The United States needs to communicate its messages more effectively and a new agency would help fight a “war of ideas” against international terrorism, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday in an interview with The Washington Times.
Commenting on a memorandum sent to top Pentagon officials, Mr. Rumsfeld also said the Defense Department and U.S. government could be reorganized to deal more effectively with 20th-century threats.
“We are in a war of ideas, as well as a global war on terror,” Mr. Rumsfeld said during an interview at the Pentagon with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.
“And the ideas are important, and they need to be marshaled, and they need to be communicated in ways that are persuasive to the listeners,” he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said, “In many instances, we’re not the best messengers.
“The overwhelming majority of the people of all religions don’t believe in terrorism,” he said. “They don’t believe in running around killing innocent men, women and children. And we need more people standing up and saying that in the world, not just us.”
The defense secretary said his recent memorandum was inspired by an Oct. 16 meeting with top military commanders, where he posed questions about fighting the war against terrorism.
The memo was intended to “inject a sense of urgency” into top leadership, Mr. Rumsfeld said.
“It is human nature to have your mind focused by fear or necessity for a period — necessity is the mother of invention and fear focuses the mind. Both are true — and then time passes,” he said. “And there’s a danger that that sense of urgency can ease and relax.”
The memo was meant to inspire war fighters and defense officials to consider what is lacking. Mr. Rumsfeld said he hopes they will start asking themselves: “Are there things we aren’t doing that we might be doing?”
He said that creating a post for an undersecretary for intelligence and merging agencies into the Homeland Security Department were bold steps, but more can be done.
Mr. Rumsfeld suggested a “21st-century information agency in the government” to help in the international battle of ideas, to limit the teaching of terrorism and extremism, and to provide better education, he said.
His memorandum said private organizations could counter Islamist “radical madrassas.”
Asked why he thought that little had been done to develop a long-range plan for fighting terrorism, Mr. Rumsfeld blamed government bureaucracy.
“Government agencies tend to do what they’ve been doing,” he said.
The shock of the September 11 terrorist attacks led to some changes, he said, “but the natural tendencies of big institutions [are] to keep doing what they’re doing, and to make incremental adjustments.”
Iraq and Afghanistan are battles in a bigger war against terrorism, and longer-range strategies are needed, he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said a lack of cooperation among government agencies has made long-range strategic planning difficult.
“The hardest things to do are things that are between agencies,” he said, noting the political battle between the administration and Congress in establishing the Homeland Security Department.
The memorandum, first disclosed by USA Today newspaper, was sent “to raise questions of people in the department” about how the Pentagon and government could be organized more effectively.
Mr. Rumsfeld also said he is worried about the spread of weapons of mass destruction and related arms technology to states that sponsor terrorism.
“I think it’s pretty clear that the current [weapons control] regimes that exist in the world aren’t working,” he said. “It is possible and not even difficult in many cases for terrorist states to find ways to get their hands on these technologies.”
President Bush is in the early stages of a “new approach” to dealing with weapons proliferation that will require greater international cooperation, he said.
In a wide-ranging interview, Mr. Rumsfeld also said:
The capture of Saddam Hussein remains an important target in stabilizing Iraq.
“It is important. He’s such a vicious dictator and individual. Just the thought that he might be around or be able to punish people who cooperate with the coalition is an unhelpful thing,” he said, noting that he believes Saddam will be found eventually.
North Korea has an opportunity to get “advantages” if it responds favorably to international appeals for abandoning its nuclear arms program and halting missile sales.
“I think the president’s right to do what he’s doing, that is, to attempt to see if he can work sufficiently closely with the countries in the neighborhood so there is a growing awareness on the part of the North Korean government that their circumstance is not advantaged by following through on the kinds of things that their leadership has been uttering,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
North Korea in recent weeks has threatened to demonstrate its nuclear weapons capability.
Mr. Bush announced earlier this week that the United States was willing to provide security guarantees to the communist government in an effort to avert the crisis of North Korea’s nuclear arms. Pyongyang promptly dismissed the offer.
Mr. Rumsfeld said North Korea’s “circumstance could be advantaged and not disadvantaged if they would respond to the growing number of countries that are advising them that the peninsula should not be a nuclear-armed peninsula and that the traffic by that country in ballistic missiles and the like is not consistent with the world’s hope and expectations on proliferation.”
Syria and Iran are complicating efforts to stabilize Iraq because terrorists are crossing those nations’ borders to attack U.S. and allied forces.
“It sure would be a lot easier if they were helpful, instead of harmful,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
“I think that we’ll end up succeeding in Iraq, and it’s just going to be harder, a little more difficult” because of the influx of foreign fighters, he said. “On the other hand, [the influx of terrorists] gives the [Central Command] folks a chance to kill or capture terrorists.”
The United States will be finished in Iraq when sovereignty is returned to the new Baghdad government and the nation’s economy is “jump-started,” he said.
Since June, some 85,000 Iraqi security personnel have been trained for police, border patrol, military and site protection duties.
U.S. intelligence capabilities have been “compromised through spies and through trading of information among rogue nations and terrorist networks,” he said, adding that gathering intelligence is difficult.
Mr. Rumsfeld’s Oct. 16 memo questioned whether the CIA needed new authority, such as a presidential directive, to fight the war on terrorism more effectively.
Minor issues are dividing Bush administration policy-makers on Iraq. The civilian Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and the Central Command are handling most of the problem issues.
“There’s always going to be differences of views and perspectives departmentally,” he said.
The administration made enormous preparations for dealing with post-conflict Iraq.
“There was a great deal of planning, and it was good planning,” he said, noting that a State Department official’s assessment that planning was poor reflected a “personal” complaint.
His meeting next week with Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan is part of the Bush administration’s policy of engaging China.
It will be the first high-level Chinese military visit since China’s imprisonment of 23 U.S. service members who made an emergency landing in China in 2001 aboard an EP-3E surveillance plane damaged by a collision with a Chinese fighter jet.
Military exchanges with China “are appropriate, and logical and beneficial, from our standpoint.”
China is “emerging into the world,” and “the hope is that that emerging into the world will happen in a way that is smooth, and not bumpy,” he said.