The Bob Woodward -- Donald Rumsfeld Interviews
Bob Woodward interviewed Donald Rumsfeld extensively on two occasions in July, 2006, probably in preparation for Woodward's book, State of Denial, published by Simon and Schuster on Sept 30, 2006. (Hat tip: The Anchoress) They go over events such as the selection of Paul Bremer; the disbandment of the Iraqi Army; why it took 'so long' for Rumsfeld to acknowledge the existence of the insurgency; and the question of 'inadequate' troop levels, among other things. In a word they walk the cat back over the landscape of Iraq. Both men are clearly traversing familiar terrain but each one sees it so differently that the vistas appear to each as distinctly different worlds. Woodward sees things clearly through the prism of very limited information. He has a distinct history of events constructed from notes, documents and incidents whose value is apparent only from hindsight. With the sureness of a prospector who already knows where all the nuggets are, Woodward, for example, asks Rumsfeld if has read this or that memoir; remembers this or that page from a retired bureaucrat's book. Rumsfeld on the other hand recalls the same events from the perspective of a bureaucrat who has read too many documents, listened to too many opinions, and knows too many secrets to see any story, least of all one as complicated as Iraq, with any reassuring simplicity. Both Woodward and Rumsfeld display a fine intelligence and command which makes the interview fascinating reading for anyone, whichever side of the Iraq debate he is on. I've highlighted certain excerpts from the interview to give the flavor. But do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.
On the impossibility of America solving an Iraqi problem for Iraqis
MR. WOODWARD: -- that you were looking for Iraq's Karzai, is that correct?
SEC. RUMSFELD: ... Clearly, you needed somebody who people could recognize as providing leadership in the country. And I always felt that foreign troops are ... unnatural and not welcomed really. ... And I used the phrase of it's like teaching a youngster how to ride a bicycle. You run behind them with your hand in the seat. And at some point you've got to take some fingers off, and then you've got to let go, and they might fall. You help pick them up and put them back on it. But otherwise, if you don't take your hand off, you're going to end up with a 40-year-old who can't ride a bike. ...
MR. WOODWARD: In '03?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I'm sure, yeah. There's also the concept of declining consent and the like. And there's the -- John Abizaid and I and the president talked on many occasions about this, and we used this construct that there is a natural tension between having too many and too few.
Who disbanded the Iraqi Army?
SEC. RUMSFELD: ... I talked to Abizaid all the time, and he felt that way about the military; he felt that way about the Sunnis that they were losing control of the country, and constantly was looking to see that decisions being made in the CPA reflected ... that the goal was to have everyone feeling that the country is fair and representative of them....
LT GEN RENUART: Yes sir, I think in fact this comment was pretty consistent with General Abizaid's view ... that you had to provide for the Iraqi regular army because they were the folks least dependent upon Saddam or more likely to be representative, that they would be a force that you would be capable of using and reintegrating very quickly back into the Iraqi security. ...
MR. WOODWARD: ... I mean, as you know, the current Iraqi army has all these officers back. All the NCOs and officers in the Iraqi army served in Saddam's army.
LT GEN RENUART: This is when Bremer -- ... CPA order one and two -- de-Ba'athification and dissolution of the entities -- were -- I think he said this in his book. He wanted to make a statement that there was an authority in Iraq, he was the authority, and these were the two ways he was going to establish that authority. But if you read both of those orders -- have you read them?
MR. WOODWARD: Oh, yes.
LT GEN RENUART : Very carefully ... was allowed to come back colonel and below without question, if I remember correctly.
MR. WOODWARD: I mean, the whole army was just disbanded completely -- I mean, I've read the order and --
LT GEN RENUART: But in building the new Iraqi army, there were provisions, I believe, in disestablishment to bring them back.
MR. WOODWARD: Later on.
LT GEN RENUART:: Right, right.
MR. WOODWARD: Later on, which is what happened.
On WMDs in Iraq
MR. WOODWARD: Can you give me, for the record here, some idea of your feelings about whether WMD would be there or not?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Sure. I don't know how much is colored by what's happened, to be honest. I just don't. I'll tell you I was very worried about it ... particularly ... after I knew that Colin Powell was spending day after day on the subject with George Tenet and with the intel people and with his intel people and with Condi Rice over at his house drafting his U.N. speech. ... I was worried about it in a ... DOD sense -- because our military people were worried about it. ... And every morning, they're getting up and putting on their chemical suits -- not for the hell of it; because they were worried about having their troops killed by chemical weapons. ... Now, the fact that these people -- 100-plus thousand -- put those chemical suits on every day as they were going north tells you that the --
MR. WOODWARD: They're believers.
SEC. RUMSFELD: You bet. You bet.
Acknowledging the Existence of the Iraqi Insurgency
MR. WOODWARD: ... there's a November 11th NSC meeting -- 2003, again. This is when the CIA comes in and says there's an insurgency out there. And you were quoted in the notes telling the CIA briefer, "I may disagree with you," and the president did not think it had reached the point where there was an insurgency. ... Do you remember your thinking in that period?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't. I can't put it in time and place. I do remember the phrase "insurgency," the phrase "guerrilla war" and the al Qaeda terrorist activity. ... And I raised a question in a public briefing on the subject. ... And I said gee, you know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess, and people have different ways of characterizing it, and I didn't have conviction. ... that I was the one who ought to use -- set the phrase as to what we would call it at any given time; let me put it that way. It has been, for a long time, characterized by a mixture of things, multiple problems. ... And it has evolved over time. It's not been static, it's been dynamic. ... I did not think it would be useful if I called it one thing and Abizaid called it something else, for example. ...
MR. WOODWARD: And this issue of who was the enemy in Iraq ... and somebody told me that in fact the mystery has deepened.
SEC. RUMSFELD: It has. It's gotten more complex. ...
MR. WOODWARD: So we know less?
SEC. RUMSFELD: No, no, we know more. They're getting so much more intelligence now. And they're looking -- they're seeing schisms and gaps and seams between elements, and they're finding people who are doing things for money as opposed to love or conviction. But it is just a fact that the world is round, it's not flat. It's evolved and changing.
On Rumsfeld's Willingness to Resign
MR. WOODWARD: But there was a moment when you said I'll stay or leave if you want.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah, I mean I can remember saying that to Andy Card. I can remember saying that to the vice president. I can remember saying something like that to the president, but I don't remember precisely what. I just don't want to get in the habit of resigning every 15 minutes and having them feel they have to beg you to stay. I submitted my resignation in writing twice since I've been here.
MR. WOODWARD: In writing you actually submitted a letter.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes.
How Everyone Fights His Own War in Washington
MR. WOODWARD: It's interesting. You've told Hadley -- or he's reported to others that the interagency process is broken, a number of times --
SEC. RUMSFELD: I think it is that in the 21st century, in the Information Age, we're still functioning with an interagency process and a governmental structure that is in the Industrial Age in the last century. And it would be like if the DOD tried to function today without Goldwater-Nichols, where each service goes off to fight -- the Navy war and the Army war and the Air Force war, and that's -- that doesn't work in this environment. And it is not -- my comment about the interagency being broken is not in any way meant at characterizing the people who are in it or even the structure that they control. It's a reflection of the fact that the government structure is a leftover from an earlier era. And it is something that I think all of us feel on occasion. ...
MR. WOODWARD: Have you told the president this? ...
SEC. RUMSFELD: You might want to give him the memo I did -- the speech I gave at the Truman Library where I talked about the fact that Truman was at the juncture of the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. And he fashioned a number of institutions that were appropriate for the period coming forward, and successive presidents have used those institutions. This president is at the end of the Cold War and at the juncture of the global war on terror and the types of problems he's facing and the Information Age. And he's trying to fight a war in a set of new realities as to how people communicate with each other and function electronically. And it's a vastly different task, much more complex today. The time pressures are very much greater.
On Exit Strategy in Iraq
MR. WOODWARD: And he says -- Kissinger says victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy in this war. Do you agree?
SEC. RUMSFELD: He's right. Sure. No, no, I'd qualify it. First of all, I don't agree that he said that.
MR. WOODWARD: Oh, he did. He's written it publicly and he's --
SEC. RUMSFELD: He may have, I think ultimately, the victory over the insurgency will be made by the Iraqis because it will take time. As I mentioned in the memo I showed you, it could take eight to 10 years. Insurgencies have a tendency to do that. Victory -- is that the word he used?
MR. WOODWARD: Yes. Victory by the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy. It's a great line.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah, but I would say that our exit strategy is to have the Iraqi government and security forces capable of managing a lower level insurgency and ultimately achieving victory over it and repressing it over time. But it would be a period after we may very well not have large numbers of people there.
On Rice's Articulated "Clear and Hold" Strategy
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah, I was a little worried that -- and we talked about it. I mean, clearly, you need a bumper sticker, and that's what they were looking for. ... And my problem was that I wanted ... 263,000 Iraqi security forces. I wanted them clearing and them holding. And I didn't want the idea to be that it was just us. And so that was my concern, because that is grabbing a hold of the bicycle seat and hanging on for dear life.
MR. WOODWARD: Forever.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Forever. Clear, hold and build – worried me -- for the reason I mentioned earlier -- on reconstruction, because that's going to take 30 years and it's going to take a pile of money and it is not going to be the taxpayers' money -- our taxpayers' money. ... I was concerned that it had a connotation that sounded good at the moment, but that it could, over time, come back and -- because of the nuances in it -- not be seen right. ... And the building is we want to help create environments that they can reconstruct their own country, and that type of thing. And those refinements are in there now. ...
MR. WOODWARD: In the end saying we won't be able to do it for this president, we'll have to do it for the next president.
SEC. RUMSFELD: You know, in any administration that's almost true of everything. ... And if you think about it -- I approved the M-1 tank that was used in the Gulf War and was used in Iraq, back in 1975. The F-16, which we're using, which is what bombed Zarqawi, I was at the fly-over for the F-16 in Fort Worth back in 1974 or 1975. That's the nature of this. These decisions you make play out over a long period of time, either to the benefit of the country or, conversely, to the detriment of the country if you fail to do something.
Complaints that Civilian Agencies Are Not Doing Enough
SEC. RUMSFELD: ... We needed money for the Afghan security forces, and we couldn't get a nickel anywhere. --
MR. WOODWARD: When was this, sir?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Right after the -- 2001 ... And we finally went and tin-cupped the French.
LT GEN RENUART: Yes, sir, borrowed money from the French. They gave us money.
SEC. RUMSFELD: And we couldn't get the Congress to do anything. We couldn't get the government here to do anything legally, and we knew we needed to train Afghan soldiers. Now, why couldn't we? Well, because the Department of State has the training plan, and they've programmed out two or three years in advance. And they're divided up by the subcommittees in Congress. They decide who gets that money. Well, no one really thought of Afghanistan back then. And trying to get the government to spin on a dime and adjust, it just doesn't do it.
LT GEN RENUART:It took us five years and we now have what's called 1206 authority -- just passed by the Congress a few months ago. It doesn't appropriate money; it gives the secretary authority to spend $200 million on training and equipping indigenous forces out of his own pocket. So we're one step at a time. ...
MR. WOODWARD: You know, you've got lots of people in the military who are quite unhappy that the rest of the government hasn't showed up with the same level --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Don’t say you have, we have --
MR. WOODWARD: We have. Okay, fair point, fair point.
SEC. RUMSFELD: You’re a citizen. I've got a lot of rocks in my knapsack, and I don't mind you dumping some more in there. But I like to think we're all part of this country.
On the Responsibility of Command
MR. WOODWARD: Because Bob McNamara said publicly -- and very interesting and hard point, and I want to ask it directly of you. He said, "Any military commander who's honest with you will say he's made mistakes that have cost lives."
SEC. RUMSFELD: Mmm-hmm.
MR. WOODWARD: Is that correct? ...
SEC. RUMSFELD: I can see a military commander in a uniform who is engaged in a conflict having to make decisions that result in people living or dying and that that would be a truth. And certainly if you go up the chain to the civilian side, to the president and me, you could, by indirection, two or three steps removed, make that case. But the fascination with that question comes up at almost every press conference. "Oh, tell us every mistake you've ever made, please. We want to have a litany of all your mistakes." And I hear it over and over. And they ask the president. And finally everyone says well, of course there have been mistakes made. And then they'll tell us about these mistakes. You know? I think it's kind of a -- my attitude is this: Our job is to get up every morning and figure out how we can help protect the country and the American people, and to have people that are dedicated to this country, that are patriotic, that care about defending the American people, and help to organize and encourage and lead and bolster their efforts to do that. And sitting around contemplating the kinds of questions that you in the media are so fascinated with is not my idea of how to spend my time on the taxpayer's dollar.
MR. WOODWARD: Can I just say something very -- we know each other well enough -- that you don't understand the power of admitting error ... It is the most powerful thing you can do is to -- as the leader ...
SEC. RUMSFELD: I've done that. I've done that.
MR. WOODWARD: You have. I understand that. I understand.
SEC. RUMSFELD: But do I need to do it every day?
MR. WOODWARD: No.
MR. WOODWARD: And Wolfowitz got -- right after 9/11 set up this thing called – Bletchley II. Do you remember that? Chris DeMuth at the AEI -- And they wrote a paper, seven pages, called, "The Delta of Terrorism," meaning the origin of terrorism, and it essentially said we are in a two-generation war with radical Islam, and we have to do something, and we better start with Iraq.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I remember that.
MR. WOODWARD: Yeah. It had a lot -- quite an impact on the president and Cheney and Rice, because it was short, and it said a two-generation war; that other countries are the real problems, but you can't deal with them; you better start with Iraq.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Interesting…I don't remember that.