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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with CNN Late Edition

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 14, 2004
Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with CNN Late Edition

(Interview with Wolf Blitzer, Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, CNN.)


     Q:  Right now, exactly one year ago this week, the U.S.-led war against Iraq, Saddam Hussein, began, and while the regime of Saddam Hussein was quickly toppled, the security and political situation in that country remains very volatile, even as some inroads towards stability have, indeed, been made.


     Within the past hour, I spoke with the U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.


     Mr. Defense Secretary, welcome back to Late Edition, and thanks very much for joining us.


     Rumsfeld:  Thank you, Wolf.  Good to be here.


     Q:  All right.  Let's get right to Spain for the moment.  Do you know right now who is responsible?


     Rumsfeld:  I don't.  Certainly, everyone seeing that terrible tragedy, and 200 people killed, their heart just goes out to those people and their families and their loved ones.  Spain has been an important partner in the global war on terror, and we value their involvement and certainly are thinking of them today.


     Q:  There was a statement released, supposedly in the name of al Qaeda which suggested that this is a response to the crimes that you have caused in the world, and specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there will be more, God willing.  Supposedly linking Spain's cooperation with the U.S. in the war in Iraq, and the war against terrorism to this act.  Do you have any reason to believe that's not true?


     Rumsfeld:  We have no evidence for that.  There have been terrorist attacks all across the globe, in Indonesia, and Turkey, and in Saudi Arabia, the United States, Israel, and now Spain.  So, I think trying to link it this fast is probably not a useful thing to try to do.


     Q:  So, you're ready to leave all options open at this point?


     Rumsfeld:  Spain has been dealing with terrorist attacks for decades, and has done it effectively in many instances.


     Q:  The search for Osama bin Laden, there seems to be a new spring offensive gearing up, Operation Mountain Storm you're calling it.  I spoke with Porter Goss, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, earlier in the week.  He suggested you're making progress in finding bin Laden.  Are you?


     Rumsfeld:  Well, you know, Porter Goss is a great guy, and a very thoughtful expert on intelligence.  We are certainly better organized today, and we've put a lot of pressure on the al Qaeda network around the world.  And we believe that we're safer and more secure, because we have put pressure on that network.


     Q:  Are you narrowing the area where you suspect he might be hiding out?


     Rumsfeld:  That's what I would want to disabuse anyone of.  He may be alive, and he may not be.  We don't know if he's alive or dead.  He may be in Afghanistan; he may be in Pakistan; he may be someplace else.  What's going on is a normal activity that takes place, and from time to time there are sweeps made, and I think to hype it, or to suggest that there is something major going on is probably a misunderstanding, these things tend to ebb and flow.  We've got a lot of wonderful people, dedicated men and women in uniform who are doing a great job out there.  And God bless them for it.  W appreciate it.


     Q:  One of your spokesmen, an Army spokesman in Afghanistan, Colonel Brian Hilferty, said earlier, a few weeks ago, that bin Laden will be caught this year.


     Rumsfeld:  I don't know if he'll be caught this year.  If he's alive, I'm sure he'll be caught eventually.  And when, I don't know.


     Q:  Do you have enough troops along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan hunting for bin Laden, his associates, and the Taliban who might still be out there?


     Rumsfeld:  Well, we've had an increasing effort over the year or two, when you think of the terrific cooperation we're getting from the Pakistanis.  They're working closely with the tribal leaders in that area.  We have also trained an Afghan National Army, and the Afghan National Army is participating with our coalition forces.  And they are working their way around in that country to see that the Taliban, and the al Qaeda don't have an opportunity to regroup, and try to cause additional terrorist acts.  They're determined to try to do that, and they'd like to go kill more innocent men, women, and children, and we're equally determined to see that that doesn't happen.


     Q:  Is there anything that you want President Perez Musharraf of Pakistan to do that he's refusing to do?


     Rumsfeld:  My impression is that he's doing everything that he can do.  And we have a lot of respect for the efforts they're making, and they've been helpful, they've rounded up al Qaeda from time to time, and put pressure on the Taliban, and we appreciate that cooperation in the global war on terror, both by the Afghan government, and by the Pakistan government.


     Q:  I wonder if you'd care to say anything, the accusation is that you sort of, as a government, the administration, went easy on the Pakistani nuclear export issue, A.Q. Khan, their chief nuclear scientist.  And you deliberately avoided making that too big of an issue in U.S.-Pakistani relations, precisely because you're so desperate to keep President Musharraf on track?


     Rumsfeld:  I think the way I'd characterize it is that everyone in the world, including President Musharraf, seeing the interaction on the proliferation of these technologies is deeply concerned.  The A.Q. Khan network is now out of business, and that is an enormously important thing, it's a good thing.  They had been peddling, marketing nuclear technologies around the globe to more countries than simply North Korea.  And I think that as we approach the one-year anniversary of the war in Iraq, it's important to recognize that one of the byproducts of that conflict very likely is the fact that one of the A.Q. Khan network's customers, Libya, has, in fact, decided to do what Saddam Hussein didn't decide to do.  He's decided to open up his country, and show that he is willing to give up his weapons of mass destruction programs, and that's a good thing.  It's a good thing for the world.


     Q:  Let's talk about the first anniversary approaching of the war in Iraq.  Six more U.S. soldiers killed this past weekend, bringing the total, by our count, to 564 since the start of the war.


     Rumsfeld:  I think you're mixing up those that were killed in action, and those that have been killed in accidents and various other things.  I think it's something like 379 that have been killed in action.


     Q:  You're right, this is for both hostile and so-called non-hostile reasons, but still 564 American troops have died, because of their service.


     Rumsfeld:  More than that, if you count Afghanistan, and if you count accidents in the United States.


     Q:  Well, I guess the question is, looking back over this past year, was it worth it?


     Rumsfeld:  My goodness yes.  There's just no question, 25 million people in Afghanistan are free, 25 million people in Iraq are free.  They've been liberated, the schools are functioning, there's a new interim constitution that protects the rights of women, and will protect minorities, and ethnic elements in that country.  It's an advance for freedom, and the pressure that's being put on terrorists, in Afghanistan, in Iraq and elsewhere in the world is clearly advancing freedom and making the world a safer place.


     Q:  Did you think a year after the war U.S. troops would still be dying in Iraq?


     Rumsfeld:  Well, if one goes back and looks at what happened in Germany, certainly at the end of a war things don't suddenly go away.   Major combat stops, but resistance can continue.  And it is continuing, and we are continuing to resist it, along with the Iraqis.  We now have 200,000 Iraqi security forces that are out there providing security in their country, and frankly, being killed themselves.  There have been more Iraqi security forces killed in the last four, five, or six months than coalition forces.  And it shows that they're taking over responsibility for their country.


     Q:  Is this mostly insurgence, Iraqi insurgence, or foreign terrorists who have infiltrated into Iraq?


     Rumsfeld:  It's a mix of both.  There are undoubtedly remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime, and Ba'athists that still think they can reimpose a dictatorship, and repress those people, but there are also foreign terrorists that are in that country, that have come across the Iranian and Syrian borders.


     Q:  Are they still coming in through those borders?


     Rumsfeld:  We're in the process of working with neighboring countries, friendly neighboring countries, in securing the borders, and making more efforts along the Iranian border and Syrian border to try to reduce it.  If you look at our country and the difficulty to securing borders here, with Canada or Mexico, it's a very difficult thing to do, and it's very rugged terrain.


     Q:  There was some candid testimony from the acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee this past week on Capitol Hill.  He said, I also regret that we were not more farsighted here, we simply were not prepared for that kind of a counter-insurgency that attacked our convoys and our soldiers in the rear, as it has proven to be.  With hindsight, were U.S. forces adequately prepared to deal with this insurgency?


     Rumsfeld:  I think that what you do is you develop a plan, and there was a war plan, and you develop a post-war plan, and there was a post-war plan.  And you anticipate the kinds of things that can go wrong, or the kinds of things you'll have to face, the challenges.  And then you start, and it's always different than you expected.  And the question is, did you build in that kind of adaptability, and I would submit that our forces did build in a great deal of adaptability.


     Q:  What would you have done differently, though, with hindsight?  Obviously, all of us are smarter with hindsight, but there are certain things you probably would have done differently, had you known what really was going to happen.


     Rumsfeld:  Well, one of the things that comes up from time to time is the suggestion that you would not allow the Iraqi army to disband, and you would make an effort to try to use the Iraqi army to contribute to security in the country.  The problem with that argument is that it was pretty much just dissipated, it disappeared.  There were a bunch of recruits that didn't want to be serving in Saddam Hussein's army, and they just fell into the country side and left.  And the idea that they could have been kept in units, it seems to me, is a misunderstanding of the situation.  There was no humanitarian disaster, the hospitals have been reopened, the schools have been reopened.  There's been ‑‑ the electricity is back on for the most part.  So a great deal has been accomplished, it seems to me.  And this new constitution, interim constitution is a wonderful step forward.


     Q:  Just ahead, more of my conversation with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  Does the U.S. still expect to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  Late Edition will continue right after this.


[Commercial break.]


     Q:  Up next, more of my interview with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, including his response to criticism that U.S. intelligence was flat wrong about Iraq before the war.  And we want your thoughts on our Web question of the week:  Is the U.S. prepared to stop the kind of terror attack that occurred in Spain?  Go to CNN.com/lateedition to cast your vote.  We'll have the results later in this program.


     You're watching Late Edition, the last word in Sunday talk.


[Commercial break.]


     Ambassador L. Paul Bremer [From video.]:  It's really an extraordinary thing that the American soldier does these days, he has to know how to win a war, and then he's got to know how to win the peace.


     Q:  The U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, praising the work of American soldiers in Iraq.


     Welcome back to Late Edition.  We return now to my interview with the U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.


     Let's talk a little bit about the intelligence leading up to the war, the weapons of mass destruction.  David Kay, you sent them over there, the administration, he was there for months.  He came back and he said, you know what, I couldn't find any.  And he also said this before the Senate Armed Services Committee, listen to this exchange that he had, listen to what he said.


     David Kay [From video.]:  Let me begin by saying we were almost all wrong, and I certainly include myself here.


     Q:  Acknowledging there probably weren't any weapons of mass destruction, and they are probably not going to be found in Iraq no matter how long you go on.  Was there bad intelligence on WMD going into the war?


     Rumsfeld:  Well, certainly intelligence is always imperfect.  It is in any war.  It is in any given moment of the day or night, it's imperfect, because they're trying to know something that others are trying to keep you from knowing.


     What David Kay also said, to put it in context, was that he figures we are about 85 percent complete in the effort and that we have a good team of people, 1000 to 1200 people over there, who are continuing to determine what actually took place.  We do know there were weapons of mass destruction there.  We do know that he used weapons of mass destruction on his own people and on his neighbors.


     Q:  But that was in the '80s, before the first Gulf War.


     Rumsfeld:  Yes, just a minute.  And we also know that David Kay's people have found that he had ballistic missiles that exceeded the range limitations under the U.S. resolutions.  So, it's not as though they found nothing.  They did, in fact, find things.  And David Kay's report indicates that.


     Q:  But we're not talking about missiles, we're talking about chemical and biological agents.  Listen to what you said, what you told the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 19th, 2002.  Listen to this.


     Rumsfeld [From video.]:  He's amassed large clandestine stockpiles of biological weapons, including anthrax, botulism toxin, possibly smallpox.  He's amassed large clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons including VX, Sarin, and mustard gas.  His regime has an active program to acquire nuclear weapons.


     Rumsfeld:  Right, and those were the assessments of the intelligence community, indeed, they were the assessments of the United Nations.  And what happened was, there was no way to know what happened to those stockpiles that the United Nations had indicated existed, and when he filed his declaration, everyone concluded that it was fraudulent because of the way it was prepared.


     Q:  But he may have been telling the truth.


     Rumsfeld:  Then, why would he forego billions of dollars of oil for food revenues that he could have had for his oil by not allowing the inspectors in, allowing that process to go forward, as other countries did?  Why would anyone do that?


      Q:  Because, one of the suggestions is that, this was an element of pride for him and his own status, political status, within Iraq.


     Rumsfeld:  Well, we'll know more when we know more.  I mean, we have a thousand people out there continuing to look in an area the size of California.  They're doing a good job.  We'll know what we know when we know it.


     Q:  You were severely criticized the other day when you testified on the Hill because of this comment that you made after the war action started, about a week into the war, on March 30th, you were asked, is it curious to you that given how much control U.S. and coalition forces now have in the country, they haven't found any weapons of mass destruction, to which you replied, it happens to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were disbursed, we know where they are.


     Rumsfeld:  First of all, I wasn't widely criticized.  One member of the Congress raised the issue, and I pointed out that when the comment was made, we had come up about halfway to Baghdad, and people were already saying, all right, you're halfway to Baghdad, where are the weapons of mass destruction?  And we had forces trying to fight their way in to defeat the Iraqi Army, and conquer the country, and liberate the people.  And all of the intelligence community suspect sites, as I recall, were in the area from just south of Baghdad to north of Baghdad, up towards Tikrit and Kirkuk.  Now, if that's the area that was of interest, the suspect sites, which is what they generally referred to, the reason I said we've only gotten this far, it was a perfectly rational answer in context.


     Q:  So, you were referring to suspected sites, not where actual weapons of mass destruction were when you said, we know where they are?


     Rumsfeld:  You can't know actually if you're not on the ground.  You know what the intelligence is, and the intelligence said, these are the areas that have suspect sites, and they had them all indicated in the intelligence information.  And that was available to ‑‑ listen, Wolf, why do you think the people, the military people, got up every day and put on chemical protective gear on their heads, and their arms, and their legs, and their bodies, uncomfortable, hot, not pleasant?  Because they believed that chemical weapons would be used if they got far enough north.  Why do you think Saddam Hussein had chemical protective gear that we found, hundreds and hundreds of suits of Iraqi chemical protective gear?


     Q:  But, was the intelligence wrong?  In other words, if the intelligence was wrong, looking back, was it a mistake to go to war at that time, instead of giving the U.N. more time to continue their own inspections?


     Rumsfeld:  Well, the U.N. inspectors were not in there, the U.N. inspectors were out.


     Q:  Well, they left after the U.S. made it clear that the war was about to begin.


     Rumsfeld:  And I would just say the answer is ‑‑ you asked me this question at the outset and I answered it, yes.  I think it was the right thing to do.  I don't know how many resolutions one would want.  There were 17, should you go to double it, to 34?  Our planes were being shot at every other day over Iraq.  American planes, British planes, our air crews were being fired on by Saddam Hussein's gunners from the ground with missiles.  Now, the idea that that wasn't a threat to our forces -- it was a threat to our forces.  It was the only place on the Earth where our people were being shot at.


     Q:  But, you have to admit, the major reason to justify the war, going into the war, was not because of the violations of the no-fly zones, the major reason was because of the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.


     Rumsfeld:  Indeed, that's why the Congress passed the resolution, that's why the United Nations passed its resolution, and that's why there was unanimous agreement, not about whether or not he had violated and filed a fraudulent declaration, but the only question was about timing, whether it should be done here, or later, after still another resolution.


     Q:  Will this June 30th handover to Iraqi authority be successful?


     Rumsfeld:  I hope so, I pray that it will.


     Q:  Is it set in concrete, that date, June 30th?


     Rumsfeld:  Well, we'll see.  I mean, that's clearly the date that everyone has been working to, the Iraqis have.  Look, Wolf, they have gone from a vicious dictatorship, that was giving $25,000 to suicide bombers, that had relationships with terrorists, let there be no doubt about that, they were doing that, encouraging suicide bombing, to a country where 25 million people are free.  They're going to have an Iraqi solution for the future, it's not going to be an American solution, or a coalition solution, they're going to have an Iraqi solution.  And what happened when they passed this interim constitution was really impressive, not simply for the words in the constitution, but for the process that took place.  There they were, Shii, and Sunni, and Kurds, negotiating, discussing, compromising, agreeing, finally.  That's impressive, I think it's been a very impressive thing.


     Q:  In your planning, how long are you planning for U.S. troops to have to remain in Iraq?


     Rumsfeld:  We plan for ‑‑ we plan always a year-and-a-half or two years ahead, but that doesn't mean that's how long it will be.  We have no way of knowing that.  As long as we keep training, and equipping, and deploying Iraqi security forces, my hope and my expectation is that the Iraqis will take over the security, just as they're going to take over their government at some point.  And so far they're out with joint patrols, and doing a very fine job of providing security.


     Q:  In the interrogation of Saddam Hussein, is he cooperating at all?


     Rumsfeld:  How do I characterize this?  I would say not to any great extent, no.


     Q:  When do you think the trial of Saddam Hussein might begin?


     Rumsfeld:  I hope soon.  I think it's important for the world to see just what kind of a dictator this man was, and what he ‑‑ the tens-of-thousands of people he killed, and the things he did that were crimes against humanity.


     Q:  Some suggest it would be politically advantageous to the Bush administration for that trial to begin before the election in November.


     Rumsfeld:  Come on now, Wolf.  It's going to begin when it begins.  I don't know when it will begin.  I think it's important that it happen.  It will not be timed to anything like that.  The president has indicated he thinks that the Iraqis ought to have a central role in it.  And that being the case, it's up to the Iraqis as they develop a government, and a process goes forward, which suggests that it will be later, rather than earlier.


     Q:  A couple of loose ends, and then I'll let you go.  Russia, they're having elections today.   Vladimir Putin easily going to be reelected.


     Rumsfeld:  I think he'll make it.


     Q:  There's no doubt about that, but there's a lot of concern that he's taking actions which would undermine real democracy in Russia.  How concerned are you?


      Rumsfeld:  I think anyone looking at what's taking place there has to have a mixed impression.  On the one hand you see the fact that they have made some progress forward, towards democratizing, and human rights, and individual freedoms.  On the other hand, we see people being arrested, we see people put in jail, we see actions taken that are less than democratic.  And one had to have a cautious view about it.  And I think in the last analysis, Russia is going to succeed or fail depending on the extent to which they create an environment that's hospitable to investment.  To the extent they do that, and connect themselves to the West, and to the rest of the world, they will have an opportunity to succeed.  And to the extent they don't, and violations of human rights obviously is not a good way to encourage investment.


     Q:  There are nearly 2,000 Marines in Haiti right now.  The former president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, apparently getting ready to leave the Central African Republic for Jamaica in the Caribbean.  Is that a good idea for him to come that close back to Haiti?


     Rumsfeld:  Well, the Secretary of State has indicated that he would think that that's not a good idea, and others have suggested that.  And the hope is that he will not come back into the hemisphere, and complicate the situation.


     Q:  As we speak we're getting word of more apparent terrorist actions in Israel, at the Port of Ashdod.  This is a problem that the Israelis have faced, is it a problem for U.S. policy, though, what's happened between the Palestinians and the Israelis?


     Rumsfeld:  Sure, it's a problem for the world.  It's not a problem for U.S. policy, particularly, but we care.  We would love to see this situation in the Middle East solved, where there was an effective peace established, and an understanding that peace could go forward, and there would be security for people on both sides, and allow the circumstance of the Palestinian people to improve.  I think that obviously the president has set out a road map, and suggested a direction, and we're hopeful that it will go that way.


     Q:  Listen to what John Kerry, Democratic presidential candidate, said in Florida this past week.  Listen to what he said.


     Sen. John Kerry [From video.]:  The job of the president of the United States is to maximize the capacity for success, minimize the cost to the American people, and minimize the risk to American soldiers.  And by going almost alone, and rushing forward, we did none of those.


     Q:  I wanted to get your reaction?


     Rumsfeld:  Well, I don't get involved in politics.  The president has asked Colin Powell and me to not get involved in it.  So if you could set aside the context that you just made by quoting him and just let me make a comment about the extent to which this has been internationalized.  The president has put together probably one of the largest coalitions in the history of mankind, some 90 nations, for the global war on terror.  In Iraq alone there are 34, 35 countries with troops on the ground.  There are many more countries that are contributing humanitarian assistance, and financial assistance.


     I think the total international community has come up with something like $32 billion to assist the Iraqi people in recovery from the regime of Saddam Hussein.  In Afghanistan we have a very broad coalition, NATO has now taken over the international security assistance force.  I think out of the 26 NATO nations, and NATO invitee nations, something like 19 have forces either in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or both.  So the suggestion that it has not been internationalized, it seems to me, is a misunderstanding of the situation.


     Q:  If the president asks you, if he's reelected, to serve in a second term ‑‑ 


     Rumsfeld:  Come on, Wolf.


     Q:  Will you?


     Rumsfeld:  He hasn't asked me.


     Q:  Well, if he does?


     Rumsfeld:  Listen, he's a very talented person, and a fine president in my view, and I'm thoroughly enjoying serving him, and serving the country in an important post.


      Q:  Would you like to spend another four years over there?


     Rumsfeld:  Come on, I'm not going to get into that, he hasn't asked me, and you, sir, are not the president.


     Q:  All right.  I know that.  Thanks very much, Mr. Defense Secretary, thanks very much for joining us.


     Rumsfeld:  You bet.


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