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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview on NBC Meet The Press

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
November 02, 2003 9:00 AM EDT
Russert:  First, some tragic news from Iraq this morning.  This is the scene, 13 American servicemen killed, 20 wounded or injured, when an American helicopter crashed.  It is expected it perhaps was shot down.  We'll find out now from our guest, the secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.  Mr. Secretary, welcome back to "Meet the Press."


            Rumsfeld:  Thank you, Tim.


            Russert:  What can you tell us about this tragedy?


            Rumsfeld:  I've seen the early reports, and early reports are often wrong.  They're often adjusted later.  And the early report indicated essentially what you've said.


            Russert:  Thirteen dead?


            Rumsfeld:  The number I saw was 10, but there were a large number of wounded.  And, as time goes on, some of the wounded may very well have been moved over to killed in action.


            Russert:  Do you believe it was a surface-to-air missile?


            Rumsfeld:  That's the speculation at the present time.  But, again, first reports are often wrong. And we get used to characterizing first reports as first reports so that people know that.  And we'll just have to find out.


            Russert:  If in fact it was a surface-to-air missile, what does that tell us about the level of resistance we are now encountering in Iraq?


            Rumsfeld:  Well, we've known about surface-to-air missiles since before we went in, so there's nothing new there.  They are dangerous, and they exist in that country in large number, as they do in that part of the world.   So it's always a risk.


            Russert:  Reuters is reporting that townspeople celebrated in the streets, yelling they'll never be safe until they get out.  What's your reaction to that?


            Rumsfeld:  Oh, we know that the overwhelming majority of the population of Iraq favors the coalition and wants them to stay and appreciates the work and progress that's taking place.  We also know that there is some fraction of the population that prefers Saddam Hussein and was benefited by his regime, and had the opportunity to enjoy the things he enjoyed -- palaces, cars, killing people, mutilating people -- and those people obviously would celebrate in the street.


            Russert:  So far we have lost 377 Americans in Iraq, 2,130 have been wounded or injured.  How would you explain to the American people this morning that it is worth that price for the war in Iraq?


            Rumsfeld:  Tim, the battle we're engaged in, the global war on terrorism, is an important one.  It is a different one than we've been in previously, although terrorism is not new. But the nature of terrorism is, that its purpose is to terrorize.  Its purpose is to alter people's behavior. And to the extent free people end up behaving in a way that is different from the way free people behave, they've lost.  And therefore the only thing to do is do what the president has announced he's doing, and that is to take the battle, the war on terrorism, to the terrorists where they are.  And that's what we are doing.  We can win this war.  We will win this war.  And the president has every intention of staying after the terrorists and the countries that harbor terrorists until we have won this war.


            Russert:  How do you respond to those who suggest that the war on terror should have been focused on al Qaeda, and that the resources that now apply to Iraq are misapplied, that Saddam was not the threat that he was presented by the administration, and the war should have focused on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda?


            Rumsfeld:  Tim, we said from the outset that there are several terrorist networks that have global reach, and that there were several countries that were harboring terrorists that have global reach.  We weren't going into Iraq when we were hit on September 11th.  And the question is, Well, what do you do about that?  If you know there are terrorists, and you know there's terrorist states -- Iraq has been a terrorist state for decades -- and you know there are countries harboring terrorists, we believe, correctly I think, that the only way to deal with it is you can't just hunker down and hope they won't hit you again; you simply have to take the battle to them.  And we have been consistently working on the al Qaeda network.  We have captured a large number of those folks -- captured or killed -- just as have now captured or killed a large number of these top 55 Saddam Hussein loyalists.


            Russert:  But Syria, Iran, North Korea, all harbor terrorists.  We were told Iraq was unique because they possessed weapons of mass destruction.  What if that has proven not to be true? 


            Rumsfeld:  It hasn't proven not to be true.  We have seen an interim report by David Kay, and it was a thoughtful report. There's some 1,200 or 1,300 Americans there working on the weapons of mass destruction effort.  He came back with an interim report that reported on the things he found thus far.  It did not prove that there were -- he did not come in and say, "Here are weapons of mass destruction."   Nor did he come in and disprove the intelligence that we had had and other countries had had before the war.  It seems to me that the sensible thing to do was to let them continue their work and produce their final report.  When they do, we'll know.


            Russert:  But, Mr. Secretary, you acknowledge that there was an argument made by the administration that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical and biological weapons, and could have been well on his way to reconstituting his nuclear program.  There doesn't appear to be significant amounts of evidence to document that presentation that was made by the administration.


            Rumsfeld:  This administration and the last administration and several other countries all agreed that they had chemical and biological weapons and that they had programs relating to nuclear weapons that they were reconstituting -- not that they had nuclear weapons -- no one said that.  It was believed then -- we know they did have them, because they used chemical weapons against their own people, so it's not like it's a surprise that those programs existed.  Furthermore, the debate in the United Nations wasn't about whether or not Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons.  The debate in the United Nations was about whether or not he was willing to declare what he had.  And everyone agreed that that declaration was a fraudulent declaration -- even those that voted against the resolution agreed with that.  So it seems to me that the thing to do is to wait, let the Iraqi survey group, David Kay and his team, continue their work.  You're not going to find things by accident in a country the size of California.  The only way you are going to find them is by capturing people who know about them and interrogate them and find out what they think they know as to where these weapons are and what the programs were.


            Russert:  Could it be that the inspections in fact did work, that the enforcement of the no-fly zone did work, and that Saddam in fact no longer had a weapons of mass destruction capability?


            Rumsfeld:  The theory that he took his weapons, destroyed them or moved them to some other country, that argument, is that possible?  I suppose it's possible, that he could have hidden them, buried them or moved to another country or destroyed them.  The destroyed them part of it is the weakest argument.  Why would he do that if by not allowing the inspectors to see what he was doing, and making an accurate instead of a fraudulent declaration, it makes no sense, because he was forgoing billions and billions and billions of dollars that he could have had had he acquiesced and allowed the inspectors into the country in an orderly way such that they could see really what was going on.  Other countries have allowed inspectors in -- South Africa did, Ukraine did.  But he didn't.  He fought it and deceived them consistently.


            Why would he do that if in fact he was an innocent?  Unlikely.


            Russert:  Go back prior to the war in March, where the argument was being made that there is no need to go to war with Saddam Hussein -- he's in a box, he's confined.  We have sanctions.  We have inspections.  And then the administration decided to go to war and opened up that box, and that America is now less safe, less secure, than we were prior to the invasion?


            Rumsfeld:  I think that that's not correct.  I would say America is more safe today.  If you believe the intelligence which successive administrations of both political parties did, and other governments in the world, that he was progressing with these programs, and that this is a country who has used the weapons before -- that's used them on its neighbors, used them on its own people -- I don't know if you have seen any of the tapes more recently of what they do to their own people, of cutting off people's heads, and cutting off their fingers and their hands and pulling out their tongues and cutting them off, throwing them off three-storey buildings.  This is a particularly vicious regime, Saddam Hussein's regime.  It is true we have terrific young men and women being killed and wounded today -- as we did yesterday.  And your heart goes out to their families and to their loved ones.  But what they are doing is important.  What they are doing is taking the battle to the terrorists.  There are foreign terrorists coming into Iraq.  That's true.  We know that.   We captured 200 or 300 of them from various countries.


            Russert:  But stop there.  Would that have happened -- would they have gone to Iraq but for the fact that we went in there?


            Rumsfeld:  Well, sure.  The Ansar al-Islam was already in there, in Iraq.  There were al Qaeda already in Iraq.  The Iraqis were engaged in terrorism themselves.  They were giving $25,000 to suicide bomber families who would go in and kill innocent men, women and children.  They are a part of that, and certainly the work in Iraq is difficult, it's tough.   And it is going to take some time.  But good progress is being made in many parts of the country.  The situation is the worst in the Baghdad area and the area north of Baghdad.  Up above the Green Line in the Kurdish area it's been relatively calm.  In the Southern area it's been relatively calm.  And people see essential services coming back on track. We now have over 100,000 Iraqis providing for their own security --  and they're getting killed too.  I mean, some 85 Iraqis have been killed who are providing for their own security and police and the border patrol and the civil defense and the army.


            Indeed, the people being killed in Iraq today are overwhelmingly Iraqis by Iraqis.  And the terrorists and the criminals that were released by Saddam Hussein, some 100,000 of them, are out killing other Iraqis, trying to target successes.  When a police academy is having a graduation, they'll try to have a bomb go off there.  Or if there is a woman who is being successful on the Governing Council they'll kill her.  And so it is not easy.  But I believe that the Iraqi people are intelligent, they are well educated, they've got resources, they've got water and oil, and they have a chance at making a modern society a success.


            Russert:  Do you ever say to yourself or wonder, My God, the intelligence information we got was wrong, and what have we gotten ourselves into?


            Rumsfeld:  You know, in my lifetime I've said that many times, because intelligence is never really right or wrong.  What it is is it's a best effort by wonderful, hardworking intelligence people, overtly and covertly, trying to gather in the best information they can, and then present it to policymakers.  It's never perfect.  These countries are closed societies.  They make a point of denying and deceiving, so that you can't know what they are doing.  So it's a best effort, and  it's pretty good.  Is it perfect?  No. Has it ever been perfect?  No.  It will never be perfect, our intelligence information.  But we've got wonderful people doing a fine job.  And it seems to me that it is adequate for policymakers to then look at it and draw conclusions and make judgments.


            Russert:  Do you think that Saddam Hussein intentionally rolled over in March and let the United States roar into Baghdad, planning that he would come back six months later with an armed resistance of the nature we're seeing now?


            Rumsfeld:  I don't.  I think they fought hard south, when the movement was so fast.  And then when some forces came in from the north, a great many of his forces decided that they couldn't handle it, and they disappeared.  They disbanded themselves, if you will -- left their weapons in some instances and unformed their formations and went home.  The idea that his plan was to do that I think is far fetched.  What role he is playing today I don't know.  We don't know.  Very likely Saddam Hussein is alive.  Very likely he is in the country.  His sons are killed.  Forty-two of his top lieutenants out of 55 have been captured or killed.  So it's a skinnied-down organization what's left, and is he interested in retaking his country?  Sure.  Is he going to?  No, not a chance.


            Russert:  The New York Times reports that senior administration officials say that Saddam is playing a significant role in coordinating and directing attacks, and that he is the catalyst for what is going on now.


            Rumsfeld:  I don't know what -- how to take the word "catalyst."  I don't doubt for a minute that his being alive gives encouragement to the Baathists and the regime murderers that you see in those tapes killing people.


            Russert:  He may be directing the resistance?


            Rumsfeld:  If he's -- I think he's alive.  I think he's probably in Iraq.  He's probably in northern Iraq, and he undoubtedly has ways to communicate imperfect ways but probably by couriers with some other people.  Is he masterminding some major activity? Difficult to know, but unlikely.  Is he involved?  Possibly.


            Russert:  He's still a threat?


            Rumsfeld:  Personally, no.  No. I mean, is it a threat to have released 100,000 criminals in a country with 23 million people? You bet.  Is it a threat to have foreign terrorists coming across the borders?  You bet. Is it a threat to have the leftovers of the Feyadeen Saddam and the murderers of Saddam Hussein's regime the Baathists who benefited from his regime? Sure it's a threat.  And there's a lot of them, and there's a lot of weapons in that country.  There are weapons caches all over the country.  So is that a danger for people in Iraq?  Yes.


            Russert:  Let me turn to your memo of October 16th which has been leaked and share it with our viewers and ask you to talk about it:  "With respect to global terrorism, the record since September 11th seems to be:  We are having mixed results with al Qaeda. Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror.  Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas, the schools, and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?  It is pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog."  Don't know if we are winning or losing?


            Rumsfeld:  Let me explain that.  It's not that we don't know if we are winning or losing in Iraq or Afghanistan.  We know what's happening there.  The point I was making is this:  if there are 90 nations engaged in the global war on terrorism, and if they are out arresting, capturing, killing terrorists, if they are out there putting pressure on their bank accounts, making it harder for them to raise money, making it harder for them to transfer money, making it harder for terrorists to move across borders, all of which is true, good progress is being made.


            The question is that I posed -- and I don't know the answer -- is how many new terrorists are being made.  How many of these schools are being led by radical clerics and are teaching people that they thing they should do with their lives is to go out and kill innocent men, women and children to stop progress, to torture people, to prevent women from being involved in their country's activities?  How many schools are doing that, and how many people are being produced by that? And the question I posed was, you can't know in this battle of ideas how it is coming out unless you have some metric to judge that, and there isn't such a metric.  It doesn't exist.  Therefore my point was in the memo that I think we need -- the world needs to think about other things we can do to reduce the number of schools that teach terrorism, not just continue -- we certainly have to continue doing what we're doing and going after terrorists wherever they are, and capturing them and killing them.  But I think we also have to think about how we the world, not just the United States -- this is something well beyond our country or the Department of Defense -- how we reduce the number of people who are becoming terrorists in the world.


            Russert:  Win the hearts and minds.


            You also reference to the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one-way or the other.  What did you mean by that?


            Rumsfeld:  Oh, that it is -- we're on a track, and we hope the track works.  And I believe it is working.  You take Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai and the loya jirga have produced a Bonn plan, a way ahead.  It's underway.  Will it stay on track exactly?  I don't know.  I hope so.  I think they're doing a good job, and we're doing everything we can to help them, and so are a lot of countries, including NATO now.


            But, however that sorts out, one way or another, that country is not going to go back and become a terrorist training ground for the al Qaeda.


            Russert:  That appears to be a much more pessimistic assessment than you have made publicly.


            Rumsfeld:  Not at all.  I believe we're doing well in Afghanistan, and said so.


            Russert:  And Iraq?


            Rumsfeld:  Well, I was going to come to Iraq.  Iraq is what it is.  It is a tough, difficult situation.  When you're having people killed in the coalition -- and we are -- and our Iraqi allies being killed, they are providing security -- and Iraqi people being killed by these terrorists, it isn't a pretty picture.  It's a tough picture, and we said that.


            Russert:  Did you underestimate the intensity of the resistance?


            Rumsfeld:  I don't know.  You know, I don't know that we -- you don't sit down and make a calibration that the resistance will lead to X numbers of Iraqis being killed per week, or that so many coalition people being wounded per week.  That isn't the kind of calibration you make.  What you do is you say, here's what you have to do to prevail.  You have got to get the sovereignty transferred over to the Iraqi people, you have got to get the essential services going, and the economy on a path upward.  And you've got to get the security responsibility transferred to the Iraqi people.  That's -- because it's their country.  We're not going to provide security in their country over a sustained period of time.


            So we've gone from zero to 100,000 Iraqis providing security in that country, and our plan calls for us to go over 200,000 by next year.


            Russert:  Will we reconstitute the Iraqi military at a more rapid pace?


            Rumsfeld:  I use the word "security" forces.  If you think about it, the Iraqi army is oriented to external threats.  Iraq doesn't have any significant external threats at the moment.  Its problem is internal.  And we're using police, we're using some Iraqi army forces, but we are also using border patrol, civil defense and site protection people.  That's less expensive, you can do it faster, you can train people for those functions much faster.  That's how we got from -- how do you get from zero to 100,000 Iraqis providing security in that country?  You couldn't do that with the army, because the army takes much longer training, much more equipment, much more expensive.  We were able to do it by using these other Iraqi security forces.


            Russert:  Rather than dismantle the Iraqi army, should we have converted it into a security force much more quickly?


            Rumsfeld:  We didn't dismantle the Iraqi army.   The Iraqi army dismantled itself.  There's no question but that the fighting took place south of Baghdad.  As it got to Baghdad, many of the army units disappeared into the countryside.  They just disbanded and went home.  These are people who in many cases didn't want to serve in the first place.  There were conscripts, and they weren't paid very well, and they just left.


            Russert:  Mr. Bremer didn't want to keep it that way?


            Rumsfeld:  He -- what he did was he, after that happened, he technically abolished the Iraqi army -- "disbanded" is the word -- and then began recruiting -- paying people from the Iraqi army some stipend so that they wouldn't go out on the street and just kill people, and began the process of recruiting many of those same people into the police force, into site protection, into the various security activities that I described.


            Russert:  Let me turn to some of the concerns expressed by Republicans in the Congress.  This was Frank Wolf: Republican allies complain of administration arrogance towards Congress:  "Pride goeth before the fall."


            And this, a prominent Republican Hill staffer:  Rumsfeld and Secretary Wolfowitz, your top deputy, "just give off the sense that they know better than thou, and they don't have to answer our questions."


            And this from Chuck Hagel on the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees, Republican:  "The Bush administration did miscalculate the difficulty of the war in Iraq.  I think they did a miserable job of planning for a post-Saddam Iraq.  They treated many in the Congress, most of the Congress, like a nuisance.  When we asked questions, we wanted to be helpful, we wanted to participate.  And now they are finding out that reality is dominating."


            "Arrogance"?  "Nuisance"?   Not a full appreciation of your fellow Republicans in the Congress?


            Rumsfeld:  Well, you know, there are 535 members of the House and Senate, and you are going to find every viewpoint across the spectrum.  It's always been so.  You've served there -- I served in Congress.  And there's always going to be someone who has a different view, and we accept that.  We have spent enormous numbers of hours up there -- I do, Secretary Powell does, others in the administration briefing Senators, briefing House members, briefing staff members.  And overwhelmingly they've been appreciative of those briefings and felt that they were helpful.  We've sent up intelligence briefing people on a regularly weekly basis.  I think probably there's been more information back and forth in this conflict during Iraq and Afghanistan than in any conflict in the history of the country.


            Now, when people are having their constituents killed, and they see things happening that worry them, understandably they're going to be worried and concerned about it, and I accept that.  And these are tough issues.  These are not easy issues.  And the fact that there are a variety of views in Congress simply reflects the country.  There are a variety of views in the country.  And that's understandable.


            Russert:  Time magazine reports this today, that this question was asked in the closed briefing with senators, "'What troop levels do we expect to have in Iraq a year from now?,' asked Senator Bill Frist, the Republican leader.  And with that, the Pentagon chief began to tap dance."   Do you believe that you have an obligation to tell our leaders in Congress what your best estimate is for troop levels in Iraq a year from now?


            Rumsfeld:  You know, since -- any war, when it starts, the questions are obvious.  The questions are:  How long is it going to last?  How many casualties will there be? And, How many troops will it take?


            Now, those questions can't be answered.  Every time someone has answered those questions, they've been wrong.  They have been embarrassingly wrong.  I'll use another word:  They have "misinformed."  By believing they knew the answers to those questions, they've misinformed and misled the American people.


            I made a conscious decision at the outset of these conflicts to not pretend I knew something I didn't know.  And what I have said is just that.  I have said it is not knowable.


            Now, if you think about Bosnia, we were told by the administration back then that the American forces would be out by Christmas.  That was six and a half years ago.  They're not out yet.  That was -- that -- the effect of that was not consciously misleading -- I'm sure they believed it.  They were that wrong -- six and a half years wrong.  I don't intend to be wrong six and a half years.  I intend to have people understand the truth, and the truth is no one knows.  But why is that question not answerable?


            And Bill Frist knows this.  He asked it because others were interested in that question.  He's been very supportive and very complimentary of what we're doing, and it was not a critical question at all.  It was a question that should have been raised.  And I said was this:  The security situation on the ground is going to determine the total number of security forces that are needed in Iraq.  The total number of security forces is made up of three categories:  U.S. forces, coalition forces, and Iraqi security forces.


            Now, the answer as to how many U.S. forces will be there a year from now depends entirely on what happens in the security situation on the ground, first and foremost.  Second, it depends on how fast we are able to build up the Iraqi forces.  What's happening is the total number of security forces in that country have been going up steadily.  We've come down from 150,- to 130,000 troops.  The coalition troops of about 30,000 have stayed about level. And what's changed is the Iraqi troops have come up from zero to 100,000, heading towards over 200,000 next year.


            Now, I can't -- I have trouble believing that the security situation in that country will require additional U.S. troops.  We'll have to rotate our forces, and take the ones who've been there awhile out, and put additional troops in.  But the total number of troops are going up, because the Iraqis are going up.  And then, someone says, well, how many will we have?  And the answer is I don't know.  Nobody knows.  And that's a fair answer.


            Russert:  It could go down?


            Rumsfeld:  Oh, of course.  It's come down.  It's come down from 150,- to 130,000.    And I suspect it will continue going down.  That depends on if the security situation in the country permits it.  The president has said he's going to stay there as long as it takes, and not one day longer, and he has said repeatedly we will put in as many U.S. troops as are necessary and no more.  And instead of putting additional U.S. troops in, we have been able to build up the Iraqi forces, pass responsibility for security in that country to the Iraqi people, who in the last analysis had the responsibility and the obligation to provide for their own security.


            Russert:  Before we go, New York Daily News had this article about you and your future:  "'The President feels let down,' one well-placed source told the Daily News.  'He feels as if Rumsfeld was unwilling to come and get help for the postwar effort, and thinks his inability to trust anyone other than his immediate subordinates created a serious, ongoing problem in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  After the war, Rumsfeld wanted to get back to Pentagon modernization and transformation and took his eye off the ball.'"


            Rumsfeld:  Not true.  The transformation process is something that has gone forward steadily since the week that this administration arrived, and it's going well.  And indeed there is a possibility that if the conference report is passed, the authorization bill is passed sometime this week, which it could be in the House and Senate, that we will have made major strides in transformation.


            The entire inner agency has been involved in both Afghanistan and Iraq from the beginning, and the idea that people in those departments could take their eye off the ball and concentrate on transformation as opposed to the war on terror is just -- reflects I suppose just a fairly typical misunderstanding of the situation.


            Russert:  Do you want to stay in your current position?


            Rumsfeld:  I serve at the pleasure of the president, and he's doing a terrific job. He is -- he's solid as a rock.  He intends to see that this goes to a successful conclusion, and I'm delighted to be serving him.


            Russert:  At the end of his first term, you'll be 72 years old.  Would you want to serve another four years as secretary of Defense?


            Rumsfeld:  I serve at the pleasure of the secretary, Tim.


            Russert:  We'll leave it there.  Mr. Secretary, thank you for your views.


            Rumsfeld:  Thank you.

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