Rumsfeld: 'We have created a leadership vacuum in the word, and it is filled by the Putins in the world'

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 3, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: So, what should the United States do or not do about this growing conflict and could we have avoided this?

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld joins us. Good evening, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: What should we do or not do? What should President Obama do or not do?

RUMSFELD: Well, the focus not surprisingly is on that question. And it's understandable. But it's way too narrow.

You know, yesterday, it was Syria. Today it's Ukraine. Tomorrow it could be the republic of Georgia again. It could be central Asia, Iran, North Korea.

At this stage, near term options are few. It seems to me the central problem is bigger and critically important. America and that is America's weakness, specifically the U.S. is behaving in a way that tells the world we're in decline, that we're in withdrawal. We have created a leadership vacuum in the world, and it is filled by the Putins in the world, by people without our values or our interest.

And it's to the detriment of the United States and our friends and allies around the world. It is the United States that's injected that instability into the world equation.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it's sort of interesting to say that "The Washington Post" editorial board online had an editorial yesterday about President Obama and they described his foreign policy. They used the word "fantasy." That seems to be a departure from at least what this editorial board thought of the president until this point.

RUMSFELD: That could even be the understatement of the year. It seems to me that the immediate task to respond to your question, Greta, task is to recognize that the mission must determine the coalition. The coalition cannot determine the mission, and the mumblings and chatterings about the U.N. and the international community are really is a misunderstanding because what you have to do is decide -- we know that the international community is only words.

What needs to be done is to fashion a coalition, based on a specific mission. The mission has to be to put maximum pressure on the Russian federation and Putin, pressure of all type. And it has to be only the countries who agree with that and you are not going to get the U.N. to agree to that obviously.

So, the thing we have got to persuade other countries of is that we get peace through strength as Eisenhower said. If we want peace, we have to be prepared for war. And that it is U.S. weakness that has shaken the world.

And Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson years, we were sending 10 percent of GDP on defense. Today, we are spending less than 4 percent. Our European allies are spending less than 2 percent.

The administration lacks a foreign policy. They lack a strategy. They are managing our economy, modeling it on Europe, which is a failed model. And it's sending a signal out across the globe that the United States is not going to be there for them, that the United States is in decline.

And we're doing the same thing with all talk of cutting our defense budget.

VAN SUSTEREN: You met President Putin in 2001. What was your impression of him?

RUMSFELD: Uncomfortable. Clearly, a KGB type, tough, intelligent, and fundamentally different interest than the United States.

But I also saw Russia as basically a country that has a relatively modest economy, with the exception of its energy capabilities and leverage. It's got a military that has a lot of nuclear weapons, but it's a conscript military. And he is, today, punching way above his weight class, and the United States is punching way below ours.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Secretary, thank you for calling. Thank you for talking to us.

RUMSFELD: You bet.