Q: And joining us now on our Newsmaker line is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, how are you? Merry Christmas, and what’s going on?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, thank you. Merry Christmas to you. We’ve been hard at it here. I had an excellent trip out to the area of responsibility, as they say, for the Afghan inauguration. And to be there three years after the al Qaeda and Taliban had attacked our country -- and we’d gone in and cleaned them out -- to be there and see the first popularly elected president in the history of Afghanistan was just a thrilling experience.
Q: Well, now we anticipate the Iraqi elections are coming up. Do you expect a lot of problems? Do you expect it to go well?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, we certainly have to expect problems. It’s a dangerous and violent part of the world. And we’ve got an enemy with a brain that’s out there attacking our folks and attacking Iraqis and beheading people. So needless to say, they’ve got a lot to lose. If the elections take place -- as I believe they will, and if they’re successful as they must be – the extremists will have lost an enormous deal. And therefore, they’ve got every incentive for the rest of this month and next month to do everything they can to try to disrupt it.
Q: Now the president has asked you to stay on and you have agreed at least in the interim. But is it your plan to stay on for the full four years?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, you know, you serve at the pleasure of the president and he’s asked me to stay on and I’ve agreed to stay on. We didn’t discuss anything about anything beyond that.
Q: This morning’s papers had – at least on the Internet – had a lot of stories about the cost of the war in Iraq being about $100 billion. Let me ask you this: Would it be wrong to come up with a plan over time with all the natural resources that the Iraqis have – oil, for example – and that they could pay back the cost of their liberation to the American people? Would that be fair?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Fair, I guess, is in the eye of the beholder. Needless to say, as an American, everyone would like that. The question is your real goal is to get the country of Iraq and the people of Iraq on a path towards a system of government where they’re at peace with their neighbors and are not a place for terrorists to be safe havened and where they’re respectful of all the people in their country. And the question is how do you best do that. And they do have oil and they are using that oil money revenue to support their government and their reconstruction.
The idea of reparations, if you will, or payment back is something that, of course, was addressed after World War II and after World War I. And there are ways that things like that can be done that are quite damaging to the country and cause non-intuitive problems that have suggested over time that it’s not a great idea. I know that there are, for example, Iraq invaded Kuwait and Kuwait feels that it has payment due it from Iraq for the devastation that was done to Kuwait. And the oil wells, you’ll recall the environmental damage and all the things that were done, to say nothing of all the Kuwaitis that were killed. And they still have outstanding damages, if you will, pending against the Iraqi people.
Q: Sure. I’m just thinking over time, long term this is a unique situation in terms of just the amount of resources they have and the ability to pay. It’s not – well, it’s something that I think – I would hope they could address considering the American people have paid such a big cost and I’m not even addressing, of course, the human toll losing our brave men and women that have gone over there.
Let me ask you this question. I think this is very important. As you know, Mr. Secretary, after that soldier in Kuwait was prodded to ask you about the armored Humvees in Iraq, there have been numerous reports questioning the preparedness of our Armed Forces and so on. And I’d like to put this issue down, if I may, and I’ve gone back and I did something that this reporter who prodded this soldier didn’t do and that is I’ve done a little bit of research and you tell me if I’m wrong, ‘cause I understand that now nearly 80 percent of all Humvees in Iraq are now armored. I understand that about a year ago – well, maybe it was about 18 months ago – we only had 235 up-armored Humvees, in other words armored Humvees, and once we noticed that the nature of the battle was shifting and as roadside bombs began to take more of a severe toll on our forces in a short period of time, we produced another 15,000. Is that all correct?
SEC. RUMSFELD: That is roughly correct. Yes, to the best of my knowledge. You know, on this subject, you’re right. That’s true. However, if you think about it, he asked a question.
First of all, I went out there to talk to the troops and I make a practice of having them ask me questions because I want to know what they’re thinking and I care about what they’re thinking and what they’re worried about. And here was somebody near the Iraq border who was in a mere period of time ready to go north into Iraq and was concerned and asked the question. It seems to me it’s a fair question and it seems to me that the Department of Defense owes every person that is – they volunteer to go in and serve their country – and we owe them to see that we can get everything they need and do everything humanly possible to see that that’s done.
Now you’re right -- a great deal has been done. And what happens is as the tactics – correction, as the circumstances on the battlefield change, we are up against an enemy with a brain. They watch what we do. They adjust their tactics. And we have to adjust our tactics. And obviously, as you point out, we not only have to adjust our tactics, but we have to fix the equipment supply so that they fit the tactics. And that is what you have described has been taking place. And as the circumstance on the battlefield has changed, the Department of Defense and the Army has done, I think, a very aggressive job of seeing that additional armor is provided, given the fact that we have suffered losses from these vehicle-borne devices, as well as the stationary devices.
Q: I just felt, Mr. Secretary, after I went out and did my own research, what this reporter could have done there are certain things here, it seemed to me, that the press wanted to run with a negative story about you without looking into the issue. And when I found out I was frankly amazed because 18 months ago you only had 235 of these armored vehicles. Now you have close to, what, 15 to 19,000 of them in the field in large response to the roadside bombs that were taking a toll on our forces. We got very proactive, very quickly. They edited out your comments in that very same discussion with the troops where you said you’d talk to the general out there about the pace of which the vehicles were being armored. So that was never shown in any of the reports I have seen.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Right.
Q: So I would think from your standpoint and your vantage point that that’s got to be somewhat frustrating to you … because that would be frustrating to me.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Sure. Well, it goes with the territory, I guess. You know, people get up in the morning, they decide they want to write something positive or write something negative and there are some who do it both ways. And you know, the other thing I should say is that the department has put together task forces on armor, body armor, on armor for vehicles. And of course, the amount of armor varies by vehicle and by where you think the vehicles are going to be used and then what you think the threat is.
The other thing we’ve done, however, that is a part of this is we have put together a terrific team of people who’ve been working very hard on how to deal with these IEDs, the explosive devices and have put a lot of research and development into it and a lot of technical work and have been steadily improving the rate what which they have been able to discover and destroy explosive devices in a way that obviously benefits the troops because it takes that many risks away from them.
Q: I think that’d be – if we can get to the bottom line on that, it would take a lot of risks away from them. Let me ask you another frustrating point and it must be frustrating to you because here you are, you’re trying to run and manage a war, you’ve liberated 50 million people in a very short period of time when you compare it to historical standards. And what’s somewhat frustrating to me as well is you’re constantly, it seems, being second-guessed by people who receive enormous amounts of media attention but seem to have very few answers.
Tell me if my research is wrong here. My understanding is that it’s the Congress that determines the overall troop levels through the appropriations process, Congress decides what to fund. And my understanding is also before the administration came to Washington, Congress supported sharp cuts in its force levels across the board and yet you and the president have said, whatever your field commanders need or want, in terms of troop levels, they can have. I mean, and more specifically, John McCain said he has no confidence in you on this issue. How do you respond?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I think the way to think of it is this – during the 1990s, there’s no question but that defense budgets were cut fairly substantially. And we ended up with a hollowed out military in some respects and the funds that were being spent were scarce and obviously in the 1990s, people did not apparently – I wasn’t in government, but I think it’s fairly safe to say that people were not anticipating a September 11th. They were not anticipating a global war on terror. And as a result, the funding that was invested by the administrations and the Congress resulted in a military that was more designed for symmetrical and conventional conflict against big armies, navies and air forces than it was against a global war on terror.
So then when September 11th comes and you sort of clearly have to make changes in the Armed Forces and in the Department of Defense and you’re trying to turn an enormous big institution with, you know, some 2 ½ million people and it’s a big task and it’s an important task. The Congress does set statutory end strength. But under the national emergency that exists, we’ve been able to go well above the statutory end strength that existed. And as a result, we’ve been able to increase the size of our Army fairly substantially. We’re also, of course, as you know, in the process of not just changing its size numerically to a much larger Army, but we’re increasing the brigades from 33 to 43 and increasing their modularity and therefore their flexibility.
SEC. RUMSFELD: And we’re going to have a much better Army as we complete this process which will probably take, oh, goodness, a total of maybe four years and we’re probably a year and a half into it.
Q: And if they need more troops at their request and they get whatever they need, which [Cross Talk]
SEC. RUMSFELD: Absolutely. Let me just answer your question directly. This is fair enough. I mean, I think people have a right to say, gee, I think we ought to have fewer troops or more troops. People have a right to look at what the country’s doing and discuss it. We have a chairman of the joint chiefs and the vice chairman who are the principal military advisors to the president and the National Security Council. They both feel we have the right number of troops. We have Gen. Abizaid who’s the senior commander. We have Gen. Casey who’s the Iraqi commander and we have Gen. Metz who’s the specific tactical commander. All of them agree that we have the right number of troops.
We have told them – the president has said – well, if you need more troops, we’ll put in more troops. And he’s looked them in the eye and asked them, “Do you have what you need?” And they have all looked him in the eye and said, “Yes, we have what we need.”
Now what we do is we have a civilian leadership in the department and we have a military leadership. And we have had close working relationships. We’ve talked a great deal about what these numbers ought to be and what their nature ought to be and what their skills sets out to be. And we’ve ended up agreeing -- I’ve ended up agreeing and the president has -- with Gen. Myers and Gen. Pace and Gen. Casey and Gen. Abizaid and Gen. Metz. Now does that mean that someone else on the outside can’t say we think all of those people are wrong, of course, they can. They can say that.
Q: Does it undermine your effort, your war effort?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I wouldn’t want to get into that and say that anyone who criticizes what we’re doing undermines the effort.
Q: I’m talking about the constant harping and criticism. I mean, there’s a difference between legitimate – you know, because in the case of a senator or a congressman, they have the ability to meet with you and pull you aside and ask you tough questions, but it seems like Joe Biden, for example, you know, wants to go over there and arm-chair quarterback everything and he’s constantly out there criticizing everything. You would think if he had a legitimate concern besides getting his face before the camera, that he’d pull you aside and say, “Is everything OK, can we help?” But it seems everything seems political in this environment.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, of course, we just went through a presidential campaign where, in large measures, a number of people seem to have suspended civil discourse. And I would have thought that it would have ended somewhat after the election.
Q: Apparently, not. [Chuckles]
SEC. RUMSFELD: But apparently, there’s a little momentum to it that’s carrying it on.
Q: Well, I think you have a great attitude towards it and then even this frivolous lawsuit filed in Germany by these left-wingers. I mean, as if you have the time, energy and resources…
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes.
Q: … to spend your time, you know, listening to these kooky left-wingers. But anyway.
SEC. RUMSFELD: You know, I’ve been reading the McCullough book on John Adams. And if you think about it, and you go back throughout history, George Washington was constantly criticized, John Adams was constantly criticized, Abraham Lincoln was vilified and criticized. And our country’s always survived it.
If you read those books and you read their papers and what was being said about them and what they were saying in response and those relationships and those concerns, you realize that when a country’s in a war, it’s tough. And we’ve got just wonderful young men and women in uniform – God bless them – who are volunteering to serve our country, go out there and do that. And that was the same thing then and the same kind of public discourse was taking place. But we’ve got through that and we’ll get through this.
Q: You know what that reminds me of -- and I know you have to go, Mr. Secretary -- but it reminds me of when Ronald Reagan was president and he vowed to end the gap of vulnerability, build up our nation’s defenses, pursue strategic defense, trust but verify peace through strength, modernize weaponry in Europe and deploy the Persian IIs. The Europeans hated us at the time. The left-wingers thought he’d start World War III or get a nuclear holocaust…
SEC. RUMSFELD: [Chuckles] That’s right.
Q: … and ‘lo and behold, he gave us a peace that nobody dreamed of, prior to him coming into office. The Soviet Union came tumbling down. The wall in Berlin came tumbling down and the world was better and safer.
SEC. RUMSFELD: That’s exactly right. I mean, the opposite side of that is the truth, that weakness is provocative and strength is what’s necessary to contribute to peace and stability in the world.
Q: Well, historically speaking then, Mr. Secretary, you are in great company and I think you have a terrific attitude to deal with it. [Chuckles]
SEC. RUMSFELD: [Laughs] Well, look, you have a wonderful holiday and I really enjoy coming on your program and I thank you so much for what you do.
Q: Well, you have a great holiday and we wish you the best, Mr. Secretary, and we’re glad you’re staying on. Thank you.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you very much.
Q: All right. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on “The Sean Hannity Show.”