Rumsfeld: Hello, Don Rumsfeld here.
KNX: Mr. Secretary, Dick Helden here at KNX, how are you?
Rumsfeld: Well Dick, where have you been for the last 35 years? [Laughter].
KNX: That's right, you and I -- it's been a long time. It's not like the old days when you were in the OED and you'd answer the phone yourself.
Rumsfeld: That's right.
KNX: In any event, I appreciate the time to visit with you for a little while.
Let's talk. First of all I just need you to say that you know your comments are being tape recorded for broadcast here in Las Angeles.
Rumsfeld: I do indeed.
KNX: Very good.
Mr. Secretary, earlier this week 20 Marines from the same Reserve unit in Brook Park, Ohio, died in Iraq. A resident of that town, 69 year old Eleanor Matelski, seems to express what a lot of people are thinking there. Here's what she had to say.
She said, and this is a quote, "Tell Bush to get our soldiers out of there now before any more of our soldiers die. This is getting to be ridiculous."
What do you say to the Eleanor Matelski's of America?
Rumsfeld: I think the first thing that has to be said is any time you have the loss of life as we did in the last two days, you certainly grieve with the families and the loved ones of those enormously professional and brave and talented young men and women who serve our country in Iraq.
It's -- Throughout history there have always been losses of lives when freedom is defended and our way of life is defended. It's never a happy time. It's always a sad time. I think, however, if one looks across history we know that we are so fortunate as a country to have each of those people, every one a volunteer, raise their hands and say, “Send me. I'm willing to help defend our country.”
Now with respect to Iraq, clearly the goal is to turn over the security responsibilities in Iraq to the Iraqi security forces and we're making very good progress. There's now many more Iraqi security forces in the country than there are U.S. forces. We're at about 138,000; they're up at 173,000.
KNX: And yet it's fair to say that clearly they are not prepared to take over the task yet. In fact General Casey just last week was talking about the possibility of some American troops coming home maybe next year, but there doesn't seem to be anything definite about that yet.
Rumsfeld: Well there isn't, there can't be because it's condition based. You have to see what the situation on the ground is. You don't want to turn it over and have it collapse and have a Saddam Hussein type person take it back over, or turn it over to the people who are doing the beheadings or the people who are out killing innocent men, women and children. We know what kind of a country they'd have. It would be a terribly dangerous country for them and the people of Iraq and the people of the world.
So the task is not an easy one, it's a tough one, but solid progress is being made and the President is, in my view, absolutely correct in his conviction that what is needed now is to finish this job and finish it in a way that that country can be off on a peaceful path.
KNX: President Bush earlier today said that America will bring the leadership of al-Qaida to justice. As you know, Zawahiri, the number two in al-Qaida, was out with another threatening message.
The reality is, though, it's nearly four years since 9/11. Zawahiri is sending out videotapes, Osama bin Laden is walking around in Pakistan with a stick some place in the mountains. We can't find either. Americans are anxious at this point.
Rumsfeld: Well you know, the reality is that we have captured or killed a large fraction, well over a majority of the senior al-Qaida leadership. We've captured or killed Saddam Hussein and his two sons -- the two sons are dead, Saddam Hussein will be tried. So there are large numbers of people who threaten our country --
We have to go back and remember September 11th. Three thousand Americans were killed. There were just attacks in London last month. There have been attacks in Bali. There have been attacks in Turkey. There have been attacks in Riyadh. These terrorists are determined people.
Now you say it's been X number of years and somebody's not been caught. We've had people on the FBI Most Wanted List for decades. Why is it? Well, it's very hard to catch a single individual. That's just a fact. But the important issue isn't whether you've captured Osama bin Laden. The important issue is are we putting enough pressure on terrorists and terrorist networks in their havens so that everything they do is more difficult -- so they'll have more and more trouble raising money, more difficultly communicating, more difficulty traveling. And so they are less likely to be successful in continuing to attack innocent men, women and children.
KNX: Having said that, would you not agree, however, that the incidents that we have seen in London in just the last two or three weeks have given another indication that the terrorists, regardless of where they are, do have the means and the capability?
Rumsfeld: Well, if you think about it, a terrorist can attack at any place, at any time, using any technique and it's physically impossible to defend at every location in a free society against every conceivable technique at every moment of the day or night. It can't be done. Therefore the only way you can deal with the terrorists -- a terrorist that is threatening to attack you and kill your people, which they are, is to go after them and find them and keep putting pressure on their networks.
That's why the United States has put together an 80-nation coalition, probably the largest coalition in the history of the world, to put pressure all across the globe on these people and create an environment that's difficult for them.
We have to be right every time. They only need to be right once in a while and they'll have a successful terrorist attack. It doesn't take a genius to strap on a suicide vest and walk into a shopping center and kill a bunch of people.
KNX: You're just back from Iraq, having visited the troops over there. Clearly, Americans desperately want to support American men and women who are fighting there, and for the most part they do. In fact you've got a web site, AmericaSupportsYou program, and by the way, I was just on-line looking at it and it's a pretty good web site.
KNX: Yet every day, and you know this. Every day our soldiers are being killed by people who basically are putting bombs together in their basement, and that leads to what the polls would suggest is a public disconnect between support for the soldiers and support for the policy makers. You're the policy maker.
Rumsfeld: Well, I don't quite follow your question at all.
KNX: I guess my point is that Americans do support the soldiers, the men and women who are fighting this war. Increasingly the polls would suggest that they are dissatisfied with the direction of this war in Iraq and they are dissatisfied with some of the policies that continue to be espoused in support of it.
Rumsfeld: I guess the answer to that question is this: War is a terrible thing. It is everybody's last choice. No one asked to be attacked on September 11th. Something has to be done about the terrorists in the world.
Now you can say is that popular, that that has to be done? No. Is that something that anyone would have wished for? The answer is no. But it is a task that needs to be done. It is being done. There is a strategy to do it. We have been fortunate in this country that since September 11th we've not been attacked, and we are continuing to put pressure on them and the people who serve, the military people, deserve the support you've indicated they have and the policy that they're engaged in is the only conceivable policy that anyone could ever suggest to deal with terrorists, and that's to go after them where they are.
Now, there's an alternative policy, and that is to see if you can't make a private deal, or to see if you can make a concession or a policy. But they won't be appeased, these terrorists. They won't be appeased by a withdrawal or retreat. They'll be emboldened by a withdrawal or retreat. Our world would be more dangerous, not less dangerous.
KNX: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, it's been a busy day for you here in Los Angeles. I know that. You've given your life to public service, and come hell or high water you are always there to answer our questions, and for that I thank you, sir.
Rumsfeld: Thank you so much, Dick. Good to be with you.
KNX: Good to be with you again, sir. Thanks very much.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.