of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
Interview on ABC's This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts
October 28, 2001
11:30 A.M. EDT
ROBERTS: And now joining us is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Thank you
so much for being with us, Mr. Secretary.
RUMSFELD: Thank you.
ROBERTS: I want to get to that question about Iraq later, but first, the war.
There have been stories over the weekend that give the perception that this
war, after three weeks, is not going very well. That the Taliban is getting
stronger, that Osama bin Laden is still at large, that one of the chief opposition
leaders has been assassinated, and that the Red Cross warehouse has been hit
by U.S. bombs. Is the war just not going as well as you had hoped it would at
RUMSFELD: Oh, no, quite the contrary. It's going very much the way we expected
when it began. Three weeks is not a very long time, if one thinks about it.
And the progress has been measurable. We feel that the air campaign has been
effective. The fact that for a period we did not have good targets has now shifted,
because we are getting much better information from the ground in terms of targets.
Also, the pressure that has been put on fairly continuously these past weeks
has forced people to move and to change locations in a way that gives additional
ROBERTS: Did the military help Abdul Haq, the opposition leader who was assassinated
RUMSFELD: My understanding of that situation was that he had decided to come
back in the country in a form and manner of his own choosing. And that he did
request assistance, and that he received some assistance. The assistance, unfortunately,
was from the air and he was on the ground. And regrettably, he was killed.
ROBERTS: But he did receive assistance from the U.S. military?
RUMSFELD: That's my understanding. No, I didn't say that. I said he requested
assistance and received it.
ROBERTS: But not from the U.S. military?
RUMSFELD: No. It was from another agency.
ROBERTS: Okay. From an intelligence agency, I would take it.
RUMSFELD: It was from another element of the government.
ROBERTS: Okay. The question of victory is one that is some -- a question of
definition. And I think that our polling generally shows that getting Osama
bin Laden is considered an important part of this campaign and I want to show
you some things that you've said over the last week about this question. You
said, "The military role will be over there when the Taliban and the al-Qaeda
are gone, gone. And that is what this is all about." Then you said of Osama,
"He's got a lot of money, he's got a lot of people who support him, and
I just don't know whether we'll be successful." And finally, "Until
you have him, you do not have him. So what is the progress? Until he's no longer
functioning as a terrorist, he is functioning as a terrorist." That sounds
like you think that he is still the problem and until we get him, we've not
won, but we might not get him.
RUMSFELD: Well, those are a few of the things I've said on the subject. I've
said a great many things on the subject. I've also said I have every reason
to believe we will find him. I've also said that I don't think he's the whole
problem. This is not about a single person. It is about the problem of terrorism.
He is one element of al-Qaeda. There are a lot of leaders. If he disappeared
today off the face of the Earth, there would still be the al-Qaeda network,
there would still be other terrorist networks, and there still would be worldwide
terrorism that would need to be dealt with.
So I think that it makes -- it's a mistake to too great an extent to try to
personalize what's going on in this world. We lost thousands of people here
in the United States. The president has declared war on international terrorism.
He is hard at taking the war to them, because there's no way to defend everywhere
in the world against terrorists. You simply must go find them and root out those
That is what is underway. To think only about one man, I think, is a mistake.
Will we get him? I think we will. And I certainly hope so.
ROBERTS: Why not put in massive ground troops now to go in and find the elements
of al-Qaeda and hopefully, also, Osama?
RUMSFELD: Well, we've not ruled out the use of ground troops.
ROBERTS: And is it a possibility that they will go in and go in soon?
RUMSFELD: Well, I think if one hasn't ruled them -- I didn't say "soon,"
but I think if someone has not ruled out the use of ground troops, there certainly
is that possibility.
ROBERTS: But you're not saying they're going to go in anytime soon. And in great
RUMSFELD: Well, that wouldn't be very wise of me, would it, to say that we think
something's going to happen in the period immediately ahead. I'm not going to
do that. I'm not going to talk about what we might or might not do.
ROBERTS: The question of timetable, you've also said, it's important not to
have a timetable, that it has to go according to how the war goes. But you've
heard over the weekend President Musharraf of Pakistan use the echo word from
Vietnam "quagmire," and then he said there does need to be a timetable.
Here's what he said: "Military action must be brought to an end as soon
as possible and if it is unable to achieve its military goals in a certain time,
we need to switch to a political strategy." Problems with the coalition
RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, there's nothing in that statement that anyone
could disagree with. No one would want a military campaign to go on longer than
necessary. And he said it should be brought to an end as soon as possible. Everyone
would want it to end as soon as possible.
Second, there is no coalition. There are multiple coalitions. And we have said
that from the very beginning. We are getting all kinds of different assistance
from different countries all across the globe. And about a week or two ago,
I said, you know, some day in the next period, someone's going to say, "oh,
the coalition's falling apart!" The implication being if one country decides
they don't want to participate in one element of what it is we're doing, that
therefore, quote, "the" coalition is falling apart. We have said from
day one there is no single coalition. There are multiple coalitions. Countries
are going to help us in the way they feel best. And we are getting enormous
support from all across the world.
ROBERTS: So are you saying if Pakistan pulls out, that that's okay?
RUMSFELD: Pakistan's not going to pull out. The President of Pakistan has a
very difficult situation. One has to appreciate how difficult that is. He is
doing a terrific job, in my personal view, in managing that very difficult situation
and he is being exceedingly cooperative with us.
ROBERTS: Now, there is a perception, certainly here in Washington, that part
of the reason that this war has not widened to go -- you talked about going
after terrorism all over the world -- to go into Iraq, and you've heard Brian
Ross's report, the confirmation that Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence
official, and the suspicion about anthrax in Iraq. And that this administration
doesn't want to say the word "Iraq" for fear of having to go in and
that then the Arab world could blow apart.
RUMSFELD: This administration is not afraid of saying the word "Iraq."
Iraq has been on the terrorist list for years. There is no question but that
Iraq is a state that has committed terrorist acts and has sponsored terrorist
ROBERTS: Do you think it was -- the meeting with Mohammed Atta was significant,
in terms of September 11?
RUMSFELD: We will know that only after the proper law enforcement people investigate
that. Clearly, the meeting is not nothing. It is something notable.
ROBERTS: And the reports that the anthrax could have been tampered with by this
Betonite that is Iraqi-based?
RUMSFELD: Yeah. I am really not into "could haves" and "might
haves." I think that in a position of responsibility in the government,
I've got an obligation to talk about what I know about and to not speculate
about those things. And I know that serious people are looking at both of those
ROBERTS: In the military?
RUMSFELD: In the United States government.
ROBERTS: And if, in fact, it turns out that it was Iraq that infiltrated the
anthrax, what do we do?
RUMSFELD: Well, there's a hypothetical question that is the kind of thing that
ends up on the President of the United States' desk frequently. And those are
tough decisions and we'll just have to see.
ROBERTS: There's a sense, of course, that the coalition that was there for the
Gulf War kept the United States from going after Saddam at the time. As you
know better than I, there are a lot of people in this administration and in
your Defense Department who think that that was a mistake and that we should
do it now.
RUMSFELD: There's no question but that there's been a debate in the world as
to how that conflict might have ended differently. And there's also no question
but that Saddam is still a threat to his neighbors. He is a threat to the Kurds
in the north of his country. He's a threat to the Shi'ia in the south. He's
a threat to his neighbors in Iran. He's a threat to Jordan.
ROBERTS: Is he a threat to us?
RUMSFELD: And he clearly, as a terrorist state, is a threat to other countries
in the world, including the United States. He has been contained to some extent
because of Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch, where the United States
and coalition aircraft fly missions to prevent him from getting a head start
to try to impose his will on his neighbors again. It is true there are people
around in and out of government who wish he weren't there. And certainly I'm
one of them.
ROBERTS: But no plans to go after him at the moment?
RUMSFELD: We're doing what we're doing and I will say this, the president has
said this is a war against terrorist networks across the globe. There are many
more than just al-Qaeda. They are in many more countries beyond Afghanistan.
And it is something that we as a country and the many countries assisting us
are currently doing.
We have to remember that what we see is only part of what's happening. The number
of people who have been arrested, the number of bank accounts that have been
frozen, the amount of intelligence that's been gathered, the law enforcement
work that's going on, is in addition every bit as important as the military
part that's taking place.
ROBERTS: Let me just ask you, though, about what you just said. And we're about
out of time, but what we see is just part of what's happening. There's some
sense that we're losing the propaganda war. And those pictures we saw of those
children at the beginning of the program have taken the place in our minds of
the pictures of the World Trade Center being blown up. Why not allow more press
access so that the United States' press can show pictures that fight the Arab
RUMSFELD: I don't -- I'm not an expert on this subject, but my understanding
is that the United States government, during this period, with respect to the
military element, has been enormously forthcoming and the press has been involved
in as many aspects as I believe has ever been the case of things where it's
The press has not been parachuting in on Special Operations activities into
a hostile environment in Afghanistan, to be sure. But I don't think they want
to, nor do I think it would be safe for the troops trying to protect them, once
they got in there.
There are press people all over Afghanistan and the ones that are following
the Taliban are, of course, allowed to go where the Taliban wants and they're
being told what the Taliban wants and the Al Jazeera television network has
a pattern of putting out al-Qaeda propaganda. That's just a fact. Now, you're
right, it makes it very difficult if one side lies, and they have lied repeatedly.
They're using mosques, for example, for command and control, for ammunition
storage. They are clearly not telling the truth about these casualties. We know
that of certain knowledge.
Now, are people going to be killed in a war? You bet. And there are plenty of
people throwing ordnance around in Afghanistan besides the United States. It's
coming down -- we're bombing from the air, but the opposition forces are, in
fact, fighting against the Taliban. The Taliban is fighting against us and the
opposition forces. So when someone dies, it could have come from any one of
those four locations.
ROBERTS: Okay. Mr. Secretary, have you been vaccinated against anthrax?
ROBERTS: Okay. Thank you.
RUMSFELD: Have you?
ROBERTS: No. Thank you very much. Thank you for being here.