Kwame Holman reports on the second day of the Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of Defense-designate Donald Rumsfeld.
KWAME HOLMAN: Donald Rumsfeld stood in the hearing room of the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, almost assured the dubious distinction of becoming both the youngest and the oldest person ever to serve as Defense Secretary. Rumsfeld was only 45 in 1975 when President Gerald Ford asked his then-chief of staff to head the Defense Department. Now 68, Rumsfeld has been asked by President-elect Bush to return to the Pentagon.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: And indeed, I think the country should be grateful that you are willing to come back again and sign on for a second hitch, as we say in the military, in this important post.
KWAME HOLMAN: Rumsfeld was born in Chicago, graduated from Princeton, and was a Navy pilot. He was an investment broker when he ran for and was elected to Congress in 1962. In 1969, Rumsfeld resigned from the House to direct the Office of Economic Opportunity in the Nixon administration. Later, he was U.S. Ambassador to NATO. He served President Ford both as chief of staff and Defense Secretary. He left government in 1977 and became CEO Of GD Searle Pharmaceutical, followed by other corporate top spots. However, Rumsfeld kept abreast of military policy, heading a commission to determine the threat of ballistic missile attacks, and most recently, a commission reviewing American space operations. While delivering prepared remarks this morning, Rumsfeld acknowledged much has changed since his last confirmation hearing a quarter of a century ago.
DONALD RUMSFELD: The last time I appeared for a confirmation hearing here, the armed forces and those of our NATO allies stood toe to toe, facing the militaries of the Warsaw Pact, ready to clash at a moment's notice on a battlefield of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany. Today, the Cold War era is history, and we find ourselves facing a new era, often called the post-Cold War period, or possibly more properly, the era of globalization. It's an extraordinarily hopeful time; one that's full of promise, but also full of challenges.
KWAME HOLMAN: But one of the first questions asked Rumsfeld by the committee's temporary chairman, Democrat Carl Levin, was of a personal nature. The "Chicago Tribune" recently printed the transcript of a taped conversation between Rumsfeld and then-President Nixon in 1971 concerning African Americans.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: First, there were some offensive racist comments by the President. And I would like you to explain your recollection of that conversation and your response to his comments.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Apparently-- and again, I'm not certain of all of this-- but it appears that he was characterizing some remarks that were made by Vice President Agnew. And he was characterizing... he was quoting them in a critical manner, saying that Agnew shouldn't have said that; "he shouldn't have been drinking with people who he didn't know," or whatever it was. And then later he quoted some other people and how they talked, and he adopted a dialect, according to this statement. The tape seems to indicate that I may have agreed with one or more things on that tape. To the extent I did agree with anything, I am certain I agreed only with the fact that some people talked like that and that Vice President Agnew should not have used or thought such derogatory and offensive and unfair and insensitive things about minorities. I did not then, and I do not now, agree with the offensive and wrong characterizations.
KWAME HOLMAN: The policy questions touched on a range of military issues-- most notably construction of a missile defense system.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Do you know whether or not the incoming administration has made any decisions relative to the architecture of a national missile defense system, if, in fact, a decision is made to recommend such a system?
DONALD RUMSFELD: The President-elect has indicated that it is his intention to deploy a missile defense system. I know of no decisions that have been made by him or by me with respect to exactly what form that might take.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrat Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts followed up.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: When will we know that it will work? I mean, would you establish as a baseline that it clearly has to pass a field test?
DONALD RUMSFELD: The problem with ballistic missiles, with weapons of mass destruction: Even though they may be a low probability, as the chart that Senator Levin, I believe, mentioned suggests, the reality is they work without being fired. They alter behavior. If you think back to the Gulf War, if Saddam Hussein, a week before he invaded Kuwait, had demonstrated that he had a ballistic missile and a nuclear weapon, the task of trying to put together that coalition would have been impossible. There's no way you could have persuaded the European countries that they should put themselves at risk to a nuclear weapon. People's behavior changes if they see those capabilities out there. I think we need missile defense because I think it devalues people having that capability, and it enables us to do a much better job with respect to our allies. Now, finally, I don't think many weapons systems arrive full-blown. Senator Levin or somebody mentioned "phased and layered." Those are phrases that I think people, not improperly, use to suggest that things don't start and then suddenly they're perfect. What they do is they... you get them out there, and they evolve over time, and they improve.
KWAME HOLMAN: John Warner, who will take over as Armed Services Chairman later this month, focused on how and when the new administration would use military force.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: General Powell, the Secretary of State-designee, once stated that we should always execute the decisive results and be prepared to commit, "the force needed to achieve the political objective."
DONALD RUMSFELD: All of us in that team have opinions and all of us have opined on this subject, publicly and privately, from time to time, including the President- elect. But the elements that come back from time to time are, "is what you think you want to do actually achievable? It may be meritorious, it may need to be done, but if you can't really do it, oughtn't you maybe not to try?" And that's a tough one to evaluate. In no case is it a cookie mold you can press down and say, "there's the answer." Each of these are subjective and difficult. The second that comes to mind is resources. Do you have the resources? You might be able to do it, but if you're spread all over the world and you simply don't have the capabilities at that given moment, then you've got to face up to the truth, and that is that you can't do everything.
KWAME HOLMAN: As a case in point, Arizona Republican John McCain brought up the military buildup to fight the drug war in Colombia.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Recently the United States made a very significant investment in the problems in Colombia; largely, not totally, but largely unnoticed by Americans and their representatives. I take it from your answer that I have less-than-well-informed personal views which I'd prefer to discuss with the appropriate officials before taking a public position; is that you haven't paid as much attention to it as maybe other issues, as well?
DONALD RUMSFELD: That could be true. I haven't. I have not been to the country in years, and I know only basically what I know from the press, and...
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: You know that we've just invested about $1.3 billion in the last appropriations cycle?
DONALD RUMSFELD: That's my understanding.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: And we're upgrading a base in Ecuador, which I found out-- perhaps I shouldn't admit this-- by looking at a newspaper.
DONALD RUMSFELD: I didn't know that.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: There's a lot of things going on in Colombia, Mr. Secretary, and I hate to harken back to other conflicts, but I hope you'll get very well aware of this situation, what we're doing, what the involvement of U.S. military personnel is in the area, and what kind of investment, but more importantly, what goals we seek here -- because very frankly, I don't know the answer to those questions yet, and I think that at least those of us who sit on this committee should be much better informed, and I hope that the committee will start looking at this situation from an armed forces standpoint very quickly.
DONALD RUMSFELD: I will certainly invest the time needed to do that.
KWAME HOLMAN: McCain's wasn't the only question Rumsfeld wasn't yet prepared to answer. Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia complained about the current state of the Pentagon's financial books-- that it doesn't know how much it spends and how much things cost.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: How can we seriously consider a $50 billion increase in the defense budget when DOD's own auditors, when DOD's own auditors say that the Department cannot account for $2.3 trillion in transactions in one year alone? My question to you, Mr. Secretary, is what do you plan to do about this?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Decline the nomination. (Laughter)
KWAME HOLMAN: Rumsfeld did admit the problem could take a number of years to sort out. Meanwhile, the full Senate is scheduled to meet within hours of George W. Bush's swearing-in on January 20. Donald Rumsfeld will be among several cabinet nominees expected to receive overwhelming Senate approval at that time.