(Interview with Todd McDermott, WCBS-TV, New York.)
Q: Mr. Secretary, I first want to address the death of two United States soldiers in Baghdad in a firefight, that makes I believe 4 soldiers died with hostile fire within the last 24 hours or so. Obviously the war is not over, you’ve said that you’ve made that apparent. Many Americans want to believe it is. You’ve also said obviously no one knows when the end of this occupation will be if somebody does they’re a liar. I think that’s a paraphrase of something you said. Do you have a better idea though, can you give Americans a better idea of when U.S. soldiers may not be subject to this type of attack, this type of ambush?
Rumsfeld: Well, I think there’s two things happening. One is that there are still people who were the enforcers for the Saddam Hussein regime -- the Fedayeen Saddam people and the Ba’ath Party members and undoubtedly some of his security guards. They‘re out there, they were not all captured or killed.
Second, the jails of Iraq were emptied. There may have been 50 to 100 thousand prison inmates who were put back out in the street, criminals of various of types. So there are clearly people in that country that are willing to kill other people and we have to recognize that and expect that there will be periodic attacks and not only against Iraqi people but against coalition forces as well.
Q: And that danger will go on as long as coalition forces are in Iraq?
Rumsfeld: Well, I think it will taper down at some point but for the time being I think we have to be prepared to expect that we’ll have to use force to impose security in the country.
Q: U.S. military now actually has more troops on the ground in Iraq than the government did during the war itself. That may be for a short period of time -- I know there are some in transit going both directions. Once and for all could people continue to ask this, was there some misjudgment in the number of people needed, the resources needed to get to Iraq back on its feet following the heaviest fighting?
Rumsfeld: I don’t believe so, I think that there was an expectation that we could have, what we did have mainly very rapid success and the military planned for that, they called it catastrophic success. In other words at some moment you could win before you anticipate it and you have to be willing to shift, ready and able to shift your forces from a war fighting capability to a peacekeeping or a peacemaking capability and they understood that and General Franks and his team were aware of it and had planned for it so it doesn’t make it any easier to do. You have a situation as I say with a large number of people emptied out of the jails, you have people that are still out there that are not in organized military units that you are able to attack, they are out in civilian clothes, in some cases killing innocent Iraqis and in other cases trying to kill coalition forces.
Q: You, Deputy Paul Wolfowitz before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week in some ways to find success in Iraq, the operation has gone on so far, in what has not happened. There has been no excess of refugees, there has been no use of a weapon of mass destruction, no humanitarian crisis. Is it possible to define it in the positive as well?
Rumsfeld: Sure. What you have is a large country that has an important history in world history where the people are intelligent and energetic and have been repressed by a vicious dictator -- a economic system that can only be described as Stalinist in its approach, where unlike their neighbors in the Gulf that are prosperous. Here’s a country that also has oil, has resources and yet you look at it the one impression you have when you leave is what a terrible thing that, that regime did to those people. The infrastructure’s decayed over a period of three decades of a command economic system, a Stalinist system. The people were denied while he built palaces and secreted money outside of the country; built weapons instead of looking out for his people. What’s happened is they have been liberated, they have been freed of that regime, they now have an opportunity to build a country and put themselves on a path towards a representative system that is a single country that is not going to threaten its neighbor and not going to have mass murder weapons and is going to be respectful of minorities and respectful of different religions and give women an opportunity where they have been denied. I think that, that is a very positive thing that’s taken place.
Q: That path has slowed somewhat though the idea of an Iraqi interim government has been pushed back to July. Senator Richard Luger of the Foreign Relations Committee actually said that victory appeared to be at risk. I bet you don’t agree with that?
Rumsfeld: Well you know you say it’s been delayed and this. We have been there 7 weeks since Baghdad fell, 7 weeks. Look at the amount of time it took the United States from the War of Independence until the Constitution was passed, it was years and years and years. We went through a whole series of iterations with the Articles of Confederation and the difficulties that we faced as a country. Look at what happened in Eastern Europe when the Soviet Union collapsed, these countries didn’t go from a dictatorial system to a free system in 5 minutes or 7 weeks. It takes time and we have to be patient, we have to understand that. It’s a difficult path that they are on but it could be a wonderful thing, a wonderful model for that region if they are able to do it successfully.
Q: Speaking of the region and perhaps the lack of patience at this point with the nation of Iran. I know there was a meeting today, which you were unable to attend at the White House concerning Iran and concerns about al Qaeda members operating in Northern Iran. You said they are there, they’re busy, what will the U.S. consider?
Rumsfeld: That’s up to the President but the fact is that to the extent that Iran attempts to influence what’s taking place in Iraq and tries to make Iraq into their image, we will have to stop it. And to the extent they have people from their Revolutionary Guard in they’re attempting to do that, why we’ll have to find them and capture them or kill them.
Q: Now this information that Iran, the clerics in Iran may be backing the Shia’s in Iraq perhaps undermined in American/British occupation?
Rumsfeld: There is evidence that the clerics in Iran are in fact trying to influence what takes place in Iraq. And my view is that what happens in Iraq ought to be for the Iraqi people to decide, not for the Iranians.
Q: Lets talk about al Qaeda for a minute though. Evidence that 5 major al Qaeda figures are now operating in what maybe a lawless area of Iran right now.
Rumsfeld: Of Iran?
Rumsfeld: A lawless area of Iran?
Rumsfeld: Look, if there are al Qaeda in Iran and there are -- it is not because they are in an ungoverned portion of Iran, it is because they are tolerated by Iran.
Q: So, what’s the U.S. response to that? Is it possible military action might have to be undertaken?
Rumsfeld: As I said, that’s not for me to decide, that’s for the President. I have no recommendation on that. I think that Iran, the people of Iran are - I don’t think very happy with their government, I don’t think they are very happy with this handful of clerics that are trying to impose their will on the Iranian people and my guess is that over time the Iranian people will express themselves and their displeasure with their leadership.
Q: What about Iran’s nuclear weapons program or nuclear program? It seems to be some evidence they may be doing something that could be a concern the U.S. and to the entire region of the world?
Rumsfeld: There’s no question in my mind but that they have an active nuclear weapon program.
Q: And how do we deal with that?
Rumsfeld: The region ought to be concerned about it. The region ought to be concerned about it. It is not a good thing that’s happened there.
Q: Let me ask you quickly about the intelligence. You yourself saw this as an opportunity. This war was a way to look at the intelligence structure. The information you were given proceeding the war, to see if it was verifiable after the war. There’s been some question still about where the weapons of mass destruction are. What do you expect to find in this inquiry?
Rumsfeld: Let me clarify that. The Department of Defense always does a Lessons Learned exercise after a conflict and it’s a good thing to do. In fact we started it with the conflict this time. We had people embedded with the Central Command who would take a look at what was happening and see what lessons we should be learning, what works, what doesn’t work, how’s it going and that process has been going along very well and we’ll have a good deal of information that will then inform us so that we can improve the way we organize and train and equip.
The same thing’s true in the intelligence community, they can have a Lessons Learned. I talked to George Tenent back in October of last year and told him what we were doing on Lessons Learned suggested they may want to do that, he agreed completely and put together a panel of people. Not that there’s anything wrong or not that there’s anything that needs to be investigated which some people are trying to make it sound like.
Q: He then suggested perhaps an outside panel looking?
Rumsfeld: I think he did pick some outsiders, he did George Tenent and that’s a good thing. I think it’s just what we are doing in the Pentagon to look at ourselves and say how are we doing? What might we do better next time and that’s what he is, as I understand it doing in the Agency and I think that’s a good thing to do.
Q: Is it all right if I can I squeeze in one more question?
Victoria Clarke [assistant secretary of defense for public affairs]: Quickly.
Q: This period of U.S. military history is going to be looked back on for generations. So many things changed, the streamlining on the battlefield, the use of technology. You obvious changed the views of some generals that were part of the U.S. command. How do you believe this will be perceived a generation ahead?
Rumsfeld: I don’t know but I wouldn’t say I changed the minds of some generals. General Franks and I have a wonderful relationship and we work very closely together and what evolved was a plan that he felt was the appropriate plan for this and it was an excellent plan in my view and it was well executed and highly successful. I think that what is suggested was that, several things. One is that even if you do not have strategic surprise it is possible sometimes to gain tactical surprise which I think he did and I think it kept a lot of unfortunate things from happening therefore they didn’t happen and that’s a good thing that didn’t happen.
Second, I think that it may be one of the earliest examples where instead of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines and other countries fighting but basically fighting their own wars on a de-conflicted basis in this instance, they were truly fighting in many respects in a joint way. They gained a lot of leverage by working together intimately rather than simply de-conflicting and that was a good thing. I think that what was done with precision weapons ought to be very interesting to the world and to our military as to what our capabilities are. It was impressive. They not only were very successful in the war but they were successful in how they conducted it and the minimal loss of innocent life on the part of the Iraqi people.
Q: Any of that success blunted by the fact that bin Laden and Saddam are still out there?
Rumsfeld: Oh, not for me. I mean the Department of Defense is organized to deal with Armies, Navies and Air Forces, not to do manhunts. We are happy to help but these are - you just don’t find a single individual easily in our world and we’ve got a lot of folks working on it and so do the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency and our allies and friends around the world. They are all organized and sharing intelligence and putting pressure on those terrorist networks and I think we are making good success.
Q: Can I do a really hard question here? You gonna stay around for a second term if there is one?
Rumsfeld: Oh my goodness. We’ll jump off that bridge when we get to it.
Q: I knew you wouldn’t answer that. That’s the only question you didn’t answer. Thank you, sir.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.