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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with George Stephanopoulos, ABC This Week

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
February 06, 2005 9:00 AM EDT

            GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:  We are joined now by our headliner, the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.  Welcome back, Mr. Secretary.

 

            DONALD RUMSFELD [Secretary of Defense]:  Thank you very much.  It’s good to be with you.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Let’s start with Iraq. In his State of the Union, President Bush said that American troops will leave Iraq -- he said no artificial deadlines -- he said they’ll leave Iraq when Iraq is democratic, truly representative, at peace with its neighbors, and able to defend itself.  Now, with neighbors like Iran and Syria, that seems like a pretty tall order.  Was the president trying to signal that American troops would have to stay in Iraq for several years?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  No. I think what he was saying -- he was basically repeating what he said when he went into Iraq, when he made that decision to go in, that’s what he said.  I think that in terms of “defend itself,” I think he meant internally.  And you’re quite right.  It would take some time for Iraq to have the ability to provide a sufficient deterrent against Iran.

 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Yeah.  He did so, though, “at peace with its neighbors.”

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  At peace with its neighbors.  That was one of the original statements he made.  But I think the condition that he’s referring to when he says the withdrawal of coalition forces is condition-based, as opposed to a timetable, what he meant was that the Iraqis’ internal security forces would be capable of managing the security situation inside the country.  They clearly -- it'll take some time after that before they would have the kind of capability to dissuade Iran, for example, if Iran decided to try to conduct a war with them again.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Let’s talk about those security forces.  There are a lot of numbers out there.  We all know the heart of the exit strategy is building up these Iraqi security forces.

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Exactly.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Secretary of State Rice said there are 120,000 trained at her hearings.  Prime Minister Allawi said 60,000-70,000.  At your press conference on Thursday you said 136,000. 

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  I’m correct.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  [Laughs] I have no doubt of that, Mr. Secretary.  But on the same day, General Myers was before the Senate Armed Services Committee and he said this, let me show you:

 

            GEN. RICHARD MYERS [Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff]:  All those numbers that are deployable around the nation to meet the most pressing needs, General Petraeus says 48 battalions, which is about -- and that’s police and Ministry of Defense battalions -- and that’s about 40,000 that can go anywhere in the country and take on almost any threat.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  So is it fair to say that right now there are only about 40,000 security forces who are capable of replacing an American soldier or Marine?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  I think this is not as complicated as some people seem to want to make it.  If you walked outside of this studio, you’d find a D.C. policeman.  And the D.C. policeman was trained to be a policeman.  And his job was to be a policeman, on the beat, outside this studio.  He was not hired to be able to move anywhere in the country at any moment of the day or night and be a commando.  So people are trained for different functions.  Some people are trained to guard the borders, some are trained to be the policemen, some are trained to be the regular army in conventional-type activities, still others are trained to be special police S.W.A.T. squads, or commando units, or counter-terrorist units.  There are probably 12 or 15 different categories. And the training is different, the equipment is different.  And so when someone is asked “how many can do X?,” you go to that list and you pull out that number.  And that’s what Dick Myers did.  He said there were 40,000 who are mobile, can sustain themselves, move anywhere in the country.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Well, then let me press the question.

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Sure.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  How long will it take to get enough of those various security forces to secure the country internally?  Our military analyst, Tony Cordesman, says it’s going to take at least through 2006.

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Well, it’s interesting to me that some people think they know that. Because it’s not knowable.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Why not?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Well, it’s not knowable for several reasons.  Number one, we don’t know what the behavior of Iran and Syria is going to be.  We don’t know the extent to which they’re going to be unhelpful or helpful.

 

            Second, we don’t know the level -- we don’t know the extent to which the political process is going to tip people away from supporting insurgency or being on the fence to supporting the government.  And we got a pretty good clue of that.  When you look at those photographs of people coming out to vote and seeing that each other feels the same way, that their neighbor felt the same way, even though they didn’t say anything, maybe.  But suddenly they see millions of people wanting to vote.  That can have a very healthy –

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: 

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Just a minute,.  Next, the money flow.  The people causing the trouble are a mixture of Ba'athists, who want to have a Saddam Hussein regime again -- Zarqawi-type Jihadists and suicide bombers, which are the most lethal, and criminals who are doing it for money.

 

            So if the money flow is restricted, there will be fewer of those people that’ll be attracted.  So what you need to do is have the economic progress, the political progress which is going forward in such good style, and that will determine the level of the insurgency and the level of the insurgency will determine the speed at which the Iraqi security forces will be capable of managing that level of insurgency.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  But those are a lot of “ifs.”

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Well, of course there – that’s life.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  So you can set no expectations for the American public right now?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Well, I can say this.  I can say that as the Iraqi security forces grow, as they’re growing, there are now 136,000 today.  I think it’s 136,065, we count them.  Now, some of those are well-trained. Some -- I mean well-experienced, they’ve been out there for a year and they’re battle-hardened, and they did a great job in Fallujah. Still others just came out and they’ve got one day on the job.  There’s another 15,000 currently in training.  So people -- this information is available.  People are trying to “complexify” it, rather than simplify it.  This is not tough stuff.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  You said you hoped that the elections are a tipping point.  As you know, many are skeptical of that, as encouraged as they were by the results.  And you may have seen this clip that’s working its way along the Internet.  It’s from September 1967, The New York Times:  “The U.S. Encouraged by 83 Percent Turnout in Vietnam.” Senator Byrd read that –

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Did he?

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  -- to the Democratic Caucus earlier this week.  I know you reject the Vietnam analogy.  But what do you say to people –

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Oh, I don’t  think it’s a perfect analogy, do you?

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Well, I want to get your opinion. I think that’s much more important than my opinion.

 

            MR. RUMSFELD: 

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  And why do you reject it?  What do you say to people like Senator Byrd who say -- who are worried that it may hold?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Well, I’m worried. Anyone has to be worried.  Anyone has to -- no one can predict the future with perfect certainty.  What we have to do -- we've said this is going to be tough stuff.  This isn’t easy.  You don’t go from a vicious dictatorship to a democracy on a featherbed, as Thomas Jefferson said.  This is difficult stuff. And these people in Iraq lived for 35 years under a terribly repressive dictatorship where they filled up mass graves all over that country, tens of thousands of people killed.  Anytime someone popped their head up, they were killed.

 

            Now, what happens over that time?  Well, pretty soon you get frightened.  And you don’t know how to conduct a political process.  And I just think that we can’t be certain, but we can be hopeful.  And I quite agree with you there are a lot of people who are skeptical.  They don’t think that -- "Oh, those people aren’t ready for democracy, that part of the world can’t handle democracy.”

 

            Well, I think the sweep of human history is for freedom.  And you look at what happened in Ukraine, you look at what happened in Eastern Europe, you look at what happened in Afghanistan.  You look at the Palestinian Liberation Authority.  And you look at what took place last Sunday.  There’s hope there.  Is it certain?  No, it’s not certain.  But it’s hopeful.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Let’s turn to Iran.  Several of us met with the president on the day he gave his State of the Union and it was clear to me from that meeting –

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  But it was clear that the president believed at least two things about Iran.  One, that they’re going to do whatever it takes to get a nuclear weapon, and two, that there are no good options to stop them.  Do you agree with that?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Is that what the president said?

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  I’m not allowed to say what the president said.  That was my impression after the hour-long meeting.

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Well, if that’s your impression and it’s accurate and that’s what the president said, then it’s probably right.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  But just on November 1st, he said that our position is that they won’t have a nuclear weapon.  He said that to Bill O’Reilly.  Is that United States policy?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  I think the president has spoken on this, Condi Rice spoke on it this week.  It is a matter for the president and the Department of State, and if I say something and move a comma from one place to the other, someone will say “ah, there’s daylight there.”  And the reality is that the president has said that he wants to approach this on the diplomatic path.  And he’s doing it.

 

            He has expressed concern about the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons.  Why does he express that concern?  He says because he believes that it could be destabilizing in that part of the world.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  But the question is can they be stopped?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Time will tell.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Let me show you something that Seymour Hersh wrote in The New Yorker a couple of weeks ago.  He reported that there’s a group in the Pentagon that believes a limited military strike would be useful because it would cause the regime to topple.  And he went on to quote a government consultant who said:  “The minute the aura of invincibility which the Mullahs enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability to hoodwink the West, the Iranian regime will collapse.  Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz share that belief, he said.”  Is that true.

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  That’s fiction.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Fiction? Completely untrue?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Well, it’s an -- first of all, it’s an unidentified consultant, not somebody –

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Well, that’s why I’m asking you if it’s true.

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Not somebody from inside the Department.  How in the world would anyone know whether Wolfowitz or Rumsfeld’s views were on this?   I say what my views are all the time.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Well, presumably they’ve talked to you.

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  It’s factually untrue that we talked to anyone and said anything like that.  At least for myself.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  But do you belief that a limited strike could cause the regime to topple?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Who know? Who knows?  I mean, I”ve been amazed many times in my life.  I was amazed at how rapidly the Shah of Iran fell and the ayatollahs took over that country.  It happened just seemingly like that, looking at it from outside.

 

            And you look at Romania.  When that fell, it was fast.  So we can’t predict these things.  We don’t have intelligence that’s that good.  I just don’t know.  I do know that there are obviously young people and women in that country who know what’s going on in the rest of the world.  They know how other people live.  I mean, Iran is a country of an important history, of intelligent people, industrious people.  And they have access to the outside world.  They can move in and out for vacations.  People from our country go in there and talk to them.  It’s not as though they’re in North Korea and don’t have a good sense of what’s taking place in the rest of the world.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Are there U.S. military operations going on in Iran right now?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Not to my knowledge.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  But you would know, wouldn’t you?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Probably.  But not to my knowledge.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Finally, you did mention those reformers in Iran.  The president spoke to them in his State of the Union address.  But if they rise up, what can they expect from the United States?  Military aid?  Money?  Or just moral support?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Look, that’s a matter for the president and it depends on a whole set of circumstances and it’s not something for others to opine on.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Let me turn you then to another subject.  Are you confident that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups have not obtained nuclear weapons or other nuclear materials?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  I have no information that they have.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  But are you confident that they haven’t?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  How could you be?  How can prove a negative?  If there’s anything we know it’s that our intelligence is imperfect, that it’s very difficult to know things that people get up every morning and try to keep you from knowing. 

           

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  So the idea that you can assert a negative is a very difficult thing and I don’t make a practice of it.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  But we do know -- we've learned even more this week about the network of A.Q. Khan.  We’ve learned more -- the Pakistani nuclear scientist -- we've learned more about North Korea perhaps giving nuclear materials to Libya.  Is there any greater threat to our national security than terrorists obtaining nuclear materials?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Certainly that would rank right up there.  I would also add biological weapons.  I think the -- nuclear weapons are more complicated to manage and deliver.  Biological weapons can affect people’s physical make-up that can affect people for another generation or two.  So nuclear weapons are not contagious, if you will.  Biological threats can be contagious and can spread quite rapidly.  So I would personally rank them right up there.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Finally, I know you’ve been doing a lot of these interviews this week.  You were on Larry King the other night and you said that you offered to resign twice to the president –

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  He asked me.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  I know, I’m just reporting, at the height of the Abu Ghraib scandal, and let me just show you the rest of that exchange.  Let me show our viewers.

 

            LARRY KING:  And if he had accepted, no regrets?

 

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

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  I just have one question on that. If what was happening could not be managed or dealt with from Washington, D.C., then why did you offer to resign?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Well, very simply.  I was Secretary of Defense when that happened.  And it seemed to me that the president deserved to have the option of deciding he might want someone else to lead the Department during that period.  It seemed fair to me.  My judgment -- I had to make my own judgment as to whether or not I was willing to stay if he wanted me to stay.  And my judgment was rooted in whether or not I thought I could be effective. And I did feel I could be effective.  But it wasn’t my judgment that was only important, it was his.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  But you didn’t feel accountable for Abu Ghraib?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Sure. I said that. I went before the Senate and said, “my goodness, it happened on my watch.”  Now, on the other hand, if secretaries of defense resigned every time someone did something they shouldn’t do out of the millions of people involved in the defense establishment, or a mayor or a governor -- something happened in their country, you wouldn’t have anyone in public office.

 

            So it’s a tough calculation. I sat down and wrote out a resignation and gave it to him and told him I thought he ought to consider it carefully.  I then, a week or two later, wrote another one and had a very long discussion with him about it.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  When was this?

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  It was, I think the first time was shortly after it happened in April, I think, late April.  And then he came over to the Pentagon, I think, in mid-early May and we had a long talk there.  And I told him I really thought he ought to carefully consider it.  But he made a conscious decision and there, life goes on, and here we are.

 

            MR. STEPHANOPOULOS:  Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

 

            MR. RUMSFELD:  Thank you.

 

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