CNN: Mr. Secretary, everybody agrees this was an historic event in Iraq. There was a palpable feeling in the country of jubilation. What was your reaction?
RUMSFELD: Courage. The fact that there were constant threats of death to people who worked in the election polling booths; threats of death to the security forces; threats of death to people who voted; graffiti that said "You vote, you die"; and yet the Iraqi people went out by the millions, the Iraqi security forces who have been belittled by, from time to time by people, did a wonderful job, a truly wonderful job. They were the security for these thousands of voting areas in booths and centers. And certainly the Iraqi people I just --
I think what it shows -- I don't know, it's too soon to know, but what it may have shown is something to us, and you characterized it, but more important I think it shows something to the Iraqi people. It said look, the fellow down the street agrees with you and the one across the street does. They hadn't said anything about it, but down deep inside they want freedom and they want a system that they can participate in and they don't want to go back and turn back the clock and turn their country back to Saddam Hussein or his killers or to Zarkawi and foreign jihadists. Once they looked at each other and saw each other responding that way it has to give them all a collective confidence in the future of the country.
CNN: So do you think Iraq has turned a corner? Is there, I hesitate to use the Vietnam phrase, but is there light at the end of the tunnel?
RUMSFELD: Oh, don't do that. You don't want to use that phrase.
Who knows? What happened was an amazing accomplishment for the Iraqi people. I think that 35 years of a repressive dictatorship can change people. It can affect their ethics and their morale and their confidence. It can impose a feeling of helplessness on them. Under Saddam Hussein if you stuck your head up and disagreed you'd be killed, so people learned not to disagree. And they learned to accept. And yet here they showed a collective and individual act of courage that was just breathtaking.
CNN: What does this mean in terms of how soon the United States will be able to reduce significantly its true presence in Iraq and when will all the troops be able to come home?
RUMSFELD: You know, obviously the answer to your question is not a month or a year, it is condition based. It's based on when the Iraqi government and their security forces can develop the capability, the capacity to provide for the security of their people.
We've been working very hard on it. There are over 130,000 Iraqi security forces in the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense. There's another 70,000 site protection people, so a lot's been done. We have a terrific team of people working on it at the present time.
The problem is not numbers, because there are lots of volunteers. The problem is not even equipment. The ones I mentioned are trained and equipped, 130-plus-thousand. The task, the more difficult task is developing the rib cage for the security forces, the non-commissioned officers and the junior officers and the majors and the lieutenant colonels; staffing the ministries with the kind of competence so that the chain of command works; developing the ability of the forces to gather and utilize and share intelligence information in an effective way.
CNN: Not to interrupt but --
RUMSFELD: Those are the things that make the difference.
CNN: So what does that say to the average American who wants to know when troops will start to come back? Do you hope to be able to reduce troop levels say by the spring or summer?
RUMSFELD: Jamie, every time somebody has thought it would be convenient to come up with something that they didn't know and they knew they didn't know -- that is to say the total cost or the date certain when something's going to happen -- in two, four, six, eight, ten months they look foolish. It's something of convenience for the moment. I don't do that. We don't do that. We know that it is condition based. It will depend on how fast the Iraqi people are able to come together, as they did on Election Day, and develop that capacity to provide their own security. They're doing it, they've made good strides, we're making good progress, and notwithstanding where you hear well, the Iraqi security forces aren't very good, in fact they did a very good job on election day.
CNN: We don't know yet the results of this election, but what if it turns out that the government it produces is not particularly friendly to the United States? Or asks the United States to leave before the U.S. believes Iraq is ready?
RUMSFELD: Well, why do we want to anticipate all of those things? The fact of the matter is we're there under a UN Security Council Resolution. The Iraqis that people talk to all indicate that their security forces are not yet ready to take over security for the country. Reasonable people in that country like to have security so one would think that reasonable people are not going to make the kinds of requests that you're suggesting.
I think it is important for the American people to understand this. The period now -- They're tallying the votes, and at some point between now and February 15th they'll announce the winners. Then they will seat the interim assembly, constituent assembly. Then that group, that's a period of uncertainty between now and the 15th of February. Then there's a period where that group of the constituent assembly selects a president and two deputy presidents, then a prime minister. Then the prime minister selects the ministry people for all of the ministries. Then they go into their positions and start getting organized. Now you're talking about February, March, probably into April. It takes time for it. Democracy is not efficient. It's the best form of government that anyone's ever tried but it doesn't do things in one second because it's not dictatorial.
So we're in a period where we're going to have to work with them and have them sort through and fashion an Iraqi solution to how they're going to manage their freedom.
CNN: Do you think the recent events in Iraq have proved your critics wrong? Do you think you'll be vindicated in your judgment about the direction that Iraq is going and where it will end up?
RUMSFELD: Well, I wouldn't want to hang it on the elections. I think what we've been doing has been right from the beginning. I think it is right today. I think that the great sweep of history is for freedom and that we're on the right side. We've had wonderful people out there doing a great job of training and equipping and helping the Iraqi people get on the path towards democracy. They're making those steps. It's not an easy path, it's a rough path, and there will be some terrible bumps in the road. It's a violent part of the world, let there be no doubt, and it's not going to be smooth sailing every day. But I think they're on the right path.
Look at Afghanistan. What a wonderful accomplishment. Twenty-five million people have been liberated. They've elected a president. They're now going to have parliamentary elections sometime in April or shortly thereafter. They're completing the so-called Bonn process. Has it been a perfectly smooth path? No. Is it ever smooth from dictatorship to democracy? No, it isn't.
I think people will find that basically the right decisions have been made.
CNN: Thank you, sir. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
RUMSFELD: It's always a privilege and an honor, Jamie.