Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: Part Two
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JIM LEHRER: President Bush has issued these strong warnings about Iran, Iraq and North Korea. You mentioned a couple of them in passing just a moment ago. As Secretary of Defense, what would you add to the president’s warning?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, I thought he did it very, very well. I thought he was clear. He was specific. He talked about the nexus between terrorist countries and each of those countries are on the terrorist list and there are others on the terrorist and their active weapons of mass destruction programs and the risk to the world if those countries make the terrible mistake of providing weapons of mass destruction to terrorist networks like al-Qaida.
We know what al-Qaida is willing to do. We know that several terrorist networks have active programs to acquire biological weapons and chemical weapons, as well as radiation and nuclear weapons. We’ve found intelligence in Afghanistan that attests to the enormous appetite and effort they’ve put into this. And we’re still finding documents as recently as this week that demonstrate that fact. We don’t know precisely how successful they’ve been but we know they want them and we know there’s countries that have them. And the power of a biological weapon, for example, is something that we have to be very respectful of as a country.
JIM LEHRER: So if one of these three countries… For instance, North Korea has a nuclear capability. What the president is saying to North Korea, “If you give this or share this capability with a terrorist, or if we think you may use it against a neighbor or anybody else, you are now being warned and we’ll take action against you”?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, I am kind of old fashioned. When a president says what he says, it seems to me we let those words stand. And if I were living in any one of those countries or participating in the government of any one of those countries, I don’t think there would be any doubt at all as to what he meant.
JIM LEHRER: Iran. You said yesterday on another television program that Iran helped some of the al-Qaida escape from Afghanistan. How many? How major a deal was this?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, first we have to recognize that the borders of Afghanistan are porous. There are four or five countries around the periphery. Iran is along the border. They have tribes that move back and forth for centuries so it’s not as though there’s a border patrol or an electronic barrier that stops things. We do have a good deal of information to the effect that al-Qaida and Taliban have taken refuge there and others have used it as a transit point. We have no evidence at all that Iran has tried to stop them, that Iran has tried to turn them over to us or some other country or to incarcerate these people, the al-Qaida, a terrorist network.
We know simultaneously Iran is very active in sending Hezbollah terrorists down through Damascus into the Baca Valley and down in to Lebanon. We know that Iran has been selling or giving, probably giving weapons to Afghan elements in the country, which we find notably unhelpful. So that’s a fact. These are facts. That’s a behavior pattern not by the people of Iran. I think a lot of the people of Iran would like to throw off that regime. I think that there’s a lot of young people and women in that country that feel repressed. And I also there’s some people in the political process who feel that it ought to be changed. But the ones that have the control have been doing the things I just said. Let there be no doubt.
JIM LEHRER: You say the evidence is clear. The president — you say what the president said is clear. So what is the message to Iran — stop it or we’ll take you out or we’ll do something to you?
DONALD RUMSFELD: I’ll give you the same answer I gave before.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Okay. But I mean, for instance, let’s say… Let’s don’t be specific because I understand why you would not want to talk specifically about Iran, Iraq or… What about Iraq? I mean what is it you want, you and the president want Saddam Hussein to stop doing? And then we’ll get to the general thing.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, Saddam Hussein has been a threat to its own people. It’s used weapons of mass destruction on its own people. It’s a threat to its neighbors. Its invaded Kuwait. It is constantly calling neighboring regimes illegitimate and suggesting that its intent is to take them, if they’re allowed. It is a country that has had and does today a very active weapons of mass destruction programs. It threatens Israel as well as some of the moderate Arab regimes continuously. It is a repressing its own people. It has thrown out the inspectors. It has been a number of years since the inspectors have been in there.
They have had free play to develop these weapons of mass destruction. The technologies have enabled them to make advances to be sure. And they have obviously the ability to deceive and deny others from knowing precisely what they’re doing through a variety of underground capabilities and mobility. Absent the world — someone, the United States, other countries– pointing out the danger they pose to their own people and to their neighbors, they would run free and they would invade Kuwait again to be sure. They might invade Saudi Arabia, which they threatened to do. They clearly are no friend of Jordan. They’re no friend of Israel. And this is a vicious, repressive regime.
JIM LEHRER: But from U.S. policy standpoint, since the president’s speech the other night and the reaction to it and follow-up statements from you, Secretary Powell and others, there has been some people– the French, the Germans, the King of Jordan today– have all said wait a minute an action against Iraq might not be in the interest of the region, whatever. Is the message that the President is giving is that the United States, if necessary– I’m not saying they will– but if necessary would act alone if they felt that this was a threat…if Iraq or any other country was a threat to stability or to peace?
DONALD RUMSFELD: I think the… What the president is saying to the world and to those terrorist countries and weapons of mass destruction countries is very clear. He’s saying, “Look, world, be on notice. This is a very dangerous time for the world” — that these weapons are enormously powerful. They can kill not thousands of people but tens of thousands of people and that these countries that have engaged in a behavior pattern of terrorist acts cooperating with terrorist networks, providing haven to terrorists, that have those weapons pose a threat that we need to be conscious of and attentive to.
What the next step might be is a question for the president not for me. But I don’t think there’s any doubt in those countries but that they now are on notice that the rest of the world also knows that they pose a threat to their people, their neighbors and indeed other countries.
JIM LEHRER: You made a speech last week in which you talked about the lessons of the Afghan war. One of them was that you said preemption may be necessary in the future. You said, quote, the best in some cases, the only defense is a good offense. Now that’s a major change of U.S. defense policy, is it not? Have we ever taken a preemptory strike against another country without them first attacking us?
DONALD RUMSFELD: We did in Afghanistan. Yes. The answer is. If you think about, we have no choice. A terrorist can attack at any time at any place using a range of techniques. It is physically impossible to defend at every time in every location against every conceivable technique of terrorism. Therefore, if your goal is to stop it, you cannot stop it by defense. You can only stop it by taking the battle to the terrorists, where they are and going after them. Now, you can tolerate it if they’re not going to have access to powerful weapons and not going to kill thousands of people. If it’s one or two or three people, the world has learned to live with a level of carnage that’s modest. You don’t like it.
But when it’s not modest, when it’s large numbers, when it’s something like smallpox or anthrax or a chemical weapon or the radiation weapon or killing thousands of people at the World Trade, then you say to yourself, well, if we can’t stop terrorists at every location of every technique at every moment of the day or night, what must we do — Just sit here and take the blows like the World Trade, take the blows that biological weapons would pose to us? The answer is no. You have a responsibility to defend your country. Everyone in the world knows– even the U.N. Charter provides– for the right of self-defense. And the only self-defense, the only effective way to defend is to take the battle to where the terrorists are. They are planning, they are plotting, they have trained thousands of terrorists very well, and we have no choice but to find those people and root them out, as the president said, and stop them from doing what they’re doing and stop countries from harboring them.
JIM LEHRER: But we only did this after we were attacked which is the traditional… I’m just saying just as a matter of history the United States has always been attacked and then react. You’re saying no more, not… this is a different kind of warfare.
DONALD RUMSFELD: We were attacked. So it is self-defense to go out.
JIM LEHRER: But you’re saying that now we’re not going to sit back and wait for another World Trade Center, we’re now doing that.
DONALD RUMSFELD: We’ve already been attacked so what we’re doing is in self-defense.
JIM LEHRER: Well, but we haven’t been attacked by North Korea. We haven’t been attacked by Iran; we haven’t been attacked by Iraq. You can have a whole list of other countries. But you’re saying… I’m just trying to understand how you define a preemption under your definition of the lessons of Afghanistan.
DONALD RUMSFELD: It is what we are doing. We identified the reality of al-Qaida in all of these countries and the reality of Taliban harboring them. We said that we have no choice but to defend ourselves, and the only way to do that is to go find them. We have gone in to Afghanistan and we are working the problem very hard. We are also working the problem elsewhere in the world: Where they hide and where they operate and where they train and where they find haven from other countries. And the president has said if you’re harboring a terrorist, you’re supporting the terrorist. That means that the countries that engage in terrorist act and harbor terrorist and provide haven for terrorist and run the risk of transferring weapons of mass destruction to terrorists, that they pose a danger to the world.
JIM LEHRER: And we may not wait we will not wait for you to strike us before we strike you?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Certainly self-defense suggests that if we had reason to believe that that nexus was being bridged or that al-Qaida and terrorists were being provided haven, clearly we have an obligation to try to find them.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Thank you.