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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview With Donald Rumsfeld
Aired March 19, 2004 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld exactly one year since the war in Iraq began and then later a heated debate, Judith Miller, the "New York Times" their go-to reporter on weapons of mass destruction. Robin Wright of the "Washington Post" who covered Saddam Hussein's regime for 20 years. Senator Bob Graham, former chairman of Select Intelligence Committee, and Congressman Christopher Shays, chairman of the National Security Subcommittee and they're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
KING: It's a great pleasure to welcome to "LARRY KING LIVE" on this first anniversary of the war in Iraq an old friend, the defense secretary of the United States, Donald Rumsfeld. He was last in Iraq in late February.
But first on breaking news, what does the capture of a major figure at this point mean in the war on terror?
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, any time it happens, and we've had some good success over the past year -- whenever it happens, it's a help. It tends not to be determinative, if you will. It isn't something like, well, you can take a deep breath and say, well, that's that, because the global war on terror is going to go on, for sure. But when a fairly significant figure in a terrorist network is taken off the scene, several things are possible.
One is that you've removed a person who was a facilitator, if that were to be the case, or a senior leader, or a fundraiser. A second thing that happens is, sometimes when people are captured, they have with them people who can be helpful and pass additional information. And, occasionally when someone's captured, you can interrogate them and find out still additional information.
I don't know -- the situation today, of course, in Pakistan has caused a lot of press attention, and it's not clear to me who's there, if anybody, but certainly there are an awful lot of fine Pakistani forces working hard.
KING: What in the past year, Mr. Secretary -- we'll go back to that first day in a minute -- what has surprised you?
RUMSFELD: Well, I guess I've been surprised happily and unhappily on a number of occasions over the past year. Some of the first surprises were that the terrible things that could have happened didn't happen. There was not a humanitarian crisis. There were not massive refugees as occurred back during the Gulf War some 10, 12 years ago.
The dams were not broken and the floods didn't take place. The Iraqis didn't have time to set fire to a lot of oil wells. Last time, they caused enormous environmental damage by lighting up the Kuwaiti oil wells. This time, I think there were eight, 10, 12, is all. There wasn't a food crisis, or a health crisis. So those are good things, that because those things that we worried about and planned for just did not happen. And as a result, the Iraqi people are an awful lot better today.
Some of the things that one wished might have been different is, there is speculation that had the Iraqi army not totally disappeared, as it did after it was defeated, that we might have been able to use some of those forces to, in units, to try to contribute to a safer and more stable and more secure Iraq.
I'm not sure that's the case, because it turns out that most of the people that you could have gotten to help were the generals and the senior military, and they are probably not the kind of people you want to help. And the more junior people really were conscripts and they didn't want to be there anyway, and they just went back home.
KING: What about the fact that there were no WMDs. Or it might be asked this way -- given that information now, would you still have gone into war a year ago, given what we know now.
RUMSFELD: Certainly. I think this country and the 25 million people there that have been liberated and have just fashioned an interim constitution that protects the rights of women and ethnic groups and religious groups, they individually are vastly better off than they would have been. The killing fields are gone, the mass graves are not having new bodies piled up day after day, as happened under Saddam Hussein. The prisons have been changed and they are no longer torturing and killing people there.
So it's been a good thing. We've got a possibility here for a country that will have an Iraqi form of democracy that will be at peace with its neighbors. And, now, will -- the question of weapons of mass destruction, Dr. David Kay came back. He reported that he thought they were about 85 percent through the process of looking, and thus far, except for some ballistic missiles beyond the range that were authorized by the United Nations, they have not found chemical, biological weapons in any large quantities.
The search goes on. We've got 1,200 people still looking there, and we'll know more in the weeks and months ahead.
KING: But you would still not change your mind if there were none?
RUMSFELD: No, we know he used weapons -- we know he used chemical weapons on his own people and on his neighbors. We know he fired ballistic missiles into three of his neighboring countries, and we know that he filed a fraudulent declaration with the United Nations and violated some 17 straight resolutions.
So the pattern of behavior and the deception that took place -- the question that remains is, why in the world did he do that? Why didn't he do what Libya is doing today, for example? Why didn't he just open up his country and let the United Nations people come in, and do what Kazakhstan or South Africa or any number of other countries did? Some day, we'll know the answer to that question.
KING: One year ago today, when that decision was made, where exactly were you?
RUMSFELD: Well, I suppose I was in the Oval Office with the president of the United States, now that you ask. I hadn't thought about it.
KING: Did he say that we're doing it, let's go? Was there a momentous moment?
RUMSFELD: Well, there were very few of us in there, two or three people possibly, and he actually signed an order instructing me to commence the campaign.
KING: And then what did you do?
RUMSFELD: I went back to the Pentagon and talked to General Tom Franks, and it began.
KING: What was that like for you? I mean, you've never been in a position like that before. What was it like?
RUMSFELD: Well, we did that in Afghanistan, if you'll recall, on October 7 of 2001.
KING: Yes, true.
RUMSFELD: And it is always one's last choice, using force, military power. You know that when that's done that it's difficult, that people are going to be killed or wounded. You know that there are going to be enormous numbers of uncertainties that can't be predicted, and you always wish that there were an alternative. And if you think about it, the president took every care to give Saddam Hussein additional chances and final opportunities, even after he rebuffed the last U.N. resolution and rejected it, the president gave him 48 hours to leave the country, and the coalition did.
It is -- war, the use of military force, always has to be the last resort, not the first.
KING: I guess I meant -- I know Afghanistan, but Iraq was a kind of bigger story.
RUMSFELD: Oh, yes, sir. Absolutely. KING: We'll be right back with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: American coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The Bush administration has said, Mr. Secretary, that the reality on the ground in Iraq is more positive than is being portrayed in the media. Do you agree with that?
RUMSFELD: Well, I do. It's a fact. There have been something 125 or 130 members of the United States Congress, the House and the Senate, who have gone over there. And over and over again, they've come back and reported that what they found there was notably different from the impression they had.
What's taking place, really, is impressive after a year. In one year, the schools are open, with new textbooks. The hospitals are operating. The 1,200 clinics are functioning. The electricity is back up to roughly where it was. The oil liftings are up to roughly where they were, pre-war. The energy that one sees in the streets, with cars and satellite receivers for television and people bustling around, kiosks going.
You have to remember, of course, Larry, that the people in this country have spent decades under a repressive political regime, and also under a command economy, where they were told what they must do. Suddenly, in this new environment, they can do anything that's within the law. So, everything's been turned upside down, and the energy that one sees is exciting.
The country, from a governance standpoint, has a Governing Council. The provinces have governing councils. The cities have city councils. An interim constitution has been fashioned and they're making plans now to pass sovereignty back to the Iraqi people. So a great deal has been done.
It took much longer, for example, in post-War Germany after World War II.
KING: But a bombing or a suicide attack or any kind of killing of an American or anyone is bigger news.
RUMSFELD: Indeed, it's big news. And, of course, good news tends not to be news. But there were killings in Germany in post- World War II period, and there dissidents and remnants who continued to try to disrupt things, but -- and let's be honest, that's a violent part of the world. Of course, many cities are violent. If you look at the major cities of the United States and Western Europe, I don't know how many homicides there are, but roughly one a day in many cities.
So people I guess are -- tend to do that type of thing. It's regrettable, and -- the exciting thing for me is we've gone from zero to over 200,000 Iraqis who are now in the police and the civil defense and the army, in the border guards and in the site protection units, and they're providing security for the country now. They have stepped forward.
There are many more Iraqi security forces than there are Americans or coalition forces. And they're doing the job. So we don't report in the United States the extent to which Iraqi security people are being killed, but there are many more being killed than there are coalition forces.
KING: On March 2, in testimony before Congress, Mr. Secretary, the acting secretary of the army, Les Brownlee said, "I regret that we were not more far-sighted here. We simply weren't prepared for the kind of counter-insurgency that attacked our convoys and our soldiers, as has been proven to be."
Did that statement surprise you?
RUMSFELD: No. In war, there are always things that occur that one wishes could be handled differently, and I suppose what he was referring to was the fact that during the course of the war, the Fedayeen Saddam people were shooting Iraqis in the back if the Iraqis tried to be helpful to the coalition. And in the immediate post-war period, these terrorists and remnants of the Ba'athist regime were in fact operating not against our armored forces or our military formations, our combat troops, but they tended to hang back and operate and attack combat support troops that were supplying people.
And that is something that was a reality and it's still occurring today. The terrorist -- an attacker can attack anywhere they want, any time they want using any technique, and it makes it very difficult. We've known that throughout history.
KING: Saddam Hussein, what can you tell us? Is he cooperating? What's the story on the trial? Where does all that stand?
RUMSFELD: Well, the president indicated that he thought that the Iraqi government, the new Iraqi government, ought to have a central role in a trial of Saddam Hussein. So as that governance passes to the Iraqis, I'm sure we'll see that process begin.
The short answer as to whether he's cooperating is he's not.
KING: Is he being treated well?
RUMSFELD: Oh my goodness, yes, absolutely. The International Committee of the Red Cross checks the people that are detained by the coalition forces. And the wonderful young men and women in the armed forces from our country and from our coalition countries, they're just doing a superb job over there. It's noble work. They're proud of what they're doing. They're doing it well. They're well trained. They're well equipped. They're well led. And the ones that are taking care of the detainees and the people that have been captured, enemy prisoners of war in some instances, are doing a good job at it.
KING: We're about 100 days away from the political handover to the Iraqis.
KING: Are you optimistic?
RUMSFELD: Well, I am. It's never knowable how things will play out, but Ambassador Bremer and the coalition provisional authority has done a good job. The Governing Council fashioned a good document, the transitional administrative law, or interim constitution, and we'll see how it plays out over the period ahead.
I was struck not only by the document, but I was struck by the process that took place, where we saw people compromising. If you think about it, in a dictatorship, you don't see a lot of compromise.
RUMSFELD: And so the Iraqi people didn't have a lot of experience of understanding that you can have a discussion, a debate, you can disagree, and then at some point you come to some conclusion that isn't really what anybody wanted, but it's close to what everybody would accept. And that compromise, that process of compromising, I think was important and instructive for the rest of the world to see because it was a good omen. It was a good suggestion that they're going to be able to sort through this.
KING: Does that provisional government have a say in how long the United States stays?
RUMSFELD: Well, of course the Iraqi people will make that decision. We've met with the Governing Council, the current people with responsibility, and they'd indicated that they do want us. They recognize the fact that the coalition forces from our country, and 34 other nations that are good enough to send their folks there, are important to providing security and seeing that the nation of Iraq is not threatened from external neighbors, and also that the internal situation is reasonably secure.
Now, as Iraqi security forces continue to grow and they become better trained and better equipped, our hope is that they will then take over that responsibility.
KING: We'll take a break, come back with our remaining moments with the Secretary of Defense. At the bottom of the hour, a panel of journalists and elected officials will join as well.
We'll be right back with some more moments with Donald Rumsfeld right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: We're the nations that have recognized the threat of terrorism and we're the nations that will defeat that threat. Each of us has pledged before the world, we will never bow to the violence of a few, we will face this mortal danger and we will overcome it together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld from the Pentagon on this occasion, the one-year anniversary of the war, beginning of the war in Iraq.
What view was your overview of what happened in Spain?
RUMSFELD: Well, there is still a little confusion about what was happening there, but, apparently, in the final week, the opposition party was moving up and the government party was moving down, and there was already that direction taking place prior to the terrorist attacks.
What happened after the terrorist attacks and what effect it may have had is not quite clear to me. But the Spanish government has been a wonderful partner for the -- in the coalition. Their forces have done a superb job, and certainly we're hopeful that they will stay.
I've been struck, in fact, very encouraged, that after the prime minister-elect made his statement about thinking the Spanish forces should come out, that country after country of the 34 countries that are in Iraq with their forces has stood up and said, not us, we're going to stay. We're going to stick. We're not going to take a step that suggests that it's not important work, because we do believe it's important, and we certainly don't want to reward the al Qaeda network, if in fact they're the ones who did those terrorist acts, by accommodating and thinking that one can accommodate to them and please them.
KING: Are you going to be involved in the campaign?
RUMSFELD: No, I'm not, Larry. The president of the United States has talked to me and to Colin Powell and asked that we personally stay out of the campaign. He thinks that the work we're doing in our departments is such that it's in the best interests of the country that we do that, and Colin and I have both agreed that that would be the case.
KING: So does that mean through the year you will not comment on statements made by Senator Kerry or any other opponent?
RUMSFELD: Well, it's pretty close. If there's a matter that involves the department and it's a substantive issue, and I can cast light on it in a way that is not seen to be or thought to be partisan, and I can stay within the constraints the president's imposed on me, I certainly feel it is my job to make sure that the American people fully understand what it is we're doing and why we're doing it. And also, I should say, it's important that the American people understand what a wonderful job these volunteers who serve in the Army and the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines and the National Guard and the reserves are doing for our country. And to the extent that statements are made which would lead them to believe that what they were doing is not important, or that they weren't doing it well, I think it would be unfortunate and I certainly would want to make sure that there was clarity there, because they're doing a great job.
KING: You've had a long, successful career in government and out of government. If the president were reelected, do you want to stay on?
RUMSFELD: Oh, goodness, Larry. You know, he's asked us to do our jobs. We've not talked about next year or the year after ...
KING: I know, but how do you feel?
RUMSFELD: Well, I feel wonderful, physically, and I'm just so grateful to be able to be engaged and trying to be helpful to the country and to the men and women in uniform that I must say I feel fortunate as a human being that I can participate and try to help make this a better Department of Defense, and the men and women here, civilian and military alike, more successful.
So I'm feeling that I'm a fortunate person.
KING: So if asked to stay, you would?
RUMSFELD: Larry, I'm ...
KING: Sounds that way.
RUMSFELD: ... he hasn't asked me to stay.
KING: And if the reverse happened, you would help any other administration that you could, right?
RUMSFELD: Well, this is a wonderful country we have, and this department is not a political department. It's not partisan at all, and the people here play things straight down the middle, and I just want to be helpful to the country.
KING: What do you think -- and we have a few minutes left -- of the future of Iraq, and you've gotten to know those people pretty well. What do you make of what's going to happen?
RUMSFELD: Well, it's going to be fascinating watching it play out. I think one thing we can say with certainty is that whatever they do, it will be an Iraqi solution. It won't be a cookie mold that's pressed down by the United States or the United Kingdom or the United Nations or the coalition. Whatever they do, they're going to figure it out for themselves, and it'll be something that's appropriate to them, and that's a good thing.
The only real constraints that exist, the ones the coalition leadership have put forth, one is that it stay a single country, that it not break up into pieces. That would not be good for that part of the world.
Second, that it be respectful of all the people in the country, that it not go back to a repressive regime where one element rules over all the others in a vicious way, but that the women and the men as well, and the religious and ethnic groups all have the right to live there with protection for their interests and their circumstance.
And another -- third one really was that the country not be a threat to its neighbors. And the Iraqi people are intelligent, they're industrious, they're free, they have been liberated, and the effect that it could have in that part of the world, and on the economies of those neighboring countries, if that country for the first time in many decades is able to actually have the benefit of freedom, not just political freedom but economic freedom, and improve the circumstance of literally millions and millions of people, not just in Iraq, but in all the neighboring countries, it would be a wonderful thing.
KING: What do you think of them as a people?
RUMSFELD: Well, you can't help but like them. They're tough, they're intelligent, they're industrious and they -- they -- I've been over there meeting, for example, with the police, and with the army, and with the people in the Governing Council, and the people in the provincial councils, and the city councils, and people who are trying to get the power system back to where it ought to be. And they are very straightforward and direct. They look you right in the eye, they tell you what they think. They're proud of themselves, they're proud of their country, and, of course, their country has an impressive history. And I just think that all the ingredients are there.
This is a country that has not just a population with energy and intelligence, it also has wealth. It has oil, but it also has water, and water's important in that part of the world. And so they have a wonderful opportunity to make it. And I hope and pray they will.
KING: Always good seeing you. Next time it will be in person. We appreciate it.
RUMSFELD: Good. Thanks so much, Larry.
KING: The secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, from the Pentagon in Washington. When we come back, a panel of journalists and elected representatives.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER, UNITED KINGDOM: Tonight, British servicemen and women are engaged from air, land and sea. Their mission, to remove Saddam Hussein from power and disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.
KOFI ANNAN, SECRETARY-GENERAL, UNITED NATIONS: Today, despite the best efforts of the international community and the United Nations, war has come to Iraq for the third time in a quarter of a century.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now let's welcome our panel in New York. Judith Miller, the Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent of the "New York Times." Her book, "Are Germs Biological Weapons? An America Secret War," a major bestseller now in paperback.
In Washington, Robin Wright of the "Washington Post," author of "Sacred Rage, the Wrath of Militant Islam."
In Miami, Senator Bob Graham, former chairman of the Select Intelligence Committee, ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, Democrat of Florida who voted against the use of force in Iraq.
And in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Congressman Christopher Shays, member of Select Committee on Homeland Security, who has made four trips to Iraq since last April.
Judith Miller, what's your overall assessment of what the secretary had to say?
JUDITH MILLER, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think while Secretary Rumsfeld really did address some of the miscalculations he didn't adequately address some of the more profound ones, especially, although he conceded, for example, that he said war should be a last resort, he really didn't deal, Larry, with the issue of whether or not Iraq posed the kind of imminent threat to America that the Bush administration officials had said it did prior to the war, especially since everybody now knows there hasn't been weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq.
So that issue he didn't deal with. He also didn't deal with the financial miscalculation. There was, I think $1.7 billion estimated before the war to be the price of reconstruction. Well, we're now at $150 billion and counting. And finally, there is the issue of the resources itself that were spent on various forms of really handling this war. For example, the weapons of mass destruction hunt was always significantly underfunded, well until June, and he didn't really deal with that but I found it very interesting.
KING: Robin Wright, what do you gather from what he said?
ROBIN WRIGHT, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think he painted a very rosy picture of what's transpired over the past year and what's likely to happen in the near future, and he didn't deal very realistically with some of the real problems the United States faces a year later. On the political score, 11 months after the occupation, and we're back at square one trying to figure out what kind of government we can form among the Iraqis that will have legitimacy and be able to assume sovereignty in just 100 days.
He didn't deal with, as Judith pointed out, some of the economic realities. Iraqis have enormous expectations of what they should be getting right now in terms of their oil wealth, the kind of wealth that Saddam Hussein hoarded for so long. There are expectations that will be very difficult to meet because the oil industry is still in the process of being reconstructed, and on the security front, the reality is that Iraqis today feel just as insecure with the lawlessness in Iraq and the crime and the bombings as they did under Saddam Hussein. I mean, there is a poll that was taken in the last week by American, European and news organizations that showed that Iraqis are divided over whether they were liberated by the United States or humiliated by the United States. So there is indeed much to celebrate a year later but also some real problems.
KING: Two pictures here. Senator Graham, if you had to do it again would you vote against the resolution?
SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL), FMR. CHAIRMAN, SELECT INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes, I would. I thought the most interesting exchange that you had with Secretary Rumsfeld was taking weapons of mass destruction off the table, and it appears as if factually, they were on the table, what was the rationale for the United States going to war with Iraq? He did not mention what I think is the fundamental question. There are many evils in the Middle East and central Asia and certainly Saddam Hussein was one of those evils. The question is, was he the greatest evil in the sense of his ability to kill Americans?
I think there are three factors to answer that question. One, of the evils, which has the greatest capability to kill Americans? Clearly, without weapons of mass destruction, it was not Saddam Hussein. It was al Qaeda. What who has the greatest will to kill Americans? The intelligence community announced that the only threat that Saddam Hussein posed was in the event he was attacked. If he was not attacked, he would be quiet. We saw what happened on September the 11th, and what happened on March the 11th of this year through al Qaeda, but the third and I think the most important issue is which of these evils had the greater presence inside the United States of trained operatives who were capable of killing the people of the United States.
This administration, like in so many other areas, has hidden that fact from the people of the United States of America and I would call on this administration on the one-year anniversary of this war to tell the American people how many Saddam Hussein, how many people did al Qaeda, how many people did Hezbollah have in the United States in the fall of 2002, when the decision to go to war was made.
KING: I guess Chris Shays, you're up against it here, I would imagine you agree in essence with most of what the secretary of defense had to say, but I don't want to put words in your mouth. What's your assessment? REP. CHRISTOPHER SAYS (R-CT), CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL SECURITY SUBCOMMITTEE: Let me say this. Saddam was the snake in the bedroom, and he was there for 12 years. He wasn't cooperating with anyone. He was starving his people. He wasn't giving them healthcare, and we were getting blamed for that, and Osama bin Laden used this as his excuse, our presence in Saudi Arabia. We couldn't leave Saudi Arabia as long as we had the fly zone in the south and the fly zone in the north from Turkey.
So for me, December 7, 1941, was a day that will be remembered in infamy. September 11, 2001 is a day that will be remembered in infamy. The point I make to you is the following. When Japan attacked us, we didn't say we're not going to deal with Germany. When Osama bin Laden did what he did it was a wakeup call to deal with terrorism at home and abroad, and that's exactly what we're doing. And that's why Saddam Hussein is paying the penalty he is paying. Germany didn't attack us in Pearl Harbor, but they paid the same penalty.
KING: And Judith Miller, also, didn't we make a point by -- look at what Libya did literally gave up after seeing what happened.
MILLER: Yes, and Larry, there is a debate among diplomats and people who were involved in the Libyan renunciation of weapons of mass destruction as to what motivated Colonel Gadhafi. Some people say it was clearly the American invasion of Iraq, because Colonel Gadhafi reached out to the British and the Americans to make this declaration only a few days before the war began. But some diplomats who were involved in negotiations with the Libyans said no, no, no, actually, we were negotiating for a long time on this declaration and it wasn't just the war that was a factor.
So even in this very positive development, analysts are very divided about why it came about.
KING: We'll take a break and come back with more of our outstanding panel on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: There's no neutral ground, no neutral ground in the fight between civilization and terror. Because there's no neutral ground between good and evil, freedom and slavery, and life and death.
The war on terror is not a figure of speech. It is an inescapable calling of our generation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Robin Wright, after a year, is there now a link between al Qaeda and Iraq?
WRIGHT: I still think we don't know the answer to that question. There are certainly some who believe that there were connections between al Qaeda and a group that operated out of Northern Iraq called Ansar al Islam, which is believed to be behind some of the ongoing attacks today. But whether there was actually some kind of connection directly between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, I think the jury is still out on that.
We may not know for a long time. There is clearly a number of sympathizers to al Qaeda operating inside Iraq today, but we don't know the degree prewar.
KING: Senator, Kofi Annan says the return to the U.N. to this region is imminent. What's your thoughts?
GRAHAM Well, it certainly should be and should have been a long time ago. Because that's the key to getting the kind of international support from nations that have serious military and financial capability to help take on this project.
I'd like to go back to the question you just asked, however. I don't think there's any evidence that in fact, September the 11 was the precipitating event for our war against Iraq. As Secretary of the Treasury O'Neill has said in the recently published book, from the very first days of the Bush administration, they were talking about going to war with Iraq.
As former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I can tell you there's no evidence that Saddam Hussein had any role in September the 11, and there's scant evidence that there was any serious contacts.
The example that we just cited about the group that was operating in Northern Iraq, they were operating in an area that was largely under Kurdish control, not the control of the Ba'athist party of Saddam Hussein.
KING: Congressman Shays, let's say Iraq is certainly, the people of Iraq may be better off today. Are the people of the United States better off today?
SHAYS: Well, I mean, are we a lot safer? We're a lot safer, but is the world a safe place? No, it isn't a safe place. We had a false sense of security before September 11, now we have a realistic level and we don't feel very comforted.
But with regard to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, I just want to say to you, we were in Saudi Arabia because of Iraq. And Osama bin Laden's primary excuse he did it was because we were there.
The four times I've been in Iraq three of them are outside the umbrella of the military and it's fascinating when you talk to -- as I have -- hundreds of Iraqis. They're unhappy with us and distrust us because we're the government. Tell me a government they could trust. We're a government. They never had a good government.
They're angry at us, because we told them to rebel and yet we let the Republican guard in place. We had the sanctions and Saddam blamed us for the sanctions. They blamed us for the sanctions and not Saddam.
And the thing they're most afraid of and most uneasy about is, they think we're going to leave. One other point I'd love to make, isn't it amazing that Saddam Hussein never thought we would attack in '91, and get him out of Kuwait, never thought we would attack in 2004. He misjudged us both times and a military that they don't think you're going to use is not a deterrent.
KING: Judith Miller, is it safe to say that the United States' intentions were honorable, or do you agree with Senator Kerry that the government misled us?
MILLER: Well, I think, Larry, rather than answer that myself, I will simply say that there are at least two independent inquiries into that very important question. I can tell you that my own reporting showed before the war that not only the Republicans but former Democratic senior officials ardently believed that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As David Kay has told us since then, they were all wrong.
I think I'm going to reserve the answer to that question until all of these inquiries are over with. And I'd say one thing, Larry. You know, it's going to take a long time for our country to evaluate whether or not we're better off today than we were before, whether or not the war was a good idea. I mean, I really think that history is going to be the judge of that, and yet the country's extreme polarized on that issue, and it makes debate and dialogue very difficult.
KING: We'll be back with some more moments with this panel of outstanding panel right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: People across this country are praying. They're praying that they hope those families and loved ones will find comfort and grace in their sorrow. We pray that god will bless and receive each of the fallen and we thank god that liberty found such brave defenders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Robin Wright, what will it mean if a prominent al Qaeda official is captured in Pakistan?
WRIGHT: Well, it will be an important development, but I think the reality is that the Islamic extremist movement that was originally spawned by Osama bin Laden has so splintered throughout the region that it will be important but it will not be decisive in ending this movement.
KING: And the capture of bin Laden, if it were bin Laden, would that be more decisive?
WRIGHT: It would probably be a strong signal that the United States is capable of capturing not only Saddam Hussein, but, you know, the level of character of Osama bin Laden, who has eluded us for a couple of years. Yes, it will send a strong signal, but it's still not going to be as decisive as we would like it to be.
KING: Senator Graham, we can't let this go by without asking you, have you spoke to Senator Kerry about being his running mate?
GRAHAM: I have not. If I could, I'd like to go back to a question you asked earlier about Spain. Spain has been a tremendous ally of the United States, not just in Iraq but in a whole variety of areas, particularly the movement of democracy in Latin America. What I would call on the Spanish government to do, if it sees the difference between a war in Iraq and the war against terrorism, rather than sending its troops to the West back to Spain, it ought to send them to the east to Afghanistan, to bolster the U.N. resolution placed troops who are fighting against the real terrorists, who probably either were or gave significant support to the terrorists that killed 200 Spaniards last Thursday.
KING: Chris Shays, how big an issue is Iraq going to be in the campaign ahead, as opposed to the domestic area?
SHAYS: Oh, I think it's going to be a very big issue, and the economy is going to be big. It will be social programs as well, but Iraq will clearly be the key issue, and I just would say to you, the regrettable thing about what Spain has done is they have given a clear message to terrorists who want us, want them not to be, I will say, in Iraq -- think of what I just said, they're trying to get Spain out of Iraq, not out of Afghanistan, and they're basically -- they basically appeased the terrorists and have sent a message that we will have separate negotiations with terrorists. It boggles my mind.
KING: Well, but terrorists killed over 200 of their people. And often violence works, doesn't it, often?
SHAYS: But what it says is, keep doing it, because that's the way you will work your will with us in Europe.
KING: Judith Miller, how big do you think this Iraq thing is going to play in the election?
MILLER: Oh, I think it will be very important, Larry, obviously, but so will the economy. And you know, sitting here tonight, it's just really hard to predict what's going to be out there, because so many things can happen, and between now and November, it's hard enough to write about the present. I'm not going to begin to predict the future.
KING: Robin Wright, are you forecasting a very close election?
WRIGHT: Oh, listen, I cover foreign policy. I have nothing to do with domestic policy.
MILLER: We all (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
KING: It's cop-out time. WRIGHT: But I will say that I think that the election -- the post -- this transition that we're going through in Iraq is going to play a tremendously important role in the way the Americans perceive how -- what we accomplished in Iraq and whether this administration should have a chance to continue its policies.
KING: Senator Graham, how is Kerry going to do in Florida? We only have 30 seconds.
GRAHAM: He's going to carry Florida, Larry. And Florida will be a very competitive state, a very pivotal state, because it's the largest in terms of electoral votes that's not already assigned to either the Republican or Democratic column, but we look forward to an aggressive campaign, and this time, the people, not the United States Supreme Court, will cast the last ballot.
KING: We thank you, Judith Miller of "The New York Times," Robin Wright of "The Washington Post," Senator Bob Graham of Florida and Congressman Christopher Shays of Connecticut for joining us, and we thank senator -- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for the first half of the program as well. I'll be back in a couple of minutes to tell you about the weekend. Don't go away.
KING: Tomorrow night, Phyllis Gates. We will repeat that interview with Rock Hudson's only ever wife. And Sunday night, Alexis Stewart, we'll repeat the interview with Martha Stewart's daughter.
Right now, we head to Islamabad, where he's been doing yeoman- like work for the time he's been gone, and we will be glad to welcome him back when he's back in our New York studios, hopefully on Monday night. Here he is, on a sunny Saturday morning, Aaron Brown.
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