Editor’s note: Below is the transcript of Donald Rumsfeld’s conversation with David Horowitz at the Freedom Center’s Wednesday Morning Club held at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles on March 16, 2011. The conversation is preceded by an introduction of Rumsfeld by Horowitz. The text has been edited for publication.
David Horowitz’s Introduction:
It is an honor and a privilege to introduce our guest, a man whose service to our nation and the cause of freedom began nearly 60 years ago. In 1954, Donald Rumsfeld, newly graduated from Princeton, joined the Navy as an aviator. On leaving active service three years later, he became a Congressional staffer and in 1962, won a seat in Congress. During his third term, he was named by then-President Nixon to be Director of the United States Office of Economic Opportunity and Assistant to the President with Cabinet rank. In 1973, he was made U.S. Ambassador to NATO.
The following year, Nixon was forced to resign in the wake of the Watergate investigations, which were led by Ted Kennedy and the anti-Vietnam Democrats in an effort to derail the war. Rumsfeld was called back to Washington to serve as the head of Gerald Ford’s transition team, who then selected him to be White House Chief of Staff and then appointed him to be the youngest Secretary of Defense in the nation’s history.
When Jimmy Carter succeeded Ford, Rumsfeld retired to private life as CEO and then Chairman of G.D. Searle, a worldwide pharmaceutical, which he headed for 20 years. In January 2001, he was called back from retirement by George Bush, who appointed him Secretary of Defense, this time as the oldest, and in my view, the wisest and most effective executive ever to hold that position.
In reading his biography, Known and Unknown, I was struck by how fortunate this country is to have such a public servant, a loyal, brilliant and fundamentally decent individual devoted to preserving our freedoms. These freedoms are now under relentless assault. As a consequence, for this dedication and service Secretary Rumsfeld has been reviled by America’s enemies both abroad and at home. In 2006, he was forced to retire in the middle of a critical war in the face of ferocious attacks from the enemies of that war, both on the radical fringe and inside the Democratic Party, which has increasingly come under the influence of that fringe.
I want to share a small but significant incident from his book, which shows how this man looked out for his country when he was in office. In the spring of 2003, a lawsuit was filed in a Belgian court targeting General Tommy Franks, the liberator of Iraq, as a war criminal. If this practice was allowed to continue, any U.S. serviceman or woman passing through Belgium could be brought up on similar charges.
When he learned of the legal motion against Franks, Secretary Rumsfeld accosted the Belgian Minister of Defense, who was a leftist, and told him the Belgian law that allowed such suits had to be changed. When the minister resisted, Rumsfeld reminded him that the headquarters of NATO could be moved to another country. If the law were not changed, Rumsfeld said, the money the Belgians were hoping to get from the United States for new headquarters would evaporate. Within two months of this tête-à-tête, the Belgian law was repealed.
One of the most poignant passages in this book deals with the incident at the Abu Ghraib Prison over which Donald Rumsfeld handed in his resignation, not once, but twice. Rumsfeld had no responsibility for what happened at Abu Ghraib, yet he was made the target of the outrage it provoked because that outrage was really a surrogate for opposition to the war itself.
By any standards of prison abuse, let alone the abuses that were the norm in Iraq before American troops arrived, what happened at Abu Ghraib was an insignificant and minor episode, but when the New York Times, the Washington Post and other left-wing media got hold of the photographs of these abuses, they turned Abu Ghraib into an international scandal, resulting in immeasurable damage to America’s cause in Iraq and around the world. It was to stave off these attacks and protect America’s men and women in arms that Secretary Rumsfeld offered himself as a sacrificial lamb. Fortunately, the President refused his offer.
The fact remains that the publication of the Abu Ghraib photos served absolutely no purpose other than to damage America’s cause and strengthen her enemies. The investigation into the abuses had already been undertaken by Secretary Rumsfeld and the Pentagon before the media ever got hold of the photographs. Other photographs which the government did not release showed the guards abusing each other in similar pornographic fashion. This was irrefutable proof that the problem was caused by a small group of squalid prison guards and was not the result of policy made at the highest levels of government, but this was exactly what the opposition – including leaders of the Democratic Party who knew better – charged.
Senator Ted Kennedy led the attack, saying, “Saddam’s torture chambers have been reopened under new management, U.S. management.” And the weakest reed in the Bush administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell, surrendered to the anti-American frenzy by comparing Abu Ghraib to the massacre at My Lai.
I bring up this unpleasant history to remind you of the atmosphere in which Donald Rumsfeld served his country and served it so well. He served in an era that began with the Vietnam War and during which our country has become so divided as to be almost two nations. Our universities and media and increasing majorities in the Democratic Party are no longer just critical of this or that American policy, but are opposed to American purposes and in particular, to America’s world role as a defender of freedom against the totalitarian forces who raid against us.
Even in his retirement, this distinguished public servant has been treated in a manner not unlike that of our servicemen who were spat on when they returned from Vietnam. The _New York Times_’ reviewer dismissed Known and Unknown as a self-serving book, but what she really meant by this is that it is a book, like its author, who continues to serve his country and the cause of freedom.
Here is what the same reviewer wrote of another book, which attacked the Bush administration: “Just as disturbing – just as disturbing – as al Qaeda’s plans and capabilities are the descriptions in this book of the Bush administration’s handling of the war on terror and its willful determination to go to war in Iraq.”
What have we come to in this country when the nation’s paper of record compares the plans of al Qaeda fanatics to wage a holy war on the West and blow us all up with a decision to go to war against a monstrous tyrant, a decision that was ratified by both houses of Congress and the leaders of both political parties, and its purpose was to enforce a violated truce in 17 UN Security Council resolution?
There has never been a time in the history of America, which has required so much moral courage of its leaders to serve our country. Never before in our history has a major political party turned against a war it supported within three months of the onset, and then conducted a scorched earth offensive against its own commander-in-chief and its troops in the field.
Donald Rumsfeld served as the commander of our armed forces in what became, in effect, a two-front war. The foe on the home front controlled the media and the opposition party and set out to destroy the characters and careers of our leaders by any means necessary. Unlike some of his colleagues, Donald Rumsfeld did not wither under this enemy fire or allow the opposition to deflect him from the cause. He stood tall in defending our freedom and taking care of our men and women in arms.
In this book, he has again defended them and us, and for this, we should all be grateful.
Conversation Between Donald Rumsfeld and David Horowitz
Horowitz: Donald Rumsfeld, all your life, you’ve been a man of practical affairs. So how does it feel to write a book?
Rumsfeld: It’s my first book. It only took four years. David writes four books a year. It was a long gestation period. I debated whether to do a short book in a year from memory or use my archive, and I decided to use the archive and I hope some folks here will go to Rumsfeld.com and take a look at the documentation that supports the book because we spent a lot of time developing it and arranging it in a way that we think is accessible and helpful to serious people seriously interested in these matters.
Horowitz: I think –
Rumsfeld: May I say something else –
Horowitz: Go ahead.
Rumsfeld: I’d like to just thank you for all you do and I’ve been able to follow you and been impressed with how prolific you are and how courageous you are. And I’m very pleased to be able to come here and to say so in front of this very fine group of people, and thank all of you for being here.
Horowitz: Thank you.
Rumsfeld: And one other thing – it’s his meeting and I’m a guest, but I do have to say just something about what’s going on in Japan. I spent a lot of time working with the Japanese over the decades and helped found the U.S.-Japan Parliamentary Exchange, and it is such a terrible tragedy there, the earthquakes and the tsunami. And I know that people here, as I am, are thinking about them and hoping that things sort through in a better way than some of the press seems to suggest might be the case.
Horowitz: This is a very interesting book. I don’t know if there’s another public figure who spent so many years at the highest echelons of the United States government, not to mention in such trying times as the last 40 years have been. One of the things I learned about you, you grew up in Chicago. In reading your book, I thought to myself, there couldn’t be two people from such different roots. You came from a German-American family. Your father enlisted in the Second World War and was a businessman all his life. I come from a family of New York Jewish Communists.
And then, there appeared on the page this incredible bond between us – that, as kids, we both listened to Captain Midnight and the Lone Ranger and drew some of our core values from those shows – quite amazing. This is really the story of America, people from such diverse backgrounds becoming part of one national fabric.
Rumsfeld: David is a lot younger than I am, I’ll tell you.
Horowitz: Oh, not so younger. I’d like you to talk just a little bit about your first congressional campaign and the principles that you ran on, so that people get an idea of who you were politically before you became Donald Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld: Well, I was 29 years old and the district was open. The incumbent congresswomen was retiring and I decided to jump into it because she and her husband had controlled that district for 40 years or for 30 years, I guess. I had to sit down and prepare some brochures and decide what I would put on them and I had little yellow cards with my face on it and the Republican Primary on a certain date in April, and then I put down the principles that I felt people should know I would be favoring.
And they involved the following items. One was a strong national defense; another was a responsible fiscal policy and another was effective civil rights measures. And of course, this was well before – in 1961, when I wrote this – well before the era of Martin Luther King and the civil rights activities and the legislation in the 1960s. And I read them when I was getting ready to put the book together and it struck me that I still liked all of those words.
Horowitz: That’s kind of rare in politics.
Rumsfeld: Unlike you.
Horowitz: Yes, that’s right. [Laughter]. You even suggested at one point that James Forman, the black civil rights leader, run as a Republican, which was very prescient then. We are now beginning to see black Republicans like Colonel Allen West.
Horowitz: And that’s a breath of fresh air for the Republican Party.
You open your book with Lebanon. You were sent as a special emissary after Hezbollah – which was really a cat’s paw for Iran – blew up our Marine barracks. This chapter is out of chronological order and obviously placed there because you felt very strongly that there was a lesson to be learned from this, that people need to know.
Rumsfeld: I did, and I hope that many of you will have a chance to read it, because it did affect me dramatically. President Reagan asked me to become Middle East Envoy shortly after 241 Marines were killed at the barracks alone. They weren’t all Marines; there were some Navy corpsmen, three or four Navy corpsmen. And during that period, I traveled throughout the region and really came up close to terrorism and the problems of terrorism, which at that time, was not something that was on the minds of the American people or the Congress or even the executive branch to any great extent.
I remember afterwards giving a speech to the Army Association and talking about the problem of terrorism and how different it was from conventional war, and coincidentally, George Shultz did something similar about a week later. He was Secretary of State at the time and he and I had been working together on the problems of terrorism. It seemed to me to be a logical way to start the book because it threaded its way through the book, and needless to say, continued through to the George W. Bush administration with a fury.
I actually started the book dedicating it to Joyce.
Horowitz: That’s true.
Horowitz: That’s true. You two have been together since…. – could we have Joyce stand up?
Rumsfeld: Joyce, do you want to stand up here?
We met as freshmen in high school at the age of 14, and we’ve been married 56 years.
People say “How in the world could you stay married to that guy for 56 years?” She says “He travels a lot.” [Laughter]. I thought it was funny too, but she meant it. [Laughter].
Horowitz: You said two things about Lebanon in the book. First, that weakness is provocative, which is a recurring theme and a current one. I don’t think we’ve ever had such weak leadership internationally. We’ll get to that. But you also said that Lebanon was the beginning of the modern war waged by radical Islamists against the United States and the West.
Rumsfeld: When the phrase “war on terror” came up, I was uncomfortable with it. War reminds one of World War I, World War II, with a beginning, an end, and a “war on terror” implies that you’re against terror. And of course, terror is a technique; it’s purpose is not to kill people, but to terrorize people. It’s to alter their behavior. And I saw what we were engaged in against radical Islamists as something that was more akin to the Cold War, which meant you had to engage in a competition of ideas, and it would take all the elements of national power, not simply the Department of Defense. Bullets are not going to win this war against radical Islamists.
I can remember writing a memo on this subject sometime in – I think it was ‘03 and I said: We have a reasonably good fix on the number of terrorists, if you will, radicals, that we are capturing or killing, but we don’t have any fix to speak of as to the rate at which young people are being brought into these radical madrassas and being trained to strap explosives on their bodies and go into markets and kill people, innocent men, women and children. So you don’t have metrics to know how well you’re doing.
We didn’t really have metrics in the Cold War either and that was a competition of ideas between communism and free systems – free political systems and free economic systems. In my view, we are not even yet today engaging in that competition of ideas in an effective way.
Horowitz: This is a very rich book. There are just so many parts that we could spend the day on and I want to give people a chance to aask questions. So I’m going to cut to Iraq, which I know people want to hear about. But as a context for Iraq, I’d like to start with Vietnam. You were in the White House when we had to retreat from Vietnam. And your take on that is, of course, that it has affected a lot of what followed.
Rumsfeld: I was. I was the Chief of Staff to President Gerald Ford at the time the Vietnam War came to its ending and it was a situation where the center of gravity of the war had shifted from Southeast Asia to the United States, meaning that the deciding elements and activities and decision points were basically in Washington and in our country, rather than on the battlefield.
We all remember the Tet Offensive. The way it was characterized in the United States was that it was an enormous defeat for the U.S. military, and of course, it was not. It was dramatic because it took place in so many locations and it did reflect an attitude and an intent on the part of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese, but in terms of a military effort, it was not a big success, and indeed, our military managed it exceedingly well.
We were arriving at a similar point with respect to Iraq, I should say, when President George W. Bush had the good sense and courage to take a bold action, and galvanize attitudes here in the United States and also, I should add, in Iraq. But Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, announced that, in fact, the war was lost. He said publicly, “The Iraq War is lost,” and so you could see where things were going and that is basically what happened with the Vietnam War. It was decided here in the United States that it was “over and lost,” quote unquote.
Horowitz: You know, one of the things you describe in your book is how President Ford appealed to the Democrats who controlled the Congress and whose ranks were now dominated by the Watergate class – to help the Cambodian regime and the South Vietnamese defend themselves. We no longer had troops there. Ford was just asking that we give them the military supplies that Russia and China were giving the Communists – and the request was turned down.
Rumsfeld: Exactly. And he was a wonderful, kind, decent human being, Gerald Ford, and loved the Congress and he loved the members of the Congress. It was one of the few times that I saw him absolutely furious with the Congress for refusing to provide the relatively small sums of money to assist the other neighboring countries in Southeast Asia to try to survive and prevail against the Communists who were putting enormous pressure on them. He was absolutely furious about it.
Horowitz: This is the historical moment where the congressional Democratic Party begins to reflect the attitudes of the political left who wanted us to lose the war and who were basically happy to see the Communists win without maybe fully realizing what that would mean.
That’s why I think Vietnam sets the frame for understanding what happened in Iraq. You have been attacked for allegedly sending too few troops to Iraq. You developed a flexible, light military force that took down the Saddam regime in six weeks. It was a lightning war and yet, you’ve been subjected to attack both by Democrats and neo-conservatives for not providing, quote, “enough troops.” I think this is one of the really unfair attacks on you. It conflates winning the war, toppling Saddam, with occupying Iraq.
Rumsfeld: Quite different things, yes. When he was still Governor of Texas and running for the presidency, George W. Bush spoke at the Citadel and said he thought it was time to move the Department of Defense to move into the 21st Century, into the Information Age. And he was right. When he asked me to go back into the Pentagon, that is what he wanted. He wanted to see our forces engaged in transforming themselves to fit the information age and the 21st century.
During his presidency, we made enormous progress in this regard. We repositioned our forces around the world. Rather than being kind of a leftover, where they were at the end of the Cold War, we dramatically increased the number of unmanned aerial vehicles; we dramatically increased our Special Forces and their equipment and their authorities and capabilities.
Even more important, we moved from a heavy division orientation, which had been our history – proud divisions with banners and history books and songs – down to brigade combat teams that were highly mobile and lethal and capable, which is what is indeed enabling us to do what we can do today.
When after 9⁄11, we were making the decisions as to how to go forward, we chose to work with the Afghan militias, the forces there, the so-called warlords, and were able to do it very effectively. We married the CIA with the Special Forces, went in there with a relatively few number of conventional military people, made heavy use of Air Force and Navy air power using ground controllers.
The Northern Alliance in Afghanistan had been trying for four or five years to defeat the Taliban, who were serving as host to al-Qaeda, and they had made practically no progress. Within a matter of weeks we had taken Kabul, our Special Forces and the Northern Alliance troops, y had taken Kabul and shoved the Taliban out and then finished the job in a matter of weeks.
By the same token, in Iraq, as you point out, our forces went in. General Franks was the combatant commander. He had a plan under which he could have brought in something like 450,000 U.S. forces depending on how many were needed. But he had off-ramps and to the extent he decided they were not needed, he made those recommendations. And all of us agreed with him; I did; the Joint Chiefs did and the President did and the National Security Council.
We ended up with 150,000-170,000 troops defeating Saddam Hussein. Our campaign succeeded very rapidly. Saddam had a conscript army, made up of mostly Shias, and then he had thousands of Sunni generals. Very in large measure, when his troops saw what was happening – his army in effect disbanded itself.
The problem came later. Saddam let 100,000 prisoners out of his prisons in short order. He called for a jihad and jihadists, and terrorists, streamed in from Iran and Syria and neighboring countries, and he then began – his people began something called the Party of Return, which was the pride of the Sunnis up north to try to return them to control of the country. That combination led to the insurgency, which is a quite different thing than the major combat operations which ended in a relatively short period of time for which we had ample troops.
The task of nation-building is something that I am somewhat uncomfortable with. I believe that culture is important and I believe history is important, and I look at our country – and I’m giving you a very long answer to this, and I apologize – but you look at our country and we still had slaves into the 1800s. We didn’t arrive at the point we are now in 15 minutes. Women didn’t vote into the 1900s. We had a horrible Civil War.
To get from where we were to where we are today, with our free political and free economic institutions, and with the opportunities that people have in this country was not easy. That’s the reason people all over the world get in lines at our embassies to try to get visas to come here. Because of the opportunities that exist here.
It’s an amazing country, but we didn’t start like this. This is a quite different place from where we began. My view is that’s true of other countries too and we don’t have a template for success. Our particular template at any given time has varied over the two hundred years or so of our existence – the short time that we’ve existed. I literally have lived a third of our country’s history. Think of it. What a young country! What an old man! [Laughter].
I think others have to build their own countries. They’re the ones who have to pull it together and make it be something that fits their culture and their circumstance, their neighborhood. We have different neighbors than they do; we have different circumstances.
I wrote a paper that’s on my website called “Guidelines for Using Military Force,” and it says very simply “Have a healthy respect for the things we aren’t capable of doing.” And there are things we’re not capable of doing.
I used an analogy in the book, where you are trying to teach a youngster how to ride a bike and you put your hand on the back of the seat – and we’ve all done this – and you run down the street and they wobble and you think, oh, my goodness, are they going to make it? And then you go to four fingers and then you go to three fingers and then you go two to fingers and then you’ve got one finger. And then you let go, and sometimes they fall and skin their knee, but if you don’t let go, you’re going to end up with a 40-year-old that can’t ride a bike. [Laughter]. And yet, you have to, at some point, let go and then they’ll pick it up and go on.
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.