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Donald Rumsfeld Makes Surprise Visit to Troops in Iraq
Aired December 24, 2004 - 06:29 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And you've been listening to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld talking to troops in Mosul near where the place that suicide bombing took place that killed 22 people, including 14 U.S. soldiers.
Keep in mind, too, viewers that this is unedited video that we're just getting in from Iraq, and that's why you see the crazy camera angle sometimes. So, I'm watching this for the first time along with you.
We have Karl Penhaul in Baghdad. We also have our political analyst, Ron Brownstein, on the phone.
Karl, I want to talk with you, because Donald Rumsfeld was very much giving a pep talk to troops. Is that what they needed to hear?
Karl, I'm going to interrupt you one second, because Donald Rumsfeld is still talking. Let's listen in once again.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: ... will require some modest extensions or some overlaps. We try to -- we spend a lot of time on deployments and trying to figure out how to do it right. The Army is trying to get out of a shoebox with three-by-five cards and get a set of systems, where we can really manage it in a way that is respectful of units, respectful of individuals.
And Pete Schoolmaker (ph) and the new secretary of the Army, Trent Harbie (ph), are determined to get a system, where we have the mechanisms that we can be -- to really treat people right and see that they have some heads-up as to what's going to happen in their lives beforehand.
During the initial deployments, we found on some of the reserve units we were notifying them five days in advance and not 30. And that's not fair to the families. It's not fair to their employers. So, we've just got to do it better.
But on rare occasions, as you can well understand, and we're into this election overlap period, where the commanders on the ground said, look, we need 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 people extra. So, we're now up at 151,000 in country, whereas we had been around 130,000.
And the elections are coming, and it's important, and it's important that they get it right. And they've got a very well- organized set of things ready to have it go right. And so, it's hard to have to do that, to sit there and sign that and say, these folks, we told them they were going to be there up to a year, we said, "in theater." We didn't say "in country." I misspoke. So, most people are not in country for that period specified. They actually start out in Kuwait and then spend some time. But nonetheless, it's away from home.
So, we hope not to have to do that often. We haven't had to do it often. But there are going to be times when it's in all of our interests that that happens. So, are any of you -- have any of you been extended over the year?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, but we're doing the math already. And for first brigade soldiers, we know that our year will come just prior to next year's elections. And so, we're already looking at the future at what could possibly happen.
RUMSFELD: Well, let me -- as you know what the goal is here, the coalition forces can't provide security for the Iraqis. Iraqis are going to provide security for the Iraqis in the last analysis. And our task is to get those folks trained up and equipped and organized and give them that responsibility.
So, we have to put an enormous focus on that piece of it. And that is the only way it will work. It's their country. They're going to have to pull it up and make it work. We've sent the best people in the world over here from a lot of different counties, including ours, to liberate this country and to help them get started and to create an environment that's hospital for them to take a hold of their lives and move this country down a path towards democracy that's respectful of the various ethnic groups here and that's at peace with its neighbors.
And that's all another country can do. We're not here to occupy this country. We're not here for their oil, as some people run around mouthing (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We're here to see that they have an opportunity to do it, and it's up to them to do it. And that's what our task is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, how do we win the war in the media? It seems like that is the place where we're getting beat up more than anybody else. I've been here -- this is my third tour over here, and we have done some amazing things. And it seems like the enemy's Web sites and everything else are all over the media, and they love it. But the thing is, is everything we do good, no matter if it's helping a little kid or building a new school, the public affairs sends out the message, but the media doesn't pick up on it. How do we win the propaganda war?
RUMSFELD: That does not sound like a question that was planted by the press.
RUMSFELD: That happens sometimes. It's one of the hardest things we do in our country. We have freedom of the press. We believe in that. We believe that democracy can take that massive misinformation and differing of views, and that free people can synthesize all of that and find their way to right decisions.
Out here, it's particularly tough. Everything we do here is harder, because of television stations like Al Jazeera and al-Arabiya and the constant negative approach. You don't hear about the schools are open and the hospitals are open and the clinics are open, and the fact that the stock markets are open and the Iraqi currency is steady, and the fact that there have been something like 140,000 refugees coming from other countries back into this country. They're voting with their feet, because they believe this is a country of the future.
You don't read about that. You read about every single negative thing that anyone can find to report.
I was talking to a group of congressmen and senators the other day, and there were a couple of them who had negative things to say, and they were in the press in five minutes. There were 15 or 20 that had positive things to say about what's going on in Iraq, and they couldn't get on television. Television just said we're not interested. That's just sorry. So, it is, I guess, what's news has to be bad news to get on the press.
And the truth is, however, it gets through eventually. There are people in the United States who understand what's really going on over here. They do understand that thousands of acts of kindness and compassion and support that are taking place all across this country. They do understand that large portions of this country are relatively peaceful. And something like 14 out of 18 of the problems it's had, incidents of down around five a day as opposed to the ones in certain places like Baghdad that are considerably higher.
And the Internet is helping. More and more people are seeing things that are taking the conventional wisdom and critiquing it and arguing it and debating it. And that's a good thing.
So, we are a great country. And we can benefit from having a free press. And from time to time people will be concerned about it. But in the last analysis, look at where we've come as a country, because we have had a free press.
And we've -- I mean, I've got a great deal of confidence in the center of gravity of the American people. What hurts most is in the region, where the neighboring countries whose help we need are constantly being barraged with truly vicious inaccuracies about what's taking place in this country. And it's conscious. It's consistent. It's persistent. And it makes everything we try to do in neighboring countries, where we're looking for support, vastly more difficult.
And we, as a country, don't do that. We don't go out and hire journalists and propagandize and lie and put people on payroll so that they'll say what you want. We just don't do that. And they do. And that's happening. And Al Jazeera is right there at the top.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll take one more question, and then give a chance for some (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, I just have a comment as an officer who is likely going to come under that stop-loss during his time here. I just want to say that there are people who understand the importance of keeping the integrity of a unit, and the stabilization of units is also a very good thing. And I wanted to thank you for that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we do understand that sacrifice comes with us all.
RUMSFELD: Well, God bless you for saying that. It is -- as I say, it is no fun for anybody to have to make that decision that they want to extend somebody beyond when they had every reason to expect they wouldn't be extended, or to have to impose a stop-loss to maintain unit integrity for the benefit of everyone in the unit and the effectiveness of our force.
But we do have to do it from time to time, and I thank you for speaking up and for saying that a great deal. God bless you.
All right, thank you, folks.
COSTELLO: All right. For those of you just joining us, you've been listening to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He made a surprise visit to Iraq this morning. In fact, he avoided the plane in Washington, took the 13-hour flight in the cover of darkness. He landed in Iraq. He went to Mosul first off. These are the pictures you're seeing right now.
And keep in mind, this is unedited video that we're just getting in from Iraq, so that's why you see some of the crazy camera angles.
He's been taking questions from troops. These are the same troops very near that mess hall, where that suicide attack happened a few days ago, killing 22 people, including 14 U.S. troops.
We have Ron Brownstein on the line, our political analyst. We also have Karl Penhaul in Baghdad.
Karl, are you with me?
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I'm with you, Carol.
COSTELLO: Karl, I wanted to ask you about a question a soldier posed to the defense secretary that blamed the media for not talking about the positive things that happen in the country. Tell us about that. And I guess I sort of want you to stand up for yourself, because it's so dangerous to travel in Iraq. It's tough to get to those good stories, isn't it?
PENHAUL: It's almost impossible these days, Carol. The real safe option these days is actually to be embedded with U.S. forces. The very unsafe option is to be in a civilian sector like we are here at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad.
Once we're out there on the streets of Baghdad, we really are at the mercy of what's going on. And it's very difficult to show what's going on in ordinary Iraqis' lives.
Yes, it is quite true that there are military reconstruction projects going on. It is true as well that quite often we will focus on the military operations. But it is also true that this insurgency has spiked in a way that U.S. military commanders at this time last year didn't believe was going to happen.
And it's also true that if we try and go out on the streets of Baghdad, for example, to show Iraqis having to wait in lines many kilometers long to get gasoline, to show them in their homes without electricity for many hours a day, it is very dangerous for us to do that because there are insurgents out there. And they have kidnapped journalists before, and they've made it very clear they will continue to kidnap Westerners as they can -- Carol.
COSTELLO: Karl, is there any way to know how much of the country is stable?
PENHAUL: Not really. If one looks, for example, at the question of Mosul itself, for example, since this summer it was deemed to be relatively stable there. And then with the November offensive against Falluja, violence spiked in Mosul as well with insurgent cells there staging rear-guard actions.
If you look at the case of Karbala or Najaf, the Shiite cities south of Baghdad, they have been pretty much stable and pretty calm since heavy fighting there in August.
Then over the weekend, of course, those devastating bombs that killed 68 people and wounded more than 175 others.
Yes, the violence is concentrated within the Sunni triangle in the center and the west of the country, but that is also home to some of the major population centers here in Iraq. So, it's not that it's a dispersed insurgency. Yes, it is relatively confined. But these trouble spots can flare at any moment -- Carol.
COSTELLO: Karl Penhaul, thank you. Stick around.
We want to bring in our political analyst, Ron Brownstein.
Ron, are you with me?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning, Carol.
COSTELLO: You heard Donald Rumsfeld's speech to the troops. Very positive, sort of a pep talk, if you will. And he talked a lot about what's happening in Afghanistan, the good things that are happening there to sort of pump up the troops for their mission in Iraq. Good strategy?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I mean, I think that this is -- whatever the motivation, this is exactly what, I think, the country wants to see from its senior officials, especially after something as horrific as the attack earlier this week. It is important, I think, for Donald Rumsfeld and for others to go to Iraq and to indicate the support of the public for the troops.
You know, I think the criticism of Rumsfeld will be that what we owe the troops is more of moral support. We owe them a plan and logistical support. And those debates will continue.
But I think, you know, in terms of this visit itself, like the president's trip last year, although with a very different tone and under very different circumstances, this is exactly what we want our senior officials to be doing.
COSTELLO: Well, you know, it's interesting. One soldier asked about, you know, extended tours of service and if that would be a concern for next year, because, you know, the elections will happen at the end of January, but they'll happen again next year. That soldier was wondering if he'd have to say. Donald Rumsfeld did mention that more troops are now in Iraq, something that he was opposed to at the beginning of the war when he wanted to fight the war with less troops.
BROWNSTEIN: Well, one of the most sobering things about the last few days has been the extent to which not only Donald Rumsfeld, but General Myers, outgoing Secretary of State Powell, and really even the president having knowledge that this election next month is unlikely to be a significant turning point in terms of the violence and disorder in Iraq. And that, in essence, our burden of trying to maintain a minimum of order is going to continue for a while.
I mean, there is no indication that American troops are going to be diminishing. In fact, implicit in the comments from the president on down that we're having more difficulty than we expected building a credible and coherent Iraqi force is that we are going to be bearing the bulk of this burden for some time. And that is going to mean a continued strain on the active military, the people on the front line.
COSTELLO: You know, something else interesting, Ron, Colin Powell is being reported in "The Washington Post" this morning. Colin Powell told the president and the British prime minister, Tony Blair, that more troops were needed in Iraq. Much more. And I guess shortly after that meeting, he resigned. What do you think of that? What do you make of that?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, the Powell doctrine from when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was to bring overwhelming force to bear on the enemy. Donald Rumsfeld, as secretary of defense, had a different theory about how you fight a war, putting greater emphasis on speed and flexibility. And this has been a debate within the administration from the outset.
The principle criticism that Rumsfeld has faced in the last few weeks, aside from these allegations about whether he is sufficiently concerned about the welfare of the soldiers on a personal level, has been his resistance and his opposition to increasing the troop level in Iraq.
Carol, look, all of the evidence is that we are fighting a war that we did not expect to fight. This was not the war that the administration anticipated after Baghdad fell. And the debate continues to be, do we have enough men and servicewomen, and do we have the right material in terms of the armored vehicles and other questions?
COSTELLO: OK. OK, Ron, let me pose this to you. Colin Powell is leaving the administration. His likely replacement will be Condoleezza Rice, someone who is very loyal to the president, who seems to have -- speak with the same voice as the president. Is it disturbing that another voice, a voice of criticism perhaps, is leaving the administration? Will there be anyone left to say these things to the president?
BROWNSTEIN: That is the big question that I think, you know, many people in Washington have been asking.
The other day, the president gave the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, to three of the architects of the war, all of whom have served the country with distinction under difficult circumstances. But by awarding -- by providing those awards, and by defending Donald Rumsfeld, and by promoting Condoleezza Rice, and by easing out the most prominent skeptic of the war, Colin Powell -- I mean, I think the overall impression has been that the president does not see any link between the decisions that the administration has made, or much of a link between the decisions that the administration has made and the conditions in Iraq.
And you do have to wonder how open he is at this point to fresh thinking, and who will be there to provide it. And I think many of those in the Republican Party and the conservative activists who have been leading the drumbeat of criticism of Rumsfeld are hoping that -- are, in essence, asking for his removal in the hope that it would inspire some fresh thinking about how to proceed.
COSTELLO: Ron, the other question I wanted to ask you. Donald Rumsfeld brought up Afghanistan and the positive things that are happening there. They had free elections there. Hamid Karzai was elected. He kind of equated what's happening in Iraq -- or what's happening in Afghanistan could soon happen in Iraq. But isn't that comparing apples and oranges? For example, in Afghanistan, Afghan troops, Afghan warlords, if you will, were willing to help the United States. And also, Hamid Karzai was a good man. I mean, the United States chose Chalabi.
BROWNSTEIN: Well, also, look, in Afghanistan, as, you know, inevitably -- I mean, it is a mixed picture. I mean, there have been recent reports about the pervasiveness of the opium trade, for example, and questions about how far the reach of the central government extends in terms of controlling the country.
You know, what we're looking at, I think, you know, this has not been an administration given to excessive self-doubt. And these comments of the past week, I think, people should, you know, take to heart that they are warning Americans that there is no easy answer in Iraq. And that even after the election, it's unlikely we are going to see a cessation, very unlikely that we're going to see a cessation of this kind of violence. I mean, there have been even critics who say that proceeding at this time and in these circumstances will further estrange the Sunni minority and perhaps lead to even more disorder.
So, I don't think that while it's entirely appropriate for the military to want more attention to the good things that are being done, when people are dying in this volume every day, it is hard for that, Carol, not to be the central story. It is a central reality. It is perhaps the defining reality of what is happening in Iraq right now is that we simply do not have control of the security situation. And the centrifugal pressures are enormous.
COSTELLO: Karl Penhaul, are you still with us? Karl? He is not.
You know, I just wanted to mention, too, as we watch Donald Rumsfeld board this helicopter, and remind our viewers this is unedited video. So, I'm seeing these pictures for the first time as you are. We understand that Donald Rumsfeld took off from Andrews Air Force Base -- oh, gosh -- probably a day ago now, because it takes some 13 hours to fly to Iraq.
First, he landed in Mosul. He visited an urgent care center there, Ron. And the interesting thing was he was presenting Purple Hearts to wounded soldiers in that surgical hospital in Mosul. And that must have meant so much to them.
BROWNSTEIN: Well, as I said, I mean, I think that -- you know, I'm sure there will be people, you know, questioning the motivation in pointing out that Rumsfeld is making this trip after a very difficult political few weeks for him.
But whatever the motivation, this is what we want to see. Americans are deeply divided about whether we are moving toward -- you know, achieving our objectives, if you look at the poll whether it was a mistake to do this in the first place. But I think there is universal admiration for the performance of our troops and what they are -- you know, what they are dealing with every day.
And I think that it is entirely appropriate, especially after something like the attack this week, for the very top officials in the government to make that message as clear as they can. And I'm personally happy to see Donald Rumsfeld there, as I think most Americans are.
COSTELLO: We have Karl Penhaul back. And, you know, I'm not quite sure of where they're flying to, but after Mosul I know the defense secretary was headed to Tikrit and then on to Falluja. So, we're seeing the landscape of Iraq at least. Fascinating pictures this morning.
Karl, you're with us. I was talking about this surgical unit in Mosul, where Donald Rumsfeld was presenting Purple Hearts to wounded soldiers. Tell us about that unit. How many soldiers are there?
PENHAUL: Unsure at the moment as to how many soldiers are at the surgical unit in Mosul right now. That really does vary depending on the day and the kind of actions that that military unit has seen.
My understanding is that most of the soldiers who were wounded in Tuesday's blast have either returned to duty. About 25 of them we're told of the 72 that were wounded returned to duty. The remainder, I understand, were flown out to Germany, because their injuries were much more serious, and they have to be treated either in Germany or flown back to the States for treatment.
It could be that some of those people receiving Purple Hearts from Mr. Rumsfeld this morning had actually been injured in combat operations since Tuesday's blast at Camp Marez, because we must remember that that unit has been conducting offensive operations in and around Mosul to try and track down the insurgent cells who have claimed responsibility for that Tuesday attack -- Carol.
COSTELLO: You know, when Donald Rumsfeld was answering questions posed by the soldiers there in Mosul, two of them asked about extended tours of duty. One said that he was concerned that he would have to stay longer with the upcoming elections next year, as well as this year. But another soldier told the defense secretary how important it was to have cohesiveness as a unit, and that he knew the importance of an extended tour of duty.
From your perspective, in talking with soldiers and troops on the ground, what are their general feelings about that?
PENHAUL: Certainly talking to troops in the past, it has been somewhat unsettling for them not to be able to plan ahead. They've said to me, OK, fair enough. If we've got a nine-month tour in the case of the Marines, for example, or a year-tour in the case of the U.S. Army, they say keep us to that. That way we can get accustomed to that fact. We can plan ahead, and our families can also get accustomed to that fact.
What seems to be particularly unsettling for them is if they get to one date and expect to be rotated out by that date, and then are told they've got to stay longer, and then in some ways they feel tricked. They were looking forward to that date. So, many of them are saying now that they simply won't look forward to going home until they're actually on the plane home.
But I think if it can be kept to fixed dates and fixed rotations, then the troops can at least take that in their stride, although many of them obviously know that this is what they signed up for and are willing to go through this, because they genuinely do believe that what they are doing is the job that they signed up for. And they believe what they're doing is right -- Carol.
COSTELLO: Karl Penhaul reporting live from Baghdad for us.
We're looking at unedited video. I'm seeing these pictures for the first time, as are you, of course. We understand that Donald Rumsfeld flew from Mosul to Tikrit, and then on to Falluja. Perhaps this is Tikrit. I just can't tell here.
Do we know, Brian (ph), if this is Tikrit? We do not know. Suzanne Malveaux is live in Washington right now.
You know, we were wondering, Suzanne, if this was a planned visit by Donald Rumsfeld, a long planned visit.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly they don't give us those kinds of details. But we have to say that, really, it's not a surprise the fact that he has come under such intense criticism as of late. That this is something that the administration certainly felt was necessary for the secretary to do, to go out and to physically show and demonstrate his support.
As you know, of course, the president has been supportive. He's been supportive of him publicly as well as privately. But it was necessary for him to actually demonstrate this.
And it really comes at a critical time for the White House. We are talking about just weeks away from the January 20 inauguration. The president is trying to drum up as much support as possible for his domestic agenda. But, of course, all eyes really are on his foreign agenda, his international agenda. What is going to happen on January 30 when the Iraqis go to the polls? Is it going to be a process that is...
COSTELLO: Suzanne, allow me to interrupt you. I'm sorry. Donald Rumsfeld is again speaking to troops in Iraq. Let's listen to more of what he has to say.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
RUMSFELD: I simply want to say that the reason I'm here is to have a chance to look you in the eye. I hope to have a chance to shake your hands and tell you how much I appreciate what you do for our country, how much your country appreciates what you do. That what you are doing is enormously important. It is important to this country, to be sure, but it's important to this region, and it's important to the world.
I think about the lives of the people here. We just flew down from Mosul. And you fly over this country in a helicopter and you look at that, the water, you look at the oil, you look at the wealth, you look at the opportunity, and you think that this is a country that the Iraqi people have every opportunity in the world to make a great country. And the task we have is not to make a great country for them, but to create an environment where they can do that for themselves.
And I know that you are making a difference in their lives. You are making a difference in the lives of the people at home, because you're here on the front lines defending our country and defending free people from the extremists who are determined to turn this country back to a dark place.
I have had the privilege recently of being in Afghanistan earlier this month. And if you think of Afghanistan three years ago, it had been occupied by the Soviet Union, it had drought, it has no water to speak of, it has no oil, they had had a civil war, poor, neighbors that are difficult for them. We went in there. There were training grounds for the al Qaeda and the Taliban.
And the coalition forces went in three years ago. Within a matter of weeks it was described as a quagmire, that there was no way to make it work, that the people weren't ready for democracy, that there were warlords and drug lords.
And three years later, we sat there and watched the first elected president in the history of that country, Hamid Karzai, be sworn in with young children dancing and singing on the stage, which was against the rules when the Taliban ruled that country, with an election where 41 percent of the people who voted were women who weren't allowed to vote or participate in the society. And the progress that was made there in three years was just truly breathtaking.
Now, why do I mention that? Iraq is not Afghanistan. It's different. And they have an Afghan solution. And there will be here an Iraqi solution, not an American solution or a coalition solution, but an Iraqi solution.
And I have -- I've made a note and quoted. I'm going to quote to you what President Karzai said at the inauguration up there a couple of weeks ago in Kabul. Before he took office, Karzai took a moment to speak to the American people. Vice President Cheney and I and the American delegation had just met with him. And he said to the world and to the American people and to us, "Whatever we have achieved in Afghanistan is from the help that the United States of America gave us."
He went on to say that without that help, Afghanistan would be in the hands of terrorists, destroyed, poverty-stricken, and without children going to school or getting an education. "We are grateful to put it in the simple words we know," he said to the people of the United States, "for bringing us that day."
You are here in Iraq on behalf of our country. The task is to help to organize and train and equip Iraqis, so that they can provide for their own security. It's to create an environment so that progress can be made here, as it is being made. They're going from the Iraqi Governing Council to the interim Iraqi government, to elections coming up next month, to be followed by a constitution.
And there, again, people are saying it won't happen, that the elections have to be delayed. Well, the elections don't have to be delayed. The elections can go forward.
And the people here do have an opportunity. And if one looks at the polls, it's clear that the Iraqi people want to vote. They want to participate in helping to guide and direct this country.
I think that it has to be -- it has to be hard for you to be away from your families, particularly at the holiday time. But I see enough families at Walter Reed in Bethesda to be able to say to you that they are strong. They are proud of you. And I know you know that from our communications with them.
And I must say, when I meet those families, I always come away feeling their strength, and feeling the encouragement and the hope that they feel, and the inspiration that I come away with to tackle the tasks that we all face together.
I don't know how long it'll be. It may be you're all going to live for a lot of years. But in five years or 10 years or 20 years when you're talking to your children or your grandchildren, we know from history and from seeing decade after decade -- just in my lifetime I've seen the rise of fascism and the fall of fascism, and the rise of communism and the fall of communism.
I've seen tyrannies and despots come up and take power in countries and fail and leave and be gone. And if there's one thread that runs through it, it's that the great sweep of human history is for freedom.
People have a desire to be free, to -- not to be ruled but to participate in guiding and directing the course of their countries. And we're on the side of freedom.
And you are on the side of freedom. And that's the side to be on.
So, God bless each of you. God bless your families. And God bless our wonderful country. And merry, Merry Christmas.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone.
If you're just waking up and just joining us, you know by now defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, in a surprise visit to U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq. We believe this location is Tikrit.
And obviously, the emotion in his voice coming out in that previous comment. Let's listen for a bit more, now.
Secretary Rumsfeld in Iraq.
RUMSFELD: In fact, I can see it. But I'd be happy to answer a few questions, and then I'd like to come out and shake some hands and tell you how much I appreciate what you're doing.
We've had -- I don't know -- opportunities, over the past several years since these wars started to hold some 23 or, I guess, two or three dozen visits with folks and to learn what they're thinking and what's going right and what's not going right.
So anyone who's got a thought or a suggestion or a question.
There we got it. There you go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SOLDIER: Mr. Secretary, with the global war on terrorism well in its fourth year and the deployment demands upon the active Army Reserve and National Guard units still being high with no relief in sight, at what point would you consider, given our option (ph), the recommendation to expand our -- the size of the Army?
RUMSFELD: Well, we've already done it. We've increased the size of the Army by about 30,000. We're moving from 33 brigades in the Army up to 43 or 48. We're rebalancing the active force with the guard and the reserve because there have been stresses, particularly on the guard and reserve in some skill sets that were not existing on the active force and had to.
We're in the process of changing over tens of thousands of positions that are being filled by military people currently that need not be filled by military people, replacing them with contractors and civilian employees.
General Schumacher and the new secretary of the army, Fran Harvey are having a very aggressive program under way to achieve that.
You're quite right. The stress on the force is clear. The difficulty of meeting each successive deployment, given the activities in Kosovo, and Bosnia, and Afghanistan and here, as well as other things that our forces are doing, for example, in the Philippines, in training and equipping in Georgia, it has put a stress on the force.
We've got a volunteer force. It works. The total force concept works. But it has to be managed and dealt with more efficiently than has been the case in the past, if we're going to be engaged in the kinds of activities that we're involved in.
So know that there is a full recognition of the importance of enlarging the size of the army. We just finished the budget for the last few days. And we've been working on it for months, but we just -- I think this week it goes over to the office of management and budget and the president for their consideration.
But you can be sure that the focus will be on the army and the ground forces, to see that they have the resources for personnel, to replace equipment that's getting worn and used at a rate that's higher than normal, to pay for the rebalancing of the active and reserve components.
And we sense exactly what your question suggested, and we've simply got to do it; and we've got to do it fast and we've got to do it right.
Thank you. Question?
Here's one right here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SOLDIER: Sir, democracy takes a great deal of time to create. And every day we strive to make programs that are legitimate in the eyes of the Iraqi people, but are the American people ready to stand, contribute as long as we are so that this country will be able to stand on its own and act as an example of democracy for not only itself but for the entire Middle East?
RUMSFELD: Well, I guess that's the central question. You hit it right on the nose.
The -- our armed forces are capable of defeating other armed forces. Our armies, our navies, our air forces can deter and defend our country.
The task -- the test and the task -- is more a test of wills. It's a test of staying power. It's a task of being willing to do what we're doing, what you're doing, helping to see that the schools get opened, the hospitals get opened, the clinics get opened, that the security forces get trained and equipped and mentored in a way that they can assume responsibility for the security in this country.
And that takes patience. It takes perseverance. It requires that people have the understanding of how fundamentally important this country can be to this entire region.
If you are successful here, if we are successful here, if the coalition is successful here, think what will have been lost to the extremists. If the extremists are able to take this country back and turn it back to darkness, something will have been lost. An opportunity will have been lost that was historic.
So we simply have to have the patience. We have to have the willingness to recognize that the Iraqi people are going to find an Iraqi solution for this. It's not going to be an Afghan solution. It's not going to be an American solution. But they're going to find it.
And they've got every opportunity. They have the oil. They have the water. They have the wealth. They have the intelligence. They have educated population.
And our task isn't to do it for them. They have to do it for themselves. And that's not the American way.
The American way is, if there's a ditch to be dug, let's go dig it. But in this case, that isn't our task. Our task is if there's a ditch to be dug, let's help them figure out how they can dig it, and let's have them assume the responsibility.
We need to create -- we don't want to create a dependency on their part, being dependent on us. We want to create an independency on their part, a strength and an ability to go forward.
And because of the importance to this region, because of the importance to this country -- I mean, if you think of this region, countries that don't have all of their population participating fully don't have much of a chance of competing in the world successfully. And a repressive regime denies people the opportunity to participate. The situation in Afghanistan where women weren't allowed to participate fully, the chances of their succeeding is so small. But a free system that's respectful of the diversity in a country, everyone has an opportunity to succeed, and that situation is what we need to contribute to here.
And I think we've got -- the people here have a good crack at succeeding, and they do so because of what you're doing, because of the fact you're here, because of the fact that we're here not to occupy, not to take anything.
We're here not for any reason that is in our nation's interests other than helping to create a free system that will be at peace with its neighbors, and not go back to a vicious dictatorship regime that used chemical weapons on its own people, on its neighbors, that invaded its neighbors.
So what you're doing is important. What you're doing can be decisive. And yes, I think we've got a good crack at doing it.
HEMMER: Good morning, everyone.
Secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, a surprise visit to Iraq. You're listening to a tape now, that's coming to us, really, for the first time -- that we have an opportunity not just to see his visit but also to hear his comments.
Soledad is out for the holiday. Kelly Wallace with me today. Good morning to you.
KELLY WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, to you.
HEMMER: We all woke up to a bit of a surprise this morning, did we not?
WALLACE: It was, and fascinating. And if you put it in context, of course, the Pentagon saying this was a preplanned visit, that he was planning to go before the suicide bombing attack on U.S. troops in Mosul.
I think we're going to hear a little bit more of Secretary Rumsfeld now in Iraq.
HEMMER: We're essentially going between tapes, aren't we?
WALLACE: I guess we are.
HEMMER: As we cue up the other one and wait for it to feed into us, you'll hear it in a moment, here. But in the last round of questions, one very specific question, will you expand the army? He replied by saying, they're already doing that by the 230,000. All of this coming in the same day with a front page article in "The Washington Post" that indicates about six weeks ago, right around mid- November, after the election, Secretary Powell told the president that the U.S. force in Iraq should be expanded.
This is the first time we've heard of that conversation, as reported in "The Post," but quickly thereafter, the increase was given -- the order was given -- of a 12,000 member increase in Iraq to about 150,000.
So some of those still pictures, by the way, are visits in places like Mosul, in Tikrit and also Fallujah.
Back to the tape now and the questions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SOLDIER: Is there a way we can -- we can portray this message that it's really, it really is important that we are here? I mean, I'm sure a lot of Americans do know because President Bush wouldn't have been reelected, but --
RUMSFELD: Well, that's -- that clearly was a question that was not planted by the media.
I don't know what the answer is. I know that you're right. I think the debate and discussion that took place during the campaign was, in some instances, shrill, in some instances not as civil as one would have hoped. But that's what our country does. We debate. We discuss, and it ended.
And I think that the country does understand the fact that we lost 3,000 people on September 11th, the its fact that those terrorists had been trained in this part of the world and were operating and attacking our nation, much to the nation's surprise, that there are terrorist organizations that are today global in nature.
There are states, Iraq was a state that was on the terrorist list, just as Iran is and Afghanistan was. There are states that have harbored terrorists. We all know. You know better than anybody. You've seen the evil up close and personal that you've been dealing with in this part of the world.
So you know the danger that, that poses. If you're back in the United States, and there hasn't been an terrorist attack for several years on the United States -- in many other countries there have been, country after country, Spain and in Indonesia, in Bali and what have you.
Sometimes people don't feel they are as engaged in the global war on terror as you have to feel being out here, but the battlefields and the, of the global war on terror are everywhere one looks. And the reality is that a terrorists, an extremists has a big pool to draw from. They can go out across the world and take young people and put them in these schools and teach them that their goal in life has to be to go out and kill innocent men, women and children. And they can find recruits.
And there are countries that will harbor that and encourage that and permit that.
Our task, it seems to me, is to recognize that this is something that will take time, that those of us who believe in freedom know that the only thing that could happen is if we were terrorized, would be we would have to alter our behavior.
We could not behave as free people because a terrorist can attack at any time, anyplace, using any technique. And it is absolutely impossible to defend every place at every moment of the day or night against every conceivable technique.
So the only choice we have is to be on the offense, is to deal with terrorist states, and to deal with terrorist networks and to continue rolling up the al Qaeda leadership, which we've been doing now for the past three years and some two-thirds to three-quarters of those leadership have either been captured or killed, and to keep putting pressure on countries that could serve as terrorist safe havens, and to keep squeezing down their finances, and to have a 90- nation global war on terror that will cooperate and share intelligence.
So what you're doing is important. I think the American people get it. I agree with you. I wish that it was possible for more of the good work that you're doing here in terms of helping to open schools, and hospitals, and create an environment where a democratic system can grow and prosper, I wish more of that were considered newsworthy and were reported in a way that people could understand the progress that's being made because progress is being made. And it's being made thanks to all of you.
So I'm going to say, thank you. I'm going to wish you a very, Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday. And when you talk to your families, tell your families how much we, all of us, appreciate what you're doing and what they're doing in support of you.
God bless you. God bless you all. Thank you so much.
HEMMER: On Christmas Eve, secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld visiting with U.S. troops in Iraq and hitting the hot spots of that country, Fallujah, Tikrit, Mosul earlier today. And this visit coming at a time for troop morale and certainly a visit during the holidays that was kept secret from us, for the most part.
But I believe the folks at the Pentagon had an idea that this was going down several days ago. WALLACE: They certainly did. And we were talking about how Pentagon officials say this was planned before the suicide bombing attack on U.S. troops in Mosul earlier in the week, which killed 14 U.S. troops.
But Bill, the context here, of course, Secretary Rumsfeld coming under incredible criticism both for how he's answered questions from U.S. troops about whether they have the armor to be safe inside Iraq, and also what came out last weekend about how the secretary was not personally signing those condolence letters to the families of fallen soldiers.
He will now start doing that now. So, it comes at a time of big criticism for the defense secretary.
HEMMER: As we go throughout the morning, we will be in and out of videotape. We will probably be in and out of the questions and the answers in the speeches, as well, because this is unedited videotape.
We're seeing it the first time along with our viewers at home.
And also at this time down in D.C., listening and watching with us, Retired Brigadier General James Marks is with me.
And General, good morning to you. Thanks for your time and being patient with us down there.
BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Sure. Good morning.
HEMMER: What is your reaction to this visit, sir?
MARKS: It's absolutely the right thing for the secretary of defense to do that and to visit these great soldiers during an incredible time of great mission requirements and some tragedy that just occurred in Mosul.
So they appreciate it. They're buoyed by his visit, and it's the right thing to do.
HEMMER: Is this more of a personal visit for him or professional one? Or is it possible to break it down percentage-wise as to what means for Secretary Rumsfeld today, given the past weeks of talk about his own future in this country?
MARKS: Bill, it's a great question. You don't differentiate between professional and personal in the profession of arms. It is a very personal endeavor, and it takes great professionalism to do it.
And I think the secretary of defense understands that. He understands it intimately, and he's demonstrating it through this visit.
I'm not a critic of the circumstances, nor could I comment. There's very little discourse I could provide that's not being provided by others during the circumstances that surround the secretary of defense. But I think in this particular instance, this is the right thing to do.
HEMMER: Trying to get some, a bit more context, too, into the article today in the "The Washington Post" suggesting that that Secretary Powell went to the president right after the election, saying they do not have enough troops on the ground in Iraq.
And apparently after that meeting, the increase went up to 150,000, which was about a 12,000 force increase. Was that the right move? Was that the right conversation for Secretary Powell to have?
And do you believe the president and Secretary Rumsfeld responded in the appropriate way?
MARKS: I think the answer to all of your questions is, yes, frankly.
The increase is necessary. You really have to dominate and control the terrain, the concern at that point, as we were moving -- as the U.S. forces and the coalition forces were moving into Fallujah at that point is that we, the coalition, really needed to be on top of all aspects of the insurgency and to really control it and dominate it.
So for the -- and again, not my lane to discuss whether the secretary of state and the secretary of defense are coordinating or coordinating correctly. But clearly, it was the right thing to do.
And the real question is, within the aggregate total of the military, and specifically, the army, "in-strength," as we call it, the top line, the total number of soldiers that are in uniform, both reserve, national guard and active duty, do we have enough?
And that was addressed by the secretary of defense, as well, because within that you have to still meet the requirements. Daily there are about 120 countries around the world where U.S. soldiers are present.
Iraq and Afghanistan are the ones that get the biggest publicity.
HEMMER: Does this help take a bit of, well, a bit of a shine off or maybe put the shine back on to Secretary Rumsfeld when the American people see him during a holiday in Iraq on the ground?
MARKS: I think it puts the shine on. And I think if you were listening intently, as I know you were, I think his voice started to break at the end of his remarks. I think he is truly emotionally involved in this.
HEMMER: But there are those who will say it's only a PR stunt. How would the military react to that? What would the Pentagon say about that?
MARKS: I don't think there's enough hours in the day for us to concern ourselves about a PR stunt. If it was, whether that's a cynical perspective or not, or whether it's legitimate, I couldn't comment. But at least he's there on the ground and he's with the soldiers, and I think that needs to be emphasized.
HEMMER: All right, General, thanks. Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, down there in D.C.
We'll talk again. Thanks for your time, and thanks for being patient.
Earlier today, Secretary Rumsfeld saying and quoting now, "You will look back in 10 or 20 or 30 years and know you were part of something very important.
I respect you. I wish you all a Merry Christmas."
And the tour, obviously, on video tape, continues there -- Kelly?
WALLACE: And Bill, of course, throughout the morning here on AMERICAN MORNING we'll be monitoring Secretary Rumsfeld's visit to Iraq, bringing you tape, video of his meetings with the troops and any comments coming from there, again, throughout the morning.
We want to turn, though, to another big story. That is the weather, as millions of Americans get ready to get out in their cars, head to the airport, get on a train, to visit loved ones for the holidays.
We turn now to Chad Myers at the CNN Center in Atlanta.
And good morning, Chad. And we hear the worst is yet to come.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, in some spots, the cold is there.
MYERS: Bill, I don't know if you heard about this. There were 13 trucks trying to get to the Cincinnati airport full of de-icing liquid. They couldn't even get to the airport, so the planes couldn't take off. They couldn't de-ice the runway. They couldn't de-ice the planes because the trucks were stuck on the road trying to get there.
HEMMER: Chad, was that you were trying to -- sorry, I'll start it over.
One of the big things yesterday, Chad, is that you were watching the planes arrive at Cincinnati. And you saw what, one over a period of eight hours yesterday?
That's a big storm.
MYERS: I saw -- actually I saw three, two DHL planes and one U.P.S. plane, that's until I left. And then very, very few planes got in or out of there all afternoon long.
My sister-in-law was scheduled to come from DCA-Reagan National to Cincinnati at 08:00 last night, and that plane even got canceled.
HEMMER: You hear the real temperature in Indiana at this hour is minus 2.
MYERS: Yes, and wind chills are still low.
HEMMER: Which means the ice is not going to melt any time soon.
MYERS: No, even salt doesn't work if you get down that cold.
HEMMER: Very true.
MYERS: You know?
Hey, thanks. We'll be in touch many times today.
MYERS: All right.
HEMMER: Sergeant Ron Whitler, is coordinator of the national guard's rescue efforts in the state of Indiana. I spoke to him a short time ago. He in Evansville, Indiana.
And the first question, and obvious one, how many people now are still stranded there on I-64? Here's the sergeant.
SGT. RON WHITLER, JR., ARMY NATIONAL GUARD: We currently probably have about 300 vehicles stranded out there on I-64 to include semis and personal vehicles.
Those folks who are driving semis decided to stay with their trucks, and some civilians have decided to stay with their personal vehicles at this time.
HEMMER: Can the National Guard get to these people?
WHITLER: Absolutely. As long as the icy conditions are not there, our vehicles are able to get through the snow and get to those folks who need the help.
HEMMER: So then, if you can get to them, can you also get them home if they want it?
WHITLER: Well, that's a -- different situations arise. We have some folks that we had to take to the hospital due to medical conditions. Some folks we took to the Red Cross. And some folks are even here at the National Guard armory.
A lot of folks are out of town, coming from St. Louis, coming from Illinois, heading to their holiday weekend.
HEMMER: This is now day three for some of these people, though. I cannot imagine what these people are going through, sitting inside those cars on that interstate. Can you give us a sense of what they have for food, what they have for gasoline, how they're able to keep warm?
WHITLER: Well, they're conserving their gasoline by about every hour or 10 minutes, running their vehicle. And I talked to some individuals on the phone, and they have brought food with them for the holiday weekend, so they were prepared for this, along with blankets and candles.
So some people were prepared to be in their vehicle in anticipation of this type of storm.
HEMMER: Well, but still it is three days. Does the state of Indiana have the right equipment for a storm like this, sergeant?
WHITLER: Oh, absolutely. We're always prepared for cold weather and snow here in Indiana. Just unfortunately, we happened to get a larger amount in a short period of time this year.
So our road crews are working tirelessly in getting those roads cleared as much as they can, and the salt and the sodium chloride. We have it all over here in the state of Indiana. We're prepared.
HEMMER: So, you're saying that you were ready for this storm?
WHITLER: We were ready for this storm, just the amount of -- massive amount -- of snow that came all at one time and to include the snowdrifts.
We had a real windy night two nights ago, so a lot of the snowdrifts on the highway are upwards eight to 10 feet. So, that makes it more a little more difficult than your normal snowstorm that we have here.
HEMMER: But sergeant, would you conceive though with the number of people still stranded, that the impression outside of Indiana is that the Hoosier state was nowhere near ready for a storm like this when you still have more than 300 vehicles stranded on one road today?
WHITLER: Well, that could be the impression, but the state of Indiana is always prepared and always are training for events like this, the national guard and other state agencies.
There's been massive coordination between the governor's office, the adjutant general, Major General Umbarger, the local agencies, to include the Mayor Weinzapfel's office.
There's been a massive amount of coordination with the police departments. So, we were prepared for this, but you know, the human factor is that when you're dealing with 20 inches of snow and eight to 10-foot drifts, it's difficult to include the temperatures that we're currently experiencing.
HEMMER: Sergeant Ron Whitler, Evansville, Indiana with the Indiana National Guard.
He says they're prepared. He says they're doing everything they can. I think you would probably find -- it would be difficult to find the people stranded in those cars right now to agree with that.
WALLACE: Right. Who expected to be stranded for 21 hours?
HEMMER: And it's a massive storm, and it came in waves. And it just pummeled that state. But day three?
WALLACE: Day three.
HEMMER: And you're still sitting in the front seat of your car?
WALLACE: But good information. You've got to get good, blankets. Next time you go on a road trip to your loved ones be sure not to leave home without that.
HEMMER: Hang in there, everybody.
Kelly Wallace in for Soledad, today. Good morning to you.
WALLACE: Good morning to you. Good morning, everyone.
HEMMER: As we continue now, the surprise visit in Iraq today. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visiting troops there in a number of towns. And really, the hot spots, for that matter, too, very secret, for obvious security reasons.
Answering questions from the troops earlier today saying he wants to look them in the eye and thank them.
Much more on his visit as we go throughout the morning here.
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