Proceedings : As a naval aviator, you flew SNJs and Panthers . . .
Rumsfeld : . . . And T28s and S2Fs. They’re all in museums today!
Proceedings : Then you ended up becoming a flight instructor, then an instructor of instructors. What if you had been assigned to a fighter squadron on a carrier from the start?
Rumsfeld : That was my hope. I very likely would have stayed in the Navy longer than three and a half years. I did stay in the Naval Reserve until I became Secretary of Defense the first time and realized I couldn’t call myself up! I loved the Navy, and it was a great experience. But for whatever reason I ended up deciding to go to work in Washington. And life goes on.
Proceedings : How did your years as a politician inform your later life in the executive branch? Was it an advantage?
Rumsfeld : I don’t know. There was certainly something special about asking people for their vote and if I could be their link to the federal government. It was a privilege to serve in the House of Representatives, where I learned a lot about the legislative branch.
But I must say I preferred the executive branch. Being one of 535 legislators is quite different from being in charge and responsible to the American people, the administration, and the Congress for the management and leadership of a large entity. I benefited greatly from being able to look at the executive branch from the White House, from the departments, and indeed from overseas as an ambassador. The best way to appreciate this country is to live outside it. You can’t help but appreciate how fortunate we are.
Proceedings : What lessons did you learn in the Ford administration that you carried into your second stint as Secretary of Defense? I know they were totally different circumstances.
Rumsfeld : President Ford faced such a difficult time, especially the tragic end of the Vietnam War. He faced a terrible economy. He’d never run for President or Vice President, but he succeeded the only President in our history to resign. The reservoir of trust was drained.
But former naval officer Gerald R. Ford brought decency, judgment, and integrity to bear in a way that restored faith in government. As fate would have it, my carrier qualification was on board the USS Monterey [CVL-26], the ship President Ford served on in World War II. I had the privilege of taking a painting of the USS Gerald R. Ford [CVN-78] aircraft carrier and a couple of the ship’s ball caps to him in Rancho Mirage, California, shortly before he died. It had come full cycle—from the Monterey to the Gerald R. Ford .
Proceedings : One aspect of your service in the Bush administration not addressed in the book is the establishment in DOD of the Office of Strategic Influence, not long after 9/11. In reaction to news reports on its alleged mission, to disseminate misleading and maybe false information to the foreign press, you supposedly eliminated the office in early 2002 and then several months later in November, you gave a press briefing in which you said, “You can have the name but I’m going to keep doing every single thing that needs to be done, and I have.” What did you mean by that, and what exactly was the purpose of that office?
Rumsfeld : I really don’t know, except for what the people in it have said publicly. I credit that information with being accurate, which is totally inconsistent with the press reports. My impression is that the people in the policy shop at the Pentagon decided they needed a closer look at intelligence. That was not an intelligence-gathering office at all. They needed to make judgments and have discussions, then interact with the intelligence community.
It was a benign activity. For whatever reason, people in the press mischaracterized it, but things like that take on a life of their own. I suppose what I meant in my press conference was: “Look, if there are things that need to be done that are the responsibility of the Department of Defense, we’ll certainly see that they’re done.” That office was so discredited by the press that I told the head of the policy shop to simply disband it and then figure out what they needed to do to protect the country and work closely with the intelligence agencies. That’s what took place.
Proceedings : What probably raised red flags is the report of distributing false or misleading information. Where did that come from?
Rumsfeld : I have no idea. No one in that shop, to my knowledge, ever did anything that was false or misleading. The only thing I remember even remotely related to that was in Iraq with the commander, George Casey, who is now the Chief of Staff of the Army. Someone on his staff decided that we needed better intelligence from the Iraqis, which would help us do a better job there and save American lives. They decided that the news was coming from al Qaeda, other terrorists, and former Baathists and Saddamists who were telling lies that were ending up in the Iraqi papers. So General Casey hired some people to write accurate stories about what the U.S. government, both civilian and military, was doing to help the Iraqi people. The purpose was to make them aware of the good things the Coalition forces were doing so that they would provide better intelligence.
Once the press heard that the military was paying people to write stories, there was a firestorm, and General Casey had to discontinue the program. That was not misleading or inaccurate. I wasn’t even aware they were doing it until it all blew up in the press, which shows the sensitivity to the kinds of things you’re talking about.
Proceedings : In your discussion of what became known as the so-called “revolt of the generals,” you quote General Eric Shinseki’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. When he was pressed to talk about troop numbers, he said several hundred thousand would be required. But the quote is cut off in the book.
General Shinseki actually added that such troop levels would be required “to maintain a safe and secure environment, to make sure the people are fed and water is distributed and all the other responsibilities that go along with administering the situation.” He went on to say, in essence, that a prolonged presence would have a long-term effect on operational tempo and overwhelm the force. Why do you think this testimony, in your words, began “a media firestorm” in support of General Shinseki?
Rumsfeld : I don’t really know. First of all, it was surprising that a member of the U.S. Senate [Carl Levin, (D-MI)] was trying to find out before the war how many troops were going to be used. Second, I thought his [General Shinseki’s] remarks were essentially unremarkable.
I think what happened was the press was interested in the subject of troop levels. General [Tommy] Franks had made recommendations to me, with which I agreed. At some point, General Shinseki was characterized as disagreeing with General Franks’ and my decision. I don’t think Shinseki thought he was disagreeing, because he said it was basically the responsibility of the combatant commander. A lot of mythology rose up after that—that he was mistreated, that he left early. There must have been thousands of reports in the press that he was fired or that I refused to go to his farewell. The truth is he wasn’t fired. He served out his entire term. And I was in Europe at the time of his farewell. He was asked to invite me, but he declined. And that’s his privilege. He of course was immediately hired by the Obama administration as Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Proceedings : The so-called Powell Doctrine, which by all accounts seemed to work in Desert Storm, called for, among other things, using every resource and tool to achieve decisive force against the enemy. That seems to have applied to U.S. combat operations in Iraq, but it apparently didn’t carry through to counterinsurgency. Why?
Rumsfeld : Well, I don’t know that it didn’t. Clearly, General Franks’ war plan was highly successful in defeating the Iraqi military capability. It’s quite a different thing to manage postwar, post-major-combat operations, which is phase four of a war plan. CENTCOM had a phase four, and what happened was that the intelligence did not suggest there would be the kind of insurgency that occurred. The Weinberger, or Powell Doctrine, as it’s called, had to do with combat operations. Certainly, I think most people would say that the CENTCOM plans in Afghanistan had a high degree of success fairly rapidly, as did major combat operations in Iraq.
One big disappointment was that the Turkish Parliament prevented General Franks from bringing a division in from the north. And of course, the northern part of the country below the Kurdish area was heavily Sunni. That inability to bring military forces in from the north provided a haven for the Saddamists to avoid being captured or killed during the major combat operations—which I don’t doubt contributed to the insurgency.
I had written before the war ever started what later became known as a “parade of horribles”—things that could go wrong. One was that we might not find large deposits of weapons of mass destruction. Another was that the war could be prolonged for years.
Anyone who thinks before a war that they know how long it’s going to last is probably going to be wrong. Anyone who thinks they know how much it’s going to cost is probably going to be wrong. And anyone who thinks they know how many lives will be lost is probably wrong.
The enemy has a brain, things happen on the ground, and the combatant commanders have the responsibility for continuously watching what takes place and adjusting their tactics, techniques, and procedures to fit the changing environment. For every offense, there’s a defense. For every defense, there’s an offense. Anyone who thinks that the conflict is static hasn’t read history and just doesn’t understand.
Proceedings : You state in the book that you were an early proponent of the all-volunteer force. The current situation demands dependence on reserves, the National Guard, and individual augmentees—people who joined the Navy and Air Force ending up on the ground doing things they didn’t sign up to do. How is the all-volunteer force working?
Rumsfeld : I testified for the all-volunteer Army back in the mid-’60s as a congressman and have been a strong proponent. We are so fortunate today that every single person serving is a volunteer and is there because they want to be there. We do not have the problems we had in Vietnam with people who were drafted. We don’t have the arguments of inequity because married people, conscientious objectors, teachers, and privileged people were excluded. Not so today.
Every single person is there because they want to be. You talk about the reserves and the Guard and individual augmentees. That is not a bad thing. That’s why they’re there, to augment the regular force. Second, I have great respect for the Air Force and the Navy and what they’ve done. They have looked at the tasks assigned to the ground forces—the Marines and the Army. They have competencies not directly related to the tasks performed by the Marine Corps and the Army, but many of the things surrounding what they do. Instead of saying, “That’s the ground forces’ job,” we’ve had service Secretaries, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and the CNO ask, “What can we do to help augment the Army and the Marines?” Men and women from the Navy and the Air Force are supporting the Army and Marines in enormously effective ways.
Proceedings : We’ve published several articles recently discussing where the United States should be concentrating its focus: namely, China, Iran, and North Korea. Where should we be focusing?
Rumsfeld : First and foremost, intelligence is a huge concern. The title of my book is Known and Unknown , not by accident. There’s so much we don’t know. Indeed, there’s so much we don’t even know we don’t know. We need to know a lot more about proliferation and weapons of mass destruction. We run the risk of seeing an attack on America not of 3,000 people but 300,000 or 3,000,000 people.
Second, cyber warfare is also of grave concern. We are so technical today that we have thrown away the shoe boxes with 3 x 5 cards. We’re terribly dependent on digits. There are people—young people, mostly—who spend day and night figuring out ways they can do damage to highly technical countries dependent on digits. We have rules of the road for the sea. We have rules of the road for the ground. We even have some space-race rules of the road. But we do not have rules for cyber warfare. We are as vulnerable, because of our technological advancements, as any nation on earth.
Proceedings : Having asked people to speak the truth to you when you were Secretary of Defense, you’re obviously familiar with the dilemma of speaking truth to power. It’s one of the principal underpinnings of the Naval Institute, and it has been since 1873. Over the years, and especially today, those who undertook thoughtful discussion and criticism of current policies, procedures, and programs and offered viable solutions have often found it hazardous to their careers.
Rumsfeld : Whether you’re in the public sector, the private sector, or the military, you have an obligation to speak your mind and say what you honestly believe, especially those with proximity to senior leaders. I sent down any number of memos saying, “I want to know what you think.” I want to know not just what the senior people think. If they want to do it anonymously, that’s fine. You have to talk and kick the tires and encourage people. Now, do I ask tough questions? You bet I do. Do I expect people to have the courage to answer those questions even if they don’t have the answer? Certainly. The people I worked with did have the courage to speak up. Some of those disgruntled generals who fussed and argued were basically people I never worked with.