(Interview with N.J. Burkett, WABC-TV, New York.)
Q: Sir, most Americans believe that you’ve won the war in Iraq and achieved in so doing a major victory against al Qaeda but you have what happened in Saudi Arabia last week, you have the ambush that took place in Iraq today. I think a lot of people at this point are wondering who is still resisting us and why?
Rumsfeld: Well, if you think about it there were thousands of terrorist trained in several countries in the world and they are all over the globe, these people. They are well financed, they’re equipped and armed, and they are dangerous, so I think we have to be realistic about it. We have to expect that there will be additional terrorist attacks. There have been periodically terrorist attacks, some in Bali, some in Saudi Arabia, some in other parts of the globe and I think that’s the world we live in. We can keep putting pressure on them, we can keep making it more difficult to raise money, we can keep arresting people and interrogating and sharing intelligence and reduce the number of terrorist attacks but I think that for at least a period ahead we have to recognize that they will be able to attack periodically in different locations.
Q: But there are some who would say that what the Americans have achieved in Iraq is going to make the Middle East more unstable and not less.
Rumsfeld: Oh, my goodness I can’t imagine who would say something like that. The fact of the matter is that here you have a vicious dictator who is gone, he’s off the scene, he’s no longer running that country. It’s an important country that has been repressed for decades and it now has a chance to get itself on a path towards freedom and to improve the economic circumstance of the people of Iraq. Look at the mass graves that are being discovered. Think of the people, the tens of thousands of people who have been killed by that regime. Think of the fact that he’s invaded Iran, he’s invaded Kuwait, how can the world be less stable with him gone? The world is clearly a better place with him gone and the Iraqi people know that.
Q: And you feel that as far as America is concerned and it’s importance and it’s role in the region is concerned, the world will be a safer place?
Rumsfeld: I think the world will clearly be a safer place with Saddam Hussein gone unambiguously.
Q: I think some were concerned that these will be our allies, that the inability to find weapons of mass of destruction, the inability to find Saddam Hussein, would make it more difficult for America to carry out it’s mission as you and the President have articulated that?
Rumsfeld: Well, the fact is that Saddam Hussein may or may not be alive. He clearly is not running Iraq. So, the fact that he is not locatable at the moment if he is alive is too bad but it certainly isn’t determinative, it doesn’t have anything to do with who is running Iraq.
Weapons of mass destruction, the Secretary of the State, Colin Powell mentioned there would be a biological laboratory -- mobile biological laboratories, it looks like two of those are now in the custody of the teams and survey teams that are out investigating various suspect sites. Whether they’ll turn out to be exactly the same I don’t know, but clearly the intelligence community is impressed that they are worth testing and examining and determining. So, if that’s what Secretary Powell said at the United Nations -- there’s an example of something that’s been found.
Q: Isn’t there a bargain that the Administration made with the American people that you give us domestic political support for war, we’ll find you weapons of mass destruction and we will find you Saddam Hussein?
Rumsfeld: Interesting that you would pose it that way. If you go back and look at the debate in the Congress and the debate in the United Nations, what we said was the President said that this is a dangerous regime, the policy of the United States government has been regime change since the mid to late 1990s passed by the Congress and that regime has now been changed. That is a very good thing. And the risk that was posed by the President was that there would be the risk that terrorist networks would get their hands on weapons of mass destruction or that Saddam Hussein -- which has already used chemical weapons against the Iranians, already used chemical weapons against its own people -- was a danger to the region and a danger to the world. We’ve now been 7 weeks since Baghdad fell, the survey teams are out investigating a whole host of suspect sites and they will find, what they will find and as I’ve indicated they found these two vehicles that looked like, very much like the pictures that Colin Powell presented of mobile biological laboratories for the purpose of making biological weapons.
Q: Does it matter sir, if Saddam Hussein is never found? Does it matter if weapons of mass destruction are never found?
Rumsfeld: Oh, I think he’ll be found eventually. I don’t know if he is alive or dead but if he’s alive I think he’ll be found over time. He had a lot of doubles so it isn’t easy. Finding a single a person the face of this earth is not an easy thing as we found with Osama bin Laden but I think that over time we’ll undoubtedly find both of them.
Q: So it matters, it does matter to find the weapons?
Rumsfeld: Well, it doesn’t matter in terms of who’s running Iraq. Saddam Hussein is not running Iraq. It doesn’t matter in terms of UBL because he’s no longer training terrorists in Afghanistan. But would it be preferable to have them in custody or to know if certain (Inaudible.) that they’re dead? Yeah, that would be perfect.
Q: You had some critics at the beginning of the war, people who said that it couldn’t be done. People said the time frame was not realistic. Clearly you’ve proven them wrong by some venture and I’m wondering what you knew at the time that your critics didn’t know?
Rumsfeld: Oh, I don’t know that knew anything of certain knowledge. I have a lot of confidence in General Franks and in the team he put together. I had a lot of confidence in the plan, we spent many, many, many hours and days and weeks and months developing that plan. And I had confidence, he and our young men and women in uniform that they were well trained and well equipped and courageous. They were all volunteers. They are people who knew why they were there, they wanted to be there, you’ve met them, you know that. They are wonderful young folks and so I never had any doubt but that we’d be successful. It wasn’t possible to know how long it would take but we believed we’d be successful and successful in a reasonable period of time and in fact, General Franks was.
Q: It seems to me if anything you were off by about 2 weeks. The rest of it seemed to have been right on.
Rumsfeld: Off meaning it was longer or shorter?
Q: Well maybe a little longer, a little longer than you expected. But the critics were saying --
Rumsfeld: No, no it was not longer than I had expected nor was it shorter. I was careful never to develop an expectation and the people who had the most knowledge did not develop expectations because there were so many variables that could have entered into it. Weather, dust storms, the use of weapons of mass destruction, the possibility of a fortress Baghdad, the possibility of breaking the dams and flooding villages along the way and making that, the possibility they could have destroyed the oil wells and create an environmental disaster like they did in Kuwait. The possibility that they could have, we could have failed to have gotten the bridges and would have had to bridge all those rivers. There were so many things that could’ve gone wrong that didn’t. And so I was aware of all of those unknowns and sensitive to them as was General Franks and he had plans to deal with them.
Q: Not to be rude I just want to keep on track here. Thank you.
You made some remarks today to CFR about Iraq.
Rumsfeld: You use acronyms like CFR just like they do in the Pentagon. Do your audience know what that means or do you just?
Q: I’ve used all of my questions sir actually.
Rumsfeld: So, this is a throw away?
Q: My questions sometimes don’t necessarily get on the air. Your answers matter more.
Rumsfeld: I see.
Q: But at the Council on Foreign Relations you did talk about Iran and I’m wondering whether we have moved on in terms of policy or whether we’ve got simply the same approach that we’ve always had with Iran?
Rumsfeld: The U.S. policy on Iran is to be interested in the people, the Iranian people and the small click of clerics that are running that country I think are running it in a way that are denying those people freedom and the ability to have Iran have a role in the world and a set of relationships in the world that would enable it to prosper and succeed. Our policy has been to be hopeful for the Iranian people and with respect to Iraq our policy is that we don’t Iran attempting to remake Iraq into their vision or into another Iran and to the extent they put forces in the country, we’ll stop them.
Q: If the Iranian people staged a credible attempt at overthrowing their own government would we help them? Should we help them?
Rumsfeld: Oh, those are decisions for the President and not me.
Q: Anything you want to add to that sir, anything you feel you want people in New York in particular to know? I know their soldiers fought bravely and spent a lot time over there.
Rumsfeld: They did. The folks from this state and other states and neighboring states all ought to be very proud of the young men and women in uniform.
Q: Thanks very much. Appreciate this, don’t want to overstay my welcome.
Rumsfeld: All right.