Q: This is News Beat. Thank you for joining us. And we are very honored to have the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the program -- the first time. Mr. Secretary, thank you for taking the time for us today.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I’m delighted to be with you. Thank you.
Q: Great. My program focuses very much on the issue of intelligence and one of the things that I’ve been following for really for years is the issue of the weapons of mass destruction. And I was reading an article by Condoleezza Rice also following some international intelligence from some of my friends who are from the United Kingdom and they were talking about the intelligence prior to war and Lord Butler’s panel. And clearly, there is a question here whether or not that there really are weapons of mass destruction. And I wonder here, if we’re not too quick to try to deny the existence because people are so ready to have a yes or no answer.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I think that’s an interesting observation. If you think about it, one of the hardest things to do is to prove a negative. And in fact, that’s what a great large number of people have been rushing to do -- to prove that, in fact, all that intelligence was wrong and that there were not weapons programs. And it seems to have become, at least the conventional wisdom. And interestingly, in my view, at least, some aspects of that question remain open. And time will tell whether the kinds of things that the intelligence concluded were there were, in fact, there and possibly removed to some other location or possibly destroyed with – or possibly hidden in some way. And I just simply don’t know.
I do know that the Congress looked at the same intelligence that the executive branch did and other countries came to the same conclusion. And the debate in the United Nation was not whether or not the Iraqis had weapons programs, but rather that they had filed a false declaration which everyone concluded was the case and which I think everyone now agrees is the case. We do have enough evidence to know that their declaration was false. And it was that conclusion that they’d filed a false declaration that led people to go forward. So we’ll know more later and in the meantime, it’s pretty clear we’ve not found large deposits of weapons of mass destruction.
Q: And again, kind of going to that same issue, has it been difficult really trying to conduct a war on terrorism whether in Iraq or against the Taliban, Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein when we live in kind of a fast food atmosphere where people have to have the answer immediately and you have a harder time conducting any kind of a war?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it is hard. That doesn’t mean we can’t do it. But your question is a fair one and it does make life difficult. It makes it very hard to live with 24-hour news, seven days a week, where everything that happens that is difficult or imperfect or not anticipated or harmful in some way, tends to be focused on as a opposed to the things that happened that were predicted and that are constructive and that are positive. And those things, of course, don’t make as much news.
Q: In some ways, there are many things that tie together, really. In some ways, I was looking, for example, at Ambassador Joe Wilson who’s now finally being discredited about lying about his wife’s role and his trip to Niger and then lying about what he found during the trip. Why is it then so difficult if apparently they can prove that he lied about, you know, purporting, he said the [inaudible] of documents, purporting to demonstrate an Iraqi attempt to procure [inaudible] from Niger. If clearly what he did was lie, how is it so difficult for the Defense Department, for the State Department, for the White House to be able to just lay it out on the line on the press and say, look, this guy’s a liar. Do you think that the press is just biased?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, of course, that isn’t an issue that the Department of Defense has been involved in at all. It is – I guess it’s just a fact that there are certain things that become conventional wisdom. And the fact that they may not be true doesn’t effect the fact that they become conventional wisdom. And over enough time, if it’s said enough, it ends up in the morgue of a newspaper in the files and then it gets rehashed in columns and rehashed as though it were true. And we find that’s just the life we have to live with. I don’t know. The British now have said that they’ve come to a different conclusion. We’ll have to see how that debate takes place, but it happens. It’s not something that we’re involved with.
Q: Now the Pentagon Early Bird, which is the electronic compilation of the data Larry Di Rita deals with, is now correcting the press on a daily basis. For example, they said “Monday, the Early Bird reproduced a correction in The New York Times saying that it erred in reporting that the White House had not disclosed previously that some of the president’s National Guard records were destroyed when they were corrected (sic) to microfilm. So in other words, you know, it’s too bad that we can’t get the Early Bird to get the straight stuff, ‘cause now we know what was wrong and what’s not wrong.
SEC. RUMSFELD: [Laughter.] I’ll tell you, I’ve found that interesting, too. I noticed it. And of course, it isn’t that we haven’t been making corrections in letters to the editor, correcting things that are inaccurate all along. We’ve been doing it all along. The only thing that’s new is that they have now started to put them in the Early Bird because it’s the Early Bird that carries the inaccurate reports in the first instance. So it’s a good thing to do. And I thought it was a good thing to do to put it up front so people can start with a good balance and a fresh approach to things.
Q: Let me talk to you about Iraq and, of course, the importance of the sovereignty of Iraq to the war on terror. How do we go about maintaining that since there have been so many things, so many terrorists trying to compromise that stability?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, interesting the way you cast it – “how do we maintain it.” The real question is how do the Iraqis maintain it and the answer is they’ll maintain it because it’s important and people have a natural desire to be free and not to be repressed. And you’re right, there are terrorists and former regime elements, Saddamists, who are trying to take back that country, so they’re systematically going out and killing innocent Iraqis. They’re killing them in large numbers. They’re assassinating people who have taken responsibilities in the interim government. They just killed one of the governors this week. They’re trying to discourage people and dissuade them from having courage and from stepping forward. They’ve killed police chiefs and so forth.
The fact is, however, Iraqis have courage. They want freedom. They are in line to take those jobs. We have way more recruits for the army, for the police, for the National Guard, than there are open slots. So we feel that the Iraqi people are voting with their [inaudible] and their courage and that the future of Iraq’s going to be a bright one.
Q: So we’ve got Iraq that we kind of have a handle on the vision. And even though it’s difficult, I think that we understand the role and their direction. But there are other problems that are creeping up and certainly, we’ve been talking about Sudan, talking about North Korea, talking about South American and Venezuela with Hugo Chavez. How do you define the priorities there?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, there are certain things that are, from the standpoint of our country, we would characterize as higher priorities because they fairly direct affect our national interest. There are other problems in the world that are tragic and sad where we care and we would like to see things be better, but they’re not the kind of thing that we would engage U.S. military forces to deal with. There are also some problems that aren’t correctable by the use of military force, that they’re really governance problems and they simply require new structures of government that can govern people in areas of responsibility and be held accountable for that governance. And certainly the tragic situation in the Sudan fits that latter category.
North Korea, on the other hand, as one of the world’s biggest proliferators of technologies and weapons of mass destruction is a danger to the entire world. And there are problems like Venezuela where the people do not really have what could be characterized as a completely free system because of the behavior of some of the leadership there, that the people of Venezuela, I think, will work out over time.
Q: And final question to you, and one you’re always asked, but many people are hoping that potentially we will catch Osama bin Laden. How critical is that?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it would be important to do and we will capture or kill him at some point. There’s no doubt in my mind. It is very hard to find a single individual. We know some people have been on the FBI’s most wanted list for decades. But we’ve got a lot of wonderful people around the world who are helping and the focus is there. The serious of purpose is there. And the idea, however, that this struggle against extremism and extremists and terrorists would end with the capture of Osama bin Laden, I think, is just not the case. Someone would step in and take his spot. But it would be an important thing to do and we are working hard to do it and I expect that we will accomplish it
Q: Thank you for fitting us in the busy schedule that you have. It’s such an honor to have you on the show.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you so much. It’s been good visiting with you.