Rumsfeld: There's a 'Reasonable Possibility' Qaddafi Could Last Out Reluctant Coalition in Libya

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 22, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the author of "Known and Unknown," goes "On the Record."

Mr. Secretary, nice to see you, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: Today on your Twitter account, it says there's a reason Qaddafi isn't contemplating using a nuclear radiological weapon. He saw what happened to Saddam.

RUMSFELD: It's a little-known story, but the truth is that Qaddafi and the Libyans for years had been developing nuclear weapons. And at some moment, after the major combat operations and after Saddam was captured, when he was pulled out of the spider hole, apparently, Qaddafi went to some Westerners and said, I do not want to be the next Saddam Hussein, and indicated that he did have a nuclear program, indicated that he was willing to give up his nuclear program, and in fact, invited inspectors in and people to help dismantle the activities that he had undertaken to develop a nuclear weapon.

VAN SUSTEREN: Was he talking to Berlusconi, the prime minister of Italy?

RUMSFELD: That's the word. I've not verified that, but apparently it was to Berlusconi.

VAN SUSTEREN: For some reason, that struck me. I was going back through your book and different aspects, and when you talk about Qaddafi and Libya, the fact that he was in -- seemed that he was so close to Berlusconi that that struck me as peculiar.

RUMSFELD: No, there's a linkage there between Libya...

VAN SUSTEREN: Because of the oil?

RUMSFELD: Well, because of the proximity, the historic...

VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of Qaddafi and Libya, he doesn't have the nuclear weapons. He supposedly dismantled that. How do we know that he doesn't have biological weapons?

RUMSFELD: Well, that is -- to go back to the title of my book, that's an unknown unknown. We -- we -- he may. In fact, it's a known unknown. I don't know he does. We do know that he's had an interest in chemical weapons over a period of time, but I don't recall hearing anything about biological weapons.

VAN SUSTEREN: I guess the reason why I have some element of concern because he's obviously threatened us. I mean, we've got our -- we've got our flyovers. We've got our military action. And he says that, you know, he's going to fight back. And I never know if it's just sort of an empty threat of someone who's pathetic or someone who truly does have nuclear or biological or chemical weapons that we simply don't know about and that he could fight back.

RUMSFELD: I just don't know the answer, but there's no question he's a person who's engaged in terrorist acts. He's sponsored them, dealt with terrorist organizations. And he is -- he obviously didn't stay in power for 40 years by being stupid. He's intelligent and clever and opportunistic. He would not think of trying to compete against our armies or navies or air forces. He would deal -- whatever he did would be asymmetric and it would be something that would be unconventional and very likely -- and possibly not even something in Libya, something conceivably elsewhere in the world.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you mentioned in your book something about -- about Pan Am 103, and you say that, "I considered our responses to provocations and attack by our adversaries over the last decade hesitant and in some cases feckless, including letting Libya's Qaddafi off the hook for his role in Pan Am 103. Why did we let him off the hook?

RUMSFELD: I don't know. I think that time passed. But there's no question there was a Libyan linkage to Pan Am 103. And over time, things just don't happen. Why did we not take any particular action after the attack on the USS Cole? Why wasn't there much done after the first attack on the World Trade Center? What about the attacks on our embassies in Africa?

VAN SUSTEREN: I guess those are little bit different in my mind because they were -- most of those you name are al Qaeda, was sort of a disparate group that we were unsure, you know, who was the mastermind. But with Pan Am 103, the trail did lead to Qaddafi, and of course, we've learned so many other things, and he -- and he was on our list at the State Department as sponsoring terrorism. So I never could figure out why he got off the hook after all those people viciously murdered.

RUMSFELD: I know. Just a terrible thing. I don't know what the answer is. I know that the pattern had been to treat those kinds of acts not as acts of military aggression but as acts of criminal acts of various types. And so you ended up with -- during that period of the '80s and the '90s, you ended up with periodic indictments of different people in U.S. courts, but they didn't have any ability to attach the individuals and do anything about them, but they were indicted in many cases.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it seemed so unbelievable at the time, and then just two years ago, not under -- not under your watch, but under the new administration in Scotland, releasing -- one of the killers of Pan Am 103 goes home, and he's embraced by Libya, a huge hero. He's still a hero now. And it's, like, the United States just -- on that particular incident, that we've looked the other way, and you know, we've done -- we almost rewarded him.

RUMSFELD: There -- I mean, old phrase that, in fact, I talk about it in the book, is that weakness is provocative. And behaving in a certain way can encourage people to behave in an aggressive way against the United States. And if you go back and look at the videos and the documentation, people like Usama bin Laden talk about the fact that they concluded that the United States was a paper tiger. Saddam Hussein concluded that we would not do anything because of the fact that he fought the mother of all battles against the United States in the first Gulf war, and there he was still in power. And as someone said, Mrs. Thatcher was out of power and George Herbert Walker Bush was out of power, but Saddam Hussein was still there.

If you think about that principle and apply it to Libya today, people -- think of magnetic particles and how they point to what's going to happen next and where something's moving. The issue today that's being debated about Qaddafi, whether or not there's regime change is the idea of the coalition or not -- and there's a debate taking place, apparently, about it.

Anyone who's in the Qaddafi regime as an ambassador or a military leader or a soldier has to debate whether or not they want to defect, whether or not they want to support the rebels because they don't know if the goal of the coalition is to take out Qaddafi or not. Anyone that the rebels are trying to get to work with them, to provide food or ammunition or assistance, they're going to debate that because there's not clarity about what the goal, what the mission of the coalition is.

VAN SUSTEREN: But when Qaddafi -- I mean, what is peculiar -- I mean, when he gave up the -- supposedly, the nuclear program -- and in fact, you write about in your book how he decided to go on a different path, I think is the language you used, as -- it doesn't seem like -- maybe a different path in that he's not doing nuclear weapons, but if he's gunning down his own people -- I mean, he's still a horrible monster! And it's almost, like, at one time in the -- in recent history, we almost seemed to embrace him like he's -- like he's not the monster he is.

RUMSFELD: Well, but no. I wouldn't say that. I think -- the way I would characterize is, you know, if you wanted to pick the people you wouldn't want in office, Qaddafi would rank in the top five, six or seven, along with the leadership in Syria, in Iran and North Korea and Venezuela, countries where the leadership is obviously repressive, violently anti- U.S., terribly harmful to us, what we're trying to do, for example, in the case of Syria and Iran, harmful to what we're trying to do in Iraq and Afghanistan. You want those people out. The world will be a better place if they were out.

On the other hand, the -- no one ever thought Qaddafi was a Democrat, but it was a very big deal that he ended his nuclear program. The last thing you want is in a case like this, for example, him have a nuclear weapon.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you sure he doesn't have them?

RUMSFELD: Yes. The inspectors went in. They watched the dismantlement of his program. There were people who verified it. And I have no question in my mind but that he did have a nuclear program, and he does not today.

VAN SUSTEREN: So he didn't have -- but he doesn't have two nuclear programs, the one that he dismantled for us and still have another one?

RUMSFELD: I doubt it.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. And you don't know about biological or chemical. We're not...

RUMSFELD: I would be reasonably sure that he probably has chemical weapons. I don't have a way to validate that. I have never heard anything about biological.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, I'm not going to hold you responsible for the United Nations, but what would possibly possess the United Nations to put Libya on the human -- is it human rights...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... committee? I mean...

RUMSFELD: They've done the same with Iraq over the years...

VAN SUSTEREN: But what would possess...

RUMSFELD: ... under Saddam Hussein.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, explain that to me.

RUMSFELD: Well, it's an organization that is unwilling to make a tough decision.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about -- but I mean, this one's not close, though. I mean, if someone...

RUMSFELD: Well, but I'll explain...


RUMSFELD: ... what the tough decision is. The decision never was, Should Libya go on the human rights commission or should Saddam Hussein and Iraq be put on the disarmament -- U.N. disarmament commission of some kind. The real issue is, do we want to choose among our members? Who among us, the U.N. members, do we think that we have the ability to say, This person shouldn't be able to be a participant in these various activities of the U.N.?

Once you start doing that, there's a lot of countries that are unseemly. There are a lot of countries that don't abide by our values and the Western values. And therefore, they are collectively unwilling to say that certain countries may not serve on those committees.

I mean, if they get together, the thing they do very, very well is unhelpful, and that is to pass resolutions against Israel, for -- Zionism is racism, that type of thing. That they seem able to agree on. But in terms of keeping Libya, a country -- or any other U.N. nation that could be just as bad -- Saddam Hussein's regime, for example -- off of a major committee, they won't do it. It's an automatic rotation and it appears over a period of time. And they never -- they never can develop the collective will to stop it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, President Obama says that he expects we're going to be out of Libya very shortly, very -- within -- within a week. Do you see that as a possibility?

RUMSFELD: I have no idea. I've always believed that the mission determines the coalition, and the coalition ought not to determine the mission. If you go back to the Gulf war, the reason we didn't go for regime change, President George Herbert Walker Bush said after defeating the Iraqi army, was that the coalition hadn't agreed on that.

I don't know what the coalition here has agreed on. I don't think they have agreed on a mission. And the mission should have been decided before the coalition. I suspect that one of the reasons that the administration didn't go to Congress is they didn't know what to ask for. They didn't know precisely, with clarity and sufficient precision, what it is they wanted the Congress to approve. And the coalition clearly has not come to an agreement as to what their mission is.

VAN SUSTEREN: Does that mean it's doomed, in some ways? If we don't know -- if there's no clarity of mission, if we're all in it for a different reason or have a different agenda or different goal in some ways, or how far we can go or -- I mean, is it doomed when the component parts of a coalition don't have a common mission?

RUMSFELD: If I'm right that the mission ought to determine the coalition, and you have to define it first and then arrange countries around that mission, then the answer to your question is, That's correct, you are doomed. You have to know what it is you're doing. And you then have to pull together countries that agree with what it is you're doing.

People allege that the Bush administration was unilateralist. And the reality is that President Bush and Colin Powell and the administration ended up with 90 countries in the global war on terror, with you know, several dozen in the Iraq coalition, several dozen in the Afghan coalition, 98, I think, in the proliferation security initiative to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

And the way that was done was to say, Here's what we're going to do, and then attract countries that can agree with that. Not every country can agree with everything. And that's fair enough. But take what's going on in NATO now in terms of command and control. That is very dangerous. The one thing you don't want is confusion over who's got -- who's got the baton, who's in charge.

And France is not in the NATO military committee. They -- De Gaulle pulled them out of NATO. France is now arguing that if NATO does this, they have to do it in a format that they'll participate. And Italy is objecting and other countries are objecting. So you have this confusion, which is most unfortunate.

And it seems to me there are very few countries who have the ability to command an operation of this kind. And there are a number of countries, apparently, in the coalition who insist that it be NATO. And then there are countries in NATO, such as Turkey, that do not want NATO in charge.

VAN SUSTEREN: So what's going to happen, do you think?

RUMSFELD: I think that it's -- it's -- we're in -- we've wandered into an unfortunate situation. The first thing we have to say is, By golly, we've got U.S. military people at risk, and we have to hope and pray that it turns out well and that these major issues get sorted out. And...

VAN SUSTEREN: Hope is -- is -- is -- doesn't -- isn't reassuring that we're hoping.

RUMSFELD: Well, it's -- it -- we want it to work out.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, of course, we want it. But hope and want, if there's no clear plan and likelihood of success based on the plan, that's alarming.

RUMSFELD: Well, when you've got reluctant leadership, when you've got very few countries who have the ability to lead in a situation like this -- and I'm talking both political and military leadership -- and you have reluctant leadership and you have disagreements among the people required who are currently part of what is called a coalition, the formula there calls out for putting discipline and order into that -- that is to say, pausing and saying, OK, here's the coalition. Here are the countries that can agree to it. Here's the command structure that is going to operate within those instructions, within that mission. And unless that's done, you run the risk of having people put at risk unnecessarily and unfortunately.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is Qaddafi likely to go?

RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness! He's been a survivor. He's been there 40 years. If there continues to be open questions as to whether the coalition's mission is regime change, I think that there is at least a reasonable possibility that Qaddafi can last it out. And the way he would do that would be to inject fear into anybody who decided to oppose him because the mission of the coalition was not to eliminate his regime. That would be public. That would be known. Once that's known, people would be quite reluctant to turn against what may very well end up staying in power.

It would be an enormous -- put yourself in the shoes of the rebels, who are trying to recruit people and to get people to assist. And how can they do that if the people outside, the United States and the NATO and the other countries, have not agreed that the regime should change? The rebels' circumstance is very difficult, it strikes me.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Secretary, thank you. And I read -- I'm rereading portions of "Known and Unknown." I've read it through the first time, and now I'm using it like a reference book for history. So thank you very much, sir.


RUMSFELD: Thank you so much.