Radio Interview with Secretary Rumsfeld and Sean Hannity on WABC News Talk Radio, N.Y.
NOTE: Portions of this interview ran on FOX “Hannity and Colmes”
Hannity: We are here with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, good to see you.
Rumsfeld: Thank you, I am delighted to be here.
Hannity: I have had an opportunity now to be around you a few times. You are a man of good cheer; you don’t get down. I have thought of you often with all the non-stop, daily barrage, all the attacks.
You don’t let this affect you or impact you.
Rumsfeld: If you believe in what you are doing, and you feel fortunate to be able to be involved in something as important as the work the men and women in uniform are doing, you feel like a fortunate person. You don’t end up agonizing over it. You are proud to be involved.
[Pause for audio problems]
Hannity: Let me talk a little bit, the country is divided on the war. That’s the bottom line. Isn’t that what it comes down to? There are two very different schools of thought on whether or not this is one of the central points in the war on terrorism.
Rumsfeld: There is also a debate in the country whether there is a war at all and whether there is a terrorist threat. Indeed there is a threat. It’s a serious threat. The intelligence shows it. The people that have been killed in London and Madrid and Indonesia and in so many other countries, the United States, demonstrates that this is a serious struggle against violent extremists. They are not conventional. They will have to be defeated. They will have to be dealt with where they or we will have to deal with them here.
Hannity: How do people not know we are at war? After the first Trade Center bombing, we saw it happen on 9-11, the embassy bombings, [inaudible], USS Cole -- Isn’t that the one major conclusion of the 9-11 Report that they’re at war with us and we were not at war with them?
Rumsfeld: Absolutely. That is the situation. If you think about this, there has always been debate. Wars have never been popular. The Revolutionary War was a struggle and they talked about firing George Washington. World War II, I was alive, – there was a great debate over World War II. So, too, with other conflicts.
In the Cold War, there were constantly efforts to bring our troops home from Europe; to throw in the towel; Euro-Communism wasn’t that bad; the Soviet Union really wasn’t going to do anything serious. And fortunately, the American people have a pretty good center of gravity. You can see the polls go up and down but in the last analysis, the American people if they are given sufficient information, they are going to find their way to reasonably right decisions.
Hannity: I think a lot of people forget that even will all the praise of [President] Reagan now when he wanted to pursue SDI [Strategic Defense Initiative]; when he called them [Soviets] an evil empire, when he deployed and modernized weaponry in Europe, it was fierce opposition to Reagan.
Hannity: Do you see an analogy – we saw what happened at the end of the Cold War we saw the demise the Soviet Union. What is the outcome you expect from the war on terrorism, or more specifically the war in Iraq? If we could see through the prism of history, what are we going to see?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well if you think about what's happened, I think the past is prologue. Terrorists tried to stop the election last January and they failed; they tried to stop the drafting of an Iraqi constitution and they failed; they tried to stop the referendum on October 15th and they failed. And more people participated and voted than had in January. They tried to stop the election December 15th, and still more Iraqis went out and voted. And they voted with their feet, and they voted with their courage. Now they're trying to stop the formation of a new government under that constitution after that election and they're going to fail again.
We're going to get a government in that country; there will be an Iraqi solution to Iraqi problems. I believe we're going to make it.
Hannity: What will we see in the region ten years from now?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, assuming we're successful and the Iraqi people are successful in putting in place a government and placing their confidence in a piece of paper, a constitution, think of that. That's an enormous bet they're going to be making.
What we'll see is we'll see a country that has water, that has oil, that has intelligent people, that has history, and it will be a country that will not be attacking its neighbors. It will not be filling mass graves with hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people. It won't be using chemicals on its own people. It will be a country that will be at peace and opposing violent extremists, and I think that that will be a fabulous thing for the world.
Hannity: Do you see the democratization of the Middle East beginning here like we saw the demise of the Soviet Union and all of Eastern Europe, emerging democracies. Do you see the same thing? The President speaks often of this. Do you see [inaudible] as dramatic and positive a result? Something nobody's predicting now. When Reagan said it was an evil empire nobody predicted the Wall would come tumbling down, did they?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: They certainly didn't.
It is possible. You know, if you think about it there's one real democracy and that's Israel in the Middle East. The Iranians do not want a representative government that is secular and at peace with its neighbors. The Iranians will find that uncomfortable. But I think a successful Iraq that is a peaceful country and a representative country that's respectful of all of the various ethnic groups there would be a model that would have an enormous positive impact economically in the country, in the region, I mean.
Hannity: Do you pay attention to the constant drumbeat of criticism? Do you listen to it? Are you aware of it? Is it something you don't pay attention to? Because it's daily. You know that.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Sure.
Hannity: Do you pay attention to it?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I suppose I'm not unaware of it, but in terms of getting up in the morning and agonizing over it and planning my day around it, I just don't. I can't. I've got too many things to do. We have important work that's being done out there. Our troops are doing a terrific job. And the threats that exist in the world that we have to be attentive to are real. We're transforming the Department of Defense simultaneously. And if you spent all of your time worrying about that you couldn't do your job.
Hannity: Let me ask a question that I've asked often, that we've debated often, both on radio and TV, is what impact does it have on the effort when a former Vice President screams George Bush has betrayed his country? When former Presidents, Vice President, prominent members of the House and Senate say the President lied, hyped, purposely misled, to bring us into war? When John Kerry says that our young American soldiers are going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of the night terrorizing kids and children and women, et cetera? When Howard Dean, the head of the Democratic party, says we can't win the war?
Does that undermine our troops? Is that an undermining effort? Is that different from legitimate criticism?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: You know, if you go back in history, you think of the things that were said about Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. It was as abusive as it could be and we survived that. I was alive during World War II and I think of what was said of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Hannity: Truman took a lot of heat.
Secretary Rumsfeld: Harry Truman took a lot of heat.
Hannity: Low poll numbers?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: When I was in Congress, President Johnson was President and he couldn't leave the White House to give a speech. They had to put buses around the White House to keep the demonstrators from coming on the white House grounds. They didn't have those concrete barricades in those days.
Are we going to survive this? You bet we are.
Hannity: Does that kind of historical knowledge help you?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Oh, absolutely.
Hannity: It does. This administration and the President, what you're doing, you see it in the context of history?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: You have to. Think if we had thrown in the towel during the Revolutionary War and said oh, it's too tough, it's too difficult, it's taking too long, it costs too much, we can't do it. Or World War II. We lost battle after battle after battle in the beginning of World War II.
Hannity: But I go back to my original question: a former vice president says that George Bush betrayed his country; when prominent Democrats repeatedly say the president lied; when John Kerry says our troops are terrorizing women and children in the dark of night, Does that undermine the effort? Does it cross a line?
Rumsfeld: Think of this. There are 133,000 troops, US troops in Iraq. They all have emails and are sending emails back to their families. They all have friends and relatives they went to high school with, went to college with, they worked with. The American people know these people. And they are sending emails back telling the truth. Whose credibility does that undermine? I think it undermines someone, as you quoted, the things they are saying.
Hannity: Does it hurt the effort? Does it cross a barrier for you that says it’s over the line?
Rumsfeld: Oh sure. Everyone has their own sense of where the line is. Where is the Congress or press in public approval? Down at the bottom.
Hannity: The press is particularly, which I am a part of but I am the new media, the one that is light. Donald Rumsfeld is with us, Secretary of Defense. I am going to talk about your visit to the troops in the hospital, I know something about you that a lot of folks don’t know about you. You are here in New York to get an award, a little more about the war effort.
We are going to take a break.
Hannity: Once a year with good friend Colonel North we go to Bethesda, we've been to Walter Reed, we've met these soldiers. They're going through tough times. It's very interesting. Every time they tell me one of the most frequent guests that goes in without any fanfare, any cameras, any publicity, often, is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. You go over there quite a bit, don't you?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, we do, and thank you for going. It's a wonderful thing. It's a big boost in their lives. But you know if you want to be inspired that's the place to go. These folks are so proud of their service and are so professional and talented in what they've done for the country. And they're up. They're anxious to get back to their units. They're strong. And the amazing thing to me is their families feel the same way. I'm always struck, I leave there feeling how fortunate we are as a country to have not just the Soldiers and Sailors and Airmen and Marines, but their families and their loved ones be so supportive and so strong and so proud of our country and so willing to defend freedom.
Hannity: We followed the story of Joshua Sparling on this program. I think you met him. He just found out recently that he’s going to lose his leg. He still wants to go back to Iraq. Every time I have been there I walk out saying I don’t have any problems compared to these guys. They inspire you to appreciate all that you have. They are amazing people.
Rumsfeld: Of course a great many of them would not be alive in prior wars. The medical care today is so good and the speed which they are taken off the battlefield and their recovery is just miraculous.
We went out to Colorado and skied with 24 of them last month. And these are folks many that have never skied before and some of them have a leg or an arm off. They have got guts and they ski hard and fast and want to beat me! It was fun.
Hannity: Let's talk about John Kerry. He had a piece in the New York Times this week, and among other things he said Iraqi politicians should be told that they have until May 15th to put together an effective unity government or we will immediately withdraw our military.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: The Iraqis are going to form a government. They're going to have a government. There are people who are suggesting that the President should put more pressure on them. The risk of that is you're going to end up with a government that doesn't have the support of the Iraqi people. That it is a government that is imposed on a timetable and with certain stipulations.
The President's stipulations have been clear. It's that they have a government that's respectful of all the elements in that country and that's at peace with its neighbors, and they're going to get a government, in my view. But I think there's a risk in being too heavy-handed and too visible in mandating what should take place in what is a sovereign country.
Hannity: I'll move on. I'll get back to politics in just a second. I want to talk about what obviously is one of the biggest hot spots in the world. You have North Korea, but you also have Iran and Ahmadinejad and his threats, he wants to annihilate Israel, wipe it off the face of the Earth. He has thumbed his nose at the world community as it relates to moving forward with his nuclear program. How big a threat do you view him? You saw the tests that he ran with these missiles just in the last week. How big a threat is Iran to the United States? And will the United States prepare, must we prepare for the possibility we'll be at war with Iran?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Iran is a large country. It's historically an important country. It's a technologically capable country. It has leadership right now that you've properly characterized. They've not only said roughly that about Israel but also roughly that about the United States. They sponsor terrorism with Hezbollah and Hamas. They are a country that by their behavior are really isolating themselves from many of the countries in the world. They're spending their time with Syria and North Korea and people like that.
I think the Iranian people do not want to be isolated from the world and I think that Ahmadinejad is behaving in a way that may have that effect. I think that will weaken his position over time, but time will tell.
Hannity: Do you see that we may have a military confrontation?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: You know, the President's on a diplomatic track. That's his decision and it's the right decision in my view, and all efforts are being made to see that the United Nations engages that subject, and I think it's best to leave it at that.
Hannity: Let me talk about the current conflicts, future conflicts. You said our task today is similar to the Cold War at one point. You said our nation is engaged in what will be a long war. That's another quote of yours. You said that in many ways many critical battles in the war on terror will be fought in the newsrooms and editorial boards. Put those three quotes together.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: It is going to take time because it's a struggle between violent extremists, a relatively small number, and the major Muslim population which is not composed of violent extremists.
Second, they are going at it asymmetrically, with irregular warfare. We're not going to lose a battle in Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere in the world against a terrorist network. They operate in the shadows. The task is to put pressure on them all across the world and make everything more difficult for them. Make it harder to raise money, harder to recruit, harder to move weapons, harder to talk to each other. That's what we're doing.
Now it's a test of wills. If they can't win a battle, where can they win? The only place they can win is in the capitals of Western countries. And with trying to persuade the American people and other Western nations, free people, look, it isn't worth the cost, it isn't worth the time, it isn't worth the lives, it isn't worth the money. And to get them to toss in the towel and say it's not worth the effort. Well, it is worth the effort because terrorists are against free people behaving as free people. That's the very essence of what America is.
Hannity: I have less than a minute. It's a long war, and it's similar to the Cold War and it's fought also in the Editorial Room Boards. Does this go on throughout our lifetime? I have young children, their lifetime? This goes on for that long a period?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: It could go on for a good many years. The Cold War, no one estimated the Cold War would last 40 or 50 years. It did. How long this will take, I can't say.
People basically want to be free and they don't want to be terrorized and they don't want to have to alter their behavior, and I think that most people understand that, so I'm confident about the American people finding, using good judgment about this.
Hannity: Thank you Mr. Secretary.