US Is Not World's Policeman, Just Keeping Terror
Donald Rumsfeld is the US secretary of defense. He
spoke with Peter Gruber of FOCUS for NPQ's weekly Global Viewpoint column
for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.
NPQ | How confident are you that the United
States and its allies can avoid a fate like that of the Soviets when they
were in Afghanistan?
Donald Rumsfeld | Afghanistan is a difficult situation. It has
a history of tribal wars and conflict, of preferring that foreigners not
be in there. It has a history of neighboring countries attempting to play
off the factions to their advantage. They've had some very serious droughts.
There are a lot of internally displaced people, a lot of refugees who
are outside the country. There has been a very high level of heroin trafficking.
They have a crime level pattern that is higher than many nations.
When you start with that as your base-and then you drive Al Qaeda and
Taliban out of power and they then go into neighboring countries and wait,
or they go into the mountains or the villages and wait-you have to expect
there are going to be potentially some very difficult times ahead.
And when you think of how well trained they were and how well financed
they were, how determined they are to attack Western interests, it seems
to me that anyone who has any sense has to recognize that the situation
in Afghanistan remains a dangerous one.
To avoid making the situation worse, we need to make sure that the Afghans
understand this is not a war against a religion; it's not a war against
the people; that the coalition has freed that country of the repressive
Taliban regime and the Al Qaeda invaders, who aren't Afghans at all, who
took away people's rights.
Also, we have to make sure it is clear we have no interest in staying
in Afghanistan. We don't covet their land, there is nothing we want to
extract from them. We want to leave Afghanistan a better place than we
We're spending a whale of a lot of money to try to do that, and we'd prefer
that it not relapse into becoming another haven or sanctuary for terrorists
that go around the world killing people. We also would hope that the people
who leave that country don't find another country as a haven or a sanctuary
because we would accomplish precious little by stopping them in Afghanistan
and having them reassemble somewhere else.
NPQ | What is the task ahead for the coalition forces in Afghanistan?
Rumsfeld | The task for the coalition is to pursue the Al Qaeda
and Taliban wherever they are in that country. And, as they congregate
into groups, go after them.
Second is to continue to go after the leadership of Al Qaeda and Taliban.
Third, it is to try to be helpful in training the new Afghan army. The
interim authority has indicated they want to fashion one, and that training
is starting now.
Fourth, we need to bring a security presence to the country.
Through our activity in the Anaconda operation-as well as in Bagram, Kabul
and Kandahar-we have contributed to a higher degree of security in the
country, which in turn makes it possible for food to be distributed, for
hospitals to function, for trucks to come in and out, for aircraft to
come in and out without fear of being shot down. All of that contributes
to beginning the process of letting that country begin to regenerate itself.
Last, US forces have signed an agreement with the United Kingdom that
we would assist the ISAF (UN-authorized International Security Assistance
Force) with intelligence, logistics and a quick reaction force in the
event that there are serious problems.
NPQ | When can the US declare victory? What is the exit strategy?
Rumsfeld | When we achieve the goals I listed-to see that there is not
a sanctuary for terrorists, to go after the Taliban and Al Qaeda that
are still in the country, to train an Afghan army so it can offer some
degree of security for its own people-then we need to get about our business
elsewhere in the world and see that no other country becomes a sanctuary
for terrorism. What kind of an exit strategy? One way to say it is that
when we win, we don't plan to stay.
Beyond this, of course, we'd like to see the interim government followed
by a more permanent government that's representative of the people and
that can contribute to its reasonably stable situation. Other nations
of the world can provide that kind of assistance.
And then we'd like to see that the Afghan authorities continue their policy
of being determined to keep terrorists from regaining control of the country
and heroin traffickers from supplying a major fraction of all the world's
NPQ | How important is it to finally get Osama bin Laden, Mullah
Omar, and other senior Al Qaeda leaders?
Rumsfeld | It's preferable to find them. We're looking for them. I believe
we will find them. But the goal is to stop the terror. That is what we're
about. It would not be so useful if we could capture those two leaders
and yet have the terrorists go right on because there are plenty of people
in Al Qaeda and Taliban who can pick up the baton and continue the race.
NPQ | Is it the U.S. role to be the world's policeman with its
allies playing a supportive role?
Rumsfeld | I don't think the US is trying to be the world's policeman
at all. We have no intention of doing that. We obviously believe in our
system. We don't intend to have terrorists or anyone else deny the American
people their way of life, which is to live as free people.
But the only way to deal with terrorists is to go and find them where
they are because you can't really defend yourself-in the sense that the
advantage is to the attacker who can attack anywhere, any time, using
The task of the US is, along with our friends, to see that people do not
go around attaining increasingly horrible weapons with increasingly greater
reach and killing increasing numbers of people.
It is a mistake to think of the US in isolation, separate from all that
is being done. I looked at the ships participating in the Central Command
operations, and there are something like 102-and more than half of them
were not US ships.
There's an awful lot of talk about the US, but the fact of the matter
is that a lot of countries have been doing a lot of very fine work, including
the United Kingdom and Germany and Australia and Japan and you name it.
Twenty, 30 countries. We had all of the liaison people up here on March
11 to the White House. These are the folks who are doing military liaison
with the Central Command in Tampa, Florida. I think there were 29 that
are intimately involved in what we're doing.
Intelligence is being gathered by 40 different countries-some quite willing
to mention it publicly, and others not terribly willing to have it be
known that they're helping.