CNN EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS
Interview With Donald Rumsfeld
Aired December 1, 2001 - 22:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: I'm Robert Novak. Al Hunt and I are in the Pentagon briefing room to question a key leader in America's military war against terrorism.
AL HUNT, CO-HOST: He is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
(voice-over): Afghan leaders have been meeting in Bonn, Germany to try to form a multi-ethnic, broad-based government for Afghanistan. President Bush came close to declaring victory in the Afghanistan phase of the war.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Afghanistan is the first overseas front in this war against terror, and I'm pleased to report the military is performing really well. In a short period of time, most of the country now is in the hands of our allies and friends.
HUNT: But Taliban forces near Kandahar staged a counterattack against opposition tribesmen, and U.S. warplanes responded with a bombing assault.
In 1962, Don Rumsfeld was elected to Congress as a Republican from a Chicago suburban district at the age of 30. Six years later he joined the Nixon administration as anti-poverty director and a member of the Cabinet. He later was President Gerald Ford's chief of staff, and then secretary of Defense. He returned to the Pentagon this year after an absence from full-time government service of 24 years, during which he was an industrialist and business executive.
HUNT: Mr. Secretary, you've warned we could be in for a difficult fight in southern Afghanistan. Could you give us any sense as to how long it will take us to succeed?
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I can't. The situation is so difficult, and I would say that it's not just in southern Afghanistan, but throughout the country. It looks as though it's reasonably settled in the northern and western portions, and it's pretty clear it's still unsettled in the Kandahar and Jalalabad area.
On the other hand, there are pockets of resistance up north and in the west; a good many of these people who surrendered and turned in their arms and then left; and a number of other of the Taliban ended up just fading into the villages in the mountains. And they're still there and they're still armed.
So, I don't think that simply because there are no pitched battles going on at the present time that it's over. I think it's still a dangerous place to be. We've seen any number of journalists killed. It's entirely possible there are going to be more Americans killed. And I think the superficially placid scene one sees up in the north and the west is probably not the real situation. I think there's a good deal of turmoil underneath.
HUNT: Well, to follow up on that, it did seem a few days ago that the Taliban forces were near collapse, and there have been more counterattacks and some of the things that you've just enumerated. Is it your sense that -- is it your fear that they could have the capacity for a sustained counter -- series of counterattacks?
RUMSFELD: I wouldn't characterize them as major counterattacks. I think that in a few locations, like Kandahar, where there still are sizable numbers of Taliban and al Qaeda and foreign troops, that can happen. But I think for the most part, in the rest of the country there are small pockets. And what there would be is -- more likely would be in the nature of criminal activity and people being killed by surprise; terrorist acts, that type of thing.
HUNT: The Northern Alliance is emerging as a dominant force, at least as of today. They represent only a fraction of Afghans. They took Kabul over our rejections to timing, at least. And there seems to be a sense that they pretty much do as they please, in essence, saying, "We're winning the war."
Was it U.S. military power or was it the Northern Alliance that won the war, and should they be more responsive to our wishes?
RUMSFELD: Well, it was a cooperative effort. There's no question but that you could not do what they have done if you weren't on the ground. They were on the ground. It is also clear that they were not able to do what they've done until we brought very capable air power after embedding special forces unit teams into the various tribal groups and factions of the Northern Alliance.
The combination of that proved to be what was successful, and I don't know that assigning credit or -- it really makes any sense anyway. The reality is, they're there; they're on the ground; they're occupying the space, and we are helping them. We're helping them with food and ammunition and with money and with re-supplies of various types, plus air power when necessary.
NOVAK: Mr. Secretary, the Taliban who had surrendered and then had tried to break out of the prison in the north, it turns out that according to reports that 300 to 600 were killed -- a 100 percent casualty rate; 100 percent death rate -- and they were killed by Northern Alliance, by U.S. forces and by U.S. aircraft.
Do you have some regrets about the extent of that slaughter, or do you think it was necessary?
RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, I think that the word "slaughter" is premature and possibly wrong. And second, no, I have no regrets, because I don't know the facts.
You're quite right: There have been some very powerful reports. Powerful -- I shouldn't use that word. There have been...
RUMSFELD: ... very strong. Whether they're accurate or not is a very open question.
Second, put yourself in their shoes. You have thousands of people in a prison, a compound; a relatively small number of Northern Alliance forces armed to try to contain them; a very small number of Americans -- just a handful -- less than a handful; and it turns out that some of the prisoners had not been well-searched. They had hand grenades, they had weapons and they started killing the Northern Alliance guards. They shot them, got their weapons, and then began breaking out. A number of them escaped.
So, the idea that there was 100 percent is wrong. Second, some of them are still alive. And third, a lot of them are dead. And when there's a prison uprising and people are about to get out -- these are not good people. These are people who have been repressing that country for a long time. They are people who have killed a lot of people, and they were in there because they belonged in there. And as they started to escape, they were killed.
Had they surrendered and thrown their arms, they would not have been killed.
I wasn't there, I don't know the facts, but the short answer is, I don't regret anything that I now know.
NOVAK: Do you feel, Mr. Secretary, there is a problem, however, when apparently most of the prisoners, all of the prisoners, are in the hands of the Northern Alliance, which I don't believe signed the Geneva Convention and are not the nicest guys in the world? Does that bother you at all?
RUMSFELD: The -- I guess we have to take the world like we find it. And the way we find it is that a group of people killed thousands of Americans on September 11. They are threatening today to kill many more Americans in this country and elsewhere. The only way we can defend ourselves against those attacks -- the ones that are being threatened today -- is to go after the terrorists where they are. That is our job.
It turns out that in Afghanistan there are people who have fought each for years. They were before we came, and they may after we're gone. Some of them were against the Taliban. We worked with them to defeat the Taliban and try to defeat them -- and we're still working on that -- to see if we can't capture or kill the al Qaeda who are threatening terrorist acts around the globe, and to see that Afghanistan is no longer a state harboring terrorists.
The fact that they don't happen to subscribe to some convention that we do or that other countries do is a fact. It is also a fact that we have to stop those terrorists from killing more Americans. And I don't feel even the slightest problem in working with the Northern Alliance to achieve that end.
HUNT: Mr. Secretary, most experts say it was a disaster now, 1989, when the United States left Afghanistan after the Russians were thwarted. Doesn't that suggest that in the first place, the United States has to lead a major nation building effort there, if you will? And do you agree with the Brits that there ought to be probably an international force -- a predominantly Muslim force -- but there ought to be at least a small logistical and communications force led by the United States?
RUMSFELD: Well, I think nation building does not have a brilliant record across the globe. It's a very hard thing to do. It's a hard thing for the people in a country to make a nation work well, and there's a lot that are not doing it well around the world. And it's even harder for foreigners, strangers, to go into a country and think that they know what the template, what the model ought to be for that country.
Now, we do have a responsibility, and we care about what happens in Afghanistan after we leave. And we will leave; we covet no land. We don't want to try to take over that country, as others have tried to do in past years.
When we leave, we want to make sure that we do what's right from a humanitarian standpoint. We want to do what we think is right by helping them develop a broadly based government. But in the last analysis, the people that live in this area are going to have to make it work.
With respect to a peacekeeping force, first of all you have to have peace before you can keep it. And there is not peace in that country. It is a dangerous place. And second, we -- people on the ground are the ones that you would want to provide the peacekeeping first, if they are able to do it. That is to say if the Northern Alliance or the tribes of the south are able to create a secure environment that is sufficient so that the humanitarian aid can come in and the aid workers can get there and they can provide the kinds of assistance to the terribly suffering Afghan people.
It's just a tragedy what's happened. They've had three years of drought, and many years of war. And it's a sad situation.
We need to help provide that stability. But the best way to do it is let the forces on the ground do it.
NOVAK: Mr. Secretary, we're out of time, we have to take a break, but I want to get one question in. You have said that when it comes to Osama bin Laden dead or alive, if you had your druthers, you'd prefer dead. What orders do our special forces have if they encounter Osama bin Laden: shoot on sight, or try to capture him? RUMSFELD: Our forces always have the rules of engagement that are written, they understand them. And certainly if a person surrenders, we take them -- we don't shoot people that refuse to surrender or try to flee. They have an obligation to try to stop them.
NOVAK: We're going to have to take a break. And when we come back, we'll ask Secretary Rumsfeld about what's next after Afghanistan in the war against terrorism.
HUNT: Mr. Secretary, in this week's "New Yorker," Sy Hersh reports that Iran is making a major push and having some success in developing atomic power. You've been very forthright in describing Iraq as an evil threat to the United States, but you've been more calmly (sic) towards Iran.
Do you consider Iran, basically, an adversary or an ally right now in this war on terrorism?
RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness, Iran is certainly not an ally. That's a word that's reserved for a relationship that's noticeably different than ours with Iran.
Iran is a state, like Iraq and North Korea and Cuba and Syria and Lybia, that's on the terrorist list. So they don't get there by accident, they earn that.
HUNT: Is Iran the same order of threat as Saddam Hussein, Iraq right now?
RUMSFELD: It's a very different situation. I think that there's no question that Iran is very actively developing nuclear weapons. That is a fact. How many years it will take for them to actually have a nuclear weapon, I don't know. I think it's unclear to me.
I do know that they have the delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction. And they obviously have had -- been attentive to chemical and biological weapons as well. So this is a country that is on the terrorist list, that has weapons of mass destruction, is trying to get a nuclear capability.
It is also a country, unlike Iraq -- I would characterize Iraq as a dictator in a repressive system that is unlikely to be faltered from within, absent an assassination or something like that. And who knows what would follow that.
But Iran is slightly different. Iran is a situation where there are clearly some pressures from young people, there are pressures from women in that country. Iran had a different history than Iraq. I don't know -- if nothing else happened and one looked at those countries, I would say the likelihood of Iraq reforming itself is zero. The likelihood -- the possibility -- remote possibility of Iran reforming is considerably above Iraq. NOVAK: Mr. Secretary, on the question of Iraq, the chairman of the defense department policy board, Richard Perle -- of course, that's not a full-time job, that's an advisory job -- he has been very blunt in saying that he thinks regardless of whether there is any link between Iraq and the events of September 11, now is the time to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Do you agree with that?
RUMSFELD: Look, Richard Perle is Richard Perle. He is very bright, very talented, served in government with distinction. And you're quite correct, he is chairman of the defense policy board. He, however, is not a government official. He does not speak for the president, and he does not speak for me. And my way to respond to that is that those are decisions that are made by the country, by the president of the United States, and he has made no announcements with respect to Iraq.
NOVAK: Let me try to get your view on one respect -- if it were possible to make a deal where inspectors were permitted into Iraq in return for some lift in the sanctions, do you think that would be in the interests of the United States?
RUMSFELD: I would need to know much more of the texture of that kind of arrangement.
The fact of the matter is that we have inspectors, the U.N. had inspectors in Iraq for a long period. We couldn't find beans, and it's there, and we know it's there. And it was defectors who came out and told us where it was that helped us to find it.
He has biological activity going on in mobile vans. It's -- they're moving around. It is almost impossible to find what they're doing. We know with certain knowledge that Saddam Hussein has chemical and biological weapons. We know that a much more advanced nuclear program than anyone dreamt when the Israelis went in and took it out many years ago. We learned that in Desert Storm.
I think that they are a threat. They have already gone after their neighbor Kuwait. They have threatened Northern Saudi Arabia. They -- he is a person who has described the moderate Arab regimes in the region as illegitimate.
I think, left alone, he is a danger in the region, which is why we have Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch with our coalition partners to keep him contained.
HUNT: Mr. Secretary, we're running out of time. But let me just ask you -- the country with the greatest number of weapons of mass destruction, of course, is Russia. The Nunn-Lugar program seeks to pay off the Russians to try to dismantle those weapons and some of those rogue scientists -- to pay off those rogue scientists. Why how does the administration cut funding, both in the Defense Department and the Energy Department for Nunn-Lugar programs this year?
RUMSFELD: Goodness, I would have to go check into that; I'm not an expert on the subject. I do know that it's hundreds of millions of dollars that we spend, we have spent. I would presume that the proper response to that question is that after a program's been in place for a period, one does an evaluation of it, and takes a look and says: Is it accomplishing the goals, or isn't it? Are they fulfilling their side of the agreement, or aren't they? And if you are, in fact, providing hundreds of millions of dollars in monies fungible, where is the money that they are not providing going? Is it going for other things that are equally nasty.
And I just don't know the answer. And I do know that the United States taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars, and we still are -- and they still will in the current budget.
NOVAK: We're going to have to take another break. And when we come back, we'll have "The Big Question" for Don Rumsfeld.
NOVAK: "The Big Question" for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Sir, during the 2000 campaign, President Bush and Vice President Cheney were very clear: The Defense Department, the Army was in terrible shape; it needed rehauling. Suddenly when the war starts it's described as the greatest fighting force in the world. Surely you didn't rehabilitate it that quickly -- in nine months, did you?
RUMSFELD: No. Of course, it depends on what your baseline is. There's no question we have the finest military on the face of the earth. We did this year, and we had it last year.
NOVAK: So you were exaggerating in the campaign a little bit.
RUMSFELD: Not at all, not at all. The United States military had a procurement holiday -- they called it a procurement holiday in the last administration, the better part of eight years. And it over- shot its mark. It went too far.
And we are way behind on repairing infrastructure. We're way behind on procurement. There's no question that we have not invested what we should in research and development. We may still be the finest military on the face of the earth, and there's no question that we are.
But the question is: Are you declining, or are you level, or are you improving? And we need to improve. The stability that this country provides for the world and for the world economy is so important to the well-being of people all across the globe, including the United States of America, that we need to invest in it.
HUNT: Mr. Secretary, we have about 15 seconds left. The "New York Times" has reported that the Pakistanis have flown surreptitiously into Afghanistan and taken out Pakistani soldiers who are allies of the Taliban, against what is supposed to be our policy.
Can you tell us definitively whether that is true, or whether that is untrue? RUMSFELD: I think I can. We have AWACs planes, and various other means of seeing what's going on, and we have no evidence that that's true. It does not mean it's not, but we have no evidence that it is.
HUNT: Secretary Rumsfeld, thank you very much for being with us today.
Robert Novak and I will be back with a comment or two in just a moment.
HUNT: Bob, Secretary Rumsfeld is very measured. I think he was trying to tell Americans that this war is not over yet, we may have been lulled into a sense of a quick-hit victory, and that there may be more than a few skirmishes and some casualties in the months ahead -- weeks and months ahead.
NOVAK: Al, he also made clear that the -- whether the U.S. goes into an attack on Iraq is up to George W. Bush, not Don Rumsfeld. But I don't think there was much joy in Baghdad from his statements. He indicated they were a threat to the region, and he didn't think a deal to get inspectors back in there to look for weapons was going to do any good.
HUNT: You know, I agree.
You know, on September the 10th, Donald Rumsfeld was under more than a little bit of criticism. He has become the media star of this war. When you are parodied in a positive way on "Saturday Night Live," you have arrived.
NOVAK: I've known Donald Rumsfeld for almost 40 years, when he was a young congressman. He's always been a very interesting guy. The trouble with him -- in the first part of the Bush administration was he was undercover; he wasn't talking to anybody, he wasn't going on the air.
Now he's on television on his briefings all the time, he does good. That's a lesson for politicians. Hiding is dangerous, going public, if you're good, is good for you.
I'm Robert Novak.
HUNT: And I'm Al Hunt.
Coming up at noon on LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER, the latest on the war in Afghanistan with Secretary of State Colin Powell.
NOVAK: That's all for now. Thanks for joining us.
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