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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Cokie Roberts, ABC TV

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 28, 2001 11:30 AM EDT

Sunday, October 28, 2001 - 11:30 a.m. EDT

(Interview on "This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts," ABC TV)

Roberts: And now joining us is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Thank you so much for being with us, Mr. Secretary.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

Roberts: I want to get to that question about Iraq later, but first, the war. There have been stories over the weekend that give the perception that this war, after three weeks, is not going very well. That the Taliban is getting stronger, that Osama bin Laden is still at large, that one of the chief opposition leaders has been assassinated, and that the Red Cross warehouse has been hit by U.S. bombs. Is the war just not going as well as you had hoped it would at this point?

Rumsfeld: Oh, no, quite the contrary. It's going very much the way we expected when it began. Three weeks is not a very long time, if one thinks about it. And the progress has been measurable. We feel that the air campaign has been effective. The fact that for a period we did not have good targets has now shifted, because we are getting much better information from the ground in terms of targets. Also, the pressure that has been put on fairly continuously these past weeks has forced people to move and to change locations in a way that gives additional targeting opportunities.

Roberts: Did the military help Abdul Haq, the opposition leader who was assassinated Friday?

Rumsfeld: My understanding of that situation was that he had decided to come back in the country in a form and manner of his own choosing. And that he did request assistance, and that he received some assistance. The assistance, unfortunately, was from the air and he was on the ground. And regrettably, he was killed.

Roberts: But he did receive assistance from the U.S. military?

Rumsfeld: That's my understanding. No, I didn't say that. I said he requested assistance and received it.

Roberts: But not from the U.S. military?

Rumsfeld: No. It was from another agency.

Roberts: Okay. From an intelligence agency, I would take it.

Rumsfeld: It was from another element of the government.

Roberts: Okay. The question of victory is one that is some -- a question of definition. And I think that our polling generally shows that getting Osama bin Laden is considered an important part of this campaign and I want to show you some things that you've said over the last week about this question. You said, "The military role will be over there when the Taliban and the al-Qaeda are gone, gone. And that is what this is all about." Then you said of Osama, "He's got a lot of money, he's got a lot of people who support him, and I just don't know whether we'll be successful." And finally, "Until you have him, you do not have him. So what is the progress? Until he's no longer functioning as a terrorist, he is functioning as a terrorist." That sounds like you think that he is still the problem and until we get him, we've not won, but we might not get him.

Rumsfeld: Well, those are a few of the things I've said on the subject. I've said a great many things on the subject. I've also said I have every reason to believe we will find him. I've also said that I don't think he's the whole problem. This is not about a single person. It is about the problem of terrorism. He is one element of al-Qaeda. There are a lot of leaders. If he disappeared today off the face of the Earth, there would still be the al-Qaeda network, there would still be other terrorist networks, and there still would be worldwide terrorism that would need to be dealt with.

So I think that it makes -- it's a mistake to too great an extent to try to personalize what's going on in this world. We lost thousands of people here in the United States. The president has declared war on international terrorism. He is hard at taking the war to them, because there's no way to defend everywhere in the world against terrorists. You simply must go find them and root out those networks.

That is what is underway. To think only about one man, I think, is a mistake. Will we get him? I think we will. And I certainly hope so.

Roberts: Why not put in massive ground troops now to go in and find the elements of al-Qaeda and hopefully, also, Osama?

Rumsfeld: Well, we've not ruled out the use of ground troops.

Roberts: And is it a possibility that they will go in and go in soon?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think if one hasn't ruled them -- I didn't say "soon," but I think if someone has not ruled out the use of ground troops, there certainly is that possibility.

Roberts: But you're not saying they're going to go in anytime soon. And in great numbers?

Rumsfeld: Well, that wouldn't be very wise of me, would it, to say that we think something's going to happen in the period immediately ahead. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to talk about what we might or might not do.

Roberts: The question of timetable, you've also said, it's important not to have a timetable, that it has to go according to how the war goes. But you've heard over the weekend President Musharraf of Pakistan use the echo word from Vietnam "quagmire," and then he said there does need to be a timetable. Here's what he said: "Military action must be brought to an end as soon as possible and if it is unable to achieve its military goals in a certain time, we need to switch to a political strategy." Problems with the coalition falling apart?

Rumsfeld: Well, first of all, there's nothing in that statement that anyone could disagree with. No one would want a military campaign to go on longer than necessary. And he said it should be brought to an end as soon as possible. Everyone would want it to end as soon as possible.

Second, there is no coalition. There are multiple coalitions. And we have said that from the very beginning. We are getting all kinds of different assistance from different countries all across the globe. And about a week or two ago, I said, you know, some day in the next period, someone's going to say, "oh, the coalition's falling apart!" The implication being if one country decides they don't want to participate in one element of what it is we're doing, that therefore, quote, "the" coalition is falling apart. We have said from day one there is no single coalition. There are multiple coalitions. Countries are going to help us in the way they feel best. And we are getting enormous support from all across the world.

Roberts: So are you saying if Pakistan pulls out, that that's okay?

Rumsfeld: Pakistan's not going to pull out. The President of Pakistan has a very difficult situation. One has to appreciate how difficult that is. He is doing a terrific job, in my personal view, in managing that very difficult situation and he is being exceedingly cooperative with us.

Roberts: Now, there is a perception, certainly here in Washington, that part of the reason that this war has not widened to go -- you talked about going after terrorism all over the world -- to go into Iraq, and you've heard Brian Ross's report, the confirmation that Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official, and the suspicion about anthrax in Iraq. And that this administration doesn't want to say the word "Iraq" for fear of having to go in and that then the Arab world could blow apart.

Rumsfeld: This administration is not afraid of saying the word "Iraq." Iraq has been on the terrorist list for years. There is no question but that Iraq is a state that has committed terrorist acts and has sponsored terrorist acts.

Roberts: Do you think it was -- the meeting with Mohammed Atta was significant, in terms of September 11?

Rumsfeld: We will know that only after the proper law enforcement people investigate that. Clearly, the meeting is not nothing. It is something notable.

Roberts: And the reports that the anthrax could have been tampered with by this Betonite that is Iraqi-based?

Rumsfeld: Yeah. I am really not into "could haves" and "might haves." I think that in a position of responsibility in the government, I've got an obligation to talk about what I know about and to not speculate about those things. And I know that serious people are looking at both of those matters seriously.

Roberts: In the military?

Rumsfeld: In the United States government.

Roberts: And if, in fact, it turns out that it was Iraq that infiltrated the anthrax, what do we do?

Rumsfeld: Well, there's a hypothetical question that is the kind of thing that ends up on the President of the United States' desk frequently. And those are tough decisions and we'll just have to see.

Roberts: There's a sense, of course, that the coalition that was there for the Gulf War kept the United States from going after Saddam at the time. As you know better than I, there are a lot of people in this administration and in your Defense Department who think that that was a mistake and that we should do it now.

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that there's been a debate in the world as to how that conflict might have ended differently. And there's also no question but that Saddam is still a threat to his neighbors. He is a threat to the Kurds in the north of his country. He's a threat to the Shi'ia in the south. He's a threat to his neighbors in Iran. He's a threat to Jordan.

Roberts: Is he a threat to us?

Rumsfeld: And he clearly, as a terrorist state, is a threat to other countries in the world, including the United States. He has been contained to some extent because of Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch, where the United States and coalition aircraft fly missions to prevent him from getting a head start to try to impose his will on his neighbors again. It is true there are people around in and out of government who wish he weren't there. And certainly I'm one of them.

Roberts: But no plans to go after him at the moment?

Rumsfeld: We're doing what we're doing and I will say this, the president has said this is a war against terrorist networks across the globe. There are many more than just al-Qaeda. They are in many more countries beyond Afghanistan. And it is something that we as a country and the many countries assisting us are currently doing.

We have to remember that what we see is only part of what's happening. The number of people who have been arrested, the number of bank accounts that have been frozen, the amount of intelligence that's been gathered, the law enforcement work that's going on, is in addition every bit as important as the military part that's taking place.

Roberts: Let me just ask you, though, about what you just said. And we're about out of time, but what we see is just part of what's happening. There's some sense that we're losing the propaganda war. And those pictures we saw of those children at the beginning of the program have taken the place in our minds of the pictures of the World Trade Center being blown up. Why not allow more press access so that the United States' press can show pictures that fight the Arab press?

Rumsfeld: I don't -- I'm not an expert on this subject, but my understanding is that the United States government, during this period, with respect to the military element, has been enormously forthcoming and the press has been involved in as many aspects as I believe has ever been the case of things where it's humanly possible.

The press has not been parachuting in on Special Operations activities into a hostile environment in Afghanistan, to be sure. But I don't think they want to, nor do I think it would be safe for the troops trying to protect them, once they got in there.

There are press people all over Afghanistan and the ones that are following the Taliban are, of course, allowed to go where the Taliban wants and they're being told what the Taliban wants and the Al Jazeera television network has a pattern of putting out al-Qaeda propaganda. That's just a fact. Now, you're right, it makes it very difficult if one side lies, and they have lied repeatedly. They're using mosques, for example, for command and control, for ammunition storage. They are clearly not telling the truth about these casualties. We know that of certain knowledge.

Now, are people going to be killed in a war? You bet. And there are plenty of people throwing ordnance around in Afghanistan besides the United States. It's coming down -- we're bombing from the air, but the opposition forces are, in fact, fighting against the Taliban. The Taliban is fighting against us and the opposition forces. So when someone dies, it could have come from any one of those four locations.

Roberts: Okay. Mr. Secretary, have you been vaccinated against anthrax?

Rumsfeld: No.

Roberts: Okay. Thank you.

Rumsfeld: Have you?

Roberts: No. Thank you very much. Thank you for being here.