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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with John Kasich

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 14, 2003

            Kasich:  All right Mr. Secretary the situation is, is that as you know the Administration has been on a great effort here to try communicate a message of Iraq saying it's going better.  The democrats, critics of the war, a lot of people the media say it's not going well at all.  So tell us what the truth really is?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Well, like in most things it's not black or white it's somewhere in between.  The truth is that people are getting killed and wounded in that country and our folks are doing a wonderful job, the men and women in uniform.  They are chasing down terrorist and criminals and remnants of the Ba'athist Regime of Saddam Hussein, they're doing a good job at it.  They're capturing and killing a good number of people consistently and in the process Coalition Forces are being attacked.  I should also add however, that there have been some 76 Iraqis who serve in security forces supporting the Coalition who have been killed.  So, it is not as though just the Coalition forces, it is also Iraqis that are putting their lives on the line and they in fact are fighting for the freedom of their country and God bless them for helping to do that.

 

            While that's going on there are some really wonderful spectacular things that are taking place.  There are literally thousands of projects that have been done to enable schools to open and hospitals and clinics to open, to repair the badly deteriorating water system, to fix the electrical grid.

 

            We've gone from zero Iraqis helping with their security up to something like 65,000 at the present time so we've got a good program going for police, site protection, border guards, Army, Civil Defense Corps and the like.  So that's the economic side and the security side.  The political side is also moving along well, thanks to the work of Jay Garner and Jerry Bremer and their Coalition Provisional Authority made up of some 17 countries now, I believe.  The work that's going forward has created a governing council, it has - the governing council has appointed a Cabinet of Ministers, they're beginning to stand up their various ministries.  They have set a timetable to begin the process of developing a constitution which, of course, is central to having a true Iraqi government and passing sovereignty to them which is, all of us would like to see happen as soon as possible.  So, I feel that a great deal of good is being done, on the other hand we've got a very serious low-intensity conflict going on.

 

            Q:  Well, with all the good developments that you mentioned you look at the President's poll numbers on approval on the war down to 44%.  What are you going to have to do to get the word out, get the facts out, as you know them, the talk for example about 76 Iraqis killed helping U.S. Forces?  What are you going to do?  It seems as though the people out across the country they're just not hearing this?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Well, of course, it all has to go through the filter of the media and we do our best at it.  I think that one good thing that's happened is a lot of members of the House and Senate have gone over there and they've come back and almost uniformly they have been stunned by the difference, the contrast between what they thought they knew from listening to the press and their radio and the television and reading the press and what they actually saw on the ground, and they felt it was a dramatic difference between the two.  I've been in and out every six weeks or seven weeks and my impression is the same that, in fact, it's gotten better every week, things are improving, there are more cars, there are more people on the streets, there are more kiosks and more businesses being started.  Everywhere we've gone people tend to run up in a friendly manner.  Now part of the problem is when people run up sometimes they're not in a friendly manner and they end up killing someone, Iraqis or Coalition.

 

            One of the things they're doing these criminals.  There were over 100,000 Iraqi criminals released from the prisons by Saddam Hussein and many tens of thousands of Iraqi remnants that we didn't capture or kill during the war.  One of the things that they're doing is they're trying to target success so they kill for example one of the fine female members of governing council and one of their graduation ceremonies of the Iraqi police academy they attacked and this type of things going on.  So, the Iraqi people are going to have be tough, they're going to have to be strong, they're going to have to have confidence in their future and indeed we see an awful lot of them stepping forward and doing that.  I find it encouraging.

 

            Q:  Any thought a person like you would go to Chicago to Dallas to Peoria to be able to deliver the message more directly to the public?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Well, I just did.  I was in Los Angeles on Friday speaking to an organization and in addition I met with some local television stations.  I think it's important to do that.

 

            Q:  You mentioned unprotected sites.  A lot of people think that perhaps these car bombs, these explosions are related to people being able to get their hands on the ammo in these unprotected ammo dumps.  What's the Pentagon's plan for being able to step up to securing those sites in Iraq?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Well, this is a country roughly the size of California it is probably one of the most heavily armed countries on the face of the earth in terms of weapons.  The hospitals were used as weapons caches; the schools were used by the Ba'athist as weapon caches.  There are literally thousands of these all over the country and it takes time to find them.  Our folks have gone - done a good job and they're out working now with Iraqis and Iraqis are telling us where they are, there isn't a day that goes by that we don't find 3 or 4 more of these.  And then we have big job of gathering up all of those weapons, you know AK-47s and mortars and RPGs and what have you, missiles of various types, gathering them up and then seeing that they're destroyed in the proper way.  I was told the other day that in Bosnia they're still finding weapon caches 7 years later, so it is a big country, much bigger than Bosnia and with many, many more weapons caches and it's just going to take time and, my guess is, it'll take years to finally find them all.

 

            Q:  You know you bring up Bosnia.  I remember being there when they said they were going to train the Bosnian to be able to run their own country.  Now we're trying to train the Iraqis to run their own country, were 5, 6, 7 years down the road it hadn't worked in Bosnia, we still have people there, why is it going to work in Iraq?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Well, it may work in Bosnia.  Originally when the forces went into Bosnia people said they'd be out by Christmas, well that was 7 years ago and they're still there.  On the other hand they've been drawn down fairly steadily and we have a relatively few number of troops there now as do our NATO and other Allies.

 

            The hope is that possibly next year we'll be able to pass over that responsibility, declare it a military victory over and pass over a responsibility for more of a police and civil activity sometime next year or the following years.  Now that would be a good thing.

 

            Q:  Seven years, though.

 

            Rumsfeld:  True.  That's true.  Now do I - I mean I look at the Iraqi people and try to put myself in their shoes.  They've lived for over 30 years with a vicious dictator where they were told they had to do this or that and anything they thought they might like to do by themselves they couldn't do.  No free press, no Parliament, no free expression that was legal, people arrested, thrown into prisons and killed and mass grave yards filled with bodies of young men and women and children.

 

            Now, that has to scar people.  If you - from an economic standpoint weren't allowed to be an entrepreneur you could only do what you were told you could do and from a political standpoint you had no right for political expression whatsoever, it has to scar you and it is going to take time for the Iraqi people to adjust to the idea that they can exercise their freedoms.  They're some good signs.  I mean you think of what's happening now in the streets they're plenty of new businesses starting, that's encouraging.  There are 100 Iraqi newspapers that have sprouted up, where neither you nor I or many people here would like what some of them say but that's the free press and that's life.  So, I feel that it isn't going to be easy, I think that anyone who thinks there's going to be a system that approximates ours over any reasonably short period of time are wrong.  Think of how many years it took us to fashion a constitution from 1776 to 1789, but I think they will have a constitution in relatively short order.  I think they will have some form of government that creates a government that is respectful of it's neighbors and isn't a dictatorship like Saddam Hussein.  It'll be an Iraqi model because it will be fashioned by Iraqis but it will be a whale of lot better than they started with.

 

            Q:  You know Washington loves, as you know and I know, a great cat fight.

 

            Rumsfeld:  {Laughter}.

 

            Q:  Started as a tempest and a tea pot and now it's spread to where even papers throughout the heartland is say, is Rumsfeld in a fight with the White House over his level of control?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Not at all, not at all.

 

            Q:  Do you have as much authority today as you had when you planned this war?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Nothings changed.  Just the fact.  The NSC's got a responsibility to coordinate interagency and the memo that was sent out was for that purpose and nothing else has changed.

 

            Q:  Putin, President Putin has said that Iraq could be our Afghanistan or if not a vacuum for radicals from all over the world to pour into, you have a lot of mothers and fathers with their sons and daughters over there.  How do you respond to Putin's observation?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Well, I make two observations.  One is the Russians said that about Afghanistan also for us.  They said everything was being done wrong, it was going to turn into a disaster and they ought to know, they had 300,000 people in Afghanistan and lost, and they had another 160,000 in the countries just to the North.  They were wrong as to what is happening in Afghanistan.  Is that a perfect situation?  No.  Is it a dangerous situation to some extent?  Yes.  Are the Taliban still trying to get in there and get back?  Absolutely.  And that's why we have military forces and Afghan forces out rooting them out.

 

            With respect to Iraq, I guess time will tell whether Mr. Putin, President Putin is right or wrong, I think he's wrong.  The Soviet's when they did things wanted to be occupiers of countries, the American people don't want to occupy other countries, we want to liberate people and we've liberated 23 million people in Afghanistan instead of going in as the Soviet's did to occupy them, and we've liberated 23 million people in Iraq, plus or minus, and our goal is to pass over sovereignty, pass over the responsibility for security and leave.  We don't want to live precipitously, we want to help them jumpstart their economy but these are intelligent people, they're educated people, they're industrious people and I hope that President Putin is wrong.

 

            Q:  All right Saddam.  You know another sighting, a Saddam sighting, apparently yesterday or at least reports of him.

 

            Rumsfeld:  {Laughter}.  Is that right?

 

            Q:  You know I guess the first question is why is it so tough to catch him and secondly, if we catch him or when we catch him, which I think we will, is it symbolic or is it going to really mean something in term of real progress in settling the country down?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Well, his regime is gone and the remnants are trying to kill people around the country and they're getting some help from some neighbors.  Is it important to capture or kill Saddam Hussein?  Yes.  There are still enough people who after 3 decades are intimidated by the man.  The man killed tens and tens and tens of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people and he used chemicals on his own people.  This is a very bad person and the threat that he could conceivably still, be alive, that he could conceivably come back is something that enough people in Iraq worry about, that they're reluctant to give support to the Coalition.

 

            Now, when will we find him?  I don't know. Where is he?  I don't know.  I suspect he's still in the country, I suspect he still in the Northern part but that's like saying someone's in the Northern part of California.  That doesn't make it any easier to find him and we don't have good intelligence that is actionable enough that we can nail it.

 

            Q:  Let's move a little bit east, you know in the reports today that Saad bin Laden may be holed up somewhere in Iran under the protection of the radical clerics in Iran.  Iran beginning to enrich uranium and saying they're going to do it.  What do we do about Iran, about the growing threat of a perhaps nuclear weapon and harboring terrorist?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Well, there's no question but that they've been harboring terrorist and not just al-Qaeda as you mentioned but they've been the principle sponsors of his Hezbollah, working with Syria and sending terrorist down through Damascus into Beirut, Lebanon, and then into Israel and elsewhere, this is country that has been on the terrorist list.

 

            The clerics, the tight group, of so-called religious leaders who lead that country have been using terrorism as an instrument of their policy.  The President has, in my view, correctly arranged U.S. policy so that we recognize that in that country there are a lot of women, they're a lot of young people and I'm sure a lot of older people who recognize that what that government is doing to them is harmful.  That, that country need not be isolated from the rest of the world, that they have a wonderful history, an interesting history, they have very educated population and my hope is that, that some point, we'll see a change in that government just as we saw one before.  It can happen in countries, particularly with a population like Iran has.  I think the decision to not become intimate with the religious clerics or with their proxy, the so-called reformers, who are in fact on a very short leash and instead to fashion a policy that recognizes the hopes and aspirations of the Iranian people is probably the best policy.

 

            The nuclear portion of their activity is extremely worrisome this government has been talking to the Russians about their relationships with Iran in their nuclear program.  The idea that Iran needs a peaceful nuclear energy program is obviously silly on it's face, they burn off more excess gas than that entire nuclear facility would produce in peaceful energy, so I think those who are - the IAEA the International Atomic Energy Commission Agency, is very interested in what they've been doing and my guess is we'll see that issue go to the U.N. at some point and it ought to make life more difficult for the people running Iran.

 

            Q:  And you look at Iran an emerging perhaps nuclear power, you look at North Korea, they've emerged now as a nuclear power.  Some people say we should be talking directly, we should be doing everything we can to get this result.  What do you think is the right way to perceive, now, in North Korea with a leader who frankly may be unstable with his hands on a nuclear weapon?

 

            Rumsfeld:  I think that the President has approached it in the right way, he recognizes that the neighbors of North Korea have the greatest potential for influence and has been working very seriously with China and with Japan and with South Korea particularly to attempt to fashion an approach that will have the maximum possible affect on North Korea.

 

            Q:  You know we have the Bush doctrine, maybe in a way subtitled the Rumsfeld doctrine, we've been arguing that you can't deter anymore, that perhaps deterrents you know, they hit us, we hit them and that'll stop them from ever hitting us doesn't work now in this age of weapons of mass destruction.  So we've got North Korea, we've got Iran right on the threshold of developing a nuke - but in Iraq we preempted.  So, when do we preempt and when do we deter and how do we decide what the right policy in terms of protecting our nation?

 

            Rumsfeld:  I think the way I would phrase it is slightly different.  I think that there are cases where deterrents do work today, I don't think it's all either they do or they don't.  I think that there are many instances where deterrents can deter, I think they're instances where deterrents can dissuade, but not necessarily permanently deter, and then I think they're very likely are instances where the so-called Bush doctrine applies.

 

            If you think about it, a terrorist can attack any place at any time using any technique and we know it's not possible to defend every place at every moment of the day or night against every conceivable type of attack or capability.  What that says to you is that America - we're free people and what we do is we get up and say what we want and go where we want and do what we want and send our kids off to school and with high confidence they're going to be able to come home.  The idea that we can just hunker down and defend against everything, all these threats in the world, these terrorist was belied by September 11th.  On September 11th we had not done anything we were attacked and we'd been attacked in many places around the world, as have other countries, and that says to me that the kind of a - the idea that Americans could even think that we could hunker down and be safe and still be free people, that doesn't sell in this new 21st Century environment we're in.  It would be nice if it did, but it doesn't and that means that we have to go after the terrorist where they are, so when someone says there may be some terrorist coming into Iraq the answer is that's right, there were also terrorist there before we went to Iraq.  And personally, I'd rather deal with terrorist in Iraq than in the United States.

 

            Q:  What about terrorist in Iran?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Well, I think I've answered that.  I think it's a matter that's being handled at the moment with diplomacy and I think that's the right thing to do and I respect the way that the President has approached it. It would be a very easy thing to do things that conceivably would strengthen the clerics, but I don't think that would be a good idea.  You know the old Bernard Lewis saying, there are countries where the people love us and the governments hate us and there are places where government loves us and the people hate us, I'd rather in Iran have the people with us.

 

            Q:  You know people in America love Rumsfeld because he's straight from the shoulder and you mentioned the U.N. and we mentioned - maybe what does the world do about this terrorist threat?  We can't seem to get the world to send any troops into Iraq we can't seem to get the action that we want in the U.N.  Mr. Secretary, what can we do to make these international organizations function for the collective good?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Well, first let me say that we've got 32 nations putting forces in Iraq today, so we can't say that we can't get countries to put forces in Iraq.  We have, we've gone out on a bilateral basis and we've talked to over 100 countries and 32 of them had the political courage and the physical courage to send their young men and women into Iraq to work side by side with Americans and the Brits and the Iraqis and that's a good thing.  Now, the U.N. isn't organized to do that type of thing.  They just don't.  I mean what happened in Liberia, it take weeks and weeks and months and months for the U.N. to arrange itself to do something like that.  Why is that?  I don't know there are people who are recommending reforms in how the U.N. functions.

 

            Q:  What do you think?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Oh, I'm inclined to think that's true.  I think there could be some reforms in that system, I'm not an expert on it but I look at it from the outside and I have to ask myself, any organization that has Iraq on the disarmament activity and other countries Libya and Syria involved with human rights and disarmament and counter proliferation, countries like that, you have to ask do they take themselves seriously because these are countries that are on the terrorist list.  And so how can that be?  And of course you go back look at it and there's some procedures they have that end up automatically running everybody through, regardless of whether or not they're on the terrorist list, so those are the kinds of things one would think someone might want to address with respect to the U.N. someday.

 

            Q:  Look at Israel now you know, now the bombing in Syria the seemingly widening of that conflict.  Mr. Secretary what do we do to tamp this down?  How do we do it without other countries in the world?  How serious is this problem in terms of catching the entire Middle East on fire?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Well, needless to say the Middle East Peace Process is something that defense is not involved in that Department of State is but you're quite right.  The difficulties that take place in that part of the world affect the entire region and they cause people to be concerned about the entire region which is why the President is deeply concerned about it as he is and why he has attempted with Secretary Powell to put forward a roadmap, a way ahead for the Palestinians and the Israelis, and with the cooperation of the rest of the region.  It has been a difficult part of the world my entire adult lifetime.  I would hope that - and I think quite honestly, that the most difficult part of it is, to have a negotiation you need an effective interlocked around both sides.   Someone who would really like to see a resolution to it and the Palestinians of course are going through a process now of Arafat set aside a Prime Minister who then resigned and now another Prime Minister and that makes it even more difficult to have an effective interaction.

 

            Q:  Two final personal questions.  First of all Rumsfelds up, he's the matinee idol, he's talked about on Saturday Night Live, then Rumsfelds down, is the war going to right, then he's back up then he's down.  Tell us about the rollercoaster for anybody particularly a 71 going on 50-year old man?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Oh, John, you know I think of it as another day in the life a public servant.

 

            Q:  {Laughter}.

 

            Rumsfeld:  That's the way it is in life.

 

            Q:  Does it get you down when they're pounding on you?

 

            Rumsfeld:  No, it really doesn't, it doesn't.  You'd much prefer the up days than the down days.  On the other hand people in these spots like I am and I'm just one of many, I mean Defense Ministers all over the world have ups and downs as well as other Cabinet Officers, but those of us here tend to know what's going on and so what happens to be being in the press in a given day tends not to affect us as much as what's really going on.  And it always tend to be countercyclical almost it looks down out there in the real world I may be up and visa versa depending on what's happening.

 

            Q:  What about the Rumsfeld legacy?  Now, I know you don't probably want to answer that.  You're the only guy that?

 

            Rumsfeld:  I'm too young to have a legacy.

 

            Q:  So you're going to be around for a while?

 

            Rumsfeld:  {Laughter}.  Look we're doing a lot of important things, you've not touched on them here because they're not relating to the war.  But, the things we're doing institutionally in this Department are really absolutely thrilling, we're going to end up with moving this Department into the 21st Century, we've got some fabulous military leaders, we've got some fabulous civilian leaders, and they're changing how this place works, and we're going to from the industrial age into the 21st Century just as sure as I'm sitting here.

 

            Q:  And so what do you want the grandkids someday to say or the great grandkids to say about who Donald Rumsfeld was?  What was he all about?  What did he do for his country?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Ah, I suppose in this job I would hope they would recognize how much we cared for the men and women in uniform.

 

            Q:  Thanks, Mr. Secretary, for taking the time.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Thank you.

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