Rumsfeld Discusses Afghanistan, Budget, Base Closure
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2002 -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld addressed Afghanistan, base closures and the DoD budget Jan. 8 in a C-SPAN television call-in show.
One caller asked the secretary to define victory in the war on terrorism. He broke the question into two parts: the current conflict in Afghanistan and the greater war on terrorism.
Rumsfeld said U.S. goals in Afghanistan included deposing the Taliban, capturing or killing Taliban senior leaders, and to "capture or kill the Al Qaeda at all levels so they cannot go around the world killing more Americans or our friends and allies."
In the greater war, the U.S. goal is "to see terror networks are rooted out and the countries that harbor terrorists no longer harbor them," he said.
He said it is difficult to know how long it will take to finish the job in Afghanistan. "We're certainly working hard on it, and the men and women in the armed services that are serving there are just doing a fabulous job," he said. "We're very fortunate to have them there. It's a dangerous place. There's no question about it."
He spoke a bit about the conditions and tasks facing U.S. service members in Afghanistan. "There's a great deal of crime, there's a great many weapons," he said. "There's a good deal of ordnance that's been stashed in various places around the country." He said tribal factions don't get along and fight among themselves.
"In addition, there are a number of pockets of Al-Qaeda terrorists and Taliban fighters that have not been tracked down as of yet, to say nothing of the fact that several of the very senior leaders are still at large," Rumsfeld said. "So, we have a job to do. We are taking reasonable steps to provide protection for our forces. They are taking great care, and yet they have a tough, dirty, difficult job to do, and they are hard at it. We all hope, and I know they hope, that we'll be able to wind up this task in the months ahead."
In answer to another question, he said it has been his pleasure to work with President Bush. "He has courage, he's decisive, he is interested in hearing all viewpoints and then makes a judgment," Rumsfeld said. "He puts a plan in place and sticks to it."
Callers asked the secretary about base closures. All past and present senior leaders in DoD favor a new round of base closures, Rumsfeld said. He said estimates are the department has 25 percent more infrastructure than is needed. "We simply don't need all the bases we have," he said.
There is a bill up for the president's signature that provides base closure authority but delays the process from 2003 to 2005. "I found (this) disappointing on the one hand. On the other hand, I'm delighted we even got it in the bill at all," he said.
Rumsfeld also addressed some budget questions during the half-hour show. He followed his usual practice of not discussing his planned recommendations to the president.
"I will, however, say this about the speculation that's been in the press," he said. "On the defense budget, $10 billion is roughly what inflation would amount to. So, if it were to be something like $20 billion, it would be roughly $10 billion would cover the cost of inflation, and another $10 billion, which is a relatively small percentage increase on the defense budget."
But the amount of money isn't the important measurement, he said.
"The thing that's important for all of us to remember is that throughout our history, the United States has had a tendency that at the end of a conflict, we would bring the defense budget down," he said. "Today, it's at one of the lowest levels as a percentage of our gross national product, or a percentage of the federal budget that it's been in my lifetime."
When he first came to Washington in the 1950s, Rumsfeld said, defense spending was roughly 10 percent of the gross national product.
"Today, it's less than 3 percent. It is a very small fraction of the gross national product of the United States of America," he said. "And what we find is, if we underspend, we weaken the deterrent and a conflict occurs. Then, we have to increase a great deal, and it's too late, and we have to do it wastefully."
He said the wise thing to do is to find an appropriate level of expenditure, "spend it in peacetime and wartime to see that this country is capable of contributing to peace and stability in the world, rather than risking war, risking conflict, risking lives, and wasting money."