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MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS
Sundays: (202) 885-4200
Sunday, Feb. 6, 2005
GUESTS: Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense; Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Iraq. The president pledges to stay the course.
(Videotape, February 2, 2005):
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: We will not set an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq, because that would embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out.
MR. RUSSERT: The leading liberal in the U.S. Senate disagrees.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY, (D-MA): President Bush should immediately announce his intention to negotiate a timetable for a drawdown of American combat forces.
MR. RUSSERT: What now? With us: for the Bush administration, the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld; for the Democrats, the senior senator from Massachusetts, Edward M. Kennedy.
But first, joining us now on MEET THE PRESS is the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
SEC'Y DONALD RUMSFELD: Thank you, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: The elections have been held, as we well know. The early counting seems to indicate the Shiites have done very, very well in the election. The headline in the Sunday New York Times, Mr. Secretary, "Top Iraq Shiites Pushing Religion in Constitution," that they want to use Islam as the guiding principle in drafting the constitution. How do you feel about that?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Well, a lot of states that have a predominantly Muslim population have a way of including that without having it dominate. And certainly, if you would look at Afghanistan, that's the case there. I think that, of all the headlines I've seen, that's not the one I would have cited. I would have cited the ones that point out that all of the people who were involved in the election are reaching out to the Sunnis, are, in fact, engaged in political discussions and negotiations.
Think of it: In Iraq, after 35 years of a repressive dictatorship, what we're hearing is political debate and discussion and who should be prime minister and who should be president and deputy president, and how should this work and how should we sort that out and who's going to fashion the constitution. That's thrilling. That is absolutely thrilling. I would say this: The Shia in Iraq are Iraqis. They're not Iranians. And the idea that they're going to end up with a government like Iran, with a handful of mullahs controlling much of the country, I think, is unlikely.
MR. RUSSERT: But when they say that they would like to have a constitution which says that daughters would get half the inheritance of sons, do you find that troubling for all the bloodshed we have spilled for Iraq?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: The first thing we have to begin with is that Iraq belongs to the Iraqis. And the Iraqis are going to have a solution for Iraq that's Iraqi solution. They're not going to have an American solution or an Afghan solution. And the wonderful thing that's taking place is that the great sweep of human history is for freedom. And we're seeing it in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in the Palestinian Liberation Authority, in the Ukraine, in Indonesia, and what's happening is healthy. It's good.
Look at our Constitution when it was first fashioned. Look what it did with respect to women not voting. Look what it did with respect to blacks and the way they were counted in the population. So you don't get from where they were to where they're going on a feather bed, as Thomas Jefferson said. You get there through tough discussion, trials, error, mistakes, good things, and they're on that path. And I think people ought to step back and say, "Isn't that amazing? Isn't that a wonderful thing for that region?"
MR. RUSSERT: If they decide that they do not want Prime Minister Allawi to remain as prime minister, we would accept that?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Well, it isn't a matter of accepting it or not accepting it. The Iraqis had a vote. They're going to decide who the president and the deputy presidents are going to be. They're going to decide who the prime minister is going to be. They're going to decide who the ministers of these various ministries are going to be. That's what that's about.
MR. RUSSERT: One of the Iraqis said this--he's the head of the Constitutional Monarchy Party: "Americans are in for a shock," adding that one day they would realize, "We've got 150,000 troops here protecting a country that's extremely friendly to Iran."
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: You know, I could go to the press, and I could pull out a quote on almost any side of every issue. And your question is: What do I think about that particular quote? First of all, I don't think it's representative. Second, I'm always amazed at the things that can happen in the world, and I don't doubt for a minute that there are going to be some surprises for everybody. Third, let's face it, Afghanistan has Iran as a neighbor, and they talk to each other. Most countries do talk to their neighbors. And that's a very different thing from suggesting that the model that Iran has is necessarily going to be the model for Iraq. I don't believe it is. I think the Shia in Iraq are Iraqis first and Shia second. And just as in Afghanistan, you don't see Mr. Karzai fashioning a government that's a replica of one of his neighbors. He's got an Afghan solution to his problems.
MR. RUSSERT: So you're confident that we will not have an Islamic fundamentalist state in Iraq?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: I think it would be just an enormous mistake for that country to think that it could succeed with all of its opportunity, with its oil, its water, its intelligent population--to deny half of their population, women, the opportunity to participate fully, I think, just would be a terrible mistake.
MR. RUSSERT: Our next guest, Senator Kennedy, has said now that the elections are over, we should have a specific timetable...
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: ...for the withdrawal of American troops. The president said that would embolden the terrorists. Why?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, let's point out the truth. The president and I and anyone would dearly love to be smart enough and wise enough to know precisely when our troops could leave. It would be such a relief for people to know that. It's not knowable. The important thing to do is to see that we do not create a dependency, that we encourage them to take over that responsibility. And our forces are doing that. We're helping to train and equip the Iraqi security forces. And the president believes, and I agree with him, that we don't want to be there any longer than we have to, but we want to be there as long as we're needed. And it seems to me that the answer as to when our troops can come out is dependent upon the conditions on the ground and whether or not the Iraqis are capable of managing the security situation there. We're working very hard to see that they can.
MR. RUSSERT: Why not give the Iraqis benchmarks that "In six months, we're going to withdraw 50,000 troops. You better have 50,000 troops ready to replace them"?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Because we've been--our country has invested a lot of lives, a lot of heartbreak. The courage of our troops and the sacrifice of those that have fallen and were wounded is important. And the idea that you should just arbitrarily say this is going to happen on that date--think of it, the last administration did that in Bosnia. They said we'd be out by Christmas. Six, eight, 10 years later, not out. It is misleading people to think that you know something you don't know. And we know we don't know.
MR. RUSSERT: Did you believe two years ago that at this stage of the war we would have 135,000 Americans on the ground, 1,400 dead, 10,000 wounded or injured?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: We were asked. And at that time, we told the truth. And the truth was you can't know how long it'll last. You can't know how many troops it'll take. And you can't know how many dead and wounded there would be. No one in any war has ever been able to predict that. People who do predict it make a terrible mistake, because they set expectations based on nothing but hope.
MR. RUSSERT: One area that has created a lot of debate is the number of Iraqi forces that are now ready and trained and available. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff--"Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the [Senate Armed Services Committee] that only about a third of Iraq's 136,000 trained security forces have enough training to engage in combat with insurgents across the country." As he says, "About 40,000 who can go anywhere in the country and take on any threat," he said.
He used the figure 136,000 security forces, big umbrella. This is what Donald Rumsfeld said in February of last year, a year ago: "I would say there's not been a slowness in forming the Iraqi security forces. Indeed, if you think about it, last June or July  there were no Iraqi security forces, and today, in February of 2004, there are over 210,000 Iraqis serving in the security forces. That's an amazing accomplishment."
How did we get from 210,000 a year ago...
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Very simply. There are people that are trying to make this more complex, for whatever reason, than it is. It's not complex. It's simple. We did start with zero, and we ended up over 200,000, and that included 74,000 site protection people. Those people did not report to the Ministry of Interior or to the Ministry of Defense. When we took that number out of the 200,000, it went down, obviously, and we no longer include them. Every paper we put out has a footnote stating exactly why that's the case.
Now, let's go to Dick Myers' comment. We have 136,000 Iraqi security forces, excluding the 70,000- plus in the site protection, and they are in the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and there's a lot of different types. Some are policemen and they walk a beat. Some are border patrol and they sit on a border in a patrol place. Others are in commando units and they operate in a region and go in on special assignments. Still others are in the regular army, and they're being trained for that type of function. A small number of them, as Dick Myers said, something like 40,000, are highly mobile, can move anywhere in the country and be sustained.
Now, would you--he answered the question perfectly honestly. We have 136,000. The implication that the rest are not useful is silly. It's nonsense. The policeman on the beat outside your office doesn't need to be mobile and sustainable and go into Los Angeles.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Joe Biden says 40,000 is not an honest number, that it's more like 4,000 truly trained Iraqi forces that can take on the insurgents. Is he right?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: It--he's wrong, obviously. I mean, General Petraeus put this out very clearly in a press briefing and laid it out. When I say Senator Biden's wrong, what I mean is this: When you train some people to be policemen, they're very good policemen, and that's part of the Iraqi security forces. If you train them to go after the--do a counterterrorism job, then that's a very different function, and we have a certain number of those. And we announce and release the number of those. But that's true of our military. We have people who are--whose job is military police. We have people whose job is to be part of a special operations team that can go in and do counterterrorism-type activities. We have people who do entirely different things. And that--to suggest that, therefore, the numbers are wrong is incorrect.
The other thing I should say is talking numbers is not terribly useful, always, because if a person comes out of training the first day, they're not a battle-hardened veteran. They are trained and they are equipped. You compare them with somebody who's been out a year, who's been in Fallujah and had a success there or been involved in the election, where the Iraqi security forces successfully secured 5,000 election sites. The inner perimeter and the outer perimeter were all Iraqis doing that at 5,000 sites. Now, that was a major accomplishment. And I think to belittle them or to question the numbers because some do police work and some do counterterrorism work is a misunderstanding of the situation.
MR. RUSSERT: How many Iraqi security forces do we need fully trained and capable of fighting insurgents?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Well, the answer to that question is not complicated. We need as many as are needed. If you have an insurgency that's this level, you'll need X. If you have an insurgency that's that level, you'll need X-plus. And if you have an insurgency that's quite low, you'll need X-minus. And to think that you can sit here today and--I mean, no one predicted the level of the insurgency as it is today.
MR. RUSSERT: You still...
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Partly it's a function of money. Partly it's a function of what the Syrians and the Iranians are doing. Partly it's a function of how many criminals they can hire to participate. Partly it's a function of how much money Zarqawi gets to hire suicide bombers, and that goes up and down.
MR. RUSSERT: But right now, knowing what you know about the insurgency, how many fully trained Iraqi troops do you think we need in order for the United States to withdraw?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: OK, what we've done is we made an initial assessment when the major combat operations ended. Six months later we sent in General Eichenberry and he made an assessment. General Casey then went in last June and made an assessment. We just sent in General Luck, and what we do is keep looking at the changing circumstance on the ground and re-evaluating what that ought to be. You've got to remember, the enemy has a brain. It isn't as though the enemy's an inanimate object and that you can then measure what you need to deal with that inanimate object. He watches what we do and adjusts to it, just as we watch what they do and adjust to it. And, therefore, it's a moving target. It's not static.
MR. RUSSERT: The Iraqi intelligence services director said that the insurgency is larger than the U.S. Army; it is more than 200,000 people. Is he right?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Who said that?
MR. RUSSERT: The--Mohammad Abdul Sussami, the Iraqi Intelligence Service director, on January 3, 2005. He's a general.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Yeah, I've never seen that number, and I don't know where it came from.
MR. RUSSERT: It's a lot larger than the dead-enders that you had talked about some time ago.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: I talked about it?
MR. RUSSERT: Yes.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: I think I've always characterized it as a mix of people. There are some Ba'athists who are dead-enders; that's true. There are some jihadists who've come in from other countries, and Zarqawi and that team of people who are particularly lethal. There are criminals. There are always--I've always included...
MR. RUSSERT: But in June of 2003, we were talking about small elements, 10 to 20 people, no large network.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: That's what they were functioning as during that period immediately after the major combat operations. That's right. And the insurgency has...
MR. RUSSERT: It's changed? It's changed?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me...
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: That's why we keep sending in assessment teams.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to what we need on the ground right now. About 40 to 45 percent of our troops are National Guard and Army Reserve. The head of the Army Reserve said that we are rapidly degenerating, "into a broken force." He's worried about retention, recruitment. The National Guard has reached only half its goal in January in terms of retention and recruitment. The Marine Corps for the first time in a decade has not reached its recruiting goal. Will it be necessary to say to the National Guard, "You may have to serve another 24 months, not just the original 24 months that we sent you, but we may break you and have to send you back again"?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: We have no plans to do--to change the rulings and the methods that we're operating on at the present time. For the first time, we've begun to see some goals and targets not being fulfilled. But generally recruiting and retention has been on track and is today generally on track. One of the reasons that the National Guard and the Reserves are slightly down is because we're enlarging the size of the Army and, in that process, more people are staying in. And one of the pools that you draw on to build the Guard and Reserve is people coming off active duty, as you know. So there's fewer people coming off active duty. Therefore, we've increased the number of recruiters. We've increased the incentives, and we just simply have to recognize that the stress on the force is real, and take the kinds of steps that we've taken to anticipate that and see that we're able to attract and retain the people we need. We've still only used about 40 percent of the Guard and Reserve that's available in this country, since the beginning of the Afghan operation.
MR. RUSSERT: So you have no plans to change the rules in terms of extending...
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: No, the rules--there's been a debate in the press...
MR. RUSSERT: Yes.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: ...about whether you wanted to change 24 months to cumulative or consecutive, and it's being left at consecutive, not cumulative.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you some comments that some have made...
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Or cumulative. I misspoke.
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah, I understand. Some things that members of Congress has said. This is Susan Collins, a Republican--not a Democrat, Republican: "I think there are increasing concerns about [Secretary Rumsfeld's] leadership of the war, the repeated failures to predict the strengths of the insurgency, the lack of essential safety equipment for our troops, the reluctance to expand the number of troops."
I want to talk--we've talked about insurgency. I want to bring you back to the whole debate about the use of essential safety equipment for our troops and take you back to December--we haven't seen you since then--when Thomas Wilson stood up and asked you a question. I want to show you that exchange and come back and talk about it.
(Videotape, December 8, 2004):
SPC. THOMAS WILSON: Now, why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles and why don't we have those resources readily available to us?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.
And if you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored Humvee and it can be blown up.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, Specialist Wilson did acknowledge he worked with a journalist in crafting that question.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Yeah, but wait a minute. Let me get into this a little bit.
MR. RUSSERT: Sure.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: That was unfair and it was selectively taking out two sentences from a long exchange--there it is--that took place. And when you suggested that that's how I answered that question, that is factually wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: No, we...
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: That is not how I answered that question.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Mr. Secretary, it clearly represents the exchange and...
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: It does not.
MR. RUSSERT: All right. What is missing?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: You want to hear the exchange? There is it. It's right here. I'll read it to you.
MR. RUSSERT: I just...
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: If you're going to quote pieces of it, I'll give you the exchange. He asked that question, and I said, "I talked to the general coming out here about the pace at which the vehicles are being armored. They have been brought from all over the world, wherever they're not needed, to places where they are needed. I'm told they are being--the Army is--I think it's something like 400 a month are being done now. And it's essentially a matter of physics. It's not a matter of money. It isn't a matter on the part of the Army's desire. It's a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, you go to the war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.
"Since the Iraq conflict began, the Army has been pressing ahead to produce armor necessary at a rate that they believe--it's a greatly expanded rate from what existed previously but a rate that they believe is the rate that can be accomplished. I can assure you that General Schumacher and the leadership of the Army and certainly General Whitcomb are sensitive to the fact that not every vehicle has the degree of armor that would be desirable to have, but that they're working at it at a good clip.
"It's interesting. I've talked a great deal about this with a team of people who've been working hard at the Pentagon. And if you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and the tank could still be blown up. And you can have an up-armored Humvee and it can be blown up. And you can go down and the vehicle--the goal we have is to have many of those vehicles as is humanly possible with the appropriate level of armor available for the troops. And that's what the Army's been working on. And, General Whitcomb, is there anything you want to add?" And then he spoke.
Now, that answer is totally different from picking out two lines. And I think it's an unfair representation and it's exactly what some of the newspapers around the country did. Now, let's go back to Susan Collins' comment, Senator Collins...
MR. RUSSERT: Well, let me just finish on the Humvees because...
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: You bet. OK. I'll tell you right now where we are. By February 15th, nine days from now, there will not be a vehicle moving around in Iraq outside of a protected compound with American soldiers in it that does not have an appropriate level of armor.
MR. RUSSERT: Which is a pretty dramatic change, because Newsweek had said that, of the 19,000 Humvees in the Iraqi theater, according to the Army's latest numbers, only a quarter were fully armored. So the fact is that Specialist Wilson's question in front of his troops in which he was cheered was helpful in getting people to truly focus and respond to this. Fair?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: I didn't criticize his question. I thanked him for his question.
MR. RUSSERT: No, but is that a fair statement?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Well, you saw my answer. We'd already been focusing on it hard. I mean, I answered it by saying we had teams of people in Washington working on it, General Whitcomb was working on it.
Let's go back to Senator Collins. You said that she was critical because we couldn't predict the size of the insurgency. That is the job for the intelligence community. And it is unfortunate that we don't have perfect visibility into that. It is also unfortunate that it's changing and evolving and, therefore, easy to say, "Well, you don't know what the size is because the size is changing," but the fact of the matter is it's a difficult thing to do. And I suppose someone can sit back in an air-conditioned room and be critical of it, but the fact is the intelligence community is working as hard as they know how to try to manage those serious questions about what the size is.
Second, to say that I've resisted increasing the size of the Army is factually incorrect. We've increased the size of the Army. We've been doing it under the emergency authority. Some of the people in the Congress have wanted to increase the in strength by statute. And we don't need that done because under the emergency authority we can increase it and we have already increased it by tens of thousands--I think, 20,000.
MR. RUSSERT: There was a large debate at the Pentagon. General Sinseki--we've talked about this before--others saying we needed 200,000 troops on the ground.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: But that's a separate issue from the size of the Army. Quite different.
MR. RUSSERT: It--exactly.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: But there were also comments made that you were going to transform the Army and have a light, more mobile force and not have as many additional members of the armed forces...
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Not true.
MR. RUSSERT: ...that some were suggesting.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Not true.
MR. RUSSERT: At all?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: No. We--the size of the Army is quite a different thing from whether it's light and agile and mobile and able to go someplace fast. That's the nature of the Army, not the size of the Army.
MR. RUSSERT: In hindsight, do you wish we had sent more troops on the ground in Iraq initially?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: I wish that we could have gotten the 4th Infantry Division in from the north, so that it would have been able to put more pressure on the Baathist regime and probably capture more of the Baathists that today are part of the insurgency. But in terms of the total numbers of troops that went in, we finally got the 4th ID in, but it had to come in from the south. So it was not as effective as had it come in through Turkey. The answer to your other question is no. I think that General Franks and General Abizaid have been correct in calculating the number of troops that we need on the ground in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Bob Woodward said General Franks...
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Just a minute. Just a minute. Just a minute.
MR. RUSSERT: Bob Woodward had said that General Franks had recommended 300,000 troops.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: At any given moment, General Franks might have had some number in his mind. So what we did was I agreed with his recommendation, which was that we put in line up to 500,000 that could go in were they needed, and that at any moment where they were not needed, he would pull the stopper and stop it, and he did. And that's where it stopped. And I think he was right because the balance he faced in both Afghanistan and Iraq is you do not want to become a heavy-footprint, occupying force that causes more of an irritant to the population than a benefit. And who knows what's perfect? It's not for me to judge. But when General Myers, General Pace, General Franks, General Abizaid, General Sanchez and now General Casey tell me that they believe we have the right number on the ground, that's good enough for me.
MR. RUSSERT: You said to CNN on Thursday that you tendered your resignation twice to the president of the United States.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: I was asked.
MR. RUSSERT: Why?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Why? First of all, an unfortunate thing happened on my watch, and I was secretary.
MR. RUSSERT: Abu Ghraib?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Abu Ghraib. And people were not treated the way they should have been treated. And that's wrong. And it seemed to me that a president ought to have that choice. I had to make a decision if I thought I should leave. And I decided that I would leave if I thought I could not be effective. And I decided I thought I could be effective. But I also know that the president deserved a chance to make that decision himself. So I sat down with him and handed him a written resignation and urged him to think very carefully about it from his standpoint, from the country's standpoint. And that's why.
MR. RUSSERT: Why twice?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: I did it first in the Oval Office. And about 10 days later, he was at the Pentagon. And I had migrated in my thinking that from his standpoint--it might be wiser from his standpoint if he were able to step off fresh, and so I tried to persuade him that that was the case, and I failed.
MR. RUSSERT: Did you think you had done something wrong?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: No. Obviously the country has to be deeply concerned that people were not treated right. And I was secretary of defense when that happened. And we've had eight or 10 investigations. We've had dozens of criminal trials. And people have pled guilty to doing things they shouldn't do. And obviously you just feel terrible about that. That is not the way our country behaves. And it was a most unfortunate thing that it happened. And I was secretary of defense.
MR. RUSSERT: When John Kerry calls for your resignation and says he has 800,000 signatures on his Internet, John McCain says he has no confidence, Trent Lott says he's not a fan, what does that do to your ability to be secretary of defense?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Well, you know, we were in a political campaign, and there are people always running for president, and that goes with the territory. We've never had a war in this country where there haven't been critics. They were calling for George Washington's resignation. In the Civil War, they were constantly calling for resignations. In the--World War I, in World War II, in Korea--there's never been a war or a war president or a war secretary of state who has not been criticized by critics, and particularly during a political campaign or by political people who are running for president. So that's life.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you have done anything differently?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness, sure. I don't know, maybe there was a way to get the--you mean the 4th Infantry Division, that type of...
MR. RUSSERT: Or Abu Ghraib?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Well, I mean, in retrospect we've taken probably 15 or 20 administrative steps to require that people go in, if it's the midnight shift half a world away, and we know in history people who guard people have done things wrong with respect to the people. It happens in prisons all over the United States and other countries. So you don't want that to happen. So maybe you have to do senior officer checks at the midnight shift because, apparently, a lot of it happened during a relatively brief period of months, weeks, months.
MR. RUSSERT: You're confident it cannot happen again?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Of course not. Human beings are human beings. People do things they shouldn't do. All I'm confident of is that the Army, which is the executive agent for detainees, is seized with this problem. They recognize it's their responsibility. They've worked hard to undertake a whole series of steps to try to see that it doesn't happen again. And I pray it doesn't happen again because it's wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: And you will be secretary of defense and see this war through as long as...
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: We serve at the pleasure of the president.
MR. RUSSERT: But you have every expectation of staying for how long?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: I serve at the pleasure of the president.
MR. RUSSERT: Don't want to see Iraq all the way through until the American troops are home?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: It's not for me to tie his hands. I look at what's happened in Afghanistan, and I think of the people who--our soldiers who've died there and the wounded, that I--your heart breaks when you see limbs off, and how proud they are of what they've accomplished, of liberating 25 million people who, for the first time in 5,000 years, have a popularly elected president, a constitution, they're going to have parliamentary elections later this spring or summer. It's a thrilling thing. It shows how important their sacrifice has been, and you see what's happening in Iraq and that election. And people who've been--decades they've been frightened to come out of their homes, to put their heads up, to do something that the regime might not like, because they filled tens of thousands of people in mass graves. And they came out. I'm told that they wandered around in front of the election polling place and finally some woman in her 60s or 70s said, "I've waited my whole life to do this," walked in, and everyone walked in.
Now, those folks who've been killed there, those folks who are wounded there, their families and their loved ones have to feel that their sacrifice was worth it, that the effect that can have on that region and the world can just be so important. It's an amazing thing that's happening in our world.
MR. RUSSERT: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, as always, we thank you for your views.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next: Iraq, Social Security and more through the eyes of Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. He is next right here, only on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy is next right here on MEET THE PRESS, after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Senator Kennedy, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, John Kerry, your colleague from Massachusetts, has called on the secretary of defense to resign. Do you agree with Senator Kerry?
SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I had asked for his resignation previously at the time of Abu Ghraib. But the issue really isn't his resignation. It's about changing of policy. And I think what we just heard in the last half-hour is why we need a strategy and why we need a policy that is going to permit the American to bring our troops home with honor. During the last half-hour, we heard a policy that was "make it up as you go along." We need a strategy. We need a program. We need to establish goals. We need to be able to ensure that not only the political institutions are going to work in Iraq--all of us were very hopeful, all of us were impressed by the voting--but we also ought to be able to have the development of a strong security in Iraq.
When we send over Americans that have had 12 weeks of training, like the nephew of my wife, and is a tail gunner on a Striker--12 weeks--and we have the best-trained American servicemen and the best soldiers in the world, there's no reason in the world that we can't expect Iraqis to be trained with four months, eight months, 12 months so that they are going to fight for their country and they're going to be willing to die for it. And I think that is what is missing when we hear these numbers batted around like we did today.
MR. RUSSERT: You made a very specific proposal which I asked Senator Kerry, your colleague, about last week. Let's watch.
(Videotape, January 30):
MR. RUSSERT: Specifically, do you agree with Senator Kennedy that 12,000 American troops should leave at once?
SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA): No.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe there should be a specific timetable of a withdrawal of American troops?
SEN. KERRY: No.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Bill Nelson, Senator Joe Lieberman, The New York Times have all editorialized, saying, "No, no, do not set timetables." The president says you are emboldening terrorists because they'll simply wait us out. We're going to be out in a year, sure, we'll sit back and wait. Why would you advocate such a policy before the Iraqis even voted?
SEN. KENNEDY: Well, there's about three aspects of that question. First of all, there really isn't a difference between Senator Kerry and myself. Senator Kerry understands that the insurgency is part of the problem. And he also understands that this administration hasn't had a policy towards Iraq. It had a policy in order to win the war but not to win the peace. There really isn't a difference. There is a difference in terms of the goals that I established. Now, there is--the administration...
MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, there is a difference. I asked him, "Do you agree with Senator Kennedy..."
SEN. KENNEDY: That's right.
MR. RUSSERT: "...on a fixed timetable?" He said no.
SEN. KENNEDY: I agree that he doesn't agree with my call for the immediate troop withdrawals, although we've had, as we saw in the Armed Services Committee just this last week, that--General Myers effectively announcing the withdrawal of some 15,000 troops, like I had suggested. The fact remains, those that have been critical of this idea say that we should not set the date because somehow the insurgents are going to wait. They're going to wait for 18 months or two years. And then after we train these Iraqi troops, they're going to somehow come back in and take over Iraq? What I'm talking about is a strong, secure, democratic Iraq that has democratic institutions, and then in the next four months, eight months, 12 months, 15 months, able to train their troops to be able to provide security. The best way that you're going to see resistance to the insurgency is a strong and secure and independent Iraq. That's what I'm for. That can be achieved with this.
The problem is at the present time the Iraqis do not believe that they own the country. The elections were an important down-payment on that, but still they ought to be able to have the kind of security and that ought to be trained--they ought to be trained. We ought to get about the business of doing it. Why can't they defend their own country? How long do we have to have Americans fighting and dying? How long do we have to ask the taxpayers to continue to pay out? Why can't we expect that we can train their troops in four months, eight months, 12 months, 15 months? I think we can, and I think we should. And we ought to establish as a goal--not as a requirement, as a goal--that we are going to negotiate that time frame with the new Iraqi government, but as a goal that we want our troops out by 2006.
MR. RUSSERT: Some observers, Senator, have said that you simply opposed the war from day one and that's your agenda. They point to a comment you made back in September of 2003. "This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud." Fourteen hundred and forty-five Americans dead, 10,770 injured or wounded. All that blood for a political fraud? Is that your view?
SEN. KENNEDY: Listen, my view is that we honor. We honor, deeply, deeply honor every one of the servicemen and women who have lost their lives. We've lost 32 in Massachusetts. I've talked to the parents and have attended a number of the funerals out at Arlington. They are heroes. And you know something, Mr. Russert? Our responsibility to those fighting men and women is to get it right, to get the right policy. That is the best way to honor them. And when I hear the secretary of defense say this morning that he was somewhat puzzled by the level of the insurgency, the rise of the insurgency, I remember being on the Armed Services Committee when we listened to the generals that testified before that Armed Services Committee and they all predicted an insurgency.
General Hoar, a former Marine, said, "If we get into Iraq, we fight the Iraq, we will win and you will have an insurgency that'll make the last five, seven minutes of `Private Ryan' look like a church picnic." They were absolutely correct. This is what the problem is. We're making it up as we go along. We heard it this morning. We've got to establish a policy. We have to establish a plan in order to get the Americans out with honor. And that plan that I put forward, I think, can achieve it.
MR. RUSSERT: But do you still believe that the war is a fraud and was begun for political reasons?
SEN. KENNEDY: What I believe is that this administration took their eye off the ball in fighting against terror. It was al-Qaeda that saw the loss of American lives. It was Osama bin Laden that we had on the run in Afghanistan. We had him on the run, and we took our eye off that and we went to war that we never should have fought in Iraq. And I don't think--and the reasons that we fought the war were weapons of mass destruction and because the tie with al-Qaeda.
Now, we found there's no weapons of mass destruction. The 9-11 Commission said there's no tie-in with al-Qaeda. Now, we're talking about we're leaving Americans in there till we democratize the country. You talk about mission creep. When did that ever get--do you possibly think that the Senate of the United States would have ratified going to war because we just want a democracy? We have stood for democracy and we haven't gone to war. We saw the restoration of democracy in Chile when Pinochet collapsed. We saw it in Argentina. We saw it in Paraguay. We saw it come in South Africa and we didn't go to war.
MR. RUSSERT: You also said "The war in Iraq has made the mushroom cloud more likely, not less likely, and it should never have happened." How has the war in Iraq made nuclear war more likely?
SEN. KENNEDY: Well, the--my own sense is--I'm not sure what the whole kind of context--I thought you were quoting the administration officials that use that as part of a justification and to go to war...
MR. RUSSERT: No, this is your speech at George Washington University. "The war in Iraq has made the mushroom cloud more likely, not less likely."
SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I think the principle reason is because now with al-Qaeda, we have the chance, I think, to decapitate al-Qaeda, to catch Osama bin Laden. What has happened with al-Qaeda is like taking mercury and pounding it and it's gone into a thousand different kinds of cells and those cells are extremely kind of dangerous. And they understand the potential uses of nuclear weapons as well as bioterrorist weapons. And they are out there searching to, in various places around, areas where you don't have careful kind of protection for nuclear weapons and searching for it. And I think that is the absolute result.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about something else you said in the same speech: "I thank God that President Bush was not our president at the time of the Cuban missile crisis." What does that mean?
SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I think at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, what we saw with President Kennedy is examining completely and thoroughly the range of options that were available to him and then making a judgment and decision that avoided nuclear war. In this case, rather than seeing the range of options--number-one option was the inspections. We had, according to the Defense Department, 147 sites where there were weapons of mass destructions. And rather than giving those sites to the inspectors and exhausting the possibility that there were no weapons of mass destruction so we never would have had to go to the war, we just never gave those sites to the inspectors and decided to go to war ahead. I don't think that that--considering that different kind of option was giving it the full examination that it should have been given. I'm absolutely convinced if we had given the inspectors time, they'd have gone in there and found there was no weapons of mass destruction, that we don't have an imminent threat to the United States, and we wouldn't have had the conflict.
MR. RUSSERT: But September 11, 2001, a crisis that George Bush encountered, did he not handle that well?
SEN. KENNEDY: Oh, I think the--there's no question that he galvanized the nation. I admire and respect that effort and that energy in galvanizing the nation to give focus and attention to the threat here and in Afghanistan. I supported it. I admired it. And I think it was a noble effort on his part. And I think the country owes him a great appreciation for it. My difference with it is, rather than continuing to deal with al-Qaeda, we went over and started a war in Iraq that now, we have seen, has drained the resources for our military. You know, it's incredible to me that we are the most powerful nation in the world, fighting really a third-rate country, which was--we had the airspace, two-thirds of it. It was occupied by the Kurds in the north. We had defeated it 10 years ago. We had an embargo on it. And today it is continuing to drain our military, our Reserves and our National Guard.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, many observers will say we have a chance to have a democratic Iraqi state, no Saddam Hussein, a chance to remake the entire Middle East, and you want to cut and run and pull Americans out.
SEN. KENNEDY: It isn't--I'm offering the right way to do it. I'm offering the best way to do it. The program I offer is the best way to achieve an independent and a democratic Iraq. What is the wrong way is to continue along where the occupation is spurring the resistance, as we have seen just earlier in your program, with Secretary Rumsfeld saying that it is constantly growing, the insurgency is constantly growing. We don't know where it is going to go, and that's going to continue. I want to take the target off the backs of the American servicemen and women. And I want to let the Iraqis fight for their own security. And if they do, I think they'll be a stronger country to resist insurgency.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Social Security. The president said that we have an impending crisis with Social Security and you said he was wrong. We went up on your Web site, which was interesting reading, and found the things that you have labeled crises.
SEN. KENNEDY: Ah.
MR. RUSSERT: This is pretty revealing. "Iraq, national literacy, medical research, refugee program, mental illness, steel, nursing, higher education, youth violence, fish industry, AIDS, flu vaccine supply, hunger, teacher recruitment, unemployment, Medicare, health care, North Korea, Section 8 vouchers, gas prices, gun violence"; you said they were all crises.
We have a situation where the number on people in Social Security is going to double. People, rather than spending 15 months, are going to spend 15 years. In 2018, the Social Security Trust Fund will begin to draw down, and in 2042 run a deficit, according to the trustees of the fund. What is your plan? What will you do? If the president's wrong, what would you do specifically to fix Social Security?
SEN. KENNEDY: Well, first of all, all the facts that you mention are correct, and we have a problem beyond the 2049, a problem. As you saw in those figures this morning, the C.B.O. estimates they'll still- -if we do nothing at all, we'll still be able to pay 81 percent of the budget to the--let me tell you one thing. The president's program to make his tax cuts permanent is three times what's necessary to fix the national--to fix Social Security. Let's start with that.
MR. RUSSERT: But we have...
SEN. KENNEDY: Let's start with that. You've asked the question and I'm giving you an answer.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, with Social Security, with Medicare, we have $5 trillion of unfunded mandates, and we are sitting here saying we simply roll back the tax cut on the top 1 percent or grow our way out of it?
SEN. KENNEDY: Well, wait a second now. You asked about Social Security. Now do you want to know on the Medicare how we ought to go to deal with the Medicare? I've given you a very good way to resolve the...
MR. RUSSERT: So you would roll back the president's tax cuts.
SEN. KENNEDY: That's a possible--for one-third, he wants to make it permanent. You can roll back just one-third of it and solve the Social Security problem. I think that ought to be on the table. It's interesting, when the president spoke the other night, Tim, he never mentioned what his answer was. He never told us what his solution was for the out years.
MR. RUSSERT: he...
SEN. KENNEDY: He talked about private savings accounts.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, he said everything should be on the table.
SEN. KENNEDY: OK, well, I'm giving you a suggested way of doing it.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you...
SEN. KENNEDY: Now, can we go to the Medicare?
MR. RUSSERT: Let me finish.
SEN. KENNEDY: OK.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you agree with him that age eligibility should be on the table?
SEN. KENNEDY: Not at this time because I don't think we have a crisis.
MR. RUSSERT: Cost of living increases?
SEN. KENNEDY: I'm giving you my--one of the ways that we ought to do it. That's what your question...
MR. RUSSERT: Raise taxes?
SEN. KENNEDY: Roll back--or he wants to make permanent, and I say you can take a third of that part, at least solve--that is one of the alternatives.
MR. RUSSERT: But that's raising taxes.
SEN. KENNEDY: OK. That's rolling back.
MR. RUSSERT: That's honest.
SEN. KENNEDY: Whatever way. But we have one, but he hasn't offered it. I can tell you where we're going with the Medicare and the rest if you want to know. I think you can make a down--a very important--we spend 33 cents out of every health dollar is non-clinic. The president's talked about information technology. The Veterans Administration uses information technology and has seen a reduction in the cost per patient bed over the last five years by 7 percent while the rest of the beds have gone up 65 percent. If we put in place information technology and reduce from 33 cents to 27, it's $150 billion a year. We could cover all the uninsured and deal with many of the president's priorities in health care. I'm looking forward to try and work with him on this. We can take each of these items and find common ground. That's what I hope we can do with this administration.
MR. RUSSERT: I hope you come back and we'll spend a whole show on this subject.
SEN. KENNEDY: Oh, OK.
MR. RUSSERT: You like the Eagles today?
SEN. KENNEDY: Oh, listen, are you--you have--even you, a Bills fan, have watched the Patriots over this season and even you have to recognize that they are a hot team.
MR. RUSSERT: I was talking about the Boston College Eagles, 20-and-0, undefeated. Undefeated.
SEN. KENNEDY: Listen, when B.C. played Notre Dame, that was a thriller, I must say. But today, it's--I say the Patriots by at least two touchdowns.
MR. RUSSERT: Thank you very much...
SEN. KENNEDY: Good to see you.
MR. RUSSERT: ...for your views, as always, Senator.
And we'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS. Next year the Bills.
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