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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with National Public Radio’s Steve Inskeep for “Morning Edition”

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Steve Inskeep
March 29, 2005
NPR:  I want to start, Mr. Secretary, with something you said recently.  You were at a meeting with troops, taking questions from troops.  You talked about measuring progress in Iraq.  Metrics as you called them, that were important to you.  And you said what you measure improves.

 

            How are some ways that you are measuring progress in defeating insurgents in Iraq?

 

            RUMSFELD:  Well, we've got literally dozens of ways we do it.  We have a room here, the Iraq Room where we track a whole series of metrics.  Some of them are inputs and some of them are outputs, results, and obviously the inputs are easier to do and less important, and the outputs are vastly more important and more difficult to do.

 

            We track, for example, the numbers of attacks by area.  We track the types of attacks by area.  And what we're seeing, for example, and one metric is presented graphically and it shows that we had spiked up during the sovereignty pass to the Iraqi people and spiked up again during the election, and are now back down to the pre-sovereignty levels which are considerably lower.

 

            NPR:  Fifty-some attacks a day or something like that?

 

            RUMSFELD:  I don't know what the number is, I don't have it in front of me.  But we track a number of reports of intimidation, attempts at intimidation or assassination of government officials, for example.  We track the extent to which people are supplying intelligence to our people so that they can go in and actually track down and capture or kill insurgents.  We try to desegregate the people we've captured and look at what they are.  Are they foreign fighters, Jihadist types?  Are they criminals who were paid money to go do something like that?  Are they former regime elements, Ba'athists?  And we try to keep track of what those numbers are in terms of detainees and people that are processed in that way.

 

            So there are a lot of different ways to do it.  What you aren't able to do is keep track of how many there are.  The reason for that is they don't have roll call in the morning.  They don't have a roster that we can capture, for example.  Or you can't photograph them and know how many there are.

 

            NPR:  It seems that might be a problem with a lot of these numbers.  Like, for example, number of attacks per day.  It might go down for a day or a week, you don't know if it's going to go up next month.  Is there a number that you track that makes you feel confident that you have made progress against the insurgents?  That you are winning militarily?

 

            RUMSFELD:  No one number is determinative, and the answer is no.  We probably look at 50, 60, 70 different types of metrics, and come away with them with an impression.  It's impressionistic more than determinative.

 

            NPR:  There are some military officers, both serving and former, who have said in different ways that with this insurgency or any insurgency really, it is not possible to defeat the insurgents militarily.  Do you think that's true?

 

            RUMSFELD:  Oh, I think it certainly is reasonable to say that the coalition is not going to defeat the insurgency.  The Iraqi people will moderate the insurgency and eventually defeat it.  Insurgencies eventually end one way or another, but clearly in this instance it strikes me that it will be the Iraqi people who will have to do this.  And they'll do it because of progress in the political area which legitimizes the government and delegitimizes the people opposing the government. 

 

It will happen because of economic progress and fewer people will be attracted to it because of that.  It will be defeated because of the success of the Iraqi security forces as they develop skill sets and are better equipped and have much better situational awareness than coalition forces would, for example.  They know the language; their relatives live in those areas; they have a desire to live in a peaceful environment.  So it will be all of those things over time that will do it, but it will basically be the Iraqi people.

 

            NPR:  It has to be a political solution is what you're saying.

 

            RUMSFELD:  It is.  It's a mixture of security -- I mean look at the United States.  We have security forces.  We have National Guard. We have police. We have border patrols.  We have a whole lot of things.  You can say we're a peaceful nation and yet how many hundreds get killed at every major city in America every year?

 

            You're not going to go down to zero violence in any country, particularly not a violent part of the world like that.  But clearly, you'll get down to a level of activity that you could say that people are able to basically go about their business, and it will be a combination of political, economic, and security.  Policemen are important.  That's why we have them.  That's why we pay them in perpetuity in every city in America.

 

            NPR:  General Jack Keane, a retired U.S. Army --

 

            RUMSFELD:  Good man.

 

            NPR:  -- Lieutenant General who's continued to be brought in to advise or assess what's happening in Iraq, says that as he understands it the insurgents think that if they can hold out four or five years they'll win.  This country will eventually give up.  The political price here would be too high if they can keep up the violence for five years.  General Keane thinks that might be about right.

 

            Do you think in a sense the clock is running for the United States, even if it is a relatively long-running clock?

 

            RUMSFELD:  Oh, goodness.  General Keane is a very talented, fine person.  I would have to hear entirely what he said to comment on it, but my recollection is looking at four or five insurgencies in the last century that the average age of those was six, seven, eight years.  And they ended up ending.  So it's not for me to say -- There were some at the low end of that and there were some at the high end of that.

 

            In terms of the United States and the coalition, our purpose is not to stay there for five years or ten years.  Our purpose is to help the Iraqi people develop the security forces that will enable them to provide for the security of the country and we're making good progress on it. 

 

The Iraqi security forces are increasingly demonstrating greater and greater capability.  Election day they provided 5,000 polling places with an inner perimeter and an outer perimeter.  Within the last week they undertook an independent operation without U.S. or coalition assistance and were highly successful, some of them.

 

            NPR:  To be clear, since you know, him, I don't want any misunderstanding to be there.  General Keane said that "if" they hold out for five years that they could defeat the United States. He did not think that was going to happen.  He was relatively optimistic about the situation.

 

            RUMSFELD:  I see.

 

            NPR:  Just looking at the timeframe - you mentioned the training of Iraqi forces.  You have used a figure of more than 140,000 Iraqis trained.  The Government Accountability Office looked at that number.  They said well, maybe more than 140,000 have been trained but tens of thousands have walked off the job. 

It appeared there was nowhere near that number actually defending Iraq.  Is that the case?

 

            RUMSFELD:  Actually, I've not read the Government Accountability Office [report], but we spend a lot of time on this and we know what we're talking about.  We come out with a weekly report.  What we report is that the Ministry of Defense numbers subtract anyone that is AWOL, absent without leave.  The Ministry of Interior figures do not.  We specify that right in there.

 

            NPR:  It said this was according to DoD.  That's true.

 

            RUMSFELD:  And second, we do not include the non-Ministry of Defense and non-Ministry of Interior security forces, the site protection forces, which are somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 at any given time.  So since we don't even count them one would think that the presentation we make with the footnotes, with the explanation, is pretty good.

 

            Now we don't subtract from the United States military the number of people who may be in jail or who may be AWOL or whatever.

 

            NPR:  It probably isn't tens of thousands though, I --

 

            RUMSFELD:  What we present is accurate and the figures currently are excluding site protection people and if you want to, you have to eventually subtract out anyone who's on leave or AWOL or whatever the reason they're not currently active.  That's fair enough.  But the number's something over 140,000.  That's just a fact.  That's what General Petraeus is reporting to us, and General Casey, and General Abizaid.

 

            Now, it's less than that by some margin, but it's gone from zero up to that.  And people can fly speck it and say this or say that, but the fact remains that you didn't have successful elections on January 30th with the Iraqi security forces providing overwhelmingly the security for the elections by accident.  These people are not -- They're not ghost payrolls.  These are people who did something on January 30th.  They did something enormously impressive.

 

            NPR:  It does raise the question of how many forces are really ready to take over for the United States.

 

            RUMSFELD:  Of course.  That's the critical question.  And how skilled -- I think the whole debate over numbers is nonsensical, frankly.  Quantity is important.  Quality is really important. 

 

You give me a unit of 500 people that is highly mobile, well-led, battle-hardened, well-equipped, and stack it up against 5,000 people who are fresh out of boot camp, trained and equipped to be sure, but fresh out of boot camp, not battle-hardened and don't have mobility, don't have sustainability, aren't well led -- the 500, I'd take them in a fight any day in the world just like nothing.

 

            So quantity's only part of the question.  Quality, leadership, command and control, sustainability, mobility, all of those things are important.

 

            NPR:  And the fact that you just mentioned leadership, command and control, mobility -- Those are things the United States is still having to provide for these trained Iraqi troops. Correct?

 

            RUMSFELD:  In some instances we provide the mobility and the sustainability, true.  In some instances we don't.  And in most instances we don't provide the leadership.  The leadership is uneven, obviously, with units that are just brought together and just out for the first time, and every month that goes by they get better at it, just like you do in your job or anyone else does.

 

            NPR:  I hope so.  I don't know, we'll see.  [Laughter].

 

            A couple of other things then we're done, and I really appreciate your taking the time.

 

            Coming back to the political question here, the question of a political solution.  Do you know of any Sunni leader among those who are trying in Iraq, who has sufficient influence to actually reign in insurgents at this time?  Does that person exist?  Or does he still have to be found?

 

            RUMSFELD:  I think that in a country like Iraq looking for a single person, it would be a mistake.  You've got tribes and regions.  No, I wouldn't think there would be a single person.

 

            NPR:  Do you have any group of people?

 

            RUMSFELD:  Sure.  The Shia and the Kurds that participated fully in the elections had been reaching out to the Sunnis which is a very positive thing.  Second, the Sunnis I think – well, who knows, I can't speak for all the Sunnis. 

 

But if you dropped a plumb line through all the intelligence I've seen, the Sunni leadership that I've read about is reasonably well-convinced that they made a terrible mistake by not participating in the election and they're leaning forward right now and talking and discussing and trying to figure out how they can play in the process that will take place going forward to fashion a constitution and then elect a permanent government. I don't think they'll make that mistake again.

 

            NPR:  Does the intelligence you see also suggest that the Sunni leaders who seem to be leaning forward, as you put it, they can also bring along the insurgent fighters?  They could actually end the conflict?

 

            RUMSFELD:  I think very likely what -- People tend not to move from being a terrorist or an insurgent fighter all the way over to support for the government. 

 

What they do is they become less of a fighter or less of an insurgent, and the fellow who was less of one already becomes neutral, and the person who was neutral becomes kind of positive. And you move across that spectrum. And it's generally characterized as a tipping process.

 

            What causes it to tip?  Answer.  Political, economic, and security.  Another thing that causes it to tip -- tip meaning that the mass of people in that country, more of them support the government than oppose it -- favorable tipping or vice versa, it can tip.

 

It's manifested in a lot of different ways.  It's manifested in the number of people signing up to serve in the security forces.  It's manifested in the number of people who voted, over eight million.  It's manifested by the hundreds who put their name on the ballot and were threatened to be killed.  It's manifested by all the people who walked past those signs saying “you vote, you die.”  It's manifested by the number of tips we get and intelligence information.  And most of those indicators are improving.  So it's improving, the situation.

 

            NPR:  Given that it is a political battle in large degree, is it a disadvantage, whether it's right or wrong, is it a disadvantage that no senior military official has been disciplined, fired or prosecuted for the allegations of abuse and torture in Iraq and elsewhere? Abuse and torture in Iraq and elsewhere?

 

            RUMSFELD:  Well, how can anyone answer that question?  I mean I think the fact that the United States has had over nine or ten or eleven different investigations, there have been over 300 investigations or prosecutions, in some cases convictions.  Not 300 convictions.  But there have been people of varying ranks that have been punished for wrongdoing.

 

            NPR:  Mostly lower ranks.

 

            RUMSFELD:  The Inspector General of the Army still has the obligation of looking at the people in the more senior ranks and making a judgment and recommendation or not recommendation to his superiors and that process is yet to play out.

 

            I think that that's a hard question to answer.  Because you know, that's a violent part of the world.  Saddam Hussein filled mass graves by the hundreds of thousands.  And the change, the fact that you've got tens of thousands of American servicepeople over there building hospitals and schools and putting generators in and helping people. 

 

The United States taxpayers have voted billions of dollars to assist those people in fixing their infrastructure.  We've gone out and raised money from other countries to help out.  I think that any fair-minded person -- There's no question but that al-Jazeera, some of the opposition television or journalists, will try to lie about what's been done and suggest that it was a matter of policy, and there's not any indication it was a matter of policy or anything systemic.

 

            But I think that any fair-minded people look at it and see what the United States has done and what the coalition has done. And we have no self-interest over there other than making sure that people don't kill Americans.

 

            NPR:  Does Larry standing up mean I've burned my time?

 

            Can I ask one more question that you might actually enjoy answering?  [inaudible]  -- decline to answer.

 

            You had been criticized for using the phrase "old Europe" to refer to U.S. allies who declined to go along in the war on Iraq. You told a joke about that in February when you went to Europe and referred to the fact that perhaps those disputes of the past were the "old Rumsfeld".

 

            I was amused by that.  I was interested, is there a new Rumsfeld, and in what way?

 

            RUMSFELD:  That was said in good humor.  [Laughter].  I'm afraid that Rumsfeld's Rumsfeld.

 

            NPR:  Mr. Secretary, thanks very much.

 

            RUMSFELD:  Thank you.