane hit it and it no longer looked like an accident. And then within minutes, the plane hit the Pentagon and I was getting my intelligence briefing and it was clear that the country was under attack, and they hit the seat of economic power in New York and the seat of military power.
There were still aircraft in the air and if it hadn’t been for the passengers on the fourth aircraft, causing it to crash in Pennsylvania, it was headed for the seat of political power, the Capitol or the White House, one of the two, in Washington, D.C.
When I went outside there was the terrible sight of the bodies and the wounded being pulled out of the burning, flaming Pentagon. The whole side of the building was smoking and burning and pieces of metal were lying all over the grass. I think the largest piece they took away in a pickup truck was a hunk of an engine and the plane was completely filled with jet fuel and when it hit the Pentagon, it just blew it completely apart.
But it was a sad day and a dangerous day because of the fact that there were so many aircraft in the air and we were oriented towards only external threats really. The FBI and state and local officials had responsibility for security inside the United States and all of our orientation at Defense was out. Under the Posse Comitatus law, the military didn’t really function as a police force or conduct military activity here in the United States.
I mention in the book that about 10:30 at night, the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Tori Clarke, was in my office with three or four people, and she turned to me and said “Have you called Mrs. R?” And I said, “No” and started to go on and she said “You son of a bitch.” [Laughter]. And it never crossed my mind to call Joyce. She was busy; I was busy. She knew where I was; I knew where she was.
All of us in the Pentagon knew we had a responsibility not to our families, but to the country. We were working to get the aircraft down, landed safely, and prevent any other aircraft from going up, and launching aircraft that would be available to shoot down any aircraft that began to behave in a threatening manner.
We were getting reports of hijacks — one from Korea, one from Spain, as I recall, that turned out to be mistakes. It was a day none of us will ever forget watching what happened in New York and what happened to the Pentagon.
Horowitz: One of the consequences of the Democrats’ betrayal of the war so quickly and their attacks on the President was to foreclose opportunities. It was to prevent us from taking the initiative. You say in your book that after Saddam was toppled, the Syrians, who are major fomenters of terror – Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad had military headquarters in Damascus. Saddam’s generals fled to Syria. If it hadn’t been for the Democrats’ attacks we maybe could have taken some initiatives in the Middle East that would have made the region safer than it now is.
Rumsfeld: I think that’s reasonable. Put yourself geographically in Damascus. The United States and 30 to 40 coalition countries, depending on whether you’re talking about Afghanistan or Iraq, had large numbers of troops bordering Syria. So you had a situation where understandably, the Syrians were worried and concerned and we had an opportunity, in my view, to benefit from having them worry, and conceivably have them alter their behavior because as you properly point out, the flow of weapons and terrorists was right out of Iran into Damascus and then into Lebanon and into Israel and into Iraq and making mischief as well in Afghanistan.
One of the toughest things to do is to try to marry diplomacy and military power. I don’t mean necessarily the use of military power but the existence, the presence, the the deterrent effect of military power. Somebody a lot smarter than I am said, “War is a failure of diplomacy.” If you have power and strength and capability that’s visible and understood and you link it skillfully to diplomacy, you have the ability often to affect things in a way that’s very favorable to the kinds of things that democracies prefer, namely peace and reasonable behavior with respect to your neighbors.
Horowitz: Here’s another audience question. Do you think the Peter King hearings on Muslim radicalization have a chance of informing Congress and the public. And I would add: What do you think it will take to wake up the American people to the threat from Islamic fanatics?
Rumsfeld: Well you can see what the reaction of the media has been to the Congressman King hearings on the Islamist, radical Islamist problems. He was being criticized before he held the first hearing, broadly criticized before he held the first hearing. Why is that? Well, I suppose it’s similar what the Bush administration felt. How do you deal with this problem of what is unambiguously a radical terrorist behavior pattern coming from Islamists; how do you deal with it without being seen as anti-Muslim?
People got very nervous about how they talked about it in the Bush administration and there were some discussions about how you handle that because you don’t want to be seen as being against a religion. There are hundreds of millions of Muslims in the world and in the last analysis they’re going to be the ones that are most effective against the radical Islamists.
So you don’t want to alienate them and indeed, you have to bend over backwards not to alienate them because they’re the ones who speak the language, they’re the ones who understand the culture; they’re the ones that would have the intelligence data; they’re the ones that know people who are financing the terrorists; they’re the ones who know where the money goes into these radical madrassas. In other words, they’re critically important to prevailing over a period of time. So everyone in the Administration got very nervous about how they talked about it.
People who aren’t worried about it, or don’t want to be worried about it, or don’t think it exists as a problem, happen to be flat wrong, because it does exist as a problem. Anybody who got anywhere the edge was immediately attacked. You saw President Bush go to a mosque — I forget how fast it was after 9/11 — and government leaders did what they could to reassure people that there was not an anti-Muslim attitude on the part of the President or the administration or the country.
Ignoring facts is foolish. You can’t do it. You’ve got to engage in the competition of ideas, just as free systems engaged in it against communism. And it’s going to take years and it isn’t going to be bullets, as I said earlier, that’s going to solve this problem. It’s going to take a lot of people who are Muslims deciding that there are some people in their religion that are wrong, that are hijacking elements of their religion, and are doing damage to the world. That is the problem, as I see it.
I don’t know if that answers your question, but –
Horowitz: Yes, it does. I think there are two dimensions or aspects to the problem. I think that people who are in government and wielding the enormous power of the American military and who have to deal diplomatically with other states and run our intelligence services are constrained in the way they can talk about the issue. People outside government should not be so constrained. beThe enemy understands this is their major weapon, which is to shut down any inquiry or criticism by saying its “anti-Muslim”or “Islamophobic.” That’s exactly what the communists did, accusing anyone who looked at what they were up to as “McCarthyite.” If you look candidly today at the left’s agendas, they call you a McCarthyite and if you look at what the Islamists are up to you’re an Islamaphobe. The Organization of the Islamic Conference is already setting up a blasphemy law at the UN to prevent scrutiny or criticism of Islamic radicals.
The one thing I would ask of our government is not to legitimize the fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood like CAIR, the Muslim American Society, the Muslim Students Association, the Islamic Society of North America. All of these organizations had access to government institutions, including the White House, even during the Bush administration, and were legitimized, despite the fact that they are linked to terrorist organizations like Hamas through the Brotherhood.
I’m going to ask you two more questions. First, given the huge deficits we’re facing, what, if any, cuts would you recommend in defense spending?
Rumsfeld: Any bureaucracy that large has waste and it’s substantial in a big enterprise and people here in government know that, and you have to get up every morning and give a darn about that and try to find it and root it out. Every year, the Department of Defense was getting shoved down its throat somewhere between $10 and $13 billion of money we didn’t want for things that had nothing to do with our national defense. They were pet projects from members of Congress, the House and the Senate, and they stuffed it into the Defense Appropriation Bill every year. That’s an example.
Another example is when I was Secretary of Defense the first time, I think the Defense Authorization Bill was 17 pages but today it’s hundreds of pages. Now, why is that? Well, for one reason, the numbers on congressional staffs exploded by three or four times and everyone has to justify their activities and you end up with all of these micro-managed little things. Reports are required to do this and that and the other thing. Recall “Gulliver’s Travels,” where the Lilliputians put little threads over the great big guy. One or five or 10 threads made no difference, but with hundreds of threads, Gulliver couldn’t get up.
That’s basically where the Pentagon is. But there’s no way to balance the federal budget off the Pentagon. The serious money is in entitlements. The President’s budget didn’t even address that. The deficit is terribly dangerous for our country and there is no question but that it’s going to have to be addressed and it’s going to have to be addressed by both parties. Thus far, there’s been absolutely zero leadership by the President on this subject. But that’s where the money is.
Horowitz: Let me preface the last question, which is my favorite question, by saying I wish you were 20 years younger and could go into the next administration.
Here’s the question: “What is it that gives you the continuing strength to press forward through the vicious, false allegations and abusive attacks?”
Rumsfeld: Well, I was a wrestler for 12 years.
Horowitz: [Laughter]. An Olympic-quality wrestler.
Rumsfeld: I like competition. You get up in the morning and you say to yourself, “By golly, what’s really important?” And what’s important is this country and its opportunities. Coming from where I came from, going to college on a scholarship, having the amazing opportunities I’ve had, when someone taps you on the shoulder and says, “Gee, why don’t you be Ambassador to NATO?” you’re not going to say no. I had the chance to live overseas and work in the White House — imagine, working in the White House! If you love history you feel so fortunate to be an American and have opportunities like this.
In my book, I talk about a speech I heard at my senior banquet in 1954. Adlai Stevenson was between his two defeats by Dwight Eisenhower and he gave a talk at Princeton at our senior banquet that was so eloquent and elegant and inspirational about public service. Any one of you who’ve got a youngster, a child or a grandchild that’s in their teens or 20s, go and get that speech and let them read it.
It talks about the responsibility of individual citizens and how fortunate we are to live in this country, and to have those opportunities. It inspires us to want to contribute and participate and help guide and direct the course of this country. I don’t mean just by being in government, but as private citizens, doing the kinds of things you do and the kinds of things the people in this room do. It’s not an obligation but an opportunity. You want to do it; you want to serve your country in one way or another.
So I don’t have any trouble getting up in the morning and charging out and trying to help guide and direct the course of this country, as any one citizen can do, as you do every day and the folks in this room do each in their own way. I don’t feel put upon.
I feel lucky.
Horowitz: Well, we’re all grateful that you do.
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