|NEWSMAKER: DONALD RUMSFELD|
December 8, 2005
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would be a victory for terrorists and criticized reporting on the war as inaccurately negative.
JIM LEHRER: And now to our Newsmaker interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Mr. Secretary, welcome.
JIM LEHRER: First, on some of the news items of today, there was a claim today that kidnappers had killed an American contractor in Iraq. Can you confirm that?
DONALD RUMSFELD: I can't. We have claims by kidnappers and terrorists and beheaders, three or four a day, and it takes - anyone can say anything they want, and it gets carried across the globe in about five minutes.
But till you find out what actually happened, and when you're responsible for telling the truth, you have to take the time to find out what the truth is, and that does take time.
Furthermore, you can't prove a negative. You can't say something didn't happen unless you go down and get ground proof.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. There are two Americans now being held hostage. There's another one, a peace activist from Virginia. You don't have any word on him either, do you?
DONALD RUMSFELD: No.
JIM LEHRER: What's caused this - you said there'd been a lot of these, but there haven't been any Americans in a year. Do you have any reason to - do you know what's going on, why this has suddenly started again?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Oh, hostage-taking has been an activity that people have used all across the globe. Some criminals use it to raise money. People use it for intimidation. Some people who are enemies of the Iraqi government use it. Some people who are enemies of the coalition use it. It's - I mean, you think of the hostage takers in Latin America, Africa -
JIM LEHRER: So nothing special, at least in terms of Iraq, that you know of.
|Reducing troop levels|
JIM LEHRER: Also, you told reporters this morning that, assuming the Dec. 15 elections in Iraq go well, that the U.S. can start drawing down forces. Tell me what you mean and give us some numbers on this.
DONALD RUMSFELD: I think what you meant to say, Jim, was that you read reports that I said that to reporters, as opposed to what I actually said.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Tell me what you said.
DONALD RUMSFELD: I said, "condition-based." So I said was this, that we were as high as 160,000 -
JIM LEHRER: That's where we are now, right?
DONALD RUMSFELD: We're about 155,000.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
DONALD RUMSFELD: And we're going to go back down to our baseline of about one hundred and thirty-seven, thirty-eight thousand, after the elections. I'm sure of that.
And then, after that, we'll look at the conditions, the circumstances, and to the extent, obviously, that conditions permit it, as the president said, I suspect that the commanders in the field would make recommendations for some reductions as the Iraqi security forces continue to grow in size and experience.
They are continuously taking over more responsibilities. They've now taken -- recently taken over 17 of our bases and they are running them now. They are going to be very much in charge of the election on Dec. 15 in terms of the security for that. They're operating, I suppose, maybe half of Baghdad right now on their own. They've taken over a province. And so that is a process that will go on. And as that happens we will be able to pare down our forces if the conditions permit.
JIM LEHRER: Now, if the conditions permit it, you said from one hundred and sixty to one hundred and thirty-seven after the elections. What do you expect to happen after the elections that would permit that?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, that's the amount we increased for the elections.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
DONALD RUMSFELD: We found that there tends to be a spike of violence connected to major political events: The referendum on the constitution; the Jan. 30 elections earlier this year.
So we just plan to increase so that we're certain that those important political benchmarks can go forward.
JIM LEHRER: So you expect after the elections that the level of violence will diminish?
DONALD RUMSFELD: If the past is a guide, we'll undoubtedly see that to be the case.
JIM LEHRER: All right, now the figure that was mentioned in the story that I was reading from or quoting from said you used the figure, somebody used the figure in the discussion with you early today of 137,000 -- I mean 130,000 maybe shortly after the 137,000 -- no?
DONALD RUMSFELD: I said nothing like that.
JIM LEHRER: So you don't anticipate any specific figures after that. In other words --
DONALD RUMSFELD: I tell you what we are doing right now.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
DONALD RUMSFELD: We've got our force - our folks in the Pentagon planning different scenarios: Staying level at 135,00- 137,000; going up if we need to go up; going down if we the conditions permit a reduction in our forces.
So that we're prepared to go any direction that's appropriate and the plans are there. And what we'll do is we'll be visiting with the commanders after the elections are over.
You know, there are a number of uncertainties. We don't know how long it will take for the Iraqis to form a new government. It could take several weeks; it could take a month or two, three months.
We don't know to what extent -- you think about what they are losing. The terrorists, the opponents, this is an enormous thing for them. If they fail to stop a democratic government, Iraqis with their own constitution, their own election, their own officials, a sovereign nation, if they don't stop that, they've lost something enormous.
If they could have Iraq as a base for terrorism, and an established caliphate that they could then expand and threaten moderate Muslim regimes in the region, so they have a lot at stake. And I expect them to be putting a lot of cards on the table.
JIM LEHRER: And a lot of cards, you mean a lot of violence like today, you know, a car bomb. A few days ago 40 - there were 34 killed today, 40 policeman were killed the other day, 10 U.S. Marines a few days before that. That is going to continue?
DONALD RUMSFELD: I think that that is -- that they will clearly try to make this election a failure. They failed to do it in January. They failed to do it in October with respect to a constitutional referendum. And they're going to fail to do it next week. But they'll try.
JIM LEHRER: And you're saying that if they're not successful, then we will start withdrawing troops. If they do continue this level of violence, our troops are going to stay at the same levels?
DONALD RUMSFELD: I think what we'll do is go back down to our baseline regardless.
JIM LEHRER: No matter what?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Yeah.
|Calls for resignation|
JIM LEHRER: No matter what. Now, there was a story in the U.S. -- the New York Daily News today that said that White House officials expect you to resign early next year once this new government you just mentioned is in place. Is that true?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, you know, that's a fellow who does that about every six months.
JIM LEHRER: The fellow, what fellow?
DONALD RUMSFELD: This fellow for that paper.
JIM LEHRER: Tom DeFrank.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
DONALD RUMSFELD: And they do it about every six months. And you know something, some day they're going to have a scoop and be right by accident.
JIM LEHRER: He also said something interesting in the same story, that you wanted to do this a year ago and you and the president decided not to do that because you thought it would be misinterpreted as some kind of giving into the critics and all of that, is that not true?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Not that I know of.
JIM LEHRER: No, not so? How about six months ago? No? I mean, have you ever seriously sat down with the president and said, you know, I think it is time for me to go?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Oh, twice I have given my resignation.
JIM LEHRER: But I mean, seriously, you said, I want to go?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Sure. No, I didn't say I wanted it to go. I said look, I think that you ought to sit down and think about whether or not you would benefit by having someone else running this department.
And it was during all the flack over Abu Ghraib. And I said, my goodness, it happened on my watch. I put on instructions for humane treatment; obviously humane treatment was not what those people received.
And punishments proceeded at pace, but I offered my resignation twice to him. And he declined it.
JIM LEHRER: So there is nothing fresh or new here?
DONALD RUMSFELD: No, except another story and six months from now there will be another one.
JIM LEHRER: Does it bother you -- I looked at the public opinion polls the last, recent ones that mention you. And you don't come out very well in terms of the public. I couldn't find one where the public had approved of the job you were doing, less than 50 percent. Does that bother you?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, you know, you'd love to have acclamation and unanimity in everything one does. But in this position, in a war, and wars are tough. Someone told me the other day that Clemenceau made the comment that wars are a series of catastrophes culminating in victory. And they're tough. And so it doesn't surprise me that there are feelings, the feelings are strong on both sides.
There are an awful lot of people that are very positive and very favorable and very helpful and constructive. But there are certainly people who disagree violently; and that is the nature of a free system. So that's fair. I can live with that.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. John McCain, a Republican, has said more than once that he has no confidence in you any more as secretary of defense. Does that bother you, that kind of stuff?
DONALD RUMSFELD: No, it really doesn't. I mean, there are always going to be people who have that opinion of anybody who's out on the spear point doing things. And, you know, if you do something somebody is not going to like it. And if you don't do anything, nobody is going to not like that. But who wants to live a life like that?
JIM LEHRER: So when you hear these kinds of things or read these kinds of things, you look at it that way. In other words, this just goes with the job. You don't say hey, wait a minute; maybe I have done something wrong; maybe I've got to rethink some things here; maybe --
DONALD RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness, we rethink things all the time. We are constantly calibrating, constantly talking and discussing and how can we do whatever it is we are doing better.
But no, it does not surprise me that in a war there are -- think back to any war in history. My goodness, George Washington was almost fired. Abraham Lincoln was vilified by everybody around and ridiculed.
Certainly in my lifetime, think of what was said about Franklin Roosevelt and his leadership there. I mean, he was called a traitor to the country and he was just -- it was violent against him, the hostility.
Harry Truman in the Korean War; Lyndon Baines Johnson, you have been around; this is nothing new. This is what happens. Read the Civil War, read World War I.
|Media coverage of Iraq|
JIM LEHRER: You made a speech earlier this week where you said the news media should reassess the way it covers Iraq. What do you mean?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Oh, I think that it's -- if you look where the news media is, it's down very low at the polls. If you want to get into public opinion polls, people in that business are right down near the bottom.
JIM LEHRER: Tell me about it.
DONALD RUMSFELD: You know that. Yeah, does it bother you?
JIM LEHRER: (laughter) Hey, I ask the questions here!
DONALD RUMSFELD: No, I think what is happening -- and this is the first war that has ever been conducted in the 21st century when you had talk radio, the Internet, e-mails, bloggers, 24-hour news, digital cameras, video cameras, instant access to everything, and we haven't accommodated to that yet.
JIM LEHRER: We meaning?
DONALD RUMSFELD: The world, the society. And we're up against an enemy that understands that they can't win anything in Iraq. They cannot win a battle. The only place they can win is in Washington, D.C. And they know that. And they have media committees. And they are --.
JIM LEHRER: You say this -- excuse me, you say they can't win a battle but they killed 34 people, innocent people on a bus today, they killed 40 Iraqi police two days ago.
DONALD RUMSFELD: It does not take a genius to strap a suicide thing on your body and go in and kill yourself and kill other people. That's not a battle.
JIM LEHRER: But it's a war, isn't it?
DONALD RUMSFELD: It is an aspect of war. But they can't win the war over there. The only place they can win it is in Washington, D.C. And they know that. And they are working it; and they are working it skillfully. And they lie.
And what's happening is the transmission belt that receives it spreads all these things. I mean think of the people killed when the false story was spread around the world about a Koran being flushed down the toilet. The other day someone was -
JIM LEHRER: The news organization did that, retracted it and apologized.
DONALD RUMSFELD: People were killed in between there.
JIM LEHRER: Right, right.
DONALD RUMSFELD: To find the truth out takes weeks. To spread something that's not true takes five minutes. And it's all over the globe. This is a different environment. And we have to recognize it's different. My only comment was look, you have got a bunch of journalists out there, some of them risking their lives and they're trying to do a good job, I'm sure.
And I'm to be judgmental about it. But people keep saying we should reassess what we are doing. We should evaluate. We do, we do systemic lessons learned after every war, after every battle. And it's in real time where we look and say what could we have done better; what might we do differently; what's the enemy doing?
And I just said, you know, that might not be a bad idea for the media in the 21st century to have an assessment and see how they are doing because there was a dramatic difference between what the e-mails coming back from the troops in the field -- every time I talk to soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, they ask me why doesn't the true story get told about what we are doing here. They are doing superb work in Afghanistan. They are doing superb work in Iraq. And the message back here is that nobody knows what they are doing; that they are not doing well; that they are losing.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with them? Do you agree that the story is not being told?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Oh my goodness, yes, of course I agree with it. It's obvious.
JIM LEHRER: Where is it not being told?
DONALD RUMSFELD: One side of it is being told.
JIM LEHRER: What side?
DONALD RUMSFELD: The deaths, the people that are being killed.
JIM LEHRER: Are you saying that shouldn't be told?
DONALD RUMSFELD: I didn't say that.
JIM LEHRER: What are you saying?
DONALD RUMSFELD: I say tell the whole story. Why not some context?
And I'm not in your business. I don't walk in your shoes. I don't know how tough it is. It has to be tough, but all I know is that there are 150,000 troops over there who keep asking me, what in the world is going on; why is the impression in the United States so notably different than the facts on the ground that they see every single day?
JIM LEHRER: Well, as you know --
DONALD RUMSFELD: It's not my impression; it's theirs.
JIM LEHRER: As you know, Congressman John Murtha has been over there with the troops many times before, many times as well. And he said no, he's not hearing that; that the troops are not saying what you are saying. They are saying -- they are complaining about what's going on. And they want the American people to know how rough it is over there and that their folks are dying. And there is not enough being done about roadside bombs and all that sort of stuff. So everybody can hear what they want to hear, I guess, right?
DONALD RUMSFELD: No. I spend an awful lot of time over there. And I spend a lot of time with the troops. And I'm not trying to hear what I want to hear. I want to hear the truth. And I believe what I have characterized as the truth is the truth. Now you are going to always find people all across the spectrum, people are happy, people are unhappy.
JIM LEHRER: That is all I am getting at. But let's make sure I understand. You are not suggesting -- for instance, this program tonight that you are on tonight, the lead story, we led our program tonight in the News Summary with a story about the 34 Iraqis who were killed in a car bombing on a bus in downtown Baghdad. Is that something that you don't -- is that considered negative and should be balanced in some way with something good that happened there today?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, I don't know. I can tell you there are 18 provinces. And in other provinces, the stock market is functioning, the schools are open, the hospitals are open, the clinics are working. People -- thousands, hundreds of people have risked their lives by volunteering to vote -- I mean correction, to run for public office. Millions of people, in one week from today will be out there risking their lives voting.
There are an enormous number of very good things happening over there. Now, are there bad things happening? Of course. My goodness, there are some real problems. People are being killed. There are other problems that exist over there. But -- it's not a pretty picture.
Going from a repressive regime to a democracy is a tough task. Any country that has tried to do it has had difficulty. And they're going to take two steps forward and one step back.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think there is a connection between what you consider -- you say the news media should reassess what it is doing. Do you think what the news media is doing now is the reason that the public opinion polls in the United States are showing a reduction in the support for the war and the support of the president and the way he's conducting -- you and others conducting the war? Are you saying that?
DONALD RUMSFELD: I think that if you -- I can't say that. The impression of the people is what they hear and what they see. And you know what they see.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
DONALD RUMSFELD: They see hundreds of stories on the negative side and handfuls of stories on the positive side about what is going on.
JIM LEHRER: You are not suggesting there should be five stories for -- every time there is --
DONALD RUMSFELD: I'm not suggesting anything.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
DONALD RUMSFELD: I'm saying -- I am trying to answer your question.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir.
DONALD RUMSFELD: That is what the people are hearing.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
DONALD RUMSFELD: That's what they see. So what will they think? Unless they are getting e-mails from their sons and daughters and husbands and friends that are troops over there, and that are reporting back something differently, therefore they see that in context, they know what they know.
And we don't have Iraqis running around the country explaining what is actually happening. There was a wonderful comment -- I won't even quote him because I don't know if I have the quote quite right but it's an academician who said the situation in Iraq is terrible, just terrible. And it's never been better. Think of that. Think of that.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Think of what they have done. Think of the accomplishment. They wrote the constitution; they voted for the constitution. It's their constitution.
And for the first time in history they are going to act to -- on a piece of paper and say that that piece of paper will be sufficient to protect me from the other elements in that country that I have been fearful of.
In the past, the only thing that protected them was a vicious dictatorship that protected them by putting hundreds of thousands of people into mass graves.
JIM LEHRER: Put the press aside for a moment. Some people would say to you, Mr. Secretary, the problem or the reason public opinion has sunk so low is the expectations that the American people had for this war have not been met. Quite the contrary, they didn't expect 2,100 Americans to die. They didn't expect 16,000 to be wounded and they sure didn't expect 1,900 of the 2,100 to die after major combat was ended. So is that part of the problem as well?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Could be.
JIM LEHRER: You don't think --
DONALD RUMSFELD: It could be, it could be. I mean, I was very careful. I never predicted any number of deaths or the cost or the length because I've looked at a lot of wars, and anyone who tries to do that is going to find themselves wrong, flat wrong.
I will give you an interesting statistic. The number of people who have been killed in action in Iraq is 1,664. It's a lot. The number of people who have died over there are another 446.
The number of people who have been wounded are 16,000. Of those, 8,500 went back in to their posts, back to duty within 48 or 72 hours.
Now that's just a little refinement on what you said.
But it's not nothing -- it is a nontrivial difference between how you characterized it. You said what you said about --.
JIM LEHRER: Twenty-one hundred - over 2,100 Americans have died.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Right.
JIM LEHRER: Sixteen thousand have been wounded, what is wrong with that?
DONALD RUMSFELD: It's try -- true, it's true but the --.
JIM LEHRER: But my -- it's not my point but some people, if you expected 100 people to die and 2,100 died, no matter what the reason was, that -- doesn't that cause you --
DONALD RUMSFELD: I said that. It could.
JIM LEHRER: Exactly.
DONALD RUMSFELD: I don't know anybody who had any reasonable expectations about the number or the length of the war or the cost of the war. I just don't -- no one I know went out and said these are how those three metrics ought to be considered. And you can take it to the bank.
JIM LEHRER: You have said that, repeatedly, and you said it again, you didn't raise any expectations. But a lot of folks in the administration did. I went back and looked at that again today.
You and I talked with about this before on this program. There were a lot of really, really optimistic things said about this war.
DONALD RUMSFELD: I sat down and I prepared a list of all the things that could really be bad. And I walked people through them in the Pentagon. And I walked the president through them. And there are an awful lot of things that could have gone wrong, some of which have and some of which have not.
And anyone knows that a -- when a war starts, the plans that one has all of a sudden are affected by the other side. They have a vote. And no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy as they say. And it doesn't. You then have to constantly adjust and adapt.
And the thing that might be useful to talk about some night would be what would the world look like if we pulled out? What would the world look like if we quit and if we just tossed in the towel and said it's too tough?
JIM LEHRER: As you know there are many opinions on that. And --
DONALD RUMSFELD: And I think I know what the world would look like. You would have there a haven for terrorists. You would have a caliphate established by extremists. And it would be a threat to the American people, a greater threat to the American people unquestionably.
It is a country with water, a country with oil. And it would be a danger to the entire region. It would be a threat to the moderate Muslim regimes in that region and it would be an enormous victory for the violent extremists, as opposed to a victory for the moderate Muslims.
JIM LEHRER: Well, as you know, as I say, John Murtha, for one, says just the opposite.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Which is fair enough, have him on the program.
JIM LEHRER: We have, and we will have you back.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Good!
JIM LEHRER: Whether you are secretary of defense or not.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Ah! Some day that fellow is going to have a scoop and be right.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you. sir.