“It just — it was an epiphany.” — SecDef Rumsfeld

News Briefing with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Peter Pace

I’ve long refrained from posting the transcripts of speeches, press conferences, and press releases for a variety of reasons. To do so, in many cases, will make me look like nothing more than a Kool-Aid drinking parrot, for one thing. And most of the time it’s pretty boring, for another. But I keep hearing about how the administration or the Pentagon isn’t getting the word out effectively.

I’ll agree that the word isn’t getting to typical Americans, for sure. But a large part of that has to do with the media, doesn’t it? So what I’m thinking of doing, when the mood strikes, is to post healthy chunks of releases and limit my remarks to a couple cents’ worth here and there. I’m not quite sure exactly how I’ll do this, or how often I’ll do this. But I’m just going to forge ahead. I may start a quote or question in the middle of the actual text, and I may cut off early. I will not alter the message or edit in any other way. All emphasis is mine.

SEC. RUMSFELD: On Wednesday, President Bush will outline in some detail the coalition strategy to help the Iraqi people increasingly take control of their country. It is their country to lead, and increasingly they are doing so. To date, U.S. forces have turned over control of some 29 military bases to the Iraqis. An Iraqi police battalion assumed control of the airport road last April, and the number of attacks has declined sharply. Baghdad’s well-known Haifa Street has been largely peaceful under the control of an Iraqi army battalion. The Shi’ite areas of Najaf, Karbala and Sadr City — the scene of a number of battles last year — are largely peaceful. And in Tal Afar, 5,000 Iraqi troops took the key role in liberating and securing what had been a base of operations for extremist networks and for terrorist networks.

Consider the progress of the Iraqi security forces over the past year. In August 2004, five Iraqi army battalions were effectively in the fight. Today the number is 95.

That’s up from 80 at the end of September, if we’re talking the same thing here. It’s usually hard to tell, but the terminology is about the same, so I think it makes sense.

GEN. PACE: One trend that is really extremely encouraging is the number of tips that are being provided to Iraqi armed forces and coalition forces by Iraqi citizens. Last March, for example, they were just below 500 tips during that month. But this past month, there were some 4,700 tips by Iraqi citizens to Iraqi and coalition forces. That’s an enormous increase, and it has benefited us in many ways. One example was yesterday. As a result of a tip from a normal Iraqi citizen, Iraqi forces, along with U.S., uncovered an IED factory, some 4,000 pounds of explosives, some 11 to 12 500-pound bombs, many other ingredients for making both vehicle-borne and stand-alone explosive devices. These kinds of tips from the Iraqi populace indicate to me that they understand that the future is with their own armed forces. And with the help of the coalition, we’ll help them do that.

Who’s the freedom fighter, the minuteman, in today’s Iraq? The man with an IED factory whose handiwork kills far more Iraqi civilians than American soldiers, or the Iraqi citizen that turns the murderer in?

Q Mr. Secretary, in its lead editorial this morning, The New York Times takes issue with you and the Bush administration for the way the United States is waging this war, and particularly —

SEC. RUMSFELD: They have done that almost every day since it started. We’re not going to hang our hats on that, a New York Times editorial! My goodness, Ivan!

Q (Off mike) — in particular —

SEC. RUMSFELD: I’m stunned! (Laughter.)

Q Well — only because we’re both familiar with the newspaper.

But in its final paragraph or so, it takes particular issue with the use of white phosphorus in urban areas. And based on what we have learned so far, have you banned the use of “Willy Pete” or are you considering banning it? Or will it continue to be used?

SEC. RUMSFELD: General Pace.

GEN. PACE: White phosphorus is a legitimate tool of the military. It is used for two primary purposes. One is to mark a location for strike by an aircraft, for example. The other is to be used — because it does create white smoke — to be used as a screening agent so that you can move your forces without being seen by the enemy.

It is not a chemical weapon, it is an incendiary (sic) [It is not an incendiary weapon as defined by the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons], and it is well within the law of war to use those weapons as they are being used for marking and for screening.

Q But you and I have both seen the results of “Willy Pete” in Vietnam. And when it’s on the skin, it doesn’t stop burning until it goes all the way through or runs out of oxygen. It’s a pretty tough weapon. Do you want to use it in urban areas such as Fallujah?

GEN. PACE: No armed force in the world goes to greater effort than your armed force to protect civilians and to be very precise in the way we apply our power. A bullet goes through skin even faster than white phosphorus does. So I would rather have the proper instrument applied at the proper time as precisely as possible to get the job done in a way that kills as many of the bad guys as possible and does as little collateral damage as possible. That is just the nature of warfare.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Let’s see if there’s a New York Times editorial quoting General Pace tomorrow. Unlikely.

The fact that someone in a military press conference would ask if white phosphorus has been banned because of the recent stories really shows ignorance. After US planes accidentally bomb a residential area, does anyone ask if aerial bombs have been banned? What about when US troops shoot innocent civilians who are trying to run a checkpoint? Does anyone ask if checkpoint personnel have had their rifles confiscated?

Q Sir, taking on Charlie’s question a bit — and I can give you actual examples from coalition forces who talked to me when I was over there — about excesses of the Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Defense, and that is in dealing with prisoners or in arresting people and how they’re treated after they’re arrested. What are the obligations and what are the rights of the U.S. military over there in dealing with that? Obviously, Iraq is a sovereign country now, but the United States is responsible for training and expects to turn over the security mission to them. So what is the U.S. obligation in addressing that, preventing that? And what can we do? And what are we doing?

SEC. RUMSFELD: That’s a fair question. I’ll start, and Pete, you may want to finish. But we are working very hard to train and equip the Iraqi security forces. So is NATO. So are some neighboring countries. There are a lot of people involved in this and dozens of countries trying to help train these Iraqi forces.

Any instance of inhumane behavior is obviously worrisome and harmful to them when that occurs. Iraq knows of certain knowledge that they need the support of the international community, and a good way to lose it is to make a practice of something that’s inconsistent with the values of the international community. And I think they know that.

Now, you know, I can’t go any farther in talking about it. Obviously, the United States does not have a responsibility when a sovereign country engages in something that they disapprove of; however, we do have a responsibility to say so and to make sure that the training is proper and to work with the sovereign officials so that they understand the damage that can be done to them in the event some of these allegations prove to be true.

Q And General Pace, what guidance do you have for your military commanders over there as to what to do if — like when General Horst found this Interior Ministry jail?

GEN. PACE: It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it. As an example of how to do it if you don’t see it happening but you’re told about it is exactly what happened a couple weeks ago. There’s a report from an Iraqi to a U.S. commander that there was possibility of inhumane treatment in a particular facility. That U.S. commander got together with his Iraqi counterparts. They went together to the facility, found what they found, reported it to the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government has taken ownership of that problem and is investigating it. So they did exactly what they should have done.

SEC. RUMSFELD: But I don’t think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it’s to report it.

GEN. PACE: If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it.

General Pace seems to have a pretty solid opinion on this. I think it’s worth noting.

Q Mr. Secretary, whenever you talk about security forces you focus primarily on the military. But what about the police? Reports that militia have either infiltrated or actually taken control of some police forces are really not a hypothetical, after all, the British had to shoot their way into Basra to retrieve a couple of their own soldiers. So what specifically is the U.S. military doing to help the Iraqis gain control of these militias within police forces and improve what has been described pretty much as an uneven performance by Iraqi police?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I forget when the Department of Defense assumed responsibility for the police.

GEN. PACE: About six months ago or so.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Maybe six months ago? So the data we have on it is nowhere near as good as the data we have on the Ministry of Defense forces. The Ministry of Interior forces, which the police are under, have been reporting up through the Department of State previously. And we’re getting our arms around it. And some of the things that need to be done is to better connect the police with the Department of Defense forces so that they have a better connection. Some of the things that need to be done is to better connect the intelligence information with the police so that they can do a better job.

One of the big distinctions is the Iraqi military and Ministry of Defense forces have been hired nationwide and they’re a mixture of Sunni and Shi’a and Kurds. The police forces function in a local area only, and they tend to be recruited from the local area. So there tends to naturally be a concentration of the population — the nature of the population that exists in the area where that police district is. So that shouldn’t come — that’s the same in our country. So that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The police in Chicago or Los Angeles or New York tend to be people from that area. You know, the military in our country tends to come from all across the country, and that’s a good thing.

I’ve got to admit that I don’t think I realized that the police had been being organized under the US Department of State. Does that mean anything? I’m not sure. But I think it might.
Q I wanted to ask General Pace, I think you mentioned that IEDs and VBIED suicide car bombers remain the sole fundamental tool of the insurgents that you face. What’s your overall assessment right now of the IED situation? Are attacks up, down? What kinds of new IEDs are you seeing? What kinds of Iranian influences are you seeing on the IEDs?

GEN. PACE: Because our enemy in Iraq clearly understands that they have yet, not once won an engagement with U.S. and coalition forces on a battlefield, they use the IEDs as a weapon of last resort. And it’s an indiscriminate killing mechanism that kills many more Iraqi women, children and innocents than it does those in uniform. That’s number one.

Number two, because they see very clearly that this is the third election this year where Iraqis are about to voice their own rights and pick their own future, they are — the insurgents are —

They’re increasing the numbers they’re using in an attempt to intimidate the Iraqi population. Interestingly, the numbers of IED explosions has gone up. The numbers of casualties from those explosions has stayed level and/or gone down a little bit, which means that our protection mechanisms — our own force protection mechanisms are working. However, we still have a lot to do because this is a thinking enemy, and we need to be thinking through our tactics, techniques and procedures as they change how they employ the IEDs.

I’m not sure, but I think the General’s clarification that “protection mechanisms” means “our own force protection mechanisms” means, in effect, that while casualties on our own force have “stayed leve and/or gone down a little bit”, that isn’t the case for Iraqi or Iraqi civilian casualties. In the case of the latter, for instance, they certainly seem to be increasing.

So there you have it. Was this post valuable in any way? Should I simply read the Q&A myself and give an “executive summary” with a few choice quotes? What should Murdoc do to help get the administration’s/military’s message out?

UPDATE: Here’s an official summary. Not bad, and no one can say the word isn’t out. But some things Murdoc would point out didn’t make the cut.


  1. I’m confused. Weren’t the original minutemen the murderers who concealed themselves among the populace and sprang to arms at a minute’s notice, discarding their protective coloration as they attacked the legitimate authority? To put it another way, if you really want a straight answer, you ought to ask straight questions and not stick words like ‘murderer’ in there. The moment you use those terms, you obviously connect the murderous bomb makers with the murderous minutemen.

  2. Seriously, the North Americans feature as the bad giys to people with my cultural upbringing. You can’t use them as figures of respect if you want to bring out a point to people who don’t already share your views. Furthermore, ‘murderousness’ isn’t the test, or the Germans would have been the good guys as compared with the European resistance movements – things like the assassination of Heydrich. Yes, of course I know it wasn’t like that – but to bring that out you have to bring out the real points of similarity and dissimilarity, not merely point at whether one lot or another are ‘murderous’. That simply isn’t the test. I want to emphasise, I’m not addressing the position you’re trying to support, I’m addressing the rhetorical methods you’re using. They just aren’t up to the job. But that reminds me that I ought to send you some more material on your earlier comments on USA vs. Vichy France – you seemed to have the impression that French opinion was against Vichy and in support of Free France at that stage in the war. If anything, it was the Free French who were the objects of suspicion and Vichy was still getting the benefit of the doubt (disclaimer: I have family connections with France).

  3. P.M.: I understand that many folks think that the Americans are the bad guys. Heck, a fair portion of Americans think that. If you mean ‘supports freedom from tyranny’ when you say ‘shares my views’, then yes, I understand that the Colonial American Minutemen are not good examples of proper behavior. I also understand that different people have different views of ‘freedom’ and ‘tyranny’. I can’t help that. I can only go with what makes sense to me, with an attempt to grant a little leeway here and there if it seems prudent. An insurgency or rebellion is not inherently wrong. In many cases, of course, I (as a US citizen) am going to claim that insurgency and rebellion are just causes. Sometimes ‘freedom fighters’ really are fighting for freedom. But that doesn’t make all insurgencies and rebellions just. That doesn’t mean that anyone taking up arms against authority is a freedom fighter. The cause being fought for and the authority being fought against matter greatly. this is a point that the moral relativists almost always miss. They look at the ‘what’ and not only ignore the ‘why’, they almost always insist that the ‘why’ doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter? It’s the heart of the matter. I’m convinced that this should be very clear to anyone who spends a moment thinking about it. RE: ‘murderous’. Yes, I realize that different people use different dictionaries, so ‘murderous’ is going to mean different things to different people. Again, I can only go with what I think makes the most sense and try to have a little understanding for those whose views don’t line up 100% with mine. You’ll notice that I said nothing of terrorism in my points about ‘insurgency’ and ‘rebellion’. I do not believe that terrorism, the direct attack on civilians in an attempt to force a governmental response, is ever justified. Killing soldiers and military personnel is not terrorism. Even killing innocent bystanders during a military battle is not terrorism, as long as they aren’t targeted intentionally and reasonable caution has been taken to avoid or minimize so-called ‘collateral damage’. Killing factory workers when you bomb a military factory or a power plant is closer to the line, in my mind, but does not cross it. Blowing up women and children in a market, or suicide bombing a mosque at prayer time, is terrorism. Car bombing a US tank in the middle of a crowded market place, too, could be terrorism, though if the US tank was using the women and children for cover it probably wouldn’t be, by my definition. (You might be surprised to learn that I’m not at all sure whether the atomic bombing of Japan in WW2 might not have been terrorism in my book, though I’m a long way from having made up my mind one way or another…) Minutemen killing Redcoats at Concord bridge or the French resistance assassinating Nazi leadership is not terrorism or murder. Baathist attacking a US Marine checkpoint on an Iraqi highway are not terrorists. Those same Baathists (if any survive) later kidnapping civilians and killing them for political reasons are terrorists and murderers.

  4. It looks as though I’ve prodded you into examining and stating where you are coming from, your assumptions, which is what I wanted. That has brought out a serious difference in our vocabularies. In my book, the attacks you mention in your last paragraph or two really were murderous, that is, as a description of their nature. However, I don’t mean by that to condemn the French resistance – as you say, such things can be right. But language is a tool, and redefining something as ‘not murderous’ is just making it harder to use language, like making accurate descriptions of planetary movements while using the earth as a centre (early copernican calculations gave worse accuracy than the refined ptolemaic ones, by the way). When I said that the minutemen were bad guys to people of my culture and background, I am bringing out the fact that many people still align more with British Empire traditions than with US ones. To me, their actions were wrong, because they fell just the wrong side of the thinking that exonerated the French Francs Tireurs of 1870 – no last minute adoption of identifying apparel, enough to count as a uniform and identify a combatant. And, of course, I don’t see the legitimate grievances of the colonists as significant justification for independence (creating just another tyrant, when George III wasn’t actually a tyrant). For the purposes of this discussion, you can’t simply draw a parallel and use the minutemen as positive examples –