MR. TONY SNOW: President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld this week announced that major combat operations have ended in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both also caution that plenty of hard work lies ahead. Joining us to discuss the next steps, following a seven-day whirlwind tour of the Persian Gulf region that included meetings with kings, presidents, prime ministers, defense ministers, and troops, is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Also here, Brit Hume, Washington managing editor of Fox News.
Secretary Rumsfeld, one of the things President Bush has been saying is that a number of key people in American jurisdiction and who have been apprehended by coalition forces are lying about weapons of mass destruction. You've got Tariq Aziz. You have the former head of the weapons development program in Iraq. You have the former spokesman for the weapons development program. They all say that there are no weapons of mass destruction. Why are you confident that they're lying?
RUMSFELD: Well, we have had over the period of time, the intelligence community has, the Central Intelligence Agency, a good deal of intelligence information which, when you put it all together, it makes a very persuasive case. And I'm -- we never believed that we'd just tumble over weapons of mass destruction in that country. Saddam Hussein was, and entire his regime, learned to live with U.N. inspections. They fashioned their arrangements and their -- how they did things and where they did things so that they could nonetheless persuade inspectors that they didn't have them. And the intelligence shows that they were systematically trying to prevent the inspectors from finding them. We're going to find what we find as a result of talking to people, I believe, not simply by going to some site and hoping to discover it.
SNOW: The people in leadership positions are saying no. Are you getting any cooperation from people lower down in the food chain?
RUMSFELD: That is where it has to come from. We're going to have to find people -- not at the very senior level who are vulnerable, obviously, if they're in custody -- but it will be people down below who have been involved in one way or another and --
SNOW: Are any of them speaking now?
RUMSFELD: There's so many people that are talking. I wouldn't want to say they are or aren't. I don't -- you meant by that are they telling us substantive. We don't have any substantive to announce at the present time.
SNOW: All right. You mentioned before that people -- the senior leaders are vulnerable. Vulnerable to what?
RUMSFELD: Well, they obviously, to the extent that there are crimes that have been committed, they would be vulnerable to charges.
SNOW: Should they be brought up on charges before the World Court or a military commission headed by the United States?
RUMSFELD: That's an interesting question. You left out a few other options. For example, the Iraqi people could have some sort of a tribunal if they wished. I don't know how it will be handled. The lawyers are -- in the government, are discussing those things at the present time. And I don't even know that one size will fit all. There may be different approaches for different individuals.
HUME: What about Tariq Aziz? What happens to a man like Tariq Aziz? He lets himself be taken. He's, according to the president, still lying. What are you going to do with him, and others like him?
RUMSFELD: I don't know. I don't know. We have him in custody. I've known him over the years. He has obviously been very close in to Saddam Hussein. What will the lawyers end up deciding to do I think is yet to be seen. It's awfully early.
HUME: Now people who are saying, Mr. Secretary, in the aftermath of the success in Iraq, military success in Iraq and after Afghanistan, and after the warnings that have been made to Syria, that the stage is being set here for some sort of perpetual conflict in which one government after another will be taken on and maybe -- and that the whole "axis of evil" may now be the focus of military undertakings. What about that?
RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't know that that's the way to look at it. It seems to me that the way to look at it is that the United States and the United Kingdom and Australia and 65 nations in a coalition made a decision to change the regime in Iraq. The effect of that was a demonstration to the world that an awful lot of countries don't think it's a good idea for countries to have weapons of mass destruction, or to be on the terrorist list, or to have relationships with terrorist networks. And that's -- that message is a good message for the world. It isn't a good thing for countries to be on the terrorist list, or to be cooperating with terrorist networks, or to be developing weapons of mass destruction. So, I think that the message that's going out is a solid one. It's a healthy one. It's good for the world. And, we may see some behavior modification.
HUME: What about North Korea?
RUMSFELD: We -- I don't know what will happen there. The president obviously is on the track of -- and Secretary Powell, of moving it towards the United Nations. China has been helpful recently. We'll have to see what path they decide to take.
HUME: The conventional wisdom about North Korea is that there's really no good military option there, that the costs that North Korea could impose even in losing the war on South Korea are so high, so devastating particularly to Seoul, that it would be unacceptable and you could never go military. Do you believe that?
RUMSFELD: I don't think it's helpful for me to say what I believe from a military standpoint on that subject.
HUME: Well then you're not -- you -- (inaudible) -- are not ruling that out, are you?
RUMSFELD: The United States government, in successive administrations of both political parties, over my adult lifetime, which is pretty long, has never tended -- never really leapt up and ruled things out. It's not a helpful thing to do.
SNOW: It has been reported that Bill Clinton had a military option ready to go on North Korea in 1994.
RUMSFELD: It's true. I was called in along with other former secretaries of defense and briefed by Secretary of Defense Bill Perry about the possibility that they might need to use military force.
SNOW: North Korea now is saying -- the latest bit of bluster of Pyongyang is that they've got a hundred nuclear weapons or a hundred weapons that are ready to strike American targets. Now, one presumes that if they are making threats, whether they're credible or not --
RUMSFELD: (Inaudible) -- report said they have a hundred nuclear weapons. They certainly have lots of weapons that could strike U.S. forces near the demilitarized zone, but they most certainly do not have hundreds of nuclear weapons.
SNOW: Nevertheless, if they are making threats of that sort, one would presume that there at least is on the shelf some sort of military response should they act first.
RUMSFELD: On the shelf of the United States?
RUMSFELD: Oh, that's the business of the Pentagon. We make plans. We prepare ourselves. That's why -- that's what the Constitution charges the president -- to provide for the national defense, and that's been true for decades.
SNOW: So, of course, there is at least some contingency plan with regard to North Korea?
RUMSFELD: I'm not going to get into what our contingency plans are, but certainly the responsibility of the president, and certainly the secretary of defense and the department, is to see that we are prepared to best serve the American people.
SNOW: You mentioned a moment ago --
RUMSFELD: And our friends and allies.
SNOW: You mentioned a moment ago that military action had produced perhaps some changes in behavior. And Secretary Powell was in Damascus yesterday meeting with Bashar al-Assad, and one of the things apparently he got was a concession that the Syrians are prepared to kick terrorist groups, as defined by the State Department, out of Damascus -- shut down the headquarters. You've spoken with Secretary Powell. What is your readout on that meeting and the promises made by the Syrian president?
RUMSFELD: I talked to Colin this morning, but we did not touch on that particular subject. But, Syria has, of course, had -- is on the terrorist list -- and of course has had very close relationships with Hezbollah and with other terrorist groups. But I don't have anything to report on that. I'll leave it to Colin.
HUME: In response to warnings issued by you and others, are you satisfied that Syria took the actions that you wanted taken with regard to infiltration across its border, with regard to helping you to snare people you wanted trying to get out of Iraq and so on?
RUMSFELD: I think that I'd -- since Colin was just there, secretary of state of the United States was just there, I think it's probably best to not comment on -- my -- I was gone for a week, as you mentioned in the opening, and I may very well not be fully knowledgeable about everything that took place at his meetings.
HUME: Since you mentioned him, let me ask you about the speech that was made, speaker -- former Speaker Gingrich opens fire on Secretary of State Powell to some extent, and the State Department particularly. Because he serves on the Pentagon advisory board and is thought to be someone who speaks with you, it was questioned whether you endorsed his views, knew about the speech --
RUMSFELD: I've read articles saying --
HUME: -- agreed with it. What about it?
RUMSFELD: -- I had to know about it.
RUMSFELD: That's nonsense. I didn't know about it. And he and other members of the Defense Policy Board are people who -- of accomplishment -- former Speaker Foley, Secretary -- former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and Secretary of Defense Jim Schlesinger -- all these people speak, and talk, and have views, and they express them. The Defense Policy Board is not something that these people are supposed to put away all their opinions and stop dealing with the world. They are there because they are helpful to the people in the department on a variety of subjects. They are knowledgeable. And the implication that anyone from the policy board, or the science board for that matter, who says something -- we've got Republicans and Democrats, and liberals and conservatives, and young and old -- it would be -- you couldn't agree with everything everyone on that board said.
HUME: You haven't yet said that you disagreed with what he said.
RUMSFELD: I -- the truth is I have not read the document that apparently he presented to some organization. And the -- and what is flat untrue is the implication in some articles that I had to know that he was going to do it and what he said, and that I was complicit in some way. That's just baloney.
HUME: Well, what he said, as you may know just from the highlights of it, is he talked about a kind of a catalog of diplomatic failures --
RUMSFELD: I haven't read it --
RUMSFELD: -- and I'm old fashioned -- I really like to read things before I start opining on them.
SNOW: I've got it right here. I can read portions for you. There's a couple of things. For instance, when it came to --
RUMSFELD: You're going down a dead end. If you think I'm going to let you read a sentence or two and then say how I feel about the total document --
SNOW: No, I'm not going to ask you --
RUMSFELD: I'll take it and read it if you want --
SNOW: Okay, good, I'll be happy to do that. But I think I can make specific points without taking them out of context because they're numbered. And one of the things Mr. Gingrich said was that Secretary of State Colin Powell was wrong to agree to go to Damascus -- that's the meeting he completed yesterday.
RUMSFELD: Look, it -- Colin Powell went to Damascus not because Colin Powell got up some day and decided he wanted to go to Damascus. He went to Damascus because the president of the United States decided it made sense for the secretary of state to go to Damascus. Now, if you don't like the decision, don't blame the secretary, blame the president. He's the one who made the decision. I happen to agree with it -- the decision. And I think clearly he -- that it was a proper thing to do, and it was also the proper time to do it, in that close proximity to the Iraq war.
SNOW: Okay. Now the secretary has said, and I think you've -- Secretary Powell has said today that Speaker Gingrich's shot hit the president. In this particular case, I gather you'd be inclined to agree that the fact he's taking a shot not at the State Department but at the man who issues orders to Colin Powell.
RUMSFELD: I'm not going to characterize the thing, I really am not.
SNOW: Fair enough. That's fine.
RUMSFELD: But the truth is that when a cabinet officer does something of a policy nature, the tendency is to want to comment on his correct or incorrect decision. And the truth is that this president is the president of the United States -- we meet with him, you know, three, four, five times a week. He knows the direction he wants this country to go, and he's providing leadership for the country -- and in my view, it's darn good leadership.
SNOW: You have said that you don't want to comment on Syria because Colin Powell was there. You had been in the region, though, and you visited a number of the countries. Let me ask you about your perception, or what you've been able to glean from that trip, which is how they view the United States? Do you think perceptions have changed? Do you think the United States is enjoying perhaps more respect from some of our Arab allies than before Operation Iraqi Freedom?
RUMSFELD: Well, I was in eight countries, and visited with the leadership, and there is no question that we were well received, that they recognized that the vicious dictatorial -- indeed Stalinist-type regime in Iraq -- is good riddance, and it's best that it's gone. They live there in the neighborhood. They knew him for what he was and for what that regime was, and they're pleased he's gone. They also have been wonderful about our troops. Our troops did a superb job, and they -- they were courageous, they're dedicated, and they were received hospitably in the region.
HUME: Have the revelations about the depravity of Saddam's regime diminished, in your view, the need for the United States to find weapons of mass destruction as a justification for the war?
RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't know. I suppose every person is going to make up their own mind on that. I don't -- I went into Iraq, and you drive around -- you go from Kuwait, or the UAE, or Qatar, and then you go into Iraq, and they're all companies -- countries -- that have oil, they are countries that have intelligent people, and educated people, and industrious people. And in the case of the Gulf States, they're prosperous. The cities are -- there's energy and you feel it. You go into Iraq, and it's just heartbreaking to see what a vicious, Stalinist-type regime can do to people. It is -- they've been denied all the kinds of opportunities. The infrastructure is destroyed. They have brown-outs on electricity. The hospitals weren't well supplied. They were using hospitals and schools for Ba'ath --
HUME: Even before the war?
RUMSFELD: Clearly before the war -- for Ba'ath Party headquarters so they could deceive people. They were running around in their Red Cross or Red Crescent trunks -- trucks -- with military equipment in them. It is -- the single most impression -- the biggest impression of being in Iraq is how devastating a regime like that can be to human beings.
HUME: There is going to be a furious debate, and in some respects it's already begun, about what the meaning of this war is for future force structure and American strategy. What, in your view, is the lesson of this war in terms of how our forces need to be structured, what we need to have, and what we need more of and what we need less of?
RUMSFELD: We're involved right now in a lessons learned, and, of course, when you finish a conflict like that you then go through the process of reconstitution. And the question is, do you want to go back and fill up all the old bins that you emptied in this conflict, or, conversely, do you want to look at what the future might look like and learn some lessons from this and from Afghanistan. And instead of just filling up all the old bins, fill up the ones you really know you want to fill up and start doing some additional things that will transform us for the future.
SNOW: Such as?
HUME: Can you be specific?
RUMSFELD: Well, there's no question but we simply have got to be able to move in hours and days and weeks rather than months and years. We need to be swift. We need to have deployment capabilities that enable us to move in places.
HUME: You certainly would have needed -- you did need that heavy armor division going up the spine of Iraq, didn't you?
RUMSFELD: Oh, you bet.
HUME: They're not easy to move, are they?
RUMSFELD: No. But you can preposition them. There's lots of things you can do that will enable us as a country to be better able to defend and deter conflicts in the future.
SNOW: So, the rumors that one hears out of the Pentagon -- I've heard some -- (inaudible) -- there aren't going to be any more tanks.
RUMSFELD: Oh, nonsense.
SNOW: All right. Just -- you're talking about prepositioning. Are we going to be creating bases in new places and taking bases out of old places, for instance, Saudi Arabia. Prince Sultan air base, basically moth-balled, correct?
RUMSFELD: We met -- I met with the Saudi leadership, and given the fact that the -- Saddam Hussein's regime is gone, the circumstance in the region is vastly different. And we had Operation Southern Watch positioned in Saudi Arabia. We don't need it now. We had to use various capabilities in that part of the world to remove Saddam Hussein, and that threat is gone, so now we're able to do that work --
SNOW: Now --
RUMSFELD: -- we had very good meetings and we mutually agreed that it would be a good thing to draw down those forces.
SNOW: A lot of nations feel comfortable having American troops on their soil. Are we going to move some bases, for instance, out of Germany and into Poland?
RUMSFELD: I would think that -- I don't know about moving into Poland, Poland's a very good ally and friend. But we could not move our heavy equipment, for example, from Germany across Austria by rail. Now, that's a problem. It made a lots of sense to have a number of capabilities in Germany when you were worried about the Soviet Union coming across the North German Plain. It does not make a lot of sense to have capabilities that you can't use or you have to go through circuitous routes. So my guess is that General Jones, the Supreme Allied Commander and the European commander for the United States, is in the process of looking at that and will be making recommendations to me. We're doing the same thing in Asia. We're doing the same thing in the Middle East. And it's -- it's time. It's the 21st century. We ought to get ourselves organized and arranged for the future, not the past.
HUME: One last thing, Mr. Secretary. There was a report this week that Paul Bremer, a man well-know -- Ambassador Paul Bremer --
RUMSFELD: A good man.
HUME: -- would be nominated to be the overall director of things in the rehabilitation there in Iraq. You demurred on that point, and it's left an impression in some quarters that the nomination may be in some difficulty, and indeed perhaps even that you're resisting it. What about that?
RUMSFELD: Resisting it? He's a -- he's a friend and an enormously talented person. And Jay Garner is just doing a wonderful job there.
Now, I'm old fashioned. If the president decides he wants to make nominations, I've always thought that it's the job of the cabinet secretary to let the president make the nomination. And the fact that people are all speculating about this or speculating about that doesn't mean that it makes sense for me to run around confirming, denying or doing anything else with respect to --
SNOW: Well, let's close on one other -- one final note of speculation. Saddam Hussein -- another tape came out yesterday alleging to show a haggard dictator speaking on the day that his statute came down in downtown Baghdad. There you see part of it. Alive or dead?
RUMSFELD: I wish I knew, and I don't. If you had to -- if I had to guess, I would suspect that he may very well be alive.
SNOW: Can Iraq be fully secure as long as he is unaccounted for?
RUMSFELD: Oh, I think so, yeah. He's not running Iraq. Let there be no doubt, he and his crowd are gone. They're either in a tunnel some place, or in a basement hiding. We'll find him, if he's alive.
SNOW: All right. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, thanks for joining us.
RUMSFELD: Thank you.
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