Transcript: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld on 'FNS'

Published November 21, 2005

| FoxNews.com

The following is a transcript from "FOX News Sunday" that aired on Nov. 13, 2005.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: In Iraq, a number of daily terror attacks. Five American soldiers were killed by roadside bombs near a small town north of Baghdad, and the number of Iraqi civilians killed this weekend in separate incidents now tops 120. To discuss all this, we're joined now by the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

And, Mr. Secretary, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday".

DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: Thank you so much. It's good to be with you.

WALLACE: Thank you, sir. The Senate passed a resolution this week that is widely seen as reflecting growing impatience among both Republicans and Democrats with the Iraq war.

Republican Senator John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the American U.S. forces have done their job. Now it's the Iraqis' turn. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR JOHN WARNER, R-VA.: We expect the Iraqi people in the coming months, particularly the next 120 days, which this senator deems critical, to take a stronger, take-charge action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: On the military side, do you plan any change in policy to speed up the transition to Iraqi self-defense over the next 120 days?

RUMSFELD: The situation is basically this, that the Iraqi political process is making good progress. We've got an elected government. We've had a constitution fashioned by the constituent assembly. That constitution has been endorsed in a referendum on October 15.

And the Iraqi people in less than a month are going to go and vote for people under that new constitution.

We currently have 160,000 men and women in uniform over there. We plan to go back down to our baseline of about 138,000 after the election is over.

And at that time, the battlefield commanders will continue to pass over responsibility to the Iraqi security forces and to the Iraqi political and provincial leaders and make recommendations as to their views as to the extent to which the coalition forces can be reduced further below those levels. And as the president said, that will be condition-based.

WALLACE: OK. Let me ask you specifically about this transition to Iraqis' security, self-defense, which Senator Warner and a lot of other Republicans on Capitol Hill were talking about this week.

In September, top generals reported that there were only 800 Iraqis, one battalion, that was so-called level one, able to go into combat operations by itself. There were 29,000 Iraqis that were so- called level two, able to lead operations, but with U.S. support. In the two months since, how significantly have those numbers changed?

RUMSFELD: You know, I think the way to do it is to look at it in perspective. We asked General Petraeus, who was involved in training the Iraqi security forces, to come back and brief the Congress and brief the press and brief the public, which he did.

And he explained that out of the 212,000 Iraqi security forces, the overwhelming majority are involved in providing security for the Iraqi people. People have gone and tried to isolate out — well, this group can only do this, and this group can do that. But the fact of the matter is that if you're a police unit, you don't have to be mobile and be able to travel all over the country.

And I think that the debate has been, to some extent, misinformed. The Iraqi security forces are doing an excellent job. They're well-respected by the Iraqi people. They're engaged in the fight. They provided security for the October 15th referendum. They are going to provide security for the December 15th election.

WALLACE: But if I...

RUMSFELD: And General Pace has said that there's something in the neighborhood of 100 battalions engaged in the fight.

WALLACE: If I may ask, sir, specifically about level ones and level two, there were 30,000 of those two months ago. Are there more today?

RUMSFELD: The Iraqi security forces are larger in numbers and better qualified and better capable every single day. All this effort, and all this time, and all this money has gone into that.

If you think about it, many of our forces — our Army supplies support for our Marines. We provide neighbors for our NATO allies in Afghanistan. So the idea that each unit can't do everything is, I think, a misunderstanding and somewhat mischievous.

WALLACE: But you're not going to answer my question as to whether the level ones and twos have changed, the numbers?

RUMSFELD: I think what's important...

WALLACE: Because that is a number that...

RUMSFELD: I just said the numbers are improving every single day. They are. We now have people embedded in the Iraqi security forces. They can tell when the leadership's not good and get it fixed.

They can tell when the equipment — there's a shortage and get it fixed. They can tell when there's a disconnect between the intelligence. I think looking at the raw numbers is a mistake and a misunderstanding of the situation.

WALLACE: All right. There are reports that I'm sure you've seen this weekend that top U.S. commanders have submitted a plan to you that would reduce the number of troops in Iraq from 150,000 now to under 100,000 by the end of 2006.

Now, I understand this is condition-based to what happens on the ground. But is that number of 100,000 — is that possible by the end of next year?

RUMSFELD: At the present time, we've got about 159,000. We plan to bring it down to 138,000 after the elections, which is kind of our baseline.

General Casey has been working with the Iraqis to pass over responsibility and to develop the conditions on which further reductions would be based. And at the time he decides to make a recommendation to the president, the president will make a decision.

But sure, is it possible? Sure, it's possible. Anything's possible. The fact of the matter is...

WALLACE: Do you think it's realistic?

RUMSFELD: ... is his job is to make plans and to think about what might be and what are the conditions that would cause that.

We're consistently passing off responsibility. We've turned over something like 17 bases to the Iraqis recently. The Iraqis are in charge of one entire province. They're in charge of a big chunk of Baghdad currently.

They're taking on more and more responsibility every day, and as that happens and as their numbers go up, clearly, the coalition forces can come down.

WALLACE: So you think it's possible.

RUMSFELD: We'll wait and see what General Casey recommends, but it's proper for him to be making plans of that type.

WALLACE: Democratic Congressman John Murtha this week made a big bunch of news when he called for an immediate pull-out or certainly a pull-out within the next six months of all U.S. troops. Let's watch what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN MURTHA, D-PA.: The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It's a flawed policy wrapped in illusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Mr. Secretary, here's a decorated Vietnam veteran, generally speaking a hawk on military matters. What message does it send to you as the secretary of defense when you've lost Jack Murtha on Iraq?

RUMSFELD: I think the way to approach it is that if you go back to World War II, go back to the Korean War, the Vietnam War, even Desert Storm, there have always been debates over wars. It's understandable.

We live in a free country and it's proper for people to raise questions and to have views. And he does, and that's fair enough. There are a lot of other views. His views were not broadly supported in the House or the Senate either by Democrats or Republicans. Indeed, overwhelming majority of Republicans and Democrats disagreed with the views that were expressed.

But everyone has a right to say what they think. And that's fair enough. We also have to understand that our words have effects. And put yourself in the shoes of a soldier who thinks that we're going to pull out precipitously or immediately, as some people have proposed.

Obviously, they have to wonder whether what they're doing makes sense if that's the idea, if that's the debate. Put yourselves in the shoes of the Iraqi people who've put a great deal at risk to run for office, and support the elections, and support the constitution, and subject themselves to risk of assassination.

Put yourself in the shoes of the enemy. The enemy hears a big debate in the United States, and they have to wonder maybe all we have to do is wait and we'll win. We can't win militarily. They know that. The battle is here in the United States.

WALLACE: So how do you...

RUMSFELD: I was reading a book by Winston Churchill the other day, and Winston Churchill said something to the effect that the problem is not winning the war but persuading people to let you win it. Winston Churchill said that about World War II.

So this is not new. This is a fair debate and a fair discussion, and people ought to have different views, because the stakes are enormous. But the important question is ask yourself what the world would look like if we pulled out precipitously.

Ask yourself if that country, with their oil and their water and their intelligent people, is turned into a haven for terrorists, compared to the opportunity we have to have that be a democratic system that's respectful of its people, at peace with its neighbors, and the difference for us — the dangers for the American people will be vastly different depending on how we manage ourselves.

WALLACE: American forces were able to discover and open up, clear out a secret Iraqi prison this last week in which apparently 170 people were being held and allegedly being tortured.

How actively is the U.S. military investigating whether there are other secret prisons in Iraq? And what message are you sending to the Iraqi government about this kind of conduct?

RUMSFELD: Well, I have been in Australia in the last several days when this occurred, but my understanding is that there is an investigation going on with the Iraqi government, that the Iraqi government has expressed concern about it, and that there will be a review of how Iraqis manage their prisons.

WALLACE: And what's your view of this and how much it hurts the U.S. war effort if you've got Iraqis torturing other Iraqis?

RUMSFELD: It obviously hurts. The president of the United States at the outset of this war said that people should be treated humanely. People who understand these things know that torture doesn't work and it's inhumane. Every instruction we've issued requires humane treatment.

The instances where there has been something other than humane treatment have been prosecuted, over 200 of them, and people punished for that behavior. And I'm sure that that is the standard one would hope for out of the Iraqi government as well.

WALLACE: I want to ask you about one other Iraq question before we move on to other business. Time Magazine reports today that the top leaders in the Senate Armed Services Committee — Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat, John Warner, the chairman — met with 10 military officers chosen for their experience in the battlefield, and they said — and we just got this this morning — in contrast to the Pentagon's stock answer that there are enough troops on the ground in Iraq, the commanders said they not only needed more manpower but also had repeatedly asked for it, and then it quotes a senior military officer as saying that they requested more troops as recently as August 2005 but were turned down flat. True or false?

RUMSFELD: Well, if you're asking, in three years, at some level, somewhere in Iraq, some commander — a colonel — wanted more troops, I don't doubt it for a minute, because it then goes up to General Casey. He looks at the situation, allocates troops, and decides where they'll go. And that certainly sounds plausible to me.

He's the one in charge of seeing that their proper allocation takes place. He's also the one in charge of making recommendations to General Abizaid, to me and the president as to the levels he wants.

And the short answer is there's never been a single instance, whether under General Casey or General Tommy Franks, where Washington has told them no, they can't have the troops they want. They have gotten every single troop they've requested.

WALLACE: Let's move on to a couple of other subjects. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward revealed this week that a senior administration official told him in June of 2003 about CIA Officer Valerie Plame. A number of top officials from the president on down have put out word they were not Woodward's source.

RUMSFELD: So everyone's going around saying it was not I, not I.

WALLACE: Yes. As a matter of fact, they are.

RUMSFELD: That's amazing.

WALLACE: So, simple yes or no question. Did you ever speak to Bob Woodward about either Ambassador Joe Wilson or CIA Officer Valerie Plame?

RUMSFELD: No, of course not. This is quite amusing. I was asked to speak with Mr. Woodward about a couple of books he's written, and I declined, and finally I was told by the White House, the president, that he thought I should meet with him. So I did. But I did it on the basis that there would be a transcript and it would be public.

And both of the times that I've met with him, the transcript's there. It's public. You can go read it. And you won't find anything like that in it.

WALLACE: And there were no other secret phone calls? You're off the hook, is what you're saying.

RUMSFELD: I was never on.

WALLACE: Finally, I want to ask you about something, and I must say, when I...

RUMSFELD: This is a typical Washington game, isn't it? You go around to everybody and say what about you, what about you, what about you. He's really caused a stir. I was in Adelaide, Australia and I read something about this and was amused by it all.

WALLACE: Well, so it's not just Washington. But let me ask you one last thing. And I have to say, a lot of people wanted me to ask you about this. Able Danger, an intelligence unit in the Pentagon — did they or did they not identify Mohammed Atta and some of the other 9/11 hijackers in the year 2000?

RUMSFELD: There are people that said they did. The year 2000 or earlier? I don't remember when it was.

WALLACE: No, the year 2000.

RUMSFELD: Was it? I wasn't in government at the time, obviously.

WALLACE: Right.

RUMSFELD: But there are some people who say that that's the case. There are other people involved who say it isn't. And the people in the Pentagon, I'm told, have spent just enormous numbers of hours digging into everything they can find and giving it to the appropriate committees of the Congress, and they have not been able to validate it.

WALLACE: I don't understand why it's so complicated. I mean, people are — I mean, it's a fact. Why wouldn't you, as the secretary of defense, your people underneath you, be able to find out?

RUMSFELD: They've looked and they — you can't prove a negative. They've looked and looked and looked and looked and found everything they could find. Cannot find validation of that, which doesn't mean it didn't happen.

You say you don't understand why it can't be done. But you couldn't do it either. You can't prove a negative. All you can say is we've looked and looked and looked. We can't say it didn't happen, but we also don't have evidence that it did.

WALLACE: All right. Thank you.

RUMSFELD: Fair enough.

WALLACE: You've cleared up two issues there for us, Mr. Secretary. Thank you. That's a good morning's work.

RUMSFELD: Indeed.

WALLACE: Thank you indeed. Thanks so much for coming in. Please come back again, sir.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.

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