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Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Live Interview with CNN Larry King

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
February 03, 2005

            LARRY KING: Tonight, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, why he submitted his resignation to the president twice. And when might U.S. troops be coming home from Iraq?  And then, Dr. Phil is back, keeping it real and taking your calls as only he can. They're both next on LARRY KING LIVE.

            LARRY KING: It's a pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Sorry we couldn't be together in person, but the miracle of satellite produces it. He remains on in the Bush cabinet.

            By the way, are you going to stay the whole four years? Is that it for you? Are you going to carry on?

            DONALD RUMSFELD: You know, we never discussed that when I met with the president and he asked me to stay on. My wife, Joyce, however, said -- she said, "You're going to know when to quit. And that's when you start trimming." And I haven't started trimming yet, Larry.

            KING: Trimming meaning?

            RUMSFELD: Oh, being something other than yourself.

            KING: Really? In other words, like sleeping late?

            RUMSFELD: No, no. Nothing like that. No, I think she had in mind that sometimes people in public life end up altering their behavior to fit what they think to be the circumstance. And my wife's attitude is life's too short for that, so you're -- either you're yourself or you go do something else.

            KING: How do you explain, by the way, being successful all your life in business and public life and at the same time always being direct?

            RUMSFELD: I don't know. But I do tend to be direct, and I think I owe that to people. I would feel very uncomfortable getting into a mode where I had to try to be clever.

            KING: Let's get into some things. What about this whole Iraq operation, frankly, surprised you, beginning to end? Beginning to now?

            RUMSFELD: Well, I guess, you know, no plan ever survives the first contact with the enemy. We're up against enemies that have brains, and they watch what we do and they change what they're doing to try to take advantage of what we're doing. And of course, we do the same thing.

            So what you can do is fashion plans and look at all the things that you could anticipate that could do -- be done some way other than what you expect. And then fashion a plan that has excursions so that you can adjust to all of those things.

            Now, clearly the war lasted -- the major combat operation lasted a very short period of time. General Franks did a superb job, and his commanders were highly successful.

            One of the things that didn't go right was we were not able to get the 4th Infantry Division in from the north through Turkey. And because of that, the Sunnis north of Baghdad never really got engaged in the war and an insufficient number were captured and killed in that part of the country. And they didn't really ever experience the full power of the United States military.

            And they, in many instances, today are the ones that are fomenting this insurgency that exists in Iraq. So that and the fact that we couldn't get that division in from the north was unfortunate, in my view.

            KING: So would you say that the insurgency has surprised you somewhat?

            RUMSFELD: It has clearly been at a level that has been more intense than had been anticipated.

            KING: The prisoner abuse scandal, which seems to now have had some people admitting it, will we -- is there a possibility that could occur again? Have we put the Band-Aid on that?

            RUMSFELD: Well, you know, when something that terrible happens, it tends to not happen immediately thereafter. People are so sensitized to the wrongness of that kind of abuse that it's less likely to happen for a period of time.

            Now, it was just startling to all of us, and yet there it was. Some people in our custody were not treated properly, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the judicial process is proceeding. And any number of people have now pled guilty to

            KING: Was there ever a time during that period when people were raising, screaming about Donald Rumsfeld, that you thought, "Maybe I ought to hang it up. Maybe I ought to -- the buck stops at the top"?

            RUMSFELD: You know, it does. If you're in charge of a large organization, and something like that occurs, and of course in an organization -- the problem is this kind of thing occurs in prisons across the country and across the world. And you have to know it's going to be a possibility. And therefore, the training and the discipline and the doctrine has to be such that you anticipate that risk. And clearly, that wasn't done to the extent it should. I mean, the fact is, Larry, I submitted my resignation to President Bush twice during that period and told him that I felt that he ought to make the decision as to whether or not I stayed on. And he made that decision and said he did want me to stay on.

            KING: And if he had accepted, no regrets?

            RUMSFELD: No. Indeed, no. You know, the -- what was going on in the midnight shift in Abu Ghraib Prison halfway across the world is something that clearly someone in Washington, D.C., can't manage or deal with.

            And so I have no regrets. I think that we have a wonderful team of people in the Department of Defense. We have good people. We've made a lot of corrections to make sure that those kinds of things happen -- either don't happen again or are immediately found out and limited and contained.

            KING: Does those elections last Sunday, which you praised this morning and are so happy about, and the president, does that mean that half this battle is won? How far along are we on a scale of bringing the boys home, and the women home?

            RUMSFELD: Well, the goal is to stay there as long as needed and not one day longer. And that means that Iraq has to be on a path towards freedom and democracy and a system of government that's respectful of the people, the diverse elements within the country and at peace with their neighbors.

            And that means that the Iraqi security forces have to be sufficiently capable that they can ensure the security in that country. And we are well along in that process. I feel very good about the fact that we've made such good progress in training and equipping

            If you think about it, on election day, the Iraqi security forces provided the first ring and the second ring of security around 5,000 polling places across a country the size of California.

            KING: Who will be, Mr. Secretary, the determiner of when those conditions are met? Because you once told me if the government says go, we go.

            RUMSFELD: Absolutely. And of course, the government's saying quite the contrary. Has been, and I'm sure when the individuals who just ran in those breathtakingly wonderful elections, when they are seated in their constituent assembly, I suspect that they'll recognize the reality that the coalition forces have been the forces that liberated 25 million people in that country, the forces that are there to assist them, develop their own capacity, and that we have no interest in staying beyond any time we're welcome.

            KING: But we won't put a timetable. Would you say it's going to be a while?

            RUMSFELD: Well, you can't put a timetable on it. I wish I could. I'd dearly love to be able to tell the American people that on this date certain, we will have accomplished it. But the problem is, there are too many variables.

            The question is the level of that insurgency, how -- to what extent do Iran and Syria not cooperate and make the insurgency worse? To what extent do the people who were elected fail to reach out to the Sunnis and bring them into the government so that they have a single country? Those variables will make a difference.

            We know roughly how fast we can train and equip Iraqi security forces, and we have a schedule. And it's moving along very successfully. But it's the combination of the two, the competence of the Iraqi security forces, coupled with the intensity of the insurgency that's going to make the difference and determine when we can actually move our troops out.

            KING: We'll be back with some more moments with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.

            KING: We're back with Secretary Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, how about our armored vehicles? Are things improved?

            RUMSFELD: Well, they've improved enormously, Larry. I've talked to General Casey about it this week, and he tells me that by February 15, there will not be a vehicle moving around in Iraq anywhere outside of a protected compound that does not have the appropriate armor. They have put an enormous effort into it. Flown in people who could do the welding and flown in the steel to be attached to various vehicles.

            And they've done something that is most unusual, they have provided force protection in a country and in an insurgency where there is no forward edge of the battlefield. You know, in an insurgency you can have an explosive device anywhere at all. It's not as though there is -- some people are in front of the battle -- line of battle and some are behind it, safe, there is no line of battle in an insurgency.

            So they've done a wonderful job, the military has.

            KING: What are your concerns about Iran?

            RUMSFELD: Well, you have a country that's ruled by a small handful of clerics. And the -- it's not a stable situation in that sense. I mean, you've got women and young people who know what's going on elsewhere in the world. They see what's happening in Afghanistan where 25 million people have been liberated and women stood in line to vote.

            And instead of using the soccer stadium to behead people, they're using it for soccer. And people can come and go as they wish. Now they what's happening in Iraq, here is a country so many people said, it's a quagmire, that they -- those people aren't ready for democracy or freedom. They're too used to a dictatorship. And, yet, they went out and voted.

            And the neighboring countries are going to look at that, not just Iran, but Syria and other countries are going to look at it and think to themselves, isn't that an interesting thing that's taking place in our world? And you know, if you look back over history, the great sweep of history is for freedom. And we're on the side of freedom.

            KING: And you think that will spread?

            RUMSFELD: I think it will. Repression works, there's no doubt about that. I mean, you think about how long the Soviet Union was able to subjugate those various republics, for decades and decades and decades.

            But the wonderful thing that I saw about Iraq last Sunday was the people went out to some of the polling places, and they stood around, they didn't vote. They watched to see what their neighbors and other people were going to do. And an hour went by and two hours went by. And of course, on the walls it said, "you vote, you die," where the Zarqawi people were threatening them.

            But finally some woman, I'm told, over 70 years old, said, I'm going to go in and vote. She walked in to vote and all the other people started coming in. And what those people saw was that despite 35 years of a vicious dictatorship, they still had courage. They still were willing to take a chance. They still had that natural human desire to be free.

            And I think it gave each of them more courage to know that there are other Iraqis, millions of other Iraqis, share their same desire for freedom.

            KING: Are you going to go there again soon?

            RUMSFELD: Yes.

            KING: How soon? Does it have to be a surprise? They can't announce when you go, right, I guess?

            RUMSFELD: Yes, I normally don't announce when I'm going. But I go frequently, as you know.

            KING: Tell me about this anthrax vaccination that's picking up again for men and women in service, why?

            RUMSFELD: There still is the risk of anthrax. It is possible that you can deal with it prophylacticly with a series of shots. We had an authorization to go ahead and do that. And most people who were at least at risk of being in an area where they might be vulnerable to the anthrax began that process. A number of them finished the process. And then there was a legal step taken that delayed that.

            And then I'm told that the Food and Drug Administration provided an emergency authority that on certain circumstances they could proceed. And it's a matter that is being worked out with the lawyers. But it's just a prudent step.

            KING: There were stories through the years of Colin Powell about a rift. You've always been direct with us, is any of that true?

            RUMSFELD: Look, I've known Colin Powell since I was secretary of defense and he was a colonel. And he is an enormously talented man. He's got a fine brain. He's got a lot of ability. He's about as articulate as anyone you'll ever meet. And he cares about the country.

            And he, in his role as secretary of state, and me, in my role as secretary of defense, represent big institutions. And those institutions have different perspectives on the world and different perspectives on policies. And that's a healthy thing.

            And the President wanted those discussions and debates to take place. He is a president that has got a lot of confidence in himself and in our country and in listening to different views.

            My relationship with Colin Powell has been uniformly cordial and professional and I consider him a friend.

            KING: So even with debates, no acrimony.

            RUMSFELD: No, indeed. Now, down below three layers you have people who say things and do things that cause that impression to develop. But no, on a personal basis, we've had a lot of good times together and certainly agreed more often than we disagreed...

            KING: How did he get along...

            RUMSFELD: ... and when we disagreed...

            KING: I'm sorry...

            RUMSFELD: Disagreed it was not disagreeable.

            KING: How do you get along with Secretary Rice?

            RUMSFELD: Very well. She is also a very bright person and knowledgeable. She also is, of course, very anxious to be supportive of President Bush and she's very close to him. I had lunch with her yesterday and we talk every morning and sort through a whole set of issues, just as she and Colin and I talked every morning at 7:15 to work through a series of issues and had lunch once a week.

            KING: Will she do well?

            RUMSFELD: I think so. I think she is going to be a very good secretary of state. She is a person who has always been an achiever, whether it was in music or education or her discipline -- the old Soviet Union -- she has always been a person who has excelled. And I don't doubt for a minute that she will excel in this new post.

            KING: Now tell me, I -- most officials wear the flag. What's in your lapel?

            RUMSFELD: Well, I'm wearing the "Support Our Troops" symbol, "America Supports You." And...

            KING: Is that that Web site?

            RUMSFELD: It is. It's the Web site, and I think it's americasupportsyou.mil. And...

            KING: Yes, I have -- I see it here.

            RUMSFELD: It's a wonderful opportunity for people to go to the Web site and find out all the fabulous things the American people are doing to support our troops.

            KING: It's called americasupportsyou -- all one word -- .mil, M- I-L, "details what people have done to support the military, what you can do at home, features response from military people about the support they've received and it's an official Web site of the Department of Defense."

            How new is this?

            RUMSFELD: Very new. It has been within recent weeks.

            KING: Secretary, as always, good to see you, next time, in person.

            RUMSFELD: Thank you very much, Larry, it's good to be with you.

            KING: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. When we come back, Dr. Phil, hey, there's a quinella (ph), don't go away.

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