Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s determination to kill terrorists and transform the military is detailed in “Rumsfeld’s War” (Regnery Publishing Inc.), the new book by Rowan Scarborough, defense reporter for The Washington Times. Exclusive excerpts begin today.
Donald H. Rumsfeld sat in a vault-like room studded with video screens and talked with President Bush as the Pentagon burned.
“This is not a criminal action,” the secretary of defense told Bush over a secure line. “This is war.”
The word “war” meant more than going after the al Qaeda terrorist network in Afghanistan, the fault line of terrorism. Bush said he wanted retaliation.
The setting was the Pentagon’s Executive Support Center, where Rumsfeld held secure video teleconferences with the White House across the Potomac or with ground commanders 10,000 miles away.
The time was 1:02 p.m., less than four hours after terrorists steered American Flight 77 into the Pentagon’s southwest wall.
Rumsfeld at first had dashed to the impact site. In his shirt and tie, he helped transport the wounded.
Finally convinced to leave the scene, Rumsfeld entered the closely guarded ESC, where whiffs of burned rubble penetrated the ventilation system. The video monitor in front of him was blank, but there was an audio connection with the president at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
Rumsfeld’s instant declaration of war, previously unreported, took America from the Clinton administration’s view that terrorism was a criminal matter to the Bush administration’s view that terrorism was a global enemy to be destroyed.
“That was really a breakthrough strategically and intellectually,” recalls Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy. “Viewing the 9/11 attacks as a war that required a war strategy was a very big thought, and a lot flowed from that.”
Rumsfeld wanted a war that was fought with ruthless efficiency: special forces, high-tech firepower, a scorecard for killing or capturing terrorists. He had no desire to become the world’s jailer. And he refused to be stymied by bureaucracy.
Rumsfeld quickly shared his views in a meeting of his inner circle, the so-called Round Table group including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
This would be a global war, Rumsfeld said, and he planned to give Special Operations forces — Delta Force, SEALs and Green Berets — unprecedented powers to kill terrorists.
Special Operations missions lived or died on secrecy, so he would tolerate no leaks. Staff meetings that once attracted 20 or more bureaucrats quickly were shrunk to no more than 10.