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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Sir David Frost, BBC News

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
June 15, 2005
Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Sir David Frost, BBC News

            Frost: Mr. Secretary, it's a great joy to be doing this.

 

            Rumsfeld: Thank you. It's good to be with you.

 

            Frost: And… The secret is out. You were definitely not Deep Throat.

 

            Rumsfeld: [Laughter]. Oh my, no. I'll tell you, that was an amazing story. I never knew that fellow who ended up saying he was Deep Throat, and I guess the others have admitted that -- But there it is.

 

            Frost: Do you think Deep Throat was a hero or a villain?

 

            Rumsfeld: Oh, goodness. I'm in charge of a large government department and certainly my hope and prayer would be that any employee of this department who sees something illegal or wrong or improper would report it to the Department of Justice or the proper authorities. It seems to me that that's what our obligation is as a government official, serving the American people.

 

            Frost: Tell me, on the subject of Iraq, Mr. Secretary, do you believe the security situation in Iraq is better today than it was on the day after the war ended?

 

            Rumsfeld: Well, statistically no, but clearly it has been getting better as we've gone along. In other words, at the end of the war the Army fled, was captured in large, many thousands, tens of thousands were captured, and the country was defeated. The insurgency then built over a period of time, and it's had its ups and downs. Clearly they made an effort during the election period, January 30th, to try to derail the election and prevent it from happening, but the Iraqi security forces now number 169,000; the efforts on the part of the coalition countries have shifted from counterinsurgency to helping the Iraqi security forces and they've had some important political milestones. They've had an election, they've got a government, they are now working on their constitution, and a lot of the bad things that could have happened have not happened.

 

            Frost: Why has the bad thing though happened that the insurgents multiplied, people have been from 5,000 to 17,500.

 

            Rumsfeld: I think people who come up with those numbers are pulling them out of the air. I don't know how you know those. I don't know those. I hear different numbers from different people at different times and then I hear the same people changing their numbers.

 

            There's clearly people coming in from other countries, from Iran and from Syria and through other borders. The borders are relatively porous. The important thing it seems to me is for them to recognize that this insurgency is going to be defeated not by the coalition, it's going to be defeated by the Iraqi people and by the Iraqi security forces. It's going to happen as the Iraqi people begin go believe they've got a future in that country. All elements have a future in that country. The constitutional process will be important and then the elections to take place at the end of the year.

 

            Frost: The death toll just in the last month and so on has been depressing, and therefore which of the two countries -- Syria and Iran -- would you say has been most unhelpful to the new Iraq?

 

            Rumsfeld: With respect to the insurgency, I would say Syria. With respect to an effort to try to influence what's taking place, Iran is doing that.

 

            If you think about it, the violent extremists who are engaged in these numerous acts of killing large numbers of mostly innocent men, women and children, Iraqis, they have a lot to lose when the constitution's finished and when the election takes place. If they were able to secure Iraq for themselves it would be, it's an important country with intelligent people -- 25-26 million people with resources, water and oil. And if the extremists were able to defeat the coalition and defeat the Iraqi security forces it would be an enormous victory, so they're determined to try to not let that happen.

 

            But what we see increasingly is that the Iraqi people recognize that that would be turning things back to a dark past, and I don't see it going there.

 

            Frost: Do you think, when you fought for a leaner, smaller, high tech war as it war, less soldiers, that you were right as far as the war went but wrong as far as the aftermath went?

 

            Rumsfeld: I don't think I even agree with the way you've constructed the question. Let me first say that --

 

            Frost: Transformation will take place.

 

            Rumsfeld: First let me say that it was not Don Rumsfeld or the President of the United States who decided the size of the forces, either during the war or after the war. The general officers and the people responsible for conducting the war, in that case General Franks and General Abizaid and General Delong and the division commanders, told us what they recommended and they got exactly what they recommended. As the war ended they told us what they recommended, and today they have told us what they recommended, and they have exactly what they're recommended.

 

            So the answer to your question, it seems to me, is not whether we were right; whether or not the people who have the principal responsibility for making those kinds of judgments were correct, and the answer is I believe they were. The war, in the first instance in terms of the conduct of the war was completed with dispatch and with minimal collateral damage and with minimal loss of life. Probably never been a war quite like that where anyone has moved that fast from outside the country to Baghdad and defeated what was reputed to be an impressive army that rapidly and that skillfully with that few loss of life.

 

            In terms of the post major combat operations efforts, the tension is this, and it's important to understand it. On the one hand if you have a very very large force you have a problem with force protection, you have a problem with logistics, you become a bigger and bigger target, and most important you become a bigger occupying force. You're more intrusive in the country, which makes for greater hostility against that occupying force. If you have a smaller force there's less force protection, less logistics, less of a footprint, less of an occupying force, intrusive circumstance, and you're more likely to get the population leaning forward, working with you.

 

            So you have to have enough to do the job but you don't want any more than enough to do the job. There have been observers from the outside who have said oh, my goodness, there should be more people, it won't work, going into the war. Well, they were wrong. In fact General Franks was correct.

 

            Subsequently there have been people who have said there should be more and there are people arguing now that there should be fewer. The reason for fewer is because ultimately it's going to be the Iraqi people who are going to prevail in this insurgency.

 

            Frost: And in terms of this insurgency, Mr. Secretary, there have been a lot of reports in the last day or two that we have made contact, we or the Iraqis have made contact with the insurgents, with two groups of the insurgents, not all of them, but has there been some contact between our side and some of the insurgents?

 

            Rumsfeld: If you think about it, it's more the Iraqi government side and the insurgents as opposed to our side. The answer is there are continuing contacts. I wouldn't think of them as like a World War II where you begin making a deal with the Axis powers or something like that. What you have is tribes. You have areas and relationships that go on for decades. The worst outcome from the election, when the Sunnis decided not to participate in the election, the worst outcome would have been if the Shia had said at the end of that, all right, you ran this place for several decades, now it's our turn. Stay out. They didn't. They reached out to the Sunnis and the Sunnis instead of thinking they were smart to not participate almost uniformly admit they made a mistake and they should have participated.

 

            Frost: So there are these contacts that do go on --

 

            Rumsfeld: Absolutely.

 

            Frost: -- between these two bitter opponents.

 

            Rumsfeld: I wouldn't characterize it that way. What you've got is people all across the spectrum. You have the people who are in the government and committed to it, you have supporters of the government, you have people that are on the fence, you have people who are opposed to the Iraqi government, and then you have people who are running around trying to kill people. And it isn't two groups. It's a full spectrum of opinion and viewpoint and the task is to not get the people away in the far end with blood on their hands over here. It's just to get everyone to keep moving in the right direction towards support of the government.

 

            Frost: Guantanamo, a day or two ago, Mr. Secretary, we'd have been talking about Guantanamo and about whether it might be closed and all of that sort of thing. Today it's all over the headlines because of the case that Time Magazine came up with of Mohamed al Khatani who had been forcibly injected with fluids, grilled near military dogs --

 

            Rumsfeld: Wait a minute. That was liquids because he was dehydrated.

 

            Frost: I found that out, yes. It could have been poison.

 

            Rumsfeld: It was not.

 

            Frost: It was not. I absolutely agree with that. And grilled near military dogs. You could say how near military dogs -- But straddled by a woman and forced to strip and bark like a dog and so on.

 

            Now were those things all done with Pentagon approval?

 

            Rumsfeld: No. What you had was, at the outset, an arrangement whereby the U.S. Army is the executive agent for detainees, and the field manual that they developed and exists and has been there for a long time and is revised each year and updated, was what was applicable for that, the beginning of that.

 

            The combatant commander came back to me and said that he believed that with respect to a very few, indeed it turned out I believe to be one or two, Khatani being one of them, that they believed that if they used some different approaches for interrogation they might be able to get something out of them and they'd gotten nothing in several months, and they believed Khatani to be, and they do now, the 20th hijacker. That he came into Florida, was stopped by immigration, and was supposed to be met there by Mohamed Atta and was to be a part of that. He knew a lot about them, and we had just lost 3,000 people.

 

            I looked at these proposals and accepted them as a result of a report with the lawyers here, that they were consistent with the President's policy for humane treatment, and accepted them with the full advice of the people here.

 

            At a certain moment I was told that they were subject to a plan, you had to have a plan and you had to have medical people checking them continuously, and that's the way it was conducted.

 

            At some moment I was told that there were some people concerned about some of them so we withdrew them and then --

 

            Frost: This was just during that period when you'd okay'd some things and then you withdrew them six or eight weeks later?

 

            Rumsfeld: Yes. I don't know that. They may have used what they did before then or they may have used it during or it may have been something they concluded was appropriate later. I'd have to get that clearer in my head, but the fact of the matter is in Guantanamo Bay there are some killers. There are people who are terrorists who were participating in killing 3,000 Americans. And the information that we're getting from them is enormously helpful in understanding how the al-Qaida works, how it raises money, who are the people? These are Osama bin Laden's bodyguards, financiers, people who are engaged in this worldwide terrorist network.

 

            So we have an obligation, we feel, to recognize the danger they pose and to try to glean out from them in a manner that's -- The President from the very beginning said people will be treated humanely, and they have been, except for a few handful of instances, not a handful, but a number of instances where people misbehaved and they've been punished for it. They've been court martialed.

 

            Frost: A lot of people feel that it's -- They're not used obviously to knowing that these sort of things are done in their name and they would rather they weren't. But have people just got to face up to the fact that in the new world of terror this is going to be normal, really going to be normal conduct?

 

            Rumsfeld: It clearly is a different world when people have the ability to kill 3,000 men, women and children, innocents. We know that they've declared war on the civilized world. We know they have a financial apparatus. We know they're seeking more powerful weapons and at some point we have to say to ourselves, what do we do about that? How do we prevent them from killing another 3,000 or 5,000 or 10,000? The President made a decision as to the policy that they would be treated humanely. They have doctors that monitor them. The people in GTMO, the overwhelming majority, 99 percent, have the best, probably the best medical treatment they've ever received in their lives. It is important --

 

            To go to your question, it is important for people to understand that there are times when the world shifts somewhat, and we first looked at using the Article 3 of our Constitution, a normal process. If someone steals a car or someone kills somebody in the United States they're subject to our laws. The other choice was to use the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but it seemed not to be appropriate. The President of the United States and the White House decided to use military commissions and a detention approach because it was not law enforcement, it was a need to gather intelligence and information to stop the next terrorist attack. It is a complicated thing, it's a tough thing, and the one thing about Guantanamo Bay that strikes me that's being ignored is the fact that there have been dozens and dozens of members of the House and Senate who have been down there, people from every country in the world that has some people being held down there have had opportunities to go down and see how people are being treated, the press has been down there. It is a facility that has -- No one wishes to have a facility like that. No one wishes to have to detain people. That isn't our business that we would prefer. But in terms of their treatment, they're being treated well.

 

            Frost: In terms of Guantanamo, in terms of the people there, the place there, is there a chance, the President said all possibilities have been explored. Is there a chance you think that in your time here at the Pentagon, that Guantanamo will be closed for the reasons that these Republican Senators are saying today, that it's a real bad news for our PR and the rest of the world?

 

            Rumsfeld: Well, there's no question but that the phrase today, Guantanamo, has a meaning that's unfortunate. It's a facility that they've put something like $100 million in the facility and over $240 million in the operation of it for three years. It is -- When it was announced I described it as “the least worst choice” of how you would do it in that location.

 

            Now the President's correct. He said we're always looking for ways to do things better but the problem is someone who suggests that has an obligation to suggest something better, and of course we have released a couple of hundred people out of there. We've sent them either to be free or we've sent them to their home countries. We don't want to hold them. Our goal would be to have Afghanistan hold the Afghans and Iraq hold the Iraqis and Saudi Arabia hold the Saudis, and we've been negotiating with these countries to get them to take responsibility for these people. It's not our desire to have them. And a good many have been released.

 

            The problem is we've made some mistakes. We've released at least 10 or 12 that we know of that have gone back to the battlefield and tried to kill our people, and we've recaptured them or killed them. And these are people that were released out of Guantanamo in error, thinking that they were probably not terrorists, and it turns out they were.

 

            Frost: Does today in the rest of the world, looking at the rest of the world, does China really worry you or is it impossible they'll be a threat, won't be a threat to the United States? You’ve said that they're spending too much money on arms, but it's not going to be a threat to the United States for 50 years?

 

            Rumsfeld: My hope about China -- It is certainly not a threat today or for some period. My hope about China is this. Here's a country that has a fascinating history, industrious and intelligent people. It has a fast-growing economy because of some good decisions they had made to open up and have a freer economy. And yet it still has a communist system, a command system, an unfree political system. My guess is that will cause a tension as they go through the next five, ten, fifteen years. And my guess is that the side that will overcome the other will be the desire for economic growth and for jobs for people, and that that will cause a loosening of the political system in some way or other. As a result of that -- That's my hope, and frankly, that's my guess.

 

            But a result of that would be a People's Republic of China that would enter the world in an orderly way and become engaged economically and politically and be a perfectly acceptable participant.

 

            Frost: What do you think about -- Do you think the UK government is right to try talking to Hamas? Do you think the UK, France and Germany are right to try and talk Iran into changing its ways? Or do you think those are both too soft a way to treat the countries concerned?

 

            Rumsfeld: No, people say that about our decision for the six-party talks with North Korea. Is that the right thing to do? It seems to me that countries have to do what they think makes sense. Obviously your first choice is to talk. It's diplomacy. It's to try to work things out. If you can't do it individually you try to work with other countries to do that, and that's why in each instance you've mentioned and the North Korean instance, we see collections of countries working together, trying to persuade a problem country or organization that it's in their interest to behave in a way different than we see them behaving today. So I think it's a perfectly rational, logical thing to be doing.

 

            Frost: And we've ruled out military action against Iran in the foreseeable future?

 

            Rumsfeld: That's something that, when you say we, you don't have military power, I don't have military power. Nations do. Most nations make a practice of not ruling things out. They do that almost as a matter of principle, that there's a linkage between these things. But obviously the path that the President has chosen is one of a diplomatic path and the North Koreans; obviously the path that's been chosen with Iran has been a diplomatic path.

 

            Frost: What about these polls that come out with rather depressing news? That poll of 15 countries where the United States was leveled as a threat to world piece, with two of the countries we've been talking about -- Syria and North Korea. What can you do to improve the figures in these polls? The reality behind it.

 

            Rumsfeld: Take North Korea. North Korea is a country with the same resources as the South Koreans; the same people in the North as the South. South Korea is a robust democracy, it's an energetic economy, people are prosperous and able to travel anywhere in the world. In the North, they're counterfeiting money, they're selling illegal drugs, they have concentration camps where people are penned up. They've had to lower the height and weight for people they accept into the North Korean military to five feet and 100 pounds for grown men to join the military because of malnutrition. There's starvation, there's fear. Anyone looking at it from any perspective has to see that that is a tragedy for those people. One does have to wonder why more people don't care about it. Why people don't feel the harm that's being done to the North Korean people.

 

            I suppose in partial answer to your question that I'm not the best one to ask, but I think it's always been true that the large country, the most powerful country, tends to be the one that people would like to bring down or tweak and that's always going to be there.

 

            I also think the United States is notably unskillful in our communications and our public diplomacy. I think that we need to do a better job. What that will accomplish, I don't know.

 

            If you lived in Al Jazeera's area where they broadcast and you heard every day the pounding that the United States takes from a television network like that, you'd begin to think very poorly of the United States too. You just can't hear day after day after day things like that that often aren't true with a lack of balance, and not come away thinking, gee, that must not be a very good country.

 

            So you've got people who hear enough of it and they begin to believe it.

 

            Frost: And so you think perhaps America doesn't do as great a job as it could on that?

 

            Rumsfeld: But the idea that America is what's wrong with the world, it seems to me, just isn't supported by the facts. If one looks at what is the country that people want to come to and to live and to work? The United States has long lines. What's the country that people look to for assistance? The United States has a record of doing that. What was the country that did the most in the tsunami --

 

            Frost: And what would you have done differently in your years so far? Your second time as Defense Secretary? Of all the things you've done so far, what would you have done differently?

 

            Rumsfeld: Oh, my goodness. I think I'll reflect on that after I've left this job rather than --

 

            Frost: That's not for another three years, though.

 

            Rumsfeld: We all serve at the pleasure of the President.

 

            Frost: But if he wants you to you'd be happy to serve for another three years.

 

            Rumsfeld: Is happy the right word I was looking for? That isn't the word that -- [Laughter].

 

            No, I must say, I feel fortunate that I'm able to serve the country at a time when obviously it's a difficult time for the country and it's important work, and if the President wants me to do it I'm proud to be able to try to do the best job I can.

 

            Frost: And how different do you think an American power will be in ten years time?

 

            Rumsfeld: Well of course it's all relative. Power is relative as opposed to absolute in terms of the importance of power. I suppose it's partly a question of where you see Western Europe going, where you see China going, where you see Russia going. Right now Russia is making, in my view, some decisions which are, well we know statistically is leading to a reduction in foreign direct investment. I suppose their selling 100,000 AK47s to Venezuela and their relationships with Syria and the various types of things they've done from a business standpoint in the country has led to a notable drop in foreign direct investment. And here's a country that has all kinds of opportunities. It's got resources, it's got intelligent people, it's got fabulous mathematicians and scientists, and it could be drawing investment in.

 

            There are countries that have demographic problems. There are countries that have political structures that keep them from doing things in the right way. I think Asia will be increasingly important in the world, and it's important today. We're of course a Pacific nation so we're interested.

 

            Frost: And Iraq won't, instance, be split into three different countries?

 

            Rumsfeld: Oh, I hope not. I think that would be too bad. There are always people who propose that as a solution and there are people who think that it could result from civil war, but it hasn't.

 

            I've been impressed with the sense of responsibility and the political dialogue that's taken place since the election, and even before the election, and I think it would be most unfortunate were that to happen.

 

            Frost: Your poetry. Did you think of it as poetry until someone laid it out like poetry.

 

            Rumsfeld: [Laughter]. That's ridiculous. It's not poetry. It's just talking.

 

            Frost: It is rather -- There are known and unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we don't know, but there are also unknown unknowns. The ones we don't know we don't know. That's poetry, isn't it?

 

            Rumsfeld: I don't think of it that way. I think of it as intelligence. A terribly important thing if you're worried about intelligence. There are things we know we know and that's helpful to know you know something. There are things we know we don't know and that's really important to know, and not think you know them when you don't. But the tricky one are the ones, the unknown unknowns, the things we don't know we don't know. They're the ones that can get you in a bucket of trouble.

 

            Frost: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much indeed.

 

            Rumsfeld: Thank you.

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