Few Americans have served in government longer, or in such high positions, as Donald Rumsfeld. First elected to Congress in 1962, he has served every Republican presidential administration, in some capacity, since Richard Nixon’s first term.
Most recently, he served as President George W. Bush’s secretary of defense, and he recounts that experience, as well as his long career, in his recently released memoir “Known And Unknown.”
RFE/RL writer at large James Kirchick recently interviewed Rumsfeld on topics ranging from Vietnam to Uzbekistan to what he considers to be the greatest professional mistake he ever made.
RFE/RL: You start your memoir with the 1983 assault on the Beirut Marine barracks, and you wrote that there was a profound sense that the country should respond forcefully to the atrocity. Do you believe President Reagan took the right course after that attack?
Donald Rumsfeld: I think he did. As you know, the United States has in one way or another assisted Lebanon on any number of occasions dating back to my recollection to the Eisenhower administration. And the country had difficulties and was seeking assistance, and he decided to provide some assistance.
RFE/RL: But by removing the Marines afterwards, was that the right course in terms of responding to terrorism forcefully?
Rumsfeld: I think at that point that he had to remove the Marines he was faced with no other alternative given the fact that the Congress was at the point where they were ready to defund the activity.
Rumsfeld’s recent memoir, “Known And Unknown”RFE/RL: During the Vietnam War, you tell a story about USAID workers trying to fix a television set who were unable to communicate with their Vietnamese counterparts, and you wrote, “If the folks on the ground at AID were not able to communicate well enough with the Vietnamese they worked with to fix a television set, I wondered how they could work together to win a war.” You’ve resisted comparisons between Vietnam and the current war in Afghanistan, but do you see similarities that are illustrated by this anecdote?
Well, there are thoughtful people who have written analytical pieces that describe the similarities and the dissimilarities — and there are many of each. I think an anecdote is really simply that — an anecdote. But there’s no question but that in a conventional conflict the lack of language capability is less of a problem, and in a asymmetrical conflict or struggle over a sustained period of time language capability becomes enormously important.
From the standpoint of the Department of Defense, soldiers that are in an army or navy or air force have less reason to have to know the language in a local situation than, for example, aid workers would or people that are assisting in a ministry, or people that are training and equipping military forces. So it’s a different circumstance, really.
RFE/RL: When the United States initially invaded Afghanistan, Washington obviously had to work with various warlords. And you describe them in the book as being pretty unsavory characters. Do you think the integration of these warlords into the governance structures later on was a mistake in terms of the postwar work?
Rumsfeld: No, I don’t think so. Well, first of all, I don’t know I describe them as unsavory. I think I characterized them in the book where some people had made allegations or suggestions about them. I did not have factual information either to support it or oppose it — those contentions. They were what they were. They were people who had been at war in a landlocked country that had suffered a drought, suffered close to a decade of Soviet occupation, and had had a civil war going on for years. And some called them warlords, some called them tribal leaders, others called them militia generals.
Whatever one wants to call them, obviously they were for the most part not Jeffersonian democrats. They were people who lived in Afghanistan and were Afghans doing what was fairly normal in that country. And walking away, the best thing in the world for us to do was to work with them. They were opposed to the Taliban, they were opposed to Al-Qaeda, and because we worked successfully with them — I say “we,” meaning the CIA and the Department of Defense Special Forces — because they were able to work successfully with them, the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda were moved out of Afghanistan in very short order.
RFE/RL: On that subject, there’s obviously been a lot of controversy over the failure to capture Osama bin Laden. In your memoir, you wrote that “no one knew…for certain” that he was holed up in Tora Bora. But later on you say that “we might be missing an opportunity in Tora Bora” and you acknowledge that you would have sent more troops had General Tommy Franks wanted them. Do you regret not having sent more troops, even though General Franks never requested them?
Rumsfeld: No, there was no request for additional capability either up the CIA chain or the military chain. I don’t know how someone sitting in Washington, D.C. — 5,000 or 6,000 miles away — can make a judgment to the contrary. I kept asking the question and apparently the evidence was not sufficiently persuasive that it either persuaded the people in the CIA chain that more capability was needed nor did it persuade the people in the military chain that more capability was needed, which suggests that it may very well not have been needed.
So I don’t know what you would have said if there was no indication of what was needed. Furthermore, there was an enormous amount of bombing going on in the Tora Bora area during that entire period.
RFE/RL: So that would have been a “known unknown”?
Rumsfeld: Well, I think you could almost say it was an “unknown unknown.” We didn’t know if he was even there. There are people who’ve written books and articles and suggested that they were persuaded he was there, and that’s fair enough. But apparently they weren’t able to persuade their superiors that he was either there or that there was something that could reasonably have been done.
Our Special Forces and CIA people were working with what was called the Eastern Alliance. And, of course, an added complication is, you get the benefit of working with local, indigenous military forces, but you also get the burden. And the burden in this case was that it was Ramadan. And so they were working hard during the day — the Afghan forces that our Special Forces and CIA people were working with — but come evening they were not active. So you get the benefit and the burden.
U.S. President George Bush (center), Vice President Dick Cheney (second from left), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (second from right), the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers (right), and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice in Crawford, Texas, in August 2004.
RFE/RL: Moving on to Iraq, you’ve downplayed the criticism that you could have done more to prevent looting in the aftermath of the invasion. Could this have been prevented by stationing U.S. troops outside particular ministries? Or was that unforeseeable?
Well, I don’t know the answer to that question. I think that looting was clearly a problem that the Central Command had anticipated. Saddam Hussein had let loose 100,000 prisoners from his prisons. He called for jihad and jihadists came in from Iran and Syria and other neighboring countries. It’s a large country; the people had been repressed; a number of government buildings including Saddam Hussein’s palaces — people went in and stripped out the wire, the wires in the buildings to get the copper.
So you can imagine…. Think of the looting that took place in Germany. If one goes back and reads, any time you’re changing from one regime to a new regime, there’s a transition period that is imperfect, it is inevitable, and it is historic. It’s always been so. And you can anticipate it, and they had been prepared to impose martial law, Franks and the Central Command. But is it possible, is it conceivable that any kind of looting like that could be eliminated or prevented?
Certainly a lot of it was magnified when one thinks of the National Museum, and I’ve written about it in the book in great detail that the press reports on that proved to be notably inaccurate.
RFE/RL: You’ve been a critic of nation-building. Do you think it was reasonable to expect that U.S. forces can go into a country like Afghanistan or Iraq, topple the existing regime, put in U.S.-friendly exiles, and then pull out forces? Or was it precisely our desire to have a quick, painless fix without nation-building that got us into these countries in the first place?
Rumsfeld: On my website — Rumsfeld.com — there’s a paper I wrote, well before September 11 — I think it was March of ’01 — where I talk about the guidelines for the use of U.S. military force. And one of the statements I made in there was we need to have healthy respect for what the Department of Defense is capable of doing but also for what we’re not capable of doing.
And I personally think that nations don’t get built by outsiders. I think they get built by the people of those nations and that culture’s important and history’s important, and the facts on the ground are important. And that the idea that another country can go in and fashion a country for other people — with the language barriers and the culture barriers and the distances — I think is a reach.
If you think about our country, we had slaves into the 1800s. We fought a vicious civil war — hundreds of thousands of Americans on both sides killed. Women didn’t vote in our country until the 1900s. We didn’t go from 1776 or 1789 to where we are today along a smooth path. It was a very bumpy, tough road. And that’s going to be the case in other countries. And I think to expect otherwise is probably a misunderstanding of history.
RFE/RL: So do you think President Bush was wrong to declare, in his second inaugural address, that the goal of the U.S. should be to “end tyranny in our world”?
Rumsfeld: No, I think the president was right. I think that one can make the case that there’ll be no peace in the world — and this is an old adage, I don’t know who said it first — that there will be no peace in the world until every man is free because to every man he is the world. And there is a natural…President Bush believed — and I think correctly so — that the natural state of man is to want to be free and that repression runs counter to that.
Second, I think that anyone who looks down from outer space on Earth can see that the countries that have the free political and the free economic systems are the countries where the people have the greatest opportunities and are doing the best for themselves. And it is those countries that do not have free political or free economic institutions where the people tend to be repressed, unemployed, and without the kinds of hopes and opportunities that we benefit from in our country.
I think setting that out as a fact — and I believe it is a fact — and setting it out as a hope for the world – and he coupled it, if I’m not mistaken, that democracies tend not to declare war on each other.
RFE/RL: You recount a meeting where then-Russian President Vladimir Putin told you that “he understood that our proposed missile-defense system would be small scale, designed to deter and defend against rogue states. He knew well it could be overwhelmed by Russia’s arsenal, and that once operational, the system could successfully defend against handfuls, not thousands, of missiles.” In light of this admission to you, several years ago, were the more recent Russian protestations that we’ve heard about the missile-defense system disingenuous and was the Obama administration wrong to pull the sites from here in the Czech Republic and also in Poland?
Well, I wouldn’t want to use the word disingenuous. I think it was close to nine years ago that I came away with the impression that I reported in my memoir, “Known And Unknown,” from a meeting I had with President Putin at the time.
What he thinks now about the evolution of our system, I don’t know. I haven’t met with him in five, six, seven years. I don’t know what his thinking is. It seemed to me that the path we were on in the Bush administration was the correct one: to put in place a missile-defense system that would evolve over time, where we had a limited set of interceptors, where we tested the system and evolved it and modified and improved it and refined it. That made sense, rather than thinking you couldn’t do anything until you could do everything.
Second, I think that the United States made the right decision when we stopped calling it national missile defense because that would leave the impression to our friends and allies around the world that we were kind of fortress America, and we could defend ourselves but the heck with everyone else in the world — all of our friends and allies or our forces overseas.
So we stopped using the word national and just called it missile defense and began to work with three or four or five allies in Europe and with some allies and friends in Asia, recognizing that they had the same concerns that we did about rogue missiles and that our system, as it evolved, would have the ability to provide a deterrent effect for them as well as for us, and if necessary a defensive capability for modest numbers of incoming ballistic missiles.
RFE/RL: The Obama administration has claimed that Russian assistance to the ISAF effort in Afghanistan has been a vindication of the “reset” strategy. Could you talk about Russian behavior when you were defense secretary in terms of the Afghan war, and whether the assistance that they’re providing now – if one can even call it assistance, really – is significant?
Rumsfeld: Well, I’m not aware of what assistance they’re providing now…Needless to say, a country like Afghanistan that had been occupied unwillingly by the Soviet Union for the better part of a decade — with I forget how many hundreds of thousands of troops were in there, large numbers of troops — was not eager to have the successor to the Soviet Union, Russia, intimately involved in the coalition effort in their country.
And as a result, the Russians knew that, and they didn’t even suggest that they should be involved with personnel or anything else. They did point out that the Afghans were used to Russian equipment, and suggested from time to time that Russian equipment could replace and upgrade some of the equipment that the Afghans were using. They were limited in terms of the amount of assistance they gave us in terms of transiting their country by air or by ground, and they were reluctant to have us move military equipment by ground.
But these comments I’m making now go back to 2001, 2003, 2004, that period, not today. There was also some pressure by Russia on the immediate neighbors to the north of Afghanistan to want to be involved in the decisions that those former Soviet republics were making with respect to the extent to which they would cooperate with the coalition forces.
RFE/RL: On that topic, one of the regions in which you’ve had a particular interest is Central Asia. Because of the vast cultural differences that exist between the U.S. and this region, do you think it’s possible for the United States to increase its influence there? Or will it forever be in the orbit of Russia and, increasingly, China and even Iran?
Rumsfeld: Well, I don’t know the answer to that. I know that in the United States, we had in my hometown in Chicago and other cities like Detroit and Pittsburgh a great many people from Eastern Europe who had come to the United States. And when the Iron Curtain went down and the Warsaw bloc broke up, there was a natural outreach from America to their friends in Poland and the Czech Republic and the Baltic states.
That was not true with respect to the Central Asian republics when they separated from the Soviet Union and Russia, and we didn’t have Kazakhs or Tajiks or Uzbeks in Chicago or Pittsburgh, to speak of. They’re making the same transition from command economies to freer economies, from an authoritarian government to a freer political system. And that’s, as I’ve indicated earlier, not an easy transition. But I think they want to make that transition and they’re headed that way.
And so we decided — my wife and I — to have our foundation support some fellows so that they could come to the United States and get to know people here and in Western Europe and gain a better understanding of freer political and freer economic systems.
Where do I think it will end up? I think that Central Asia is an important part of the world. It’s quite true — they’re there between a larger country to the north, Russia, and a larger country to the south, China, but I think in this world they have a chance to decide what their orientation ought to be. That’s been true of a number of other former Soviet republics, for example, that have joined the Partnership for Peace program with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
RFE/RL: You argue that “one of the most unfortunate, if unnoticed, foreign policy mistakes of our administration” was the American reaction to the May 2005 Andijon massacre in Uzbekistan. You write in the book that the uprising was spurred by “rebels” from “an Islamist extremist group accused of seeking an Islamic state.” A Defense Intelligence Agency memo from July 30, 2005, which you’ve put on your website, however, reported that “their motivation almost certainly was anger and frustration over poor socio-economic conditions and repressive government policies rather than a unifying extremist ideology.” Do you stand by your characterization of the Andijon events as being instigated by Muslim extremists or do you think the reasons for it had to do with the corruption and the repression of the regime of Islam Karimov?
Rumsfeld: I certainly stand by what I wrote in the book, and I would add that you can find scraps of intelligence that are on all sides of most issues and what it requires is analyzing and synthesizing and pulling those threads together and then coming to some judgments about what is likely…At the time, we did not have certain knowledge about what was going on. And my impression is there’s still a good deal of debate as to what precisely the motivations were.
A fair characterization of my comments in the book would be something like this: There is a natural pattern for those of us in our country that benefit from human rights and civil rights and opportunities to want that for others and to be critical when a regime doesn’t provide that for the people. And that’s understandable and that’s a positive thing.
On the other hand, if you look around the world, there are only a few handfuls of countries that behave like we do, that have moved to a point where they have a sufficiently free political system that we would characterize it as of a kind with Western Europe and ours and Australia and any number of other countries — South Korea, Japan, and the like. But the vast majority of the countries are not arranged the way the countries I’ve just indicated illustratively are arranged.
So, you look at two things. First, you look at them and say, “Where are they on that spectrum, from unfree towards free?” And Freedom House, for example, analyzes that every year and you can look at it. That’s one thing to understand, and there’s no question but that the Central Asian republics are over toward the less-free compared to the United States and some other Western European countries.
However, the other thing to look at is which way are they moving, and are they coming towards freer political systems and freer economic systems or are they regressing? In the case of Uzbekistan, there was no doubt in my mind but that they did not have the kind of freer political and freer economic system we did but that they were moving in that direction.
And instead, by our behavior — I think prejudging what went on — we not only damaged our security relationship with Uzbekistan, but in addition, we shoved them back to a more regressive stance, which I think the words of the leadership there clearly indicated. Do you follow me?
RFE/RL: Yeah, I understand. Is it not these sorts of relationships where we put too much emphasis on the stability, or where too much of the relationship is defined by the security apparatus, or our military to their military, has that not put us on the wrong side of what we’re seeing now in the Middle East and North Africa?
Rumsfeld: Well, it’s hard to answer that because I don’t think there’s a single answer. If I could make the case — and for the sake of argument, let’s say I’m correct — that we not only damaged our security relationship but we pushed them back towards a set of relationships that would result in a government that was less free and had a less free political system and a less free economic system, that is certainly not progress. Do you follow me?
RFE/RL: Yeah, I do, I just don’t know how much room there was for Uzbekistan to move in the wrong direction prior to Andijon.
Rumsfeld: It seems to me that it benefits a country, it benefits our values, generally, to have relationships with countries that lack our values. And by that I mean, when the Congress of the United States, the first thing they did with a knee-jerk reaction when Indonesian police behaved in a less-than-democratic manner, was to sever U.S. and Indoensian military-to-military relationships.
Now, that meant we went for a generation without having the Indonesians – the only national institution in Indonesia at the time, as I recall, was probably the national police – and did they benefit from severing relationships with our military? I think not. I think the more people that got trained in the United States, the more interaction there was with the United States, where they saw civilian control of the military and the military behaving in a responsible way is a positive thing. We did the same thing with Pakistan. We severed military-to-military relations with Pakistan…
RFE/RL: The Pressler Amendment, right?
Rumsfeld: I think it was Pressler, yeah…[The Pakistanis] tested a nuclear weapon. Now, was that a good thing? No, I think not a good thing. I think it benefited Pakistani military officers to spend time going to U.S. military schools and I think that’s a very constructive relationship. So I think you can sometimes cut off your nose to spite your face.
RFE/RL: You write a lot in the book about the bureaucratic problems that exist within the U.S. government. And you wrote that you stopped receiving CIA briefings in 2004 because the questions, the mere questions that you and your colleagues in the Defense Department were asking were being deemed as “politicizing intelligence.”
Rumsfeld: Actually, it was a result of someone in the State Department asking questions which the agency then publicized, which I was critical of, and I did not stop my briefings. I started taking them in writing. And to the extent I had questions, I had one of my senior intelligence people pose the questions to the agency. I thought it was unprofessional, the way they were handling this.
RFE/RL: So why are we spending so much money on this organization, the CIA, if senior government officials ignore its findings or work around it?
Rumsfeld: Oh, no one ignored their findings. I read their briefings every day. That would be a serious misunderstanding of what I wrote in the book.
RFE/RL: So it’s not ignoring, it was taking it in a different format.
Rumsfeld: Reading it. I wrote a document – I shouldn’t say I wrote it – I was chairman of the Ballistic Missile Subcommission in the late 1990s, and we had a bipartisan group of, for the most part, highly technical people — Democrats and Republicans — and at the end of our work we issued a report. But we also decided to invest some time and write an intelligence side letter. And we were asked to do that by the Congress and by, I think, [CIA Director] George Tenet as well. We did that. And there’s an unclassified version of it.
And one of the points that’s made in there is the value both ways, for policymakers to interact with intelligence analysts that it benefits the analyst to know what the policymakers are wondering, wanting to know, thinking, probing, and that’s helpful for the analyst to do a better job, and vice versa. It’s helpful for the policymaker to know how the analyst is approaching it, how they’re thinking, what the knowns are, what the known unknowns are, and what the unknown unknowns might be.
And this side letter is available. You can get a copy from my office. But one of the principal points in there is that that interaction is a highly valuable thing to policy development. And the way that things evolved with the agency, as I recall, [Vice President Dick] Cheney went out and visited the intelligence agencies, four or five of them, and someone wrote an article or went to the press and contended that that was “undue influence.” Here’s a man who was the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee and had an interest in the subject, was advising the president, cared enough about the agencies to go out and visit them and talk to them, and was in no way putting pressure on them but following indeed the idea that policymakers interacting with intelligence gatherers and policy analysts, is a positive thing, and it was criticized. And I found that unfortunate.
RFE/RL: Now, in the book, you direct a lot of criticism towards former secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice.
Rumsfeld: Not professionally. You don’t find that in the book. They’re both very fine public servants. We had differences. Just like everybody has differences of views on occasion. That’s not criticism. It’s a discussion of differences of views.
I mean, think of the differences between [Secretary of State] George Shultz and [Secretary of Defense] Cap Weinberger in the Reagan administration. Think of Henry Kissinger and [Nixon Secretary of State] Bill Rogers. Or Henry Kissinger and [Nixon and Ford administration Secretary of Defense James] Schlesinger. Or [Carter Administration National Security Advisor Zbigniew] Brzezinski and [Carter Administration Secretary of State] Vance. They had differences in views. It’s a fairly normal thing.
RFE/RL: Of course it is. It seems though that were a lot of disputes.
Rumsfeld: I wouldn’t even call them disputes. They were discussions that took place because people approached things differently, and to the extent that they were brought to the president he would make a decision.
RFE/RL: This may be a hard question for you to answer, but do you think that the president was not decisive enough in sorting out the differences between his secretary of state and his national security adviser and his secretary of defense?
Rumsfeld: Well, first of all, I can’t think of a lot of cases where there were big differences. There were not fierce arguments or major differences within the Bush administration.
Second, any time that an issue went before President Bush he was perfectly comfortable in making a decision. Now, were there things that were delayed in going up to him and ended up leaking in the press? Yes. The answer is yes, and I try to describe that.
I think part of it is that our institutions are institutions that were fashioned for the most part at the end of World War II. And they really haven’t been modified and adjusted for the 21st century, for the Information Age. If you look at the international institutions — the United Nations and NATO and the IMF and the World Bank — they all basically were at that inflection point from the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. Same thing at home here, the CIA, the Department of Defense, the USIA, all of those national security institutions were kind of fashioned in the Truman administration, and they have not been dramatically altered since.
We had the Goldwater-Nichols [Act], which kind of brought together the military services to some extent, but we have not had anything approximating a Goldwater-Nichols Act for the government as a whole. And you end up with these congressional committees that have turf they want to protect, and the information then comes up from the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the CIA, and the Treasury Department, the Justice Department, and someone in there at the National Security Council level has to bend all those stovepipes that come up and have them go through a needle head in a way that’s coherent for a president. And that’s a terribly tough job.
I mean, you look at National Security Council people, one after another in different administrations. Take the current administration. They’re two years in and they’re on their second one. And it’s a tough job, and I’m not suggesting it’s easy.
RFE/RL: If you were defense secretary right now, what would you advise President Obama with regard to what’s happening in Libya?
Rumsfeld: My impression is that [current U.S. Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates is giving proper advice — that there’s every reason to be cautious and simply because people go on television and say “well, let’s have a no-fly zone” or “let’s have a no-truck zone” or “let’s have a no-tank zone,” it is more complex than that. And what I’ve read of Secretary Gates’s advice, I would agree with.
RFE/RL: You’ve raised objections to the notion of “universal jurisdiction,” whereby grandstanding prosecutors or magistrates in foreign countries can bring charges against American officials while they are on foreign soil. Has this affected your postgovernment work? Do you have to take precautions when you travel overseas because of these threats?
Rumsfeld: No, but I think the way I describe it in the book is accurate. For example, Belgium tried to act against General Tom Franks. Well, we couldn’t have military people in Belgium if they’re going to keep a law like that. I think the United States is important in the world and that we play a generally constructive, positive, helpful role.
I mean, think of the work that the Department of Defense did at the tsunami in Indonesia. Think of the work we’ve done in Pakistan for the earthquakes or in Central America during earthquakes. I believe the United States would not be willing to do those things, we wouldn’t be willing to participate in a humanitarian effort with the United Nations, if universal jurisdiction continues on the path it’s on. We wouldn’t be able to send our military people around the world to do those kinds of things, which we get asked to do practically every week. Somewhere in the world someone’s asking us to do something.
RFE/RL: Right now in Japan.
Rumsfeld: You bet. And the United States, the American people, are not going to allow that if, in fact, the military personnel would be subjected to “lawfare,” lawsuits, with this litigious world we have and this litigious country we have.
RFE/RL: I’m curious with you personally. Now that you’re out of government, there have been these…
Rumsfeld: Oh, I don’t worry about me personally. I’m talking about the fact that every time you turn around there’s a lawsuit against 15 military people starting with some private going up to the combatant commander. And they ought not to have to hire a lawyer every time their superior officer tells them to do something.
We’ve got some military people, for example, today that have been indicted in Italy for doing something that was authorized. I don’t know what level it was authorized, but it was perfectly authorized, and they are subjected to that kind of lawsuit. The American people are not going to tolerate it.
RFE/RL: You write a lot about your time in the Nixon administration. And President Nixon was obviously a colorful character. Why do you think he once said of you, “He’s a ruthless little bastard”?
Rumsfeld: I have no idea. He said a lot of things on those tapes, late at night. He said a lot of positive things and a lot of negative things about most everyone he worked with.
RFE/RL: Well, that could have been considered a positive comment. It probably was, actually.
Rumsfeld: As I reported in the book, there were a number of times I didn’t agree with him.
RFE/RL: You’ve been criticized for not owning up for mistakes. Just giving you the opportunity, what do you think is the most consequential mistake that you made as secretary of defense in the Bush administration?
Rumsfeld: You know, that’s a question that every single press person loves to ask. And they always ask it, and I’ve answered it a hundred times. And in the book, I discuss a series of things that I regret or things that might have been done differently or better or questions that I have.
I think the thing that I carry with me the most is the fact that war is a failure of foreign policy and anytime anybody in a senior position is involved in war, it involves the loss of life — a human life — and each life is a treasure. It involves people being wounded and their lives change and the lives of their families change dramatically. And it is a heavy burden.
And I spend a lot of time visiting hospitals in the United States and in Iraq and in Afghanistan and meeting with the troops and their families and always wondering how you can explain to them that their sacrifice — and it is a sacrifice, not just for the troops but for their families, as well — is important. And I came away repeatedly inspired by the fact that they were proud of what they were doing, that they wanted to get back to their units, and that their families were supportive of them. But of all the things, one has to regret is that we have wars from time to time and they are terrible, terrible things.
RFE/RL: So it’s not a specific action? It’s having to have the war the first place?
Rumsfeld: Well, I can list five other things if you want — if that will make you happy. I mean, obviously Abu Ghraib was just a terrible thing.
RFE/RL: And you offered your resignation there, correct?
Rumsfeld: Twice. And it was damaging to our country. And it was damaging to the reputation of our military and unfairly so, and it assisted the enemy in recruiting and raising money, unquestionably.
I can give you another example. I think we failed miserably in engaging in the competition of ideas. That helping the country and the world understand that the radical Islamists are out, determined to teach young people to go out and kill innocent men, women, and children. And our task is not simply to defend against that, which we have to try to do, but to put so much pressure on them that they can’t do it or that it’s very difficult for them to do it.
But even more, we have to persuade people that that’s not a good thing for people to do. That strapping explosives on your body and going into the marketplace and killing innocent men, women, and children is not the way one ought to be living their lives. And the radical Islamists are teaching people the wrong things. And we need to do everything humanly possible to attempt to see that less of that occurs in this world of ours. And we didn’t do well on that. I didn’t do well on that.