WASHINGTON, D.C. — NBC News’ Campbell Brown on Monday interviewed Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who discusses his views on how the Iraq war will possibly affect Syria, and also comments on how he was “surprised’ by Donald Rumsfeld’s response to a National Guardsman’s concerns about armor. The interview will be telecast in its entirety tonight on “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” 7-8 p.m. (ET) on MSNBC.
Following is an excerpt of Monday's interview:
CAMPBELL BROWN, SUBSTITUTE 'HARDBALL' HOST: Let me ask you about reports that Syria is aiding the insurgency. The President said today “when I expect these countries to honor the political process in Iraq, I meant it....” What does that mean?
RICHARD ARMITAGE, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: His words stand on their own. The question for Syria is whether they are going to come to the conclusion is that there is going to be an Iraq next door to them that is free and open and the question for Syria to ask is whether they want a country, which is friendly and open to them. It’s not beyond the comprehension I think of Bashar al-Assad to realize that the Iraqi government is one with whom he has to deal. He has got to toughen up along his borders and knock down those people who are allowing the former regime elements to work out of Syria.
BROWN: Is this a diplomatic problem of the U.S. talking to Syria or is this potentially a military problem?
ARMITAGE: All options are obviously on the table. We don’t want to make it a military problem. We have spoken to the Syrians as the president indicated, moreover the Iraqi government has spoken to the Syrians. And they’ve taken some action. They just haven’t taken sufficient action yet.
BROWN: How worried are you about Iranian influences in this election?
ARMITAGE: I am fairly worried....
BROWN: What do you think about the criticism that right now is being directed at Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld?
ARMITAGE: I think he is a bit of a lightning rod these days and it must be hard to get up and go to work.
BROWN: A lot of it is coming from pro-war Republicans.
ARMITAGE: No one is pro-war.
BROWN: Who were originally supportive of the plan to go into Iraq?
ARMITAGE: Well, I think they have a lot of questions, and they have their important questions and they deserve to be answered, and the secretary of defense is going to try and answer them.
BROWN: What was your reaction when you heard him answer the question from that Tennessee national guardsman who asked him about the lack of armor?
ARMITAGE: I was very surprised. I was very surprised that the soldier didn’t have the armor, and I was very surprised at the answer.
BROWN: Why? Explain that.
ARMITAGE: Well I think I question what our leaders in the field, the officers who are preparing to lead these men into battle have been doing if they’re going into battle without the equipment that they need then someone should be talking about it. The president of the United States has made it very clear, our soldiers are going to get what they need to do the job that we ask of them.
BROWN: Is this Secretary Rumsfeld’s responsibility, does the buck stop with him?
ARMITAGE: Well in the theory it does stop with him, but I think the fact of the matter is, there are a lot of way stations before you get to him, and I think people all the way up and down should be looking at what they were doing and what they can do to better serve our troops.
BROWN: Well how did this happen? You are a soldier, you worked at the department of defense, how do we get to this point where the soldiers are challenging him about the kind of support they have on the ground?
ARMITAGE: I can’t say I defer to the department of defense but I don’t find anything strange in a soldier standing up and to use your words “challenging” the secretary of defense. Our citizen soldiers are pretty upfront tell-it-like-it-is folks, they always have been. As far back in the military as I go. And I was quite proud of the young man.
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