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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Good Morning America

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
September 09, 2002

Monday, Sept. 9, 2002

(Interview with Charlie Gibson, ABC Good Morning America)

Q: We are joined by, or I should say I am joining the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in his suite of offices. Mr. Secretary, it's good to have you with us.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much.

Q: Would you have ever predicted in the few days after 9/11 last year that here two days before the first anniversary we would be in a totally rebuilt, totally reoccupied Pentagon?

Rumsfeld: No, it just never would have crossed my mind that they could do it that fast. Of course we never did stop working. The bulk of the building kept going, but the major sections over there were not functional [even today]. But those folks, the construction workers and the leadership have done a brilliant job. They've just worked their heads off and it's important to them and they did it. They've accomplished amazing things.

Q: And very worthwhile I think you show this morning.

Let me ask you though, what's going on here right now? Can you say this morning with certainty that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction? Nuclear, chemical, biological?

Rumsfeld: He certainly has chemical and biological weapons, there's just no question about that. We're beyond that.

He's used chemical weapons against his own people and he's used them against his neighbors. The nuclear matter is not knowable from outside the country. What is knowable is the appetite he has for them and the aggressive manner that he's going about trying to acquire the pieces that are necessary for nuclear weapons.

Q: But do you think Americans are prepared to send sons and daughters to war on the belief that he might have nuclear weapons?

Rumsfeld: I don't think that would be the basis. What you've got is a terrorist country that has weapons of mass destruction already, they've already used them on its own people, and --

Q: Didn't use them in 1991 in the Gulf War.

Rumsfeld: -- is aggressively trying to acquire and develop a nuclear capability. We don't know at what stage he is. What we do know is, the best estimate prior to the Gulf War were that he would have a weapon within two to six years, and there was a good deal of debate about that. When the Gulf War ended we were able to look where he was, and it turned out he was within six to 12 months of having a nuclear weapon.

So it's the kind of thing that you know they're getting closer every day, every week, every month, and therefore time is really not on your side.

Q: One of the sentinel moments of my life was when John Kennedy went on television and showed satellite photos of Soviet missiles on Cuban soil. Isn't it going to take and do you have that kind of direct evidence [inaudible]?

Rumsfeld: You know, the idea of direct evidence is not like a court of law under Article 3 of our Constitution where your goal is to punish somebody for doing something wrong. That really isn't the case here. This is self defense, and the United States task is to see that we don't allow an event to happen that then one has to punish someone --

Q: But you can't go to war without American public support and I'm asking don't you need that kind of direct evidence? Or do you have it, to get the American public support or to get a coalition?

Rumsfeld: Oh, sure. The evidence is certainly there. The President has to decide what precisely he believes is the best approach. And one thing he'd say is, the one course of action that's not acceptable is doing nothing.

Think of the books that have been written, "Why England Slept". "Pearl Harbor, What Happened?" Think of the congressional hearings going on today trying to connect the dots about September 11th. What do those pieces of information mean? What might we have done before the fact?

The task today is to connect those dots before a weapon of mass destruction is used. That's a more difficult task.

Q: There is an argument that goes that we give up our leverage against him if we go to war against him. Our leverage being you export any weapons you have, you use any weapons you have, and effectively you're toast. But if we go in there now, preemptively, don't we give up that leverage to keep him from using them or exploiting those weapons?

Rumsfeld: Well, it's interesting. First of all the President is going before the Congress and the United Nations and will lay down his case on September 12th to the world. It seems to me it's best to wait and see what he proposes. He's not proposed going to war with Iraq. Your questions have buried in them the assumption that that decision's been made. That decision has not been made.

What the President has said is the one thing that's not acceptable is to do nothing.

Q: Why not under the criteria earlier established, go after Iran? They, we know, have weapons of mass destruction. They, we know, have taken care and harbored terrorists. Why not go after them?

Rumsfeld: Well, it's interesting. That could be said about a number of terrorist states.

The situation with Iran is, in my view, different. I think you've got a population there that is in ferment. I think the young people and women are putting pressure on the clerics that are controlling that country. I think if we go back in time and recall how rapidly it switched from the Shah of Iran to the Ayatollah, I have a feeling it could switch back. I think it could. That's a country where that's a possibility.

The regime in Iraq is so repressive. There isn't any likelihood that it could be done from within.

Q: So is the goal to disarm Saddam Hussein or is it regime change?

Rumsfeld: The goal is what the President has said, and that is the Congress passed a regime change piece of legislation a number of years ago in a prior Administration, and regime change has been the policy of the United States government. The question of disarmament is clearly what the task is.

Q: So if inspectors went in tomorrow and somehow found all of his weapons development programs and were able to magically make them go away, that wouldn't be enough?

Rumsfeld: The Congress' regime change legislation would still stand, and obviously when one thinks about the extent to which the people there were oppressed, and the conventional threat Saddam Hussein poses to its neighbors, those problems would still be there but the world would be a lot safer place if, as you say, it all magically happened. But I don't know why a hypothetical question like that is terribly useful because it isn't going to happen.

Q: With all due respect, isn't it a bit ingenuous to say that we haven't made the decision whether or not to go to war yet because absent our going in there and kicking him out to get the regime change, we don't expect him to step aside.

Rumsfeld: Well, you never know. There are a lot of dictators living in various countries around the world in quiet splendor and you don't hear much about them, but they're there. Maybe Dr. Valier is floating around somewhere and Idi Amin is floating around somewhere, and certainly the world would be a better place if he decided that it was in his best interest to take his family and leave.

Q: Mr. Secretary. Good to talk to you. Thanks for having us at the Pentagon today. And we look forward to looking at the repairs. That's it for today, and the rebuilding that is going on.

Thank you.