WILBUR: Right now, though, we want to welcome to the show the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
Mr. Secretary, thank you for being with us this morning.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Thank you very much, Kirby. It's good to be with you.
WILBUR: You bet. Thanks. We haven't talked since we were at the Pentagon last year, and we enjoyed that interview as well.
Mr. Secretary, lots to talk about, very little time. Let's get right to it. Prime Minister Maliki was in town, in Washington, visiting and addressing Congress. You had a chance to meet with him. Your impressions of the prime minister?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, I did. Of course, I've met with him a couple of times previously in Iraq, and this time I met with him when he met with the president, and then he came over to the Pentagon and had a good visit here. He's a serious person. He's thoughtful, he has courage, he understands things -- what's important. He establishes priorities. I was particularly impressed with the way he resisted all the political pressure in his country to appoint people under the spoils system to the key ministries of defense and interior, and he refused to do it. And it took him a long time to form his government because he refused to do it, but he waited them out and put people into those two ministries based on their competence and the fact that they were non-sectarian.
WILBUR: Mr. Secretary, there seems to be, I would say, some frustration on the part of some of the American people with the situation in Iraq and the -- what appears to be a deteriorating security situation in the city of Baghdad itself. Talk about perhaps assigning more American troops and doing what they can with the security situation in Baghdad. Your thoughts on the current situation there and what has led to this increase in violence in Baghdad?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, there's no question but that the sectarian violence has increased and it is basically armed gangs that rove the streets of Baghdad and one or two other provinces. For the most part, you know, out of the 18 provinces, something like 14 are relatively peaceful. And Baghdad is the principal problem. And when the Iraqi security forces or the coalition forces go after them, they disappear, and then the coalition forces move away and they come back and kill people.
It's a violent country; it's a violent part of the world, I should add, and what's going to have to happen is as this new government gets its feet on the ground and establishes a healthy chain of command and further strengthens those ministries, they're going to have to be able to create a presence in those neighborhoods of Iraqis that stay there and, in fact, provide the kind of law enforcement that's going to be needed. It's basically a police function.
WILBUR: A lot of folks would think that the Iraqis have been a little slow in assuming these responsibilities, maybe not having the patience required to give the government -- to get their feet on the ground. Your thoughts on the progress of the Iraqis being able to take over these security functions and eventually leading to a drawdown in American troops, as far as the training and the ability of the Iraqi forces on the ground to do that today?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, they have now about 275,000 Iraqi security forces that have been trained and equipped. The Ministry of Defense has about 40 percent of those and the Ministry of Interior about 60 percent. They are doing an increasingly more effective job. The Ministry of Defense forces are particularly good. We have U.S. forces embedded with them, so we're able to see how they're doing and get a very good read on it.
We have only recently started embedding U.S. forces with the Ministry of Interior security forces, and so our assessment there is not as clear as it is with the Ministry of Defense forces. And, of course, that's what needs to be improved, is the police side of it.
WILBUR: It seems to -- looking at the situation, you have three basic groups in Iraq. You have the Kurds in the north, who are relatively peaceful. They're developing, they're growing and, in fact, we have a representative of the Kurdistan regional government on in 20 minutes to talk to us about that. But it seems that the quarrel between the Shi'a and the Sunni, which is a religious situation, is the one that seems to be most easily inflamed by agitators and others who want to take advantage of the situation. Do you have confidence that at some point in time most Iraqis could put that difference aside and work together for Iraq, as opposed to working for Shi'a or working for Sunni?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, clearly, your assessment's correct, that it is essentially -- outsiders are trying to stimulate conflict between the Shi'a and the Sunnis, and people in the country who would like to have the Sunnis take back the country are doing that. The Iranians are doing it on behalf of the Shi'a, and the damage that accrues to the country is serious. And the Iraqi people that are killed in the process, of course, are the ones who are suffering.
So, do I think that they're eventually going to sort this out? I do. I think that we've -- we've watched this take place. We are helping equip and train these Iraqi forces. At some point, one would have to believe that the --
Think of it: Here's a country of, what, 25 million people? They've had three elections; they've drafted their own constitution; they've now elected their own government under their new constitution. They have an elected parliament. Twelve million people went out and voted. In each election of the three, there were more people went out and voted. They've spoken with their feet and with their courage. So the overwhelming majority of the people in that country want a peaceful life, and the question is, at what point will the government be able to marshal the broad support that exists in that country for a representative system and a peaceful process, and put their faith in a constitution to protect them against -- from violence from each other. That's something they've never done. The only thing that held that country together previously was repression, a vicious dictatorship. Now they're all being asked to put their faith in a piece of paper, a constitution.
WILBUR: That they have no experience with and --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Exactly.
WILBUR: Yeah, and they have to develop that confidence.
Now, as someone who has supported the effort from the very beginning, the liberation of Iraq, and still support our president as to what we're doing there, it seems to me that a lot of the American people are used to instant solutions
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: (Laughs.)
WILBUR: and things being solved in 23 minutes on a TV soap opera --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: (Yeah.)
WILBUR: -- and whether or not a free people here has the patience to see this through, given all the complications and how difficult it is.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, you know, you've called it. I mean, the center of gravity of this war is not in Iraq or in Afghanistan. It is really in the United States, and it's in the capitals of the countries around the world where the people are free and they recognize that we're in a struggle against violent extremists. And this -- Iraq happens to be the central front at the moment, and Afghanistan. But the bombings have taken place many other places, and these people are determined to impose their vision -- destructive and evil vision -- on free people. And we just simply have to have the perseverance to see that that doesn't happen.
You know, if you think about it, there were times in the Civil War, in the Revolutionary War, there were always people that were opposed. There were always people who said the loss of life and the loss of funds were too great for the -- to continue, and we should toss in the towel. We wouldn't have the country we have today if the American people didn't have a good center of gravity and the ability to understand what's truly important, and then to persevere. And that's been our whole history.
WILBUR: Well, President Lincoln had to put up with the peace movement, draft riots, people urging the war couldn't be won, wanting to surrender. He persevered and he kept the country together. I hope that spirit of perseverance is here in America today.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Right.
WILBUR: Because think what would have happened back then; if it had prevailed in 1864, we would not have had one country.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Exactly. I mean, it's just -- and think if we'd decided during the Revolution or World War I or (World War) II. And of course, the American people are amazing. We have this web site, AmericaSupportsYou.mil, where people can go look and see all the compassionate and thoughtful and generous things that the American people are doing to support the troops and to support their families. And it's schools and corporations and clubs and organizations of all types. I hope people will take a look at the web site and see things that people are doing, and I think -- it gives me a great deal of confidence in the American people.
WILBUR: That's AmericaSupportsYou.mil?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Exactly.
WILBUR: Because I know that we here at the station, we're involved in helping our Special Forces troops at Fort Lewis raise money to help families. We've got three troop support movements here that we work with and raise money to help support the troops, because we think it's important they know we're behind them. And I think the American people are, and they -- we get a lot of clutter from the media every once in a while, a lot of flash and a lot of noise, but I think basically the American people support the mission, and we will see it through.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Terrific.
WILBUR: All right. Mr. Secretary, I want to thank you for taking the time with us today and thank you for all you do for our country. And all we have to do is win, and I think we will.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Thank you, Kirby. I look forward to talking to you again sometime.
MR. WILBUR: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. You have a great day.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Thank you.
WILBUR: All right --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Bye.
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