United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with CNBC

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 06, 2003

(Interview on Capital Report, CNBC)

Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being with us here on Capital Report. The first question is are we days away from war?

Rumsfeld: Well, that's a call that of course is one for the president and the United Nations, and really it's not so much for them as much as it is Saddam Hussein. I mean, the whole test was not whether inspectors could discover anything, but whether or not he would cooperate, and he clearly has not been cooperating to the extent that he would need to to have fulfilled the U.N. Resolution 1441. Whether he will in the days, the period ahead I just don't know.

Q: But you now have Russia, France, Germany all saying - but in particular Russia and France, who have veto, saying they would oppose any resolution that gives us the go-ahead to conduct war against Saddam Hussein. Do you think it was a mistake to go to the U.N. and get embroiled in this?

Rumsfeld: Well, no, I don't. I think the president made the right call. It - he went to the Congress first and received a very strong vote, and he went to the United Nations and received a unanimous vote in the Security Council.

You gain something and you give up something. You give up freedom of action for a period; and on the other hand, you've gained a period where the important, tough issues are being discussed and debated, and that's important. I mean, democratic systems have people who need to get familiar with facts and with circumstances, and with our new security environment. We need a debate like that. It's a good thing to have that kind of a debate.

Q: Go ahead.

Q: Do you expect that, if it looks like we're going to lose a U.N. vote, that we would ask for a U.N. vote in the Security Council?

Rumsfeld: Well, first of all, people say a lot of things that they ultimately don't do, and whether someone would veto it, I just don't know. I don't even know what the language will ultimately be or what the proposal will be.

We do know that all of those countries voted for Resolution 1441 of the United Nations Security Council, and we do know that it said that they're in material breach, and we said if they didn't - it said if they didn't supply a declaration that was honest, they would be in further material breach, and if they didn't cooperate, they'd be in still further material breach, and that there would be serious consequences, and that this was not their next-to-last chance, but it was their final opportunity -- was I think the language. Pretty clear language, and they all knew what they were voting for. These are people who can read.

Q: President Aznar of Spain, who is one of our allies in all of this, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying, quote, "The more Powell speaks and the less Rumsfeld speaks, that wouldn't be a bad thing altogether." What do you say to President Aznar?

Rumsfeld: (Laughing.) Oh, heck, he's a - he's a fine man and he's been a good supporter, and everyone is entitled to their own opinions. The president of the United States has certainly never said anything like that to me. (Chuckles.)

Q: Mr. Secretary, there are reports that the British have asked the United States to hold off on any use of force between 72 hours and a week after any action in the United Nations. Is that something that you could live with?

Rumsfeld: It's not for me; it's for the president, and I'm sure that the president is anxious to find ways to accommodate the needs of the various countries, particularly countries like represented by the prime minister, Tony Blair. He has been so supportive and so helpful, and I'm sure that Secretary Powell, who is dealing with all of these issues up in New York, is worrying all those things through. It's not something that the Department of Defense is engaged in.

Q: Do you think that it's a real possibility that Saddam Hussein could strike Israel preemptively if we do not strike Iraq first? Does that worry you?

Rumsfeld: Saddam Hussein has used chemical weapons on his own people, he has used them on his neighbors, the Iranians. He has fired missiles - ballistic missiles into four of his neighboring countries, and then your question is do I think that he could strike preemptively at Israel.

Q: Uh-huh.

Rumsfeld: For - if the United States and the coalition -

Q: If we wait, if we hold off a little bit or -

Rumsfeld: Oh, I just don't know the answer to that question. I think Saddam Hussein has demonstrated that he is perfectly capable of doing a great many things preemptively. He's done them in the past.

Q: Are you prepared for it?

Rumsfeld: I think the Israelis are very historically sensitive to their national security, and they have ballistic missile defense capabilities. Iraq is not contiguous to Israel. They do have missiles that can reach Israel, and I suspect that Israel is very attentive to that.

Q: Given what we know about Saddam Hussein's willingness to use his own people as human shields, to place military facilities next to hospitals, to schools, do you need to be preparing the American people for the possibility of large Iraqi casualties, civilian casualties in a war?

Rumsfeld: I think that not just the American people, but people across the globe need -

Q: All over the world, sure.

Rumsfeld: -- to know the truth, and the truth is that war is unpredictable; that it, that people die and that its dangerous.

I also think that it's proper for the world to know that the Iraqis have a pattern of doing exactly what you've said. They co-locate military and civilian activities purposely to bring about the death of those people so that they can use it for propaganda purposes.

The United States, on the other hand, is so careful and has such precision weapons that it is - it is possible for us to conduct a - the use of force in a way that is unusual historically and is unusual relative to other countries. We really do have very - enormous care in targeting, and we do a - the United States military does a superb job in avoiding the death of innocent people.

Q: You mentioned the propaganda war. That seems to be, at the moment, a war we're not doing that well in, if you look at public opinion polls, et cetera. I mean, that - that - we've gotten a lot of viewer e-mail on this casualty question, which is why I'm pressing it. Is there a real danger that if you have a bad strike that you're really going to turn a lot of people against us?

Rumsfeld: Well, you're quite right that we're not doing that well, and of course, the reason is it's not an even playing field. We're a democracy and they're a dictatorship, so they control their ground, and they manage the press, and they lie repeatedly. And we don't manage the press, we don't lie -

Q: You try. (Chuckles.)

Q: You'd like to sometimes.

Rumsfeld: No, we don't at all. We've got a free press, and it's one of our great strengths. But to the extent that he lies and then it's carried worldwide, repeated over and over and over again - and we know that happened in Afghanistan. We saw instances where people were taken out of hospitals, moved over to a non-hospital building that had been hit, and pretended that they were killed and hurt in a hospital, which is just flat, absolutely false.

Now that carries all over the world, and on the other hand, we don't do that in the United States. We tell the truth, as we should, and so the imbalance in what the world sees is a direct result of that.

Q: But are you saying we've lost the PR battle against Saddam Hussein? How could that be?

Rumsfeld: I wouldn't say we've lost it. I think that the comment was correct. We seem to not do as well as he does. He's an accomplished liar, and every time he lies, it's carried in televisions all across the globe, and no one says that this is a man who has repeatedly lied, and when you listen to him, you should be on notice - he's a liar. He doesn't tell the truth. He's got a history of denying and deceiving and tricking people, and so listener, we're going to show it to you, but be on notice, it's probably not true. No one says that.

Q: But we've lost the PR battle with our allies, as well, it seems to me.

Rumsfeld: But does it really?

Q: Well, is our - are we -

Q: With the leaders of Russia, France, Germany.

Rumsfeld: Well, my goodness, now let's - if you want to start counting, go back and take the eight nations that signed the letter supporting President Bush and then go take the ten European nations that in addition supported President Bush. The number of people that will be involved in a coalition in the event that force has to be used will be in big double digits. It very likely will be close to or the same as, or somewhat more than the coalition that existed during the Gulf War. In the global war on terror, President Bush has put together a coalition of 90 nations. It's the largest coalition in the history of mankind.

Now is here unanimity? No. Did anyone ever expect unanimity? No. Life isn't like that. Everyone does not just line up.

Q: You must have expected a little bit better than this.

Rumsfeld: I don't know that I did. I think you go back to the Gulf War. The vote passed in the Congress by a couple of votes. This one was overwhelming.

The last U.N. resolution was unanimous. Think of it. And simply because one or two or three countries stand up and say we don't agree with this, does that mean that the world is against it? No. It means that there is an absence of unanimity, and I understand that. These are tough issues, they're important issues. They ought to be debated and discussed.

Q: Do you expect the world to be with you for the rebuilding of Iraq, post-war?

Rumsfeld: I expect a large number of countries to be involved in the event force is used, let alone afterwards - of course.

Q: Let me just switch back to Saddam Hussein -

Rumsfeld: But when you said the world, the answer is no. There is never going to be unanimity. I would guess Cuba, no matter what we did, wouldn't agree. I would guess North Korea, no matter what we did, wouldn't agree.

Q: We're going to talk about North Korea, but one more question on Saddam. What about the hunt for Saddam Hussein? Is it dead or alive, like Osama bin Laden?

Rumsfeld: The goal is to disarm that country and see that they have weapons of mass destruction destroyed. It is to see that there is a regime in place that does not threaten its neighbors. It's to see that it remains a single country.

Saddam Hussein, if he's not there, is a blessing for the Iraqi people -- that's for sure. Now if he's replaced by another person of his type, that wouldn't be helpful at all, either, so the real task is to see that the weapons of mass destruction are destroyed and that we have - there's a regime there that doesn't threaten their neighbors.

Q: What is there going to be in this war, as opposed to the one 12 years ago, that would prevent Saddam Hussein from using chemical or biological weapons, which we know he has developed?

Rumsfeld: Probably nothing. That is to say that in the last conflict he correctly assessed that he could remain in power. In this instance, if force has to be used because he won't cooperate and disarm, he would probably correctly assess that he will not be there, and therefore he might even have a greater incentive to use weapons of mass destruction, one would think. On the other hand, he can't use them, which is a wonderful thing.

Q: Why not?

Rumsfeld: Because he's hiding somewhere in an underground bunker. He has to get people to do that, and what we need to do is to persuade the people around him that would have to implement those kinds of terrible orders that it's not in their interest to do so, and if they do they would become war criminals and that they would be hunted down and found and held accountable for doing something that is that beyond the pale.

Q: Colleen Rowley, the whistleblower at the FBI, is quoted in the papers this morning saying that if we go to war against Saddam Hussein, she is expecting - and many people at the FBI are expecting terrorist attacks here in the United States as a result.

Rumsfeld: I'm not familiar with what she may have said. There is no question but that anyone who looks at the threat matrix every day knows that there are threats all over the world, and fortunately, because the global war on terror is succeeding and President Bush has put together that worldwide coalition, we have had a great deal of success in putting pressure on terrorist networks and disrupting a great many potential terrorist acts.

Q: Does the capture of Sheikh Mohammad, for example, lead you closer to Osama bin Laden?

Rumsfeld: It might - it could, but finding - you know, a manhunt is a difficult thing. A single person can move around and hide. The people on the Ten Most Wanted List for the FBI have been on that list for decades. So it's hard.

Q: So won't there be a manhunt for Saddam as well?

Rumsfeld: I would think so, sure, but I don't think that the world necessarily has to hold baited breath to find either one. The task is to disrupt their capability to do great damage to innocent people.

Q: I want to switch for a moment to North Korea. If the North Koreans start reprocessing plutonium, will the United States - are we prepared to take out their nuclear reactor?

Rumsfeld: The president has made a decision that North Korea represents a serious threat and problem. For that reason he has decided to proceed on a diplomatic track, and has worked with the IAEA to bring that issue before the United Nations and the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Committee. That's a good thing, and that process is underway, and one would hope that North Korea would somehow or other see reason.

Q: But what do you say to people who say you are downplaying the crisis in North Korea because you are too focused on going to war in Iraq?

Rumsfeld: Well, if you think about it, we're kind of at the beginning of the diplomatic process with Korea, and we're kind of at the end, after 12 years, of the diplomatic process - we've tried diplomacy with Iraq, we've tried economic sanctions with Iraq, we've tried limited military actions in the Northern and Southern no-fly zones, and this is now the 17th resolution, and if another one is introduced this week or next, why, it'll be the 18th, not the second. So they're different in circumstances. I think Iraq - correction, I think North Korea's threat to the world is less to the Korean Peninsula at the present moment and more through proliferation of nuclear materials sufficient to make a number of nuclear weapons. They are a major proliferator.

So I think the president's decision and Secretary Powell's work to bring it into the United Nations is a sensible thing to do.

Q: You are obviously on the verge of making some decisions that are going to be critical to the future of this country and the future of this world. Do you lose sleep at night over that?

Rumsfeld: Let's be very clear. These decisions are not mine. These decisions are the president of the United States', and he'll make that decision, and the others in the world will make their decisions. We have absolutely wonderful men and women in the Armed Forces of the United States. I visit them in this country, I visit with them in the Central Command's region, and their morale is high, they're well trained, they're well equipped, and if they are asked to do something by their country, they'll do it and they'll do it very, very well.

Q: What would you like to say to the American people on the eve of what may be a war?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think that I would say this: that we're in a new century, we're in a new security environment. The connection between weapons of mass destruction and terrorist states and terrorist networks has created a security circumstance that is probably one of the most dangerous the world has seen. These weapons are not weapons that can kill simply hundreds or even a few thousand; they are weapons that can kill tens of thousands and potentially hundreds of thousands of people.

That means that we have to think anew about these issues, and therefore the debate and discussions and, quite honestly, the differences that are being expressed in the Congress, in the press, is not a bad thing; it's a good thing. It's forcing us all to think about those issues and understand them better and understand the risks and the dangers. Now, it's very clear that there are risks to acting. What we have to understand is there are also risks to not acting, and the risk to not acting can in fact put at risk large numbers of innocent men, women and children in this country and in the countries of our friends and allies around the world.

Q: And to those people who say that if we have to go in there unilaterally and do this, that the risks will become much greater because we isolate ourselves as kind of the enemy for radicalized elements in that part of the world, how do you respond?

Rumsfeld: Well, I'd respond in two ways. First, we don't have to do anything to be the target in the world. We already were attacked on September 11th. We already know that as the country that has a distinctive position in the world, that we are the target -- Western countries, Western culture. So you don't need to do anything more. And second, I would say that this mantra that's being repeated over and over and over on television and in the press and in foreign countries about U.S. acting unilaterally and going it alone is so false and so inaccurate that it is breathtaking. How it can keep being repeated by intelligent people? We have a 90-nation coalition in the global war on terrorism. It's the biggest coalition in the history of mankind. We will have a large number of countries if force has to be used. The U.N. resolution passed unanimously. There are countries lining up to be helpful with military assistance in the event force has to be used, with respect to basing and over-rights, with respect to intelligence cooperation and with respect to assistance in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

Now, how anyone can say that that's going it alone, how anyone can say it is unilateral, is absolutely beyond me. It isn't, and it's repeated every single day over and over. Why? Because one or two or three or four countries have stood up and opposed it, and that is considered the world by people, for some unknown reason to me. It's utter nonsense. That's not the world. Those are important countries, many of them are good friends of ours, and they have a different opinion, and that's fair enough, and God bless them; they ought to say what they think and they ought to do what they think, but they are not the world. There are lots of countries in the world, and a lot of countries have been enormously supportive and helpful.

Q: What do you say to the anti-war protesters who have been here in Washington, hundreds of thousands?

Rumsfeld: Sure.

Q: Yeah.

Rumsfeld: Well, isn't it a wonderful thing that we have a democracy and that they can say what they think? You don't see anti-war protesters - you don't see anti-Saddam Hussein protesters in Iraq. You don't see them in dictatorships; you don't see them in repressive regime countries. We've always had people who had differences of opinion. If you go back to pre-World War II - I'm from Chicago. The America First Group was there, and they used to fill stadiums. They filled Madison Square Garden over and over again with people, saying we must not get engaged in a war in Europe, and Hitler can be dealt with, and not to worry. Now, were they good people? You bet. Were they sincere people? Yes. I've known some of them very, very well, personally. Charles Lindbergh was one. He would speak to these organizations, and he was a fine man - the man who flew across the Atlantic the first time in the Spirit of St. Louis. But is it possible to be sincere and be wrong? Yes, it is. And we've always had, in a free country, people who have different views, and we expect that.

Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for being with us. We appreciate it.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

Additional Links

Stay Connected