McConnell: Mike McConnell back. My guest, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, joins me. Mr. Secretary, good to have you on the program again.
Rumsfeld: Thank you so much, Mike. It's good to be back with you.
McConnell: Lately the administration -- not just lately -- they've come under a lot of pressure about going into Iraq without an exit strategy. Can you tell me how often a country goes to war with an exit strategy all mapped out?
Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) I haven't thought of it that way. But obviously you go in with a strategy in mind as to an exit, and then what you do is you meet an enemy with a brain. And, as they say, war plans don't survive first contact with the enemy.
Rumsfeld: You then begin using the various possibilities you considered, to work as the enemy does the same thing, and adjusts to tactics and techniques that are being used against him.
And we have -- the president clearly has an exit strategy, and he had it from the outset. And that was to be helpful to the people of Iraq, free them of a vicious dictatorship, set the country on a path towards a representative democratic system that's respectful of all of its people, and then turn the security responsibilities over to the Iraqi security forces. And that's the path we're on.
McConnell: And then it's time to go.
We have about 138,000 troops there now. How long would it be expected to take to train enough Iraqi troops to replace the 138,000 we have there, and train them to the point where they are as effective a force as the Americans are, or coalition forces?
Rumsfeld: Well, they'll never be as effective a force as the U.S. and the coalition forces.
McConnell: Well, maybe they need 200,000 to accomplish that. But about how long would that take?
Rumsfeld: Well, we are now at 178,000, and we -- total Iraqi security forces, plus or minus. And it varies from month to month, depending on various things. More classes are graduated and the like. They are doing an increasingly better job, improved -- they're more experienced, they're better equipped, and the forces we have embedded with them have now been able to see precisely where their strengths and weaknesses are, to improve their equipment on a particular item-by-item basis, and strengthen their leadership and their ministry chain of command, and their connections to intelligence and their cooperation with the police forces, and all of those things that make a difference.
Now, you say how long will it take. It's not knowable because we don't know precisely what will happen to the insurgency. Will the Iranians and the Syrians be more helpful or less helpful? How successful will a constitution and the progress in the political side be in persuading more and more Iraqi people that they should be supportive of the government instead of supportive of the insurgency?
McConnell: Well, speaking of that, I know the last time around, of course, the last election, the Sunnis largely boycotted the election. This time they're registering to vote in large numbers. What's seen as the difference and the reason as to why?
Rumsfeld: Well, I think they realize they made a terrible mistake by not participating, number one. Number two, the Shi'a, instead of saying that, okay, you lost out, now you're out, they decided that in the interests of the country, both the Shi'a and the Kurds, that in the interests of the country, they want to have a single country, and to do that, you've got to have the Sunnis in. So the Shi'as and the Kurds reached out to the Sunnis, and it was a very heartening and encouraging thing that took place shortly after the last elections.
McConnell: To what degree is oil at the bottom of this? The Kurds and the Shi'a are in oil-rich parts of the world -- of the country, rather. The Sunnis are not. They want a bigger share of oil revenues. How much of this is truly religious, philosophical differences, ethnic differences, and how much is just oil money?
Rumsfeld: Well, I think there's a -- just as there was when our country was wrestling with its constitution, these issues of federalism are important. And if you think about it, our Supreme Court still periodically addresses the issues of federalism and the roles of states versus the federal government. So the debate they're having is an important one.
Certainly there are several things involved. The access to the wealth from the natural resources is one, as you point out. Another is the Kurdish areas have had a degree of autonomy even when Saddam Hussein was in. They had their own military, the Peshmerga, and they had a degree of autonomy which they clearly don't want to lose. I think that one of the items you've probably heard discussed in the constitutional debate is this question of the portions of the country that were penalized under Saddam Hussein wanting some, oh, restitution of some kind. So we've heard that debate taking place.
But these are important, big issues that ought to be debated. And we're seeing the pulling and hauling of politics, and it's a wonderful thing, instead of filling up mass graves with tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children.
McConnell: I had an opportunity to go to Iraq back in April, and one of the things that I learned in the course of the briefing was, if you took a map of where, at the time, most of the insurgent attacks were taking place, and overlaid that with a map of where public utilities were lacking, food and water, that they were almost -- they were a very close match. Those of who feel, I guess, disaffected to the largest degree are, I guess, more in support of the insurgency.
What does the timetable look like -- I don't know if there is one, but is the timetable still intact as to when power and water will be available to the vast number of Iraqis?
Rumsfeld: Well, I think that's a connection one has to be a bit careful of. If you think about it, the -- basically, the violence is occurring in four out of the 18 provinces. And those four provinces are, as you point out, provinces that have a lower level of electricity or sewage -- of water and the like.
Now then, you could say, well, maybe if you got that fixed, there wouldn't be so many violent instances of acts by insurgents. I think the other way to look at it is that the insurgents are part of the reason why those services are low, because they're attacking oil lines and they're attacking electrical -- the electrical grid and trying to make the Iraqi government unsuccessful. That -- the insurgents are doing that.
So I think there's no way to answer your question as to how long will it take to get those services up, because to the extent -- it's a heck of a lot easier to blow up an oil line or take down an electrical power station than it is to build one.
McConnell: Certainly. I want to mention that you have an organization out there called America Supports You.
Rumsfeld: Yes, indeed.
McConnell: And the idea here is -- and it surprised to me to what degree that's appreciated over there, I mean, not just what comes through America Supports You, but the things Americans send them -- you know, kids, grade-school kids with -- drawings are on the wall, letters are on the wall. They really appreciate all that. And then through America Supports You, what do you encourage people to do?
Rumsfeld: Well, this -- America Supports You really does nothing more than provide a website where every organization or every family or every school or company or club that's doing something to support the troops can put on the website what it is they're doing, and then others can replicate that. And that's what's taken place. It's been just an outpouring of support for the troops and a wonderful thing to see.
And it says a lot about the heart of America, because these young men and women over there in uniform, as you saw last April, are doing such a superb job for our country, and we're so fortunate that they're there. And they're proud of what they're doing, and they believe what they're doing is working.
McConnell: Yeah, that's very true. I'm curious whether or not the giving has faded at all. I mean, it's -- in many cases, the news of the day -- and it's not always, you know, a bad thing -- the news of the day is often relegated to page 2, 3 or 4 of the paper. Well, it's not on page 1, but they still seem to get the support that they used to.
Rumsfeld: Oh, the support has just been amazing. Several people, including the president, have mentioned the AmericaSupportsYou.mil website, and we've seen just tens of thousands of people hitting that website. And the numbers of letters of support to the troops have gone up by the tens of thousands.
McConnell: By the tens of thousands?
Rumsfeld: Oh, yes.
McConnell: Okay. Again, it was dot-mil, correct? Americasupportsyou.mil.
McConnell: Got it covered.
Rumsfeld: I was with Gary Sinise, the movie actor, not too long ago out in California to thank him for all he's been doing. And he has a charitable activity that provides various things for Iraqi school children. And he said that within the last two months, the numbers of hits on his website offering assistance for his program to help Iraqi school children have gone up just by the thousands.
McConnell: And I would imagine you could find what that website is through Americasupportsyou.mil.
McConnell: Got you covered.
I understand we're out of time, but Mr. Secretary, I appreciate all of yours. And my guess is we'll talk again.
Rumsfeld: I look forward to it. Thanks so very much.
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