Q: Perhaps not since World War II has the secretary of defense been under as much pressure as Donald Rumsfeld. Not only has he been charged with rebuilding the military for a post-Cold War era, but since September 11, 2001, when the Pentagon experienced a direct hit from a hijacked plane, he has been at the forefront of the effort to liberate Iraq and a major player in the war against terrorism.
Secretary Rumsfeld joins me from the Pentagon in Washington. Welcome, Mr. Secretary. Good to see you again.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, thank you. It’s good to see you.
Q: The Philippines announced that they’re going to begin pulling out their small contingent of troops from Iraq in response to the hostage taking of one of their citizens. They hope to save his life by doing that. Is that going to help or hurt the efforts of the coalition and what does it do for future hostage-taking prospects?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, there’s no doubt but that when a country negotiates with and acquiesces in a demand of terrorists that it encourages that type of behavior on the part of terrorists and that’s unfortunate. We know that to the extent people reward terrorists with a response like that. It encourages them to do it. And killing people, beheading people, capturing people is not something that is admirable. And so I would hope that most countries would take the opposite course and that is to discourage countries from doing that by demonstrating to them that it’s not successful.
Q: Spain has pulled its troops out in response to a terrorist incident, now the Philippines. Is this it, do you think, or are there others, do you believe that might be in line to pull their troops out in the near future?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, we’ve got a great many countries in the coalition. And of course, it’s always possible for countries to make that judgment. And sovereign nations make decisions, as sovereign nations will. Fortunately, the United States and Great Britain and most of the countries that have significant forces there, as well as a great many countries who do not have significant forces, but have important forces in terms of their political courage, their military courage and their commitment have already announced that they would not attempt to make a separate piece, if you will, with terrorists.
Q: The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, as you know, said that a lot of the intelligence or at least a good deal of it on the run-up to the Iraq war was flawed. And some senators announced this week that if they knew then what they know now, they would have voted differently on the authorization for the war. If you knew then what you know now, would you have given different advice to the president?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I think the president made the right decision. I think that there is no question, but that the declaration that was submitted to the United Nations by Saddam Hussein was flawed, was inaccurate, was false and that the United Nations had gone through some 17 resolutions and that it was appropriate to enforce those resolutions as the coalition did. So I believe the president did the right thing. I clearly supported that and believe it was the right thing to do.
The question on the weapons of mass destruction is an interesting one. We know that the declaration was false, but a great many people had been rushing around trying to prove a negative and the conventional wisdom has concluded that that negative has been proved. That is to say that there were not stocks of weapons of mass destruction. I think it’s hard to conclude that.
We keep finding there are things we didn’t know. We may very well find, as we go forward, that there are things we don’t know today. And so I’m at that stage where it’s true we have not found large quantities of weapons of mass destruction, but I think it’s also true that the same evidence that the Congress saw was the evidence that the United Nations saw. It was the evidence that other countries had. It was evidence that was believed sincerely by the people in Congress and by the United States that supported the conflict. And the world is well off with Saddam Hussein out of there. He is a man who is chopping off heads, he was cutting off hands, he was shoving people off the tops of buildings, he was a vicious repressive dictator and the Iraqi people have a chance to earn their freedom and to fashion an Iraqi free state that will be a constructive partner in that part of the world.
Q: What is the intelligence lapse – if that’s what it was, and many believe it was – due to the doctrine of preemption that we get them before they get us, if they represent a threat?
SEC. RUMSFELD: It makes it more difficult. And the balance is going to be a difficult one for the world because what we have is in the 21st century, we have more readily available weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological weapons, as well as nuclear and radiation weapons. And we have extremists across the globe who have been killing innocent men, women and children in Spain, in Bali in Saudi Arabia and in the United States and country after country. And to the extent they gain access to those weapons, they will be able to kill not just 3,000 people as were killed here on September 11th, but 30,000 or 300,000 people. So governments are going to have to make a judgment about the risk and the risk of being right and the risk of inaction.
Q: Mr. Secretary, we have to take a quick break and when we come back, I want to ask you about how strong our military is. Some political people think it’s not as strong as it should be. And we’ll do that when I return in a moment with the secretary of defense. Stay with us.
Q: And welcome back to “After Hours.” We’re here tonight with my exclusive interview with Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense. Mr. Secretary, I know you don’t get into politics, but Senator Kerry has been saying if he is elected, he will work hard to strengthen our military. That implies that our military is weak and I wonder if you’d like to comment on what you regard as how strong our military is?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, the United States military is the finest military on the face of the earth. It is more capable than at any time in our country’s history in terms of the ability to do its job and to put precision weapons on precise targets in an effective way and in a way that is agile and able to penetrate long distances on relatively short notice. If one thinks about it, Afghanistan’s thousands and thousands of miles away. It’s a landlocked country. And between September 11th and, say, October 7th, the United States military was able to begin a process there that resulted in freeing 25 million people – liberating 25 million people and in relatively short period of time and in a highly successful way.
The victory in Iraq is another demonstration of the capabilities of the United States military. They were able to do a terrific job in a relatively short period of time with a minimum loss of civilian lives.
Q: Senator Kerry also says if he were president, he would consult more with our allies than the United Nations. But as I recall, you did that, didn’t you?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness. You know, from the very beginning, President Bush and Secretary Powell and all of us set about fashioning a coalition that’s probably the largest in the history of the world with some 80-90 nations in the global war on terror. And I believe that 26 or 36 countries involved in Afghanistan and in Iraq and U.N. resolutions – several now – it is just a fact that we have spent an enormous amount of time and fashioned large coalitions. The problem we have is – the truth is that there are an awful lot of countries in the world that do not have many capabilities that fit the 21st century. And there are a lot of countries in the world that, for whatever reason, don’t have peacekeeping forces.
There are a lot of countries in the world that, for a variety of reasons, seem to be very slow in coming forward when there’s a need. It took us a good deal of work to get countries to participate, for example, with the problems in Liberia. It took a great deal of work getting countries to help in Haiti. And the United States leadership role there has been an important one. So it’s an easy thing to say that we ought to have greater international involvement. But to actually make it happen is tough work and I think the president’s done an outstanding job.
Q: There’s been somewhere around, I think, 900 Americans killed in Iraq and more than 5,000 wounded I read. Do you have to harden your heart, at some point, in this or what happens to you when you hear of new casualties coming in? How do you respond to that?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I’m aware of it everyday, as I look at the notifications and the indications of people being killed or wounded. I spend time out at Walter Reed Hospital and Bethesda hospital visiting with the wounded and I’m able to talk with them personally. And it is always hard. It is heartbreaking to see someone whose life has changed that dramatically.
: … a life not lived, family members who will never see that fine, talented, brave human being again, our people with limbs off and clearly your heart goes out to them. On the other hand, they are so – the wounded that I visited, for example, this week – early earlier this week – they are so brave and so courageous and so proud of what they’re doing and pleased with the role that America’s playing in Iraq and in Afghanistan. They recognize that it’s noble work and they are anxious to get back to their troops and their friends in those units and I just have the greatest respect for them and their families.
Q: Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for being my guest on “After Hours.” Good to see you again. I hope you’ll come back.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I will certainly do it. Thank you, Cal.