George Stephanopoulos Demands Rumsfeld Apologize for Not Supporting Troop Surge, Skips Media Hostility
Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday repeatedly hectored Donald Rumsfeld, goading the former Defense Secretary to apologize for not supporting a troop surge in Iraq. At no point did the former Democratic operative admit that some in the media, including reporters at ABC, were skeptical of such a surge.
Stephanopoulos chided, "So, can you now concede what Senator McCain said last week was correct? That had you stayed in office, there would have been defeat in Iraq and the surge would not have taken place?" Stephanopoulos asserted that individuals such as then-ambassador to Iraq Paul Bremer called for a surge. The host argued, "It's documented in Bob Woodward's book." Rumsfeld retorted, "Bob Woodward wasn't there."
On January 10 2007, then-GMA host Diane Sawyer lectured White House aide Dan Bartlett about the surge: "I just want to run through a partial roll call of the number of people who have either opposed what the President is going to do, or expressed serious reservations." After reading off several names, she complained, "What don’t they get? What don’t they understand?"
On January 9 2007, NBC's David Gregory "As the President prepares to start a new phase of the war in Iraq, the White House is fending off charges that key figures in the administration have concluded the war is lost."
For more examples, go here.
If Rumsfeld is to be forced to admit a mistake about the troop surge, why not the journalists who derided the idea?
Instead, Stephanopoulos highlighted the cost of the war, listing the dead and wounded. He added, "And, sir, I've read the book. I've read the reviews. I watched your interview with Diane. And it seems like the one question that most people want answered is the one you most don't want to address. What responsibility do you bear for those costs?"
A partial transcript of the February 8 segment, which aired at
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But you concede in the book, that the Iraq war came at a very high price. I want to show for our viewers some of that price. 4,400- More than 4,400 American deaths. 32,000 wounded. Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed. And the low estimate by the Congressional Budget Office of a cost of $700 billion. And, sir, I've read the book. I've read the reviews. I watched your interview with Diane. And it seems like the one question that most people want answered is the one you most don't want to address. What responsibility do you bear for those costs?
RUMSFELD: Well, of course, everyone involved in that administration, bears a responsibility for the conduct of our government's actions during that period.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, you were Secretary of Defense.
RUMSFELD: Indeed. Indeed.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What's your responsibility?
RUMSFELD: Well, it is, as I say, it is that I was a participant. And we believed the intelligence was correct. It turns out that it was not completely correct, although the inspectors did go in and determined that Saddam Hussein did, in fact, have the capability of fairly rapidly reconstituting his chemical and biological capability.
STEPHANOPOULOS: They also found they needed a lot more time. They were in Iraq at that time. And they felt that the invasion at that moment was unnecessary.
RUMSFELD: I'm referring to Duelfer and the Duelfer Report afterwards.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm talking about Hans Blix and the inspectors. Okay. But that's true, isn't it? They wanted more time.
RUMSFELD: Well- How many resolutions had there been? There's been 17 resolutions at the United Nations.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, you had inspectors in the country. Why was it necessary-
RUMSFELD: He had thrown them out for the second or third or fourth time.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And he was contained. They wanted to complete-
RUMSFELD: Well, not at all. The implication that Saddam Hussein was in the box, that was a terribly vicious regime. And there's no question that the world is better off today than if Saddam Hussein and his regime were still in power.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But could it have been done at a lower cost?
RUMSFELD: The millions of people in that country have been liberated. That have a chance to live under a freer system. And thanks to the men and women in uniform and to the United States and the coalition countries.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you do go through many of the decisions that were made collectively that you believe were mistakes.
RUMSFELD: Sure, I do. I talk about them and reflect on them. Some were good. Some were less good.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, where you don't go- you find it difficult to go, maybe you simply refuse to go, is the judgment that there was a decision- there were decisions that you made that could have brought that cost down. I saw you talking to Diane last night. President Bush has said that the failure in reducing the troops too quickly was the most important failure in the war. You said you didn't have the confidence to make that judgment. If that wasn't it, what was?
RUMSFELD: Well, the- the thing that happened more recently, in 2006, was that the Sunnis finally tired of al Qaeda. And the Anwar awakening occurred. Sadr became less belligerent, and the development that we were engaged in for the proceeding several years of developing and training and equipping the Iraqi security forces, when President Bush decided on the surge, clearly it galvanized the political situation in Iraq. And it galvanized the political situation in the United States. It was a very bold and good move.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's true. But, here were many warnings before that more troops could have helped, by the advisers on the ground.
RUMSFELD: No. That's not correct.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Ambassador Bremer said that. That is correct.
RUMSFELD: It is not correct.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Ambassador Blackwell made those recommendations. It's well-documented.
RUMSFELD: It is not well-documented. I don't recall Bremer ever suggesting that until he was leaving office and he raised the question. And we sent it to the Joint Chiefs and the chairman and the commanders and they looked at it and they came back and they said no. They feel that's the right number.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Ambassador Blackwell made that representation to the National Security Council in September of 2003, I believe, with ambassador Bremer sitting beside him. It's documented in Bob Woodward's book.
RUMSFELD: Bob Woodward wasn't there.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you're saying it didn't happen?
RUMSFELD: I'm saying I don't remember what you're talking about. But I know the question was raised repeatedly: Do we need more troops? Do we need fewer troops? Where do we need them? And what ought they be doing? That was raised in the National Security Council with the President, with the members of council, with the combatant commander, with the Joint Chiefs of staff. And the way you characterize it is not quite right. You said they were reduced. In fact, they were not increased. We had something like 450,000 troops prepared to go in, with off-ramps, they did not go in if the combatant commander felt they weren't needed.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Even in 2006, when President Bush decided to send in more troops. In December 2006, you have a memo where that recommendation was below the line. So, can you now concede what Senator McCain said last week was correct? That had you stayed in office, there would have been defeat in Iraq and the surge would not have taken place?
RUMSFELD: Oh, no. Absolutely not. Certainly not. McCain and I are not a good fit. [Laughs.]
STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that is the understatement of the decade. But, why is it so difficult, sir, for you to say, "This is a mistake I made? This is what we should have done different. This is what I'm sorry for."
RUMSFELD: I think in the book we talked about that. I mentioned it in the book. That may very well be one of the things that should have been done differently. I will say, that during that period, I asked the question repeatedly, should we have more troops? Should we have fewer troops? Should they be doing what they're doing? Should they be doing something differently? And we constantly dealt with the Chiefs of Staff and the combatant commander, first General Franks, then General Abizaid, then General Casey. We were in agreement. The president was. The National Security Council was and the combatant commanders were.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me move to one final question on Iraq. There's a remarkable, almost throwaway moment in the book. You describe a National Security Council meeting in October of 2003, where you were told that Saddam Hussein, according to one report, was paying $60 million for his agents to target the President's daughters and your daughters. What did you think? And what did you do when you heard that?
RUMSFELD: Well, of course, the President and his family had Secret Service protection. My family did not. And it was a somewhat awkward moment in the meeting. The President- I believe George Tenet raised that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He said you have to take it seriously.
RUMSFELD: He said you have to take it seriously because we had killed Saddam Hussein's sons. And one ought not to be surprised that that kind of activity was being generated in Iraq. There was not much I could do. And I- my children did not have protection. And-
STEPHANOPOULOS: What did you feel?
RUMSFELD: Concern. But I'm realistic. I mean, I mean, I was standing near President Ford when he was shot at. And there's certain things that happen in life. And there's not much one can do about it. And so, I made a comment that- "thank you" or something. And President Bush looked me in the eye and said, "You better take this seriously." And, of course, I did take it seriously. But I was also realistic that there is not much one can do about that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Secretary, I wish we had a lot more time to talk. Thank you for coming in this morning. I should say all the proceeds from this book are going to go to families of those killed and wounded in recent wars.
RUMSFELD: Thank you. They are indeed.
— Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.