Donald Rumsfeld Enters the 'No Spin Zone'

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This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," December 15, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: Hi, I'm Bill O'Reilly reporting from Washington. Thanks for watching us tonight.

No "Talking Points" memo, so we can get right to our exclusive chat with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

As you may know, it was a very successful election in Iraq today. Estimates are more than 10 million people will have voted for a Democratic government there. Whether you support the Iraq war or not, that is an enormous achievement.

But it has come at a great price. American blood and treasure continue to be lost in Iraq, and a brand new FOX News poll says 53 percent of Americans still do not understand the conflict.

With us now is the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

So this is a setting the record straight. We're giving you half the program here. And we, as you know, don't do that very often. I have 10 simple questions. Because, as you know more than anyone else...

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I'll decide if they're simple, Bill.

O'REILLY: I am a simple man. I am a simple man. If you answer these 10 questions, there will not be any more confusion about this conflict.

Question number one. How are we, the American people, safer now that this election has taken place in Iraq?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't think you can take a single point like this election and make that statement. The effort.

O'REILLY: All right. The whole Iraq campaign. How are we safer?

RUMSFELD: We're safer in this sense. The violent extremists have said what they intend to do, and they intend to bring down the moderate Muslim regimes in that region. They intend to attack the west and re- establish a caliphate across the globe from Indonesia through the Middle East.

They are determined, as we've seen in the past, to alter our way of life. I mean, the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize. It's to change the behavior of the people that are being terrorized. And we're not going to change our life. So victory is, in a real sense, maintaining our way of life.

And Iraq is a country with oil, with water, with intelligent people, with history. And if that were to be turned into a haven for terrorists, the world would be a different world, the region would be a different region, and the vulnerability of the American people there and in other parts of the world and in the United States would be greater by terrorists. There's no doubt in my mind.

O'REILLY: We're safer because you chose to change the regime in Iraq, because the terrorists don't have a foothold in Iraq anymore? Is that what you're telling me?

RUMSFELD: Well, the goal is they — if we withdraw...

O'REILLY: I don't want to withdraw. Anybody who's saying we withdraw is crazy. And I don't want to give them any credence. But I want to know why my family is safer if we establish democracy in that country.

RUMSFELD: Because we want to fight the terrorists not in the United States, but outside of the United States.

O'REILLY: Is that the best battlefield?

RUMSFELD: It is central front of the global war on terror.

O'REILLY: Even more than Iran?

RUMSFELD: Iran is not a battleground today. Iran is very busy financing Hezbollah and Hamas and the various terrorist groups that they fund with Syria to go in and try to — you heard what the new president...

O'REILLY: He's a nut. All right. But I don't know. You could make a case in Iran.

RUMSFELD: They saidHitler was a nut.

O'REILLY: I would have. And they should have stopped him in the Rhine.

Now, Saddam, no WMD's. How was Saddam a direct threat to the USA if he didn't have these weapons of mass destruction?

RUMSFELD: Well, here's a regime, a man and a regime that had had weapons of mass destruction, had used them on their own people, had used them on their neighbors, had invaded Kuwait and had — was giving — shooting at our airplanes in Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch, where we were enforcing the U.N. resolutions. They were giving $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers encouraging terrorism.

Now, as the president said recently, we have not found the weapons of mass destruction. But that was a mistake we couldn't make. You could not be mistaken on that.

O'REILLY: But we did make a mistake.

RUMSFELD: Well, the world is vastly better off because we did.

O'REILLY: OK, that's a debatable point. But without the weapons of mass destruction, did he threaten my family, Saddam?

RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness, they were shooting at our airplanes every week. And he was giving the $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers.

O'REILLY: In Israel.

RUMSFELD: And he was — wherever. It wasn't just in Israel.

O'REILLY: So you think that Saddam directly threatened you?

RUMSFELD: Zarqawi was in Iraq during that period.

O'REILLY: How come you don't make that point more? How come President Bush doesn't make that point? They say well, there's no Al Qaeda-Saddam connection, and Zarqawi got treated in a Baghdad hospital, was up with Ansar al-Islam in the northern part of the country. Why don't you guys say that more?

RUMSFELD: You mean why don't people carry it more?

O'REILLY: No, why don't you go out and say, "Look, the people are trying to undermine our position here," which is the American press. "There is a link. Zarqawi was in Baghdad."

RUMSFELD: Certainly a link to terrorists.

O'REILLY: But why don't you say that?

RUMSFELD: Zarqawi at the time was not in Al Qaeda. He was...

O'REILLY: Why didn't you say it more?

RUMSFELD: Well, we do say it. Why don't you carry it more?

O'REILLY: I say it more than you do.

All right, third question. Prevailing wisdom.

RUMSFELD: How are we doing on the first two?

O'REILLY: I'm fine with it. Are you OK with it?

RUMSFELD: Yes, I'm fine.

O'REILLY: Good. You're having fun, aren't you?

RUMSFELD: Indeed. I always do.

O'REILLY: Prevailing wisdom — the Iraqis would not wage a guerrilla war after Saddam was dethroned, but they have.

RUMSFELD: They have.

O'REILLY: Right. Were you wrong on that?

RUMSFELD: Well, was — did anyone estimate that the...

O'REILLY: Well, you're the Secretary of Defense. Were you wrong on that?

RUMSFELD: I wasn't head of the intelligence community. I mean, we all had intelligence, and we looked at it. And there are people who suggested any number of things. I mean, I was worried about a lot of things that could have gone wrong.

O'REILLY: Yes, but were you wrong on that? You didn't anticipate, as the DOD Secretary, you didn't anticipate this big guerilla insurgency.

RUMSFELD: The level of extremism that's continued this long, no, of course not.

O'REILLY: Right. You're not perfect. But I just want to know whether you're wrong on it or not. Because I was the same as you. I was wrong on it. I didn't think it would happen. But now when I look at the map and I see Iran and Syria, two countries that hate us, I said, "I should have known better."

RUMSFELD: There's no question but that Iran is being notably unhelpful.

O'REILLY: Awful.

RUMSFELD: And what we've got to count on is that the Iraqi people are, even the Shia, are more Iraqi than they are Shia and that they're not going to want Iran influencing their elections.

O'REILLY: It's a lot to...

RUMSFELD: Well, it's a hope.

O'REILLY: All right. We've got three down. We've got seven more questions to go. All right. We'll take a quick break. We'll have more with Secretary Rumsfeld in a moment.

Later on "The Factor", homeland security czar Michael Chertoff on the border controversy. Right back.



O'REILLY: Continuing now with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Vice President Cheney said the insurgency was in its last throes. Was that a wise thing to say?

RUMSFELD: Well, you know, I suppose you could take that two ways. You could take it to mean that, therefore, it was ending, or you could say they were in a spurt of energy, the last throes, which would be particularly violent and dangerous and lethal.

O'REILLY: That sounds like spin to me. Last throes to me sounds...

RUMSFELD: It's the no spin zone. Why would you say that?

O'REILLY: Last throes to me sounds like you've got your foot on their neck. Do you?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think that the reality is that these extremists are not going to sign a surrender ceremony someplace on the USS Missouri.

O'REILLY: Are you knocking them down?

RUMSFELD: Oh, you bet. Oh, my goodness.


RUMSFELD: A lot of senior people around Zarqawi have been killed recently.

O'REILLY: So you're taking care of them?

RUMSFELD: Absolutely. But more come. So I mean, it's not as though it's — over time these things have a tendency to last anywhere from four, five, six, eight years. So the Iraqi people ultimately will be the ones that will suppress that level of insurgency.

O'REILLY: I hope so.

RUMSFELD: And our task is to see that those Iraqi security forces are strong enough that the country will be able to do that.

You think of it today, what they're doing. Those extremists are attacking the legitimate government of Iraq, the people of Iraq, the people who drafted their own constitution, ratified it and are now voting under it.

O'REILLY: Yes, but you're not surprised, are you?

RUMSFELD: They're opposing that.

O'REILLY: They just blew up their own people in Amman, Jordan, at a wedding party.

RUMSFELD: They're killing — that's right. That's what they do.

O'REILLY: They're savages. You know that.

All right. You're — the press is 75 percent against you and the Bush administration and the war. That's the calibration we make.

RUMSFELD: Well, some portion of the press. East Coast press.

O'REILLY: Seventy-five percent. I don't think the L.A. Times is doing you any favors.

RUMSFELD: Well, that's the East Coast.

O'REILLY: All right. Now, you've got Jack Murtha, the congressman from Pennsylvania, getting up there and becoming an icon of the antiwar movement. Murtha won't come on this program, because I don't believe he can answer the question.

You wrote Murtha a letter after he appeared on "Meet the Press," and you said you did not fire General Shinseki, as Murtha asserted, and that you guys gave Tommy Franks all the troops that he asked for.

Murtha is running around — and you know this is picked up worldwide — saying that you're incompetent and you're not telling the truth. How do you deal with that?

RUMSFELD: Well, it's — we've — he — we've told him this. Anyone who looks at the record knows that Shinseki...

O'REILLY: Is he lying?

RUMSFELD: He's mistaken.

O'REILLY: Is he willing to admit his mistake?

RUMSFELD: I don't know. Ask him.

O'REILLY: I can't. He won't come on the program.

RUMSFELD: And of course, the next week Tim Russert repeated it.

O'REILLY: And the press takes it all day long.

RUMSFELD: And then it goes into the morgue — in the newspapers and then it gets repeated.

O'REILLY: Why don't you get out and say to guys...

RUMSFELD: These are urban legends, urban myths.

O'REILLY: You have to bat it down, Mr. Secretary, with all due respect. You have to get out there and say Murtha doesn't know what he's talking about. That's the only way to combat this or it does become the urban legends.

RUMSFELD: Well, we do that. My attitude about things is that I've got a big department to run. I've got a lot more things to do than run around trying to correct everything that's wrong. If I spent all my time...

O'REILLY: I understand.

RUMSFELD: Trying to correct everything that the media said was wrong or everything that a member of Congress said was wrong.

I mean, think of the other people in Congress. They've been running around saying the Iraqi security forces don't have any courage and they won't stay and fight, and they won't do this and they won't — and they're doing a good job. They provided the security for that election. And they did a terrific job on it, General Casey said. I talked to him this afternoon.

O'REILLY: Why do you think the press coverage is so hostile to the Iraq effort?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I think it's always been so. In World War — the Civil War, they just vilified Abraham Lincoln. George Washington was almost fired a couple of times. Think of World War II and Franklin Roosevelt. I was alive. And he was vilified, Franklin Roosevelt.

O'REILLY: Is there a why behind the press' skepticism about armed conflict?

RUMSFELD: I don't know. I just know that there's nothing new about this. And Harry Truman was pounded over the Korean War. Look at Lyndon Johnson on the Vietnam War.

I mean, this is what happens in a war. It's tough business and people die and it's a shame. And our heart goes out to those wonderful people.

But by golly, if every time people started criticizing what's going on and you stop doing what you were doing and didn't complete the task that's got to be completed over there, our country would be a totally different place and our way of life would be totally different.

O'REILLY: Is Howard Dean using the conflict for political reasons?

RUMSFELD: Oh, you know, I can't climb in someone else's head. He's chairman of the Democratic Party. I suppose when he gets up in the morning what he decides to do...

O'REILLY: He says you can't win the war.

RUMSFELD: That's utter nonsense. We can't lose the war over there. The only place you can lose it would be Washington, D.C. We're not going to lose battles over in Iraq. Our soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines are doing an absolutely superb job, and they know it. And they're proud of what they're doing, and they know it's noble work.

O'REILLY: Why doesn't Howard Dean — why doesn't Howard Dean know it?

RUMSFELD: Oh, goodness. I have enough trouble just doing my job without telling you how he ought to do his job.

O'REILLY: You'd like to tell him a few things, wouldn't you?

RUMSFELD: Well, not from this position. The president asked me not to get involved in politics, so I don't.

O'REILLY: We'll wrap up our conversation with the defense secretary in a moment.

And then the Christmas controversy and your humble correspondent are addressed in Congress. Wow. Moments away.


O'REILLY: Once again, we are pleased to have Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with us here in Washington this evening.

This time next year the Iraqis, I assume, will be able to fight their own battle, right? There will be almost four years of training then. For four years, they ought to be able to fight their own battle this time next year, yes, no?

RUMSFELD: They are getting better every day, every week, every month. They are taking more and more responsibility every month. And that's a good thing.

The important things are not the numbers or the weapons. It's the rib cage of an organization. And think how long it takes us in our country to develop noncommissioned officers who can provide that kind of leadership and the middle level lieutenant colonels and captains in the military who provide the ribcage for our institution.

Then they've got to do all the soft things. They've got to connect the army to the police. They've got to connect the army and police both to the intelligence. And they have — so these are things they have to do that you don't just do by the numbers mechanically.

And if you think about it, those people in that country, in a repressive regime, were trained to be fearful and to not take initiative and not to call audibles, but to do exactly what they were told or die. That's why there's hundreds of thousands of dollars...


RUMSFELD: Hundreds of thousands of bodies in those mass graves.

O'REILLY: Now, I understand. We understand the psychological damage done to the whole society over there. But I'm just — this time next year I think they should be able to...

RUMSFELD: They'll be so much better able to take care of their own affairs.

O'REILLY: So then we can draw down over there?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I'm hopeful we're going to draw down from 160,000 down to 137,000 after the elections, as we see that things are settled. And then it's conditioned. Clearly General Casey and General Abizaid will come to me and the president and say, "I think we can pass off more responsibility and we can shift our emphasis more to training and equipping and less to presence," because we'll have — we've got 214,000 now security forces. It will be higher by then. And...

O'REILLY: So you're optimistic this time next year the complexion of the fight will have been changed a lot?

RUMSFELD: Yes, I'm optimistic. I could be wrong. I've been wrong in my life, but I am optimistic.

O'REILLY: You were wrong about the insurgency. But so was I. So was I.

No coerced interrogation. Today it looks like they have a deal. U.S. military, CIA, no one can use torture. They call it torture. I call it coercive interrogation. Is that going to hurt your effort?

RUMSFELD: Not the military at all, no. No, we don't — we've had humane — rules that require humane treatment from the beginning.

O'REILLY: Yes, but they've been broken in Iraq (ph).

RUMSFELD: Any rule can get broken in, which case you have to have a court martial and punish somebody, and that's what's been happening.

O'REILLY: But like water boarding for the CIA, is that going to hurt your effort?

RUMSFELD: In terms of — from the Defense Department's standpoint, the arrangement that's been made does not have implications, because we have had requirements for humane treatment from the beginning. And any time there's been something other than humane treatment, there's been prosecution and punishment.

O'REILLY: But here's the linkage. For the Defense Department and you, particularly, as the boss, to make an intelligent decision about what to do with our forces, you need information.

The CIA says, "We need to get information and sometimes we need to use water boarding and coerced interrogation."

Congress is now saying to the CIA, "You cannot do that any longer." That's got to impact on your intelligence. It's got to.

RUMSFELD: I don't — I'm going to talk about DOD and not the agency. They handle their...

O'REILLY: But you get intel from them.

RUMSFELD: We get intel from all kinds of sources. I think...

O'REILLY: All right. Is the interrogation ban going to make it harder to wage the war on terror?

RUMSFELD: Time will tell. But — well, if I knew the answer...

O'REILLY: In your opinion.

RUMSFELD: If I knew the answers to those questions, I'd give them to you. But I don't know.

From our Department of Defense standpoint, the president issued requirements for humane treatment. I issued requirements for humane treatment. Everything that was done by way of policy had to adhere to humane treatment. And anything that was not humane that was done by Department of Defense employees was...

O'REILLY: Adjudicated?

RUMSFELD: ... adjudicated and punished.

O'REILLY: All right. So you and Dick Cheney aren't the torture guys that you that The New York Times says you are?

RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness gracious.

O'REILLY: Make you mad when they say that?

RUMSFELD: Oh, goodness. How would you like it?

O'REILLY: They say it about me all the time. I don't like it.

All right. We promised we'd give the secretary a minute at the end of the interview, because we are very pleased that you came in here and spoke with us and have been straightforward all through the conversation. To say whatever you want. Go ahead.

RUMSFELD: Well, I just would like to say this. If you think about it, there's a lot of politics in this town and a lot of kind of things you've been talking about, allegations about this and allegations about that.

But there are also some really wonderful things going on in this world of ours and in our country. You have the efforts that the Department of Defense engaged in with respect to the tsunami relief this year, the efforts of Katrina and Rita, the work that they're still doing over in Pakistan with the earthquake, where 73,000 people died and hundreds of thousands of people are homeless.

You have the billions of dollars that the American people give to charities for people in our country and people all across the globe.

And I would say also, you've got roughly two million people who have volunteered to serve in the United States military and send — they're not drafted, they're not coerced, they're not forced. They said, "Send me."

O'REILLY: That's right.

RUMSFELD: And they're in danger...

O'REILLY: Hey, listen, I'm with you all the way.

RUMSFELD: And we're in their debt.

O'REILLY: They're doing a magnificent job.

RUMSFELD: This is a great country.

O'REILLY: I agree with you. Merry Christmas.

RUMSFELD: Thank you, Merry Christmas.

O'REILLY: Mr. Secretary, thanks for coming in, sir.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.

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