PrintPrint EmailEmail ShareShare CiteCite


History Makers Series: Former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service]

Speaker: William J. Perry, Former Secretary of Defense,
Presider: John McWethy, Chief National Security and Pentagon Correspondant, ABC News
June 7, 2007

JOHN MCWETHY: Welcome, everyone, to today's Council on Foreign Relations Historymakers event with Dr. William Perry. I'm John McWethy, and on behalf of the Council I'd like to thank Richard Plepler and the Home Box Office for their generous support of this series. Now, I'd like to remind you to please turn off your cell phones, your beepers, any other electronic device that is going to ring because your chairs are wired, and if they go off, you're going to get shot through the ceiling. (Laughter.)

Because this is a special History Makers session, the focus of the meeting today is going to be on the secretary's career in government and some of the lessons you may have learned along the way. He served a number of presidents -- he's reminding me of all of that -- but much of my questioning will be on your tenure as secretary of Defense, and this is from 1994 to '97. And just to refresh your memory of the few little things that were going on at that time, I'm just going to remind the audience: Bosnia, implementing the Dayton Accords; Somalia, the final withdrawal of U.S. forces from there; Rwanda, America's somewhat controversial limited role in that conflict; Haiti, a unique invasion of another country -- there probably will never be one quite like that again; North Korea, an agreement to allow nuclear inspectors to come in exchange for lifting trade restrictions and some fuel to generate power; Iraq, that troublesome Saddam Hussein was a thorn in your side; and then, of course, there was terrorism at that period.

The secretary would like to just make a couple of opening remarks, and then we're off to the races.

WILLIAM PERRY: Thank you, Jack.

Well, I spent most of my career as a Cold Warrior, but by the time I became secretary of Defense, the Cold War was over. And the strategy which had guided us during the Cold War, which is very easy to describe, containment and deterrence, seemed to me no longer relevant to my job as secretary. So my first task was to decide what were my challenges? What was I trying to do? And at the time, I laid them out as follows: I said, first of all, the first goal was to stop -- is to get the loose nukes under control, number one job.

The second job, closely related to that, I saw an explosion of nuclear proliferation about to start, so my second challenge was to try to stop that explosive growth of proliferation. The third is I observed that Eastern Europe and Russia were in social and economic and political turmoil, and the way I defined the challenge there was to keep Russia from going the way of the Weimar Republic. We called it the Weimar Russia task.

Fourth, we were dealing with a whole host of failed states where we were faced with civil wars or regional conflicts, and the challenge for a secretary of Defense was to define the way in which military force or the threat of military force could be constructively used in that problem as a balance to the diplomacy and the support we were giving those countries.

The fifth was China was undergoing a period of remarkable sustained growth, and the challenge here was to strike a path of cooperation and not confrontation with China, so that we did not have a new Cold War starting. And finally, we had had undoubtedly the best military in the world that had been formed in the last few decades of the Cold War. But now the Cold War was over, and the priority and the budgets for military were in the process of a very steep decline. So my job was to maintain the quality of the military and, to use a common phrase at the time, not let the Army get broken the way it was after the Vietnam War. So those were the six challenges that I put to myself, and I measured myself on how well I did or did not perform on those challenges.

MCWETHY: Well, there was a seventh challenge that was beginning to show itself at that point, and that was the attack on Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, where 19 American servicemen were killed. Terrorism was beginning to strike at the heart of the U.S. military, in one of these early incidents. Now, as a journalist, I was very aware that the government was picking up bits and pieces of evidence that indicated Iran's fingerprints were all over this. Can you describe for us the debate that went on in the administration at that time over how to respond or not to respond, when the evidence was so clearly aimed at Iran and the thinking within your administration at that point?

PERRY: Yeah. In fact, I'll make two different comments about that. The first is that, in retrospect, I believe that the Khobar Tower bombing was probably masterminded by Osama bin Laden. I can't be sure of that, but in retrospect, that's what I believe. At the time, he was not a suspect. At the time all of the -- all of our examinations, all of the evidence was pointing to Iran. I think, in retrospect, it was probably home-grown, instead of from Iran.

The FBI had a very intense investigation in-country, working with the Saudi intelligence. The best view I could get from them at the time was they thought it was Iran, but they couldn't prove it, and the Saudis, if they knew it or believed it was Iran, they were trying to discourage us from thinking that, because they feared what action we would take. They rightly feared it. In fact, I had a contingency plan for a strike on Iran, if it had been if it had been clearly established. But it was never clearly established, and so we never did that.

MCWETHY: Wasn't Iran regarded as fruit that was too high on the tree? Even if there was evidence that was relatively convincing, that the United States, to do something against Iran at that period, was virtually out of the question, even though you, as secretary of Defense, very properly had contingency plans underway?

PERRY: I didn't think that --

MCWETHY: Okay --

(Cross talk.)

PERRY: -- and as I said, I had a plan that I was fully prepared to implement. Now, the question you're asking really is would the president have given me authority to do that? There was no indication in my discussions with him that he would not have, but you may be more right on that than I was.

MCWETHY: Hmm. (Laughter.) I doubt that seriously, sir. (Laughter.)

A number of times --

PERRY: I just want to -- this was not an academic contingency plan. This was one that we were preparing to carry out and were organizing to carry out, and that -- which I discussed in some detail with the president, and he did not discourage me from doing that. But when it came right down to it, if the evidence had really clearly indicated Iran, would he have given that authority? I do not know.

MCWETHY: A number of times during your administration, Saddam Hussein was causing you trouble. There was the difficulty up north where one of the Kurdish factions had invited, supposedly, his forces -- Saddam Hussein's forces -- up into the Kurdish area. And on another occasion, Saddam marched an elite set of troops down towards the border with Kuwait. You dealt with him sometimes forcefully, sometimes diplomatically. Did you ever consider doing more than limited strikes against Saddam Hussein, and what was the thinking at that time?


MCWETHY: Was there ever a thought of doing much more?

PERRY: Yes. But not in a preemptive way; in a responsive way. The -- I don't remember now the exact date. It must have been --

MCWETHY: For the border?

PERRY: -- late '95 when, in my morning intelligence brief with General Shelley (sp), the DIA officer reported that there were two divisions of the Republican Guard moving out of barracks, heading down toward the Kuwait border in an almost identical pattern to what had precipitated the --


PERRY: -- Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. We took immediate action then. I asked -- within an hour or two, asked the president for and got permission to immediately deploy our contingency forces to Kuwait. Now, to back that up, I must say that because getting armored forces into a battle with Iraq is a huge undertaking, the logistics of getting over there, that we had long since pre-positioned the armored equipment for an entire division in Kuwait and the nearby regions. And so my -- the plan which I proposed to the president, and which he authorized, that I would send all of the troops that matched up to those armored divisions, deploy them immediately. They could be over there in just a few days on an air transport, match up with their equipment, and then go to the border.

So we did that. We publicly and dramatically announced we were doing that, and we told -- we announced publicly that there would be a very substantial military action if Iraq did not turn those troops around and send them back to their barracks. At that particular junction, I got an assist from the media, which was -- I had not tried to -- I had not really deliberately set them up on this, but they -- they misreported the facts.

MCWETHY: I find that very difficult to believe. (Laughter.)

PERRY: I know. What I had done was given orders to deploy to basically the several brigades that would have given us a full division, armored division, on the border, but I had sent alert notices to three other divisions. An alert notice is just, "Be ready to deploy, if we decide," and the media reported it as, "All of these are being ordered to deploy." So the news that Saddam Hussein got was much more dramatic than the actual fact. He believed there were four divisions on their way to Kuwait. Whatever the case, he -- within 24 hours, he had turned the -- his forces back and sent them back to barracks. So that was a case where very rapid action announced and with the resources to make it -- to really make it happen, had a dramatic effect. I think probably it actually dissuaded him from doing something he was planning to do. We'll never know just exactly what he had in mind there, but whatever he had in mind, he quickly changed his mind and went back to barracks.

MCWETHY: Had he kept an aggressive posture on that border, or again crossed the border, were you prepared to go all the way to Baghdad? Were you prepared to do something that the U.S. later did?

PERRY: No. No, we -- all of our plans involved punitive actions against the Iraqi government, not becoming an army of occupation. We had no interest at all in occupying Iraq.

MCWETHY: Now explain, why is that?

PERRY: Well, we just thought it was a formidable undertaking -- (laughter) -- which turns out not to have been too far wrong. But we were prepared to take military action; we were not prepared to occupy the country, and we believed that some of the military action that we took could very well have the effect of causing Saddam Hussein to be deposed from his position. But we never had a plan for occupying Iraq and setting up a military government there.

MCWETHY: What was the long-range thinking about how long you could contain Saddam Hussein, with the strategy that the U.S. was employing?

PERRY: Well, the strategy was twofold, as you recall. First of all, we had something called the "no-fly zone" --


PERRY: -- which we enforced every day, which restricted Iraq from sending airplanes -- having airplanes in the southern and northern parts of the country. Any kind of airplanes. And then after the -- after this incident where they sent their divisions out, we then had a no-ground-forces zone also, in which we'd said if there airplanes or tanks in these regions, we will attack. So it was a pretty aggressive -- pretty aggressive policy, which we carried out every day that I was secretary of Defense. Every day we had airplanes flying over. And about once a week, the Iraqis would take a shot at one of our airplanes, and they never hit any of them.

MCWETHY: Were you prepared to do that indefinitely?


MCWETHY: Was there a thought of what would have to transpire beyond some point when the coalition began to erode?

PERRY: Only -- I would only on that say that we all recognized that this was not a long-term policy; it was something not --

(Cross talk.)

MCWETHY: -- not a long term policy?

PERRY: It could not succeed long term, I mean. Something had to break in Iraq, and the major -- what probably would have happened had we continued that policy was there would have been some military incident which would have caused us to attack the country -- not invade them, but attack them -- and that might very well lead to the military overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

MCWETHY: There's a whole area that I would like to touch upon, and it's nation-building and peacekeeping, and you were involved in a couple of very interesting case studies from which the country learned a great deal, maybe.


MCWETHY: The first one is Haiti. The United States invaded and at the last minute, Cedras left because of President Carter's negotiations and you turned it into a non-lethal invasion, one where -- that was basically bloodless. What is the lesson that is learned from America trying to replace governments? And start with Haiti, and we'll walk our way around some of the other governments that the U.S. was messing with in that period.

PERRY: When the president decided that he was going to put President Aristide back in office, which meant deposing General Cedras, he gave Cedras an ultimatum. And Cedras ignored the ultimatum and so we started to prepare for an invasion. Now, this was an unusual invasion, because we would be invading a country that had no air force, but it was distant, with a substantial body of water between the United States and Haiti. So we decided the only way we could -- the only efficient way to do that was to use our aircraft carriers, but not as -- with fighter airplanes, because we had no need for fighter airplanes, but as a means of troop transport.

So General Paul -- or Admiral Paul David Miller, who was in charge of this whole operation, performed what was probably one of the most unusual military maneuvers in the U.S. Navy. He got several aircraft carriers outfitted with Army helicopters. So all the fighter airplanes were put down below and the deck was entirely covered with Army helicopters and Army troops, the purpose of which was to mount the invasion on Haiti with those helicopters, plus a division of paratroopers who were going to come in from above. And those were the two major elements of the invasion.

Now, before we conducted that invasion, there was a little bit of extracurricular diplomacy, which was President Carter and Sam Nunn and General Powell all went down to visit with General Cedras and try to persuade him to capitulate, to resign. He was resisting that, and so the president told me, "Mount the invasion." So we did. We actually had the invasion in the air, the 101st Airborne Division was in the air on the way to Haiti. I was over in the president's office and he was calling -- in the meantime, President Carter and General Powell and Sam Nunn were still talking with General Cedras. So I went over to the -- to the Oval Office and said, "Mr. President, please get them out of there. The troops are on the way." And so he called General Carter -- President Carter, and Carter said, "No." He said, "I have -- I'm that close to having a --"


PERRY: " -- deal." And I was -- I could hear this over the other end, and I kept saying -- kept telling the president, "No, no, no. The planes are on the way!" (Laughter.) "Please tell them to get out of there." And what saved the day of what could have been a real fiasco was that about that time one of Cedras's military aides came rushing in and said, "General Cedras, the airplanes have just left Fort Bragg."

MCWETHY: So they were watching.

PERRY: They were watching. And five minutes later, Carter had a deal with Cedras. And so then the problem was could I get the troops, the airplanes, turned around in time? There's always somebody that doesn't get the word when you try to -- fortunately, everybody got the word that time; all of the airplanes got the word and they all returned back to base. And then the next day we did land from the aircraft carriers, but landed peacefully.

MCWETHY: The question, though, is when the U.S. replaces a government with another government, even when it is duly elected, how successful is our country in doing that, even in the best of circumstances?

PERRY: Well, in the case of Haiti, we had an advantage which we did not have in Iraq, for example --

MCWETHY: (Inaudible.)

PERRY: -- which is we had an elected government which we were trying to put back in, and which we did succeed in putting back in. Even so, our troops were necessary to maintain order for many, many months after that. In fact, even after -- we left after about six months, I believe it was, and the Canadians stayed in as peacekeepers. You needed -- you needed a peacekeeping force, even under those circumstances.

In general, though, I would say it is an enormous undertaking to try to impose a government on a country which is not disposed to have that government, and Haiti was about the easiest case we could have had and even that was very difficult and, I would say, not fully successful.

MCWETHY: Not historically, over the years.

PERRY: Historically.

MCWETHY: Well, in Somalia, of course, the U.S. had a withdrawal that was done well from a military point of view, but there were tremendous lessons to be learned from Somalia in peacekeeping, in attempts by the United States to do nation-building, and the U.S. intervening in a hot civil war. Can you just run over the lessons that our country learned from that period?

PERRY: The original mission in Somalia was simply to deliver aid to the Somali people.

MCWETHY: But it evolved, partly because of the Clinton administration --

PERRY: That's what the military calls "mission creep."


PERRY: The mission evolved into a nation-building exercise which was being actively resisted by a guerrilla group within Somalia which we now believe was probably inspired, among other people, by Osama bin Laden. We did not know that at the time. So we ended up in the middle of a civil war in Somalia, and President Clinton, after the fiasco in which the Black Hawk was shot down, decided that's not where he wanted to be and he pulled the troops out of there.

Now, one of the lessons, by the way, when you -- so one of the lessons is it's a very considerable undertaking to try to install a government where there's great conflict within the country about whether that government should be installed. And secondly, being in the middle of a civil war is not a good place to be, so we did -- we did get out of there.

I guess there was another lesson, too, which is a retrograde movement out of a country under hostile conditions is a very difficult military maneuver, too. We had a very tricky maneuver getting us out. Once we decided to get out of Somalia -- hat was the easy part of it -- the hard part was getting out without losing a lot of troops.

MCWETHY: Let me just -- we're going to open this up in just a moment here. One -- one question about Rwanda. There was a debate within the administration about whether or not to acknowledge that what the whole world was seeing was, in fact, genocide. A lot of that debate was at the State Department, but I can't help but believe that you were somehow involved in the discussion about how to address the issue in a limited military way, but also in a rhetorical way that bound the U.S., morally and ethically, to do things. Can you just walk us through that small period of history?

PERRY: Yeah. The only request I got as secretary of Defense was to pull the U.S. diplomatic and civilians out of Rwanda quickly, which we did and without any loss of life. I was never asked to even put a contingency plan for sending U.S. forces in there.

MCWETHY: It was a legacy of Somalia, probably.

PERRY: Yeah. President Clinton has said, since he's been out of office, that one of his greatest regrets, foreign policy regrets, is that he did not send troops into Rwanda. I can tell you it was never considered. I mean, as a minimum, I would have been asked to put a contingency plan together for doing that. It was never considered, and I think it was never considered because it was not politically feasible six months after Somalia.

MCWETHY: But the administration looked stupid when it was denying that it was, in fact, genocide. And Christine Shelly, who was the spokesperson at the State Department, on a series of days, just got her brains beaten out on that issue.

PERRY: Yeah.

MCWETHY: Did you ever weigh in on that?

PERRY: On whether it was or not

MCWETHY: Well, whether to acknowledge, which created a whole other series of moral and ethical mandates.

PERRY: I did not weigh in on that, no.


PERRY: We -- about two weeks after the main event had occurred, a new tragedy occurred which was a -- was underway, which was a cholera outbreak in the refugee camp, in which they were losing about 5,000 people a day, dying from cholera. And at this stage, I did go to the president and say, "We can send over the equipment, water purification equipment that will solve that problem immediately." And we were probably the only country that had the combination of the airlift and the equipment and the skilled people to do that. I said I'd like to do that, and he said okay, and we did it. But even that action, which was very minimal, I got -- we just did it. We didn't go to the Congress. But I got tremendous negative comments from the Congress for having done that, for having gotten involved in Somalia in a way

I mean, some of our people, we were -- we sent a company of engineers over. Some of them could have gotten -- (inaudible) -- gotten killed. We were taking a certain chance in doing that. But the Congress was very, very much down on that. So that one little incident makes it clear in my mind that there never was a possibility of getting seriously involved, the U.S. military seriously involved.

What could have been done -- and what I think it's to the shame of the United States that we did not do 00 we could have, through the United Nations, organized strengthening the peacekeeping force that was already there, instead of having them pull out. And that could have been done, and we did not, as I said, should have taken the lead in the United Nations in trying to do that and, as a minimum, providing at least the logistic and the air support to try to facilitate that action.

MCWETHY: Well, at this time, I'd --

PERRY: That might have made the difference. It might have made the difference.

MCWETHY: I'd like to invite the audience to join in the discussion. And just a couple of points. Number one, this is a History Makers session, so you can try and skirt that and get into more contemporary things, if you dare. But we try to keep it in that particular area. This is an on-the-record conversation today. And before you ask your question, if you would stand up, wait for a microphone to come to you, and identify who you are and where you're from, I think we're ready to entertain your questions. And we'll start in the back there. Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: Andrew Pierre, Georgetown University. Secretary Perry, you had a very successful stint as secretary of Defense, and you are also, as I see you, a reflective person. So I'd like to ask you if you could reflect a bit on lost opportunities, things that you might have done when you were in the Defense Department. And in particular, I'd like to -- perhaps in your answer, you might reflect a bit on two problems which were very much on your desk. First, the Framework Agreement with North Korea. Is there anything that the administration could have done at that time to assuage the Republican House or to deal within our political system in such a way -- or perhaps to renegotiate the agreement a bit, in such a way as to facilitate and have the Framework Agreement in place, in which case, of course, we would not have a nuclear-armed North Korea today.

And secondly, with respect to Iran, might it have been possible during your years at the Pentagon to engage in a dialogue with Teheran when there was a more moderate government -- at least certainly a more moderate president than we have today -- and avoided some of the problems that we have today in Iran, in particular, of course, an augmented nuclear program?

PERRY: I'll answer the second question first because it's an easy answer, and the answer is yes. I think there are things we should have and could have done with Iran in those days that we did not do. On the North Korea, it's a more complicated question.

First is you should be aware that, in my judgment, we came very, very close to a war with North Korea in June of 1994. We had drawn a red line over the reprocessing of fuel from their reactor, which would have given them enough plutonium to make about six bombs. And we thought the risk of drawing the red line was very real, but the risk of allowing them to have six nuclear weapons was, we thought, even greater. So we did draw a red line. And we're headed towards a confrontation, probably a military confrontation, with North Korea over that.

I was mobilizing the forces, and we'd already, even without fully mobilizing, we had sent several thousand troops over. I was literally in the Cabinet room, briefing the president on plans to send another 20 (thousand) to 40,000 troops over when the call from Pyongyang came in saying that Kim Il Sung was ready to negotiate and give up the reprocessing he was planning to do. I mean, literally in the Cabinet room making that briefing when the phone call came through. That's how close we came to a set of actions which might very well have precipitated a major war with North Korea. So that made a very profound impression on me.

Now, the -- when that call came through, there was President Carter saying that Kim Il Sung was ready to negotiate about not doing the processing, and proposing that such a negotiation be set up. Since we were all gathered and all of the National Security Council was in the room at that time, we immediately had a discussion about what we should do about that. And the conclusion was, the answer was no, we will not accept that proposal unless he agrees to freeze Pyongyang while we are talking. That was -- that was a key element in those negotiations.

MCWETHY: Freeze the nuclear program?

PERRY: Freeze the nuclear program. No action at the facility, at a place called Pyongyang, because we didn't know how long the talks could go on; they could go on three months, they could go on three years. In the meantime, if he was running the facility at Pyongyang he'd be making nuclear bombs. Incidentally, our lesson learned there is related -- when the Bush administration went into Six-Party Talks, my strong recommendation to them was that they make the deal on the Six-Party Talks to do freeze Pyongyang before the talks begin. They did not follow that recommendation. I think -- I'm not sure that North Korea would have agreed to at that time but I was certainly -- made a very strong attempt to get that done. So they did freeze it. The talks went on for four or five months, conducted by Bob Gallucci and reached a successful agreement.

Two things to say about that agreement. The first is I could have gotten a better agreement had I been sitting on both sides of the negotiating table, but I think Gallucci got probably the best agreement he could get given the circumstances. So I think it was a good agreement in that sense -- a realistic agreement. Secondly is that the agreement besides the tangible concrete items, like our supplying fuel oil in the North Korean to -- and South Korea and the Japanese building reactors and the North Korean freezing and agreeing to dismantle the facility once that -- the stages were reached in the reactor development. All of that was okay but in addition to that, there was a general set of agreements that we would start to reestablish economic and political relations with North Korea, and we had every intention of doing that. A funny thing happened though in -- between that agreement and being able to implement it which is a -- Republicans gained control of the Congress and --

MCWETHY: And what difference did that make?

PERRY: It meant that we -- the pressure -- their dislike of this agreement was so intense and the pressure was so intense to the extent that each year I had to fight and scrabble to try to get the tens of thousands of dollars necessary to provide the fuel oil, which is our part in that agreement. I never -- every year I doubted I was going to succeed in that. It was that difficult. But the real point was that we never -- the president really never undertook to try to do all of the other agreements -- the beginning diplomatic relations and beginning economic political discussions -- because he thought it was -- correctly thought it would be a nonstarter.

It was so -- the agreement was poison in the Congress, and I think that was probably what doomed the agreed framework -- not the technical things that were being done but the (absence ?) the follow-up on the political. Could we have done that? I don't know. I think my estimate even now are that the president and secretary of state were right in judging that we could not get enough support to try to really implement those. So in any event those were just dropped by us and by the North Koreans, and that might have made a big difference had we made more follow through on.

MCWETHY: Yes, sir? Hold on -- wait until the microphone arrives.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. My name is Roland Paul. I'm a lawyer. A long time ago I was a civilian officer in OSD. And thank you very much for excellent and clear answers to the questions, and then you may not be able to answer this question but because this is a -- you've mentioned that you had contingency plans for taking action against Iran had it been determined that they were responsible at Khobar Towers. In this unclassified session, what can you tell us about what those plans might have been -- I mean, in a very general way? What kind of punitive action might you have taken?

PERRY: It was conducting strikes at a number of their military facilities that would have weakened -- substantially weakened the Iraqis -- the Iranian navy and air force.

QUESTIONER: May I ask a follow-up question?

MCWETHY: Certainly.

QUESTIONER: Excuse me.

MCWETHY: Wait until the microphone arrives and --

QUESTIONER: Patricia Huntington, Network 20/20. Just a quick follow-up to that. Did you at the time consider any -- did you have any contingency plans for how Iran might retaliate, either directly or through its Hezbollah or Hamas or insurgency type of activities? Did you think through any of those scenarios?

PERRY: We thought through them but it would be an overstatement to say that we had a contingency plan for dealing with them. In particular, how would you deal with an increased terrorist activity by Hezbollah? That would be one of the most likely things I think that would have happened. So we recognized the danger. We would have taken, I think, some precautionary measures, but on balance even if you know -- even if somebody told us today that Hezbollah's going to conduct attacks on targets in the United States what would you do different is the question. Certainly from the military point of view there's not much you could do differently in that case.

MCWETHY: Way in the back.

QUESTIONER: My name is Steve Hellman. Mr. Secretary, you've mentioned at the beginning of your discussion that you had graded yourself on six fundamental issues. How'd you do, and what would you -- looking back in retrospect what would you do differently?

PERRY: On dealing with the loose nukes problem, we -- which was my number one priority -- we successfully removed all nuclear weapons from three new nuclear states, which are Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Just to put that in perspective, Ukraine had more nuclear weapons than China, France, and England combined. So that was a big undertaking. We did that in a four-year period -- three-year period. I'd give us an A plus on that one. I spent a fair amount of time trying to persuade India and Pakistan from taking their nuclear program and making it operational -- deploying it. I give myself a D on that one. The only reason it's not an F is because I did try. (Laughter.)

In North Korea, we successfully stopped their program for eight years. I'd give us a B on that one. The -- in terms of the Russian delivery systems, we dismantled hundreds of ICBMs, many nuclear submarines, and many bombers. One of the most surrealistic sights I ever saw -- when I visited the Engels Air Force Base and walked among the graveyard of bombers cut up in little pieces by equipment which we had provided them to do that cutting up, that was a very interesting experience.

Similarly, at the Severodvinsk submarine yard we went up to see there where they were sawing up the submarines. And perhaps the most interesting experience, though, was when I joined the Russian minister of defense and Ukrainian minister of defense, and each of us pressed a button -- there were three buttons in front of us -- which blew up an SS-19 silo at Pervomaysk. All of those were in the realm of trying to deal with the loose nukes and the proliferation problem. I feel very proud of what we did in that regard, except for India and Pakistan where we had a complete failure. The -- I feel very good about what we did to maintain the quality of the U.S. military. I give myself an A on that one.

MCWETHY: Although you were trying to downsize them at that point.

PERRY: We did downsize them, but the trick was -- I mean, the boundary conditions were we were going to have a dramatically decreased budget. How do you keep the quality of the force up in the face of a decreased budget, and the answer was instead of having a big force poorly equipped and poorly trained, have a smaller force well equipped and well trained. That was a conscious judgment that we made, and that worked out very well indeed. The -- in terms of preventing a Weimar Russia, for the first four years that worked pretty well. I'm very despondent today about the state -- about what's happening in Russia.

But the real -- the biggest single test we had there was getting Russia to join the Partnership for Peace, join the NATO council, and the last analysis sending a brigade of troops to Bosnia in an American division under the commander of an American major general. That was a huge step forward. The fundamental goal with Russia and the Eastern European states was to get them within the Western circle of security -- inside the tent instead of outside the tent throwing rocks at us -- and for at least four years that worked pretty well. I'm -- as I said I'm very unhappy about what's happening in Russia today, and between Russia and the United States today. That's a different issue, but it worked very well for a while.

MCWETHY: Yes, sir?

PERRY: Oh, I guess one other thing I'd mention is China. We started off on a policy of engaging from China, and I led a military delegation over there -- had very positive and constructive relations. And then they fired missiles off Taiwan in 1996, and I had to send carrier battle groups sort of to intervene in that. And I thought that was probably going to push really off track in our long-term relations with China, but in the last analysis about four or five months after we sent those carrier battle groups over there the Chinese minister of defense came to visit me in the United States and all was okay again. So that had its ups and downs. It still has its ups and downs with China. But it's -- I think we had then the view that we ought to have a cooperative relation with China, and I think we still have that view. I think this administration still has that view. And my complaint today is not that we don't have the right view about the importance of cooperation with China -- it is that we're not manifesting it by our actions. We have been distracted by other issues, namely Iraq, and not paying enough attention to what's going on in China.

QUESTIONER: I'm Ted Sorensen at Paul Weiss. Mr. Secretary, first of all, thank you for your public service and for the accomplishments that you have recounted, but also for the prudence and restraint you demonstrated on things that you did not do. My question is this. I gather from your reports, particularly on North Korea and Haiti,that former President Carter was useful to -- and viewed as useful by you and the president. Other presidents and other departments have not always viewed him as useful. How do you come out on -- or were there times that you found him a pain in the neck too? (Laughter.)

PERRY: I applauded then and I applaud now his actions in North Korea. As I said, I was looking to the prospect of a war with North Korea, and the call from Kim Il-Sung took us off that very dangerous path. It's arguable, I think, whether Kim Il-Sung would have found another way of communicating that message to us if Carter had not been over there. But Carter was there and he was the vehicle and he acted -- he followed up on that opportunity very, very effectively and very forcefully. So I give President Carter a lot of credit for North Korea. Others in and out of the administration fault him for that. I do not. I give him a lot of credit. But on the other hand, I was closer than anybody perhaps to what the alternatives we were facing were. So I was delighted when I got that call from President Carter.

MCWETHY: Yes, sir?

QUESTIONER: Thank you, Bill, for your wonderful always crystal and clear remarks. I'm Rodney Nichols. What difference did technology make to the Defense Department over your career?

MCWETHY: You're throwing --

PERRY: I'm -- no, I am a technologist so I love that question.

MCWETHY: He loves --

PERRY: When I was the undersecretary of defense in research and engineering during the Carter administration, I -- then our problem was maintaining deterrence and containment. And then by the mid-70s, we were looking at a Soviet Union that had three times the size of the armed forces that we had, which hadn't mattered much during the 50s or 60s because we had a great nuclear advantage. By the mid-70s, we thought they had reached parity with us in nuclear. So my challenge as the undersecretary of defense research and engineering then was to do two things -- modernize the strategic forces -- that's when we built the Trident -- new Trident submarine, the Trident missiles, the B-2 bomber, and the airlines cruise missile, all of which were very considerable accomplishments in a relatively short time, and did make a difference in sustaining our deterrence.

But more dramatically, I think, was trying to deal with the three-to-one disparity in conventional forces, and that's when we decided we could -- I hate to use the word transform our conventional forces by introducing technology, and that's when we did develop Stealth, developed smart weapons and smart sensors -- all of those things -- a package which we called the offset strategy -- to offset the numerical superiority of the Soviet Union with our technological advantage. That was enormously successful. Whether it had anything to do with the ending of the Cold War I will never know.

The only time we ever had a chance to test that was that -- that was the -- those were the systems that were basically in place the time we went into Iraq on Desert Storm, and they worked very well against Soviet equipment. So I think it was pretty successful. During the time I was secretary of defense, technology played a secondary role. We already had the most advanced technical army in the world. There was no need really to advance in that -- advances in that regard would not have made a fundamental difference in how we dealt with the problems we had then. That's the short answer to the question.

MCWETHY: Yes, in the back.

QUESTIONER: Jan Berris with the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Following up on Rod's question -- I know you love technology but I also know you love people, and you have a lot of wonderful people skills. So who are the people during your tenure as secretary of defense -- military or otherwise, foreign or otherwise -- that you most liked dealing with, and that you least liked dealing with? And who was the most challenging to deal with?

PERRY: The one that I most liked dealing with was my -- the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili. I was blessed -- I start off by saying I don't think a secretary of Defense can be successful unless he has a constructive synergistic relationship with his senior military, and I did with General Shalikashvili and I give him at least half the credit for that. So I was blessed with that and that was a very positive relationship. The most challenging relationship I had was with General Garchev (sic), who was the defense minister of Russia. He was the one I had to negotiate with to get Russians to put a brigade under an American division, which is very unlikely to ask in the first place, but it was -- but the task was compounded by the fact of who -- of my interlocutor on that. He was also the person we had to deal with to get Russian participation in joint peacekeeping exercises. By the end of the four years, we had come to be good friends with each other but it was a very rocky first year, I can tell you.

MCWETHY: How about your relationship with the president, and the way that he did decision making versus the way that you do decision making?

PERRY: They're very different.

MCWETHY: Yes. (Laughter.) Might be why I asked the question. (Laughter.)

PERRY: The president, President Clinton -- I suppose any president addresses problems, first of all, from a political perspective, both domestic political and geopolitical. I tried to think of geopolitical but I was also thinking more about strategic questions. So I can -- I've always approached problems from a strategic point of view and he would approach them from a political point of view and we -- sometimes it was -- it took a little bit of doing to try to get the two to intersect into a common course of action, I guess to put it politely.

MCWETHY: Politely. (Laughter.)

PERRY: But on balance I thought the relationship -- my relationship with the president was constructive, and the test for that is that he never -- on all important national security decisions he ended up making the decision I would have made. Whether I was -- whether it was because I was recommending that or in spite of that, I don't know. But he -- we always end up with the same judgment. An even better test is that this job is a job that I had, as I told you, Jack, that I had never wanted and never -- and turned down when it was first offered me, which the president knew. And the president also knew I was prepared to walk out the door any day that I was asked to do something that I thought I could not reasonably do. So I've -- I was never put in the position where I seriously considered resigning over what I was being asked to do.

There was once I came close to it, which was on NATO expansion. I was opposed to expanding NATO at the time that we did it because I was more and more concerned with the problems of Russia, and while I did not believe NATO expansion threatened Russia I was very well aware that the Russians were thinking -- threatened. It was a very delicate time in our relationship. In Russia for decades NATO had been a four-letter word, and now they saw NATO as being the -- in the vanguard of the forces that were challenging them and taking on as members former allies or even former republics of the Soviet Union.

I thought it was going to take a long time for Russia to get used to that idea so I wanted to go very much slower in the NATO expansion than in fact we went. And when I saw it moving at a pace faster than I wanted to move, I asked for and got a special meeting of the National Security Council where I presented the reasons why we should not move that quickly, and we had a long evening session, which I lost. I considered at the time maybe leaving over that, but did not. But I could see the arguments in favor of the NATO expansion. I just thought the timing was wrong.

MCWETHY: In the back -- yes, ma'am?

QUESTIONER: Mr. Secretary, thank you for your coming here and speaking so candidly today. Going back --

PERRY: I spoke candidly even when I was in office -- (laughter) -- which got me into a lot of trouble sometimes but --

QUESTIONER: Going back and --

MCWETHY: Judy, say who you are.

QUESTIONER: Judy Miller, a journalist. Going back and looking at the rise of al Qaeda, the shift of Osama bin Laden from the Sudan, where as I recall the argument was he was bottled up but not sufficiently back to Afghanistan, was there something more you feel you should have done at the time to stop that movement from taking root and from expanding?

PERRY: Judy, I'd have to say that during the first term of the Clinton administration where I was secretary of Defense, we did not see -- I and we did not see Osama bin Laden as a major factor -- a major consideration. It became clear by the second term that he was, and in retrospect you look back and see -- I say in retrospect when I look back I think he probably was the one that triggered the Khobar Towers, although I can't prove that. So we probably should have been more concerned about it at the time that we were but in the first term we did not see Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda as a major factor or one that we were concerned with.

We were concerned about various terror acts that were being taken including the Khobar Towers, but we had not pinned them on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, and we had not seen it as part of a general movement, which had -- became very clear by the '98 -- '99 period. The move -- for example, striking the al Qaeda base in Afghanistan occurred several years after I was out of office. I would have supported that move had I been in office but it was a -- that was not an issue at the time I was secretary. Our big issue then relative to terrorism was trying to deal quickly and effectively with the loose nukes problem, and the reason we were so concerned about that is we were afraid they would get in the hands of a terror group -- still are.

MCWETHY: Hasn't gone away. Yes, sir?

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, I'm Tom Culora. I'm the military fellow here at the council. Let me apologize up front. I was General Shelley's action officer on NATO enlargement so -- (laughter) -- you may remember me. The -- in light of your comments how do you think that all panned out? It was a lot of effort that went in to enlargement and getting the formula right --

PERRY: I'm sorry -- on what?

QUESTIONER: How did --

MCWETHY: NATO enlargement.

QUESTIONER: -- NATO enlargement now. How do you feel that whole process has developed? There was a lot of care that went into structuring that process, and now with NATO in its expanded role in Afghanistan and elsewhere how do you think --

PERRY: I think the first move to NATO expansion -- the one which I was opposing and trying to delay -- I think worked out very well. The second one also worked out okay. Now we're talking about expanding to Ukraine and to Georgia and that really gives me pause. I would not be doing that. That's part of our problem with Russia today but by no means the only problem. I think the problems with Russia are probably -- are primarily Putin and Russian-generated problems, not U.S. problems. But we aggravate them, I think, by talking about bringing Ukraine and then Georgia into NATO, and by moving forward with a missile deployment in Eastern European countries. Those are two different actions I think which aggravate a problem that does not need much aggravation.

The main -- there are two main positive developments of NATO in recent history. One of them was NATO's I think stellar participation into Bosnia. I think that was a casebook example of how an alliance like NATO can operate and operate effectively. And incidentally, we not only had NATO in there -- I mentioned briefly the Partnership for Peace which is sort of a -- affiliated with NATO -- they also -- the Partnership for Peace has also made important contributions to Bosnia. Now, we went into Bosnia with -- I think the U.S. forces were only about 40 percent of the total force there. There were three main sectors -- American sector, a British sector, and the French sector. So we were the leaders in Bosnia but we were there with less than a majority of the troops there. That's the way you ought to go into, I think, this kind of an operation. The second role for NATO is taking responsibility to go into Afghanistan. It should have been earlier, I think, and it should have been with U.S. leadership. But -- so I don't think we're doing that quite right, but the idea of NATO taking on that responsibility I think was right.

MCWETHY: We have time for one more quick question and we promise to get everybody out of here. Yes, sir?

QUESTIONER: I'm David Robinson. You've --

PERRY: Hi, Dave.

QUESTIONER: -- you've been involved in history going back but you've been recently involved in a couple of historic things. One is the Baker-Hamilton commission. The other is the initiative by George Schulz and Kissinger on long-term elimination of nuclear weapons. How are -- how do you think these have worked out -- or will work out --

PERRY: Yeah. Well, let me take the second one first. The -- about last October was the 20th anniversary of the Reykjavik summit, and we held a meeting at Stanford to explore the question of whether the ideas that Reagan and Gorbachev advanced at Reykjavik were valid ideas and ought to be pursued. Basically, they discussed at Reykjavik 20 years ago the idea of giving up -- eliminating nuclear weapons. Now, they could not reach an agreement and so the Reykjavik summit is considered to be a failure. But we said, "Let's go back and revisit the idea", and we did. We brought in many of the people who had been at that meeting. And the conclusion of that meeting was that the idea was a sensible idea and we ought to get back to it. And so one follow-on to that meeting was George and Sam Nunn and I and we got Henry Kissinger to join us -- wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal saying it's time to get back on the track of totally eliminating nuclear weapons.

Now, that op-ed has gotten a huge response surprising to me -- nearly all positive. The ideas that we were advancing are not new at all. I mean, many people for many years have been arguing for -- (inaudible). What was new is it was being argued by four Cold Warriors who had helped build up this arsenal. And what was also, I think, positive about it was that we laid out sort of eight steps -- here are steps we can take year by year to move toward that goal. We're having a meeting by -- our second meeting, by the way, at Stanford in October where we will work in some detail at laying out how those steps should go. And then there'll be a follow-on meeting a few months after that which we'll bring in international -- other nations to try to get them involved in the same pursuit. So that's in the very early stages, Dave, and I feel very good about it.

Now, back to the Baker-Hamilton so-called Iraq study group. I was -- I almost turned down joining that group. I was quite reluctant to take the time because I knew it'd be a lot of time, and I felt it would be kind of a waste of time, and in retrospect I think that's wrong. I'm glad I did it and I think it was not a waste of time. The task was to bring a bipartisan consensus on what could be done in Iraq to get that war ended really, and the key was on the word bipartisan. That's why they had both Baker and Hamilton as the co-chairmen. I can tell you the last five or six days when we were trying to reach that report was painful because everybody understood that for the report to have a chance of success it had to be bipartisan with no footnotes, but also everybody understand that meant accepting some things that they didn't really feel too good about.

I wrote the section on the military deployments, and I defended with some vigor the words I put into that, but I lost on a number of important occasions. One of the sentences I had written was that the United States will begin the redeployment of U.S. forces the first quarter of 2007 and have all combat forces out by 2008, except for rapid reaction forces that remains to deal with al Qaeda, but no more street patrolling -- no more of that. I thought it was a pretty good statement. Jim Baker and others could not accept that statement so we ended up after great debate the same sentence had been said would have, it says could have. Well, I understand the difference between would and could, but I also understood this was not a legal document or not -- wasn't a law. What I wanted to do is get that issue out on the table for open discussion in the country.

Now, where do we stand right now on it? There were three things in the report -- a assessment of the situation, a recommendation of the military, a recommendation of diplomatic action. On the assessment of the report, it was entirely successful. It was a very hard-hitting and no holds barred assessment that the situation is grave and deteriorating. Since that day there's been no more happy talk about things are just fine over there -- that the press is just reporting it poorly. So that -- to that extent, it was completely successful. On the military it was completely rejected, and this so-called surge was chosen instead. It's not really a surge, it's just a higher level of troop deployment. I think it was a mistake, I thought then it was a mistake and I still think it was a mistake. And I think that by September when General Petraeus comes back to report to the Congress it will become generally understood in the Congress it was a mistake and we'll maybe have new actions take place in the fall.

And then the diplomatic recommendations, which were entirely ignored, although now the -- we're having some discussions with Iran although not -- on Iraq although not on the subjects I think we should be -- talk with them about which is their nuclear weapon program in Iran. So we may be backing into the diplomatic recommendations right now. And now I believe that Secretary of State Condi Rice was in favor of doing that in the first place, and I think that now that Secretary Gates is in the job instead of Rumsfeld, there's support for doing that. Gates, of course, was on the Iraq study commission. He was one of the people that recommended that be done.

In the -- so why do I think my original judgment that this would be a waste of time was not right? Well, first of all, getting the assessment out to the public was important. And secondly, I think in September or October, if General Petraeus makes the report I expect him to be making to Congress, I think at that time we'll be starting to look for an alternative course of action, and the Iraq study group report will be there and I think will probably be -- the administration will go back to it at that time. We'll see.

MCWETHY: Mr. Secretary, on behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations and everyone -- just one moment. This mathematician, this quiet soft-spoken thoughtful man has again demonstrated why the leadership he provided in the Defense Department during those years was really profoundly moving for our country, and we were in really good hands when you were in there. Thank you very much on behalf of everyone.


More on This Topic