Q: It’s 25 minutes before the hour and your healthy radio addiction. I’m delighted to have with us now the Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld.
Hey, Mr. Secretary.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Greetings. It’s good to be with you.
Q: It’s good to have you back. And we’ve been following all that the Pentagon is doing to encourage men and women across the United States and children to reach out and support the troops at Thanksgiving time. And we’re linking up on the Web site, this new DoD program which is America Supports You. And tell us a little bit about that.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I’ll finish the Web site address for you. It’s Americasupportsyou.mil – m-i-l -- and it is terrific. We’ve got these wonderful young men and women all across the globe and in Iraq and Afghanistan and serving their country and putting their lives at risk and this Web site provides information about all the things that are being done across the country. It’s a nationwide program, has ways that people can support the men and women in uniform and to communicate that support for them. So it’s a wonderful thing. And of course, with Thanksgiving coming and all those folks away from home, it’s seems to me it’s a particularly appropriate time for us to be encouraging people to do that.
Q: And by the way, we want to make it to Iraq at some point over the next couple of months, so we’re going to be trying to coordinate with you folks at the Pentagon and try to figure out a way that I can get there and meet with some of our troops and maybe even doing a show over there, so it’s something that we wanted to do for a long time and so we’re going to be trying to do that, as well.
We just think of the troops every minute of every day during the year and especially at the holidays. We just need to do that, especially with all this NBA nonsense that’s happening with people attacking other people in the stands and we like to think of the Pat Tillmans of the world and the great memories of all these sacrifices of people like Pat Tillman have made for our country.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Exactly. We’d love to have you go over there and I know they’d love to see you over there and we ought to find a way to do that.
Q: One thing that is confusing, I think, to a lot of people out there who are trying to follow day by day the great work our men and women are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world are the troops levels question because the other day on Meet the Press – I’m just going to play a very short clip for you -- John McCain was asked by Tim Russert about the issue of troops levels. Let’s listen.
[Begin audio clip]
SEN. MCCAIN: We still need more troops.
MR. RUSSERT: More American troops.
SEN. MCCAIN: I’ve said that for – since a year ago last August.
MR. RUSSERT: How many more do you think we need, Senator, in all honesty?
SEN. MCCAIN: I would say at least 40 or 50,000 more.
[End audio clip]
Q: Mr. Secretary, 40 or 50,000 more troops -- what’s he getting at here?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, there is an interesting debate -- appropriate debate and dialog that’s taking place in the country about what is the appropriate level of forces in Iraq at any given time. And we have the generals -- Gen. Metz, who’s the tactical commander and Gen. Casey, who’s the senior military commander in Iraq and Gen. Abizaid who is the Central Command commander -- and they review this every month and make their recommendations to Gen. Myers and Gen. Pace and ultimately, to me and the president. From the very beginning, they have made their recommendations. The numbers fluctuated. It was a high of 150,000 at one point. It was down to 105,000 at one point. Currently, it’s about 140,000 in Iraq.
Now what’s been changing, while that number is today 140,000, we are increasing that number. We’re increasing it in two ways. Number one, the Iraqi security forces have gone from zero up to about 115,000 and they’re now participating fully in the war. And in addition, we’ve made a decision to overlap our forces because we expect an increase in the intensity of attacks between now and January 30th, when the Iraqi elections take place. So we’re going to have an overlap of our forces and maintain a somewhat higher level than the current 140,000 during the period between now and January 30th, with the elections. But you know, there are people who have different views and they’re columnists and editorial writers who say it should be this and members of the House or Senate. And as it happens, the generals who spend full time thinking about this, analyzing this -- this is their jobs -- have recommended the number we have. Now that doesn’t meant that they’re right and everyone else – and a few other people who have different views are wrong, but you have to put your bet on somebody and, frankly, I think that Gen. Abizaid, Gen. Casey and Gen. Metz are right.
Q: As our Fallujah operation rolls down – and I know their troops are going still house to house to see if there’s any infiltration back into Fallujah. But Mosul was very difficult over the last few days and a Sunni cleric who said he was going to boycott the elections, he was found slain, other Iraqi security officials slain. Do we have enough of these Iraqi forces trained? I mean, they wanted 270,000 for these elections on January 30th. Now we have about 120, 130,000 or so trained?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I think the numbers game is interesting and not unimportant. But of course, what’s really important is the capabilities of the forces. And the numbers you cited are numbers that now are fully trained and fully equipped whereas earlier on, some of the numbers reflected people who were doing cite protection and that type of thing and were not as well trained or equipped.
The other thing is leadership and morale. The big test in getting the Iraqi’s forces up to speed has not been getting recruits or even buying equipment. The real test is the soft stuff. It’s the non-commissioned officers, it’s the junior officers, it’s the senior ministry officials and the leadership cadre there. And it’s the rib cage of an organization that determines how it’s going to function under stress in battle. And our people out there who are working with them believe that those softer elements, the non-numerical elements are, in fact, taking hold and were getting traction, so they feel better about them.
Q: And right now, how do you envision our forces working with the Iraqi security forces at the election? Would our forces be out of sight and the Iraqi security forces, front and center, uniform, visible? How is that going to work?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes. You’re quite right. We do not think it’s probably a great idea to have a large physical presence of coalition forces near election areas that, in fact, it should be Iraqi forces to the extent possible. But I think the answer to your question is it’ll vary. Over the period ahead -- on the day of the election, we want to have as little a U.S. coalition face as possible. But between now and election time and thereafter, in some instances, the Iraqis will have total responsibility. In some instances, we’ll be doing joint patrols together. And in other instances, the U.S. will have to go in and take action in some specific place because of the complexity of the task, so it’ll vary.
Q: Right now the scuttlebutt in Washington is about the Intelligence Bill and I know early on, you testified before the president came out with his overall views on the intelligence bill and you testified about some concerns you had about oversight and the intelligence, how it was going to be used in the battlefield and whether it was going to get to people fast enough. Can you just give us a very brief rundown on what your problem originally was with it? I know you’re supporting the administration now.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Sure. I’d be happy to. When I went up and was asked to testify by the White House before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the White House had not developed a firm position. The president said he supported the national intelligence director and an NCTC – a counterterrorism entity – and I supported that, obviously, and I favor reform just as the president does. And then I was asked a number of questions that I then answered and I said basically that, look, the devil’s in the details. This is tough stuff. We’ve got a war going on and we want to make sure we do it right. And we had a whole lot of technical questions, which Gen. Myers and I and others responded to. The president has since gone over all of these materials and listened to his staff and his senior national security team, made his position known and is working with the Congress in trying to get a bill through. He feels it’s pretty close. He says – I’m told by the White House this morning that there’s four or five issues that are still being discussed. But they’re quite encouraged that they’ll end up getting some reasonable intelligence reform.
Q: And your original concerns about the intelligence getting to our men in the field, that’s – has that now been ameliorated?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I don’t know what the final bill will look like. So they’re worrying those details up there now. And the president’s staff is working with the people on the Hill, trying to make sure that the things he cares about -- reform; a national intelligence director; a counterterrorism center, ensuring that the chain of command operates effectively -- all of those things he’s working with the Hill to try to end up with a piece of legislation that he feels is appropriate.
Q: And I know Mr. Secretary, I only have a few seconds left, but a lot of our listeners across the country are very concerned that our men and women in battle, Marines in very difficult circumstances, are not going to be vilified by the popular press or conclusions jumped to. And of course, I’m talking about the Marine shooting of the insurgent. What’s the latest on that investigation?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, clearly, no one would condone the shooting of a person who was wounded and not threatening in any way. And I have this issue of command influence since I’m in the chain of command, so I can’t discuss the specific case. But the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the military justice system offers a proper, well-respected, well-developed, tested mechanism for seeing that if something was done wrong, that it’s dealt with in a responsible way. And if something was not done wrong, that the explanation of it is put forward. So I have all the confidence in the world that this will be handled in a responsible way with reasonable dispatch.
Q: Now, Mr. Secretary, before we let you go, there’s all this rumors about people leaving the cabinet. We don’t want you to leave the Defense Department. We want you to…
SEC. RUMSFELD: [Laughs]
Q: … stay as long as possible. But if you ever happen to leave the Defense Department before March, there is going to be an opening at CBS, you know.
SEC. RUMSFELD: [Laughs]
Dan Rather [Audio Clip]: Asking tough questions and investigating reports.
Q: I mean, can you ever see that happening?
SEC. RUMSFELD: [Laughs]
Q: I mean, that’s a big chair to fill, I know, but…
SEC. RUMSFELD: [Laughs] Oh, Laura, you are a sketch. That’s something that’s never crossed my mind.
Q: No. I mean, they’re trying to reach out to different segments of society and now the old media is going away. I mean, there’s just all sorts of opportunities out there. I just think you shouldn’t rule anything out at this point.
SEC. RUMSFELD: [Laughs]
Q: And I will never call you “Rummy,” I promise you, Mr. Secretary – ever call you “Rummy.”
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, happy Thanksgiving. [Laughs]
Q: Happy Thanksgiving. And we’re going to go to Iraq and we’re going to hopefully – I hope, work with the Pentagon on that.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Terrific. We’ll do it.
Q: All right. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for joining us and happy Thanksgiving to you and your family and thank you for your service.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you so much, Laura. Goodbye.
Q: All right. Mr. Secretary, thanks.
SEC. RUMSFELD: You bet. Anytime. [Laughs]
Q: [Laughs] Be good.
SEC. RUMSFELD: You’re a funny lady.
Q: Talk to you soon.
SEC. RUMSFELD: OK. [Laughs]