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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with WHO-AM Radio's Jan Mickelson

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
September 07, 2004

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with WHO-AM Radio’s Jan Mickelson

            Q:  Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Good afternoon. 

 

            Q:  I’m Jan Mickelson from WHO Radio and WMT Radio here in Iowa.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, I’m delighted to be joining you

 

            Q:  Yeah.  Well, I just had a chance to broadcast from the Pentagon just a few weeks ago and I was permitted the honor of broadcasting from Iraq for about a week just a few weeks ago. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Terrific. 

 

            Q:  It’s an honor having you on our airwaves here today.  Just a brief introduction.  I was looking at a book about you from Rowan Scarborough and here’s a paragraph:  “Rumsfeld burst out of the Eisenhower ‘50s, grew up solidly middle class in Illinois, graduated from Princeton, flew Navy planes, got elected to Congress, ran the Pentagon, rescued a failing corporation and entered an age when most men are ready to retire, came back to take over the Pentagon one more time to run with the bulls in Pamplona” – I can’t pronounce it.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Pamplona. 

 

            Q:  There we go. “Run with the bulls on Wall Street.  And as a championship wrestler, fierce squash player and a master of the one-handed push-up.” 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  [Chuckles]

 

            Q:  Now what I want to know is what hand?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Oh, back in those days, it was either hand. 

 

            Q:  Oh, and ambidextrous.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  It depended on the amount of money someone would put in the pot.  [Chuckles]

 

            Q:  So what was your record? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Oh, golly.  I was up – I don’t know, 25, 35, 40.

 

            Q:  Oh, my gosh. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Yeah, but those were the good old days.  Heck, I’m an old man now.  I get tired just thinking about it. 

 

            Q:  [Chuckles] Well, I have watched the briefing this afternoon.  I could see why you could – this time of day especially, feel a little fatigued dealing with some of the weighty things you have to deal with.  Hate to even thrust this stuff upon you, but the people work on the other side of the street, Senator Kerry, said today and then yesterday – borrowed from Howard Dean a line:  “This is the wrong war at the wrong time and the wrong place and the wrong guy doing it.”  Walk me through this.  Why is he wrong about all that stuff? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, the president’s asked Colin Powell and me to kind of stay out of politics, so…

 

            Q:  Well, I was asking you to get involved. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Yeah, I know you are, but, he’s the president and you’re not.

 

            Q:  [Chuckles]  Oh, yeah.  I keep forgetting.

 

            [Laughter] 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I mean, I’ll be happy to talk about the Iraq war and the Afghan war and the subject, but not in the context of the presidential campaign because I respect the president’s judgment.  When we have people losing their lives overseas and when so much is at stake for our country it is, I think, appropriate for him to suggest to the two of us that we let him do the politicking and we stick to the national security piece. 

 

            Q:  I fully understand and appreciate that.  As we’re closing in, as you said earlier today, on the third anniversary of 9/11 and also closing in on an awful figure of 1,000 casualties, reflect on it, if you will, please. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, if you think about it, the Russians lost hundreds and hundreds of children in terrorist attacks last week.  We lost 3,000 three years ago this week.  We’ve had terrorist attacks in Turkey, Tunisia, Indonesia, Morocco, country after country over many years.  We lost American lives in the U.S.S. Cole.  We lost American lives in the embassy bombings in East Africa.  Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States back in the late 1990s. 

 

What we are in is a global war, a global struggle against extremists who go around killing children and cutting people’s heads off and killing 3,000 on a single day in our country.  And I think what it tells us is there is no free pass.  There’s no country that can escape it, there’s no person that can escape it.  It is the fact of our times that we are going to be faced with a minority of people, to be sure, a small number percentage-wise of the global population, but people who are determined to prevent free people from being free.  They’re determined to terrorize the world into behaving the way they want the world to behave and we can’t let it happen.  And that’s what’s at stake.  And anyone who suggests that that’s the wrong war, I mean, the reality is nobody picks the war.  This war wasn’t selected when they attacked New York City and Washington, D.C., and an airplane that crashed in Pennsylvania.  

 

            The successes that have been achieved over the past period of months and, indeed, three years now, have been really remarkable, if you think about it.  The Taliban regime’s out of power, the al Qaeda are on the run.  Saddam Hussein is out of power in jail, his sons are dead and the Iraqi people and the Afghan people have schools open and hospitals open and clinics open.  They have elections coming up.  They have a chance, they have a good chance, a good crack, at becoming free countries in that part of the world that isn’t noted for free countries.  They have a chance to affect the outcome of that region over the coming decades and that’s an important, exciting thing.  And the men and women that are serving over there know what they’re doing is important.  They know it’s noble work and they’re darn proud of it.  And I think that it’s important that all of us recognize the wonderful job they’re doing. 

 

            Q:  Amen to that.  And I had a chance to talk with some of the personnel over there.  All of them had a sense of purpose.  Some of them worried, though, that some of their hard work and sacrifices might be messed up by the political process.  They worried, for instance, this al-Sadr guy -- we gave the fellow deadline after deadline, in essence, let him off the hook several times.  And now that we let him out of Najaf, we’re finding his sole headquarters filled with a couple hundred mutilated bodies.  I mean, this man had some of his prisoners -- their eyes and ears were lopped off and out, heads cut off, I mean, just some of the most awful aftermath left behind by an occupation.  Yet, some people wonder why did we let him off the hook that way?  We had an opportunity and it’s pretty plain that he’s been in the pay of the Iranians from day one and here we have him elevated and his prestige elevated at our expense.  Talk to us about this, please. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  You bet.  First of all, I wouldn’t think that anyone would think that his stature or prestige have been elevated.  I think he’s…

 

            Q:  Not over here, but over there. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  He’s -- no, I mean over there they haven’t.  He’s suffered a loss.  He’s had to acquiesce in what the government and Sistani have imposed on him to leave where he was and to cease doing what he was doing.  I think that what you have to take into account is the reality that we are now functioning in a sovereign country these past two months.  They have a government and the government and the United States is going to work closely together to determine how issues like that ought to be resolved.  And we will always have a veto over any use of our troops, so we’re not going to use them unwisely. 

 

            Q:  Can they have a veto over the use of our troops, though?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Sure. I mean, it’s a sovereign-- 

 

            Q:  And was this an example of a veto that we wanted to get this guy and we had to let him out?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I think this is an example of where the judgment was made on the part of the Iraqi government that the best way to handle this situation was the way they handled it and time will tell whether they’re right or wrong. 

 

But I’ll tell you what’s happening each month, as we go along and that is that the Iraqi security forces are getting stronger.  And the Prime Minister of Iraq is playing with the hand he was dealt.  He’s got X-number – 95[000], 100,000 fully trained, fully equipped Iraqi security forces.  And in a period of months, he’s going to have something approximating 200,000.  And he’s going to be better off some time late this year, early next year, mid next year.  He’s going to be able to do more with that force.  And let me assure you that the Prime Minister of Iraq fully understands that he cannot have portions of his country completely out of the control of the government as a haven for terrorists or a haven for former regime elements or a haven for the likes of Sadr.  He knows that.  And the question is how does he manage it between now and the time he’s got the force necessary to assure that. 

 

            Q:  Your early memos dealing with the Middle East and the DIA reports dealing with potential threats from this part of the world were prescient.  You even predicted a Pearl Harbor-like attack against the United States and you have for a long time bemoaned the lack of American intelligence preparation for dealing with this part of the world, the lack of language skills, the lack of intelligence gathering and you issued several memos and think pieces to this regard.  How far along are we in repairing the hole in our abilities to get some of these things done? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, there’s no doubt but that since September 11, 2001, the United States has made enormous strides.  If one thinks about the fact of putting together an 85- or a 90-nation coalition that’s cooperating in sharing intelligence, that’s cooperating in putting pressure on finances for the terrorists, that’s making it more difficult for terrorists to move between countries to recruit and to retain people.  That’s a big accomplishment.  The Taliban regime’s gone.  Saddam Hussein’s regime’s gone.  The schools are open.  There are opportunities for people.  We’ve made good headway.  The thing that worries me is this battle that’s going on within the Muslim religion where a small minority are trying to hijack that religion and we need more people within that religion taking up that struggle against the extremists so that the schools that teach these young people don’t teach them terrorism – how to kill and maim and behead people or kill young children like they did in Russia, but teaches them languages or math or sciences or something they can use to function in a civilized world. 

 

            Q:  I don’t want to impose on your time.  I know it’s extremely valuable, but can I ask one last question -- really change the focus here for just a moment? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  You bet.

 

            Q:  Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz talks about the technology exchanges that are now occurring.  Some of our allies are part of this.  And I just picked up Buchanan’s most recent book, “Where the Right Went Wrong” and he quotes Bill Gertz as saying that Israel has provided China with technology for laser weapons, technology for the Patriot anti-missile program, AWACS technology, Star-1 cruise missile technology, the Python, the Harpy drone.  If this stuff is true, this is a big deal.  This is similar to what the Clinton Administration did during their years to strengthen the technical expertise of the Chinese.  With all the stuff that’s going on, with the Russians under attack by terrorists and the Israelis under attack by terrorists, how dare anybody participate in the technology transfer at that level if this is true? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, I tell you, technology transfer tends to be handled places other than the Department of Defense, but I can assure you that the United States government is in constant contact with any country to which we transfer technologies and trying to work with them to monitor to whom they transfer those technologies.  And to the extent we find countries that are engaged in transfers that are unauthorized by us, needless to say, we take steps. 

 

            Q:  With this attack by the Chechens against those school kids, will that help us with the Russians to take some of this stuff seriously, as it needs to be taken? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I think the Russians – I think you’re right.  It ought to be a wakeup call for the whole world that any collection of humanity that will go out and kill hundreds and hundreds of school children has to be coped with, has to be dealt with, cannot be allowed to run free and continue that kind of carnage against innocent men, women and children.  It’s just not accepted in the civilized world and I don’t doubt for a minute but that the Russians recognize that and will be cooperating as they have been extensively in the global war on terror. 

 

Q:  There’s a big spitting contest between the Iranians and the Israelis right now over the potential of the Iranians getting their nukes up and running and they’re saber-rattling over the potential of the Soviets supplying the Iranians with the hardened fuel rods and implying that there’ could be some push comes to shove, if that occurs.  What will be the U.S. role here?  What is the U.S. role here because this is a flashpoint?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  The U.S. has obviously been working very closely with the international community and the IAEA to get the Iranians to, first of all, to get the Soviet – correction – to get the Russians to not assist the Iranians in their nuclear program and to get the Iranians to discontinue their nuclear program, which they obviously don’t need for peaceful purposes or for weapons.  They’ve got so much fossil fuel that they’re the last country in the world that needs any nuclear power, which is what they’ve been contending.  And our country has been working closely with the international community to try to put sufficient pressure on them that they would discontinue that effort. 

 

            Q:  Is it totally paranoid on my part to wonder or worry that the Iranians may have supplied indirectly some of our intelligence people an overestimation of Iraq’s potential for WMDs just enough to get us to commit to do what they could not do, that is to topple Saddam and wipe out that administration? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I have no evidence of that.  And I’m afraid I’m going to have to check off here.  I’ve got to run along, but I certainly enjoyed visiting with you and thank you for the opportunity. 

 

            Q:  Thank you, sir.