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Radio Interview with Secretary Rumsfeld with Jerry Agar, KMBZ, Kansas City, KS

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 26, 2006 1:45 PM EDT
AGAR: Sir, I appreciate your time very much.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I'm delighted to do it.

AGAR: The administration has begun to use the term benchmarks. The Democrats and the media seem to be insisting on timetables. There's a world of difference to me. Does it seem to you that we have some people in this country who maybe desire a political victory right now at home over victory in the war on terror?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I wouldn't -- the president asked me to stay out of politics, but it doesn't take a genius to see that we're in the political season.

And I must say the confusion or the mischief that's being made about the word benchmarks or projections or goals or targets and timetables of course is unfortunate. Because the fact of the matter is a timetable to withdraw our troops is exactly what the enemy would like. They can then sit back and wait for that date and prevail and turn those countries back into terrorist havens, and do great damage and put the American people at risk.

So what really is happening is that the sovereign government of Iraq is working with the United States and the coalition countries to fashion a way forward for this year and next year, and to lay out a path that they would like to try to achieve. In some cases they'll make those projections and achieve them; in some cases they won't, and in some cases they'll beat them and do better. And they're working on those things now. And it's entirely up to the Iraqi government to decide which particular targets and what time periods they'd like to try to shoot for. But it's a very different thing than a timetable for withdrawal.

AGAR: Yeah. The president said in his remarks yesterday, "This month we've lost 93 service members. During roughly that same period more than 300 Iraqi security personnel gave their lives in battle, and Iraqi civilians have suffered unspeakable violence." Does this indicate that the Iraqis are unprepared, or that they're bravely engaging? And are they improving?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it suggests several things.

First of all, there's 310,000 of them, which is double the number we have. So the more people you have the more risk is undertaken. And as you point out, they're taking three times the numbers of causalities that we are.

The second thing I'd say is that they are -- they're out doing their job, and God bless them for it. It is a difficult job. And yet the people who've gone around and denigrated the quality of the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces I think just didn't get it. They just didn't understand what's going on.

The Department of Defense forces and Ministry of Defense forces in Iraq are better than the Ministry of Interior forces -- the police forces. And that's because we've been working with them for a longer period of time, and we have people embedded with the Ministry of Defense forces. But over time, the Ministry of Interior forces, the police I think will improve and get better at what they're doing. But those folks are doing a very good job.

AGAR: There's a lot of criticism of the media in terms of all they do is look for the worst stories and report that. If you were writing an article, what would be the number one positive story you think you could put out?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Interesting question.

I think the fact that 12 million people went and voted in that country, after they had drafted and then approved a constitution says a lot. There's no question the violence is serious. There's no question there's some sectarian violence. And yet the accomplishments that have been achieved: an election by 12 million people of a new government. The new government's been in office only a short period of time -- less than the baseball season -- and we ask a lot. I mean, it's hard. That's tough stuff.

They don't have a culture or a history of representative government. They don't have the institutions of a free system. They don't have the financial institutions of a banking system. They don't have the traditions we have. And yet they're working hard and making progress. And I think anyone who is looking for perfection isn't going to find it.

And I would say that the good news story is that 12 million people voted. They want a free system. And they're working darn hard and taking risks to achieve it. And our goal is to try to help train and equip the Iraqi security forces so that they can provide for their own security.

AGAR: Something that I hear a lot doing the radio show is that -- from many people who don't think that the war in Iraq has anything to do with the war on terror. Is there a disconnect between those two? How do you respond to that?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, the struggle that's taking place in the world between violent extremists in the Muslim faith -- a very small minority of the Muslims in the world -- and the overwhelming majority of the Muslim people who are not violent extremists, who are perfectly fine people -- that struggle is being played out in a lot of places. We've seen bombings in Madrid; we've seen them in London, in Bali. And clearly, it's being played out in Afghanistan. It's being played out in Iraq, the bombings that took place in Saudi Arabia.

Our goal is to protect the American people and to provide for their safety. And it is an awful lot better to be dealing with these violent extremists in Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere around the world than it is back in our own backyards.

AGAR: Somebody said to me just yesterday when I brought that up, "Well, they're already here, and if they want to attack us here they can anyway, so it doesn't make any difference."

SEC. RUMSFELD: It doesn't make any difference?

AGAR: Well, that's what somebody said to me, that we're just wasting our time in Iraq because the terrorists are already here in America.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it's been our great good fortune that since September 11th we've not had a terrorist attack in the United States. And I can't imagine somebody who would think that it's just as good to fight violent extremists in the United States as it is to fight them somewhere else.

AGAR: Yeah, I think we are keeping them busy in Iraq, and God bless our troops for doing that. Those who want to support the troops -- I know you have a website for that.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, we do. And I thank you. We have a website that's AmericaSupportsYou.mil. And anyone who goes to that website will have a chance to see what a wonderful country we have. We've got all these terrific young men and women who volunteered to put their lives at risk to defend the American people and go out around the world every day at sacrifice to themselves and their wonderful families who support them. And on the website, it shows all the things that schools or organizations or clubs or corporations or individual people have decided to do to support the troops and also to support their families. And it really shows what a wonderfully compassionate and generous people the American people are.

AGAR: Secretary Rumsfeld, thanks for your time today.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you. It's good to talk to you, Jerry. Thank you.

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