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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Larry King Live, CNN TV

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 19, 2004
Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Larry King Live, CNN TV

LARRY KING:  Tonight, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld exactly one year since the war in Iraq began; and then later, a heated debate: Judith Miller of the New York Times, their go-to reporter on weapons of mass destruction; Robin Wright of the Washington Post, who covered Saddam Hussein’s regime for 20 years; Senator Bob Graham, former chairman of Select Intelligence Committee, and Congressman Christopher Shays, Chairman of the National Security Subcommittee.  And they’re all next on Larry King Live.


It’s a great pleasure to welcome to Larry King Live, on this first anniversary of the war in Iraq, an old friend, the defense secretary of the United States, Donald Rumsfeld.  He was last in Iraq in late February.  But first on breaking news, what does the capture of a major figure at this point mean in the war on terror?


RUMSFELD:  Well, anytime it happens – and we’ve had some good success over the past year – whenever it happens, it’s a help.  It is – it tends not to be determinative, if you will.  It isn’t something like, well, you can take a deep breath and say, well, that’s that, because the global war on terror is going to go on for sure.  But when a fairly significant figure in a terrorist network is taken off the scene, several things are possible.  One is that you’ve removed a person who was a facilitator, if that were to be the case, or a senior leader or a fundraiser.  A second thing that happens is, sometimes when people are captured they have with them people who can be helpful and pass additional information.  And occasionally when someone’s captured you can interrogate them and find out still additional information.


I don’t know – the situation today, of course, in Pakistan has caused a lot of press attention and it’s not clear to me who is there, if anybody, but certainly there are an awful lot of fine Pakistani forces working hard.


KING:   When – what in the past year, Mr. Secretary – we’ll go back to that first day in a minute.  What has surprised you?


RUMSFELD:  Well, I guess I’ve been surprised, happily and unhappily, on a number of occasions over the past year.  Some of the first surprises were that the terrible things that could have happened didn’t happen.  There was not a humanitarian crisis.  There were not massive refugees as occurred back during the Gulf War some 10, 12 years ago.  The dams were not broken and the floods didn’t take place.  The Iraqis didn’t have time to set fire to a lot of oil wells.  Last time they caused enormous environmental damage by lighting up the Kuwaiti oil wells.  This time I think there were eight, 10, 12 is all.  There wasn’t a food crisis or a health crisis.  And so those are good things that because those things we worried about and planned for just did not happen, and as a result, the Iraqi people are an awful lot better today.


Some of the things that one wished might have been different is there is speculation that had the Iraqi army not totally disappeared, as it did after it was defeated, that we might have been able to use some of those forces to – in units to try to contribute to a safer and more stable and more secure Iraq.  I’m not sure that’s the case because it turns out that most of the people that you could have gotten to help were the generals and the senior military and they’re probably not the kind of people you want to help, and the more junior people really were conscripts and they didn’t want to be there anyway and they just went back home.


KING:  What about the fact that there were no WMDs?  Or it might be asked this way: given that information now, would you still have gone into war a year ago?


RUMSFELD:  Oh, indeed.  I –


KING:  Given what we know now.


RUMSFELD:  Certainly.  I think that – I think this – this country and the 25 million people there that have been liberated and have just fashioned an interim constitution that protects the rights of women and ethnic groups and religious groups – they individually are vastly better off than they would have been.  The killing fields are gone.  The mass graves are not having new bodies piled up day after day as happened under Saddam Hussein.  The prisons have been changed and they are no longer torturing and killing people there, so it’s been a good thing.


We’ve got a possibility here for a country that will have an Iraqi form of democracy that will be at peace with its neighbors, and – now, would it – the question of weapons of mass destruction.  Dr. David Kay came back; he reported that he thought they were about 85 percent through the process of looking; and thus far, except for some ballistic missiles beyond the range that were authorized by the United Nations, they have not found chemical, biological, or weapons in any large quantities.  The search goes on.  We’ve got 1,200 people still looking there and we’ll know more in the weeks and months ahead.


KING:  But you would still not change your mind if there were none?


RUMSFELD:  No.  We know he used weapons – we know he used chemical weapons on his own people and on his neighbors.  We know he fired ballistic missiles into three of his neighboring countries.  And we know that he filed a fraudulent declaration with the United station – the United Nations and violated some 17 straight resolutions, so the pattern of behavior and the deception that took place – the question that remains is why in the world did he do that?  Why didn’t he do what Libya is doing today, for example?  Why didn’t he just open up his country and let the United Nations people come in and do what Kazakhstan or South Africa or any number of other countries did?  Someday we’ll know the answer to that question.


KING:  One year ago today when that decision was made, where exactly were you?


RUMSFELD:  Well, I suppose I was in the Oval Office with the president of the United States, now that you ask.


KING:  Did he say –


RUMSFELD:  I hadn’t thought about it.


KING:  Did he say that, we’re doing it; let’s go?  Was there a momentous moment?


RUMSFELD:  Well, there were very few of us in there.  Two or three people possibly, and he – actually he signed an order instructing me to commence the campaign.


KING:  And then what did you do?


RUMSFELD:  I went back to the Pentagon and talked to General Tom Franks and it began.


KING:  Do you – what was that like for you?  Do you – I mean, you’ve never been in a position like that before.  What was it like?


RUMSFELD:  Well, we did that in Afghanistan, if you’ll recall, on October 7th of 2001.


KING:  Yeah.  True.


RUMSFELD:  And it is – it is always one’s last choice using force – military power.  You know that when that’s done that it’s difficult, that people are going to be killed or wounded.  You know that there are going to be enormous numbers of uncertainties and – that can’t be predicted, and you always wish that there were an alternative.  And if you think about it, the president took every care to give Saddam Hussein additional chances and final opportunities.  Even after he rebuffed the last UN resolution and rejected it, the president gave him 48 hours to leave the country, and the coalition did.


It is – war, the use of military force, is always – has to be the last – the last resort, not the first.


KING:  I guess I meant – and I know Afghanistan, but Iraq was a kind of bigger story.


RUMSFELD:  Oh, yes, sir – absolutely.


KING:  We’ll be right back with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq.  Don’t go away.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:  (From tape.)  American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger.


(Commercial break.)


KING:  We’re back with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.


The Bush administration has said, Mr. Secretary, that the reality on the ground in Iraq is more positive than is being portrayed in the media.  Do you agree with that?


RUMSFELD:  Well, I do.  It’s a fact.  There have been something like 125 or (1)30 members of the United States Congress, the House and the Senate, who have gone over there, and over and over again they’ve come back and reported that what they found there was notably different from the impression they had.


What’s taking place, really, is impressive.  After a year the – in one year the schools are open with new textbooks; the hospitals are operating; the 1,200 clinics are functioning; the electricity is back up to roughly where it was; the oil liftings are up to roughly where they were prewar; the energy that one sees in the streets with cars and satellite receivers for television and people bustling around kiosks going – you have to remember, of course, Larry, that the people in this country have spent decades under a repressive political regime and also under a command economy where they were told what they must do.  Suddenly, in this new environment, they can do anything that’s within the law, so everything’s been turned upside down and the energy that one sees is exciting.


The country is – from a governance standpoint has a governing council, the provinces have governing councils, the cities have city councils, the – an interim constitution has been fashioned and making plans now to pass sovereignty back to the Iraqi people, so a great deal has been done.  It took much longer, for example, in postwar Germany after World War II.


KING:  But a bombing or a suicide attack or a – any kind of killing of an American or anyone is bigger news?


RUMSFELD:  Indeed.  It’s big news, and of course good news tends not to be news, but there were killings in Germany in postwar – World War II period and there were dissidents and remnants who continued to try to disrupt things, but – and let’s be honest; I mean, that’s a violent part of the world.  Of course, many cities are violent.  If you look at the major cities of the United States and Western Europe I don’t know how many homicides there are, but roughly one a day in many cities, so people, I guess, are – tend to do that type of thing.  It’s regrettable and – the exciting thing for me is, we’ve gone from zero to over 200,000 Iraqis who are now in the police and the civil defense and the army, in the border guards and in the site protection units and they’re providing security for the country now.  They have stepped forward.  There are many more Iraqi security forces than there are Americans or coalition forces, and they’re doing the job.  So the – we don’t report in the United States the extent to which Iraqi security people are being killed, but there are many more being killed than there are coalition forces.


KING:  On March 2nd, in testimony before Congress, Mr. Secretary, the acting secretary of the Army, Les Brownlee, said, “I regret that we were not more farsighted here.  We simply weren’t prepared for the kind of counterinsurgency that attacked our convoys and our soldiers as has been proven to be.”


Did that statement surprise you?


RUMSFELD:  No, and in war there are always things that occur that one wishes could be handled differently, and I suppose what he was referring to was the fact that during the course of the war the Fedayeen Saddam people were shooting Iraqis in the back if the Iraqis tried to be helpful to the coalition.  And in the immediate postwar period, these terrorists and remnants of the Ba’athist regime were in fact operating not against our armored forces or our military formations – our combat troops – but they tended to hang back and operate and attack combat support troops that were supplying people, and that is something that is a – was a reality and it’s still occurring today.  It’s the – a terrorist, an attacker can attack anywhere they want anytime they what using any technique and it makes it very difficult.  We’ve known that throughout history.


KING:  Saddam Hussein.  What can you tell us?  Is he cooperating?  What’s the story on the trial?  Where does all that stand?


RUMSFELD:  Well, the president indicated that he thought that the Iraqi government – the new Iraqi government ought to have a central role in a trial of Saddam Hussein, so as that governance passes to the Iraqis I’m sure we’ll see that process begin.


The short answer as to whether he’s cooperating is he’s not.


KING:  Is he being treated well?


RUMSFELD:  Oh, my goodness yes, absolutely.  The International Committee of the Red Cross checks the people that are detained by the coalition forces and the wonderful young men and women in the armed forces, from our country and from our coalition countries, are – they’re just doing a superb job over there.  They’re – it’s noble work.  They’re proud of what they’re doing.  They’re doing it well.  They’re well trained.  They’re well equipped.  They’re well led.  And the ones that are taking care of the detainees and the people that have been captured – enemy prisoners of war in some instances – are doing a good job on it.


KING:  We’re about 100 days away from the political handover to the Iraqis.  Are you –




KING:  – optimistic?


RUMSFELD:  Well, I am.  It’s never knowable what – how things will play out, but Ambassador Bremer and the coalition provisional authority has done a good job.  The governing council fashioned a good document: the transitional administrative law or interim constitution, and we’ll see how it plays out over the period ahead.


I’m – I was struck not only by the document, but I was struck by the process that took place where we saw people compromising.  If you think about it, in a dictatorship you don’t see a lot of compromising.


KING:  No.


RUMSFELD:  And so the Iraqi people didn’t have a lot of experience of understanding that you can have a discussion, a debate, you can disagree, and then at some point you come to some conclusion that isn’t really what anybody wanted, but it’s close to what everybody would accept.  And that compromise – that process of compromising I think was important and instructive for the rest of the world to see because it was a good omen.  It was a good suggestion that they’re going to be able to sort through this.


KING:  Does that provisional government have a say in how long the United States stays?


RUMSFELD:  Well, of course the Iraqi people will make that decision.  We’ve met with the governing council – the current people with responsibility and they’ve indicated that they do want us.  They recognize the fact that the coalition forces from our country and 34 other nations that are good enough to send their folks there are important to providing security and seeing that the nation of Iraq is not threatened from external neighbors and also that the internal situation is reasonably secure.


Now, as Iraqi security forces continue to grow and they become better trained and better equipped, our hope is that they will then take over that responsibility.


KING:  Mm-hmm.  We’ll take a break and come back with our remaining moments with the secretary of defense.  At the bottom of the hour a panel of journalists and elected officials will join us as well.  We’ll be right back with some more moments with Donald Rumsfeld right after this.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:  (From tape.)  We’re the nations that have recognized the threat of terrorism, and we’re the nations that will defeat that threat.  Each of us has pledged before the world: we will never bow to the violence of a few.  We will face this mortal danger and we will overcome it together.


(Commercial break.)


KING:  We’re back with the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, from the Pentagon on this occasion of the one-year anniversary of the war – beginning of the war in Iraq.


What is your overview of what happened in Spain?


RUMSFELD:  Well, there is still a little confusion about what was happening there, but apparently in the final week the opposition party was – was moving up and the government party was moving down and there was already that direction taking place prior to the terrorist attacks.


What happened after the terrorist attacks and what effect it may have had is not quite clear to me, but the Spanish government has been a wonderful partner for the – in the coalition.  Their forces have done a superb job and certainly we are hopeful that they and – will stay.  I’ve been struck, in fact very encouraged, that after the prime minister elect made his statement about thinking the Spanish forces should come out, that country after country of the 34 countries that are in Iraq with their forces has stood up and said, not us.  We’re going to stay.  We’re going to stick.  We’re not going to take a step that suggests that it’s not important work because we do believe it’s important and we certainly don’t want to reward the al Qaeda network, if in fact they’re the ones who did those terrorist acts, by accommodating and thinking that one can accommodate to them and please them.


KING:  Are you going to be involved in the campaign?


RUMSFELD:  No, I’m not, Larry.  The president of the United States has talked to me and to Colin Powell and asked that we personally stay out of the campaign.  He thinks that the work we’re doing in our departments is such that it’s in the best interests of the country that we do that, and Colin and I have both agreed that that would be the case.


KING:  So does that mean through the year you will not comment on statements made by Senator Kerry or any other opponent?


RUMSFELD:  Well, it – pretty close.  If there’s a matter that involves the department and it’s a substantive issue and I can cast light on it in a way that is not seen to be or thought to be partisan and I can stay within the constraints the president’s imposed on me, I certainly feel it is my job to make sure that the American people fully understand what it is we’re doing and why we’re doing it.


And also I should say it’s important that the American people understand what a wonderful job the – these volunteers who serve in the Army, in the Navy, the Air Force, and the Marines, and the National Guard and the Reserves are doing for our country.  And to the extent that statements are made which would lead them to believe that what they were doing is not important or that they weren’t doing it well, I think it would be unfortunate and I certainly would want to make sure that there was clarity there because they’re doing a great job.


KING:  You’ve had a long, successful career in government and out of government.  If the president were reelected, do you want to stay on?


RUMSFELD:  Oh, goodness, Larry.  You know, he – he’s asked us to do our jobs.  We’ve not talked about next year or the year after and –


KING:  I know, but how do you feel?


RUMSFELD:  Well, I feel wonderful and – physically and I’m just so grateful to be able to be engaged and trying to be helpful to the country and to the men and women in uniform that I must say I feel fortunate as a human being that I can participate and try to help make this a better Department of Defense and the men and women here, civilian and military alike, more successful.  So I’m feeling that I’m a fortunate person.


KING:  So if asked to stay, you would?


RUMSFELD:  Larry, he –


KING:  Sounds that way.


RUMSFELD:  – hasn’t asked me to stay.


KING:  And if the reverse happened, you would help any other administration that you could, right?


RUMSFELD:  Well, this is a wonderful country we have and this department is not a political department.  It’s not partisan at all.  And the people here play things straight down the middle and I just want to be helpful to the country.


KING:  What do you think – I know we have a few minutes left – of the future of Iraq?  And you’ve gotten to know those people pretty well.  What do you make of what’s going to happen?


RUMSFELD:   Well, it’s going to be fascinating watching it play out.  I think one thing we can say with certainty is that whatever they do, it will be an Iraqi solution.  It won’t be a cookie mold that’s pressed down by the United States or United Kingdom or the United Nations or the coalition.  Whatever they do, they’re going to figure it out for themselves and it’ll be something that’s appropriate to them, and that’s a good thing. 


The only real constraints that exist – the ones the coalition leadership have put forth – one is that it stay a single country – that it not break up into pieces.  That would not be good for that part of the world.  A second: that it be respectful of all the people in the country.  That it not go back to a repressive regime where one element rules over all the others in a vicious way.  That – but that the women and the men as well and the religious and ethnic groups all have the right to live there with protection for their interests and their circumstance.


And another, third one, really was that the country not be a threat to its neighbors.  And the Iraqi people are intelligent, they’re industrious, they are free, they have been liberated, and the effect that it could have in that part of the world in – on the economies of those neighboring countries – if that country for the first time in many decades is able to actually have the benefit of freedom – not just political freedom, but economic freedom – and improve the circumstance of literally millions and millions of people not just in Iraq, but in all the neighboring countries, it would be a wonderful thing.


KING:  What do you think of them as a people?


RUMSFELD:  Well, you can’t help but like them.  They’re tough, they’re intelligent, they’re industrious, and they – I’ve been over there meeting, for example, with the police and with the army, and with the people in the governing council, and the people in the provincial councils, and the city councils, and people who are trying to get the power system back to where it ought to be, and they are very straightforward and direct.  They look you right in the eye, they tell you what they think, they’re proud of themselves, they’re proud of their country, and of course their country has an impressive history, and I just think that all the ingredients are there.


This is a country that has not just a population with energy and intelligence, it also has wealth.  It has oil, but it also has water, and water’s important in that part of the world, and so they have a wonderful opportunity to make it and I hope and pray they will.


KING:  Always good seeing you.  Next time it’ll be in person.  We appreciate it.


RUMSFELD:  Good.  Thanks so much, Larry.


MR. KING:  The secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, from the Pentagon in Washington.  When we come back, a panel of journalists and elected representatives.  Don’t go away.



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