WASHINGTON – Once its internal security forces are trained to handle violent insurgents, Iraq will require more time to build a military force strong enough to meet any threats from Iran or other neighbors, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) says.
Vice President Dick Cheney (search) and Rumsfeld, appearing separately on Sunday talk shows, agreed Iraq will shape its own government and will reflect its political and social demands in that system, not those of the United States. The role religion will play will be for Iraqis to decide, Cheney said.
"This is going to be Iraqi, whatever it is. It's not going to be American. It's not going to look like Wyoming or New York when they get their political process all put together," Cheney told "Fox News Sunday."
Rumsfeld said he doubts Iraq will choose a theocratic system mirroring that of Iran, a choice he said would be "a terrible mistake."
Rumsfeld said he doesn't believe President Bush's State of the Union declaration that U.S. troops will leave Iraq when the country "is democratic, representative of all its people, at peace with its neighbors, and able to defend itself" means American forces will be there for years to come.
"What he meant was that the Iraqis' internal security forces would be capable of managing the security situation inside the country," Rumsfeld told ABC's "This Week."
"It will take some time after that before they would have the kind of capability to dissuade Iran, for example, if Iran decided to try to conduct a war with them again."
Some religious leaders in Iraq say they want Islam to be a guiding principle of the Iraqi constitution to be written. Cheney urged caution in forecasting what a future Baghdad government might do.
"I don't think, at this stage, that there's anything like justification for hand-wringing or concern on the part of Americans that somehow they're going to produce a result we won't like," the vice president said.
He said the Iranian government was "a religious theocracy that has been a dismal failure, from the standpoint of the rights of individuals."
Speaking of the future Iraqi government on NBC's "Meet the Press," Rumsfeld said: "I think it would just be an enormous mistake for that country to think that it could succeed with all of its opportunity — with its oil, its water, its intelligent population — to deny half of their population, women, to participate fully, I think just would be a terrible mistake."
Rumsfeld said no one can know how long it will take to train various forces to secure Iraq internally, dismissing analysts' predictions of at least two years. One of several factors, he told ABC, is the behavior of Iran and Syria and "the extent to which they're going to be unhelpful or helpful."
Syria has not done all it can to ease the insurgency in Iraq, Rumsfeld said, nor has it released millions of dollars in Iraqi assets. "There is no doubt that the Baathists are located in Syria, from Iraq," the secretary said in one cable television interview.
"Syria has not been helpful" — nor, he added on CBS' "Face the Nation," has been Iran.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy questioned why Iraqi forces take longer than American troops to train for security duties.
"Why can't they defend their own country?" Kennedy, D-Mass. "How long do we have to have Americans fighting and dying? How long do we have to ask the taxpayers to continue to pay out?"
Kennedy said the administration should set a goal with Iraq for bringing home U.S. troops by 2006.
On related topics, Rumsfeld:
—Ruled out the possibility of reviving the military draft (search). "We don't need one. We have the ability to attract and retain the people we need in the military."
—Said that in twice offering to resign at the height of the Abu Ghraib (search) prisoner abuse scandal last year, he still could be an effective Pentagon chief but wanted Bush to make that call. "I told him I really thought he ought to carefully consider it. But he made a conscious decision, and life goes on, and here we are."