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Pentagon Briefing

Aired January 13, 2004 - 13:49   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Straight to the Pentagon now. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld taking the podium, expected to talk about ousted Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and comments he's made about the president, unflattering that is, in a new book.
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: ... the talent and courage of our forces, the breadth of our efforts.

One result has been an increased so-called operational tempo of the force. The tempo has increased significantly. We hope and believe that the current stress that is put on the force is a spike, if you will, a temporary increase, rather than what would prove to be a plateau.

Very simply, we just simply do not expect to have 100,000, 120,000 troops in a single country, permanently deployed.

The department is taking a number of immediate actions to relieve that stress. Increasing Iraqi security forces is one. The number now is approaching 200,000, clearly, the largest security element in the country, larger than all other security forces of the coalition combined.

We're increasing international military participation in Iraq and we're dealing aggressively with those who threaten the transition to a self-reliant Iraq.

Undoubtedly, in recent months, some have called -- not surprisingly either; I would say understandably -- people have called for an increase in end strength, increase in the number of permanent people in the United States armed forces.

The question really is not whether we can afford an increase in end strength. Of course we can. The United States is perfectly capable of paying for additional forces if we decide that that's desirable.

RUMSFELD: Is the dentist office right...


QUESTION: Root canal for the press.

RUMSFELD: It's root canal for the press. Now you're talking.

We certainly can afford additional men and women in the armed forces if it proves to be necessary. The question is whether, in the information age, measuring end strength is the only, or even the best way, to look at the problem and whether permanently raising end strength would or would not be the best solution.

In the 21st century, what is critical to success in military conflict is not necessarily mass as much as capability. In Iraq, coalition forces defeated a larger adversary, not with mass, but with overmatching speed, power and agility.

In looking at our global posture, some observers have focused on the number of troops, tanks or ships that we might add or remove in a given part of the world. And I would submit that that's really not the right measure, or the best measure.

If you have 10 of something and you -- ships, guns, tanks, planes, people whatever -- and you reduce the number by five, you end up with 50 percent fewer of them. That's true.

But if the other five have a capability that was twice, or more than double, of the ones you removed, than obviously you have not reduced your capability.

The same is true as we look at the overall size of the force. What is critical is not always the number of troops. Rather, it's the capability of the force.

Today, the department has several dozen initiatives under way to relieve stress on the force and to increase its capability.

We're investing in new information-age technologies, precision weapons, unmanned air and sea vehicles and other less manpower- intensive platforms and technologies.

We're working to increase the jointness of our forces, creating power that exceeds the sum of the individual services.

We're in the process of rebalancing the active force with the Guard and Reserve to reduce our reliance on involuntary mobilization of Guard and Reserve forces for a number of frequently needed skills. And we're working to take jobs currently performed by uniformed personnel and convert them to civilian jobs, freeing military personnel for military tasks.

RUMSFELD: We've used our emergency powers to temporarily increase end strength by some 36,000 troops. That's a considerable increase. A permanent end-strength increase could prove to be the slowest and most expensive option for reducing stress on the force.

The costs are sizable over a lifetime of each added servicemember. And because of the time it takes to recruit, train and integrate new military personnel, the benefits really cannot be felt for some time. As a result, the techniques we're using give us the end strength increase we need during this -- what we believe to be a spike period. And we are, at the moment, comfortable that that's the appropriate way to proceed. A permanent increase in end strength would require cuts elsewhere in the defense budget, I should add, crowding out funding for various types of transformational capabilities that can allow us to do more with the forces that we currently have.

Nonetheless, I should end by saying that we will do whatever makes the most sense. And to the extent it involves an increase in end strength, we will propose it to the president and the president will propose it to the Congress.

General Peter Pace.


Well, one of the most encouraging trends since the capture of Saddam Hussein has been the increasing number of Iraqi civilians -- both those who had no apparent previous affiliation with the Baath Party and now some previous Baath Party officials -- coming forward and leading us to caches, giving us information about individuals who we're looking for.

In fact, just in the last week, there have literally been truckloads -- truckloads -- of ammunition and explosives that have been pointed out to us. There have been a number of individual raids, some 200 raids that were conducted this past week. A number of those were specifically the result of tips we've gotten from the Iraqi people.

So it's very encouraging that these folks are come forward. The results have been very positive. And we're looking forward to being able to conduct more raids and operations based on that kind of intelligence in the future.

With that, we'll answer your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Former Secretary O'Neill said that you called him and asked him not to write his book.

RUMSFELD: I'm not sure he said that. In fact, I have not read or heard everything he has said, so I wouldn't want to challenge someone as distinguished as you are in your profession, as the dean of the Pentagon press corps. But I would question whether he said it.

QUESTION: Did you call him, Mr. Secretary?

RUMSFELD: Yes, I called him. That's the question you should have asked in the first place instead of starting out with an inaccurate quotation, which I believe to be an inaccurate quotation, which may or may not have been an inaccurate quotation.

QUESTION: Did you ask him not to write his book?


QUESTION: Did you call him? And what did you ask? QUESTION: First of all, I don't believe he wrote a book.

I believe...


I believe he cooperated with a book, with an author whose name is not O'Neill -- first fact.

Second, I did call him. One day, someone told me that he heard that Paul was going to write a book -- I almost said; well, I won't say it -- and that it was not going to be a good book. And I said, "I can't believe that. I've known him for 30 years."

So I picked up the phone and called him and said, "What is this business? Someone tells me you're going to write a, you know, one of those" -- what do you call them?


RUMSFELD: Sour grapes or -- you know, one of those insider things. And he said, "No, no, no." He said, "I'm going to write a book about policy and substance and -- he didn't say, "I'm going to write it." He said, "I'm involved in a book."

It turns out, he didn't write a book, I don't think.

In any event, that's what I said to him. And I said, "Well, I'm relieved."

The second question is: Did I call him a second time?

QUESTION: Did you call him a second time?

RUMSFELD: Exactly. I'm going to help you along here.


We'll get it all out once. And the truth is, I call him a second time. Not too long ago, just a day or two or three before this stuff started showing up in the press, someone said to me: You said he wasn't going to write that kind of book. And sure enough he went ahead and participated in a book that was what we originally said.

And I said, "I'll be darned. Let me give him a call."

RUMSFELD: So I called him up and I said, "You didn't go and do that, did you, Paul? I can't believe that."

And he said: Well, there will be people who feel that way -- or something to that effect. And that was the sum and total of it.

I didn't ask him not to write a book. I didn't ask him to do anything. He's a person I've known since the 1960s.

I must say, I have not read the book so I really am reluctant to comment on it other than to say that what I've been reading about the book is so different from my experience in this administration. It is just dramatic. It's night and day.

I work with the president on a daily basis, almost. And I work in the administration and I see the interagency process and how it works. And I must say that, over the years, I've watched people write books that I've known. I've watched people write books about things that I have been intimately involved in.

And I have never written a book. And one of the reasons I've never written a book is because I've read books by people who have written books or participated in books, in this case. And I've been disappointed in them because what they represent is a narrow little slice of what they saw and not a balanced view and not a 360-degree view.

And the perspective I have of this president, who I have just enormous respect for -- his brain, his engagement, his interest, his probing questions, his constructive and positive approach to issues. I mean, you can't go through two wars and not work closely with the president if you're secretary of defense of the United States.

And I see every day a totally different picture than the one that is being characterized in the press.

RUMSFELD: Now, as I say, I haven't read the book. So I'm glad I could help you out with...

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, may I do a follow-up on that, please? Because, regardless of the book -- and this is not my question; a prelude question -- when you say you're disappointed with books written by some others, would that include Wes Clark's book about Kosovo? It's not my question, but do you want to comment on it?


RUMSFELD: No. I don't know Wes Clark, and I wasn't involved with Kosovo. And you shouldn't have said that.

QUESTION: My comment, though, my question is that former Secretary O'Neill claims that President Bush had decided to dump Saddam Hussein before 9/11 -- is that true?

And secondly, what he had said publicly -- and you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you're not privy to it all -- but what you are privy to, would you classify that as sour grapes? Or is there some validity to his criticism of the president?

RUMSFELD: I certainly don't see validity to his criticism of the president at all. As I just said, my experience with the president is totally to the contrary. And I have enormous respect for President Bush.

And my experience is extensive. It is in good times and in difficult times. It's in times of good humor and in times of great stress in a conflict, a war. And I really feel fortunate to be working with a man of his character and his ability.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Saddam. He claims the president decided to dump him before 9/11.

RUMSFELD: I don't know what meetings he could have been in. All I know is that when we arrived the policy of the United States government, since 1998, has been regime change in Iraq. I know that, second, one of the early things that the State Department initiated and the United States put forward were adjustments in the sanctions with respect to the United Nations involvement in Iraq.

I know that no where in the world was the United States being shot at with impunity other than in Iraq in Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch.

RUMSFELD: And as Secretary of Defense, asking pilots to go forth in Iraq, in the north, in the south, on a daily basis, and put their lives at risk and the crews at risk and have them being shot at by a country that was violating some 16 or 17 U.N. resolutions at that stage, is not a happy prospect. And clearly, it was something that this president had to address, did address.

But the idea that he came into -- you'd have to ask the president this. But the idea he came into office with a predisposition to invade Iraq, I think is a total misunderstanding of the situation.

The policy of the government was regime change. We had pilots being put at risk. And that was January 20th of 2001. And this is what was -- when was it, March of 2003 that the president made a decision to send forces in, after trying everything else in the world.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, could you update us on your thoughts about the nomination of Secretary Roche for army secretary? And also, there's been a lot of, you know, consternation about his nomination. Does there come a point where you, kind of, have to kind of cut your losses, leave him in the Air Force and go ahead and get somebody in that seat in the army, if they're not going to approve his nomination?

RUMSFELD: The answer is: His nomination is still up there. I'm told that there may be some hearings later this month, towards the end. Whether there will be a hearing on Secretary Roche to become secretary of the army or not, I don't know. I believe that the pacing item up there was to allow an inspector general's report to run its course, which it has not yet done.

Clearly, at some point, one has to sit down and work with the Congress. Congress's Article 1 of the Constitution: They have to make a confirmation or the person doesn't go into an office. And we're going to have to work with them on that after the IG report has been completed.

QUESTION: On the second part of my question, though: Does there come a point at which you have to cut your losses if Congress is unwilling to budge and get somebody else to lead the army? RUMSFELD: Put yourself in my position. How can one answer that without having a news story about cutting losses and all of that stuff?

RUMSFELD: I thought I answered it elegantly. Article 1 of the Constitution gives the Senate the opportunity to confirm nominations. They'll decide what they want to do, and either they will not have a hearing on Jim Roche or they will have a hearing and a vote, and the vote will be up or down.

And I don't know the answer to that. And I'll keep working with the Senate under their constitutional authority.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary...

RUMSFELD: Is this for Pete Pace? No.

QUESTION: No, sir.

Happy New Year to everybody, first of all.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.

QUESTION: And, second, a lot has been going on, Mr. Secretary, as far as defense ties are concerned between the United States and India, including a recent announcement by the president.

I need your view, sir, that as far as U.S. and India nuclear and high-tech and also space technology is concerned now, that what are you expecting from India in return as far as the U.S. help in nuclear and space technology for India? And how will it affect the U.S. and Pakistan relations?

RUMSFELD: Wow. We have, in my view, excellent relationships with India and with Pakistan. Your question's about India. And I don't believe that it will affect our relationships with Pakistan.

Our relationship with India is political, it's economic and it's military. And we've had increased military cooperation during the past three years between the United States and India. It has been moving apace, and we feel good about it.

There are a variety of technical things that they or we may be interested in at any given time, and they're being worked at the appropriate levels.

But I think it's a good, healthy relationship. And I should add, parenthetically, that the evolving relationship between India and Pakistan is the most encouraging thing.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is...

RUMSFELD: Wait a second. General Pace...


You know the formula.

QUESTION: I'm a slow learner but I try, sir. You mentioned a trend of more people coming and supplying information. I wanted to ask you about a different trend. Trends come and go in Iraq, as we've seen, especially the nature of the attacks against U.S. and coalition forces.

Recently there seems to be an upswing in attacks on helicopters with different (UNINTELLIGIBLE) but more success. Is that the strategy of the insurgents as far as you can tell: shift their attacks, the objects of their attacks, and this now -- helicopters? And what are you all doing to diminish the danger to helicopters now with the increased attacks against them?

PACE: Thank you.

First of all, I was very careful when I picked the word "trend" when I talk about the numbers of Iraqis coming forward, because, in fact, as you pointed out, sine wave is not a trend. Whereas, in fact, since Saddam's capture, the number of Iraqis coming forward to give information has increased week after week after week.

With regard to a specific attacks on coalition forces, that very much is a sine wave. And, therefore, I cannot tell you right now -- a sine wave -- we cannot tell you right now whether or not the current dip in the number of total attacks on the coalition is something that is going to remain or not.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) not the dip, but the sine wave going up on helicopters.

PACE: Clearly, the attacks specifically on helicopters are of concern to us. And what we do, as any military would do, is to change our tactics, techniques and procedures and the defense mechanisms that we have available to us to mitigate it.

I'm not going to tell you exactly what we're doing, because we don't want to tell the enemy what we're doing. But we are, in fact, learning from each of their attacks and modifying the way we do business.

PHILLIPS: ... learning from each of their attacks and modifying, those words from General Peter Pace there, vice chair of the joint chiefs of staff, addressing the question from reporters about the attacks that have been taking place on helicopters in Iraq, saying they are in the process of changing their defense mechanisms, of course will not reveal that. That's obviously classified information. But saying overall, there has been a dip in attacks, rather, against U.S. forces in Iraq.

Now the other question that reporters had addressed, we'd been waiting for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to respond to the question about ousted Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and this book, "The Price of Loyalty," that has been released, and the talk about these controversial documents, some 19,000 documents, were they classified, were they not, is it sour grapes, what is Paul O'Neill's motive in this book? Rumsfeld saying he called Paul O'Neill twice. The first conversation was that O'Neill said that he was only going to be involved with the book that was about policy and substance.

Obviously, a lot of controversy stemming from this book now. Rumsfeld saying that he is surprised, did call him a second time, but making the point clear did not -- according to Rumsfeld -- tell Paul O'Neill not to write that book.


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