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Donald Rumsfeld is the U.S. secretary of Defense. He was interviewed by Cal Thomas, syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services and host of "After Hours" on the Fox News Channel. This interview was conducted July 17.

CAL THOMAS: The Philippines announced that it is going to be pulling out its small contingent of troops from Iraq in response to the hostage-taking of one of their citizens. It hopes to save his life by doing that. Is that going to help or hurt the efforts of the coalition (in Iraq), and what does it do for future hostage-taking prospects?

DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, there's no doubt, when a country negotiates with and acquiesces to a demand of terrorists, that it encourages that type of behavior on the part of terrorists. And that's unfortunate. We know to the extent that people reward terrorists with a response like that, it encourages them to do it. Killing people, beheading people, capturing people is not something that is admirable, so I would hope that most countries would take the opposite course, which is to discourage countries from doing that by demonstrating to them that it's not successful.

THOMAS: Spain has pulled its troops out in response to a terrorist incident, now the Philippines. Is this it, do you think? Or are there others you believe might be in line to pull their troops out in the near future?

RUMSFELD: Well, we've got a great many countries in the coalition, and, of course, it is always possible for countries to make that judgment. Sovereign nations make decisions as sovereign nations will. Fortunately, the United States, Great Britain and most of the countries that have significant forces there, as well as a great many countries who do not have significant forces, but have important forces in terms of their political courage, their military courage and their commitment, have already announced that they would not acquiesce, that they would not attempt to make a separate peace, if you will, with terrorists.

THOMAS: The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, as you know, said a lot of intelligence, or a least a good deal of it, on the run-up to the Iraq War was flawed. Some senators announced that if they knew then what they know now, they would have voted differently on the authorization for the war. If you knew then what you know now, would you have given different advice to President Bush?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think the president made the right decision. I think that there is no question that the declaration that was submitted to the United Nations about Saddam Hussein was flawed, was inaccurate, was false. And that the United Nations had gone through some 17 resolutions, and that it was appropriate to enforce those resolutions as the coalition did. So, I believe the president did the right thing. I clearly supported that and believe that it was the right thing to do.

The question about weapons of mass destruction is an interesting one. We know that the declaration was false. But 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, 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. I'm at that stage (where) it's true we have not found large quantities of weapons of mass destruction, but I think it's also true that the same evidence that the Congress saw was the evidence that the United Nations saw and that other countries had. It was evidence that was believed sincerely by the people in Congress and by the United Nations that supported the conflict, and the world is well off with Saddam Hussein out of there. He was a man who was chopping off heads; he was cutting off hands; he was shoving people off the tops of buildings; he was a vicious, repressive dictator. And the Iraqi people have a chance to earn their freedom and to fashion an Iraqi free state that will be a constructive partner in that part of the world.

THOMAS: Was the intelligence lapse, if that's what it was, and many believe it was, due to the doctrine of preemption, that we get them before they get us if they represent a threat?

RUMSFELD: It makes it more difficult, and the balance is going to be a difficult one for the world because what we have, in the 21st century, is 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, and country after country. And to the extent they gain access to those weapons they will be able to kill not just 3,000 people as were killed here on Sept. 11, but 30,000 or 300,000, so governments are going to have to make a judgment about the risk of being right and the risk of inaction.

THOMAS: Mr. Secretary, I know you don't get into politics, but Sen. Kerry has been saying that if he is elected he will work hard to strengthen our military. That implies that our military is weak. I wonder if you'd like to comment on how strong our military is.

RUMSFELD: Well, the United States military is the finest military on the face of the earth. 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 agile and able to penetrate long distances on relatively short notice. If one thinks about it, Afghanistan is thousands and thousands of miles away, it's a landlocked country. Between Sept. 11 and Oct. 7, the United States military was able to begin a process there that resulted in freeing 25 million people, liberating 25 million people, and in a relatively short period of time and in a highly successful way. The victory in Iraq is another demonstration of the capabilities of the United States military. They were able to do a terrific job in a relatively short period of time with a minimum loss of civilian lives.

THOMAS: Sen. Kerry also says that if he were president, he would consult more with our allies and the United Nations. But as I recall you did that, didn't you?

RUMSFELD: Oh my goodness, from the beginning President Bush and Secretary (of State Colin) 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. And I believe 26 or 36 countries are involved in Afghanistan and Iraq and U.N. resolutions .... It is just a fact that we have spent an enormous amount of time and fashioned large coalitions.

The problem we have is that there are an awful lot of countries in the world that do not have many capabilities that fit the 21st century. And there are a lot of countries in the world that, for whatever reason, do not have peacekeeping forces. There are a lot of countries in the world, for a variety of reasons, that seem to be very slow in coming forward when there's a need.

It took us a good deal of work to get countries to participate, for example, with the problems in Liberia. It took a good deal of work getting countries to help in Haiti. And the United States leadership role there has been an important one. So 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.

THOMAS: There's been somewhere around 900 Americans killed in Iraq and more than 5,000 wounded. Do you have to harden your heart at some point in this? What happens to you when you hear of new casualties coming in? How do you respond to that?

RUMSFELD: I'm aware of it every day as I look at the notifications and the indications of the people being killed or wounded. I spend time out at Walter Reed Hospital and Bethesda Hospital visiting with the wounded, and I'm able to talk with them personally. And it is always hard. It is heartbreaking to see someone whose life has changed that dramatically. The lives lost in some cases, a life not lived, family members who will never see that fine, talented, brave human being again, people with limbs off, and clearly your heart goes out to them. On the other hand, the wounded that I visited, for example, earlier this week, they are so brave and so courageous and so proud of what they're doing and pleased with the role that America is playing in Iraq and in Afghanistan, they recognize that it's noble work. And they're anxious to get back to their troops and their friends in those units, and I just have the greatest respect for them and their families.

(c) 2004, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 7/20/04)