OTR Interviews

Rumsfeld: Officials 'wanted' video to be cause of Libyan consulate attack

Former defense secretary on suspicions of a White House cover-up in the Libyan US consulate attack, the politics of terrorism and how Romney's foreign policy would differ from Obama's


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

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Should U.N. ambassador Rice resign? Now, earlier, former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld went "On the Record."


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


VAN SUSTEREN: There are many calls by Republicans for secretary -- or for ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice to resign. She has the backup of the secretary of state and the president, but there are calls for her to resign after going on all those talk shows and pushing this YouTube video as the reason, the cause. Your thoughts, sir?

RUMSFELD: Well, that's really up to the president and the ambassador, as far as I'm concerned. I think that the president can nominate who he wants. And the Senate confirmed her. And she's the ambassador while she's there.

I watched the presentation, and I thought it was amazing that someone in her position would go on with that degree of certainty, that fast and that authoritatively and be that wrong.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think she was perhaps hung out to dry? Because I thought it was unusual that the ambassador of the U.N. would be making that appearance right after that event. I would have expected some other member of the administration, not the ambassador to the U.N.

RUMSFELD: I agree. It would have been more likely that someone from the cabinet or the White House staff or the NSC staff might have said something. It may very well be that she was already scheduled and they just used her. But her -- her presentation was demonstrated to be inaccurate within a matter of hours, which has got to be embarrassing.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about the investigation? We are confirming this morning, one of my colleagues, Justin Fishel over at the Pentagon, producer, that the FBI 20 days later still has not set foot in Benghazi.

RUMSFELD: I would guess the FBI is trying. And my guess is that he -- the individual who makes the decision has decided that the situation's still not safe for that team of people to go in. Obviously, every day that goes by means that the -- the scene will have been sufficiently disturbed that the likelihood of their learning much diminishes with every passing day.

VAN SUSTEREN: How could it not be safe for our FBI, who are pretty well trained for security, and yet it was safe for our ambassador and others to be there?

RUMSFELD: It wasn't safe for our ambassador.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, no, but I mean, the thinking -- I mean, when -- obviously, it wasn't because they were killed. But I mean, the thinking -- the thinking that the FBI are not tough enough and armed enough and ready to go and investigate that because, as you say, as time marches on, we lose evidence, we lose information.

RUMSFELD: Sure. I think that once an event like that happens and the people are killed, it's clear that they misjudged the security situation. They didn't have the kind of security that they needed to stay alive. And my guess is that it's very difficult for the FBI to figure out exactly what the security situation would be.

If they go in, it would be noted. They would be a target. And it may very well be that the government is encouraging them not to. It could be that they just have concluded that they would make such a presence if they went in that they could become a sizable target.

But I just don't know. I think it's unfortunate that they've not been able to get into the crime scene.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I've always been on the outside. And it's very different on the outside than the inside. But I'm curious if you have any sort of thought why the administration went out with the YouTube video theory to begin with because on the outside, it's 9/11, it's Americans in a hostile environment and on our territory, a consulate in Libya, yet they went out with the YouTube and they stuck with it for so many days. And you know, even without the ability of intelligence, I would have at least couched it a little bit differently.

RUMSFELD: Well, you're quite right. They made a terrible mistake. I think what they did was -- you know, hope springs eternal. They wanted it to be the YouTube, and they -- it was much more convenient from the administration's standpoint to have it be the film that nobody's seen.

And yet it demonstrated such serious misjudgments on their part, to think that they could make it be the YouTube, which it wasn't, obviously, as time's gone by. And I quite agree with you that anyone looking at it, knowing the history of September 11, would at least have registered that that could very well have been part of an organized attack, which apparently, now people in the senior in the administration have acknowledged, that it was a planned attack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there a consequence of that misjudgment, or is it something we all chatter about it amongst ourselves, like, How could you think it was a YouTube video when it's obviously something different? Is it -- is there a real consequence to that mistake, or misjudgment, as you call it?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think so. I think -- and you know, anyone can make a mistake. So you can have one incident where it's happened, something happens. But they've had a pattern where the leaks out of the White House and the presentations by the White House have been the kind of thing that, in retrospect, looking at them all as a pattern, they're calculated to try to make the president look like he's in charge and that he is not being -- that his foreign policy is working, instead of the fact that it seems to be unraveling as we watch the world scene.

We see that country after country -- I don't know how many it's been, 15 or 20, where the people have been burning American flags, have been burning pictures of the president of the United States, have been attacking embassies in one way or another, demonstrating an opposition to the United States and to the policies that this president has put forward. And that's got to be disturbing.

You're in the middle of a political campaign, so it makes the administration look bad. And my impression is that they're trying to spin things in a way that will mute the difficulties we face in the world, and they're serious difficulties.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you describe his foreign policy?

RUMSFELD: I think that the foreign policy of this administration for three-and-a-half, four years now has been one of a step back -- the phrase that came out of the White House, to lead from behind, which you can't lead from behind. Leaders lead from the front.

The economic management of our country has told the world that we're in decline, and it was sufficient that the vice president of the United States had to go at his convention and say, We're not in decline. Now, why did he have to say that? Because it's clear the country is managing its economic affairs in a way that tells the world we're modeling America after Europe. And that's a failed model.

The idea of another half a trillion-dollar cut in the defense budget sends the signal out to the world that the United States will not be in a position to contribute to peace and stability and contribute to a better world, which we've done throughout my adult life. We've -- we've -- our country has been a factor, a presence, but it's in withdrawal under this administration.

And I -- a vacuum abhors a -- it just -- it'll be -- it'll be filled -- it'll be filled by somebody, and it'll filled by countries that don't have our best interests at heart.

VAN SUSTEREN: If someone from the administration were here, the response would be, Well, he inherited two wars and a deep recession. Now, the debt -- the debt has gotten much larger. I mean, there's no question about that.

RUMSFELD: Oh! There's the understatement of the year!


VAN SUSTEREN: So but how do you respond to -- like, you know, what should he have done differently, or how would you have -- you know, and I realize there's some value, 20/20 hindsight, but I also know that you have some -- your own thoughts, even if this were back three-and-a-half years ago.

RUMSFELD: Well, I mean, just to give you one example, when you demonstrate weakness as a country, people take advantage of that. The phrase "weakness is provocative" is real. It encourages people to do things they wouldn't otherwise think of.

And so this pattern of apology by this president, the pattern of not even getting a status of forces agreement in Iraq, where we would have had an arrangement with that country, the setting of a timetable in Afghanistan, it seems to me, all are examples of a withdrawal, a decline, a pullback by our country.

And I think that that's unfortunate because I think that the -- that vacuum's being filled, and it's being filled by people who don't have our interests at heart.

VAN SUSTEREN: You mentioned Iraq. I read just moments before coming in here that September was our deadliest month, the deadliest month in Iraq in 12 years.

RUMSFELD: There were -- the fact that a number of additional troops were put in Afghanistan led to additional targets in Afghanistan. And there, too, we've seen a good many attacks against our forces.

VAN SUSTEREN: We hit our -- we hit our 2,000 milepost over the weekend in Afghanistan.

RUMSFELD: Exactly.

VAN SUSTEREN: That doesn't count the people who came back and were severely injured and may have died from their injuries.

RUMSFELD: Exactly.

VAN SUSTEREN: So your assessment of the war now, both wars?

RUMSFELD: I think that each country is considerably better off by not having the Taliban in Afghanistan and not having the "Butcher of Baghdad," Saddam Hussein, in Iraq. The countries have been given an opportunity to have a freer political system and a freer economic system. They've fashioned their own constitutions.

They are going to have to -- those countries are going to have to plan their future and figure out their future and make their future. We can't build nations for other countries, the United States. But we can be helpful. And if we do it in a wise way, we can set them on a path that will be better for their people and better for the region and better for the United States. That does not mean we have to stay there forever, in my view.

VAN SUSTEREN: This administration -- I was in Afghanistan, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a group of women that the United States would not leave and let the Taliban come and continue to do the things to the women that they're going to do, that they did historically. It looks like the Taliban is coming in full force.

RUMSFELD: I don't know that.

VAN SUSTEREN: You don't think they're coming in at full force, the Taliban?

RUMSFELD: Full force? I wouldn't...

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, you don't see...

RUMSFELD: ... use the phrase.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... the -- I mean, I guess the -- that there's a strong presence of the Taliban right now.

RUMSFELD: There's no question the Taliban was shoved out of that country, and a Karzai government was elected and a new constitution. It's also no question but that they've been reorganizing in Pakistan and they've been attempting to reassert themselves within the country. How far they'll get, I don't know.

I think that the -- the people of Afghanistan were relieved when the Taliban was gone. Now, is it intimidating? Do they kill people? You bet. They were using the soccer stadiums to cut off heads. Women couldn't go out without a male member of their family. Women couldn't get health care in that country.

But a lot of refugees who left the country have come back. I think the people of Afghanistan like the fact that they had an election and voted for their parliament. And I think they have a crack at building a better country.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you optimistic?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I'm realistic, I think. I think it's up to them. They're going to have to pull up their socks and grab it and make it work, and they're going to have to make it work in a way that won't be exactly the way we made it work. But it's a tough path for them, no question about it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Egypt -- and now that President Morsi is in command -- your thoughts. Is this better for the United States? How does this -- how does Israel -- is this better for Israel? Israel should be nervous or uncertain, or is this worse?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I think it's worse for Israel, without question. I mean, Sadat, Anwar Sadat, and Mubarak fashioned a relationship with Israel that created a stable situation there and put Israel in a much more secure circumstance.

Morsi is Muslim Brotherhood. He -- the Salafists in the parliament, with the Muslim Brotherhood, have control. The stabilizing influence in that country, in my view, is the military. And how that will shake out over time -- but I personally -- I don't think we're better off there. I think you can't be better off with a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, in my view.

Furthermore, I think you can't be better off if the impression in that part of the world is that we've turned away from the liberals, we've turned away from the people that were supporters of freer political system and freer economic system. And -- and I guess the secretary of state, when she was over there, was -- had tomatoes thrown at the United States secretary of state. And it wasn't by Muslim Brotherhood people. I'm told it was by people who feel that we've left them. We've left them in the lurch.

And the other problem you have with what happened to Mubarak is other countries around the world see that and they see that the White House in the United States, as they say, threw him under the bus, cut him loose, said he should go. Every leader in that part of the world wonders, are they next? Are they going to be told by the White House that they should go and shift support away from them?

Our country went through a long, tough process. We went through a horrible civil war. We had slaves into the 1800s. Women didn't vote into the 19 -- we didn't arrive like this.

And those countries are going to be perfect. They're going to be imperfect, if perfect is what we think of ourselves. We're still evolving, and they're going to evolve. They're going to be different than we are.

And for us to be as judgmental to think that we're going to be better off with the Muslim Brotherhood than we are with the Sadat or Mubarak governments, or that Israel's going to be better off, I think is missing the point. I just don't believe that's true.

VAN SUSTEREN: One last question. Next four years with a President Romney and foreign policy and next four years with a President Obama foreign policy. What's the -- what do you foresee as the difference and where are they similar?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I think the difference will be significant. Normally, the Republican and the Democratic Party have really within been within the 40-yard lines, to use a seasonal figure of speech. But I think in this case of this president, we're not. We're -- we're -- he's -- he's way, way over in terms of the policy.

Governor Romney without doubt understands that our country is exceptional. He recognizes the role we've played in the world. He believes that the world is a better place if we are a participant in that world and recognizes that it is not for us to go around the world apologizing and wringing our hands.

What's called the Arab spring is really something that's happening in the Islamic world. It's not Arab only because it's happening in a good many other countries, as you know well. And it's not spring, but it's summer and fall and it's going to be winter. It is a significant shift on the part of a lot of people in a lot of countries, who are encouraged and see the rise of Islamist non-secular forces in those countries. And that is not in our interests.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Secretary, always nice to see you, sir.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.