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Secretary of Defense Interview

(Interview with the Washington Post. Also participating was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Lawrence Di Rita and the Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, Lt. Gen. John Craddock)

Rumsfeld: I’ve told you before that my memory tends to go toward concepts, principles and approaches as opposed to details, so if there are factual differences at anything I say, alert us and we’ll check them. And they’ve got a timeline that Tom Franks had.

Q: Ah that’s great.

Rumsfeld: No. And---yes, we’ll make it available to the President or people you’re going to interview so they’ll know what. And you’ve seen Franks, Renuart, Luck, Myers, Pace and Giambastiani.

Q: Your predecessor, yes sir.

Rumsfeld: Let me just open with a couple of comments.

I do not remember much about Iraq being discussed at all with the President or me or the NSC prior to when the President asked me to – asked me what I thought of the Iraq contingency plan. That I believe was November 21st of ‘01.

Q: That’s great to pin that date down. That makes sense.

Rumsfeld: It feels right to me because I believe I talked to Tom Franks on the -- he thinks on the 27th.

Di Rita: Yes sir, that’s right, when you went down to Tampa, you had a press conference that day and I think you spent an hour with General Franks.

Rumsfeld: And I would not have waited long from the President asking me to do it when he asked me what I thought of the war plan -- the contingency plan -- and I told him that I didn’t think it was current, that I didn’t think it represented Tom Franks’ thinking. That I knew it didn’t represent mine and that it was basically Desert Storm II Plus and that I thought we could – that I was in the process of reviewing all of the contingency plans in the department and had been since earlier in ‘01. And he asked if I could do it on a basis that wasn’t, you know, terribly noticeable, and I said sure, because I’m doing all of them. I was uncomfortable with many of them sufficiently enough that after I reviewed two, I stopped everything and had a whole Saturday blocked out.

Q: Either August 1st or August 8th.

Rumsfeld: To go through all the assumptions in all of the key plans. Did I mention this?

Q: This is –

Rumsfeld: And I wanted to hear if the ones I saw had assumptions that I knew were stale, then I better see them all, and I did.

Q: And this – you told this to the President on this November 21st when he took you aside after an NSC meeting?

Rumsfeld: What he did was at the end of an NSC meeting he said, I need to see you. We walked out and went in a little cubby hole office right off the NSC Situation Room, closed the door and he said, how do you feel about the plan – the war plan for Iraq? I said what I said. And I then answered him with what I had done and where we were, and I said that there isn’t a combatant commander who doesn’t know how I feel and that I’m getting them refreshed.

Q: So you could do this under the radar so to speak.

Rumsfeld: Yeah. Which I was doing with the others.

Q: Did he say anything else in terms of urgency?

Rumsfeld: No. There wasn’t any urgency, and the only thing he asked me was not to talk about it with other people, and I said, well it would be helpful for me to be able to know who I can talk to when he had brought other people into his thinking. And I said it’s particularly important that I talk to George Tenet on things like this. And he said, fine, and at a later date he did tell me that I could talk to Tenet.

Q: But not at that point?

Rumsfeld: No, because he had not talked to Tenet. He had not talked to anybody that I know of -- he left me with that impression.

The discussions on Iraq preceding that, and subsequent to that, had been basically on Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch and I think I mentioned to you that we had a plan for a downed aircraft called Desert Badger. And that I was uncomfortable with the fact that our planes were being shot at and we weren’t able to do much about it under the constraints that existed.

I was also uncomfortable with Desert Badger, and I thought the President ought to have additional options, so I told him that I was going to see if we could pre-package some additional options, and we ended up pre-packaging a Desert Badger Plus and a Desert Badger Plus Plus. So that he knew about it, and that in the event a plane went down, I could call him and recommend one of those three.

Q: This had all been done before 9/11 even or before --?

Rumsfeld: Desert Badger existed prior to 9/11.

Q: And the Plus Plus?

Rumsfeld: And the Plus Plus we fashioned afterwards. It would have been. Now what do you have?

Q: Well I’ve gone through this in lots of detail with people and I’m looking for the story of him and you -- the President and you -- dealing on this, and clearly General Franks brought up a number of iterations of this December 4th, December 12th -- I think it’s in the list -- and then there was the briefing in Crawford that he gave the President on December 28th. You were at your place and you were on video that day I understand?

Rumsfeld: I don’t think so.

Di Rita: We do have a video of you on SVTC [secure Video Teleconference] that day from your place.

Rumsfeld [to staff]: Oh, do you? Okay. [to Woodward] There was a time that I suggested that Tom go down alone.

Q: That was it.

Rumsfeld: And I wanted him to spend some time with the President because I felt it was important that the President develop a confidence level that I had in Tom. And I thought it would be an easier thing to do if I weren’t there. So I purposely stayed away from one of the meetings in Crawford and I asked Tom to go physically rather than by SVTC. I said I thought it would be a good idea.

Q: And having talked to people -- it seems to be the breakthrough in that, if there’s a breakthrough, and this is what I would ask you that you develop -- you with General Franks but General Franks making the presentation. This is kind of a summary version of it, the lines of operation versus slices of regime vulnerability that you set up the things that -- these are the lines of operations, kinetics, SOF, all the way down to humanitarian. And then these are the targets or the things that could be attacked. Does that sound--?

Rumsfeld: There’s no question that he had lines of operations and we had things that worked this way.

Q: And that day there was a chart presented, a series of charts somewhat like this, of “this is the way we can do it†and it strikes me that by doing the slices and dividing it into these categories seemed to me a breakthrough -- seemed to General Franks and some of the other people listening to this on that day. And this strikes me as kind of the now we’re presenting to you, and as I understand, the President was quite interested in this because what it says is--

Rumsfeld: I don’t know if that’s the first time that presentation was made. Does Tommy think so?

Q: As best I can tell, and as best I can tell from others -- and you know conceptually -- is this a breakthrough that you see as significant? Does it lead you down the path or the opportunity of doing this quicker and with more precision over less time?

Rumsfeld: I’ve fashioned a couple of things. One was this, which is a listing of the briefings that I asked Tom to prepare or that he recommended that he prepare or that someone suggested to me be prepared.

Q: Right.

Rumsfeld: And then the question was well, who would do that briefing? And then who would get it? And in this case it could be the Secretary of Defense gets the briefing. It could be that the Deputy’s Committee or the Principal’s Committee or the NSC or POTUS without the NSC separately. And that tended to be all the things relating to targeting that were in the last category or operations that were sensitive.

Q: When was that developed Sir?

Rumsfeld [to staff]: I don’t know how many versions I had of this, but there were a lot of versions.

Craddock: We started tracking this in August of ‘02.

Rumsfeld: August of ’02. And I kept saying to myself, what do I owe the President? How do I fashion the process in a way that he is fully briefed on every piece of this that he needs to be? That he has enough time with Tom and me. That he develops confidence that the things that he ought to be interested in and about have, in fact, been explored by us. How do we fashion the process so that the things that the National Security Council needs to be engaged in -- and the interagency? How do we shove things to the Deputy’s Committee or the Principal’s Committee without the President that need their thought and interaction? And then beyond that, what do I need, which is a lot more than any of those, so that I feel conviction and confidence.

Q: Could you go through that because that’s incredibly important -- because it’s clear from the reporting that there were all kinds of briefings and summaries and re-briefings?

Rumsfeld: The topics run the gamut, but you don’t have any years on here interestingly. What year would that be?

Craddock: That would be ‘02.

Rumsfeld: That would be ’02.

Craddock: Yes, Sir, 2002.

Rumsfeld: Well, they started before then.

Q: Okay. This is what?

Rumsfeld: This is a timeline that – the President was in the process of negotiating with the UN and sending signals to Saddam Hussein the things he ought to stop doing and he ought to cooperate with the UN, and toward the end that he ought to leave, the ultimatum period. And I kept – my task was to have to link all of the complex things that were going on in the world and that would affect the President’s timing in the event he decided to go. And what needed to be done prior to that and how long would things take not knowing if he wanted to go to – if he would ultimately feel he had to go to war, I had to be prepared and be able to tell him so his body language and his words fit the circumstance of what was going on. And so we had -- this one, for example, is from January 29th.

Q: Of ‘03.

Rumsfeld: Of ’03. But they go back before and they come closer to the very end. They get shorter and shorter toward the end, but this one had that there was a Prime Minister of Italy visit to D.C., there was a Prime Minister of the UK visit to D.C. on the 31st, the UN is getting organized, Germany assumes the Presidency, European Summit of Foreign Ministers, Sec State presents the case to the UN Security Council.

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