U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 73, talks about the rivalry between China and the U.S., the fiasco in Iraq, dealing with dictators, and his attitude toward the Germans.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Secretary, you have just returned from China where you voiced concern about the rapid build-up of the Chinese military. Is China a threat to the U.S?
Rumsfeld: I did not voice concern quite the way you have just casted. I pointed out that there are an awful lot of experts who look at the official statements about the size of their investment in defense capabilities and who believe that the actual numbers are two or three times as large. Any country in the world, obviously, can spend as much as they want for their defense and purchase the things they want to purchase. The thing that causes the question is the disparity between what people say they are actually doing relative to what they are actually doing. That was the point I was making.
SPIEGEL: Will China be the United States' main rival in this or the next century?
Rumsfeld: Oh, I think it would be a mistake to assume that. I don't have any idea. I don't think anyone does. I doubt if even
the Chinese do. Ever since Deng Xiao Ping, China has made a conscious decision to open the economic system up in a manner that is sufficient to permit growth and opportunities for their people. They are engaging the world from an economic standpoint, which I think is a good thing. In order to do that successfully, they are going to have to allow an awful lot of people to come into their country. They are going to have to have many computers and there is going to be an awful lot more information flowing in and out of their country. More Chinese people will learn the truth: that the successful countries in the world are the ones with free political systems and free economic systems. That creates tension in a political system that is not as free. To the extent the desire to have a more closed political system prevails, the economic system would suffer. To the extent the economic system succeeds, it will have a moderating and opening effect on the political side.
SPIEGEL: So, in the end, if there is a market economy a democracy will evolve?
Rumsfeld: Not necessarily. Clearly, there are some countries that have had fairly restrictive political systems and been quite successful from an economic standpoint.
SPIEGEL: Chile in the Pinochet era.
Rumsfeld: Yes, exactly, no question. But in the end in Chile they made the conscious decision to replace the military leadership with a democratic system.
SPIEGEL: Will China become the world's second superpower?
Rumsfeld: The Chinese have a lot of things going for them and I wish them well. I just hope that the rest of the world will encourage them to become a responsible and constructive, increasingly engaged participant. Stability advantages their economy. No one wins if it's war, no one wins if it's conflict, or uncertainty, or fear. Money flees that. So one would hope that they would increasingly feel that they have a say in the successful international system. That it's in their interest, for example, to behave in a way that makes the rest of the world want to have the Olympics in their country. If that happens, we'll have a better and more successful world.
SPIEGEL: One of those troubling conflicts the world is concerned about is taking place in Iraq. In February 2003 in Munich, Germany's foreign minister Joschka Fischer confronted you on your case for the Iraq war by saying, "I am not convinced." Do you believe you have convinced the world that you were right on Iraq?
Rumsfeld: Oh, I wouldn't think so. It is hard for people to become convinced of something they don't want to be convinced of. If one looks at Afghanistan first and thinks about it four years ago: the Al Qaeda were there, Taliban were running the country, women couldn't go out, kids couldn't fly kites, they were killing people in the soccer stadium instead of playing soccer. Look at it today: Of course they have the narcotics and problems of corruption, but they have an elected president, the constitution is purely an Afghan constitution, they have a Parliament, they have provincial elections, the refugees have returned, internally displaced people have gone home, the economy is growing at a good rate. It is a considerable success story but it's largely unnoticed. Now, go to Iraq. I don't think that people are convinced there either. I doubt that they will be in two, three or four years. Fischer was so adamant in his position. On the other hand, I think it was a renowned Middle East scholar who said that things are not good in Iraq, but they've never been better.
SPIEGEL: Today even a majority of Americans are opposing the war in Iraq. What went wrong?
Rumsfeld: In Iraq, a couple of years ago, there were mass graves in that country. They are going to be talked about in the trial of Saddam Hussein. Today they have a constitution, it's an Iraqi constitution, it's theirs. They are going to have an election on December 15. Clearly, the Iraqi people are engaging in a political process. They are arguing, tugging and pulling.
Even the Sunnis admit that they made a
terrible mistake not participating and now they are leaning forward. There has been more participation registered on their part. Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds are all going to be engaged in the election process between now and December 15. I think you'll see a successful election.
SPIEGEL: There are terrorist attacks on a daily basis, and U.S. soldiers are being killed.
Rumsfeld: We thought there would be a spike in incidents on the October 15th referendum. There wasn't. There could be in December, however. But, increasingly, the pressure that is being put on the terrorists and the insurgents is working. They are capturing or killing large numbers of senior Al Qaeda and Zarqawi-type people. Recently we put in a tip line, so that Iraqis can call in anonymously. They don't get any money for it, but they can call and say, "Look, down the street two doors, there're some guys making bombs."
The Iraqi security forces are being killed in high numbers by the insurgents, and at a certain moment they are not going to like it. It's their country.
SPIEGEL: Who are the insurgents primarily fighting: the U.S. or the Iraq government?
Rumsfeld: The insurgents are not fighting the coalition. The insurgents are fighting the Iraqi security forces; they are fighting the Iraqi government that's been elected by the Iraqi people. Much to the disappointment of some people, I suspect that we are going to find in the months ahead that the process will work and that Iraq will become an important country with water resources, with intelligent people, with oil in a critical part of the world: a country that will have a more democratic system than its neighbors for the benefit of the region and the world.
SPIEGEL: But why are you losing public support at home?
Rumsfeld: That's always been true with wars. Go back and look at history. My Lord, Harry Truman did a wonderful job as president, even you might admit that. He contributed to the post-World War II world structure and he left office with a 23 percent approval rating.
SPIEGEL: Popularity is not a reliable indicator?
Rumsfeld: Oh, my Lord, if you get up in the morning in a leadership position and you start chasing popularity polls! The center of gravity in the war in Iraq is not in Iraq. We are not going to lose battles, we're not going to lose skirmishes. Look, the places being fought are your country's public and our country's public, and you [the media] are the people affecting that. Over time, we'll get it right.
SPIEGEL: Should the U.S. administration have acted differently to get the Sunnis into the process of building peace and democracy?
Rumsfeld: The critical task is to make all the elements feel they are parts of it. The way that country operated under Saddam Hussein, if you didn't behave you got killed, you got thrown into prison, your family got killed. That's what held it together. Repression works. Now, with the constitution, they are trying to fashion a piece of paper that will substitute for repression, that they can look at and say: "That's going to protect me." It's a big leap of faith to do that. The Sunnis have been the minority that had benefited from the regime of Saddam Hussein. They obviously concluded they're going to lose out. They need to find a way to be confident that, even though they are a minority, they'd be treated fairly and they'd be a part of it. It's taking them time to get there. Quite honestly, the Sunni neighbors have not been anywhere nearly helpful. Maybe because they were less enamored of a representative democratic system than some of the rest of us.
SPIEGEL: Which countries are you talking about?
Rumsfeld: Oh, just some of the Sunni neighbors.
SPIEGEL: Nice try.
Rumsfeld: No, no. Gosh, you have a lot to learn. Now they see that they have to keep the Sunnis in the game. So I think it's coming. It is their country, it's not our country. They are going to have to find their way to it and it's a bumpy road. Democracy is a tough business. The suggestion that there are some geniuses who could say "Oh, let's do it that way!" and have a nice, smooth path is outrageous. History doesn't work that way. Look how long it took Germany after World War II to get itself on the path.
SPIEGEL: Aren't you afraid that you will end up with a fundamentalist Iraq?
Rumsfeld: Anything is possible. It's their country and they are going to do what they do. But it would be a mistake and I don't think it will happen. Sure, I worry about lots of things. I sit down and make lists of all the terrible things that could happen.
SPIEGEL: You really do that?
Rumsfeld: You bet your life I do it, and I've always done it. What can we do to prevent the worst from happening? Or if it does happen and it's out of our control, how can we mitigate it?
SPIEGEL: You once wrote in a memo: Are we winning or are we losing? Have you come any closer to an answer?
Rumsfeld: Oh, I know what you are referring to. I wrote a memo in October 2003 and I sent it to the chairman of the joint chiefs, Dick Myers. I could see the data as to the numbers of people that we were capturing and killing. What I could not see were the number of people who were entering that business, going through the madrassas schools, being trained by people, contributing money and being taught how to be suicide bombers. Those people are determined. They want to reestablish a caliphate in the world. They want to knock off the moderate Muslim regimes. Where are we today with it? It is a very hard thing to know the answer, but there are a lot of very good signs, e.g. the number of senior people that continue to be tracked. It's a fact that Osama Bin Laden has not been out on video for a hell of a long time. Maybe he's getting shy, but he never was before.
SPIEGEL: Syria is under international pressure because of its alleged role in the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri. Could Syria follow the Libyan path - coming clear with its past and trying to engage with the Western world?
Rumsfeld: This is clearly something that is possible and certainly desirable. You know, I am trying to climb inside the head of an individual like Gaddafi and figure out: What would cause him to do that? There were some significant things that happened: the exposure of the A.Q. Khan network, the adverse effects of being labeled as a terrorist state, the persistence of the concern about the Pan Am aircraft that was shot down at Lockerbie.
You look at Kim Jong Il - what might cause him to take a different path? In the case of Syria, I used to meet with Assad's father and I could probably pretty well put myself in his shoes and see what the world looked like in that case. Today, it is a bit different: You have a son, you have a group of advisors that are from a minority sect. It's harder to know what the dynamic would be that would cause him to decide - he himself and the clique that has benefited by his regime - to carve a different course. It's not like pool billiard, it's more like three cushion billiards - too many pieces moving around to know what the effects might be.
SPIEGEL: In the end Gaddafi came clean and could survive as a dictator. Could Assad survive as well?
Rumsfeld: If you look at history, there are lots of kinds of models of how that happens. It's one thing that we know about regimes: that they are highly centralized, to use a euphemism for a few other words we could have selected. They have to know that what they have going for them is a bit precarious. The goal is to perpetuate the regime when you get up in the morning. That becomes not an obsession, but a very high priority. So they've got to have concluded at some point that the way to do that is by shifting course. I clearly think that Gaddafi made that decision. I don't know if his son affected it or something's going on in his life or in the world, but it was a good thing. A very good thing! And it happens. And it could happen again somewhere.
SPIEGEL: How concerned are you about Iran?
Rumsfeld: All of us have to be concerned when a country that important, large and wealthy is disconnected from normal interaction with the rest of the world. They obviously have certain ambitions, powers and military capabilities ...
SPIEGEL: ... and nuclear ambitions ...
Rumsfeld: That's apparently what France, Germany, the UK and the I.A.E.A. have concluded. Any one would want to have them as part of the world community. They aren't yet. Therefore there's less predictability and more danger.
SPIEGEL: The U.S. is trying to make the case in the Security Council.
Rumsfeld: I would not say that. I thought France, Germany and the UK were working on that problem.
SPIEGEL: Okay, we all try hard.
Rumsfeld: You! You!
SPIEGEL: What kind of sanctions are we talking about?
Rumsfeld: I'm not talking about sanctions. I thought you, and the UK and France were.
SPIEGEL: You were not?
Rumsfeld: I'm not talking about sanctions. You've got the lead. Well, lead!
SPIEGEL: You mean the Europeans.
Rumsfeld: Sure. My goodness, Iran is your neighbor. We don't have to do everything.
SPIEGEL: We are in the middle of regime change in Germany ...
Rumsfeld: ... that's hardly the phrase I would have selected.
SPIEGEL: It has not gone as far as many have expected. Joschka Fischer is not convinced, and he is leaving.
Rumsfeld: Were any of you at the Wehrkunde conference where Fischer shouted "I am not convinced"?
Rumsfeld: It was fun. I enjoyed it. You know, I thought that was interesting.
SPIEGEL: Well, at that moment, you didn't look like you were enjoying it.
Rumsfeld: Oh, my goodness, I spoke for about five minutes and answered questions for about 45 or 50 minutes. I clearly looked like I was enjoying it, because I did.
SPIEGEL: What are your hopes and expectations as to the new government?
Rumsfeld: You know, President Bush wouldn't even allow me to get involved in his presidential reelection race. He thinks that the secretary of state and the secretary of defense should stay out of politics. So if I am staying out of American politics, you can be sure, I would stay out of German politics. It seems to me that free countries engaged in the world tend to be a good thing. But the German people and leadership have to decide about the extent to which they want to be engaged in the world. That's up to them, not me.
SPIEGEL: Since the time of the Cold War, U.S. nuclear bombs have been stored on German territory. What is their purpose today?
Rumsfeld: I think I'll leave that to the Germans and to NATO. Some countries in Europe fashioned the decision that they exist. It was seen to be in their interest and seen today as it persists. So one would assume it continues being in their interest.
SPIEGEL: That was not an answer.
Rumsfeld: That was a very good answer.
SPIEGEL: For many Germans, you are the incarnation of American unilateralism. Others admire the clarity of your language. Some of your quotes have been printed as poetry in the newspapers.
Rumsfeld: That's not my goal, to be a poet.
SPIEGEL: Who is the real Rumsfeld? A poet? A warrior?
Rumsfeld: Goodness. The one thing we know for sure is that he is not the caricature that is frequently painted. But it's for you to judge.
SPIEGEL: Give us a lead.
Rumsfeld: Anyone who wants to know the answer and does a modest kind of research, finds that I've been working hard in Latin America, Central America to pull those countries together to more cooperation. I suppose you could use the phrase multilateral. I hate to be seen as characterizing myself in a certain way. So I won't. I will talk about the United States. NATO is a military alliance and I am the official from the United States that is centrally involved with NATO. The initiatives that NATO has undertaken over the past five years are initiatives that I've been deeply involved in: the expansion of NATO into a larger organization, the NATO response force. NATO is as "ununilaterist" as one could imagine. The characterization resulted from a statement I made some time ago, when I said that the mission determines the coalition, which I think is self-evident. The U.S., for example is now helping in Pakistan. The mission didn't require that we go and organize 50 countries to do that with us. It requires speed and we have the capability of putting speed behind something, we committed dozens of helicopters there and they are saving lives. That is that mission. As it was with the tsunami and frankly, as it was with Afghanistan. There must be 40 countries helping in Afghanistan.
SPIEGEL: And Germany's quite a big part of it.
Rumsfeld: You bet. And we spend a pile of time getting countries to be more involved. And a lot of money, helping them get in there, providing intelligence for them and sustainment. Why? Because we want more countries to feel they have a stake in the success of Afghanistan. And it is a success. But, I mean, I won't use inflammatory adjectives.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for this interview.