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Secretary Rumsfeld interview with U.S. News and World Report

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 13, 2002

(Interview with Mark Mazetti, U.S. News and World Report)

Mazetti: Thanks for agreeing to talk, Mr. Secretary.

As Torie probably told you we're doing a cover story on the Vice President and his trip to the Middle East.

Rumsfeld: Good.

Mazetti: Obviously he has a difficult diplomatic assignment in this trip. You've known him for quite awhile. Why do you think he's the right person for this job? 'This job' specifically the trip to the Middle East.

Rumsfeld: I guess it depends on what you think the trip to the Middle East is. But in this instance this is his first trip to the Middle East as Vice President. It comes at a time when the Middle East is clearly in a degree of difficulty and there's a level of violence that is higher than the norm in that part of the world. He knows the leaders in the region well; has for some time. He brings with him the unambiguous weight of the President. His relationship with President Bush is so well known in the world that when he arrives he is without question speaking for the President of the United States and is able to meet in very small groups with the key leaders in the region and carry the message of the Administration, of the President.

He's also very good at it. He is a person who is approachable, people like him, and he is walking substance. He is a workhorse, not a show horse. He's a person who is engaged in the important issues and not in a one-dimensional way but in a multi-dimensional way.

Mazetti: What is the most important asset that he brings to the Administration as a whole?

Rumsfeld: Of course there isn't one thing. It's this wonderful mix of a background where he's steeped in the issues of government and the issues of the private sector -- the political, the economic and the security issues, which is a wonderful blend for a human being to have. Plus his heft as a person. And I don't mean his weight.

Mazetti: That's gone down, I believe.

Rumsfeld: Yeah -- but the fact that he has specific density. He's a person who when people meet with him and talk to him are talking to someone who reflects on important issues, has wrapped his mind around them, and is able to think them through and discuss them with people who, in the case of the Middle East, live there, spend their lives with them, and benefit from discussing it with a person who has a somewhat different perspective since he doesn't live in the region.

Mazetti: Has the recent escalation between Israel and Palestine made his mission in this trip more difficult?

Rumsfeld: I suppose someone could say that. But you know, it is a region that has had difficulties for most of my adult life, and it is a difficult set of problems that at least thus far have not been resolved in a way that the people there can live with each other in peace.

The actual level of violence, you know, it goes up and it goes down and varies from year to year and decade to decade. I have trouble remembering a time when it was perfectly placid.

Mazetti: Sir, Vice President Cheney has described his life since September 11th as being James Bond-like. I'm wondering when you think of Dick Cheney, does James Bond come to mind?

Rumsfeld: No. What he's referring to is one piece of his life. He's referring to the fact that he has had to spend an awful lot of time thinking through issues that are not apparent. He's had to engage a set of things that most people in our country have never had to think through. He's had to think about things that have been previously not thinkable.

We've had the wonderful benefit of two oceans and two friendly neighbors on our four sides that have been an enormous advantage for us and suddenly on September 11th it became quite clear that that advantage had disappeared and that somebody, lots of somebodies have to be thinking very carefully about what that means. And being Vice President he's had the ear of the President and the knowledge and background he has and the access to the intelligence and the information that's available, he's been able to provide a focus on these critical issues without the difficulty of having a constant set of problems heaved at him as the President has, and that the Cabinet officers do.

He is in a wonderfully important -- it is a wonderful thing that a person with his background is in the spot he's in at a time when it needs somebody who can apply that kind of discipline and that kind of thought and that kind of background to a set of problems that are so critically important to our country.

Mazetti: You talk about his role in being able to tackle these specific types of problems. Has his role within the Administration in terms of his relationship with the President, has that changed at all since September 11th in terms of what his assignments within -- obviously some of his assignments have changed, but has his role changed within the Administration?

Rumsfeld: Since September 11th?

Mazetti: Yeah.

Rumsfeld: Oh, you bet. Of course the role of most people in the Administration have changed since September 11th. But if you think about it, I don't know how much he spends in his Vice President's role up in the Senate, but I suspect it's precious little. He's spending his time as a critical element in the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council in helping to put structure into a set of problems that didn't exist prior to September 11th.

Mazetti: Thanks very much, Mr. Secretary. I appreciate your time.

Rumsfeld: You bet. Good to talk to you.