Secretary Rumsfeld Interview With USA Today
DoD News Briefing
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2001
(Interview with editorial board of USA Today)
Rumsfeld: I have nothing to say by way of an opening. I'd be happy to respond to questions. I assume you folks have questions.
Q: We have a few. First, thank you again for having us, and Torie, thanks for setting this up for us. It's a big help. It helps us understand what's going on.
What you have here is members of the Editorial Board and several of the news staff. We'll just go our usual custom, which is just to go through an informal Q&A, though it's all on the record.
Q: Whatever happens in Afghanistan will certainly go a long way toward defining the credibility of the president's war objectives, so it seems particularly important to define success sharply there.
As precisely as possible, what's your vision of success in Afghanistan and particularly how will it help win hearts and minds in the Muslim world?
A: You should be in the Pentagon press corps. You always ask two questions in one. (Laughter)
Q: And a follow-up. (Laughter)
A: Yeah, you'd fit right in. Why are you an editor? --success in Afghanistan. It seems to me that the president's purpose in this effort is to root out terrorists and terrorist networks and to stop terrorists and people harboring terrorists from doing so. The reason that has to be done is because there's no way to defend every where at every time against every conceivable threat that somebody can think up. Whoever would have thought of plastic knives and using them, U.S. aircraft crash into buildings?
There is no way to defend every where at every time against every technique. Therefore you simply have to go after them.
I don't disagree with you. I guess I do agree, almost agree, that what happens in Afghanistan is important to the credibility of the efforts. The task, obviously, is to stop those people from terrorizing people and to stop the Taliban from harboring the al Qaeda and to end up with an Afghanistan that is not harboring terrorists or engaged in terrorism. And it is not something that's going to be easily done. It's not something that's going to be quickly done. It is a very difficult situation as anyone knows who takes a look at the circumstances and the lay of the land.
I have tried very hard to help people understand the difficulty of the task and I've been impressed that people seem to understand that and they understand that it is like looking for a needle in a haystack and that they don't have armies that you can go compete with and the navies and air forces. And what we have to do is have a sustained effort across a broad front that makes life so difficult for those two categories of people that they stop doing what they've been doing.
It is not a national problem. It is not Afghanistan. It is not the Afghan people. It is a network that are [is] across the globe. And to really deal with it you have to clearly deal with the problem in Afghanistan but you also have to deal with the other 50 cells around the world. Drying up their money, arresting people, interrogating people, gathering intelligence, doing some overt military activities as well as some covert military activities.
Q: A year from now terrorists, Muslims, Americans, will all have an impression of what Afghanistan has meant at that point. By that time do you have to have rooted out the terrorists, captured or killed bin Laden? And how are you going to have that at the end be a positive message to the Muslim world?
A: I think people in the Moslem world who think about it carefully and who understand Islam understand that their religion's being hijacked and it is not going to be saved by non-Muslims. It's going to be saved by Muslims. And they're going to have to take back their religion and not allow people to pervert it the way the al Qaeda leadership is perverting it.
As I traveled around the Middle East I found people who felt that way, who said that to me in different countries in the Middle East, and who recognized the importance of that.
We, for our part, while we can't solve the problem that is -- this is not a clash of religions or a clash of civilizations as some people have suggested, this is a clash within the Moslem world. There are many, many more people who don't agree with the perverted version that al Qaeda's promoting than do agree with it.
Does that mean there aren't going to be demonstrations? Sure, there always have been, there always will be, I suspect. Do we have to do everything in the world to help people understand it's not a matter of a religion or a race or even a country or a people, it's a matter of terrorists, and we do have to do everything we can.
We start out with a pretty good record as the country. It was the United States and a coalition that went in and saved Kuwait at considerable expense and some loss of life. We've been on the side of Moslems in Kosovo and in Bosnia, and humanitarian assistance in Somalia. We were the biggest food donor in Afghanistan before September 11th and now many multiples of anybody else with the latest proposal of $320 million.
Do we have to do a good job? Sure. The Taliban are lying through their teeth. They are actively using mosques and schools and hospitals for locations for command and control and for barracks and for their various activities. They're putting artillery pieces around schools and in residential areas, hoping they will not be hit because there will be collateral damage. They have actively gone out and lied about the civilian casualties and taken press to places where they would see things that they contended were something other than what they really were. It is not an easy job when those images are all across the globe. It's a hard job. We have to recognize that and we have to do what we can to help the world understand that they are what they are.
The Taliban has been vicious to women in that country. It's been vicious to the people in that country that are starving. It is not well liked by those people that know that they're taking their military capabilities and sticking them in close proximity to things like hospitals and schools and highly populated areas because they know that they're putting those people at risk.
Now the truth ultimately will come out. Will there be some bumpy times between now and then? You bet. And will there be some people who are killed, who ought not to have been, killed in this conflict? There will be. Some will be killed through errant weapons, none of which are 100 percent in terms of their performance, just like our cars aren't. And we know that. The numbers of people on the ground firing up at our aircraft, that ordnance comes down and hits people as well and kills people. The opposition forces are shooting at the Taliban forces and people are going to get killed there. So it is not readily apparent when somebody's dead as to exactly where the ordnance came from.
I know for a fact that we are just being enormously careful. We are doing everything humanly possible to try to avoid collateral damage. We're focusing everything on military targets.
Q: Do you need to get bin Laden to succeed or is driving him out good enough?
A: My attitude is if he were gone tomorrow the same problem would exist. He's got a whole bunch of lieutenants that have been trained and they've got bank accounts all over and they've got cells in 50 or 60 countries. Would you want to stop him? Sure. Would you want to stop the rest of his lieutenants? You bet. But I don't get up every morning and say that's the end, the goal and the end point of this thing. I think that would be a big mistake.
Furthermore, the al Qaeda is just one of the networks.
Q: Long before September 11th you talked about the need to transform the military that face some of the very same threats we're facing today. How well positioned is the military to fight the war on terrorism and what needs to change to fight this long war we've been told it's going to be?
A: A lot needs to change. I think first how we think needs to change.
It's very difficult for all of us to live for a long period of time with a set of facts and a set of circumstances and suddenly have things change so dramatically, and then have to think about how do we deal with that? What ought we to be doing given that new set of facts?
You can go back in time, or you can also go forward in time and ask that question. Let's assume that there's a nuclear or a chemical or a biological attack on the United States a year from now. And that involves not thousands, but tens of thousands of human beings.
What would I, as secretary of defense, want to have done over the coming 12 months to either find a way to deter that from happening or to defend against it if that's humanly possible; or through preemption, prevented it; or through security, mitigated the damage; or through consequence management once it happened dealt with it in a way that was better than would otherwise be the case if I did not transport myself a year forward and ask myself that question.
Now how do you get people to do that? They've got an in-box, they've got a telephone, things are going on. They're youngster's playing in a pee-wee soccer game. They're worried about anthrax or something else. How do you get them to go full stop and put yourself out there and think of that event, try to get those images in your mind's television. Get those images on the front page of USA Today and say what are all of those things I should be doing now? What kind of leadership can I provide? What kind of funding ought I to be doing? What kind of cautions for the people ought we to be putting out? Balance between frightening people and causing constructive action.
How do you do it in a big institution like this where you have no ability really to communicate to the 1.5 to 2 million people involved -- more than that, counting the reserves -- without having -- you're simultaneously speaking to multiple audiences. You're talking to the press, you're talking to the public, you're talking to the rest of the government. You're talking to the Congress. And every time you open your mouth you are.
I was amused, someone wrote in the press that I should not have said what I said at a press conference about being concerned about people in government leaking classified information. I should have said it to people in government. Which is amusing when you think about it. There's no way to speak to people in government except through the media. The government is so big. I can't talk to the people in this building without using that vehicle for communication.
But it is very hard for us to all stop. I watch people's behavior, my senior staff and the military, and I'll stop them and say look, that makes a lot of sense before September 11th. How do you feel about the priority now? And yet they go along a track. We all do. We're human beings.
So it takes an awful lot to jar people into thinking things fresh. We do need a lot of transformation in this building. There's no question. We needed it before September 11th, we need it now. The only difference is that now more people understand it than did before September 11th.
Q: Mr. Secretary, if I could just follow up on that. If you could answer the question, look at it again from the point of --
A: (inaudible) (Laughter)
Q: Just from the point of the Defense Department.
You've been an early champion of transformation, and not always with complete success and now it seems like you will have the impetus.
If you look over the next year or so how will we know that the Pentagon has been, the Defense Department has been transformed? How will it look different, feel different, what will the signs be?
A: It won't be ever transformed because life is not static. It doesn't go from this to that, it's a continuum.
So what you've got to do is figure out a way to create a culture in an organization where things used to change every 20 years, and weapons would last 20-30 years. Now the technologies change so much faster and the spread of those technologies to countries that never would have had them before is taking place so much more rapidly, that the first thing one has to do is to not think in a static way -- we're not transformed/we are transformed. In fact we are transforming as we sit here and we will have to continue and we'll have to do it on an accelerated basis. It is a very hard thing for people to do if you think of the lead times.
This building, 25 years ago you could produce a weapon system in five, ten years and today it's 15, 20 years. At a time when everything's moving much more rapidly. So you really -- it is an institution that has been functioning on a threat-based strategy and we've tried to shift it to a capability-based strategy. We know what the basic, immediate static threats are. Iraq, North Korea. You can deal with that.
But if we were to sit here fat, dumb and happy thinking that those are the threats, and yet the capabilities we're talking about are swirling around the world in the hands of all kinds of people, we can't do that. We've got to be oriented and arranged and designed, physically and attitudinally to be a capability-based strategy, both from the standpoint of a conventional capability and also the asymmetrical capabilities. And indeed, the weapons of mass destruction.
Q: Mr. Secretary I'll ask a two-part question.
A: Oh, I knew you would. (Laughter)
Q: First, I believe you have been vaccinated against anthrax.
Q: You haven't?
Q: Can you tell me whether the White House and Capitol Hill have gotten anthrax?
A: I don't know. I don't think the Pentagon's received any but I wouldn't know if it were quite recently.
Q: Moving to the second part --
A: Wait a second. Not to our knowledge.
Q: The second part, there seems to be growing evidence, we don't know where this anthrax seems to be coming from, there are people who have said publicly that it's looking like there's only a couple of places it can come and Iraq is one of them.
Can you tell us what the thinking, if the thinking is evolving in this building about Iraq, and especially in light of this new anthrax front?
A: First, I don't know that the evidence is conclusive yet as to the anthrax. I think people are still looking at it quite seriously. They've come to some preliminary conclusions that I've been briefed on, but first reports tend not to be right so I kind of like to let things settle a little bit before I come to conclusions on it.
With respect to Iraq as a country, it obviously is a country that's been on the terrorist list for many, many years along with six, seven, eight other countries, and it is a country that has sponsored terrorism and conducted terrorism. It's also a country that's used weapons of mass destruction against its neighbors as well as against its own people. So it is a country that along with Syria and Libya and North Korea and Cuba, Iran -- that's pretty much the list that comes to mind when you talk about states that are actively involved in terrorist activities.
Q: How is the Pentagon handling its mail?
A: I don't know.
A2: It's a big facility outside here that handles it, and on October 12th, I think it was, we issued direction to all DoD employees to talk about what to look for, the kinds of suspicious packages, things that -- and they two or three weeks ago increased slightly, the actual handlers of it wear gloves, masks, that sort of things.
A: They used to have a facility where they all came in and it was looked at. Not for anthrax, but for bombs and things like that. Isn't that correct?
A2: Uh huh.
A: More recently they started out I think urging people voluntarily to wear masks and gloves in handling things, and I think that the voluntary aspect of it has ended. I think with the information that has come out with respect to some recent anthrax analysis, that people have been told -- either have been or are being today told -- that we're going to require people to wear masks. Because some of the versions of anthrax look like they are inhalable, sufficiently the quality to be inhalable.
Q: Back on that question of anthrax origin. Without saying, and the conclusions are preliminary, so without saying where exactly the anthrax came from, do you believe now that there is a sponsorship and that these anthrax attacks are part of a coordinated terrorist attack?
A: I don't know at the moment. It does appear that there's enough of it going on that it is not disorganized or happenstance. Who is behind it is something that I'm not in a position to speculate on.
Q: I'd like to get back to war goals, and I'll ask a one-part question, but it may have a follow-up on your answer.
A: You're never going to make it --
Q: I already knew that.
A: The president said that one of his goals was to get bin Laden dead or alive.
A: Uh huh.
Q: Are you confident that you will achieve that goal?
A: Well, it is a very difficult thing to do. It's a big world. There are lots of countries. He's got a lot of money, he's got a lot of people who support him, and I just don't know whether we'll be successful. Clearly, it would be highly desirable to find him and stop him and his key people and there are a lot of them. We're not looking for one person. We're looking for a whole crowd. And that's our intent and our intention.
How can anyone know what the outcome is going to be until you get there?
A: I do have a follow-up because I've got to protect my career.
A: A goal you mentioned was to topple the Taliban regime, the growing Taliban, you mentioned that at one of your press conferences a week or two ago.
Do you still believe that that's possible given the experience you've witnessed now after several weeks of bombing?
A: Several weeks?
A2: Three and a half.
A: Has it been that long? I'll be darned. I really was surprised. I was thinking it was something like 10 or 12 days, but it's three weeks.
Yes. I think there will be a post-Taliban Afghanistan. That is easier than finding a single person. It isn't easy and it's going to take some time. These are very tough people who they've been fighting the Soviet Union, they've been fighting each other, they've made careers out of fighting. They're not going to roll over. So it's going to take some real effort and it's going to take some time, and as I say, it won't be easy. But there will be a post-Taliban Afghanistan.
Q: Mr. Secretary, besides that goal, can you define two other specific things that the American people can see and say okay, that's been done, so these two things help us define that we've been successful there.
A: You're probably not old enough, but if in your mind's eye you could go back to the beginning of the Cold War, say for the sake of argument 1946-1950, in that period, and then the early '50s, and say what would represent success? What two things would happen that would tell the people of the United States that you've been successful? The answer would have to be that you had deterred an aggressive expansionist Soviet Union that was armed to the teeth from occupying Western Europe and spreading communism across the globe. So it's the absence of something that you're looking for.
It didn't end with the signing ceremony on the battle ship Missouri. It ended because it fell apart from within. It's like a house of cards, suddenly Romania goes, East Germany goes, Poland goes, Russia goes, and all of a sudden there was no Soviet Union. No one predicted it, no one knew this was going to happen. How did it happen? It happened because a lot of people over a long time made it very clear to those folks that if they kept doing what they were doing they weren't going to accomplish what their goal was, and they were doing it at such high expense as a percentage of their GDP [gross domestic product] that finally the inside rotted out and people got sick and tired of it. It took dedication and investment over a long, long period of time. And yet there was never a thing that happened in those 50 years that was notable. It was the end that was notable.
What do I mean? If we do a terrific job arresting people all across the globe, interrogating them, jailing them, finding out what they know, and if we do a wonderful job of blocking bank accounts and drying up their funds, and if we systematically go around this world and find terrorists and see that they stop terrorizing, and if we make it very unpleasant for the countries that are actively harboring and facilitating and financing and maybe even just tolerating terrorists in their country, terrorism will be reduced.
Will it go away completely? No. Are we ever going to be able to stop people from wanting to terrorize each other? No, I suspect not. International terrorism, global terrorism, I think we can do a lot for. But you're still going to have people in a single country.
There may still be people in a post-Taliban Afghanistan that kill each other and try to terrorize their neighbors, different tribes, and no one's going to change -- at least no one around the Pentagon's going to change the nature of human beings. They're still going to be doing that. But in terms of well financed global networks, I think we can do a lot with that, and we really won't know when it's over until it stops, that kind of terrorism stops on a mass scale and people don't feel threatened.
Q: What about militarily?
A: The military is just a piece of this puzzle. Without the intelligence gathering across the globe, without the development of actionable intelligence that one can then go do something about, either dry up their bank account, arrest them, or kill them as we're trying to do in Afghanistan, you can't do anything. So it's all a part of it. There isn't a military segment of it that's distinguishable from the rest of it. It is a piece, but not separably. It's different.
Q: You've spoken in response to others' questions about changing the culture of priorities within your own department, but it strikes me that's only half the battle. Every secretary of defense has 535 self-appointed other secretaries of defense. When you and I were younger, you were one of them who --
A: Let's not get mean. (Laughter)
Q: I was on the Hill at the same time.
Seriously, every secretary of defense has to fight the battle of unwanted projects being continued indefinitely, unwanted bases kept open indefinitely, different priorities. Do you have any hope or reason to believe that the dramatic incidents of this fall give you any better club than you had last spring in terms of trying to impress upon your friends on the Hill that they ought to be willing to accede a little more to your priorities instead of theirs?
A: Well, time will tell. I just had a breakfast sitting here this morning at 7:30 or 8:00 with a bunch of congressmen and senators, talking about that and BRAC [base realignment and closure] and the base closing issues. If I had to take a wild flying guess I would say yeah, I think there is a feeling on the Hill, a desire to be more cooperative than before. I think they recognize the situation is serious. And Congress, both parties, have been I feel quite responsive to the needs that have been put forward.
Does that mean that everyone's going to suddenly behave totally differently? I guess not. But I suspect we'll be somewhat more successful. I hope so. It takes a lot of work and a lot of effort.
Q: Mr. Secretary, let's talk about a post-Taliban Afghanistan. Members of your own staff have talked about Taliban as more than a movement than a government, and that even if the Northern Alliance or whoever it is is in Kabul ruling, that there will probably be a Taliban stronghold in the south around Kandahar which is where al Qaeda is based.
So what has the United States really gotten if there is a different government in Kabul but a Taliban stronghold guarding an al Qaeda --
A: I didn't state that as my goal. My goal is to stop terrorism and stop the terrorists and stop the Taliban from fostering terrorism and facilitating it and harboring the al Qaeda. Someone can control Kabul and somebody can control Kandahar and if they're not terrorizing us and the rest of the world, I'll be a happier person, be off on other things.
Q: And do you think that that will actually, a partitioned country will help --
A: I'm not one of those who thinks I'm so smart I can tell other people in other parts of the world how they ought to live their lives. And I'll be darned if I know what's going to be best for Afghanistan. My guess is, even if I thought I know, they're going to have to figure it out for themselves. What they do on the ground is going to determine how they live. All we need to do is stop the terrorism. Then as a country who cares from a humanitarian standpoint, do what we can to help the people. To the extent we can be helpful in the early period with other countries, organizations, and letting them find the level or arrangements that they feel comfortable with, we ought to try to do it. If we can contribute to some stability by that kind of food effort and other things we do, we ought to do it. But my gosh, I'd be like an amateur brain surgeon if I sat over here in the Pentagon and said I think they ought to do this, that and the other thing. That's not for me.
Q: Mr. Secretary, just to follow up on the humanitarian issue. As you move into winter in Afghanistan does the Department of Defense have any plans to move beyond its air dropping program? Air dropping food? Especially if we have a ground presence there. Are there plans to go beyond that?
A: We've done the flutter dropping and we've also done the containers with chutes that go down, and there's no question if there is good land bridges that the Pentagon will be involved in various types of humanitarian assistance. And the United States already is through AID [Agency for International Development] and various international organizations.
Q: By land bridges, land bridges that our forces create?
A: I didn't say that. It's just access. If you're not going to do it from the air, you can't do it from underground. So you've only got one other choice and that's across the land. It doesn't matter who's controlling the real estate, although I much prefer our humanitarian assistance to go to people who are fighting Taliban rather than the Taliban.
Q: I wanted to ask you a little bit about, going back to earlier comments you made, and you mentioned all of the things the United States has done that has helped Muslims in Kuwait and Kosovo and we were the biggest food donor into Afghanistan even before September 11th. That message does not seem to have penetrated very well in that region.
A: Help us.
Q: And it's not just the Taliban who is lying about what the United States is doing or what we're about in the region.
I'm wondering what more the U.S. government, I don't know how much of this would be in the Pentagon's purview, but can or should be doing to get those messages out in a way that will have an effect. Because part of the reasons terrorists are thriving there is they have a lot of support from the rest of the population.
A: It's a good question. It's a tough question. It's a question we think a lot about. All of us have got to be willing to invest more time and more money and more effort in doing that, and we are. We've got a radio program that's going on there, we're dropping leaflets. We worry about the neighboring countries, Moslem countries, we don't want them to come away with the impression that the Taliban are correct, that the United States -- you look on television and you see big -- this is Kabul, it says. And then you see big smoke coming up and it looks like the Americans are in there bombing Kabul. We're not bombing Kabul. We're hitting military targets on the outskirts of Kabul, and yet the image of it is clearly one, and how in the world do you overcome that? I don't know.
I spend an inordinate amount of time myself on television and with the press. It's not how I normally would prefer to spend my day. There's a lot of other things I should be doing. The same with other people in this building, but we have to do it.
I go on al Qaeda [al Jazeera] [ transcript: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Oct2001/t10172001_t1016sd.html ]. Yesterday I went on Voice of America [ transcript: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Oct2001/t10232001_t1023voa.html ] which broadcasts over there, and we simply all have to do it, and we have to keep getting Moslems to do it, and they're doing it, a lot of them are. There's been some terrific statements by religious leaders in Moslem countries pointing out the lies that Taliban is putting out and the fact that the principles they're putting forward are fundamentally against their religion.
I've talked to the leaders in the region about doing more in this regard, and they are, and they are with good reason. They've got to worry also that the people in their countries start believing this twisted approach to the world.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the American people, civilians, are now being forced to think about things that we kind of used to leave to the military, namely how to prepare for the next threat without knowing what the next threat is.
What advice can you give to us, to Americans on how to do this?
A: I wish I had a good, simple, easy answer that fit on a bumper sticker, but I don't. The answer is unbumperstickerable. (Laughter)
We are what we are. We are free people. And our whole society is structured and arranged and built and organized around freedom, so people can say what they want and do what they want and go where they want and not worry about someone killing them, and not worry about some unseen things.
Today if a person has to worry about the water they drink and the air they drink and their physical safety if they're working in a building somewhere and for their children, then we're not what we are. And yet the proliferation of these technologies and the existence of these networks have created an environment, a connection between the willingness to kill large numbers of human beings regardless of their religion or their race or their sex, and simultaneously the availability of these kinds of technologies that enable you to do large numbers of people simultaneously.
What all people can do is to, in my view, recognize that. As the president said, live with a sense of heightened awareness. Know that mail can be bad. Know that things can happen and yet not stop living. You can't stop living. We have to go out and do what we do. The terrorists win if we stop living. And furthermore, there's not a whole lot that any single individual can do other than use good judgment.
The other thing we can do is to support a government that's decided that that's not the way we want to live, and we choose to live as free people and therefore we've got to change the way other people are living, the terrorists, and be supportive of that.
Q: I'd like to follow up on one point you made earlier about this is not just a military war. There are five fronts. You went to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan. Are you disappointed following those talks that the Saudis are not cooperating more on the financial front to help freeze the assets and that the Pakistanis are not providing more intelligence on where bin Laden may be?
A: No. I am really very, very pleased with the support and the cooperation we're getting from countries all across the globe. We're getting an awful lot that's highly visible, and we're getting also a great deal that is not visible. It is not for me to say what another country wants to do with respect to this effort. It's not for me to say with respect to what they do decide to do whether they should do it publicly or privately.
My goal is to get the maximum amount of cooperation -- intelligence, support, whatever -- from the maximum number of countries. If that means that some want to do it in one way and another wants to do it another way and some want to do it publicly and some want to do it privately, more power to them. We need the help and we need the effort and Saudi Arabia has been very cooperative. And Pakistan is being very cooperative. It happens I did not go to Pakistan, incidentally. I went to Egypt and --
Q: In this instance though with Saudi Arabia, I know we've had an interesting relationship with the Saudis and we've been understanding, the United States has been understanding of the way they need to play to their public opinion, but isn't it the case that in this instance one of the things the United States needs is for governments in that region to make the case for the campaign against terrorism and to not turn the air waves over to anti-American venom or just indifferent to the campaign? Don't we need the Saudis to actually be out there trying to make the case that this military campaign is the right thing to be doing?
A: We need people to do that which they feel they can do. The Saudis have been and are being very, very helpful. The Saudis broke diplomatic relations with the Taliban. Not a little thing. They have done any number of things, and I leave it to them to describe what it is they're doing, but they're doing a lot and we appreciate it.
Q: After the September 11th attacks the head of the FBI had to get on television and give out an 800 number begging for Arabic translation help. I'm wondering whether you think the Department of Defense has all of the language capabilities it needs and whether you think it's being used efficiently.
A: No. In our Quadrennial Defense Review period starting last January we raised that issue and have been looking at what the military academies and the various schools around, what they're teaching and how we can improve the language capabilities.
Certainly when you have a problem in a particular region there's always that need, so people who have those capabilities and have retired or were available doing less important things tend to get scooped up and brought into the process and tend to be quite willing to do that. But the short answer is no, I'm not happy with the language skills of myself, to start with. I'm still working on English.
The department clearly needs to have a focus on distinctive languages that can be helpful in the 21st Century.
Q: Is there anything that we need to be doing that's being hindered by that lack?
A: Well, I would -- is there anything we need to be doing? Certainly. I mean just take the difference between two days and three days to translate something. Does it make any difference? It might. You never know. I can't prove that. But I tend to be a little impatient and have a sense of urgency. I think of -- (Laughter) I do. I think of the God awful things that can happen in this world and it gives you all the incentive you can imagine to get up early and stay up late to try to get things done. And if you're in the law enforcement business or you're doing something that, intelligence gathering, the difference between two days and three days can be all the difference in the world.
So I don't know what it might be, but I don't doubt for a minute that there are things we're not doing as well or as fast that we ought to be doing because of it.
Q: Mr. Secretary, polling of public attitudes in past wars have always shown that there's really strong public support for military action at the start of a war, but as time goes on, if there are increasing U.S. casualties or collateral damage or killing of civilians in an area, that public opinion quickly dwindles. Is that a concern for you if this carries on for a long time?
A: There are going to be loss of life -- there already have been. It started on September 11th in this building. And there are going to be more. Let there be no doubt.
Well who knows? I think you make a mistake to bet against the American people. If you think about it, 50 years, 40 years, however long it was with the Cold War, presidents of different political parties, left, right, center; Congresses of different parties, left, right, center; European governments going with Euro-communism for a period, and swinging around from the right to the left and the Socialists and the Christian Democrats. And yet as an entity the West hung together and saw it thorough. At great expense. When I was ambassador to NATO in the early '70s I'd have to fly back to testify against the amendments to reduce forces in Europe and to pull out of Europe and to give it up and throw in the towel, and we'd win by three, four, five votes, but here we are. No Soviet Union.
The other advantage you have, if you want to call it an advantage is that from time to time -- I was sitting at this breakfast table on the 11th, and a bunch of supporters of the defense of what I was trying to do, transformation and so forth, and the problem with the Social Security lockbox. And they said look, the people we're trying to get to vote with us are worried about voting in a way that can be characterized by their political opponents as dipping into the Social Security lockbox. They said it's not a defense issue, it's a political problem we've got.
I sat here and said at breakfast, a whole table of these folks, friends of mine, I said look -- I chaired the Ballistic Missile Threat Commission. In 1998 we had an Indian nuclear explosion, a Pakistani nuclear explosion, we had the Taepo Dong fired out of North Korea, we had the Shanghai fired out of Iran and we had the Gawri missile fired out of Pakistan. It was about every three months some big event went on that directly related to weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.
I said it registers on people when that happens. I said as sure as we're sitting here in the next six months there's going to be an event that's going to register and those people who are worried about the lockbox will not want to be on the wrong side of that issue. And then walked in and -- that's going to help us.
There will be things that are going to happen that will remind people that the goal in the 21st Century, with the power of those weapons the goal is not to win with them, the goal is to never have them used. The only way you can do that is to do something before the fact. That means the margin for error is modest.
Thank you folks, nice to see you all.
If you have any good ideas about how we can do our message better I'd sure like to hear them.
Q: -- on the Kitty Hawk?
A: Do you want to parachute on or do you want to be taken on --
A: No. There was an anthrax program for the Pentagon that was on for a period of time, and then the supply ran down to next to nothing and the company that was making it had trouble doing it. So the supply is very limited and it's being used for people that are thought to be at particular risk, as I recall.
A: She can get you --
A2: It's down to --
A: All the key people who were scheduled to get the series of shots, the long series of shots.