This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Feb. 1, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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BRIT HUME, HOST: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's interview with FOX News correspondent Bret Baier, beginning with the secretary's reaction to the Iraqi elections.
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There are two powerful reactions or feelings that I had. One was that as those Iraqis went out, sometimes very tentatively, stood around the polling place, didn't go in to vote, waited to see if anyone else was going to vote, and finally voted. And then what they saw was that everyone else was voting.
And think of the confidence they gained. They were told if they voted, they'd be killed. The election workers were told they'd be killed if they worked at the election area. Iraqi security forces were attacked, and they stayed right there and did their job. Acts of enormous personal courage by those people.
But the important thing was they saw that the overwhelming majority of the Iraqis, millions of Iraqis, want to vote. They want to have elections. They want to be free. They want to make a success out of their country. And they saw that everyone else felt that way. The encouragement and the confidence that that gives them just has to be enormous. I mean, it has to cause a tipping of support for the government, whoever is elected.
The second thing, you can't help but think of all the people who have been killed or wounded, and all the people who have said that we shouldn't be there, we should pull out, or we shouldn't have done it, and that type of thing. And — and those people, who were there putting their lives at risk, those people who fell in the nation's service over there, those people who were wounded and are now in the recuperation and therapy and trying to recover from terrible wounds, they have to be proud.
BRET BAIER: What do you think this election will do for the security situation on the ground in Iraq?
RUMSFELD: Well, you know, if you have a country of 25 million people and you have X thousands of criminals, terrorists, Baathists, former regime elements, who want to blow up things and make bombs and kill people, they can still do that. I mean, that happens in the cities of most major cities in the world — most countries in the world, that people get killed and there's violence. And it's a violent part of the world. So I don't expect that it will end the violence. I do think that they are clearly now on a path towards a free system.
BAIER: The Sunnis who stayed away, do you believe that they were staying away because they were boycotting or because they were intimidated? Do you have any ...
RUMSFELD: Probably both.
RUMSFELD: Sure. You know, you had, what, 20 percent of the population ran the country for 35 years. Not a bad deal. And not likely to happen now. And so they're trying to figure out how this all works. It — put it this way — in a vicious dictatorship like that, that existed for so many decades, the idea that a piece of paper, a constitution can protect people from repression or from unfairness by another element in their community, you want to be very careful before you buy that. And so they are careful, and I can understand their being careful. But it's going happen. And it's going to happen because every other element in that country knows that for success, they want the Sunnis involved. And so there are going to be Sunnis. There were Sunnis on the list and there will be Sunnis elected, and the process will reflect the reality that the winners in this election know that it's in their interests to find ways to engage the Sunnis that don't have blood on their hands.
BAIER: Do you have any metric to gauge how many Iraqi forces are trained and equipped enough to be able to take the reins now?
RUMSFELD: Sure. I mean, we know. We know that there's 130,200 Iraqis. Is that enough? The answer is no. It's going to take more than that in a country like that. How many more? Well, it's hard to know, because you don't know how violent the insurgency is going to be. Their problem is not to defend themselves against external threats at the present time. Their problem is to repress that insurgency and stop it. And ...
BAIER: You know, there's a lot of debate on this subject, on the numbers of the Iraqi troops that are ready. I mean, Sen. Biden in Condoleezza Rice's hearings said, "For God's sakes, don't listen to Rumsfeld, he doesn't know what in the hell he's talking about on this." How do you respond to that?
RUMSFELD: Well, I mean, obviously the people who are providing this information provide it every week. We put it on the Web site. It's available to any member of the House or Senate or the public. And the fact of the matter is that there are 130,200 who have been trained and equipped. No matter what he is. That's a fact.
And how do I know that? I know it because Gen. Petraeus counts them. Now, are some getting killed every day? Sure. Are some retiring at various times or injured? Yes, they're gone. Are new ones coming in every day? Yes. Are the numbers adjusting every day? Certainly.
Now, does that mean that because a person is trained and equipped that they're highly skilled or as competent as U.S. forces? Of course not. There isn't a military in the Middle East that's as competent as U.S. forces. But the idea that that number is wrong is just not correct. I mean, the number is right. The number is what Gen. Petraeus is saying it is, and I believe him. And I believe Gen. Casey, and I believe Gen. Abizaid.
Now, the important thing is that that really misses the point. The numbers. What you're looking for is capability. And capability is a function partly of numbers, partly of training, partly of equipment. But it's also a function of leadership, it's a function of experience. And these are not battle-hardened veterans. These are not people who have been in the military or the police or the border patrol or the National Guard for two, four, six, eight years and had deployments and had experience and know the chain of command. The ministries are terribly weak. They didn't exist. So they're being staffed up now. And you need a strong ministry to see that the effectiveness of the forces is there.
BAIER: So are we entering tougher times now post-election? Or is this the beginning of a stage where down the road we're going to see U.S. troops coming home in large numbers?
RUMSFELD: Look, the president said they are going to stay as long as they're needed and not one day longer. Now, what does that mean? It means that we have no intention in keeping them there permanently. We have every intention of bringing them home. The goal is to — is to assist the Iraqis to develop the capability with respect to their security forces so that they can provide for their own security.
BAIER: Do you see this as a vindication personally, this election, as a vindication of you after a year of a lot of critics coming after you, and maybe a vindication of U.S. policy?
RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't think of it in terms of vindication, or even a need for vindication. I don't think there's ever been a wartime president or a wartime secretary of defense where there haven't been people critical of it. What's important is that we have wonderful young men and women out there who are doing an absolutely superb job for our country. They're well-led, they're well-equipped. They know that what they're doing is noble work. And when this is over, they will look back with great pride on what they've accomplished, on the people — 25 million people in Afghanistan they've liberated; 25 million people in Iraq they will have liberated, and they will see those two countries on a path towards democracy and they'll be proud the rest of their lives.
BAIER: Mr. Secretary, thank you.
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