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CNN Larry King Live

Interview With Donald Rumsfeld

Aired May 25, 2006 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, exclusive, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld answering tough questions about the war in Iraq that's had him under fire. Donald Rumsfeld for the hour on the future of U.S. forces in Iraq, guarding the American border and a lot more.
It's next on LARRY KING LIVE.

A great pleasure to be back at the Pentagon and especially a great pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE Donald Rumsfeld, the United States Secretary of Defense, we thank him for joining us.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Thank you very much, Larry. It's good to be with you.

KING: What's your read on the Bush-Blair visit?

RUMSFELD: Well, they're close associates. They respect each other. And Prime Minister Blair has, of course, just been in Iraq and wanted to come and visit with the president. And they will have some talks, and they'll have a press conference and discuss the way ahead. They're both very pleased with the progress that's being made with respect to the new government, the prime minister designate, Maliki.

KING: We taped this before the press conference this afternoon here at the Pentagon. But you don't imagine they were making any big announcements of any special kind, rumors of troop withdrawals?

RUMSFELD: No. They're not going to make a big announcement on troop withdrawals. And the reason is obvious. The reason is that the new government has not yet been put in place in terms of the minister of defense or the minister of interior.

When they are in place, they will then get briefed up by General Casey and his people. And then they will begin the discussions about how we can continue to transfer over responsibility for the security aspects of the government's job.

KING: How close are we to bringing a number back?

RUMSFELD: Well, we had hit a high of 160,000, and we're now down to 130,000. We have gone back up from time to time when there was an event, for example, the elections in December. We beefed up some of the forces.

But the Iraqi security forces are now over 263,000, you know. They've passed a quarter of a million security forces. And they're gaining more experience all the time. They're better equipped all the time.

They're taking over more responsibility every week, every month. And we feel very good about their progress, particularly in the ministry of defense forces, as opposed to the ministry of interior.

KING: So can you say maybe mid-2007 a lot will be coming back?

RUMSFELD: Oh, you know, once you start doing that, then you're stuck with a number, a date, and it just doesn't do any good. It's based on conditions on the ground. There's no question that it's our desire to reduce the forces and we intend to and the Iraqis intend for us to.

And the question is what -- at what pace can we continue to go up towards the 325,000 Iraqi security force target goal and what's the intensity of the insurgency and how fast can they take over that responsibility? As far as we're concerned, the faster the better and I'm sure that's the case of the Iraqi people.

KING: Retrospect is always easy but should -- should we have sent more troops initially?

RUMSFELD: You know, it's an interesting question, and I suppose history will decide that. The fact of the matter is that we sent the number of troops that every single general in the chain of command wanted. Now, could you have overridden them and sent more? You know, people run around saying, well, you sent less than the generals wanted. That's just utter nonsense. It's not true.

KING: There was a general who wanted more, though, right?

RUMSFELD: Every general in the Central Command wanted the number of troops that General Franks requested. The Joint Chiefs of Staff approved that. They're the people. And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, even single one of those people except one, who said, "Well, maybe you need some more." Out of all those generals, one may have speculated that you might need more and everyone else said that this is the right number.

Now, is it the right number? Time will tell. The balance that General Abizaid has to weigh and that General Casey has to weigh is if you have too many troops you run two risks. One is you're too heavy footed. You're too intrusive. You feed the insurgency because you look like an occupying force.

The second risk is you create a dependency. You do all the work for the Iraqis, instead of pushing them and having them do the work. If you have too few men, the environment is such that the political process or the economy can't go forward.

Now, the test is what's happening. And the test is -- the answer is, the economy's doing well. The dinar's been steady. New businesses are being started all the time. The increases in the GDP per capita are going up.

The political process is going forward. The insurgents tried to stop the election in January last year. They failed. They tried to stop the referendum on the constitution in October and they failed. They tried to stop the election in December and they failed. Now they're trying to stop the formation of a new government, and they're going to fail at that, too.

KING: Do you share the view offered by many that the media is to blame for the turn of events with regard to public opinion in Iraq, that the media, collective media, show only the bad?

RUMSFELD: Oh, you know, I'm not one to sit around throwing that charge around. I've got a lot of confidence in the American people. Over time they find their way to the right decision.

KING: Why are they so down on it now?

RUMSFELD: Well, because obviously, they hear a lot of bad news and it's not surprising. And it is -- war is an ugly thing. I mean, I don't think you'll ever find a popular war.

People say in retrospect, "Oh, my goodness, well, it was written that we'd win the Cold War." It wasn't written at all. That was a tough thing to have successive administrations of both political parties. There were amendments to bring the troops home from Europe over and over again.

And in World War II, I mean, the vitriolic things said about Franklin Roosevelt, you and I are old enough to remember it.

KING: I do.

RUMSFELD: Think back to Vietnam War, my goodness. The -- Lyndon Johnson couldn't leave the White House. There were buses stacked around the place. So, why should a war be popular? It's a vicious, ugly, horrible thing. But by golly, if we tossed in the towel every time we had a problem in this country, we wouldn't have a country. We wouldn't have won the Revolutionary War.

KING: Mr. Secretary, are there any time, ever any time where you doubt, where you say, "Maybe this is wrong"?


KING: Never?

RUMSFELD: Oh, sure in a lot of things in life. I mean goodness.

KING: I mean the war.

RUMSFELD: On this? No, in this case anyone who looks at Zarqawi and those people chopping off people's heads on television, the viciousness, the number of Iraqi innocent men, women, and children they kill, turning that country over to the violent extremists would destabilize that region. It would put at risk the neighboring Sunni regimes. If you were Iran, it would be the best thing in the world it would be for us to toss in the towel.

But the United States and the coalition countries can't lose that war, Larry. We're not going to lose a battle over there. It can only be lost in Washington, D.C. It's a test of wills, and they know that. They can't win anything. They can kill people, but they can't win anything. The only place it can be won is in Washington, DC.

KING: But we lose when boys die and girls die.

RUMSFELD: Well, of course we do. Of course we do. And it's -- Memorial Day is coming up and you think of all the people who have sacrificed for our country over our many, many decades, hundreds of years now, of history and God bless each one of them.

What they did was they defended the freedom of this country. They won and prevailed and persevered in tough times, very tough times. We are so deeply in debt to the young men and women over there that are doing such a superb job and are so professional.

KING: We'll be right back with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with Secretary Rumsfeld. Retired General Barry McCaffrey, I want to get it right, spent time interviewing top U.S. and Iraqi officers and the memo saying in part, "We need at least two to five more years of U.S. partnership and combat back up to get the Iraqi army ready to stand on its own." That long?

RUMSFELD: I don't know. He just came back. He was over there, spent a lot of time, issued a report that I found interesting. I read it, sent it over to the president. I'm sure the president read it. He had a lot of positive things and some concerns which is -- that's about what happens when you visit over there as I did last month with Condi Rice when we went over to meet with the new government leadership.

But it's hard to tell. It depends on, for example, so many variables that no one can know the answer to. What's going to be the behavior of the Syrians? What's going to be the behavior of the Iranians? How much difficulty are they going to cause in Iraq?

How successful will Zarqawi and those people be in raising money? To what extent will the international community lean forward and help Iraq and be supportive?

This is not a security problem only. It is a governance problem and as that government gets in place, if they engage in a reconciliation process that is successful and bring people in to support that government then I think that the future will be much brighter.

KING: The president talks about United States troops standing down and Iraqi forces standing up. What does that mean? RUMSFELD: Well, it means that as we go through each week, month, we now have either closed or passed over 30 bases to the Iraqis, 30 locations to the Iraqi security forces.

In the January election a year ago, our security forces were very much involved. In the October referendum, the Iraqi security forces were in the lead and we were kind of in the back. And in the December election we were very much in the back and the Iraqi security forces for all practical purposes provided the security.

Now, what it means is as the Iraqi security forces can take over those responsibilities, we will continue to pass them over to them and leave -- be able to reduce down coalition forces.

KING: If the new Iraqi leadership said go would we go?

RUMSFELD: Oh, they're a sovereign country, I mean but they're not going to say that. They've already -- Maliki has already said that he looks out and he sees a year and a half or something like that.

So everyone has a somewhat different view but what we're going to do is engage in discussions with the new government and come to some understandings at the pace at which we think we can pass over responsibility to them.

KING: Do you fear that your position will be hurt by elections that America may make a statement in November?

RUMSFELD: Oh, goodness. I'm not going to get into that. The president asked me to stay out of politics and I stay out of politics.

I can say this about that subject. The American people have a good center of gravity. They've got an inner gyroscope. And they know -- they have to know the consequences if we had to fight terrorism here in the United States as opposed to fighting it here in Iraq.

We are facing a global struggle against violent extremists. It happens that the current battlefield is in Iraq and Afghanistan. But if it's not there it's somewhere else and the closer it gets to the United States, the less advantageous it is for us.

KING: So you don't fear the people speaking?

RUMSFELD: I think the people are very likely to do the right thing.

KING: Whatever that may be?

RUMSFELD: No, I mean...

KING: You think they'll support?

RUMSFELD: look over history, my goodness. The American people have -- we put all of our faith, all of our confidence in the American people with this Constitution. We said given sufficient information on big issues, they'll find their way to the right decision and that doesn't mean one party or another. It means will they persevere in this instance? And I believe they will.

KING: How do you hold up? Retired generals call for your ouster, six. Two of them commanded troops in Iraq.

RUMSFELD: Well, it's reassuring to know that there are 7,500 generals and admirals on active duty and retired and six -- does it surprise you? They tried to fire George Washington. General McClelland called Abraham Lincoln a gorilla and an ape. There is nothing new about this.

KING: George Steinbrenner said you learn more from your critics...


KING: ...than from those who praise you. Did you learn anything from the six generals?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I always learn.

KING: No, from those six, did you learn anything?

RUMSFELD: Well, I guess one thing that's pretty clear and that is -- well, one of them is running for president. One of them is writing a book and selling a book. You learn about human nature, I suppose.

But change is hard and we have been transforming the Department of Defense in a revolutionary way. We have done things that have never been done before. We are moving this institution.

It's an enormous institution into the 21st century and when you get involved in change like that somebody is not going to like it. And they're going to complain and they're going to be uncomfortable about it and they're going to have different views. I accept that. You know, that's life.

KING: But none of their complaints made any impression on you?

RUMSFELD: Some of them thought we had too few troops, like you asked earlier, and that's a fair debate. I mean, you know, I went through all that.

KING: Were you hurt that they asked that you resign?

RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness, no. There have been others who have done that as well.

KING: It didn't pain you emotionally?


KING: You told us the last time we visited that you did offer to resign.

RUMSFELD: I did a couple times.

KING: Did you again?


KING: Did you think about it?

RUMSFELD: No. Before I even could think about it, the president came out and said "You're not going to resign."

KING: Personally, forget resigning, do you ever think driving home, going home, "I don't need this? I've got enough money for my life and my children have enough and my grandchildren and I've been successful in business and I've been around this game, who needs it?"

RUMSFELD: Yes. I don't need it. That's a fact. Do I feel privileged to be able to work with these wonderful young men and women who are defending our country and securing our freedom, our ability to say what we want and do what we want and go where we want and the opportunities people have in this country?

You bet I do feel privileged to work with them. I think I'm very fortunate to be able to be involved in something as important as what's going on in the world today and to be doing it with people that I respect and enjoy being with.

KING: Do you like subordinates to be open? By that I mean would you like a subordinate, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to say "I think you're wrong"?

RUMSFELD: Oh, my Lord, it happens ten times a day.

KING: It does?

RUMSFELD: Of course. We just had all the combatant commanders and all the chiefs in for three days, met right down the hall here, breakfast, lunch, dinner, meals, every hour of the day we were together.

And, I can't tell you how many times people come in and say "Well, my view is this and I think that." And they discuss things openly. It's utter nonsense to suggest that -- some people think this place runs by command. It doesn't. It's by consent. It's persuasion.

Now, in the military line they'll do what you say but in terms of moving this institution you do that through persuasion and discussion and debate and learning. There's no one smart enough to do this job.

KING: And you want that?

RUMSFELD: You bet.

KING: We'll be right back with Don Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Major General Buford Blount in the book "Cobra 2" says there was a time when the insurgency could have been headed off or greatly reduced and contained, do you share that view?

RUMSFELD: Don't know. You never know. I suppose history will look at it and maybe come to some conclusion. But, not to my knowledge, in other words I've not heard that from anyone who's been involved deeply.

KING: Did the insurgency, the amount of the insurgency, surprise you?

RUMSFELD: Yes, it was more than had been predicted.

KING: And so was that bad intelligence?

RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness. It was intelligence. It was imperfect intelligence but all intelligence is imperfect. There's no way in the world you can know all kinds of things like that and behavior perfectly. You can't predict it. What do they say that a war plan never survives first contact with the enemy?

You sit there and you take all the intelligence. You fashion a war plan. You begin and the enemy's got a brain, so it's constantly adapting and adjusting and you have to adapt and adjust to the changes that take place.

KING: Would you say that the insurgency is the thing that has surprised you the most?

RUMSFELD: No, I would think the absence of -- not finding weapons of mass destruction would be the biggest surprise. I mean the intelligence everyone saw it. Everyone believed it. And, goodness knows, the president did, the United Nations, the Congress, people all saw it there, the other countries in the world.

And, it wasn't -- we know he had chemical weapons. We know he used chemical weapons against his own people and his neighbors but finding them, of course, we found a lot of things that were buried, found jet airplanes buried of all things if you can imagine burying a jet airplane in the dirt.

KING: Is there any doubt that you would still go knowing what you know now?

RUMSFELD: Look that was the president's decision. I support him. I supported it then and I support him now. There's no question in my mind where Saddam Hussein was going. He was giving $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers. He was harboring terrorists. He was on the terrorist list. He was shooting at our airplanes every week in the southern no fly zone, where we were enforcing the U.N. resolutions.

And those 28 million people -- he filled mass graves with hundreds of thousands of bodies of innocent Iraqis and those 28 million people today have a constitution that they drafted. They voted three times and they've elected a sovereign government and they are so much better off than they were under that vicious dictator.

KING: What's it like for you to send men and women into battle?

RUMSFELD: Well, it is hard. War is the last choice of anyone with any sense at all. It is a terrible, terrible thing.

KING: It's insane isn't it? War is basically insane.

RUMSFELD: It's violent and vicious and -- now, on the other hand, we have our troops are the best trained, the best equipped, the best led, the most professional troops on the face of the earth. They're the best military that's ever existed and they're doing a superb job.

KING: But.

RUMSFELD: You go out to Walter Reed or Bethesda Hospital, as Joyce and I do frequently, and visit with them, they are so proud of what they're doing. They're convinced that what's being done is right and that they're making progress. Their families are standing by them and supportive of them. It's inspirational to be with them.

KING: Well what is it like for you...

RUMSFELD: It can be heartbreaking.

KING: send them? Some die.

RUMSFELD: They do indeed and we'll be at Arlington Cemetery Monday and you cannot help but feel that responsibility and it has been true throughout the history of this nation. People died in the Revolutionary War and had that war not been fought, we'd be a colony. People died by the hundreds of thousands in the war.

KING: How do you deal with it, Mr. Secretary, emotionally? We know that is a fact, as an intellectual fact, but what do you do with it -- you're the guy?

RUMSFELD: Well, if you do as I do and read history a lot you have it into context and a perspective that it is -- I mean, I grew up in World War II. My father was on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific and we were living in Coronado, California, a navy town, and it was an enormous part of my life those years.

And a lot of people got killed and ships got sunk and planes got shot down and yet it was the right thing to do and if you have that perspective and feel that it helps.

KING: But you still have to write the letter, don't you?

RUMSFELD: You bet. You bet.

KING: And that's a human being.

RUMSFELD: I just signed three letters right in there before I came in here to the families of people who have been killed.

KING: Does it affect your sleep? I mean does it bother you?

RUMSFELD: Of course it bothers you. But as I say, if you -- I read about a half hour every night before I go to bed and I read history. It has nothing to do with what I'm doing but it's about our country and the history of our country and it gives me a context for everything.

It helps me understand that it has always been so. It is a shame that people do the things they do in this world of ours but the reality is that there are things worth fighting for. There are things worth dying for.

And the people in each generation, each successive generation in our country's history have come to that conclusion and thank goodness they have because we wouldn't have the country we have today.

KING: Who will ultimately decide when Iraq is ready to handle their own security? Will you make that decision? Will you tell them they're ready?

RUMSFELD: It will be General Casey will meet with the government and Ambassador Khalilzad and they will discuss the situation and then lay out a plan going forward and ultimately the president of the United States is going to decide at what pace U.S. forces come home.

KING: Do you envision -- we said before about 2007 you don't like to put a timetable on it, but in your own thinking is it sooner rather than later?

RUMSFELD: You know, I've been around so long and I've watched people put timetables on things and tell you when a war was going to end and how much it was going to cost and how many people would die. They have all been wrong. Why? Because they're so many variables involved; you simply cannot do that and I mentioned three or four of the variables in the case of Iraq.

The Iraqis would like us to come home. We would like to have our troops come home. Our troops would like to come home.


RUMSFELD: And the question is we all agree that the last thing we want to do is to come home prematurely, toss in the towel and turn that country over to the terrorists. It would be terrible consequences for our country, for the American people, for that region and that's not an acceptable outcome. Quitting is not an exit strategy.

KING: No matter what public opinion says or anything? RUMSFELD: Well, public opinion -- the American people are going to figure this out.

KING: We'll be right back with Donald Rumsfeld after this.


KING: We're back with Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense. Touching a lot of bases in this half hour.

Tomorrow is Porter Goss' last day as head of the CIA. How do you assess his performance?

RUMSFELD: He is a terrific person and he was an excellent member of Congress and chair -- a person, when he was chairing the intelligence committee was wonderful to work with. We've had a very close relationship here during the time he has been at the agency just as I did with his predecessor George Tenet.

We'd meet for lunch maybe once every, twice a month and go over things. Had a good professional, working relationship and it's a tough job. It's a very, very tough job.

KING: Why did he leave?

RUMSFELD: I don't know. I think he probably just made a decision that it was time for him to do it. Because he's retired from Congress. He'd announced he was going to leave Congress already. And his head was heading toward Florida when the president detoured him into the agency.

But he's a fine man and a very able public servant, and the country's lucky to have people who are willing to step up and do those kinds of things.

KING: He was not asked to leave?

RUMSFELD: Look, I don't get involved in those things. It's a matter between the president and Porter Goss. He -- he offered his resignation and obviously had come to a conclusion that that made the most sense from his standpoint.

KING: We know you've had your problems with him.

RUMSFELD: With Porter?

KING: No, I'm moving on. It's a backdrop. We know you've had your problems with him, semicolon; what do you make of Michael Hayden?

RUMSFELD: I haven't had problems with Mike Hayden. I mean, period. I just haven't. He was head of the National Security Agency, worked during my tenure as secretary of defense. He is a terrific professional intelligence official.

He -- the thing that I was asked about in the hearing was -- was simply this, we were meeting, and the question came up, were some of the intelligence assets ought to be under the director of national -- national intelligence or under the Department of Defense. His view was one thing should be over -- under DNI. My view was that it shouldn't. I mean, people disagree all the time, but it was a good faith, constructive, professional discussion and it doesn't surprise me at all.

KING: Didn't he cite other disputes with you?

RUMSFELD: I don't think so.

KING: You applaud that appointment?

RUMSFELD: He'll do an excellent job. Absolutely. I don't think he ever cited any differences. I mean, I don't know what the newspapers might have run. I read more garbage in the press in this country than I can imagine.

But no, I don't think he did. Because I don't think I ever had any differences with him.

KING: You're happy about that appointment?

RUMSFELD: I think he'll do a very good job. And I keep reading stuff about John Negroponte and me not agreeing on stuff.

KING: Yes, what about that?

RUMSFELD: Well it's just nonsense. He's a terrific, terrific talent. He's doing a very fine job in a very tough position, trying to shape this thing in a way that we preserve the good in the intelligence community and try to make it stronger and healthier and better. And that's a tough job.

And we have wonderful relationships out in the field, the Department of Defense and the intelligence community, almost uniformly. Not everywhere, I'm sure, but where it's important we do. In the Central Command, for example, where the war on terror is going on, we do.

We have excellent relationships here in Washington. Some places in the middle with thousands of people in there, someone's going to be, you know, chipping about something. And that happens in a big town like this.

KING: Does it annoy you?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I suppose, a little bit. The press loves it. They just love controversy. And they keep looking for someone who's not -- someone's on the outs or someone's on the ins. They think life is a zero sum game.

And here you've got these terrific people in the intelligence community trying to do a good job. It's a tough job. We're dealing with a very different situation than the Cold War period, when the intelligence community could look at the Soviet Union for a long time and get to really understand it. But in this case, my goodness, you've got networks and cells and non-state actors and terrorists. It's a very -- very much a difficult task.

KING: Tell me the relationship you have with Dick Cheney.

RUMSFELD: Well, I used to think of him as a promising young man when I hired him.

KING: You hired him?

RUMSFELD: I did. There was, so years ago, 1969, I hired him as one of my special assistants. And he...

KING: In Congress?

RUMSFELD: I'd just resigned from Congress and went into the cabinet, and I was running the Office of Economic Opportunities. And the thing I found about him when I my made him my deputy, when I was chief of staff of the White House for President Ford, the tougher things got, the better he got. He -- he can take it. And the harder the work got or the more difficult the situation or the more tense something might get, he got stronger and better and more steely with respect to it. He's a very talented fellow.

KING: Do you know why so many -- at least in the polls -- are apparently negative toward him?

RUMSFELD: Well, he doesn't spend any time trying to make people like him. He really -- he's not running for anything. He's not going to run for president. He is here to advise the president of the United States. He does it. He does it well. The president likes it. The vice president likes it. And he just doesn't get up every morning and say, "What can I do to polish my image?"

He gets up every morning and says, "What can we do to make sure there's not another terrorist attack on this country? What can we do today, in the event that that might happen -- how can we prevent it or how can we mitigate it, in the event that it does happen?"

And that's his focus, and that's his orientation. And it's to the benefit of the country.

KING: You expect another terrorist attack?

RUMSFELD: You have to. You have to. I do that here in this department. We sit down and we say, "OK, assume there's a terrorist attack in six months. There's going to be one. We know it now. And it's going to be one or two or three times 9/11. What ought we to be doing today every minute, every hour to see that that doesn't happen? What can we do today to see that, if it does happen, the damage, the effect, the loss of lives are minimal?"

And that's the impetus you have to have. I mean, we know -- they have told us they intend to attack this country again. And -- and I just don't want to see another September 11. KING: We'll be right back with Donald Rumsfeld. Don't go away.


KING: Before we move into some other areas with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, I do want to cover this. On May 4, former CIA analyst publicly accused you of lying in connection with the Iraqi WMDs and the administration's rationale for war. The challenger was Ray McGovern, retired 27-year veteran of the CIA.

He said, Rumsfeld said knew where -- he said you knew -- you said you knew where the WMD sites were. You countered that he said they were suspected sites.

RUMSFELD: He is an activist. He goes around and does this everywhere. He was here recently at the White House. He testified for, I believe, for impeaching President Bush and that type of thing. So that's what he does.

He's wrong. The intelligence community had suspect sites where they believed the locations were most likely. We and -- our troops had gone in from Kuwait north towards -- into Iraq, north towards Baghdad. They had been in there a day or two or three, I believe, when I was asked why haven't you found the weapons of mass destruction?

And I said because they've just gotten in the southern part of the country and we know, I said something to that effect, that the suspect sites or sites were -- meaning suspect sites were up in the area of Baghdad and north. That's where the intelligence community said them. And we weren't there yet. We hadn't covered that piece of real estate.

So he says this about everybody.

KING: You didn't lose sleep over that?

RUMSFELD: No. My gosh.

KING: OK. We're going to deploy National Guard troops on the border. Do you support that?


KING: Aren't they a little worn thin?

RUMSFELD: No. As a matter of fact, we've only got about 19 percent of the force over in Iraq right now is guard or reserve, the rest is active force.

Second, we've got 445,000 guard and we're talking about up to 6,000 for a year and then up to 3,000 for the second year. We did the same thing, for example, after 9/11 when the airports needed some help and the Department of Transportation wasn't able to put people in immediately so the National Guard was put in with the understanding that they wouldn't stay there. That the Transportation Safety Administration would go out and hire people, recruit them, train them and then replace the guard.

That's exactly what's going on right now with respect to the Border Patrol. Our folks are not going to go down there and stand on the borders and stop illegal immigrants. What they're going to do is go down there on their two week activity duty training and do exactly what they would have been doing someplace else.

They are going to build things. They are going to fly UAVs. They are going to provide language competence and it will be a relatively helpful thing to the guard to be doing real work in an important place for a relatively short period of time.

KING: It's not in your purview but I'll ask it anyway. What do you make of -- what are your thoughts on illegal immigration?

RUMSFELD: You know, I'm not involved in it.

KING: You're a citizen. You're an American ...

RUMSFELD: I am. I'm a citizen. But I'm not going to get involved in it. The president is working the problem and it's a very sensitive issue right now up on Capitol Hill. It doesn't fall into my area of jurisdiction and I'm pretty old fashioned. I pretty much stick with things that I've got some responsibility for.

KING: But there is a fast track to citizenship if you go military, right?

RUMSFELD: There are arrangements that if a person serves in the United States military that they can -- I'd have to get the details but you're quite right. There is a way that a person who serves in the military can arrange citizenship.

KING: And you support that.

RUMSFELD: The current law, you bet. Mm-hmm.

KING: Congress has passed a law barring protests at military funerals, respect for fallen heroes. Might come in conflict with the First Amendment. What are your thoughts?

RUMSFELD: If the law passes and is signed into law, statute passes, becomes a statute, obviously we would implement it.

KING: Does it bother you when you see it?

RUMSFELD: It does. It does. I think people who are grieving ought to be permitted to grieve and not be harassed.

KING: Do you attend funerals?

RUMSFELD: I have attended funerals. Obviously I can't attend all funerals but I participate in various activities. I meet with the relatives of people who have died when I go to bases from time to time.

KING: What is that like?

RUMSFELD: It is -- I guess my meetings with them are forward- looking. That is to say I am interested in how they are doing, I am interested in how they are being handled by the military and by the Veterans' Administration or by their support groups. Are we doing the kinds of things we ought to be doing for the families who sacrifice as well as the soldiers, the sailors and Marines?

And I have found that I benefit from doing it. I come away with a better understanding of their lives and their circumstances.

I must add. It reminds me, with Memorial Day coming up. The other day I was in Atlanta when that fellow asked those questions and made those charges and I went up to the Atlanta airport and met at the USO with a whole bunch of troops that had been in Iraq for six months, army, back for two weeks and getting ready to go right back to Iraq and it was a chance to visit with them and say thank you and thank the USO people and when they were -- time to go, they went -- they picked up a duffel bag, went down an escalator.

And as they got into the enormous terminal there in Atlanta, it's one of the biggest airports in the world, people started clapping.

I'm told that that happens all over the country, which is a great thing. It's a wonderful thing. It shows the feeling of the American people. The respect they have for those folks. So it goes back to your question about the American people.

I mean, it is a very different feeling than obviously was the case in Vietnam when that wasn't the case ...

KING: We'll be right back with Don Rumsfeld, don't go away.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Anderson Cooper. At the top of the hour on "360," while Donald Rumsfeld speaks, retired generals right now, including one who commanded men in Iraq, are listening. We'll have their reaction to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's comments. Also, president Bush and Prime Minister Blair, tonight together in Washington, taking questions and talking about setbacks and missteps in Iraq. Also ahead tonight, the showdown between Congress and the Justice Department. Over the weekend, FBI raid on Capitol Hill. The latest twist? House Speaker Dennis Hastert suggesting the Justice Department is retaliating against him. All that and more at the top of the hour on "360."


KING: A former secretary of defense similar to you in that he came from the business world and tried to streamline the Pentagon, Robert McNamara at the end of his long career admitted that Vietnam was wrong. Could you possibly envision Donald Rumsfeld saying the same thing?

RUMSFELD: No, I can't. I know Bob McNamara. In fact, I was with him recently. The president invited former secretaries of defense and state in to meet with him in the Roosevelt Room in the White House, as a matter of fact, twice in the last couple of months. And Bob was there. And he is a fine man, a very talented person. And it was good to see him.

KING: He lives with a lot of pain, though.

RUMSFELD: He does. As a matter of fact, he has just been ill, but he's much better. He was mobile.

KING: Are you going to write your own memoir?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't know.

KING: Youngest secretary -- you were the youngest secretary of defense and the oldest secretary of defense.

RUMSFELD: So far. They'll beat both records someday.

KING: But do you ever think of penning it?

RUMSFELD: I do. I do. But not very often. I'm so busy. I've got a full life, and I work long hours and have a wonderful family. And I just haven't gotten into that phase of my life where I want to reflect back and write a book about it. But maybe someday.

KING: You're definitely staying throughout this administration, aren't you? There's no doubt about that? Or I don't want to put words in your mouth.

RUMSFELD: Well, you just did. I mean, I think...

KING: That's right. I took it back, though.

RUMSFELD: That's up to the president.

KING: But if he says yes, you're staying?

RUMSFELD: I -- I think that I'm not going to get into that. I obviously feel that what we're doing is important, I support him enthusiastically. He is enormously talented, bright. I just spent an hour and a half with him. And he must have asked 50 questions of John Abizaid and me and General Pace. The three of us were with him. And I enjoy working with him, because he is such a talented, dedicated, decent person.

KING: What are you going to do after 2008?

RUMSFELD: I don't know. I haven't really thought about it. I'm so busy doing what I'm doing and enjoying what I'm doing and feel that we're making progress, that I don't think about that.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld right after this.


KING: A couple of other quick things in our remaining couple of moments here. Future of Guantanamo?

RUMSFELD: Well, it's an interesting problem. It's got a bad reputation. It is an exceedingly well run, professional, humane detention center. And the prisoners there are being treated by our soldiers and sailors and marines in a perfectly proper, humane way, the detainees are.

We don't want to be jailer for the world. We don't. We would prefer not to have anyone. We'd like to have all of these people go back to the countries they came from and be dealt with there. Unfortunately, some of the countries we aren't allowed to give them to, because we worry that they would not be treated in a humane manner.

We're trying to get through the courts so that these military commissions can process these people, and each one is reviewed every year to determine whether or not it's appropriate to detain them.

But there are some very vicious, violent extremist people down there who have killed people and who will go -- say they'll go right back out and kill Americans again. And to just turn them loose on the streets, as some people have naively suggested, is mindless. It doesn't make any sense.

So while it's unfortunate that we have to hold them, but in every war prisoners of war have been held. In every war, people who are dangerous, if they got back out on the street, unlawful combatants, have been held, and there's nothing new in this at all. And I wish there were a better answer for it, but I don't know what one is. And I haven't heard anyone come up with one.

KING: Are you going to go back to Iraq again soon?

RUMSFELD: Oh, sure. I go back every few months.

KING: Have a good trip with the secretary of state?

RUMSFELD: Really did -- we had excellent meetings with the people in the government: the Shia, the Sunnis, the Kurds. And interesting -- we met with them privately and we met with them in front of each other. And they said basically the same thing. And I think these are serious people and they know that they confront some serious problems.

KING: By the way, there is a Web site that provides information on how people can support U.S. military men and women and their families. The Internet address is AmericaSupportsYou -- that's one word -- -- M-I-L. And that's

RUMSFELD: It's terrific. It lists all the things that families and schools and organizations and corporations and churches are doing to support the troops and their families, and we appreciate it.

KING: And what are you doing on Memorial Day?

RUMSFELD: I'll be speaking with the president at Arlington Cemetery.

KING: That's mixed feelings, isn't it?


RUMSFELD: Thank you, Larry. Good to be with you.

KING: Always good to see you.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.

KING: Thanks for your courtesy.

From the Pentagon, this is Larry King with the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. It's always a great pleasure to be with him.

Tomorrow night, the new "American Idol" will be on LARRY KING LIVE.

Do you watch it?

RUMSFELD: (Laughs) Heck, no!

KING: You don't? That's funny. Don Rumsfeld rushes home to see who won "American Idol."

Anderson Cooper is also with us, and Tuesday night, Dame Elizabeth Taylor. We're diversified.

RUMSFELD: You are!

KING: "ANDERSON COOPER 360" is next. Good night.