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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Dan Rather, CBS News

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
September 05, 2003

(Interview with Dan Rather, CBS News, at Camp Victory, Iraq.)

 

     Q:  First of all, thank you.

 

     Mr. Secretary, I do not know of any American who doesn't admire what you did in helping secure the battlefield victory that resulted in the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.  I don't know of anybody who doesn't appreciate your service.

 

     Rumsfeld:  Thank you.

 

     Q:  (Inaudible.) a lot of people are worried.  Are you worried about what's happening here?

 

     Rumsfeld:  Worried isn't the right word.  I'm impressed with the accomplishment that's taken place.  The 23 million Iraqi people are free.  City councils are sprouting up all across this nation.  A governing council's been formed.  A cabinet's been formed.  Ministries have been formed.  You can feel the economic activity changing since I was here several months ago.  It's been only four and a half, five months since then.

 

     Is it a perfect picture?  No.  Are there terrorists active?  Yes.  Are there criminals active?  Yes.  Are there still people being killed?  That's for sure.  We just had a terrible attack on a mosque very recently as you know.

 

     It is a mixed picture.  There's going to be some setbacks as we go forward, but the economic progress, the political progress and certainly the military progress I think is impressive.

 

     Q:  We've been here half a year.  What's the exit strategy?

 

     Rumsfeld:  You know it would be wonderful if you could answer that question.  I don't think you could have answered that question about Germany or about Japan or about Bosnia or about Kosovo.  Once you start saying that there's a timetable I think it's a mistake.  These are things that are event-driven. 

 

     The goal, as you know, is to have the governing council come up with a proposal for a constitution, a process for developing and drafting a constitution leading to elections.

 

     At that point when the process has moved far enough that the Iraqi people assume more and more responsibility for their lives, then clearly we have the ability to change our circumstance as well.  The same thing is true in terms of the Iraqi security forces.  We've gone from zero five months ago to 55,000 Iraqis who are engaged either in the army or in the police or in the border patrol.  That's an amazing accomplishment.

 

     Now is that enough?  No.  It's going to have to continue to go up and as that happens the Iraqi people will take on more and more of not just the political responsibilities but also the security responsibilities.

 

     Q:  As Americans can we afford that in terms of blood and money to get there?

 

     Rumsfeld:  To get that far?

 

     Q:  Uh huh.

 

     Rumsfeld:  First of all there are a variety of places where the funds are coming from.  To be sure the United States is a major factor.  There are also dozens of countries that are making contributions as well.  In addition there is the U.N. Oil for Food Program that has resources.  There are Iraqi frozen assets that exist around the world and have been paying for some of these things.  The Iraqi people have oil which can be sold and benefit the Iraqi people.  So it isn't as though it's all coming out of one pocket.  Indeed, it's expensive.  The viciousness of the Saddam Hussein regime in this country -- look at this roadway, this palace.  That's where the money went.  The money went for the military and the money went for palaces and for the very small group of elite supporters of Saddam Hussein.  It's a terrible tragedy what was done to the Iraqi people.

 

     The people here are intelligent, they're energetic, they're industrious, they're educated, and this can be a very successful economy in the region.

 

     Q:  Let me read you something that retired U.S. Marine General Anthony Zinni, who know well --

 

     Rumsfeld:  I don't know him well.  I've met him.

 

     Q:  (Inaudible.) diplomacy and military --

 

     Rumsfeld:  I've met him but I don't know him.

 

     Q:  He spoke to a large crowd of career officers yesterday.  I'd be surprised if you haven't heard about it.

 

     Rumsfeld:  I haven't.

 

     Q:  Let me read you this quote.  He said, "My contemporaries, our feelings and sensitivities, were forged on the battlefields of Vietnam where we heard the garbage and the lies and we saw the sacrifice, and I ask you, is it happening again?" That's a quote from General Zinni. 

 

     Is it?

 

     Rumsfeld:  Of course not.  There are a lot of people who were affected by Vietnam and will see everything through that prism.  I think that would be a misunderstanding.

 

     Q:  He also said, there's another way to put it, that (Inaudible.) the post-war handling hear in Iraq -- and he said, and this was a direct quote, that "The present handling lacks a coherent strategy, a general plan, and sufficient resources." Insufficient resources.  It lacks all of that.

 

     Rumsfeld:  Well, everyone can have an opinion.  I don't know him well and I don't know his views well, but he has been a person who has been generally in disagreement with U.S. policy involving this region of the world as I recall.  So what you're saying doesn't surprise me.

 

     The fact remains that the major combat operation ended in this country, as I recall, on May 1st.  It is now mid September.  That's a handful of months.  What's taken place?  City councils have been growing all across this country.  Dozens of towns, dozens of villages, here in Baghdad.  A governing council has stood up.  The governing council has selected ministers, a cabinet and ministers. 

 

     In a country that has no experience with democracy, with no experience with representative government in recent decades, that's impressive changes that are taking place.

 

     Q:  You're not worried?

 

     Rumsfeld:  Of course one has to worry because life isn't perfect.  Life's tough and this is a difficult situation.  We have a group of people here who, as I say, have no background in representative government.  They have no background in private enterprise.  This has been a Stalinist type economy governed by the central government.  There's no private sector in this country.  All's been government-owned.

 

     Now does that mean that it's going to be a tough transition?  You bet it's tough.  It's very tough.  And you have to worry about it. 

 

     The idea that there's no plan is belied by the fact that Jerry Bremer has testified before Congress on the plan for the coalition provisional authority.

 

     Q:  So you think it's inaccurate and it's fair to say unfair criticism?

 

     Rumsfeld:  I haven't read it in context and I haven't had a chance to talk to him so I wouldn't go around casting aspersions on his views.  He's a person of some experience.

 

     Q:  We have a clock running.  I have to ask you about, and I'm going to ask you about today's Washington Post story which in essence says that the military top brass and the State Department in effect went around and got a change in policy.  Is that story true?

 

     Rumsfeld:  No.

 

     Q:  What is one to make of it?

 

     Rumsfeld:  You've never seen an article in the newspaper that isn't true?  You're a grown adult.  You know better than that.

 

     Q:  But it's my job to ask the question.

 

     Rumsfeld:  Of course it is, and you can ask it, and I can answer it. 

 

     Q:  But the story is not true?

 

     Rumsfeld:  Of course not.  It's been knocked down by everybody who was asked.  It's been knocked down by the people who were named in it.

 

     Q:  Then we can move on.  I'm asking you, is it true?

 

     Rumsfeld:  I said no.  It's nonsense.

 

     Q:  We can proceed.  No one accuses [him] of not being a Republican.  No one accuses him of not being a supporter of President Bush.  I want to give you a chance to answer his criticism, and there's no other way to say it.

 

     Rumsfeld:  You really reached in the duffel bag, Dan.

 

     Q:  Not a duffel bag.  It's in the newspapers every day.  Maybe you haven't seen it.

 

     Rumsfeld:  I have. 

 

     Q:  It's his quote.

 

     Rumsfeld:  You've told me three things I haven't seen.

 

     Q:  My job as a newsman might be secure for another day.

 

     (Laughter.)

 

     Q:  Bill Kristol, you know him?

 

     Rumsfeld:  I do know him.

 

     Q:  He says, quote, "Rumsfeld lost credibility with the White House because he screwed up post-war planning." His words, not mine.  "For five months they let Rumsfeld do what he liked and for five months Rumsfeld said everything is fine.  He wanted to do the post-war with fewer troops than many people advised and that turned out to be a mistake."

 

     Mr. Secretary, you know I don't have any joy in putting this quote in front of you, but what are the American people to make of it?

 

     Rumsfeld:  I don't know.  I guess what I would say is that the combatant commander, Tom Franks, succeeded by General John Abizaid, and General Sanchez, here with the responsibility for this particular country of Iraq, all have indicated that the level of troops are exactly what they believe is appropriate, what they requested.  They have not had a single request that hasn't been approved for forces.  They believed it then, they've proved to be right.  General Sanchez believes it today and I believe he will prove to have been correct.  I therefore would suggest that it's possible at least that the individual you're quoting will prove to have been wrong.

 

     The forces here are of a variety of types.  They're U.S. forces, they are coalition forces, and they are Iraqi security capabilities.  What's been growing has been the Iraqi forces.  The Iraqis have gone over five and a half months from zero up to 55,000.  Now that does not happen -- These are police, border patrol, army, civil defense capabilities.  That does not happen without a plan.  That does not happen without well-organized people bringing in trainers, working with them, funding them, and going from zero to 55,000 Iraqis engaged in security activities in this country today.  And the number's growing every single day.

 

     Q:  I understand that.  But I also understand that's what's not on the table is a request that a United Nations Resolution get passed that would bring additional countries' troops into Iraq who are not here now and/or not here in large numbers.

 

     Rumsfeld:  Uh huh.

 

     Q:  Now correct me if I'm wrong, that the proposal is something on the order of a division, 10,000 to 15,000 troops. 

 

     Rumsfeld:  Uh huh.

 

     Q:  But I want to check with you, that even if that is approved, that's the addition of these new troops, headlines this week are saying going to the U.N., okay, now we want to put in some other people.  But even if that's approved you can't --

 

     Rumsfeld:  Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  Now we're going to pull in some new people.

 

     There are 30 countries already involved on the ground.  That's not one.  It's 30.  There are another dozens that are involved in humanitarian assistance, in various types of support financing.  So this is no go-it-alone for the United States.  It hasn't been from the beginning.

 

     Before this conflict started, when the President went to the United Nations he began involving other countries.  Secretary Powell did.  Combatant commander Tom Franks did.  And they formed a very broad coalition.

 

     What's going on now at the U.N. is that the President went to the U.N., he got a resolution.  From the very beginning he wanted to broaden that coalition.  He has now decided to go back up to the U.N. because there are a handful of countries that suggested that an additional resolution might be helpful for them in their parliaments and their congresses to get additional troops.  Will it be a major number?  I doubt it.  It could be another division --

 

     Q:  Well perhaps --

 

     Rumsfeld:  -- which is a good thing.

 

     Q:  I didn't mean to step on your answer.  Perhaps I'm misstating the question.  I was really seeking some information, and you said it could be as much as a division.  I said maybe 10,000 to 15,000 troops.  Is that in the ballpark?  Ballpark.

 

     Rumsfeld:  That's a guess.  We don't know, but that's a guess.  It could be less, it could be more.

 

     Q:  I understand.  And I do understand that there is, you've described them for us a broad coalition, and we're talking about other countries who are not part of the coalition joining.

 

     All right, now what I'm seeking is whether it's true or not that if these additional troops are approved and get on-line, that they can't be here, won't be here before sometime in January.  Does that sound right?

 

     Rumsfeld:  Oh, it's hard to know.  Some could respond more rapidly than that but I wouldn't want to predict because I don't know what countries they're going to be.

 

     Q:  Here's the question.  If we need those troops, what do we do between now and whenever they can arrive?

 

     Rumsfeld:  Look, General Sanchez is the senior coalition military person in Iraq.  It's a complicated process.  He's got U.S. forces, he's got coalition forces, and he's got this rapidly growing number of Iraqi forces.  How he arranges them and in what way the United States and/or coalition countries rotate forces in and out over, depending on how long we take, is a very complicated matter.

 

     The implication that the 15,000 plus or minus that might come if there is a second resolution would leave a gap if it didn't come, or would leave a gap if it came two or three or four months later than someone thought, I think is a misunderstanding of the situation.

 

     They're not pieces on the table that they have to be moved around in an orderly way.

 

     I should also add that it's not simply the total numbers.  People get fixed on numbers.  It's also who they are and how they're arranged, what their skills and capabilities are.  And as the situation on the ground changes the needs on the ground change for the types of people.

 

     Q:  I understand.

 

     Mr. Secretary, you know that overwhelmingly Americans support our troops here, they support the effort here.

 

     Rumsfeld:  Uh huh.

 

     Q:  But just this week in the paper the phrase was used (Inaudible.) politicians (Inaudible.).  Not the military.  (Inaudible.) American (Inaudible.) situation, are we in the quicksand, is this going to be another quagmire, have you bitten off more than we can chew?  This is the way people talk around coffee in the morning.  I'll give you an opportunity to respond to those deep concerns.

 

     Rumsfeld:  Well, time will tell.  Twenty-three million people have been liberated in an important country in an important part of the world, and that was about five and a half months ago.  Not five and a half years, but five and a half months.

 

     Has it been a perfectly smooth road?  No.  Will it be a perfectly smooth road going forward?  Is five and a half months a quagmire?  Well, everyone can look it up in the dictionary.  They said quagmire about the war after about two weeks.  Was it a quagmire?  No.  Will this be?  I think not.  I think that it's tough. 

 

     I think that we have 23 million people here who have no experience with representative government, they have no experience with private enterprise, and yet they're intelligent, they're educated, they're industrious, and I think they'll find their way and Ambassador Bremer is doing an absolutely first-class job.  I think that General Sanchez and General John Abizaid and the coalition partners from as I say dozens of countries are dealing with a difficult situation about as well as it could be dealt with.

 

     Can anyone predict exactly where we'll be in a month or two months or three months or six months?  No.  You can't predict it.  It's simply there are too many variables that you have to deal with.  There are too many audibles that have to be called by Ambassador Bremer and by General Sanchez.  But I've got a lot of confidence in them.  I'm hopeful that we'll be successful.  And I think the American people have a very good center of gravity and a good understanding.  I also think they have the patience because they understand how important what's being done here is, and it is important.

 

     The work that's being done by these young men and women in uniform is so critically important to this part of the world, and they're doing such a wonderful job that they've earned the support they're getting from the American people.

 

     Q:  Let's talk about Saddam Hussein.  Any prospect of getting him?  Any news on that front that you can share with us?

 

     Rumsfeld:  Oh, goodness.  We see bits and scraps of information all the time, but no, he hasn't been captured, he hasn't been killed.  Will he eventually?  Yes.

 

     Q:  Can you meet the goals of your mission here if he isn't found dead or alive?

 

     Rumsfeld:  Sure.

 

     Q:  You don't agree or do agree that as long as he's out there a lot of Iraqis won't fully commit.

 

     Rumsfeld:  I think that there is that issue for awhile, but I think it will fade.  He isn't functioning effectively.  He's running, he's hiding.  He just hasn't been caught or killed yet.

 

     Q:  You're rather disappointed about that.

 

     Rumsfeld:  I'm not disappointed about it.  It's tough to find single people.  Look at the FBI Most Wanted List.  Some of those folks have been on there for 10 or 15 years.  It's hard.

 

     The Department of Defense was organized, trained and equipped to fight armies, navies and air forces, and finding any one single human being is a very difficult task.  Look how long it took to find that fellow from Georgia.

 

     Q:  Do you or do you not think Saddam Hussein has a hand in such things as the U.N. bombing, the mosque bombing in An Najaf last week?

 

     Rumsfeld:  You know, we don't have hard evidence on that.  We don't have any reason to believe he does or doesn't.

 

     Q:  You've been very patient with your time and I appreciate it.  What question have I not asked you that I should have asked you?

 

     Rumsfeld:  Oh, goodness.  You know, I haven't read all the papers you're read so I don't know what other stories you could have drug up and heaved at me like that.

 

     Q:  I have to believe you saw the Washington Post story.

 

     Rumsfeld:  I did not.  I was briefed on it by somebody coming over on the airplane, I laughed and dismissed it.  I'm told that the folks back there who were referenced -- Colin Powell and someone else, I've forgotten who else -- laughed and dismissed it.

 

     Q:  Do you get along all right with Secretary Powell?

 

     Rumsfeld:  Of course I do. 

 

     Q:  That's the easiest question I've asked you.

 

     Rumsfeld:  He's a good man. 

 

     Q:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Rumsfeld:  You're as old as I am.  You've been round listening to this nonsense, too.

 

     Q:  (Inaudible.) Secretary Powell disagrees with (Inaudible.) strategy.  Now this week (Inaudible.).  This week he scored quite a big victory.

 

     Rumsfeld:  Well there are a lot of people who like to see winners and losers.  It sells newspapers, it keeps the ratings for the television people, but the real world is that I deal with him every single day.  He's a friend and he's a very talented guy and he's doing a good job for the country.

 

     Q:  I appreciate your time.  Thank you.

 

     Rumsfeld:  You bet.

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