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Pentagon Town Hall Meeting

Aired April 17, 2003 - 13:25   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now we're going to take you to the Pentagon briefing and Donald Rumsfeld addressing reporters.
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: ... regime of Saddam Hussein, a regime that threatened its neighbors and the world with weapons of mass destruction, supported terrorists and brutally repressed the Iraqi people. And today, one month later, the regime is no longer in charge of Iraq.

Thanks to the effort of forces from the United States, the U.K., Poland, Australia and the support of something like 42 or 43 other nations in the world, the regime has been removed from most of Iraq and the coalition forces are in the process of eliminating the threat that it posed to our people and to the world.

The Iraqi people are busy pulling down statues of Saddam Hussein, and they're celebrating their new freedom. They're speaking freely for the first time in decades, discussing the future of their country and expressing their hopes and aspirations for a free Iraq.

This week in Nasiriyah there was a meeting held by the coalition -- I should say sponsored by the coalition. It was really the first gathering of free Iraqis to discuss a way ahead toward creating an Iraqi interim authority and eventually creating a new Iraqi government.

That such a meeting could take place on free Iraqi soil less than a month after the war began is truly remarkable. It's testimony to the leadership of General Tom Franks and General McKiernan, the land component commander, Admiral Keating, the Naval commander, and General Buzz Moseley, the air commander, component commander, and the wonderful Special Forces team under Del Daley (ph).

It's also a credit to the determination of the men and women in uniform who are serving on the front lines in theater, and to the talent and the dedication of each of you who support them here at the department and those across the globe who support them.

What's happened is amazing for the speed with which it was executed, but also for all the things that did not happen, all the bad things that could have happened, because of that speed.

Think about it -- neighboring countries were not hit with Scud missiles, the vast majority of Iraq's oil fields were not burned and the country did not suffer major environmental disaster, as Kuwait suffered, and the country's oil wealth has been preserved for the Iraqi people. And they'll need it. There are no large masses of refugees fleeing across borders into the neighboring countries. And humanitarian relief is flowing in through ports and rail and roads to assist the Iraqi people.

There has not been large-scale collateral damage. The infrastructure of the country is largely intact. Bridges were not blown, for the most part, and rail lines were protected, the dams were not broken and floods did not occur.

And there have not been massive civilian casualties, because the coalition forces took such enormous care to protect the lives of innocent civilians.

This was not just good luck. This was the result of very careful planning by extraordinarily talented people, in the region, in Central Command in Tampa and here in this department.

But above all, what made it possible is the same thing that has made success possible in other wars: the courage and the heroism of the men and women in uniform. There are stories that are really too many to recount about the Army captain who braved enemy fire to help save an injured Iraqi woman caught in the crossfire on a bridge; possibly caught, more likely put forward by the Iraqis as a human shield.

The soldiers in Najaf who even after -- as fighting raged throughout the country, they helped clean out a school, took some money out of their pockets to help pay some of the things that the teacher needed for the students.

The Marines in Baghdad who helped free more than 100 children from an Iraqi prison, kids who had been jailed because they refused to join the Baath Party youth organization.

The joint team of Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Marines, Air Force, Special Operators who rescued Pfc. Jessica Lynch and all those brave men and women who helped bring our other coalition POWs home.

Such heroics are the daily work of men and women in uniform who serve not only in Iraq, but in Afghanistan and so many other places across the globe defending the American people.

What is unprecedented is that so many Americans watched so many of these stories unfold in their living rooms. They saw these, really the same men and women that you know and see each day, and they're filled with pride at their courage, at their compassion and at their dedication to duty.

The program to put 500 or 600 journalists and embed them with the various elements of the forces in the war with Iraq was not an easy decision. General Myers and I had to talk Torie Clarke into it for weeks.


RUMSFELD: That's not quite the way it was. But it was a roll of the dice.

The outcome of it, however, I think is pretty clear. There's no question but that the American people were able to see slices of what took place.

They could see accurate presentations and representations and written accounts of what the men and women in uniform were doing. But there's a side benefit.

And the side benefit, it seems to me, is there's now a new generation of journalists who have had a chance to see first-hand what kind of people volunteer to put their lives at risk.

And that's a good thing. Coalition forces performed brilliantly, to be sure, but each of you, with your hard work and dedication, helped to make this success possible.

You can take pride in what this department has done, and in your contribution to its efforts. Needless to say, the war is not over. We know that.

There are still pockets of resistance, shots are still being fired and people will still be killed. And as we gather here people are still fighting in Iraq and elsewhere.

And even when that fighting ends there'll still be a good deal of hard work to do, dealing with the senior Iraqi leadership, finding and securing weapons of mass destruction, tracking down and capturing terrorists, locating and returning Iraq's stolen wealth, working with free Iraqis as they work to establish an interim authority first, and then a free Iraq government, trying to create an environment so that they can do that.

It's not something we'll be doing, or the coalition. They'll have to do that work.

So now is really not the time to rest. We do have a lot of work to do, but I know that each of you here are hard workers. I see the lights on in this building at all hours of the days and nights, so congratulations on an enormous accomplishment and my appreciation for your daily dedication to the defense of our country, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday weekend.

General Myers?

MYERS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I think Secretary Rumsfeld hit it right on the head.

What you, the men and women of the United -- the nation's armed forces together with our coalition partners, have done in the last month has been absolutely magnificent. Your courage, your talent, your leadership have give us up to this point a tremendous combat victory. Above all else, I'm reminded again of your outstanding dedication and your discipline, because they play such important roles in this whole effort. I know it's been a team effort. It's a team of U.S. and allied partners, it's a team of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coast guardsmen. It's a team of not only Department of Defense civilians, but civilians from other agencies and departments in this government.

Industry partners played major roles, as well. And it doesn't matter if you're in the field or in the fleet, forward deployed or here in the United States, you're part of the team. And everybody has contributed, and I thank you and we thank you very, very much for that.

I don't think we could forget your families, either, for they have sacrificed, and some of you probably sitting right here, I'm sure, in our audience around the world know just how much. We'll never know, but we do know that people have missed birthdays and probably births, anniversaries, sporting events for the children, school events, and you all did that so you could serve. And I want you to make sure that they know that they have our deepest respect and admiration. They're a part of the team, as well.

In this conflict, I'm also very aware that there are hundreds of our -- hundred or more of our comrades who have given their lives. There's a hole in the hearts of those families who have lost sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. And, like you, I should always keep them close in my thoughts and my prayers.

Our nations, nations of the coalition and the liberated citizens of the Iraq truly do owe these people who have lost their lives and their families a boundless debt of gratitude. And, of course, there are hundreds who have been injured, as well. Some are going to recover very quickly; others are going to have to live with their injuries for the rest of their lives. They'll never escape the pain in some cases or, perhaps, regain lost opportunities this conflict has brought upon them. We shall never forget, nor shall we ever forget their sacrifice, as well.

I wish I could say that we're winding all this down, but I can't. As the Secretary mentioned, a lot more work remains -- that's true in Iraq and around the world. We still have troops in Afghanistan, facing danger every day, still carrying out the mission there. Much more work to be done in other countries as we prosecute this global war on terrorism.

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that there are people who have an unrelenting hatred of America and our freedoms. They remain dangerous, and they remain determined to end our way of life. For all the nations involved in this coalition, our families, and our children's sake, we have got to continue this effort.

As we go forward from here, I ask that each of you help build on what has worked here in the last several months. We've had some great successes, and we know the sorts of things that worked. And we also know some things didn't work so well, and we've got to fix those, and we've got to do so on a time line that gets us ready for what's next, whatever that is. I think that our combat operations in Iraq have been the most humane of any war in history. As the secretary described, those in the heat of combat demonstrated great character as they accomplished the mission, and they minimized the risk to innocent civilians and to Iraq's infrastructure.

I, for one, don't think there's been a fielded force that had demonstrated such poise under fire as our combat folks have, ever.

At the same time, there are some who don't welcome our success. And while we've conducted -- or you've conducted your operations, those in the field, with the utmost respect for international law and the dignity of each individual, they'll now come after us in the most immoral and underhanded manner possible.

So for those of you still out there, still wearing your Kevlar, still aboard ships, wherever it may be, for that matter, for us here at home, I think our challenge is simply this: We've got to always be prepared, we've got to stay true to the values that got us to this point and, in short, we've got to keep our guard up.

For what you've all done and what you will do, I offer you a big thank you. I never cease to brag about you and what you have given to all the countries that are so concerned about this threat.

I can tell you, I'm very proud to serve with you, and may God bless you and your families.

And I think we're going to take some questions.

RUMSFELD: We can do that. I'll take the easy ones.


RUMSFELD: And he'll take the tough ones.

MYERS: We have this prearranged. No, we've got it prearranged.


RUMSFELD: I suppose you have microphones? There they are.

Is the fellow who's worried about the subway here?

QUESTION: Yes, sir.


RUMSFELD: I wanted to make sure I don't call on you again.


MYERS: But what we'd like to do is offer you a chance to come to work in a carpool.

(LAUGHTER) MYERS: I was just joking. It's a serious issue and we're working on...

QUESTION: Perhaps this is just an icebreak kind of question, because no one else was throwing their hands up. Maybe General Myers could take the hard one here and say, this pack of cards, the 55 thugs that are out there, how can we get our hands on...


QUESTION: Or is that yours, Mr. Secretary?

RUMSFELD: I'm told they're on eBay.



QUESTION: Those are the inauthentic ones.


QUESTION: First, I want to congratulate you and thank you for the successful prosecution of the war. You did a fine job.

My question is, despite having embedded journalists and all the positive and some negative things that they brought to coverage of the war, what more can be done to turn around the media's overwhelming negative coverage of the war?

Do you have any thoughts about that?

RUMSFELD: I take it you do not think we were in a quagmire.


RUMSFELD: I'll give my comments, and then Dick you might want to comment. This is a terribly important question. And, I guess I don't know the answer, except that I have so much confidence in the American people that they have a good center of gravity and that they can absorb an enormous amount of misinformation, inaccurate information, conflicting information, and kind of sort it out and end up on big issues finding their way to reasonably right conclusions and right judgments.

And that's kind of the premise of democracy. Not that everyone is going to know everything, or not that everyone is going to be always be right about everything, but if you job a plumbline (ph) through the center of the American people, they tend to get it right.

And the mail and the phone calls during this whole period when people were saying that the plan was terrible and there weren't enough people, and they were going to be tens of thousands of casualties, and it was going to take forever. Those folks that were saying that on television, the retired military officers, as well as civilians, are kind of not up today. (LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: People have looked at their comments, and they've drawn conclusions about them and decided that maybe they're not the best analysts or advisers in the world. The papers that constantly, you know, glare big headlines of Henny-Penny the sky is falling, it's just terrible, isn't it awful, one thing or another. At some point, people stop reading those things and make their own judgments. So I have felt all along that -- needless to say you don't like to get up every morning and read all those terrible things that you know in your brain and heart from what you're seeing are not facts -- that, in fact, what's happening was working.

And indeed I would go so far as to say that the plan that was implemented by General Franks and his team, his plan, was absolutely brilliant. It avoided so many things.

Now, I'll admit it was different. And everyone expected it to start with an air war -- a long air war. And, instead, it started with a ground war. And, I'm sure a lot of people believe that you couldn't start the ground war unless you had the Fourth Infantry Division in the war. And, in fact, we were able to start the ground war without that and do just fine.

And General Franks judgment and Dick Myer's judgment on that was correct. And throughout -- they believed that was the case, and they went about their business, and it worked.

But I think there's not anything you can do, with our Constitution, which is a good one, that allows for free speech and free press, about it except to -- you know, penalize the papers and the television and the newspapers that don't give good advice and reward those people that do give good advice.

That's about all we can do, and that's probably enough. You want to...

MYERS: The only think I would add to that, and I would agree, I mean, that's our, it's untidy at times, but we have a great Constitution. The thing I would say is the embedded reporters probably over time, as this plays out, if it continues to be successful, as the secretary said before, I think there are going to be long-term benefits to that that we probably don't even realize at this point.

We certainly know some of the down side of our Vietnam experience, those of us that were around in those days. We, you know, and the impressions the press got of the military.

Well, we're going to come out of this with journalists having another impression of our armed forces, and it's going to be the one you've been seeing on all those little snippets on TV.

And it's one of professionals, of dedication, of great character. I mean, they've held up mikes to corporals and lieutenants and privates, and you couldn't write a script for them better than their answers to all the questions.

These are, and you wouldn't want to, and it wouldn't be right to do that, but you didn't have to because they knew what they were fighting for, they knew how they were supposed to do their job.

That may, over time, get us away from some of the cynicism that has developed since, certainly since I've been around in this business, since Vietnam.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you often talk of transformation. What aspects of this war would you consider transformational?

RUMSFELD: From almost day-one, we arranged to have a team of people begin to develop lessons learned from the war in Iraq. In almost every meeting we've had, we have these secure video meetings, sitting in the back of that room in the video you can see one of the people from the Lessons Learned Team, and they're there thinking through and developing conclusions and ideas and thoughts about what was taking place so that when it was over they'd be able to rapidly provide their best information.

If you think about it, what just took place in Afghanistan significantly informed what took place in Iraq. And what has taken place in Iraq is, in a sense a, it's a war, but it also is an opportunity to learn about what we're doing well and what we're not doing well, and what we can do better.

It is like a giant laboratory, where you can look at it as it's happening and as it evolves and finishes and immediately take that knowledge and that information, with respect to strategies and tactics and capabilities and weapon systems and munitions and logistics, and every aspect of this, and then try to back the lessons, the good lessons into this system.

I'm sure -- I'm positive that out of this we're going to end up finding ways that we can reduce friendly fire casualties. I am positive we can. There has to be a way to reduce that. And we know it's existed in every conflict. But without question, when this is concluded, and we have the lessons learned, I'll bet anyone a dollar to a dime that we end up with ways that we can reduce those.

So I would say that it is -- see, I never think of something that's not transformed and then transformation and it is transformed. I think of it as a continuum, as a process, where you're constantly evolving and changing and improving.

And there's no doubt in my mind, but that out of this we will end up continuing to transform this department -- how we mobilize, how we alert, how we deploy, how we manage every aspect of this -- in a way that we'll be able to do it an awful lot better in the future, in a way that's more respectful of reserves and Guard, so we don't call up the same people all the time, ways that we can give them more notice rather than some cases it was down to one day, three days, five days, seven days, which is not fair; people need some time to get their lives arranged and their familiar circumstances arranged.

So there's an awful lot of things that will end up being transformational.

MYERS: That's all exactly right. And the only thing I would add is that some of you have probably been involved in lesson learned processes before, and normally what happens. will not happen in this case, is that it takes about a year, when finally you get some lessons, and they get put on a shelf or in a book somewhere and nobody ever uses them. What we're going to do and what we've tasked Joint Forces Command to do for the secretary and what he's tasked them to do is to do this in such a manner that it can start influencing things now, because there are some things you want to change now that you can change now. There are some things that'll take time to change.

And not all the good ideas are in Iraq, not all the good ideas are in CENTCOM. My guess is everyone of you in this room probably saw something that worked very well from your perspective, and probably saw something that didn't work very well. And we've got to be able to capture that. And Joint Forces Command is the place. And we'll do that, and then we're going to turn them around, and we're going to implement, and we're going to try to get a lot quicker. These are going to be -- it's going to be an urgent matter for us.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, when we find the weapons of mass destruction, and there is no doubt we will find weapons of mass destruction, what forensic evidence can we bring to bear, and what strategic plan can we pursue to counter the sure to follow claims as being implanted by the United States?

RUMSFELD: Well, that is something needless to say that we're concerned about. And the folks that are on these teams that really now for the first time in the last few days do we have a sufficient presence in much of the real estate and areas of the country where the locations are likely to be.

The teams had been trained in chain of control, in really like a crime scene. So they will have people with them who will validate things. They'll have the ability to take pictures and assure that the control over any piece of evidence is as clear as it possibly can be.

Now that will not stop certain countries and certain types of people from claiming inaccurately that it was planted. We've seen this, meaning that the Information Minister in Baghdad...


RUMSFELD: ...was saying there's no American soldiers at the Baghdad Airport -- the Saddam Hussein Airport. And of course, the split screen showed them there. And, there are a lot of people who lie and get away with it. And that's just a fact. One of the things that just really you can't help but be concerned about it, is the extent to which the schools and the hospitals and the mosques were used as headquarters and locations for weapons. They found something like 123 schools that had weapon caches in them, and hospitals became the location for Baath party headquarters, and for Fedayeen Saddam people. We saw MiG jets parked in the buttresses between the sides of the mosques and all kinds of weapons in these places. That is what they do. That's how they did things. Now, it's going to take time to find anything, because they've had -- they've learned to function in that country in an inspections environment. They bury things, they used underground tunnels, they took documentation. We have evidence of intelligence that talks about how they took the documentation relating to it.

They've taken the people and seized in some cases their families so that they would not talk. So it's going to take a period of time to find the people. I don't think we'll discover anything, myself.

I think what will happen is we'll discover people, who will tell us where to go find it. It is not like a treasure hunt, where you just run around looking everywhere hoping you find something.

I just don't think that's going to happen. The inspectors didn't find anything, and I doubt that we will. What we will do is find the people who will tell us.

QUESTION: Gentlemen, assisting in the establishment and stabilization of new governments, is that an emerging long-term role for the military?

And if so do you see any major structure changes resulting?

RUMSFELD: If you're going from something like what existed in Afghanistan, a regime that was taking people out in the middle of soccer stadiums and shooting them in front of people so people would all get the message, the Ministry of Vice and Virtue, which controlled every aspect of people's lives and their behavior, so that they couldn't play music and they couldn't fly kites and they couldn't sing and they couldn't do this and they couldn't that. If you go from that to something like they have today there is a period of transition.

And it's an awkward period, it's a period where what was is gone, and what is going to be is not yet there. And what has to happen is somebody has to try to create an environment that's sufficiently secure and hospitable to that kind of a change, but doing it without, doing it in a manner that creates a dependency.

Is that likely to be a role that the United States will play from time to time? I think yes. I don't think of it as a nation-building role, because I don't think anyone can build a nation but the people of that nation.

I think all we can do is to try to create an environment that's hospitable to their doing that, and that's what we tried to do in Afghanistan.

It isn't easy and it isn't perfect and it isn't tidy, but it's evolving and it's getting better every day.

Would it lead to structural changes? I think so. I think we're going to have to look at our services and the guard and Reserve and make sure that we have -- in fact, Dick and his team and all of us are in the process of looking at this -- see that we have on active duty some of the people who you need to do that kind of work.

At the present time, an awful lot of the civil affairs people are in the Reserves, for example, which is not a good thing because if you're going to need those skills you need some on active duty. You can't have them all in the Reserves or else you're going to call people up every other year, which isn't what they really sign up for.

Is there a role for peacekeepers in the world? Yes. Would I like to see some highly qualified, well-trained peacekeepers from other countries? Yes, I would.

And there are some countries that do it rather well. What do you think?

MYERS: The only thing I would add to that is that that last point in that, in these efforts, whether it's Iraq or Afghanistan, we have lots of help from the international community, and we've got to encourage other nations to do that part, as well, because it is an important part.

It's very important that Afghanistan doesn't revert to the terrorist safe haven that it was before, where they could train and experiment with certain things.

The same is true of Iraq. And I think that's in lots of countries' interest. And as we have in Afghanistan, I think we would expect in Iraq and wherever else the requirement is that we would have a very large -- this is not something the U.S. has to do alone or should do alone. We should encourage our international partners in this to help, and we have, and they are, and we'll continue that, I think.

QUESTION: Earlier, a few days ago, we learned that the North Korean government recently shifted its position on insistence on unilateral talks with the United States regarding their potential development of nuclear weapons. We've since seen that that position has become willingness to accept a multilateral status, which in fact is beginning to take place.

Yesterday, the New York Times implied that there was little connection between that and the recent events in Iraq. I was wondering if you'd give us your thoughts on that, sir, and also where you think that might go.

RUMSFELD: What took place is roughly what you said, but it's my understanding they also -- that the United States talked to the People's Republic of China, encouraged them to try to persuade -- they have the most leverage on the North Koreans -- encouraged the PRC to try to persuade the North Koreans to engage in a multinational discussion.

We've pretty well concluded, the president has and Secretary Powell, that it does not make sense for the United States to get into a bilateral discussion, and the reason for that is because there's no price that we would be willing to pay that they would be willing to accept to stop engaging in what they're doing with respect to the development of nuclear weapons.

We can't imagine what it is that we could pay them, give them, that would be satisfactory for them. We've been through this once with the Agreed Framework and they broke it.

Therefore, it seemed to us that the other countries that have the most leverage on North Korea, non-military leverage, if you will, diplomatic and economic, are China and Japan, and to some extent South Korea. China supplies, I believe, something like $400 or $500 million a year to North Korea. That's terribly important to that country.

Japan has various things where large sums of money, not that much, but something less, flow into North Korea. South Korea in the past has had some money flow from the south to the north -- all of which sustains that dictatorship. And it seemed to us that it would be best if the countries that have leverage try to persuade and alter the behavior of North Korea.

Where it'll come out, I just don't know. I think it's party a function of the seriousness of the world community. This is clearly an issue for the whole world. We've got a country that is apparently in the process of restarting some of its nuclear capabilities that it agreed not to do.

It has the ability that it could produce nuclear materials in a relatively short period of time. It has a pattern, a history of selling ballistic missile technologies and almost everything else it has for hard currency to almost any country in the world that would want it.

If they begin to sell nuclear material sufficient to make six, eight, 10 weapons, that changes the nature of the world fairly significantly, because the people they would sell it to would be terrorist states or terrorist networks, not a happy prospect.

I believe that the president's course of action to try to work it through the united Nations and work it through a multinational forum is the right thing to do.

Two more questions, one for General Myers.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. I worked for the Pentagon renovation, and very proud to do so.

Just on a personal note; my parents are Polish. I was born in Germany in an American camp right after World War II, and I just want to say how proud I am to be an American citizen.


RUMSFELD: After the job that you and your colleagues did in renovating this building, we're proud to have you as an American citizen.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I'm just a little bit nervous. A couple of days ago, 10 new nations were admitted to the European Union. The European Union has now stated their position and wishes that the United Nations take a primary role in the reconstruction of Iraq.

My question, Mr. Secretary, is: do we still plan, are we still firm on the fact that we just want the United Nations to provide humanitarian assistance only?

RUMSFELD: I don't know where the president will come out on this. He has indicated -- he recognizes there is an appropriate role for the United Nations. The United Nations has some capabilities and, indeed, some money with respect to food assistance and various other types of humanitarian aid.

I do not believe the secretary general has indicated that he wanted the United Nations to take over this task. I think there are those in the United Nations that recognize the difficulty of the task ahead. And let there be no doubt about it, it is a difficult task and it's going to take the best of all of us.

I'm also told there's at least one member of the Security Council with the veto power that would veto that kind of a role for the United Nations. I think I read that in some cable traffic.

So I don't know how it will shake out. But the president, I think, recognizes that having done what we've done and taken that regime out, that this country and the coalition countries have an obligation to see this through and to see that we do create that kind of an environment so that they can fashion a government that's an Iraqi solution to how they want to live their lives, that meets those important principles of a nation that is not threatening to its neighbors, does not have weapons of mass destruction, that is free and whole and sets itself on a path of being respectful of the rights of ethnic and religious minorities in the country and is reasonably representative of that country and the people of that country. And I think we'll probably find some sort of a blend that will help do that. I hope so.

Last question is for General Myers.

QUESTION: I was wondering if we could get your assessment of the potential for conflict with Syria at this point?



MYERS: That is not a military question.


MYERS: We've said it on the podium down there in the Press Room... RUMSFELD: Speak for yourself, Dick. Don't give me that royal we.


MYERS: He's very sharp.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We had been listening to a town hall meeting at the Pentagon. The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Richard Myers, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld before a rather sympathetic crowd, to say the least. After all, they're the bosses.


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