Radio Interview with Secretary Rumsfeld on the 830 AM WCCO Radio Talk Show
RICE: It's 12:50 on today's 830 WCCO. I'm very pleased to have with me the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining me, sir.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Thank you very much, Jack Rice. I'm delighted to be with you.
RICE: I sure appreciate this. I just came back from Iraq with the help of the Department of Defense. You were very helpful in giving us a lot of access.
A lot of people are watching for obvious reasons, but at the same time some are afraid this is not a winnable war. More than 150 have died in the last two days. What would your response be to that?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: It is winnable. If you think about it, the Revolutionary War was thought by many people to not be winnable and they almost fired George Washington. Certainly the Civil War was thought to be not winnable. I was alive during the early days of World War II and we lost battle after battle after battle and people were wringing their hands and saying we're not going to be able to prevail.
The fact is; there isn't any way that the terrorist enemies can win a single battle against us. The real center of gravity of this war is not out on the battlefield, it's back here in Washington, D.C. because it's a test of wills. As have previous conflicts been tests of wills. It's going to take steadfastness and perseverance and a confidence that the goal is the right goal and that the work that those wonderful young men and women are doing out there is noble work. I don't have a doubt in my mind but that we're going to prevail.
The thought of turning that country, Iraq, back over to the terrorists and allowing it to be a haven, imagine what that part of the world would be like, what the lives of millions of people would be like.
RICE: Do the American people have the will to stand behind this? We've seen the numbers. I assume you've seen the numbers obviously. Do the American people have the ability and desire to continue on?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I think they do. I think there are so many of them hearing from their friends overseas through e-mails, where they get a very accurate picture of what's taking place. You've just been over there; you've seen what's happening. Some 10 or 12 million people went out and voted and they risked being shot when they did it. And the terrorists tried to stop the election in January and they failed; they tried to stop the constitution in October and they failed; they tried to stop the election on December 15th and they failed. They're trying to stop the formation of a government now and they're going to fail at that. Their record is terrible.
If you read the press and listen to the television around here you'd assume that everything was just terrible, the whole country was in chaos. Well, it isn't in chaos. In about 15 out of the 18 provinces things are reasonably calm, and in a few of them including Baghdad, which is of course the biggest, they're not calm. They're difficult and challenging. But they're going to get a government formed and they're going to get on with their lives and they're going to eventually, over a period of time, successfully deal with this insurgency in my view.
RICE: It seems at the center point of the President's policy is democracy, but if we look at democracy in the Middle East right now we can take you to Palestine, we have Hamas, that's obviously a problem; you look at the growth of Hezbollah in Lebanon; you look at the growth of the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt; and now we're looking at the problems with establishing a unity government in Iraq. Don't all of these say that maybe we're going the wrong direction here?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well you know there are people who think that. They said that about Japan back in the end of World War II. They said the Japanese people really aren't appropriate for democracy, they can't make it work. Here they are - the second largest economy on the face of the earth, an ally of ours and a cooperative friend.
They said it about Germany, after Nazi Germany did what they did. That really they're not the kind of people that are going to have a democracy. And yet Japan and Germany are two of our strong allies in the world.
So I think people who diminish the people in the Middle East by saying that they're not capable of functioning in a free system are going to be proven wrong over time. It isn't easy. They don't have any experience with democracy or politicking. They've been living under a vicious dictator who put hundreds of thousands of people into the mass graves when he killed them. So they don't have a lot of experience debating and discussing and doing it, but they're getting it done. They've crafted a constitution; they're going to form a government in the weeks ahead, and they're going to have an Iraqi system that won't be like ours, it will different, but it will be a whale of a lot better than the dictatorship that was there, and much less of a threat to anybody in the world.
RICE: We're talking with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld here on WCCO.
Mr. Secretary, you said this yesterday, that the U.S. is getting a poor grade in the global debate. Can you explain what you mean by that?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Sure. It's very difficult to compete with people who lie consistently. Bin laden and Zawahiri and Zarqawi have media committees and they sit down and they plan how they're going to manipulate the press, because they know in a free system the press is free and whatever lie they can come up with gets printed. Then we have to go out and figure out what the truth is and try to nail it down. There's no penalty for bin Laden and Zawahiri lying, but any time we say something that's inaccurate, because we go too fast or too quick, then there's a penalty for that. So we have to take time.
Right now there was an attack in Baghdad, north of Baghdad recently, in the last few days, and the terrorists who were firing at all of the Iraqi forces that went in to conduct that attack are putting out lies and claiming that it was this and it was that, and our people then have to go in and try to precisely figure out what took place.
What they found in there was when they pulled up to this target that they'd been watching for days, they started getting fired at from houses all around the target. Then they got inside the target, these Iraqi Security Forces for the most part. They got inside and they found rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47s, IEDs, they found a hostage bound and gagged and taped in the basement. This was a hostage-taking ring, it was a bomb-making factory, and the press is reporting what the terrorists have said, that it was a mosque and that these people were praying and that type of thing.
Now that hurts our side, and when I gave us a low grade it's because we haven't figured out how we compete effectively against liars.
In a small town if someone lies once, people say well, that's interesting; if he lies again and again and again and again, pretty soon people say he's a liar and they don't believe him. But people don't say that about bin Laden and Zawahiri and Zarqawi and these terrorists. They keep printing whatever they say in the press and then we have to run around scrambling, trying to get at ground truth to know precisely what took place.
So I don't think we've figured out how to do that very well.
RICE: I've said this before; the media likes to follow plane crashes, not plane landings. I think that seems to me to be fair.
Is there any way to overcome that? I know we obsess, and I'm not pushing left or right here. I know we obsess upon that. Is there a way to say wait a second, there are landings too?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: [Laughter]. I don't know. It's hard. I guess the people in the media have a hard job, certainly the people in government have a hard job, and we're going to have to learn to live in the 21st Century and know that there is instant communication through multiple channels.
I would say this. I think that eventually truth gets out over time and that is a good thing. So we have to have kind of confidence that people, free people, given sufficient information over time will find their way to the right decisions. They also will develop low esteem for institutions that they find are not accurate or not fair or not telling them the truth.
So if you look at the polls you can find that certain institutions are not doing very well in our public esteem and other institutions are. The military's quite high. Some others are quite low.
RICE: I'll tell you, we only have a little bit of time left. I know one of the programs you've been very much involved with is the America Supports You program. Can you tell us about that?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well I can. You know, we have really just a wonderful country when you think about it. The American people are so compassionate and so generous and so caring. What the AmericaSupportsYou.Mil web site did was it went around and started cataloguing and putting down all the wonderful things that people are doing to support the men and women in uniform who are doing such a great job for our country, and also for their families. So this web site, if you go to it, AmericaSupportsYou.Mil, you can find things that school kids are doing, that corporations are doing, that clubs and non-governmental organizations are doing, and get some ideas about how you too might find a way to show your support for the wonderful job these people are doing.
Every one of them is a volunteer. You were out there with them. You know how professional and how decent and efficient they are.
RICE: I sure appreciate that.
I want to get to one last question, two, if I can. That is, is there a timeline in the end, and I only have a few seconds left sir. And I should add here, this is WCCO Radio, Minneapolis, St. Paul.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: The timeline is that we want to pass over responsibility to the Iraqi Security Forces as soon as they're capable of taking that responsibility. It's happening every day. They take over more bases, more real estate, more responsibilities, and that's a good thing.
RICE: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. I sure appreciate the time today, sir.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Thank you so much. It's good to be with you, Jack.
RICE: We sure appreciate it. That was U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, certainly back from my trip to Iraq, it's nice to get a much broader perspective.