November 28, 2020
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Press Briefing

'A Single Thread Runs Through The World'

Secretary of Defense on the global war on terrorism.

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'A Single Thread Runs Through The World'
Revelant excerpts of the News Briefing by Secretary Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

On Friday, we returned from a trip to Europe, the Gulf and South Asia. I suppose if there's a single thread that runs through these very different parts of the world, it is that all of the countries we met with are very much in agreement with President Bush on the global war on terrorism. In the process of fighting the war on terrorism, and it will be a long one, and because of the broad coalition support, America has the opportunity to really reshape relationships in the world in ways that can contribute significantly to peace and stability over the coming several decades.

Also visited Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, was very well received by all three countries. Each is being helpful in the global war on terrorism.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I'm sure somebody will get back to the shoulder-fired missiles, but I'd like to ask you about reports this weekend -- you just said that you found in your trip to Europe, the Gulf and South Asia, generally, people are in step with the United States on the war on terrorism.

Rumsfeld: Well, clearly, there is broad understanding of the terrorist threat. Many of those countries have experienced those threats, and we receive -- we're currently receiving already good support from them. And indeed, the trip reinforced that.

Q: Thank you.

You have said, as the president has said repeatedly, that this can't be a defensive war, but you must, as you say, go after the terrorists actively. There are reports that United States - this department specifically is forming a new policy, where it would be centered around preemptive attacks on not only terrorist groups, but on states that sponsor terrorism. Number one, is that true? And number two, isn't that extremely difficult in today's political world, to launch preemptive strikes against states and then have to show the world, in fact, we were right in doing so?

Q: Well, first, it's not true. To my knowledge, this department is not fashioning such a doctrine or policy. The National Security Council is, as I believe, been preparing a national security strategy. And it may be that comments about that have been in the press and led someone to think that it's something here. But I think probably it is more a reflection of the president's speeches, where he has been commenting on this, and very likely the work that's being done on the -- in the National Security Council for a national security paper of some sort.

"Isn't that difficult?" is the second part of your question, as I recall. You know, life is difficult. It would also be difficult to know that a terrorist organization was about ready to fly airplanes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center and not do something about it preemptively. In other words, what else can you do other than go after those terrorists that have publicly and privately organized, trained and equipped to attack America and American interests and free people -- innocent men, women and children? There is no choice with terrorist acts, other than to find them, and that is exactly what we did in Afghanistan, if you think about it. You can call that defense, which I do, because it is the only way in the world to deal with that type of problem, or you can call it preemptive.

It is what it is. It is simply a conscious decision on the part of the president of the United States. And I believe the overwhelming majority of the American people, and certainly the Congress, that in the event you have people who are determined and dedicated to killing innocent men, women and children, that the only thing you can do is to try to find them and stop them. And that is what this global war on terrorism is all about.

Q: But how about countries -- for instance, Iraq, Syria, countries that support terrorists? How about preemptive strike against whole countries that --

Rumsfeld: Those decisions are not for me. But what I have said is a fact; that we made a conscious decision that Afghanistan was a threat to this country, the Taliban government and the al Qaeda that were using it for terrorist training; and we have gone and done something about it. And that is self-evident.

Q: Sir, back to your trip to the region. The administration's policy is to promote regime change in Iraq. President Bush has not talked about how he would go about regime change --

Rumsfeld: I think it's more than the administration; I think the Congress has expressed itself on the subject.

Q: You also. But my question is this: In your trips to the Gulf region, did Bahrain and some of the other places you visited, share that view that Iraq is such a serious threat there needs to be a regime change, or did you spend a lot of time convincing them of the administration's perception on this issue?

Rumsfeld: I had very good meetings in each country, and I don't intend to discuss the private conversations.

Q: Follow-up?

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Q: To follow up on Charlie's question earlier, when you said a conscious decision was made that Afghanistan, as it was, posed a threat, has the administration made the conscious decision that Iraq, in fact, poses a threat to the security of the United States?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think the fact that the Congress has expressed itself on regime change, the president has, indicates that the United States and a number of other countries believe that the world would be a safer place if there were regime change. And as a result, the United States has been and is currently doing a variety of things. That's why we have coalition forces in Operation Southern and Northern Watch. That's why we have various diplomatic activities taking place in the United Nations. That's why the United Nations had sanctions on the country. That's why there were inspectors in there. And, of course, that's why the regime threw the inspectors out. So it is -- I don't know -- I just don't --

Q: But the decision by the U.S. government, the Congress and the previous administration, to seek a regime change was made some time ago. Has -- does Iraq pose any greater threat today?

Rumsfeld: Well, sure.

Q: Than when Congress originally passed a resolution declaring that there should be a regime change?

Rumsfeld: It does. Every day that goes by, its development programs mature. And to the extent they become more mature, obviously, the capabilities both for the weapons of mass destruction themselves, as well as the ability to deliver them, evolve as well.

Question? Yes?

Q: As you look at what has recently transpired in Morocco, at the bombing of the American consulate in Karachi shortly after you left, the bombing of the synagogue in Tunisia, other recent events, what's your sense of the current status of the al Qaeda, their dispersement around the world since the operation in Afghanistan, just how dispersed they are, how active they are, what some of these operations that they may have undertaken really represent right now, and the future threat you believe they pose?

Rumsfeld: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Well, I'm really not in a position to -- at the moment to run a thread from al Qaeda to any one of those things you have mentioned. It takes time after the fact to try to determine -- sometimes people take credit, if you will, to misuse the word "credit." And I think that it's premature to know precisely the instigators of those various actions.

From the very outset, we have pointed out that al Qaeda is -- was a global network, that it was spread across the globe, that it was not concentrated in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was where the individual who seemed to be the leader of al Qaeda was located, and it is -- was Afghanistan that -- where much of the training took place, although the training has taken place in other countries as well. And so they were already all over the world -- 40, 50, whatever number of countries; it's hard to know.

I don't doubt for a minute but that the work we've done in Afghanistan has made it a country that's less hospitable to al Qaeda. The training camps are destroyed. So training is being done somewhere, one has to assume, and -- but not likely to be in Afghanistan. And if we found it, we'd do something about it.

There are still al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and they're certainly in the neighboring countries. That suggests to me that a number were killed and a number have fled, and very likely a number are still there. They're trying to blend into some way that they can hide. The activity in Afghanistan clearly instigated a dispersion of these people, which I think is much better than having them training and managing terrorist acts around the world. Does it make it harder to find some of them? Well, it was hard to find them there, so I don't know if it makes it harder. What we do know is that the 60-plus countries that are involved in the coalition are, together, putting pressure on these folks and making life difficult for them. And that is a good thing. It is making it more -- they would be doing more terrorist acts were that pressure not on them. They would be raising more money, recruiting more people, and killing more innocent men, women and children.


Q: Are you surprised that there have been three U.S. citizens allegedly involved with al Qaeda? Do you expect more?

Rumsfeld: Well, I guess I'm not surprised, and I would think there are more. We just haven't found them. You know, we have a big country, couple of hundred-plus million people. We've got people who think everything in the world in this country of ours. And it doesn't surprise me at all that some would be affiliated with that organization.


Q: What's your current assessment of the links between Iraq and al Qaeda? Are you finding links between them as time goes on and as you pursue your investigations?

Rumsfeld: I think I'm going to pass on that one. It's something that people think about and they look into and as information is developed, it gets tested and examined. And to the extent it looks promising or interesting or worth pursuing more, talking about it becomes the least interesting thing in the world from our standpoint. So, we are on a full-court press to find al Qaeda anywhere in the world. And we know some places where they are, and to the extent we get cooperation of the countries, like we do in the case of Pakistan, we go after them. To the extent they're in Iran, where we're not getting cooperation, obviously we don't. But they're in lots of places.

Q: Can you say whether you've found any connection between the two?

Rumsfeld: That's not for me. That's not the Pentagon's business. That's intelligence gathering, that type of thing.

Q: But if you don't find those links, does it not make your job and the administration's job, of rationalizing and selling a campaign against Iraq much, much more difficult?

Rumsfeld: (Chuckles.) There are a number of global terrorist organizations -- al Qaeda is one of them. There are a number of countries that are on the terrorist list. Of those countries on the terrorist list, there are a number that have and/or are developing weapons of mass destruction. It seems to me that the nexus between terrorist organizations and terrorist states and weapons of mass destruction is something that merits the attention of the American people and other like-thinking nations across the globe.


Q: Along those same lines, you mentioned that the Iraqis' development program continues to mature. Any hard evidence of that? Do you assume, because the inspectors haven't been in for a number of years that they are rebuilding? And have you seen anything from satellites, let's say, of rebuilding particular sites? Can you give us anything on that?

Rumsfeld: I could, but I won't. There's no point in getting into intelligence and telling the world that this country or that country is doing this, that or the other thing. It doesn't serve our purpose.

Q: So there is hard evidence that --

Rumsfeld: I'm -- I'm -- I'm not going to get into intelligence matters.


Q: Can we go back to al Qaeda just for a second? There have been a number of reports in recent days that the scattering of al Qaeda in Afghanistan has made them more dangerous and/or difficult to deal with. Do you disagree with that? Is that what you're saying?

Rumsfeld: Well, I mean, how do you make an al Qaeda more dangerous? He's trained to go out and kill people and fly airplanes into buildings. Big appetite for weapons of mass destruction. Threatening free people all across the globe. Bombed embassies. You know, done a whole series of things. What gradation of "more dangerous" are we looking for here?

Q: Perhaps more difficult for you to counter.

Rumsfeld: That's a separate issue -- more difficult. No. They were difficult there, they're difficult no matter where they are. They're not going to congregate in large groups and say, "Here's our army, here's our navy, here's our air force." The nature of this is that it's hard. The defense establishment was organized trained and equipped to go out and fight armies, navies and air forces. The global terrorist networks do not have armies, navies and air forces. It becomes very much a law enforcement and intelligence gathering, a coalition, a task of bringing all elements of national power to bear -- political, diplomatic, economic, financial, intelligence gathering, overt, covert -- all of that. It's a totally different ball game. It has become a defense issue because the danger is so significant to our country and to our forces overseas and to our friends and allies. So the Department of Defense is engaged in these tasks, and that is why these sweeps are being done in Afghanistan. That is why we're cooperating with Pakistan, trying to find -- that's why we're training people in Yemen and in Georgia and in the Philippines, trying to be helpful -- for them to be able to do a better job or going after them -- the terrorists. That is why we're adjusting, how we do things, so that we can participate more fully in what has historical been an intelligence-gathering and law enforcement effort -- a manhunt, if you will -- a people-hunt -- trying to prevent those kinds of things from happening.

Q: What would an example of the "adjusting" that you're doing be? You said you were "adjusting."

Rumsfeld: Well, we've changed our defense strategy. We've adjusted in our Defense Planning Guidance. We are shifting our emphasis, in terms of budget allocations, what we're doing. We have recognized the fact that there are a variety of things, such as unmanned aerial vehicles and Special Forces and things that are distinctively helpful in the task we're currently engaged in. We're beefing up our intelligence. We're improving various other types of capabilities, so that we can try to do over the coming year, two three. We've increased homeland defense -- we've reorganized from the standpoint of the Northern Command. There's just a lot of things we're doing that reflect that reality that the world has shifted. And we're going to have to be arranged and organized and equipped to deal with it better.


Q: Mr. Secretary, some Pakistani leaders acknowledge that there are a large number of al Qaeda fighters and perhaps leaders inside their country, as U.S. commanders believe. And is there a possibility that more U.S. troops may be used in connection with Pakistani troops to go after them?

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that the Pakistanis understand that that border's porous, and a lot of folks came over -- Taliban and al Qaeda. There's also no question but that President Musharraf is bound and determined and -- if, and, and when he finds al Qaeda or Taliban milling around in his country, he's is determined to go get them. And he has demonstrated that and been enormously helpful. If I'm not mistaken, he's just put some more forces on --

Myers: That's correct.

Rumsfeld: -- within the last 24 hours, which --

Myers: Yes, sir.

Q: There are more U.S. troops?

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