Rumsfeld Tells Larry King About the Good Happenings in Iraq
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 20, 2004 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told CNN's Larry King that it's important the American people understand what a wonderful job the American military is doing in Iraq.
Rumsfeld appeared on King's nightly show March 19, the first anniversary of the Iraqi war's start. He talked about how well "these volunteers who serve in the Army, in the Navy, the Air Force, and the Marines, and the National Guard and the Reserves are doing for our country."
The secretary also talked about the Iraqi people, calling them tough, industrious and very straightforward and direct. "They look you right in the eye, they tell you what they think, they're proud of themselves, they're proud of their country, and of course their country has an impressive history, and I just think that all the ingredients are there," Rumsfeld said.
On the future, he stressed that the Iraqis "have a wonderful opportunity to make it and I hope and pray they will." He said the coming period of more transition will be "fascinating" to watch as it plays out.
"I think one thing we can say with certainty is that whatever they do, it will be an Iraqi solution," Rumsfeld said. "It won't be a cookie mold that's pressed down by the United States or United Kingdom or the United Nations or the coalition. Whatever they do, they're going to figure it out for themselves and it'll be something that's appropriate to them, and that's a good thing."
Looking back over the year, Rumsfeld observed he's surprised and happy that a humanitarian crisis didn't erupt throughout the country. There were no massive numbers of refugees as occurred during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. There wasn't a food or health crisis, dams were not broken to cause floods, and opposing forces didn't have time to set fire to a lot of oil wells, causing enormous environmental damage, he noted.
Since none of these things happened, the Iraqi people are a lot better off today, the secretary said. "The killing fields are gone. The mass graves are not having new bodies piled up day after day as happened under Saddam Hussein. The prisons have been changed and they are no longer torturing and killing people there. So it's been a good thing."
The secretary talked about the just-fashioned interim constitution that protects the rights of women and ethnic and religious groups. In less than a year, an overall governing council has been established, and the provinces and cities have governing councils. And plans continue to pass sovereignty back to the Iraqi people at the end of June.
"So a great deal has been done," Rumsfeld said. "It took much longer, for example, in postwar Germany after World War II. We've got a possibility here for a country that will have an Iraqi form of democracy that will be at peace with its neighbors."
He said the Iraqi people will decide how long American forces remain in Iraq. "We've met with the governing council the current people with responsibility and they've indicated that they do want us," he noted. "They recognize the fact that the coalition forces from our country and 34 other nations are important to providing security and seeing that the nation of Iraq is not threatened from external neighbors and also that the internal situation is reasonably secure.
"Now as Iraqi security forces continue to grow and they become better trained and better equipped, our hope is that they will then take over that responsibility," Rumsfeld said.
King asked Rumsfeld if he agreed with the Bush administration's statement that the reality on the ground in Iraq is more positive than is being portrayed in the media.
Rumsfeld responded by recounting other progress in the country from schools reopening, to hospitals and 1,200 clinics operating, to crude-oil pumping and electricity production back to prewar levels. "What's taking place, really, is impressive," he said, including "the energy that one sees in the streets with cars and satellite receivers for television and people bustling around kiosks."
He noted that the Iraqi people spent decades under a repressive political regime and also under an economy where they were told what they must do. "Suddenly, in this new environment, they can do anything that's within the law, so everything's been turned upside down and the energy that one sees is exciting," Rumsfeld said.
As to bombings and suicide attacks, Rumsfeld pointed out that there were killings in Germany during the World War II period and dissidents and remnants continued to try to disrupt things. Noting that Iraq is in a violent part of the world, he said many major cities in the United States and Western Europe are violent and have many homicides, roughly one a day.
He added he's excited about going from zero to over 200,000 Iraqis in the police force, civil defense, the army, border guards and in the site protection units. "They're providing security for the country now. There are many more Iraqi security forces than there are Americans or coalition forces, and they're doing the job.
"We don't report in the United States the extent to which Iraqi security people are being killed, but there are many more being killed than there are (in) coalition forces," he noted.
Rumsfeld said he isn't clear about what happened after the terrorist attacks in Spain and what effect it may have had. "The Spanish government has been a wonderful partner in the coalition," the secretary noted. "Their forces have done a superb job and certainly we are hopeful that they will stay.
"I've been struck, in fact very encouraged, that after the prime minister-elect made his statement about thinking the Spanish forces should come out, that country after country of the 34 countries that are in Iraq with their forces has stood up and said, 'Not us -- we're going to stay; we're going to stick,'" Rumsfeld said.