Remarks by Donald Rumsfeld at the 2005 Washington Conference on the Americas

Speaking at the 35th Washington Conference on the Americas, Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, discusses the connection between security and economic growth. Rumsfeld explains the steps that have been taken throughout the Americas to combat criminal activities that weaken security and accordingly weaken the economy.

Remarks by Secretary Rumsfeld to the 35th Annual Washington Conference of the Council Of Americas


            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Thank you very much.  It's most gracious, although you do make me sound like I can't hold a job.  (Laughter.)

             I -- that sweep back over all those decades is a long sweep back.  I remember when I was running the war on poverty after Sergeant Shriver.  It's the only war that had ever been won -- lost or won by or fought by a sergeant in charge.  But I came home one night and it -- there was a little note on the refrigerator and it said -- my wife's got a sense of humor -- she said, "He tackled the job that couldn't be done.  With a smile, he went right to it.  He tackled the job that couldn't be done, and couldn't do it."  (Laughter.)

          So -- and George Schultz came in to me one day and said, "Don, the president wants you to be in charge of the economic stabilization program."

            And I said, "You mean wage and price controls?"

            He said, "Yes."
            I said, "I don't believe in 'em."
            And he said, "I know, Don.  That's why we want you to be in charge."  (Laughter.)

            Do you remember H.L. Mencken's famous statement that for every human problem there's a solution that's simple, neat and wrong?  (Laughter.)  They found it.

            Well, ambassadors, members of the diplomatic corps, distinguished guests and some friends of long-standing, I thank the -- you and the council for your invitation.  It's a pleasure to be with you.  I also know that you deserve some appreciation for encouraging political freedom and economic freedom in this hemisphere, which is important.

            You know, when you've been around as long as I have and a few other people here -- (laughter) -- you've had an opportunity to witness an awful lot of remarkable events.  And if you think about it, the -- to see the spread and collapse of communism, the rise and fall of Nazism, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the oppression of tyranny and the joy of liberation --

            I remember not so long ago when many of the countries in this hemisphere were dominated by dictatorships and some torn by civil strife.  Throughout the region, the ideals of democracy and freedom to which this organization has long been committed were really under siege.  I say this to point out that history has seen many changes, and that certainly determination and persistence can bring about impressive transformations, even in our lifetime.

            Nowhere is this more apparent, in my view, than the sweeping changes that are taking place and have taken place in much of Central and South America.  If you consider what's happened in a relatively short time, today the countries of the region are working together in a very constructive way.  They're leaning forward in support of democracy and economic opportunity, and recognizing that cooperation with respect to security matters is certainly central to political and economic success.

            I recognize that no one can really know what history will write -- suggest when they look back five, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now about any period, including this period, but my impression is that we may very well be experiencing a magic moment, particularly in the countries of Latin America.  I've been struck by the fact that, for whatever reason, all the leadership there seems to be moving forward from a political standpoint, from an economic standpoint, and also from a security standpoint, and recognizing the advantages that can accrue to them, all of the countries of Central America, to the extent they cooperate, as they certainly are doing.

            As Bob said, I've had the opportunity to travel to many of the countries in the hemisphere in recent months and years to encourage further strengthening of the inter-American system, to offer support and friendship of the people of the United States to the countries.

            I'd like to just take a few moments to offer some impressions.  I do think it's a time of promise for the Americas.  It's also a time of considerable challenges.  There are some who want to obstruct the path to great social and economic progress.  There are, without question, dangers, anti-social elements that are seeking a return to instability and chaos that would allow them to operate with impunity.

            In my meetings with the officials in the region, they returned again and again to the threats posed by these -- combination of violent gangs, drug traffickers, smugglers, hostage-takers, terrorists, and their concern about these criminals that are seeking to destabilize governments and to prey on various vulnerabilities that exist.  They terrorize innocent citizens and they recognize no borders.  Indeed, they take advantage of borders and ungoverned areas as they seek to damage civil societies.

            It's certainly clear that they can be effectively combated only if countries work together.  There's no one country that can deal with those kinds of cross-border threats that exist.  They are a particular danger because they attack one of the key underpinnings of a successful civil society, and that's the people's confidence in their system of government.  To the extent people do not have confidence in government, why, the entire fabric can be tattered.

             As we're seeing in other parts of the world, if we're to deliver on the promise of democracy and economic opportunity, we have to help governments provide for the basic security for their citizens.  A lack of security calls into question the value of freedom itself.

            Indeed, the interrelationship between security and political and economic freedom I believe was thoughtfully examined in a council report that I looked at the other day.  It was published in support of the Defense Ministerial Meeting of the Americas that was held in Quito.  The report outlines the link between security and economic growth.  I'm told, I guess, that Susan Segal and Eric Farnsworth and Luis Pinto took the lead in putting it together, and I thank them for that.

            Those of who have worked in the business community understand intuitively the nexus between security and economic opportunity.  As we all know, money's a coward.  It can flee.  A friend of mine used to say if you want to know really what's going on some place, give it the gate test.  And you say, well, what's the gate test?  He said, you pick up the gate and see which way things are moving.  Things are moving from a place that's less desirable to a place that's more desirable.  And it's not complicated and it's true of money, it's true of people.  Companies tend not to want to invest in countries or regions that they believe are unstable or unsafe.

            A sense of insecurity is fueled further when government institutions such as police, military, regulators, prosecutors, judges are corrupt or ineffective, creating seams for the anti-social combination of elements such as criminal gangs and narcotraffickers to operate and thrive.  In particular, the lack of border security in many areas is a vulnerability that terrorists/criminals take full advantage of.

             Fortunately, there are a number of steps being taken in Central and South America today to combat some of these problems.  Brazil, for example, has developed a new radar operation that eventually can allow it coverage and control over Amazon airspace, really probably for the first time ever.  Brazil, Colombia and other Andean nations are increasing cooperation to jointly combat narcoterrorists operating within and across their borders, which is a good thing.
            In Colombia, President Uribe is taking hold of the deadliest threats to security and democracy in the region.  Due to efforts of many brave Colombians, foreign investment is increasing, and many Colombians are welcoming the calm of a relatively normal everyday life.
            El Salvador, which lost, I'm told, something like 75,000 lives in 12 years of guerrilla warfare, has revamped its police forces and worked closely with us and its neighbors to extradite gang members, drug traffickers, as well as to share intelligence across borders.

            And throughout much of the region, the principle of civilian control over armed forces is reasonably well established today, which is a good thing.  Military rivalries between and among Latin American states, really the bane of the 19th and 20th centuries, are largely thing of the past today.  This has given people increasing confidence in the integrity and the independence of the armed forces.

            Indeed, Latin America today may well be the least militarized region in the world, if one thinks about it.  And it's now mostly shaped by the kind of trust and cooperation and accountability that is possible among a family of democratic nations.

            One of my colleagues, a South American minister of defense, put it this way.  He said, "We are now united by the threats we face, not divided by them."

            The Department of Defense plays a role in working with other nations to try to strengthen the inter-American system.  With few exceptions, the United States is a strong security partner for the nations of the hemisphere.  Generations of men and women in our respective armed forces have developed very close relationships, often through common educational experiences in our country or in their countries, and by our cooperative work in the region.

            Our security relationships are being updated today to be relevant to the challenges of this new century, and the challenges are notably different than prior decades.  During a meeting of the hemisphere and defense ministers in Santiago, Chile in 2002, I proposed a new regional initiative called Enduring Friendship, which promotes naval cooperation, and we're now working quite closely with several navies in the region.  As a matter of fact, an Argentine destroyer, for example, has taken part in exercises with the U.S. fleet in the Mediterranean not too long ago.

            Of course, security challenges are not the only threats posed to the progress now under way in the Americas.  Poverty also threatens to derail economic progress, which can in turn threaten democratic governance.  Currently, one of the greatest challenges to maintaining freedom's forward momentum is to demonstrate to more people the truth that free political systems and free economic systems offer the best hope for tangible benefits for them and for their children.  I mean, if anyone looks down from Mars on this globe and asks which of the countries that are -- create a circumstance, an environment that's most hospitable to economic opportunity for their people, it's the countries with free political systems and free economic systems.  And the ones that have command systems and repressive systems are not doing well, their people.

            I was in Korea not too long ago and they were just voting in the parliament whether they should send any of the Korean troops over to Iraq, which they eventually did decide to do.  And a woman reporter stuck a mike in my face and she said, "Why in the world should we send young Korean men and women halfway around the globe to fight in Iraq and die and get wounded?"  And I told her, "Look out the window."  And we were in Seoul, in a high-rise building.  And I keep by my desk a satellite photo of the Korean Peninsula at night, and you can see all the light and all the energy and the vitality of a free political system and a free economic system south of the demilitarized zone, and north of it it's black.  The only light you see at night from a satellite is a pinprick of light in Pyongyang, the capital.  And the difference is just dramatic, and people have to have confidence in that because it is a truth.

            In the countries of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union, for example, the initial euphoria over liberation eventually gave way to some frustration and concern and insecurity that followed the very rapid transition to free political and economic systems.  Fortunately, the benefits -- economic benefits of freedom became increasingly evident over time and they stayed the course.  Many of those countries have since become stalwart allies of ours in NATO and in the global war on terror, and they've seen their economies and their standards of living rise fairly regularly.

            As Latin American nations take hold of their security challenges and increase their cooperation, the confidence of investors, foreign and domestic, I believe will increase.

            Also, if fully approved by all the nations -- and I certainly hope it will be -- the Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA, could usher in a new era of trade and prosperity in Central America, which would be a good thing.  I was pleased to see that a couple of my predecessors, Bill Perry and Bill Cohen, former secretaries of defense, recently publicly supported the president's call for CAFTA ratification.

            I also should say that many of the nations of the region are increasingly taking on leadership roles in other parts of the world, which I think is another sign of growing confidence.  A new spirit of cooperation has, for example, led eight Latin American countries to come to the aid of one of their neighbors and help Haiti on its road to stability and recovery.  And it's noteworthy that four of the six CAFTA countries have provided soldiers for the coalition forces that are fighting in Iraq, dealing with that insurgency.

            I will stop there and be happy to answer a few questions, if that's appropriate.
            MR. MOSBACHER:  That's what we want you to do.

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Actually, I'll respond to a few questions.  (Laughter, applause.)  You all are the experts, so I'll answer the ones I know and I'll respond to the others.

            Yes, sir?

            QUESTION:  Hi, yeah.  Andrew Quale, Sidley Austin Brown & Wood.
            Thanks, Mr. Secretary.  We're all --
            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Sidley Austin now has what after it?
            QUESTION:     Two more names, Sidley Austin Brown & Wood.

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Good grief.  Ed Austin was a friend of mine, helped me in my first campaign in 1962 when I was running.  Nice man.

            QUESTION:     He was a wonderful man.

            We're all concerned here about Venezuela.  And it's perhaps not a fair question to ask you and you maybe will want to duck it, but it's probably, from our point of view -- many of us here -- the largest threat now facing Latin America.  President Chavez is using petro-dollars to buy support in many unsavory places.  It's affecting issues in Colombia, Brazil, Cuba, all over the place.  It doesn't look like there's going to be ability of Venezuelans themselves to rectify that situation based upon the arms he's importing.  So it looks like the U.S. will have to perform some sort of role here in bringing some sanity there.  And I'm just wondering what the Department of Defense and the U.S. government generally are thinking about in trying to address this issue.

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Next question.  (Laughter.)  No, let me say this about that.  (Laughter.)
            Well, the -- first of all, those are decisions that the president makes, not the Department of Defense, as you know.

            Let me say this, though, that, you know, the great sweep of human history is for freedom.  And you indicated that you don't think anything can happen unless the United States does something.  I don't know that I agree with that.

            When I was in the pharmaceutical business, we had businesses in Venezuela.  I'd go there, say it was a wonderful country, and the people are very much like other people in Latin America.  And down deep inside I think they'd like to be living in a country that's respected and where they have the freedoms to do what they wish, and my guess is they will again in my lifetime.  I think that the -- that approach to government that's being taken is an approach that's -- we see it elsewhere in the world in a relatively small number of countries.  It's not a winning approach.

            Now that doesn't satisfy anyone today or tomorrow or next week or next month or even next year, but we've seen countries go through periods where they, you know, behave in a way that ultimately is seen to not be in the interest of their people, and eventually something changes that.

            So I'm not -- I wish it were otherwise, but I don't know that I agree with the premise of your question.  In fact, I'm quite sure I don't.  (Laughter.)

            Yes, sir.
            QUESTION:     Sir, Stephen Donehoo Kissinger McLarty Associates.

            There's been instability in the region that has affected some of our partners in the counter-drug movement, with nontraditional changes of government recently both in Bolivia and in Ecuador.  Is this threatening in a substantial way our ability to continue the counter-drug effort we're engaged in?

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, it can, I don't know that it does bluntly.  It seems to me that we have no choice.  I look at the drug problem basically not as a supply problem, but as a demand problem.  And that means there's billions and billions and billions of dollars looking for those crops, those products.  As long as that's the case, they're going to find them someplace.  And if they shut it down one place, they're going to find it next door, in another place, because the billions are just too great.

            The risk we face, for example, in many of these countries is that -- and the same thing is true today in Afghanistan.  I mean, we just had a fabulous election and the country's on a path of democracy and they have a political process that's going forward, looking forward to parliamentary elections in September, but the amount of money that's coming into that country from narcotics is just enormous, and we run the risk of seeing that it could adversely affect the elections to the parliament, which can happen in countries anywhere in the world.

            So it's a problem.  It's a serious problem, and it's important that it be attacked from all directions, it seems to me.  It has to be attacked on the supply side to be sure, but also on the demand side.  And I think that it is so corrupting -- it can be so corrupting -- in a country, and the nexus between the narcotics business and other anti-social activities, whether it's terrorism or hostage-taking or any anti-government, anti-legitimate government activity -- it's so real that we have to be deeply concerned about it.  But I think what we have to do is what we're doing, and that's to see the kind of increasing cooperation that's taking place among these countries.  And you know, eventually the good guys are going to win.  I believe that.


            QUESTION:     Mr. Secretary, how do you see this rise and evolution of neo-populism in Latin America?

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  You know, it's not unique to Latin America.  We've seen populism in many countries, many parts of the world.  And it can have a certain attraction, and it can sometimes be a positive force and sometimes quite a negative force, depending on how it evolves. 

            I guess I'm not surprised that we see it from time to time in different places, but I think that the forces in the world that are creating an environment that's hospitable to investment and to opportunity and to initiative and innovation are so solid and so sound and so real that people have to see that.  And over time, they're going to reject what seems to be an attractive whim of the moment, in favor of behaving in a more mature way, which is to be willing to defer an immediate appetite or pleasure in favor of a longer-term benefit, which is what people do at that point where they begin to reach the age of reason -- 12, 13, 14, 15, whatever it is.  They begin to look longer term.  And anyone who has an ounce of sense who looks at this globe knows that the systems that work are the ordered -- free political and free economic systems are the ones that are helping the people of those countries and giving them the opportunities.

            You know, I had a friend; he was asked by some U.N. committee if he'd chair a committee on what causes poverty.  And he declined.  He said, I simply won't do it."  And they said, "Why?"  And he said, "Because the implication of that committee is that something's causing poverty.  The implication of that is that the natural state of man is to be prosperous.  And quite the contrary, the natural state of man is to be poor, and there are some things causing prosperity, not some things causing poverty."  And he said, "I will not do it." 

            So they changed the name of the committee, he chaired it, and it got off on the right track.  And it indicated that what we need to do is create an environment that's hospitable to the things that encourage opportunity and prosperity, and not stand around thinking, my Lord, somebody's causing poverty, somebody big, somebody evil; somebody's repressing us, somebody's making us be poor.  Well, that's nonsense.  Anyone that looks around the world knows that's nonsense.


            QUESTION:      Mr. Secretary, my name is Alfredo Blanco.  I work for Schering-Plough Corporation.  About 25 years ago, I was presenting to you in -- (inaudible) -- so I'm very happy that today you are presenting to us.  (Laughs.)  And I think you haven't changed a bit.   (Laughter.)

            My question sounds like Latin America is Iraq.  What is the situation today, and how do you see the situation today?
            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, it's a tough situation.  There's an insurgency that's going on.  It's being fed by a mixture of former regime elements -- Saddam Hussein-types -- who want to take back that country and turn it back to the dark period.  We just discovered, I guess within the last 10 days, another mass grave of over 1,500 women and children buried from Saddam Hussein's regime.  And these Zarqawi-type jihadists -- the terrorists -- who are determined to reestablish their caliphate somewhere in the world that stretches, I suppose, from Indonesia across Africa and much of Europe and the Muslim belt.  And there's a struggle going on in that religion.  And it isn't going to be won by people outside that religion.  Ultimately, it's going to be won within that religion because it's the extremists versus the moderates.
            The extremists are determined to destabilize the moderate Muslim regimes, and of course the most devastating thing to them is when you have a Karzai, who's a moderate leader and succeeding in a democratic way; and refugees, 2 million refugees, have come home to that country.  And the leadership we see in Iraq evolving now and of President Musharraf, who's doing what he can there, and other countries where you see that move away from the extremist strain. 

            Now, where's it going to end up?  It's going to end up with, in my view, it'll be a bumpy road, it's not going to be smooth, but we'll end up with a constitution being drafted sometime in the next period of months.  There will be an election on that constitution towards the end of the year.  There will be election for president and prime minister and parliament under that new constitution at the end of the year.  And that country will be on a path towards a democratic system.

            People say, "Oh, they're not ready for democracy."  Well, you know, nobody's ready for democracy.  It's kind of a messy business.  It's not perfect.  It's not as efficient as a dictatorship.  But as Churchill said, "It's the best form of government except for" -- "A worse form of government," he said, "except for any other that's ever been tried."  And it is the best, and I think they'll make it. 

            I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said that one ought not to be -- expect to be transported from despotism to democracy on a featherbed.  And it is no featherbed; it is tough.  But the coalition forces are doing a terrific job.  Increasingly, they're less oriented towards trying to deal with the insurgency, and more oriented towards developing Iraqi security forces so that they can deal with the insurgency.  In the last analysis, it's going to be the Iraqi security forces that are going to be successful against the insurgency; it isn't going to be foreign troops and coalition countries doing that.  We can be helpful.  We need to be helpful.  We need to stay there as long as it's necessary to see that they're safely on that path, and then, obviously, we don't want to be there.  That's not our first choice.  Our country doesn't covet anyone else's oil or water or real estate.  Our folks -- our troops want to come home as soon they get that job done. 


            QUESTION:     Mr. Secretary, what do you think about the Cuba situation?

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, you know, you look around the world there are Cuban people everywhere, in this country and so many countries.  And they're intelligent and they're industrious and they're energetic.  And I can remember when Castro came in, and I bet you I'll be able to remember when he leaves.  (Laughter.)

            Yes, sir?
            QUESTION:     Mr. Secretary --
            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I've got to remember, I'm at the State Department, I've got to be diplomatic!  (Laughter.)

            QUESTION:     Hello, Mr. Rumsfeld.  The decision of the U.S. government to free Iraq from Saddam Hussein created a perception that this a methodology that U.S. government is going to use to handle foreign policy.  What is your plan, and U.S. government plan, to change that perception? 

            My second question is, U.S. military has been shown on TV as aggressors in Iraq, but U.S. military is doing their job and they're also involved in other activities that are peaceful such as flooding, tsunami recently.  What is your plan to show the other side of the U.S. military?

            Thank you.

           SEC. RUMSFELD:  Thank you.  You're right.  The perception that's presented by, you know, television networks like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah and some of the others is to -- well for the sake of argument; just keep it simple -- lie is what they do.  They just simply put things on television that are not true.  And as the old saying goes, I think it was Mark Twain, "A lie travels around the world twice while the truth is still putting its running shoes on." 

            And there's not much we can do about it, because we have to be accurate, they don't.  And they constantly are doing that.  And they've been very successful.  They're much better at managing public perceptions than anyone else I know.  They're constantly doing it.  And it's true of much of the press in that part of the world.

            You know, ultimately the truth comes out.  We have no interest in staying in that part of the world except as a friend and as a trading partner.  It will be seen that all these arguments that the United States went in there for Iraqi oil is just utter nonsense.  It's just not true.  And the same thing in Afghanistan.  If you think about it, the Soviet Union had something like 250,000 troops in Afghanistan and they lost.  And we had 20(,000) or 30,000 and won. 

            Now, you're right about the perception of the United States, but on the other hand, we couldn't have done that if the perception had been that we were like the Soviet Union.  If the people of Afghanistan believed we were there to occupy them and own them and take over their country.  And they knew we didn't want their country.  They knew what we did was we went in there to stop the Taliban and the al Qaeda from killing 3,000 more American people or more, which is where that was organized and launched, the attack on September 11th.

            So, you know, you're right in the sense that we aren't -- we're always very nervous about trying to communicate about our values and our country.  It's against the law to propagandize.  We used to have a USIA that showed movies and books and libraries around the world to try to have people have a better understanding.  And at one point my recollection is they did a movie on John F. Kennedy -- I was in Congress at the time -- and it was very flattering and it was shown in the United States, and the Congress went ballistic and said, "My goodness, you're taking taxpayers' dollars and you're propagandizing the American people."  And now we have no USIA eventually. 

            So we don't have any mechanisms to communicate about our country, which we need.  I mean, this is the first time a war has ever been run in the history of the world with 24-hour news, digital cameras, e-mails, bloggers -- we'll have a test to see if everyone knows what a blogger is -- (laughter) -- and Congress in session most of the year, numbers of congressional staffers gone from, I think, 8,000 to 16,000 congressional staff people.  Multiple means of communication.  The Internet.  Terrorist acts on television.  Now, how does Al-Jazeera get there?  Obviously, they have advance notice.  And they're there and they get to see all that.  Beheadings on television.  Think of that. 

            It's a most unusual time.  And if the other side, the enemy, is good at manipulating the press and doesn't have to tell the truth and is constantly at it, and we have to tell the truth and we're slow and big and bureaucratic and democratic, it's very hard.  It's a tough competition.

            But the American people, you know, they have a pretty good center of gravity.  They must have an inner gyroscope, because they can listen to all this nonsense -- well, you saw what happened to newspapers.  In the press today they said -- I think they were down something like 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 percent, some of them, in readership, meaning that people are getting their news and their information from a variety of sources.  They're getting it off the Internet, they're getting it from radio, they're getting it from television, they're getting it from newspapers and magazines, to be sure, they're getting it from bloggers.  They're doing it all kinds of different ways today.  So that's an opportunity.  That's an opportunity for all of us to communicate in ways that are different than we used to.

            How do I think we'll end up?  I think we'll end up okay, because I think we're on the right side.
            Make this the last question.  So it will be a good one, right?  (Laughter.)  Out of the park.  Out of the park.
            QUESTION:     Ricardo Ruwaiay (sp) with Nextel International.
            SEC. RUMSFELD:  With what?
            QUESTION:     Nextel International.
            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Uh-huh.

            QUESTION:     Mr. Secretary, regarding the young democracies, especially in Latin America, if I'm not mistaken, you seem to imply that -- or at least you don't seem overly concerned about their oscillation between free-market methodology to populist methodology.  So do you believe that that's a natural process for those democracies to mature?  And if so, what you are saying is that we got to be patient and let those democracies mature?

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I guess that's what I'm saying.  I think that the free systems do leave some -- they're bumpy.  There are bad times in free systems.  And people then kind of want to swing over to a more controlled system, and they demand more.  And we see that in lots of countries, in this hemisphere and around the world.  But in the last analysis, anyone with an ounce of sense knows that the market is a lot smarter than government.  There is the understatement of the day.  (Laughter.)  And they're going to flirt with various types of populist approaches and government solutions to things.  And then they're going to migrate away from them because if they look around the world, they see that's a sure route to failure; it's a sure route to denying their people the opportunities they need.           

            Now, do I worry about it?  Would I prefer that it was a nice, steady path?  Sure.  But life isn't a nice, steady path.  I can vouch for that.

            Thank you very much.  (Applause.)