OTR Interviews

Rumsfeld: I don't think it was a tough decision to kill Bin Laden

Former defense secretary on the anniversary of bin Laden's killing, its politicization and the state of Afghanistan


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," May 1, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Now former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He says the United States special operations forces and Navy SEALs are the finest warriors on the face of the earth, and much of the credit for killing Usama bin Laden goes to them, Secretary Rumsfeld tweeting, "The special operators who have every right to spike the football are too professional to do so. The White House might follow their lead."

Secretary Rumsfeld also wrote the book, "Known and Unknown." We spoke to him earlier tonight.


VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Secretary, it's nice to see you, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: It's a year ago, about a year ago that Usama bin Laden was killed by our people. And I sort of -- I want to you put it in perspective for me. We've got the president overseas now in Afghanistan. Your thoughts on this?

RUMSFELD: Well, it was a huge accomplishment. It was something that -- that took a lot of cooperation between our intelligence people and our special operations forces over many, many years and accumulating pieces of information and finally being able to pinpoint and act with that great precision.

We're so fortunate to have what have to be described as the finest warriors on the face of the earth in our special operations forces and Navy SEALs.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do we avoid having sort of the poisoning effect that it becomes a sort of political weapon by either side, at this point?

RUMSFELD: Yes. I don't know how do you that. I think that -- you know, from a purely military standpoint, the -- all the information coming out of the government, basically, the White House and not the Department of Defense and not the special operations forces, is not helpful to those people. The less that's known about what they do and how they do it, the better off we are and the fewer lives that will be lost down the road.

It is -- it's, I suppose, partly natural to think that these things would come up in a certain way in a political environment that we're living in. But from the standpoint of the armed forces of the United States -- I mean, think of those people, what they did was they trained for years. They went in at night in a foreign country, not knowing what they would find in this compound -- you know, booby traps, armed resistance -- and executed the operation with just enormous skill and precision.

And others will need to do that in the future, and the less details that come out about it, it seems to me, the better off we are. And I think politicizing it is unfortunate.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is politicizing it putting it in a campaign ad saying, essentially, I did it, I can make the tough decisions and I can make the right decisions? Is that politicizing it? Or is that sending a message to the American people that, I'm not wishy-washy, or, I know how to do my job, I can be the commander-in-chief?

RUMSFELD: I think -- I think, you know, you could describe it either way. I think that calling it a bumper sticker is -- in a political ad is a bit of a reach. I think that -- it's -- it's -- certainly, a president has to run on his record. And this was a significant accomplishment for the administration and it's -- the world's a better place for that.

Now, the global war on terror is not over. The problems are still there and terrorists are being trained and recruited and funded. So -- but do I worry that something as secret as the special operations forces have to be, if they're going to be successful, has become so central in the campaign.

I might add that there's a -- a Special Operations Warriors Foundation that, if people are interested, they can send money to, that support the special operations forces that have fallen and their families and those who have been wounded. And they have a Web site for Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I have sort of mixed feelings. On the one hand, you know, I admire a decision like the president made. I admire him for doing it because I think it's a very tough decision. On the other hand, there's a little part of me, and maybe it's sort of the Midwesterner in me, is, like, I think that the people who put their lives at risk, who, executed this flawlessly -- because of -- because of their jobs, they can never take a bow, you know, because we want to keep them protected.


VAN SUSTEREN: It's, like -- you know, and sort of -- you know, I wonder -- like, I hope they don't think -- they're sitting there that we think they didn't do anything because we're not, like, tipping our hat to them.

RUMSFELD: Well, I think that if you talk to people who are in the special operations forces and people who have been in, that they had to be grinding their teeth when they saw this flow of information about the attack on bin Laden's compound. I think that it's, I suppose, inevitable that there would be television and reporting about it.

On the other hand, from their standpoint, the people whose lives are at risk -- that information didn't come out of the Pentagon. It didn't come out of the special operations forces. It out of the White House and it came out of the Congress before -- or on the political side, as opposed to the -- the military side. And I know they had to be deeply concerned about it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you -- you know, you mention that from a security point of view, and I understand that. But there's another -- there's another part, though, that -- I know that they don't do this job to get, you know, special credit or anything else. But I think that, you know, when you do a job so well, you want a little acknowledgement, like, you know, You know what? That was unbelievable!

But we don't know their names, so we can't even do that. Instead, you know -- instead, it becomes sort of part of the political dialogue now, where it looks like -- you know, where those who get -- who really risked their lives don't quite get the attention that I would think they deserve.

RUMSFELD: I feel the same way. I -- I -- you do want to recognize them and they deserve the appreciation of a nation.

You mentioned there was a tough decision. I don't think it was a tough decision. We've seen a lot of instances where presidents over the years have -- have had to make decisions like that.

I think after spending that amount of time, that number of years and that much money -- we increased the special operations forces by about 50 percent. We increased their budget. We increased their equipment. And they develop these skill sets and improve the intelligence capability of our country.

And finally, when all that comes together, to not make that decision, it seemed to me, would just be dumbfounding. I can't imagine any president not making that decision. That's not to say it wasn't a huge accomplishment. It was.

VAN SUSTEREN: But not a -- but in your mind, not a tough decision.

RUMSFELD: No. Not at all.

VAN SUSTEREN: President's in Afghanistan now. They're carefully -- got there in the middle of the night so that he could execute this agreement with the Afghani government that after we -- that after we leave Afghanistan, there'd be a 10-year program where we help with the security, with the economy.

I'm curious, do you have any differences with him on how he has executed the war so far?

RUMSFELD: Well, you know, it's -- I've been out for six years, and to try to second guess it from a distance is hard. And I know what I know and I know what I don't know. And what I don't know is a lot.

I did worry about the frequent changes of ambassadors in Afghanistan. I'll be honest, I also worried about increasing the number of troops to the extent we did.

And I also worried about changing the commanders as frequently as we did. I think that people need to be in those jobs a little longer so that they can actually get some traction. And to pull Petraeus out and put him at the CIA is -- I suppose plus or minus a year, and to keep changing the ambassadors I think is probably not a great idea.

Now, have we done a lot to help train and equip the Afghan security forces? You bet. Have they had a lot of successes? Of course, they have. They've had an election. They've elected a president. They've drafted a constitution. They've elected a parliament.

They've -- they've -- they've got a tough situation. You know, they had a decade of occupation by the Soviets. They've had drought. They've had civil war. They've got tough neighbors. They've got a high illiteracy rate. And it's not an easy path.

But if we expect that to become an instant model democracy, I think -- I think we're making a mistake. But I think that the United States has given them a chance to make it and that net, it's been a good thing to have done. Al Qaeda has been badly damaged. The Taliban has been taken out of power in that country, and they are a vicious rule.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is the Taliban, though -- I was in -- I was in Afghanistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, met with a bunch of women, and she promised that we wouldn't abandon the women. And the Taliban is obviously the biggest -- I mean, it's the biggest fear for the women.

Do you have any suspicion or any thoughts about when we're gone, in 2014, when we're out, even though we have this strategic agreement, what happens? Do the Taliban come back in? And is there any way in your mind they reform the way they think of women, the way they treat women?

RUMSFELD: Well, of course, women were not allowed out without a member of their male family. They weren't allowed to go to school. They weren't allowed to see doctors because there weren't enough women doctors. And that was Taliban rule. They were using the soccer stadiums to cut off people's heads. This is...

VAN SUSTEREN: That going to change? You think -- you think -- do you think we're -- we're beyond that, or is that still a huge risk for women?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I think there's still a risk inevitably. I mean, if you've got that much -- the Taliban didn't disappear. That strain of thinking, that view of the world still exists. And it's largely been shoved into Pakistan, along the federally administered tribal areas there.

But they want to come back, and it's going to take the Afghan people and the Afghan security forces and the political leadership to resist that, and the Afghan people, ultimately. I mean, it's their country. They're going to have to manage their country, eventually.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you miss the job?

RUMSFELD: Oh, no, I really don't. I've been in and out of government so many times. It's a privilege to serve our country, but I'm enjoying life.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Secretary, it's always nice to see you, sir. Thank you.

RUMSFELD: Thank you, Greta.