Donald Rumsfeld on dealing with threat of ISIS

Former defense secretary on 'Your World'


This is a rush transcript from "Your World," February 24, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Welcome, everybody. I'm Neil Cavuto.

And we might not know what to call ISIS, but it's pretty clear now what they like to call Christians, prisoners, or worse, because just days after the terrorist beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians, reports today the terror group rounded up to 100 Syrian Christians.

No one knows what has happened to them, but former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld know what should happen to the thugs seizing them.

The author of "Rumsfeld's Rules" on setting up some new rules for ISIS.

Secretary, good to have you with us.

What do you make of what's going on here and why this constant targeting of Christians?

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, an Islamist has a desire to impose their will over others.

And they are attacking the very concept of the nation-state. And they try to punish people. We see it, not just Christians, but Jews as well, and the desecration of churches and graveyards, beheading of people. What we're seeing is a phenomenon that is not unique in world history, but is growing, it's serious, and it needs to be dealt with in a way that creates deterrents and dissuasions that are effective.

And the idea that we can just sit back and let it happen and think it will go away, it won't go away. It will grow and build until we go out and deal with them in a very forceful way, I'm afraid.

CAVUTO: Now, I know you have said in the past, sir, that a part of that forceful way is seeing them for what they are, Muslim extremists. Secretary of State Kerry was being questioned in the Senate today and disagreed with that notion.

I want you to listen to this.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This is bigger. That's what Marie was saying.


KERRY: And it didn't deserve -- she never set out to say, the solution is give them jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Secretary Kerry...


KERRY: Talked about a much broader array of things we have to do. And if we can't have a serious conversation without politicizing it on cable TV and making it a scoring point for one day, we're in trouble.


CAVUTO: The fact of the matter is, Secretary, as you know, that the State Department spokesman did say that. I want to bring this to the viewers' attention and maybe to Senator -- or to Secretary Kerry. Listen to this.


MARIE HARF, SPOKESWOMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: We cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need, in the longer term, medium and longer term, to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it's lack of opportunity for jobs.

We can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance. We can help them build their economy, so they can have job opportunities for these people. What makes these 17-year-old kids pick up an AK-47, instead of try to start a business?


CAVUTO: I will tell you, Secretary, it's almost as if Mr. Kerry didn't have a chance to listen to all her remarks, but clearly she was saying and the message was, if not for a job or economic opportunities, ISIS wouldn't be that big a problem.

Do you agree with that notion?

RUMSFELD: Well, you know, I listen to that, and it's worrisome because mixed in are some things that are accurate with some things that are not accurate.

It certainly is true that there are a lot of unemployed and poor people in the world, but the overwhelming majority of them are not Islamist, they're not going out killing Christians and Jews, they're not training young men and women to strap bombs on, explosives and go into a shopping center or a market and blow themselves up.

They're not attacking Jewish delicatessens. And so the fact that there are poor people in the world is a fact. But to then translate that into the idea that the cause, root cause of the problem is something other than the radical ideology that is being promulgated in the world by jihadists I think is to mix up things that are accurate with things that are not accurate.

CAVUTO: Do you think, Secretary -- and I'm trying to give every benefit of the doubt to the administration on this one -- they don't return my phone calls -- but that she was saying and that the secretary was saying that when it comes to winning over American recruits or disadvantaged or angry malcontents, that their economic situation does come into play?

What do you say to that?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think it can in the case of some instances.

But, I mean, bin Laden was a billionaire family. A number of these top jihadists are Ph.D.s or M.D.s and have extensive academic backgrounds and they're not poor. What we're dealing is an ideological battle. If you think of communism -- at one time, I said, this is going to be a long, hard slog, back in 2003, I think.

CAVUTO: Right.

RUMSFELD: And people said, gee, I wonder.

And the fact of the matter is, it's much like the Cold War, where you have to deal with an ideology. And, again, there's some truth in what she said, that you can't -- you're not going to win this with bullets alone. That's true, because it's going to take a competition of ideas. And we're going to have to find ways to dissuade people forcefully from killing other people, but also persuade people ideologically that they're on the losing side and they shouldn't be doing what they're doing and the world's not going to tolerate killing innocent men, women and children, Christians, Jews.

And I must say a lot of Muslims are killed by these jihadists who are attempting to establish a caliphate in the world.

CAVUTO: You know, when you mentioned, as you did -- and then you have echoed this in recent interviews -- this idea of a long, hard slog, the fact of the matter was, in the second Iraq War, the immediate actions were quick and were decisive.

Then came the long, hard slog. And now, all these many years later, Secretary, as you know, the temperament for protracted struggle or even an engaged campaign against ISIS just isn't there. And many people blame you. Many people blame President Bush.

What do you say to them that you have soured Americans on the notion of an extended battle against terror?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think it's important to go back and look at the Cold War.

And what we had was a tough job over successive administrations of both political parties persuading people that we needed to be -- we needed to persevere. We needed to be persistent. We had to address that ideologically wherever we found it, because it was flawed and harmful, and then that the communists had killed millions of human beings, communist regimes had.

And I think what it's going to do is, it's just going to take time for people to accept the reality that what we're engaged here is not World War I, it's not World War II. We're engaged in a protracted struggle against a -- radical Islamists, and the important thing is, we need to acknowledge it, we need to face it, and we need to accept it.

Now, can we deal with it effectively over time? I believe we can. I think, if we're wise and persevere, we will be able to do that. A terrorist, however, can attack any time, any place using any technique and you can't defend everywhere against every technique at every moment...


CAVUTO: Well, that is why this administration -- I'm sorry, sir, but that is why this administration says, this isn't like World War II or World War I, and if it bleeds, it leads, and it's the media, I guess more to the point, FOX News got a rap, that this fixation on this is what's causing all of this.

What do you think of that, that we're making too big a deal out of ISIS, that they're thugs, that they're murderers, that they're butchers, they burn people alive, they take their heads off, they kill Christians, but that we're assigning far greater importance to them than is warranted and responding far more differently than we should?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think I was going to start to say it's nonsense, but I would rephrase it to say it's not credible.

I mean, the fact of the matter is, cutting off the heads of people is something that needs to be reported. And I would have to add that I think the United States government over a period of good number of years now has been rather inept in dealing with this problem from an, oh, ideological standpoint.

What we do is, we don't recognize that the terrorists have media committees, they sit down and figure out what they can do that will call attention to them, and they are right. It does call attention to the ISIS and the al Qaeda and the terrorist activities,.

The fact that somebody goes in and blows up a shopping center or a shopping mall is newsworthy. And blaming it on the fact that it's reported, I think it's utter nonsense.

CAVUTO: So let me get a sense of what you would do or you think President Bush would do if Republicans were in charge, and they said, we don't want boots on the ground, even though John McCain said he does want boots on the ground -- Lindsey Graham has said much the same -- what would we do? What would you do differently that we're not seeing now?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think we have to decide what we can do effectively and what we can't do effectively.

And we can't nation-build. We haven't solved the problems of poverty in our own country. The idea that we can solve the problems of poverty around the world, and until such time as we do that, we have to sit back and take terrorist attacks is silly. That's just not the case.

It seems to me that what you do is what you do well, and what we do well is -- obviously, no one's going to compete during this period with our army, navy or air forces. They look for weaknesses. And the weakness that exists is real. We are vulnerable. As a modern country, as an open country, as a free people, we are vulnerable.

So what do we do about it? Well, we're good at intelligence, good at special operations, we're good at supporting and training other countries. But in the last analysis, we should get better at getting more people like the president of Egypt, Al-Sisi -- what he said in that speech against the radical Islamists was so important from an important country.

CAVUTO: Right.

RUMSFELD: And we need to understand how critical it is, because the radical Islamists can intimidate other Muslims, just like they can intimidate Jews and Christians.

CAVUTO: Well, Iran as well. Right?

Now, Secretary of State Kerry was talking about Iran and waiting for some sort of agreement, so as Republicans don't try to interfere with it right now, but he made a very telling comment, where I think he blamed your old administration.

I want you to listen to this.


KERRY: So they have a nuclear capacity. They have got it. They got it a number of years ago, when an administration, by the way, had a policy of no enrichment at all. That was the administration's policy. Was that enforced?


CAVUTO: What do you think of that?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think it's of a kind. I can't imagine a month that's taken place since this administration has been in office that they haven't found some way to blame George Bush for something.

CAVUTO: Sometimes, they throw your name in there, just for the hell of it.

RUMSFELD: That's good, yes. Well, that's life. You know, if you do something...


CAVUTO: Does that ever bug you, though, Secretary? I mean, and I have raised this with others in the administration. Some of it, I think I have talked to others who say, it's deserved, we screwed up some things and all. But it's constant. To a man or woman, they say, enough already.

What do you say?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think it is -- it's not constructive or useful to do it. I try to avoid doing it.

I think I was told by Brice Howell (ph) one time, you don't -- want to be careful how you deal with your predecessors and your successors and be -- avoid being too critical, because you didn't walk in their shoes. And, sometimes, it's not easy to avoid being critical of your predecessors or successors. But I think it was a pretty good message from a very wise, seasoned government hand.

And it also is -- making excuses doesn't really get you anywhere.


Secretary, thank you very much. Very good seeing you again.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.

CAVUTO: Donald Rumsfeld. All right.

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