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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with NBC Affiliate - WXIA Channel 11, Atlanta, Ga.

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
September 30, 2002

Friday, Sept. 27, 2002

(Interview with John Shirek, NBC Affiliate - WXIA Channel 11, Atlanta, Ga.)

Q: We appreciate you taking the time to talk to us.

Rumsfeld: Glad to do it. I've got a meeting back at the White House at 4:30 I guess.

Q: Mr. Secretary, it's hard to separate questions about politics and questions about military policy. Here's a political question for you.

Rumsfeld: I don't do politics.

Q: Well I'll throw this out at you and see what you might have to comment about it.

Congressman John Lewis in Atlanta speaking on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus is quoted today as saying that President Bush, the Bush Administration and President Bush specifically is too busy pounding the drums of war, as he put it, to pay attention to important domestic issues such as health care, education, and environmental problems.

How do you comment when you hear American people and congressmen speaking in those terms as if you're ignoring important domestic issues for the unilateral action they don't support?

Rumsfeld: Well, I used to be a congressman and I am aware of the process that they engage in. I guess my answer to that is I think President Bush is doing a terrific job. There is no question but I think he does have the responsibility to focus on a broad range of issues and he does so, on his daily calendar or in his comments to the press or the public, you'll find that they cover a full spectrum of issues.

Q: President Bush last night in Texas made it sound very personal, saying that Saddam is the person who is going after my dad, went after my dad. Is that part of the reason that we're going this course?

Rumsfeld: Oh, absolutely not. There's nothing personal about this at all. It's a national issue, an international issue. It's a matter of considerable substantive concern and personal [inaudible] for anybody.

Q: What is the concept of the preemptive strike that seems to be coming into play here? How do you foresee it looking beyond Iraq [inaudible]? How do you foresee it being used around the world in the future? How does this set a precedent?

Rumsfeld: I think what one has to do is to think that, recognize that we're in a new security environment in the 21st Century. It is different than the 20th Century. It's different because then we were dealing essentially with conventional capabilities. Today we're dealing, to a much greater extent, with weapons of mass destruction, biological weapons, chemical weapons, in the hands of people who are quite different than was the standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union.

That different circumstance it seems to me forces us to think about the meaning of war. How does one defend itself against a terrorist? Do you absorb the attack and then decide to do something about it? What about the historic concept of anticipatory self defense? When one sees a threat developing to do something to deal with that? Preventive action.

Think of John F. Kennedy in the Cuban Missile Crisis. He didn't sit there and let Soviets put missiles in Cuba and fire a nuclear missile at the United States; he decided to engage in preemptive action, preventative action, anticipatory self defense, self defense, call it what you wish. And he went out and blockaded them. Called it a quarantine but blockaded them and put the world into a very tense, dangerous, among the most dangerous of my lifetime, circumstances. And prevailed because he did take preventive action.

So I don't think that it's a new thing as such. I think what's new is that we could afford, countries could afford -- don't like to but they could afford the historical blow with conventional capabilities. Lose hundreds or thousands of people. Today the question people are debating properly is how do you feel about absorbing a blow that is from a weapon of mass destruction and it's not 100 people or 1,000 people but it's tens of thousands of people? What is the responsible course of action for our country, for our people? That's the issue that is front and center for the American people and indeed for the people of the world.

Q: Should the United States be going out after Saddam Hussein even if you didn't see any linkage to al Qaeda?

Rumsfeld: Saddam Hussein's regime is a regime that has been on the terrorist list for many years. It's a regime that has relationships with terrorist networks. It's a regime that has a very aggressive weapons of mass destruction program.

The Congress of the United States passed legislation and the President Clinton's policy and the Congress' policy, the country's policy was regime change back as far away as 1998 when, and there's no question of the linkage between al Qaeda and the Iraqi regime goes back a decade or more, probably fairly soon after [inaudible]. But it wasn't part of those deliberations for us. So I guess the answer to your question is that the country decided that a regime change was important well before September 11th.

Q: The policy is basically -- we're going to go in, we want the rest of the world with us, but we're going in.

Rumsfeld: I did't read the President's speech that way. I read the President's speech to the UN for exactly what he said. He said "This is a very serious problem. We've had 16 Resolutions that have been ignored by Saddam Hussein. His weapons of mass destruction programs are maturing. And don't you think you ought to do something about this?"

We do. We've not prescribed what it ought to be but the one choice we do not have is to do nothing, because the danger grows with each month and each year.

So I think I have more accurately characterized his speech and our country's position than your question.

Q: Quick question, quick answer. Can you tell us do you foresee it taking three days, three weeks, three months? What should the American people expect?

Rumsfeld: What take?

Q: Going in and deposing Saddam Hussein.

Rumsfeld: The President's not made such a decision.

Q: If that were to happen, how long would it take?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I think that is -- The answer to that would depend on the extent to which the Iraqi people could learn that they would have the opportunity to be liberated. And never in human history has a regime this repressive had a population that liked him. The Iraqi people are being subjugated. The Iraqi people would like to [inaudible]. And the question is the time period would be totally a function of how fast they felt the opportunity to be liberated and the extent to which he could prevent them from seeing that opportunity.

Q: Thank you.

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