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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Rumsfeld at Press Club

Aired September 10, 2003 - 13:24   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Quickly to Washington D.C. now, where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is speaking at the National Press Club.
Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: You can learn a lot about their congressional distri]cts, because they represent their congressional districts reasonably well. Then this fellow, this smart Ph.D., went on to say that, "Rumsfeld is the exception that proves the rule. Rumsfeld is distinguished principally by his total lack of social, financial and political standing in the community."

(LAUGHTER)

Well, I woke my wife up and said, "Joyce, listen to this. Isn't it that terrible?" She said, "Yes, but it's tough to argue with. Go back to sleep."

(LAUGHTER)

Well, tomorrow, our country will mark the second anniversary of September 11th and the terrorist attacks though, in truth, it's really our third national remembrance of that day. The first was a month after the attack, as you may recall. It was a moment to grieve, to console those who had recently lost loved ones in Washington, New York, Pennsylvania, people from all walks of life, all religions, all races, nationalities.

And it was a moment to steel our country for the war that was just starting to unfold. The second remembrance came one year ago on September 11th. We gathered to remember the dead and to take stock of what had been accomplished since September 11th.

There have been some notable accomplishments. The Taliban have been driven from power and the Al Qaida have been put on the run. Terrorists were beginning to recognize that far from driving the United States and the free people of the world to retreat, or isolation, or fear, or being terrorized, the attacks on September 11th had, in fact, awakened our country and other nations to action.

RUMSFELD: Tomorrow, we'll pause again to remember that day, and tomorrow will be different in an important sense.

Two years will have passed since those attacks and while the passage of time heals injured hearts, it also poses a bit of a danger, a danger that as those events grow more distant, there's at least the possibility that people hoping to get on with their lives will begin slowly to forget. And it's important that we not forget.

So tomorrow, with coalition forces risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and many other spots on this globe, it's important to pause and to remember. The war that began two years ago tomorrow, the global war on terror is well begun, but it is only just begun. A good deal has been accomplished.

The president has rallied and sustained possibly the largest coalition of countries in human history, some 90 nations, nearly half the world are engaged in the global war on terror. Within weeks of being attacked, coalition forces were responding in Afghanistan to remove the Taliban and put Al Qaida on the run in a matter of months.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mr. Rumsfeld, you're fired. Your foreign policy is based on lies. The war in Iraq is unjust and illegal and the occupation is immoral. There are U.S. soldiers dying in Iraq.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Go home. Go home.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Bring the troops home now.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Go home.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Tell us when the troops are coming home. They need to come home.

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Hey, Rumsfeld, what do you say, how many children did you kill today? Hey, Rumsfeld, what do you say, how many children did you kill today?

RUMSFELD: Well, now...

(LAUGHTER)

You know, I just came in from Baghdad, and there are now over 100 newspapers in the free press in Iraq, in a free Iraq, where people are able to say whatever they wish. People are debating, people are discussing -- something they had not done for decades. And so if one looks back, just four and a half months ago, that regime was still in place. It was still creating mass graves and filling them with bodies of innocent men, women and children. It still had prisons filled, where they were executing people. It was still repressing thought and speech in that country and that has ended. Those people are liberated.

(APPLAUSE)

The -- interestingly, about a month or two after September 11th, I was in Oman meeting with the sultan of Oman in a tent south of his country. He was visiting his constituents.

RUMSFELD: And he said, "You know, as terrible as September 11th was, it may very well be that it's a blessing in disguise." And I said, "How so?" And he said that, "It was terrible, the loss of 3,000 human beings." But he said, "If it will awake the world, if it will cause us to act, if it will cause people to stop people from teaching that it is a good thing to kill innocent men, women and children -- if that were to happen before we had a September 11th, where not 3,000 were killed, but 30,000, or 300,000 through a biological attack, or whatever," he said, "then it would have served a useful purpose."

That is, in a very important sense, a task we have, a responsibility we have to do everything we can as people to see that we don't have an event of that magnitude. The global war is not a war that we fight so that we can declare victory and go home, really.

The world was changed on September 11th. And if we're going to be able to live as free people, and say what we want and go where we wish and send our children off to school knowing they'll be able to come home, not be terrorized, not alter the way we live our lives, then we have to recognize that we have to change. We have to deal with these new threats in different ways.

On September 11th, we had to face our vulnerabilities. In a world of international finance, communications, and transportation, even relatively small, isolated organizations and individuals can, in fact, have global reach and the ability to cause unprecedented destruction. We became aware that some of the world's most irresponsible regimes are aggressively pursuing the means to attack others, and the threats posed by those regimes was, really, once confined largely to their country or their neighbors. They could murder their own people, as they have. They could wreak havoc in the neighborhood. But they possessed only modest capacity to bring war to our cities and our streets and to affect our lives.

But we have, in fact, entered a new security environment in this 21st century. We're living in an age where new threats can emerge suddenly with little or no warning. We face adversaries who have shown that they are willing to use the various capabilities at their disposal. We can no longer stake our security on the assumption that terrorist states can be counted on to avoid actions that lead to their own destruction.

The old concept of deterrents -- that theory has been overtaken by events.

RUMSFELD: Certainly, such logic did not stop the Taliban regime from harboring Al Qaida, as it executed attacks on the United States. They were not deterred, if you will. It did not stop the Iraqi regime from defying the 17th U.N. Security Council resolution, even with thousands of coalition forces massing on its borders. They, too, were not deterred.

Why these regimes -- why would these regimes take actions that resulted in their destruction? Well, we may never know precisely what was in the minds of those leaders that caused those actions. But we do know this: Regimes without checks and balances are prone to grave miscalculations.

As the president said in his address to the country: "For America, there will be no going back to the era before September 11th, 2001, to false comfort in a dangerous world. We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness."

And that's why our coalition has to take the battle to the terrorists and the regime remnants in Iraq. We're doing so alongside military forces from 29 countries. It is a very broad coalition and we're continuing to work to expand the number of countries involved in both security and reconstruction.

As we do so, our coalition is encouraging the Iraqis to take charge of their own lives, politically, economically, and from a security standpoint. We are paving the way for an orderly transfer of sovereignty and authority to the Iraqi people.

It's impressive, I think, that in just four and a half months we have gone from zero Iraqis involved in their own security to 55,000 who are currently engaged in border patrols, site protection units, local police, civil defense and the beginnings of a new Iraqi army, unlike the old one. It's important, it seems to me, to do that.

There are a number of people calling for additional U.S. forces to go in to Iraq, and our commanders, to a person, have told me, from General Sanchez, General Abizaid, General Myers, all have said that they believe they have the right number of U.S. forces in the country at the present time. What they want is what we're doing, and that is to increase the Iraqis involved in providing for their own security.

RUMSFELD: Ultimately, every country has to do that. And rather than flooding the zone with more Americans, which means you have to have more force protection, more support, it is, we believe, vastly better to continue to invest in encouraging the Iraqis to provide the kinds of increases and ramping up of their own security capabilities.

Looking back over the last two years, the American people can be proud of the men and women in uniform. I just returned, as I said, and they are really remarkable, what they're doing. The coalition forces, U.S. forces, a coalition from dozens of nations are doing very little of a military nature. That is to say that General Sanchez said they have -- they're down from about 25 to 26 incidents countrywide, down to about 14 or 15 a day in this country of 23 million people, the size of California. He said, they last -- the incidents last about two or three minutes. They involve very small numbers of people, and the forces are aggressively dealing with them.

The bulk of the time, the forces are engaged in fixing schools, digging wells, repairing hospitals, providing soccer -- filling -- making soccer fields and providing soccer games for people, doing medical assistance, dental assistance, a whole host of things like that. And the overwhelming majority of the time of our U.S. forces is involved in those.

The other thing they're doing is they're helping to create -- they're training the local police forces, they're training the site protection people, they're training the border patrols. They're helping to form city councils. City councils have spouted up all across that country.

Now, is it a perfect situation? No. Is it a tough situation? You bet it is. Is it going to take some time? Indeed, it is. It's going to take patience. It's part of the global war on terror, let there be no doubt.

So as we celebrate their accomplishments, we also have to recognize that those threats are not likely to end immediately.

That's why this year, September 11th, we will stop to remind ourselves what befell us that day: 3,000 innocent men, women and children of all races and religions died. And tomorrow, we'll remember them and let those memories steel us for the difficult challenges that remain. Certainly, it is our responsibility to try to do everything in our power to prevent another, or worse, September 11.

Thank you very much. (APPLAUSE)

QUESTION: Sorry about the protester. I believe that's happened to you before though, right?

RUMSFELD: You're right. It has happened before.

QUESTION: I said, I bet that's happened to him before, the protester. So my apologies for the interruption.

First question, what mistakes were made by the U.S. in the war with Iraq?

RUMSFELD: Well, I should say that General Tom Franks, and his team, were really superb joint war fighters.

(APPLAUSE)

They did what they had to do. They did it with great precision. They did it with a minimal loss of innocent life. The infrastructure of that country was not terribly damaged by the war at all. It was damaged by 30 years of Saddam Hussein, with a Stalinist-like economy, denying the people of that country the money and the funds and the resources and the investments that they could have had. The neighboring countries are, in many cases, prosperous.

And this country is rich in water, it's rich in industrious people, it's rich in oil.

RUMSFELD: And to have presided over that country and left it as bad as he did -- so the idea that it has a big reconstruction effort is true, but it's a result of the effort.

Now, what did we -- did we underestimate something? Yes. I don't think people really fully understood how devastating that regime was to the infrastructure of the country, how fragile the electric system is, how poorly the water is being managed, and the extent to which the people are being denied.

On the other hand, so many of the things that could have gone wrong didn't. There was not a humanitarian disaster. They did not flood the -- open the dams and flood the area as they did in the south. We prevented the oil wells from the environmental disaster that could have been caused and was caused in Kuwait.

So in life is anything perfect? No. But I would say in answer to your question on the war, I would say that General Franks and his team did a really superb piece of work.

QUESTION: How, to follow up on that, how do you respond to critics who say the U.S. did not have enough of a post-war plan for winning the peace?

RUMSFELD: Well, I guess I'd say this. Jerry Bremer, who was here recently, he gave me a piece of paper when I was over in Baghdad this week, he pointed out that the Independent Central Bank of Germany, it took three years after World War II to establish it; it was established in Iraq in two months.

That the police in Germany were established after 14 months; in Iraq they were established in two months. That a new currency in Germany took three years; it took two and a half months in Iraq. The cabinet in Germany took 14 months; Iraq has a cabinet today after four months.

Now, how did you go from zero to 55,000 Iraqis providing for their own security? I think the biggest difference is that we now have 24-hour news, and everyone is examining everything every second, and it feels like it's been about four years since the end of the conflict, and it was May 1st.

And I give Jerry Bremer a great deal of credit for what he's doing. I think Jay Garner before him did a wonderful job. It is tough work, it is -- there are problems, there are difficulties. There are people being killed. There are people being wounded. There is sabotage taking place on the infrastructure, because there are the remnants of the Baathists that are there. There's foreign terrorists that are coming in from neighboring countries. And Saddam Hussein opened his jails and let out somewhere between 110,000 and 115,000 criminals, and put them loose on the Iraqi population. These people are out there doing bad things.

It is going to be a tough job, but it's a job well worth doing.

RUMSFELD: And our folks, in my view, are hard at it doing a good job and proceeding purposefully, and I would say proceeding at a pace that very likely is faster than happened in Japan, faster than happened in Germany, faster than happened in Bosnia, faster than happened in Kosovo.

Is it instantaneous? No. But are things happening? Yes.

QUESTION: You mentioned the sorry state of the infrastructure. How come U.S. intelligence didn't give a better warning of how bad that was?

RUMSFELD: Well, resources are finite and they were worrying about more important things.

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said months ago that the U.S. could finance the Iraqi reconstruction with oil revenues. What changed, or was that a miscalculation?

RUMSFELD: I have, at my advanced age, developed a policy of not commenting on quotations that I haven't seen myself and seen in context. That is not to say that I question the accuracy of that, but I have so often had people say things I said that I didn't say, or if I did say, I shouldn't have...

(LAUGHTER)

... that I'm not going to comment on that question.

The short answer is, however, that the country has a great deal of potential. It has potential because of its water resources, which could conceivably be as valuable as their oil in that part of the world. They have oil. They have tourist sites -- Babylon. You cannot walk around in Babylon and just not be moved by being there.

I think tourism is going to be something important in that country as soon as the security situation is resolved. And I think that will be resolved as the Iraqis take over more and more responsibility for their own government. Will the -- the Iraqis are capable of lifting a great deal more oil than is currently the case.

But they also have -- in my view, are ultimately going to have to recognize that oil revenue is not the only answer. There are a lot of countries in the world that had oil that haven't managed it very well, where the governments have managed it, and in the end their people have not really benefited greatly. My view is -- maybe it's because I've been a businessman for so many years, but my view is that governments can do relatively little for people and that investment, outside investment, inside investment, people voting with their dollars that they want to make something work in a given place, is what really is the engine that drives things.

Government doesn't create the jobs, the opportunities, the wealth in our country. It doesn't create the job and opportunities in most countries. Private investment does, human capital does.

RUMSFELD: And that's ultimately what will have to be the case in Iraq, although they have the benefit of oil and if -- with some significant investments in their infrastructure, they could get significant increases in revenues from oil above where they currently are. But there's no one thing that is the answer in my view.

COLLINS: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. We've been listening in in Washington D.C. at the National Press Club, taking some questions there from folks in the audience, talking about the global war on terror, and as he put it, celebrating the accomplishments of the U.S. troops, in hospitals, and medical assistance and fixing schools and so forth. He also says, as they celebrate those accomplishments they, remember do the victims of September 11. That celebration, of course, coming tomorrow on the two-year anniversary.

He was, however, interrupted by one heckler in the crowd, up in the balcony.

Let's listen in to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Rumsfeld, you're fired! Your foreign policy is based on lies! The war in Iraq was unjust and illegal, and the occupation is immoral! There are U.S. soldiers dying in Iraq!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go home!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every day! Every day!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: As you heard, one person up there holding the banner and several shouts from the crowd telling this person to go home and not interrupt the defense secretary. He did continue on just moments after that.

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