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Special Report

Donald Rumsfeld Reflects on Iraq War in New Book

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 14, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

 

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: He is both the youngest and oldest man to serve as defense secretary and the only one to do it twice. Donald Rumsfeld has chronicled his journey from a small town outside Chicago to big time Washington politics in his memoir, "Known and Unknown." He joins us live tonight.

Welcome, Mr. Secretary.

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Thank you. Good to be with you.

BAIER: It was an interesting read. A lot of anecdotes and stories over your almost six decades of public service. But I want to focus on the time I covered you at the Pentagon --

RUMSFELD: Indeed.

BAIER: -- more than five years.

RUMSFELD: We did a little traveling.

BAIER: Yeah. First on Afghanistan. You know on those briefings, some reporter, and many times it was me, who would ask you where is Osama bin Laden. How close are you? In the book you get into -- do you really know how close the U.S. may have been in the mountains of Tora Bora back then?

RUMSFELD: No, we don't. There are people who speculated about it. But I can remember personally watching an unmanned aerial vehicle's video feed and seeing a tall man in a white robe with people around him and everyone watching that was convinced it was Osama. And at a certain moment, something spooked him and he took off like a gazelle. He couldn't have been over 20 years old. I mean, all of us were convinced it was.

BAIER: You write in the book this, "On December 20th, I sent a memo to CIA Director George Tenet saying that we might be missing an opportunity in Tora Bora and perhaps we should reconsider earlier decisions against bringing in more U.S. forces." In that same graph you say, later you learned that a CIA operative on the ground had requested some rangers to help with Tora Bora and "I never received such a request from either Franks [General Franks], or George Tenet. I cannot imagine denying it if I had." Do you think General Franks and George Tenet dropped the ball there?

RUMSFELD: No, not at all. No, I mean, look, they have big responsibilities, and people three to four layers down from them have perspectives. And they go to their boss and the boss says, "no, you're wrong. " The fellow down below thinks he's right. So you have all of these layers. And I don't -- I mean, that's what they have those big jobs for is they are there to make those kinds of judgments and I wouldn't --

BAIER: So it was a communication chain issue?

RUMSFELD: No, not at all. I think that they made -- somebody made a conscious decision at some level below, certainly below me, and also below Franks and Tenet, that in fact the information wasn't sufficient or there were other reasons that balanced it out. I wouldn't want that impression at all.

BAIER: What's amazing is that you've also put everything, all the documents, on this Web site.

RUMSFELD: Right.

BAIER: So you can read the raw documents?

RUMSFELD: Exactly.

BAIER: Rumsfeld.com.

RUMSFELD: Rumsfeld.com and there's literally thousands of pages of primary source material where that memo would appear.

BAIER: On to Iraq, in your book the sections where you describe Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer, he comes off as pretty imperious, perhaps ineffective. Is that how you saw him?

RUMSFELD: I wouldn't say ineffective.

BAIER: So imperious works for you?

RUMSFELD: I mostly use the words from his own book and how he characterized himself. He agreed to take a tough job. He did take a tough job. And a lot of good things happened during that period. Personally, as I say in my book, I would have liked to see it go faster. I think that it was important to get an Iraqi face on the governing responsibilities in that country at an earlier day. And I had thought that was what our policy was but there were differences at the State Department. They felt that a slower process would be better.

I had gotten a lot and Tommy Franks and I, General Franks and I both had been told by the neighbors, neighboring countries, look, do it fast. Don't stay long. We don't want a heavy footprint. And get in, and get the Iraqis in charge of their own country. They were worried about the Arab street, and I personally felt that that was the way to do it but I wasn't on the ground. He had to make a lot of those decisions and we just differed on it.

BAIER: De-Ba'athification, the dissolving of the army, wrong call?

RUMSFELD: No.

BAIER: And did you know it was going to happen when it happened?

RUMSFELD: As I write in the book, there are people who are critical of both of those decisions. And the fact of the matter is, if you go back to World War II, there was a de-Nazification process. And there had to be a de-Ba'athification process. The question is, how was it administered? And we had a big discussion in the National Security Council. The president asked a lot of questions. And in the last analysis it probably was administered in a way that made the Sunnis feel that they, who had run the country for years, feel that they were on the outs. And so at a certain point, Jerry Bremer changed the person who was running the de- Ba'athification process and put in someone who would do it a more moderate way.

BAIER: Nobody was a bigger defender of yours than Vice President Dick Cheney who when you were leaving said you were one of best defense secretaries the nation's has ever had. It's been reported a couple of places that he was making really tough questions about troop levels and strategy to the Pentagon to you back in 2003 and on. And he is seen as largely a supporter of the surge. Did he ever tell you directly that he thought we needed more troops in Iraq?

RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness, I can't recall. I don't think he did, but he may have. We had discussions with the president, the vice president, Colin Powell, Condi Rice, George Tenet, General Franks, General Casey, General Abizaid all the time about troop levels. We always had discussions. Everyone had opinions and in the last analysis there was never any firm disagreement with what General Franks was doing and certainly I did not disagree with General Franks.

BAIER: So do you think the surge worked?

RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness, yes. And it was a very bold important thing that the president did. But --

BAIER: But you weren't a proponent of light -- you were more of a proponent of a light footprint, as you just talked about?

RUMSFELD: The neighboring countries were and indeed --

BAIER: As were you, right?

RUMSFELD: I was for putting in whatever we needed and so was General Franks. And then there was this judgment call. There were many things that took place that made the surge work. I mean, for one thing, General Petraeus when he'd been in there, training and equipping the Iraqi security forces, had moved from zero up to hundreds of thousands ready to help out. The on -- our awakening had occurred, and that was important. The Sunnis had started feeling that they didn't like the Al Qaeda. The Maliki government had matured and gone down and done some good work in the south and the Shia area against the dissidents.

So the big thing that President Bush we increased troops by about that number two or three times over the period and it didn't have that effect. What had the effect was President Bush deciding in a galvanized opinion in Iraq and a galvanized opinion at home and it was a very bold, wise thing to do.

BAIER: You're on this book tour and all the proceeds are going where?

RUMSFELD: All the proceeds are going to go to the wounded and the troops and their families who also serve and to the children of the fallen. And I must say, we are so fortunate in this country to have these young men and women willing to serve our country and raising their hand and say "I want to do it," and volunteering. What a fortunate country we are.

BAIER: Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for the time.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.

BAIER: Multiculturalism takes another hit from a European leader. That's next in "The Grapevine." And on this Valentine's Day, would you want your cousin to date a Guantanamo detainee? One official in a well-know city says bring it on.

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