Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says there is "no question" the declaration presented by the United States to the United Nations justifying war against Iraq "was flawed, was inaccurate, was false," but nonetheless President Bush "made the right decision."
In an interview last Saturday for my Fox News Channel program, "After Hours," Rumsfeld commented on the Senate Intelligence Committee report, which concluded that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction and that the CIA was wrong to cite their existence as justification for toppling Saddam Hussein. Rumsfeld also had this to say: "A great many people have been rushing around trying to prove the negative. The conventional wisdom has concluded that the negative has been proved, that is to say that there were not stocks of weapons of mass destruction. I think it's hard to conclude that. We keep finding that there are things we didn't know. We may very well find, as we go forward, that there are things that we don't know today."
An October surprise, perhaps? Rumsfeld didn't say. He did reiterate the administration's position that most of Congress and the world saw the same intelligence the administration saw and reached the same conclusion: that Saddam Hussein, who had violated 17 U.N. resolutions, had to go-and only the United States had the power and resolve to topple him.
What about the decision by Spain and the Philippines to pull out troops following terrorist attacks and kidnappings? Rumsfeld responded, "When a country negotiates with and acquiesces in a demand of terrorists ... it encourages that type of behavior on the part of terrorists."
Rumsfeld surprised me with his answer to a question about whether the flawed intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war will make the neoconservative doctrine of preemption more difficult to employ when the United States faces new threats. "It makes it more difficult," he said. "And the balance is going to be a difficult one for the world because we have, in the 21st century, more readily available weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological weapons, as well as nuclear and radiation weapons. And we have extremists across the globe who have been killing innocent men, women and children in Spain, Bali and Saudi Arabia and in the United States."
Rumsfeld projected an almost Dr. Strangelove doomsday scenario over the possible acquisition of such weapons by terrorists. "They will be able to kill not just 3,000 people, as were killed here on Sept. 11, but 30,000 or 300,000," he said. So when governments consider preemptive strikes, they are going to "have to make a judgment about the risk of being right and the risk of inaction."
I asked Rumsfeld about Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's pledge to rebuild the military should he be elected president. "The United States military is the finest in the world," Rumsfeld said. "It is more capable than at any time in our country's history, in terms of the ability to do its job and to put precision weapons on precise targets in an effective way and in a way ... that is able to penetrate long distances on relatively short notice. . Between Sept. 11 and Oct. 7 , the United States military was able to begin a process that resulted in liberating 25 million people, and in a relatively short time and in a highly successful way with a minimum loss of civilian lives."
What about Kerry's pledge to consult more with our allies and the United Nations in the war against terror?
Rumsfeld laughed dismissively: "From the beginning, President Bush and Secretary Powell and all of us set about fashioning a coalition that's probably the largest in the history of the world, with some 80 to 90 nations in the global war on terror. . There are a lot of countries in the world that do not have many capabilities that fit the 21st century, and there are a lot of countries that do not have, for whatever reason, peacekeeping forces. It's an easy thing to say that we ought to have greater international involvement, but to actually make it happen is tough work, and I think the president has done an outstanding job."
Rumsfeld said he is affected when casualty reports come in: "I'm aware of it every day. I look at the notifications of the people being killed or wounded. I spend time at Walter Reed Hospital and Bethesda Hospital, visiting with the wounded, and I'm able to talk with them personally. It is always hard. It is heartbreaking to see someone whose life has changed that dramatically. . They are so brave and so proud of what they're doing and pleased with the role that America is playing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They recognize that it's noble work. . I have the greatest respect for them and their families."
The feeling seems to be mostly mutual, Michael Moore's propaganda film notwithstanding.