OTR Interviews

Rumsfeld Reflects on 9/11, 10 Years Later and U.S. Troop Reduction in Iraq

Former defense secretary looks back on the Sept. 11 attacks 10 years later, sounds off on dropping troop levels in Iraq


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 6, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Ten years later, is America safer place? We are only nine days, or a couple days away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Earlier today, we sat down with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to talk with him about that. And we asked about a possible troop withdrawal from Iraq. Military forces are telling FOX News that all but 3,000 U.S. troops will be left in Iraq by the end of the year. Here is former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.


VAN SUSTEREN: It's hard to believe it is 10 years since 9/11.

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: It's amazing. It is a good thing we are marking that day, because we can remember the people who were lost there, their families, their friends, and how fortunate we have been that we've passed a whole decade almost where we haven't had a successful attack on America.

VAN SUSTEREN: In the media, how do you honor the day, not exploit it and not tell the terrorists that they got us?

RUMSFELD: I suppose there is a tension there in one's mind. But it was the largest attack on America inside of our country. It led to a new set of steps to try to protect the American people, a different way of looking at it, instead of thinking we can defend what you can't defend against a terrorist, every place at every moment of the day or night against every conceivable technique. But we had to go after them and put pressure on them. Thus far it has been quite successful.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's the Bush doctrine, the preemption, right, pretty much?

RUMSFELD: I wouldn't use the word "preemption." It's more making everything they do difficult, making it harder for them to raise money. Harder to talk to each other, harder to move between countries, harder to find a country that will tolerate them, harder to train.

Now, we don't have metrics to know how successful we've been in terms of reducing their recruiting or fundraising. But we do know that while they've had some successful attacks elsewhere in the world, in the last decade, they've not been successful here.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you have a sense the Obama administration also has that strategy? Like in Libya, the go to the -- prevent it from happening in the future or not?

RUMSFELD: I think Libya is different. They argued that on humanitarian terms not on terrorism, although, he had been a sponsor of terrorism, to be sure.

No, I think what they did was they campaigned again the Bush approach. And once they got in they realized the 90 nation coalition that was put together was successful in sharing intelligence and tracking bank accounts and cooperating against terrorism.

And they ended up keeping Guantanamo open not because they like it. We didn't like it either. But they couldn't think of a better solution. The same is true with the Patriot Act and military commissions and indefinite detention. All of those things were criticized but today are still in place two and a half years later because they are the best alternative to the other choices. And they are in fact successful in keeping America safer.

VAN SUSTEREN: You pointed out a piece of the plane that hit --

RUMSFELD: Indeed. I picked that up the morning of the attack.

VAN SUSTEREN: It is unbelievable what happened. You could feel the building shake on the 11th?

RUMSFELD: I could, and immediately went down the hall until the smoke was so bad, outside, around the corner. And the field out there, the grass was covered with pieces this size off that enormous airplane which had been loaded with jet fuel and crashed into the building at 500 miles-an-hour.

And there were very few pieces that couldn't be put in the back of a pick-up truck it had been so totally exploded. There were people, the building was burning, as you know, well. Smoke filling it.

VAN SUSTEREN: President Bush thought he would be a different president, probably would be the education present. One day that changed and he became a wartime president. You were secretary of defense. You probably didn't think you would be a wartime secretary of defense.

RUMSFELD: I certainly didn't. Interesting footnote in history is that Secretary McNamara in his confirmation hearing was never asked a word about Vietnam. Dick Cheney in his hearing for secretary of defense was never asked a word about Iraq. And yet the Iraq War -- I was never asked about Afghanistan or Al Qaeda in my confirmation hearing.

So, it suggests that a president and his cabinet are faced with the way the world works and they have to live with that. You are quite right, President Bush I'm sure came in thinking he would be focused on domestic issues.

VAN SUSTEREN: You mentioned Vice President Cheney, and there's been a lot in the news about his book and the spat between him and Colin Powell. There's tension before Defense and State for decades. What do you make of that between those two?

RUMSFELD: Of course, I read about half his book so far. He had a close relationship with Colin Powell when they were in the Pentagon in the George Herbert Walker Bush days.

I've not gotten to the last portion of the vice president's book yet. I'm looking forward to reading it. So I don't know what it's about other than there are in a national security council, as you point out, there were difficulties between Schlesinger and Kissinger, between various people because they represent different viewpoints, different perspectives.

And I of course worked with both during that period as well as with Secretary Rice when she moved over there. I just haven't had a chance to read that portion of the book.

VAN SUSTEREN: Vice President Cheney applied for a fellowship with you?


VAN SUSTEREN: You didn't take him?

RUMSFELD: I didn't. I was looking for a lawyer he was a budding academic at the time. That was probably in the first quarter of 1969. I was in my fourth term in Congress. He was -- just won an American Political Science Association fellowship and he was one of several who apply. I ended up taking in a lawyer. About three or four months later I hired him at the office of economic opportunity after I resigned from Congress and went into President Nixon's cabinet.

VAN SUSTEREN: So it all worked out.

RUMSFELD: It did. And we worked together off and on periodically. I went into business and we went to Congress. But I enjoyed working with him. He's a fine man.

VAN SUSTEREN: In the last few hours there's been a Fox News report that President Obama has decided to draw down Iraq troops to 3,000 by the end of the year. There's some generals who are deeply disturbed. Senator Lindsey Graham is upset about that. What is your thought on drawing down to 3,000?

RUMSFELD: I would have to hear what was said and what the decision was and what the remaining 3,000 are going to be doing there and what the attitude, I don't know what the attitude of the Iraqi government is. There's been difficulties there between the U.S. government the Obama administration and the Iraqi government. I don't know about what their understandings are.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about Ahmadinejad? Do you think he's standing by waiting to go in?

RUMSFELD: Certainly the Iranians are attempting aggressively to increase their influence in the world, certainly in the region. They are supporting various terrorist organizations, working with the government of Syria. They are making difficulties for us in Iraq, to be sure. They make difficulties in Afghanistan as well.

I don't know that the drawdown will necessarily change their posture for the worse because they are already behaving in a way that is notably unhelpful to the Iraqi people and the coalition of countries that have been helpful to Iraq.