MEDVED: Right now we are joined by someone who knows a great deal about the mission in Iraq, because he helped to design it, to launch it, and to direct it. His name is Donald Rumsfeld. He is the Secretary of Defense of the United States of America. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for joining us.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well thank you. I’m delighted to do it.
MEDVED: I’m very, very pleased to hear from you, because this is a time when there are so many voices that are being raised that want to ignore some of the positive developments in Iraq that you have seen with your own eyes. For instance, Senator Biden is now calling for a partition.
You just met with Nuri al-Maliki - the new Prime Minister. Why would you tell the American people we should all feel encouraged?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Secretary of State Condi Rice and I spent a good deal of time with the new leadership there - including the Prime Minister designate - and came away with a conviction that these are serious people, they’re purposeful, they’re determined, and I would add, they’re courageous. It’s a difficult environment there. One of the new leaders had had his brother killed very recently and a sister as well by terrorists trying to intimidate them. So these people know what they’re up against and they intend to do well. They believe that their success will be a success for their country as well as the entire region.
I must say we talked to them alone, individually, and then we talked to them in front of each other where they all were there together - the Sunni, the Shia, the Kurds and the like. I came away feeling that they all believe in the unity of Iraq, they all believe in fighting terrorism, they all seemed to me to be on a course of seeking some sort of a national reconciliation so that all of the elements in the country are reconciled to their new constitution. They really believe that this conflict is between freedom and returning to the dark ages in terror.
MEDVED: Which I think anybody looking at it would say that it very obviously is.
One of the points that people on the other side bring up is that yesterday was the third anniversary of the President’s “mission accomplished” speech. What hallmarks should we look for in the days ahead, Mr. Secretary, to indicate that the mission is succeeding?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: That’s an important question. If you think back, we were able to look at the elections last January and then the drafting of a constitution and then the referendum on the constitution and then the election in December and now the formation of the new government. Those have been important benchmarks or milestones along the path towards a democratic, free system.
The ones I see up ahead, they’re going to have provincial elections at a date to be set. They previously agreed to make some adjustments to the constitution and they have proceeded quite rationally toward some discussions on that and at some point that would go before the parliament. There would be the reconciliation event that I described where they would get the Sunnis, the Shia and the Kurds and have some sort of a process where they put the insurgency behind them.
They’re going to continue to build up their security forces. They’re now at 250,000 and they’re going to be going to 325,000. As that happens we will have some benchmarks or milestones where we will be passing off more military bases and more real estate and more responsibilities to the Iraqi security forces, which of course will then enable us to draw down the size of our force.
Then there’s the UN resolution which is going to expire at the end of this year and there will be something that would take its place. But it will be a new environment. They’ll have a parliament just like we have a congress, so there will be political pushing and shoving and tugging and hauling and debating and people saying things.
They’ve now got a free press. We met with their free press which was an exciting thing to see these young journalists and radio and television people asking questions, tough questions.
MEDVED: All of that is going on right now.
Your former colleague, Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Secretary of State Colin Powell obviously has commented about the fact that you and he may have had some disagreements about strategy, but he said something and I wondered if you would agree with this. Secretary Powell said there’s too much emphasis on the events leading up to the Iraq invasion. He says the focus needs to be on the future in building up Iraq’s forces.
Do you disagree with him? Would you rather go back and talk about the original invasion some more?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Look, Colin and I didn’t have differences on this. If he had differences they were with the combatant commanders, because the President sat in the room with the combatant commanders and asked each one and the Joint Chiefs of Staff if they had what they needed, if they agreed with the war plan, and if they believed it would be successful, and each one of them looked him in the eye and said yes, Mr. President.
So this plan wasn’t divined in the White House or in my office, it was a combatant commanders’ plan and it was a good one, and I recommended it to the President and the President agreed with it. There wasn’t a single military advisor in the Central Command, which had the responsibility for fashioning it and implementing it, that disagreed with it.
MEDVED: What do you say to people like Senator Biden who are now calling for partition of Iraq or having the country dismantled into three component parts? They say that civil war has already broken out. Are they right?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, the people there don’t believe that’s right. I’m sure maybe somebody in Iraq thinks that, because you get 28 million people you can find anyone who thinks anything.
For myself, I look at Iraq now as a sovereign nation with a constitution and I certainly wouldn’t want to recommend to another sovereign nation that they break themselves up into three parts. Anyone can recommend anything they want, but the people there want to have a single country and they hope to have a single country and they’re working to achieve a single country.
MEDVED: One of the ways that Americans can support our fighting men and women who are doing so much for the rest of us in Iraq and Afghanistan, I know this is something that you’re very concerned about, Mr. Secretary is a new effort called AmericaSupportsYou.mil. This is something where ordinary Americans can really play a part in going to this web site and showing how they can help our troops help, for instance, Iraqi children. Help with Operation Gratitude. Do you want to help encourage people to participate in this effort, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Indeed. What happened was there were an awful lot of wonderful people around our country helping the troops, and of course the troops are terrific young men and women who volunteered to serve their country and defend freedom and put their lives at risk. And they and their families do sacrifice to help defend our freedom and to fight the terrorists where they are rather than having to fight them back here in the United States, and God bless them for it.
But there are a lot of people in our country who have wanted to help them and so they’ve thought of ways they could do that – school groups, corporations, villages, other non-governmental groups, churches and the like. What we’ve done is take this web site, AmericaSupportsYou.mil and listed all of these things that people are doing to support those wonderful troops.
MEDVED: Don Rumsfeld, thank you for what you do for our country, for our fighting men and women, and for everybody who cares about the cause of freedom around the world.
Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld.