HANNITY: Welcome back to the program. Glad you’re with us. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with us. He just got back from Baghdad last week meeting with Iraq’s new leaders. Tell us about it.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: It was really encouraging. Condi and I both came away from our meetings with the Prime Minister designate, Mr. Maliki, and the new President and the Vice Presidents and the various leadership people that have been selected, enormously encouraged by what they’re saying. They’re saying all the right things. They really believe that their success is going to be a success for civilization and the region. The team of people that we met with, we had individual meetings and then we had a long dinner with them, so we had a chance to talk to them individually and then to talk to them in front of each other which was interesting.
It was unanimous that they believe in the unity of Iraq, they believe in fighting terrorism, they all seem oriented towards a process of national reconciliation, recognizing the divisions that exist in the society. They really feel that the conflict today is between freedom and equality, and returning to the dark ages of terror. One other thing I should add. They also feel a deep appreciation to the American people and to the people of the coalition countries who have liberated their 25 -- 26 million people, and they’re serious people. They have a sense of purpose. I also would add they’re very brave people. One of the leaders there had had his brother killed.
HANNITY: I read that. As a matter of fact he had had his brother killed, and while you were there his sister was killed. You’re talking about Tariq al-Hashimi, if I’m not correct, the Sunni politician, correct?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Exactly.
HANNITY: He had had his brother gunned down, and then while you were there after you spent the day with him I understand his sister was gunned down on a drive-by shooting near her home.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: That’s correct. These people are courageous. They believe that they have an opportunity of a lifetime to help put their country on the right track towards a free political and a free economic system. And they’re doing it. They also, I think, recognize the back side of that coin. The back side is the dire consequences if they were to fail and if we were to toss in the towel. The real battle’s here at the United States. It’s a test of wills. We need to be willing to persevere through tough times and there are going to be some more tough times, but it is a test of wills.
I keep coming back to the basic, and by golly, we’re a lot better off fighting these violent, vicious people who cut off people’s heads over there than here in our own country.
HANNITY: It certainly is reflective of the level of commitment for the President on the selection of this government to send both you and Condoleezza Rice to sit down and to speak to these officials and say we support you, we want you to succeed. I guess it’s a far different cry from the political battles going on here, and people like Howard Dean saying we may not necessarily even win.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: That’s right. It meant a great deal to them that the President is so strong and so steadfast.
The other thing that is really important, and that is that people are talking a lot about Iran these days, but I’ll tell you, the best thing that could happen from our standpoint is for the people of Iraq to succeed and have a single country that’s engaged with the global coalition against terrorism. Conversely, to turn that country over to the Zarqawis of the world or to extremists would be the best thing in the world from the standpoint of Iran. That’s what they’d like.
HANNITY: It’s interesting you’d say that because just in the last 24 hours Iran said they will target Israel first if the United States does anything “evil” according to a senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. And, this obviously in response to the Prime Minister of Israel calling the Iranian President a psychopath. Ahmadinejad out there of course saying he’s going to annihilate Israel, that he doesn’t recognize the Holocaust occurred, he’s thumbing his nose at the world community and pursuing nuclear weapons. You’re basically saying that Iraq will impact our ability to deal with Iran.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: There is no doubt in my mind that success in Iraq has to have a positive effect with respect to that other relationship.
The other thing I was pleased to talk with the Iraqi leadership about, the new Iraqi leadership, is the steps that are ahead. Of course we’ve gone through now two successful elections and a successful constitutional referendum and now the formation of their new government which is in its final stages.
Up ahead we’re going to look towards provincial elections. There very likely will be a substantial international conference in support of Iraq. There will be some sort of a reconciliation event in that country I would suspect in the near future, which will be a healthy thing and have the effect of weakening any insurgency that exists.
The Iraqi security forces are going to continue to go from now a quarter of a million up to 325,000 in the months ahead and of course we’ll continue passing over responsibility for real estate and military bases and the like, and be able to continue making downward adjustments in our force levels.
HANNITY: I was going to ask you about that. I forgot the general’s name the other day said we may be able to reduce the troop size by as many as 30,000 in the fairly near future, and there were some rather disturbing comments by former US Secretary of State Colin Powell that he made in Britain, and I always understood that these decisions, that it was part of a collaborative effort and everybody had had some impact at the time, but he said the President’s military advisors felt the size of the force was adequate, some of us don’t, I don’t, in my perspective I would have preferred more troops, et cetera. What were his comments about? And do you find them hurtful in any way?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Actually I’ve not seen his precise comments. My impression of them is that they referred to three years ago as opposed to today.
HANNITY: If you want, I can read them. He said, “I made the case to General Franks and Secretary Rumsfeld before the President that I was not sure we had enough troops.” He said, “The case was made, it was listened to, it was considered, and the judgment went away that there was enough troop strength.” What he said about today was, he said, “The President’s military advisors felt that the size of the force was adequate and they may still feel that way years later. Some of us don’t. I don’t. In my perspective I would have preferred more troops, but you know, this conflict is not over.”
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: The President has, as Condi Rice said - and I agree completely with what Condi said - that the President went around the room and asked everyone if they had what they needed and they were supportive of the plan. He asked each person individually in the Joint Chiefs. He asked each person individually among the relevant combatant commanders, he asked the sub-commanders what they thought. He went around the room to each one and each had a chance to respond and each indicated their full support for the plan and the size of the force, and he made that judgment which I think was the right judgment.
As I say, I haven’t read the full context, but Condi responded to it I think correctly.
HANNITY: Let me ask you a final question, because you just got back, you spent time, you’ve met the new government, you see the troops that are now emerging in terms of their own protective forces there, you’re very optimistic as I hear you on the radio, you met with the President. What did you tell the President when you just met with him?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, Condi and I met with him and gave him a briefing on the trip. We talked about the individuals that we’d met with in the Iraqi leadership; we talked about their personal characteristics which we found encouraging. We talked about the progress that’s being made with respect to the Iraqi security forces, and that’s important. We indicated the kind of a tempo we felt in our meetings and also realistically said look - there are some difficult times ahead as the President indicated. It’s not a smooth path. It’s a difficult thing to go from a vicious dictatorship and fighting a group of violent extremists who are perfectly willing to kill innocent men, women and children, towards a free system. It’s not easy.
The people there in the Iraqi government know that the world is watching them, and that they have a great deal of support, and they’re going to do everything humanly possible to succeed.
HANNITY: Mr. Secretary, we always appreciate having you on. Thank you for letting this audience know the truth firsthand, we appreciate that. Next time if you need company I’d be glad to go.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Okay. Thank you. Good to talk to you.
HANNITY: Good to talk to you. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the Sean Hannity Show.