"You can get much more done with a polite word and a machine gun, then with a polite word alone," US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, one of the world's most controversial politicians, quotes Al Capone in an interview with Polityka.
I am not jaded. He impressed me. I was sitting at a table across from him, at a distance of a meter. In Congress the previous day, Rumsfeld had expounded the new Pentagon budget, the largest in history: $401.7 billion for 1.4 million soldiers on active duty, and 1.2 million active reserves. Our conversation was a side-note to the annual Security Conference in Munich, at the edge of the Englischer Garten, close to the former headquarters of Radio Free Europe. Incidentally, now the building houses a university department, and Kati, who works there, said: "You are going to talk to the most disliked person in Germany. We know how much we owe the Americans; we want their bases to stay here. But people cannot forgive him for calling us 'the old Europe.' We felt like time had passed us by. This only worsens our foul mood today."
The most disliked person? Not only Hotel Bayerischer Hof, the conference venue, but all the streets around had been cordoned off by the police. "Stop the NATO countries' global war," "Ban the German military from leaving the country" -- the protest signs said. There appeared, however, to be more police officers than protesters. "They are afraid of our criticism; money is short for education but there is always enough for security," one of the protestors explained to me. Rumsfeld did not give the impression of being someone prone to fear. He was born in Chicago, practiced wrestling at college at Princeton, served as a pilot in the military, and then as a civilian he enthusiastically raced motorcycles and skydived. He had already been ambassador to NATO under Nixon, when he next became the youngest secretary of defense in the country's history (under Ford, in 1975). It was allegedly Rumsfeld who ultimately made the war in Iraq a settled decision in Washington. "Of all the despots I have dealt with, none of them was as ruthless as Donald Rumsfeld," Henry Kissinger said. It is hard to call this praise.
Security seems to be his obsession. When the word terrorism is spoken, the 69-year-old secretary suddenly takes on a kind of new energy. He uses strong, blunt words to describe dangers: "The recruitment of terrorists continues. Radical, narrow views, such as there being nothing bad in killing innocent men, women and children, are gaining influence and sources of financing. This is working; people are being trained to kill. They have access to dangerous, state-of-the-art technologies, and potentially to weapons of mass destruction as well. Perhaps they are not so numerous, but the danger they represent is serious and significant. Meanwhile, armies around the world are organized to fight against ground, air, and naval forces, but not against single individuals. Our armed forces are not able to reduce the influx of young people into medreses (Islamic religious schools), where they are trained to commit terrorist attacks. A coalition of 90 countries fighting against terrorism -- the largest coalition in the history of mankind -- is exchanging intelligence information and making far-from-perfect efforts to put a stop to terrorists' financing."
But, Rumsfeld stresses, we are in for a big reform, including the repositioning (change of deployment) of US bases abroad. Technical advancement (of arms, transport, and communications) makes numerous forces no longer necessary. "We have many soldiers in Germany, Korea, and many other places in the world. The countries where there are many of them will certainly be encompassed by this plan. Instead of 100 soldiers, 60 will probably suffice, while the rest can serve at home in the United States: in intelligence, management, logistics. The most important thing today is not numbers alone, but capabilities, meaning what the military can do. Just like in terms of weapons themselves. There used to be 'dumb bombs' (meaning non-guided ones); today one 'smart bomb' replaces eight of the old ones. The same holds true for planes, tanks, and finally: people." But, Rumsfeld adds, this will also require changes in mentality, because many people still think in the old terms, that numbers are important. There are two prime initiatives, whose names speak for themselves: Global Posture Review, and BRAC, the commission for base relocation. A plan will probably only be presented to Congress in 2005, and implemented over several years, through 2010. "These will be the largest changes in the structure of the US military since WWII times. Nothing concrete is yet known: from where and to where the transfers will take place; speculation on this topic comes from lower-ranking commanders or public officials."
At the conference in Munich, Rumsfeld enjoyed success: none of the allies, even the recently disobedient, objected to support for US actions in Iraq. This is said to be the case not just due to the changing situation (in essence, for the better), but also due to the more consolatory tone in Washington. Did the secretary ask the Germans to send forces to Iraq? Rumsfeld maintains that he did not talk about this. Instead, he responds as follows: "NATO's role in Iraq has so far involved supporting the Polish-Spanish international division." What about in the future? "I don't know," Rumsfeld says, "but judging by the already apparent trend in Afghanistan, where NATO has taken over a large portion of operations, perhaps the Alliance will take the current place of the international division, perhaps it will include the British into its sector, and take on an even greater portion of the obligations."
What is really going on in Iraq? "We are at a stage which most experts call a low-intensity conflict. It involves terrorists and the remains of Husayn's regime. The level of this conflict sometimes falls and sometimes increases, as was recently the case in connection with the religious holidays. This is a dangerous place. The progress is huge. New schools, hospitals have been opened, Iraqis are putting together a wrestling team for the Olympic Games (I understand where this interest comes from), refugees who would prefer to live in the country than abroad are gradually returning, Iraqi ministers are traveling around the world, managing affairs..." The most difficult tasks include the Iraqi's taking over of sovereignty by the Iraqis, because there are so many different groups and varying opinions, and there has been no experience with political compromises there for decades, but rather fear at operating under a harsh dictatorship and an economy controlled from the top down. This has to be learned, just like in your Eastern European countries. And this is not easy, after all.
Learning to Ride a Bicycle
How long will forces be in Afghanistan and Iraq? "Not long -- I hope and pray for this. This presence is so unnatural. On the other hand, I hope and pray for the patience and proper judgment not to leave these countries on their own too soon." Rumsfeld compares the entire process to a child's learning to ride a bicycle. They have to be let go off on their own on the street, although it is clear that they might fall over, but if one doesn't ever allow this to happen, then even a 40-year-old will not be able to ride. State dependency upon foreign forces cannot be established. "In Iraq, we have created Iraqi security forces with more than 200,000 functionaries -- this is a huge number, of course they have differing worth, arms, and training, but 200,000 is nevertheless something! This is the most numerous force in the country, more numerous than our forces in the international division," Rumsfeld says in a rush of enthusiasm. The conversation took place several days before two very bloody attacks aimed specifically at Iraqis who help the Americans. According to what is being said in Rumsfeld's circle, however, these Iraqis, police officers, soldiers, or recruits will not be deterred by the attacks: for one thing, given the high unemployment this is a relatively well paid job in Iraq, and for another, sooner or later the Iraqis will accept this police force, their own after all, and they will probably not shoot at the police then?
The secretary is not particularly moved by accusations that the intervention in Iraq is "illegal." "I am not a lawyer; I dropped out of law school," he jokes. After which he adds: the legal grounds are set by international law; in the case of Afghanistan this is completely clear. The temporary government of Afghanistan appealed to the countries of NATO for assistance. Prior to this, before this government was established, we were exercising the right to self-defense, which is part of the UN Charter. Things are similar with Iraq, he says. Doesn't the secretary have more comprehension today for those, like Germany or France, who advised waiting a bit longer with Iraq and sending in additional inspections? Rumsfeld cites his recent statements (identical in content with the statements of CIA Chief George Tenet), that intelligence assessments were based on solid foundations. Besides this, he says, the president has appointed a special commission to investigate the pluses and minuses of intelligence services on the threshold of the 20th century.
I point out to the secretary that he avoids answering questions about whether he feels disappointed with the attitude of Allied countries to did not want to help the Americans in Iraq. Because public opinion is beginning to turn away from the Americans, even in such countries as Poland, which supported Washington. "I take a simple approach to life. I really believe that individual countries should do what they want. Every country is sovereign, different. But they also then bear the consequences for their actions, positive or negative. Every country has a different history, a different perspective, a different political situation. This is just like all of us," Rumsfeld finally says. "We all make certain decisions. I consider this something obvious. We cannot fight it. I really do greatly esteem the political and personal courage of the people who sent their forces to Iraq or Afghanistan, and are supporting our global war on terrorism. I am very grateful. But if I am dealing with a country that for some reason was not capable or doing so, or decided not to... Well, it is sovereign, that is its choice," Rumsfeld breaks off.
Like every member of the US cabinet, Rumsfeld is surrounded by a retinue of ambassadors and aides, literally competing to most quickly provide some figure or definition that the secretary is looking for. But he rarely requires assistance. "All of these very Americans heroes also have a good head for business," one biographer wrote. In Rumsfeld's case, this is clearly true. For 23 years this politician was not only simply a businessman, he was head of a large pharmaceutical company (GD Searle&Co.), and then of General Instrument Corporation. I read that he was once described in Washington as more of a "technocrat who had converted to public service late." When he first took the post of defense secretary more than a quarter-century ago, he is alleged to have said: "Weakness provokes."
The American calmly takes note of complaints about there being a crisis in trans-Atlantic relations, and advises taking a look backwards at what preceded the disputes over the intervention in Iraq. And there were many serious disputes. In the 1950s: over the militarization of Germany, then the Suez crisis (the United States, just like the USSR, came out against Great Britain in France, who wanted to take the canal by force) in 1956. "I was then a young pilot in the Navy," Rumsfeld recalls. And the Vietnam War? How many problems were there between Europe and the United States? "And when I was US ambassador to NATO, the affair with France." Then, under Carter, the neutron bomb issue, the arms concept highly criticized in Europe. Then the great dispute in Europe over Pershing 2 missiles, perhaps the last time the Germans (then the West Germans) protested on such a large scale against the US military presence in Europe, demanding the withdrawal of US missiles, but not Soviet ones!
At more or less the same time there were disputes over the oil and natural gas pipelines running from the USSR to Western Europe (Germany and Great Britain gave financial support to Moscow in building the pipelines, while the United States was disturbed that this gave Moscow more or less $8 billion a year to spend on modern satellites and computers for its armed forces). "Every time there is a change in the security system, there is a serious exchange of opinions across the Atlantic. And then things calm down. This is the way things have been for my entire adult life." The secretary therefore argues that disputes are something normal. A lack of disputes would be more puzzling, he says, as it would attest to stagnation, but the world is after all always changing. Furthermore, it would attest to Western structures' inability to adapt to the constantly changing situation.
The Old and New Europe
And so, Donald Rumsfeld does not see any big danger in trans-Atlantic disputes, as he draws attention to the same values, the same orientation, and in essence the same economic interests in the United States, Western Europe, and Eastern Europe. And so why, I ask, did he bring into politics the division into the old and new Europe, now being questioned everywhere and probably harmful? Does he regret having done so? Rumsfeld does not regret, but he relates how things took place. At a meeting in Washington with a foreign press club, "they started yelling at me" (here Rumsfeld himself yells and weighs his hands): "'Europe is against you, Europe this, Europe that!' But by God, this was not Europe, this was France and Germany. They do not have a right to say that Europe thinks this or that." Besides, this was soon followed by the "letter of 8"; 24 countries are now militarily present either in Afghanistan or in Iraq. In essence, Rumsfeld continues to explain, when he was ambassador to NATO, the Alliance included 15 countries; he probably should have said the old NATO and new NATO -- because the center of gravity in NATO has shifted -- rather than the old Europe and new Europe. Perhaps this NATO should also not be termed new, but it is certainly a different NATO.
When the question of anti-Americanism in Europe is raised, Rumsfeld thinks for a moment, and then exchanges some short remarks with the US ambassador to Germany, as I understand it he wants to make sure that the poll he wants to talk about is intended for the public. "Well, for example," he says, "a certain television station in a certain Western European country is known for bias in its reports from Iraq, a bias that is even greater than the Arab television Al-Jazirah." Society is thus bombarded with imprecise news, and with time begins to believe in them," the secretary says. I know from his associates that he had "a certain German channel" in mind. "But Al-Jazirah is very harmful for us, it causes more Arabs to be against us, and one may even say that such journalism causes people to die, Iraqis to die." Asked what bias this is, Rumsfeld waves his hand almost in disgust, and says that it spends a lot of time analyzing what the Americans are doing poorly and what could be done better. With time, however, people will be able to differentiate the truth from lies, and will turn away from untrue information. "People are not stupid, after all."
(Description of Source: Warsaw Polityka in Polish -- leading political weekly with a center-left orientation)toolkit.dialog.com/intranet/cgi/present?STYLE=739318018&PRESENT=DB=985,AN=185550E-mail this article