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NATO Military Chief; Rumsfeld and "The Unknown Known"; Imagine a World

Aired April 4, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the weekend edition of our program.

We begin tonight in Europe, a continent poised closer to war than at any time since the fall of the Soviet Union. And as NATO debates deploying more military assets to counter Russia's aggressive moves, we look back at a man whose failed legacy looms large over the projection of American power, Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense secretary who took America to war in Iraq is the subject of a new documentary film.

And I'll ask the Oscar-winning director, Errol Morris, the sober lessons to be learned from the man known as Rummy.

But first, the dire need to project deterrence today against any further Russian land grabs. General Philip Breedlove, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, gives a stark warning that massive Russian forces still poised on the Ukrainian border could move into Ukraine within just 12 hours of an order.

And what's more, he says, they are not just on exercises as Moscow claims. Faced with having to confront this aggression after Crimea's annexation, President Barack Obama in Europe last week tried to reassure nervous NATO allies around Russia, invoking the alliance's Golden Rule.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we will do always is uphold our solemn obligation, our Article V duty to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our allies.


AMANPOUR: But the allies want to see more muscle right now and General Breedlove is preparing military options, including sending them ground forces. He cut short a trip to the United States to return to Europe to deal with this Russia crisis and I spoke to him between meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels.


AMANPOUR: General Philip Breedlove, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining me today. I want to ask you first what is the evidence that you have of what Russian troops are doing at the border.

Have they pulled back at all, as President Putin promised?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE, SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER EUROPE, NATO: Well, yesterday we heard the first indications that there might have been a pullback, and yesterday we did not see any evidence of pulling back and we reported that to the ministers here in the first day of the conference.

Over the evening last night, we have seen one of the units moving. But I would not be able to characterize it right now as moving back or moving back the garrison for sure.

We have seen movement of one of the small elements of this very large force on the Ukrainian border.

AMANPOUR: When you say very large force, how many forces?

BREEDLOVE: Well, many people have estimates. Our estimate is the force is about 40,000 strong.

AMANPOUR: 40,000 strong. That is a lot of manpower and materiel there.

What do you think they can do with that and will do with that?

BREEDLOVE: 40,000 doesn't tell the story. This is a combined arms army with all of the pieces necessary should there be a choice to make an incursion into Ukraine, so supported by fixed-wing aircraft, rotary- wing aircraft, all of the logistics required in order to successfully make an incursion if they need it.

AMANPOUR: Do you think they will and, if they do, how long would it take them?

BREEDLOVE: I wouldn't hazard a guess of whether they would go. It's my opinion that they could move within 12 hours of a go. So essentially they could move right away if given the go.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe that they are just training? Are they on exercises?

BREEDLOVE: No, I do not. This force is a force built for an incursion into Ukraine if required.

I really see sort of three opportunities here -- one, for the force to sit at rest through this period of negotiation and possibly all the way through the presidential elections as a coercive force.

The second is the force may be used along the southern part of Ukraine in order to establish a land track to the forces in Crimea. And then it would have the option of carrying on into possibly Odessa or beyond and give them options there.

And clearly the forces that is assembled, if chosen, could be used for a limited incursion into a broader part of Eastern Ukraine.

AMANPOUR: There's also an issue with Moldova and Transnistria, that sort of mostly Russian region.

Have you been able to detect or are you worried about Russia moving in on that region of Moldova?

BREEDLOVE: If the forces along the southern part of the region were to move in to establish this land bridge on your map along the coast down to Crimea, it could easily continue along your map, if you look, to the Port of Odessa, and there -- if you just look, very close by is the Transnistria region, so clearly these are also options that this force could bring to the table.

AMANPOUR: General, I'd like to play a little snippet of what President Obama said in this regard, in the regard to NATO allies and other East European countries that may be at risk right now.


OBAMA: Today, NATO planes patrol the skies over the Balkans and we've reinforced our presence in Poland, and we're prepared to do more. Going forward, every NATO member state must step up and carry its share of the burden.


AMANPOUR: The president says we are prepared to do more. I know that you have AWACS, I know that you've increased air surveillance, but former colleagues of yours have said that it will really only be ground troops in NATO countries on exercises, sharing the burden there, giving a signal, that will deter and send the right signal.

Do you concur with that?

BREEDLOVE: Well, Christiane, let's put it this way. During this ministerial, we were tasked formally to bring to NATO a package of assurances that will be considered by the leadership of NATO. And we owe that, the military leadership owes that by the 15th of this month.

Inside of that package, I believe it's absolutely critical that we present both an air, maritime and land picture, because you're right, this is of great concern.

What is the component of the land piece that brings assurance to our allies? And we'll be developing that over the next several days.

I believe we already we have a very good plan for sustainable air; I think we have a plan that is coming together very nicely for sustainable maritime. And now the tougher discussion will be with our allies about what is that land component that will be the reassurance piece that carries us into this new paradigm.

AMANPOUR: Let me move on to Afghanistan, because that is where NATO is deployed so heavily and where NATO is going to withdraw at the end of this year.

Can you really do that safely, General, do you think, given the violence that we're seeing almost on a daily basis right now?

BREEDLOVE: Let me recategorize what you said.

You said NATO will withdraw at the end of the year. I do not think that is the case. I think you will see a very large ISAF combat mission change to a smaller but continued resolute support, train, advise and assist mission at the end of the year.

NATO's mission doesn't end; NATO's combat mission ends. But our train, advise, assist mission begins.

And this is very important to remember, and the NATO forces will be there to help train the Afghanis for at least another year, to get over some of the requirements which they're making great progress in now and eliminating those shortfalls in their capabilities.

AMANPOUR: So are you giving us some news then?

There is no bilateral agreement between Afghanistan and the U.S.

Are you thinking that it will happen in time to keep that residual force that you're talking about?

BREEDLOVE: I do, Christiane. There's a great commitment here to be able to arrange our forces such that we have the decision space to get to that time where we have an elected president. We have spoken with all of the leading candidates and every one is strongly in support of a BSA and a NATO SOFA and moving on into the resolute support mission.

So I'm a glass well over half full as it relates to these opportunities.

AMANPOUR: So were the political figures in the United States sort of blowing smoke up everybody's skirts, saying that unless we had a decision now and a SOFA signed right now by this deadline, there's no way we could have the margin in order to keep troops and to arrange for troops to stay in Afghanistan?

BREEDLOVE: Christiane, that is not the message that we're giving right now. The message we are giving right now is that we, as the military leadership, and General Dunford as the on-ground military leadership, have planned a drawdown that gives our decision-makers, both U.S. and NATO, that decision space to get through the election period so that we can get to an elected president, sign the required documents, and then move sharply into preparations for and then transition to the resolute support mission.

AMANPOUR: General Philip Breedlove, thank you very much indeed for joining me today.

BREEDLOVE: Thank you, Christiane, for the chance to speak.


AMANPOUR: And this weekend, Afghanistan holds a defining presidential election, the end of the Karzai era and high hopes for checking down on corruption and jumpstarting more democracy. Security, too, remains a critical issue. This year alone, brazen Taliban attacks on restaurants, hotels and other public places among the deadliest since 2001, have taken a devastating toll.

When Donald Rumsfeld presided over America's war in Afghanistan after 9/11, the world was mostly on side. America was going after Osama bin Laden and the Taliban for attacking its homeland.

But a few years later, United States waged a war too far in Iraq. It turned out to be based on a false premise and it ended in a debacle that haunts the United States to this day. More than anyone in the Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld was the face of that war. And so all these years later, what did film director Errol Morris learn about Rummy when he agreed to be grilled? The answer will surprise you when we return.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Donald Rumsfeld is one of the most controversial figures in recent American history. The Defense secretary's tour de force press conferences made him a rock star after the September 11th attacks. But the catastrophic consequences of America's war in Iraq still hobbles U.S. foreign policy to this day.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was front and center not just drumming up momentum for a war based on a false premise, but crucially after crushing Saddam's forces in 2003, failing to provide the troops or the materiel to win the peace and the violent debacle in Iraq continues to this day.

Director Errol Morris knows a thing or two about controversial American Defense secretaries. "The Fog of War," his film about Robert McNamara and the Vietnam War, won an Oscar in 2004. And now Morris trains his lens on Rumsfeld in "The Unknown Known." And we start by playing the notorious part of that press conference that gave this film its title.


DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Reports that say there's -- that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know.


AMANPOUR: Errol Morris, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Do you think you've got anywhere close to pinning him down in this film?

MORRIS: I do. But not in any traditional sense. I think -- I hope that something about Donald Rumsfeld that we did not know is revealed in "The Unknown Known," that we have learned something new about him.

AMANPOUR: What would you say that is?

MORRIS: That the essence of Donald Rumsfeld is about saying nothing and convincing people -- this is the amazing part -- convincing people he actually is saying something.

We should never forget that that reply in a Pentagon press conference came in response to a very specific question from Jim Miklaszewski, the NBC News Pentagon correspondent. He asked Donald Rumsfeld, what evidence -- he used the E word -- what evidence do you have for the presence of WMD in Iraq?

And the answer was, well, there's the known known, the known unknown, the unknown unknown. You might call it the gobbledygook non- answer to a very specific, direct and very important question.

AMANPOUR: Indeed, and a question that shaped the direction of a war and has shaped America's direction in the world ever since.

So let me ask you this, when you asked him about the torture memos, he was not as garbled, but he was very evasive and I'm going to play that. And of course this is about the justification for very harsh treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. I'm going to play this clip from your film.



RUMSFELD: Well, there were what? One or two or three. I don't know the number, but there were not all of these so-called memos. They were mischaracterized as torture memos, and they came, not out of the Bush administration per se; they came out of the U.S. Department of Justice, blessed by the attorney general, the senior legal official of the United States of America, having been nominated by a president and confirmed by the United States Senate overwhelmingly.

Little different cast I just put on it than the one you did.


AMANPOUR: You know what, when I see that, I still am gripped by this, you know, in amazement that he appears continually to be in denial and most especially sloughing off any responsibility. How he could say that the Justice Department is not part of an administration, how did you take that?

MORRIS: What constantly amazed me is here is a man who has a central role in the history of our time and who doesn't seem to be on any deep level engaged by that history.

Is that possible? That's the mystery at the heart of "The Unknown Known," can someone be this powerful in a position of such importance and yet not get it, period?

AMANPOUR: You obviously come at Donald Rumsfeld with a very strong political view in any event.

Do you think you gave him a fair hearing?

MORRIS: The view which to be sure I had going into the interviews was changed by the interviews. Everybody wants to imagine that someone is in control and I was left with an appalling image of a man interested in selling something but not really clear about what he was selling.

Do I feel I was fair? I make these movies because at heart I'm an investigator. I want to learn something I didn't know going into it or why bother.

And I did. I learned that here is a man, extraordinarily ambitious, a man who came very close on a number of occasions to becoming President of the United States or Vice President of the United States but a man so glib and possibly so shallow as to be frightening. I call it a horror movie and it's the best description of this movie I've been able to come up with.

AMANPOUR: Again, these are amazing things to hear you say. And this is not the first Defense secretary who you've confronted and not the first massively unpopular war that you've had to get your camera to focus on.

How different was Rumsfeld from your last subject, and that was Robert McNamara, Defense secretary during the Vietnam War?

MORRIS: Couldn't be more different, absolutely different. McNamara, a man who was deeply reflective, in agony about the role that he had played as Johnson's Secretary of Defense during Vietnam; Rumsfeld absolutely unreflective, unapologetic, convinced of his own correctness, his rectitude, a man ultimately extraordinarily pleased with himself.

AMANPOUR: Did he like this film?

MORRIS: He saw four versions of it, as I was editing it. He had no control over what went in and what came out of the movie. There were things he liked. I was the recipient of quite a number of Donald Rumsfeld memos, snowflakes, with bullet points outlining what he liked and what he didn't like about "The Unknown Known."

AMANPOUR: Tell me a little bit. Just one of the amazing things you learned in those memos.

MORRIS: I learned that he really didn't know what was going on. Often the memos have the effect of saying everything in the hope that at least part of it might be correct.

The history of Donald Rumsfeld is a history of endless contradictions, often contradictions that he says without even knowing that they're contradictions. That's just, to me, the amazing part.

He can say in order to avoid going to war we should prepare for war. But in preparing for war, we can actually bring on war. Almost as if everything leads to war. It really doesn't matter.

AMANPOUR: Maybe in another world, it would be -- it would have been a comedy act, if it wasn't so serious.

MORRIS: It's a grim comedy act. At times this is a strange, absurd, I would even go so far as to say funny movie, save for the fact that so many, many, many lives were taken, so many lives at risk. I love America. I'm proud to be an American. I would like to think that our country could do better than this.

AMANPOUR: Errol Morris, on that note, thank you very much indeed.

MORRIS: Thank you very much for having me on this morning.


AMANPOUR: And coming up, chaos in the aftermath of the Iraq War continues to haunt the region, pumping oxygen into the bloodbath across the border in Syria. But light can shine in the darkness and a certain British playwright who celebrates his 450th birthday this month has come onto the stage, Shakespeare in the sand, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where an ancient tragedy gives hope to Syria's tragic generation today; 150,000 of them, including 60,000 children, have taken refuge in the Zaatari camp in Jordan. Many have lost their families, orphans of a civil war without end, and exiled to tents and trailers without schools or purpose or even just plain fun.

Now enter Shakespeare, stage left, where a new tent and new opportunities take the stage. One hundred refugee children have been transformed into a troupe of actors and last month they presented their unique version of Shakespeare's epic "King Lear."

Young people who had spent countless hours in the sun and cold, fighting the boredom and the temptations of a refugee camp, grasped wooden swords and homemade crowns to bring Shakespeare's tale to life, a tale they know all too well, not from books, but from their own miserable existence.

Bashar al-Assad plays the king in this drama, who recklessly divides his kingdom and comes to regret it. Lear's daughters, who, like the warring factions in their homeland, betray each other for a scrap of land and yet the transformative power of theater is not unique to Syria's refugees.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Not Broadway, there I saw it for myself, during the Bosnia War of the 1990s, when a production of the antiwar musical, "Hair," became a smash hit in the besieged city of Sarajevo. And in that same beleaguered place, the renowned American intellectual Susan Sontag directed a production of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," which perfectly captured a people's longing for hope.

"Nothing will come of nothing," said King Lear. But from the nothingness of war, the theater offers more than escape. It offers a glimpse of a better world.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.