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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with John McWethy, Primetime, ABC TV

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 25, 2004 8:00 PM EDT
Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with John McWethy, Primetime, ABC TV

            NARRATOR: Fiery, combative, tough. He’s the president’s top gun on terrorism: Donald Rumsfeld.


            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DONALD RUMSFELD: (From tape.) We simply have to go after the terrorists where they are.


            NARRATOR: This week, he’s in the hot seat on 9/11 and Iraq, but we’ve had exclusive access to him for months. A hero to some, a hawk to others.


            RICHARD CLARKE: Secretary Rumsfeld said there are no good targets in Afghanistan, let’s bomb Iraq. And initially I thought he was kidding.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: He’s mistaken.


            NARRATOR: John McWethy with a man who knows all the secrets. No-holds-barred interviews.


            JOHN MCWETHY: Mr. Secretary, are you worthy of a mother’s confidence to send her son or daughter to Iraq?


            NARRATOR: Tonight, what makes Rummy run?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: I am not a person that has ever wanted any war.


            NARRATOR: From ABC News, this is a special edition of Primetime Thursday with Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson. Tonight, Rumsfeld’s Rules of War.


            CHARLES GIBSON: Good evening and welcome to this special, and we think important, edition of Primetime Thursday. Diane is off tonight.

This evening we are at the center of a controversy swirling around the one man who along with the president holds the power to send your sons and daughters, your husbands and wives, to war. He is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, notoriously tough, private, and unflinching in the face of tough questions raised just this week about September 11th and the war in Iraq.


            It is hard to be neutral about Rumsfeld. Love him or hate him, there is no debate about one thing: when Rumsfeld speaks, the whole world listens.

Here is ABC News special correspondent John McWethy.


            MR. : (From tape.) The honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld.


            MR. MCWETHY: He is smart, energetic, a man who solves problems and usually gets results.


            MR. : If it happens to be true –


            MR. MCWETHY: He is combative, controlling, and at times ruthless, but can also be charming.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) I’m the secretary, you’re the general.


            GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: Right. Finally got that straight. I’ve been confused.


            MR. MCWETHY: He can also be slippery – hard to pin down.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) I’m working my way over to figuring out how I won’t answer that.


            MR. MCWETHY: A wealthy man who does not need the work, but he cannot resist the call to public service. He cannot resist the power.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, I thank you so much for the confidence you’ve placed in me.


            MR. MCWETHY: Hidden under his jacket, attached to his belt, is a device to count every step he takes whether he is visiting a war zone or surveying his sprawling New Mexico ranch. He tries to walk 10,000 paces a day; about five miles. It is part of Rumsfeld’s extreme attention to detail: counting, obsessing, analyzing. It’s how he solves problems.


            But Iraq may be the one problem even he cannot solve. So many questions still unanswered about that war and the messy aftermath, the elusive weapons of mass destruction, the fragile U.S.-led coalition, and Rumsfeld’s key role in all of it.

No second thoughts about the advice you gave the president that the U.S. should invade Iraq?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: How do you know that I have him that advice?


            MR. MCWETHY: I certainly assume you did.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, you’re making assumptions. I don’t talk about my advice to the president.


            MR. MCWETHY: Never talk about the advice you give the president. It’s one of Rumsfeld’s rules. His own code of conduct gathered over a lifetime in business and politics; guidelines he refers to again and again.


            MR. MCWETHY: Let me ask the question in a different way. No second thoughts about invading Iraq?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: I think that the president and those who supported that decision, including Don Rumsfeld, made the right decision and that over time it will be seen as the right decision.


            MR. MCWETHY: From the start, the crusty 71-year old has enjoyed unusual influence over a younger, less seasoned president.


            PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From tape.) Don Rumsfeld is an exceptional man.


            MR. MCWETHY: But in his first months on the job, Rumsfeld made powerful enemies on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon itself, where his bold plans to transform the Defense Department to better fight 21st century wars were met with skepticism and outright hostility. Rumors began circulating that Rumsfeld might be fired, but his prospects changed in a flash on September 11th, 2001, when terrorists flew a plane into the side of the Pentagon.


            PETER JENNINGS: (From tape.) ABC’s John McWethy is at the Pentagon.


            MR. MCWETHY: (From tape.) Peter, this is one of those things that you dream of in your worst nightmares.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) The whole building jumped. Tables shook and the building shook and it sounded – it felt like a bomb had hit the building.


            MR. MCWETHY: As the Pentagon burned, Rumsfeld was transformed. That’s him alongside the stretcher helping to move the injured.


            JOHN HAMRE: And he, I think, became really cemented in history as having been an important leader at a crucial time.


            MR. MCWETHY: Former Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre says from that instant Rumsfeld became larger than life.


            MR. HAMRE: I think Secretary Rumsfeld embodied a quintessential American spirit at that moment: a controlled anger at what had happened to us and a disciplined will to follow up.


            MR. MCWETHY: But there is now new controversy. Former White House counterterrorism coordinator Dick Clarke charges that in the days right after the attacks, it was Rumsfeld pushing to strike back at terrorist targets not just in Afghanistan, but also in Iraq, even though there was no evidence Iraq was involved.


            MR. CLARKE: The issue immediately arose of military retaliation. Secretary Rumsfeld said there are no good targets in Afghanistan; let’s bomb Iraq.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) He’s mistaken.


            MR. MCWETHY: Rumsfeld says Clarke simply misunderstood.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) It’s true that we were talking about the fact our planes were being shot at in Iraq, but in terms of connecting it the way some seem to want to do it seems to me would be a misunderstanding of the situation.


            MR. MCWETHY: And on the question of whether the Bush administration ignored the warning signs before September 11th, Rumsfeld was emphatic.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) I knew of no intelligence during the six-plus months leading up to September 11th that indicated terrorists would hijack commercial airliners, use them as missiles to fly into the Pentagon or the World Trade Center towers.


            MR. MCWETHY: The way Rumsfeld handled himself on September 11th was no surprise to those who have known him since he was a child, growing up in this house in the suburbs of Chicago. Even as a boy, Don Rumsfeld was driven.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) My father once said that – when I was a youngster that my motto must have been, if it doesn’t go easy, force it.


            MR. MCWETHY: It became another of Rumsfeld’s rules.


            NICK MARSHALL (sp): He is not going to give up and so you’re going to have to – really, to defeat him you’re going to have to do away with him – run over him, because when he’s down he is not out. He’ll get up again.


            MR. MCWETHY: Nick Marshall is one of Rumsfeld’s many lifelong friends from New Trier high School in Winnetka, Illinois, where Rumsfeld was vice president of his class.


            MR. MARSHALL: well, he’s a natural leader. I wouldn’t just say student leader; he’s a leader.


            MR. MCWETHY: After the attacks on September 11th, Rumsfeld became a leader of the war on terrorism. To some a hero and avenger more powerful than ever, but to others he became a target. Intelligence sources say Rumsfeld and his family were stalked by terrorists and at least once they tried to kill him. For Rumsfeld, the war on terrorism turned personal and his profile got even higher. He began appearing on magazine covers; his name constantly in headlines. He was not just Don Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense; he was morphing into Don Rumsfeld, sex symbol. Even the president joked about it.


            PRES. BUSH: (From tape.) My administration’s matinee idol for the seniors.


            MR. MCWETHY: And how did he respond to such attention?


            TORI CLARKE: Oh, embarrassment. Embarrassment. Absolutely mortified. He’s a very appropriate, discreet person, especially on matters personal.


            MR. MCWETHY: Tori Clarke, his spokesperson for two years, says Rumsfeld was largely oblivious to his new fame.


            MS. CLARKE: And one thing that was said to me, and you need to understand, this is not a fellow who is up on popular culture, so if you say J-Lo is in the house, he’s not going to have a clue what you mean, which is true. He is not very familiar, for instance, with Saturday Night Live.


            MR. MCWETHY: But he learned fast.


            (Begin Saturday Night Live clip.)


            MS. : Is it fair to say that this administration has found its smoking gun?


            MR. : Smoking gun. Let me think about that. I don’t want to answer that.


           (End clip.)


            MR. MCWETHY: In three years, Rumsfeld’s persona has created a booming cottage industry. There are new books, a Rumsfeld Halloween mask, and the ultimate pop culture validation: immortalized as an action figure that talks.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: The reason I heard about it is my grandson is, I think, seven. Sam, and he walked up to his parents and said, I don’t do diplomacy.


            ACTION FIGURE: (Talking toy.) I shouldn’t get into this. It’s diplomacy and I don’t so diplomacy.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: There it is. (Laughter.)


            MR. MCWETHY: I wonder how many kids want this toy.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: I can’t imagine. I cannot imagine.


            MR. MCWETHY: I mean, at one point you were a sex symbol and now you’ve become a toy. Want to hold him?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: No, thank you. I will pass. I’ll pass. I’ve got to be more careful what I say if my grandchildren are going to be quoting me.


            MR. MCWETHY: But it is more than what he says that so infuriates his critics. To them he is no kindly grandfather, but a ruthless infighter who has proved over the years that he will do whatever it takes to win.


            (Commercial break.)


            MR. MCWETHY: When he arrived at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld made a promise.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) You will receive only honest, direct answers from me and they’ll either be that I know and I’ll answer you, or I don’t know, or I know and I won’t answer you.


            MR. MCWETHY: But with Rumsfeld, nothing is every quite so clear. What is never in doubt though is who is in charge. He rules a vast U.S. military empire more than three million strong, a staggering annual budget of $400 billion. Rumsfeld’s critics and fans agree on one thing: he is –




            CLYDE PRESTOWITZ (AUTHOR): Tough.




            INTERNATIONAL PEACE): Tough. Determined.


            PRES. BUSH: (From tape.) He understands what it takes to be a leader.


            MR. MCWETHY: Rumsfeld became a chief architect of an aggressive and controversial policy called preemption. In other words, get them before they get us.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: You can’t just defend against terrorists. They can attack anywhere at any time. You simply have to go after the terrorists where they are.


            MR. MCWETHY: That, of course, was one of the arguments for invading Iraq in the first place, even though there was scant evidence that al Qaeda terrorists were there at all, let alone weapons of mass destruction. But a full seven months before the invasion, Rumsfeld voiced no doubts as he led the charge toward war.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) We know what their intent is, and we know that for certain, so we know that the weapons exist, we know they’re available, and we know – anyone who listens to Saddam Hussein’s videos knows precisely what he has in mind.


            MR. MCWETHY: It turned out Rumsfeld did not know precisely what Saddam Hussein had in mind at all, but it was hard to argue with him. By then, Rumsfeld’s popularity and influence were soaring.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) I believe what I said yesterday – I don’t know what I said, but that I know what I think and I assume it’s what I said.


            MR. MCWETHY: But his greatest popularity was before Iraq. Before more and more American troops began coming home in body-bags and before new terrorist attacks in Europe began unraveling an already fragile U.S.-led coalition.


            REPORTER: (From tape.) A while back there you enjoyed rock star popularity. Now you’ve got critics taking potshots at you left and right. Some even – (unintelligible) – your resignation. How do you account for that?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) Life’s a roller coaster.


            MR. MCWETHY: Whether he is up or down, Rumsfeld bruises many and makes no apologies, says his old friend, Vice President Dick Cheney.


            VICE PRES. CHENEY: He’s full speed ahead on his agenda and on what needs to get done, and he’s not – doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about the critics.


            MR. MCWETHY: But then, ignoring critics is just another one of Rumsfeld’s own rules. If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.


            VICE PRES. CHENEY: If he wasn’t breaking china, he wouldn’t be doing his job.


            MR. MCWETHY: He’s secretary of defense, but sometimes acts like he’s secretary of state, and that creates tension with the real secretary of state, Colin Powell, and with U.S. allies.


            MS. MATTHEWS: He has had a huge impact on relationships through just his kind of off-the-cuff remarks.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) You’re thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don’t. I think that’s old Europe.


            MR. MCWETHY: That infuriated some of America’s oldest allies, who opposed the war in Iraq, but Rumsfeld could not have cared less and President Bush either did not or could not reign him in. Rumsfeld outthinks and outmaneuvers almost everyone. He’s a man in constant motion. He rarely sits, even in his own spacious office at the Pentagon.

You don’t sit at your desk?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: No. No chair.


            MR. MCWETHY: No chair?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: I stand here. I use the phone.


            MR. MCWETHY: And why – why do you stand?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: I like to – have for decades. It works.


            MR. MCWETHY: but Rumsfeld did sit down for a series of no-holds-barred interviews at the Pentagon and at his New Mexico ranch to talk about his policies and personality and about his lifelong passion for one-on-one combat: wrestling.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: Wrestling is pretty much you’re operating alone out on the mat.


            MR. MCWETHY: And it was as a wrestler that he first became a champion willing to take risks to win.


            EDGAR D. JANNOTTA: Wrestlers by their nature are risk-takers.


            MR. MCWETHY: Investment banker Ned Jannotta went to high school and college with Rumsfeld.


            MR. JANNOTTA: Very aggressive. You know, he was strong, always in good shape, and always intense – always pushing. He never gave anyone the time for a breather.


            MR. MCWETHY: At Princeton, Rumsfeld continued to wrestle and to win. After college, he married his high school sweetheart, Joyce Pearson (sp). He then trained as a Navy pilot, too late for combat in Korea, too early for Vietnam. After three years in uniform, Rumsfeld jumped into the world of politics. In 1961 he ran for Congress from Illinois and asked Ned Jannotta to run his campaign.


            MR. JANNOTTA: Don was 29 years old. He looked 17 and he won in a big way.


            MR. MCWETHY: Rumsfeld was elected four times to the House of Representatives and began developing a reputation.


            MR. JANNOTTA: He challenges everybody. He challenges the – you know, whatever is put in front of him, he challenges. That drives the generals nuts because he always pushes back.


            MR. MCWETHY: Rumsfeld has been doing this his whole life, and in 1969, President Richard Nixon gave him his first taste of White House power.


            PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: (From tape.) You’ll be seeing him quite often in the years ahead.


            MR. MCWETHY: But he defied the president by refusing to make speeches supporting a war in Vietnam that was going sour. In a secretly tape-recorded conversation in the Oval Office, President Nixon tells his top aide, Bob Haldeman, that Rumsfeld needs to go.


            PRES. NIXON: (From tape.) But on Rumsfeld, we’ve done a hell of a lot for Rumsfeld.


            BOB HALDEMAN: (From tape.) I agree.


            PRES. NIXON: (From tape.) I think Rumsfeld may be not too long in this world.


            MR. HALDEMAN: (From tape.) I sure don’t think he’s ever going to be a solid member of the ship.


            PRES. NIXON: (From tape.) Well, then let’s dump him right after this.


            MR. MCWETHY: He never was dumped, and in fact was promoted to NATO ambassador, but it was not all work for Rumsfeld: he loved to take his wife and three children skiing. One year they went to watch the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, but Rumsfeld could never just watch.


            MR. JANNOTTA: There he is down in the street. I said, Rummy! And he grabbed hold of these no parking signs that sticks out from the wall and of course he’s got a little monkey in him anyway and he scrambles up and he’s hanging onto this no parking sign curled up and the bulls go roaring by him and he –


            MR. MCWETHY: In 1974, when Gerald Ford became president, he put Rumsfeld in charge as his White House chief of staff. Once again, Rumsfeld was moving up. Ford soon sent him to the Pentagon and at 43 Don Rumsfeld became the youngest secretary of defense in history.


            MR. : (From tape.) That I will support and defend the constitution of the United States.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) That I will support and defend –


            MR. MCWETHY: He served for 18 months until Ford lost the election to Jimmy Carter in 1976. For the next 25 years Rumsfeld worked in the world of business, but stayed connected to Republican politics. There was one prize he wanted: to be Ronald Reagan’s vice president.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) It’s up to Governor Reagan –


            SEC. RUMSFELD: But his bitter rival, George Bush, won the job. In 1988, Rumsfeld ran for president himself, again losing out to Bush. So it was a surprise to many three years ago when Bush’s son announced:


            PRES. BUSH: (From tape.) I’m submitting the name of Donald Rumsfeld to be secretary of defense.


            MR. MCWETHY: Rumsfeld became the only person in U.S. history to serve twice as secretary of defense, but this time he was back in his old job and a very new world. Bigger problems, invisible enemies, and about to fight a war with all new rules.


            NARRATOR: Coming up: will Iraq be known as Rumsfeld’s war?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: In the case of this conflict, every single person is a volunteer. Every person there put their hand up and said, send me.


            NARRATOR: When Primetime returns.


            (Commercial break.)


            NARRATOR: Rumsfeld’s Rules of War continues.


            MR. GIBSON: Challenging, blunt, tough: that’s how his friends, even the vice president, describe Donald Rumsfeld. He used all those qualities as he took on the Pentagon establishment and guided an entire military machine as well as the nation into what has become an increasingly controversial war.

We continue now with John McWethy.


            MR. MCWETHY: Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are close friends of 30 years, but it did not start that way. When they first met, Rumsfeld was a young congressman; Cheney a graduate student who wanted an internship.


            VICE PRES. CHENEY: He looked on me, and I think properly, as an airy-headed academic and I looked on him as a very arrogant, young, abrasive member of Congress and the interview literally lasted about 20 minutes and I left.


             MR. MCWETHY: That time Cheney did not get the job. A few months later when Rumsfeld left Congress to work in the Nixon White House, he finally hired the eager young Cheney.


            VICE PRES. CHENEY: I walked into his office. He sat at his desk and never looked up. He never said, do you want a job, or I’d like to have you come to work for me; just you’re congressional relations. Now get the hell out of here.


            MR. MCWETHY: What was he like as a boss?


            VICE PRES. CHENEY: He was probably the toughest boss I ever had, but he probably taught me more than anybody I ever worked for. He was very demanding. He didn’t have a lot of time to say thank you or good job. The reward for doing a job well was you got more work.


            MR. MCWETHY: Rumsfeld’s style has not changed in 30 years.


            LT. GEN. GREG NEWBOLD: Very challenging boss.


            MR. MCWETHY: For two years under Rumsfeld, Marine Corps Lieutenant General Greg Newbold, now retired, directed operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He is also described as abusive and brash. Is he?


            GEN. NEWBOLD: Oh, absolutely. I think that’s an accurate description. I’m not sure he would use it, but absolutely.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: I tend to be impatient, so there’s no question but that from time to time I help people understand the difference between good work and poor work.


            GEN. NEWBOLD: If the environment’s intimidating and suppressive, if it demeans, people tend to clam up.


            MR. MCWETHY: According to Newbold and others, the secretary bullied many in uniform, even four star generals and admirals, as he led the Bush administration’s charge toward war. Iraq, he said, was armed with weapons of mass destruction and Iraq was a haven for the very same terrorist group that attacked the U.S. on September 11th.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) If you’re asking are there al Qaeda in Iraq, the answer is yes there are. It’s a fact.


            THOMAS WHITE (FORMER SECRETARY OF THE ARMY): It clearly was a war of choice. We had not been able to establish that there was an imminent threat.


            MS. MATTHEWS: The threat was certainly distorted and exaggerated in dozens and dozens and dozens of statements from the president on down.


            MR. MCWETHY: Critics say that you and your advisors exaggerated the importance of the intelligence prior to going into Iraq. Yes? No?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: False. When I spoke, I quoted generally public unclassified Central Intelligence Agency analysis and you’ll find my remarks are not terribly – (audio break) – came out of people in the past administration who said essentially the same things.


            MR. CLARKE: The question is, was there an imminent threat to the United States? And the intelligence did not support that.


            GEN. NEWBOLD: I think Saddam Hussein was a paper tiger.


            MR. MCWETHY: As operations director for the Joint Chiefs, General Greg Newbold saw nearly all of the intelligence reports. He and others were troubled by how some of Rumsfeld’s top sides were spinning the information.


            GEN. NEWBOLD: They argued that all the things they saw meant that Saddam Hussein was a imminent threat to the United States, a principal reason for the terrorism against the United States, and had to be taken out.


            MR. MCWETHY: General Newbold was not alone in questioning the case for war.


            GEN. NEWBOLD: It’s fair to say that there were a lot of reflections by senior military leaders as to the rationale because a lot of it was not obvious to them.


            MR. MCWETHY: But they obeyed as Rumsfeld dictated details of the invasion plan starting with exactly which troops would go and exactly when they would leave. The Pentagon calls it deployment.


            MR. WHITE: The deployment scheme was micromanaged by the secretary and that – and that caused an enormous amount of pain on the Army side.


            MR. MCWETHY: At the time, Thomas White was secretary of the army. He’s one of the few top Bush administration officials willing to criticize the powerful secretary of defense. White charges that Rumsfeld’s interference caused troops to arrive in Iraq without equipment and crucial support units to be weeks late in getting there. Rumsfeld argues he was just following another of his rules: reserve the right to get into anything, and exercise it.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: Did it disrupt what people had fixed in their mind as the way it should be done? Sure it did. But it happens what they had fixed in their mind was flat wrong. It wasn’t the way it should have been done and it’s not the way it will ever be done again, and if there are people who are disturbed about that, so be it.


            MR. WHITE: Well, I would argue he was not part of the cure, he was part of the problem.


            MR. MCWETHY: To minimize the U.S. presence in the volatile region, Rumsfeld insisted on a much smaller force to fight the war than some of his generals wanted, so when U.S. forces arrived in Baghdad after one of the fastest advances in history, there were not enough troops to stop what happened next.


            MR. WHITE: We didn’t have enough troops – enough boots on the ground to stop the looting, to stop the wholesale destruction of the infrastructure of the country that we’re now asking the American taxpayer to pay for.


            MR. MCWETHY: At the time, Rumsfeld scoffed that the widespread looting in Iraq was just an untidy detail.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) It is a fundamental misunderstanding to see those images over and over and over again of some boy walking out with a vase and say oh my goodness, you didn’t have a plan. That’s nonsense and it’s untidy and freedom’s untidy.


            MR. WHITE: It was a disaster I think is fair to say.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: I didn’t insist that there were enough troops there. You keep saying things that are mythology.


            MR. MCWETHY: Set me straight.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: The commanders on the ground made a judgment and they recommended the number of troops that we have there. I agreed. The president – Chairman Myers agreed, the military chief – Joint Chiefs agreed, and the president agreed. Now the idea that I insisted is just utter nonsense.


            MR. MCWETHY: And how does he answer questions about the elusive weapons of mass destruction?

So it’s not an embarrassment yet as far as you’re concerned?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: No, indeed. I have no reason to believe that the intelligence that the United States government had and that Secretary Powell presented to the United Nations is anything but accurate.


            DAVID KAYE: It turns out we were all wrong.


            MR. MCWETHY: Even though David Kay, the government’s own top weapons inspector, said he could find nothing in Iraq, to this day Rumsfeld argues the weapons may still be found.


            (Commercial break.)


            MR. GIBSON: A year after the invasion of Iraq, no weapons of mass destruction have been found and Bush officials now say their goal was to rid the world of a vicious dictator and liberate 25 million Iraqis, but what was the real reason?

Once again, John McWethy.


            MR. MCWETHY: On the Arab street and in much of Europe, many charge last year’s invasion was part of a U.S. thirst for oil, or was it really President Bush and those around him taking care of his father’s unfinished business with Saddam Hussein?

Critics point to this letter as evidence that Rumsfeld had made up his mind to overthrow Saddam Hussein years ago. The letter to then President Clinton urges removing Saddam’s regime from power and it is signed by 19 conservatives including Rumsfeld.


            MR. MCWETHY: It almost indicates that you had made up your mind before you became secretary of defense.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, no. No. No.


            MR. MCWETHY: That this guy had to go. No?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: No. I mean, first of all it’s not for me to make those decisions, but the letter we signed was in close proximity to the Iraqi regime change legislation that passed in both houses of the United States Congress. It was the policy of the United States government, signed by the then president of the United States, President Clinton, that the policy would be to change the regime.


            MR. MCWETHY: So you had no precooked notion?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: Of course not. No.


            MR. MCWETHY: There are people who –


            SEC. RUMSFELD: Listen –


            MR. MCWETHY: – definitely wanted this was with Iraq. You’re not –


            SEC. RUMSFELD: I’m not a person who has ever wanted any war.


            MR. MCWETHY: What do you say to those members of Congress who are now saying Don Rumsfeld should go.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, they would never have appointed me in the first place.


            MR. MCWETHY: So you brush them off?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: I don’t brush off anybody. I think everyone’s entitled to their opinion.


            MR. MCWETHY: Do you see Washington and in fact much of the country now starting to turn on you with regard to Iraq – to blame you?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: No, I don’t. I think that we’re in a tough time.


            MR. MCWETHY: Now, a year after the war began, thousands of Iraqis and more than 585 Americans are dead.  How are we to view the steady stream of body-bags coming back from Iraq – of American troops?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: Every person who is killed or wounded is a heartbreak. Certainly for me and for their families and for their loved ones. In the case of this conflict, every single person is a volunteer. Every person there put their hand up and said, send me. I want to participate in the defense of our country.


            MR. MCWETHY: Mr. Secretary, are you worthy of a mother’s confidence to send her son or daughter to Iraq?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: One has to hope the answer is yes, and pray that the answer is yes.


MR. MCWETHY: This becomes very personal when you are engaged in a war and you are the man who is in charge of the defense forces, does it not?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: It does.


            MR. MCWETHY: And painful at times?


            (Audio break.)


            (Commercial break.)


            MR. MCWETHY: People come here to soak up the local color and mountain scenery. It’s also the unlikely retreat of Donald Rumsfeld. Two thousand miles and a world away from the pressures of the Pentagon. Rumsfeld owns land here – thousands of acres. When he’s at his ranch, he sheds his coat and tie, but never his intensity.

What happens to you when you get out in this environment?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: I grab a chainsaw and I go up on the mountain, we have some land, and I start taking the lower branches off trees. It’s the best time you can have is with a chainsaw. I’ll come back in my arms will just be vibrating from it, but I love it.


            MR. MCWETHY: This was a dairy farm, right?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: A dairy farm. Right.


            MR. MCWETHY: And you pick up various things that you find –


            SEC. RUMSFELD: I save everything.


            MR. MCWETHY: You don’t want to throw it away?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: No, I save everything. I don’t know why. I was born during the depression and I still pick up pennies.


            MR. MCWETHY: By his own admission, Rumsfeld is obsessed by a need to organize, whether it’s the three million people who work for the Defense Department or the odd nuts, bolts, and rusted valves he picks up in the fields around his property.

And you have saved all of these?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: I have.


            MR. MCWETHY: And you’ve sorted them out.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I have. I don’t know – I don’t know quite what I’ll do with them, but someday maybe they’ll open a little – open a nut factory or something. There’s a bedstead there. Here’s an ironing board back here. We’ve got an old plow back here.


            MR. MARSHALL: I think it must be a genetic thing, but it’s not in him to sit back and relax.


            MR. MCWETHY: Nick Marshall has been a friend since high school.


            MR. MARSHALL: And I think his personal productivity is probably five times the average successful person.


            MR. MCWETHY: And successful he has always been. During his 25 years in the business world, Rumsfeld turned failing companies into winners, and himself into a rich man. Financial disclosure documents indicate a net worth of more than $50 million. Three years ago, he and his wife Joyce were preparing to retire on this land, but when the phone call came from President Bush, as always Rumsfeld never looked back.


            MR. JANNOTTA: He is a warhorse. He answers the bell.


            MR. MCWETHY: And when Rumsfeld returned to government three years ago, his top priority was to transform the Pentagon. He saw the U.S. military as a lumbering giant: strong, but slow and resistant to change. His vision? Make it into a high-tech fighting force that is lean, fast, deadly, and far more willing to take risks.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: Once you decide you’re going to try to do something, like transforming this institution, which is not an easy thing to do, you have to know that there are going to be a lot of levels that are going to resist that and not agree with it; in the Department, in Congress, in the academic community.


            MR. HAMRE: He has forced dramatic new thinking about the role of special operations forces, for example.


            MR. MCWETHY: Rumsfeld convinced the president to give special operations troops the power to secretly track and kill suspected terrorists. True to form, Rumsfeld at first denied it.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: The – we – the Department of Defense isn’t into that business.


            MR. MCWETHY: Special operators are not involved in targeting and aircraft above are not involved in targeting –


            SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, if you’re in a war, you bet your life they try to – anyone who doesn’t want to surrender has to be attacked.


            MR. MCWETHY: The war he is talking about is the war on terrorism and it is not just in Iraq and Afghanistan. That was is worldwide and will change the way the U.S. fights for years to come.


            VICE PRES. CHENEY: The old alignment that basically had been in place since 1949, 1950, in the Cold War will look dramatically different after Don leaves. The president makes the final call, but Rumsfeld’s the architect of it.


            MR. MCWETHY: But the question remains: will the bold new structure Rumsfeld designed still be standing after the architect is gone? When we come back, Donald Rumsfeld’s uncertain legacy.


            (Commercial break.)


            MR. MCWETHY: Just last month, Rumsfeld was in Baghdad for the fourth time in a year visiting the troops and seeing for himself both the progress and problems of rebuilding a nation.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) We’re proud to be working with you.


            MR. MCWETHY: While at the same time transforming the Pentagon. Some doubt even the energetic Rumsfeld can do both.


            GEN. NEWBOLD: The lasting impact on the military really comes about when you change the culture. A transformation can’t be about things; it has to be about men and women.


            MR. HAMRE: You do ultimately have to institutionalize your ideas. The organization around you has to understand them and want to implement them.


            MR. MCWETHY: Former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre says Rumsfeld’s abrasive personality could get in the way of transforming the Pentagon bureaucracy.


            MR. HAMRE: Can he bring them along now to the point of embracing and continuing those ideas, or are people so angry that they’re going to resist his ideas? I think that’s the question.


            MR. MCWETHY: Rumsfeld also led the administration’s campaign to change the way the U.S. does business with longtime allies and the United Nations, violating one of his own rules: don’t divide the world into then and us. But Rumsfeld has done just that: ignoring longtime friends when they resist, forming instead what he calls coalitions of the willing.


            CLYDE PRESTOWITZ: But what’s that? That’s just a posse that you recruit and often pay for to chase bandits that you identify, and that has nothing to do with consensus and consultation.


            MR. MCWETHY: Author Clyde Prestowitz, a lifelong Republican, says Rumsfeld has alienated many U.S. allies.  That he feels that the U.S. can go it alone.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, no. No. No. No one nation has all the right answers and I’m amused by it because the president has put together the largest coalition in the history of mankind on the global war on terror with something like 90 countries. Is that going it alone? No. Going it alone is a cliché that people like to heave out who want to be critical it seems to me, but I don’t find it rooted in fact.


            MR. MCWETHY: But the fact is when the war in Iraq began, the only countries providing troops to actually fight were the U.S, Britain, and a handful of polish and Australian soldiers. Thirty-four nations did send troops in the past year, but they account for just a fraction compared to the 115,000 U.S. soldiers who are still there. Rumsfeld urges patience.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: (From tape.) If all goes as planned, and it occasionally does in life – not always – an interim but sovereign Iraqi government could be in place sometime next summer.


            MR. MCWETHY: Despite the adoption of an interim constitution, the almost daily bombings show Iraq is still plagued by a deadly insurgency along with crippling ethnic and religious divisions. Civil war is still considered a real possibility.


            MS. MATTHEWS: Sometimes our presence makes things worse, and what – that’s the nightmare in Iraq.


            MR. MCWETHY: Jessica Tuchman Matthews, president of the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace, says history holds a cautionary lesson for Rumsfeld.


            MS. MATTHEWS: What history also tells you is that there are some problems the United States can’t solve.


            MR. MCWETHY: Rumsfeld, his critics, and his supporters, all seem to agree on one thing.


            MR. HAMRE: The world would be dramatically worse if we were to fail in Iraq. We cannot fail in Iraq.


            MR. MCWETHY: And Rumsfeld vehemently argues the U.S. is not failing in Iraq. He bristles at the comparison to the Vietnam War 40 years ago where the U.S. was bogged down in a foreign quagmire.

You reject the word quagmire in describing – I know you hate that.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: McWethy.


            MR. MCWETHY: You have resisted the use of guerilla war.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: I know what a quagmire is and this isn’t one. I know what a guerilla war is and it strikes me that if someone wants to use that phrase that’s fair enough, but most people how are looking at what’s going on characterize it as terrorism and low-intensity conflict.


            MR. MCWETHY: And it’s not Vietnam?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: It isn’t.


            MR. MCWETHY: In Vietnam, an average of 500 Americans died every week; about the number killed in Iraq all year. But the comparison persists.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: It’s important, I think, to learn from the past – from history. Those that don’t are condemned to repeat it, and that would be a sad thing. Now, we have to avoid that in Afghanistan and Iraq and we’re trying to do that.


            MR. MCWETHY: whether he likes it or not, Iraq will surely be Rumsfeld’s most enduring legacy. Either a bold stroke that changed the region for the better and helped the U.S. win the war on terrorism, or a tragic failure that ultimately made things worse. That chapter of history is still being written, and until it is the book on Donald Rumsfeld’s rules of war remains open.


            MR. GIBSON: When we come back, one final Rumsfeld rule.


            (Commercial break.)


            MR. GIBSON: It will take years to know if Donald Rumsfeld’s often unorthodox and controversial ideas are brilliant or wrongheaded, but one of his favorite rules is about taking risks. Behold the turtle, Rumsfeld likes to say, he makes progress only when he sticks his neck out. And that’s it for this special edition of Primetime Thursday. I’ll see you tomorrow on Good Morning America. Until then, good night.

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