CBS News Anchor Dan Rather discussed Iraq today with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Among other things, Rather asked Rumsfeld's opinion about the possibility Saddam Hussein might choose exile instead of war.
Rather: From a strictly military point of view when will you, the Secretary of Defense, be ready to tell (the) President, 'We can carry out any order that you want in the Persian Gulf region'?
Rumsfeld: Dan, we're not arranging ourselves that way towards a specific date. We are prepared today to execute responsibility that the President may or may not request of us.
Rather: Let me follow up. Everybody knows a military organization reaches a peak where it's ready to. How long could this last, range?
Rumsfeld: I'd be disinclined to because given the fact that the U.N. is involved. What we've done is arrange ourselves, continue to flow forces, alert, mobilize and then have various plans whereby rotate or reduce.
Rather: True or untrue that the latter part of February to March would be the preferred time?
Rumsfeld: I'm not going to speculate. First of all, no decision has been made on use of force.
Rumsfeld: Mr. Secretary, how important are Turkey and Jordan, and what would it mean if either or both of those countries said, 'We just don't think we can go along with what you want'?
Rumsfeld: First of all ... the first choice would be for Saddam (to) leave ... and only the last use of force. Each country (is) currently cooperative, I've made a policy of letting countries describe for themselves.
Rather: Fair or unfair to say that it would be very desirable to have Turkey at least as an option for a northern ground offensive should an invasion become necessary?
Rumsfeld: I think fair to say cooperation of Gulf States and Jordan and Turkey with respect to the points you make. There's no question their cooperation and their degree of cooperation is important to us.
Rather: You mentioned NATO. Do you agree -- request to NATO for some assistance?
Rumsfeld: We didn't make any explicit requests as to what we wanted. It's entirely a matter for each country. I think that most of what's done at NATO is done by consensus. What NATO will eventually do ... I doubt that you'd find countries trying to act to break a consensus given that fact that Turkey ...
Rather: Is there any realistic chance in your opinion that Saddam Hussein would accept guaranteed asylum in some other country? And if he did so, would that resolve the confrontation?
Rumsfeld: It's hard for me to say what he might or might not do but of course ... Idi Amin and Baby Doc Duvalier and other dictators are now residing in countries other than their home countries, so I guess. History suggests that people do in fact, if they make a judgment that the game's up and it's over and they've run their string, do on occasion leave.
Whether this particular individual will do it, I don't know. What will happen is at some point it will become clear that he will have to disarm and if that's the case then he'll have to make a judgment
Now then you'd say someone else would come in and that's true. As you know the important principles that we believe in are these: that anyone who's there, whether it's Saddam Hussein or anybody else, has to agree not have weapons of mass destruction and that it will not threaten its neighbors, that it will maintain Iraq as a single country and not break up into pieces and over period of time take the path towards representative government so that the rights of the various groups in that country are protected.
Rather: Mr. Secretary you have dealt with Saddam Hussein in the 1980's you have been face to face with him, very few people have done that. Is it your judgment that there's some possibility he would go into exile? Is it your judgment he would fight to the finish?
Rumsfeld: I'm not a person who has the skills to answer a question like that, I'm afraid. I think he has demonstrated that he's a survivor. He's been through a lot of tough times. What he'll do at that point where he realizes he can't have weapons of mass destruction and doesn't want to disarm and in the event then force is used, I think that ... he'll very likely make a judgment as to what his preference would be. If he sees that it's over and he's not going to keep his country he may very well decide to leave and that would be a very good thing for the world. The last thing anyone wants is a war.
Rather: About the possibility of Iraqi scientists going out of country, is there any real probability this could be done keeping in mind that families taken out of country? So talking about thousands, it strikes many, including this reporter, that as a practical matter this is unlikely to take place.
Rumsfeld: If you think back, U.N. resolution specifically provided Saddam obligation to make technicians available to inspectors. If you think back to the earlier inspections, the vast portion of any information they got came from defectors, it came from people already in or out.
I think reasonable people who have watched inspectors know that inspectors cannot go out and discover. The inspectors are there to see what Iraq gives them. I think it's almost impossible in a country that size skilled at hiding.
Rather: Is it realistic to believe that a thousand or more people, families, that this can actually happen? Granted that it would be a good thing if it did happen but is it practical to think it can happen?
Rumsfeld: Oh indeed, I think it can happen Dan. There are any number of people in that country -- most of the people in that country don't like Saddam Hussein. They know he's a vicious dictator and if they are offered an opportunity to get out of the country with their families and go to Cyprus and tell what they know the inspectors, I think that they would be willing to do that. There are people willing to do that if we can find them and if he'll allow them to leave.
Rather: I've had any number of Iraqi citizens, including university students, say to me, 'Secretary Rumsfeld keeps saying that Iraq has the possibility of developing nuclear weapons. North Korea says it's already developed nuclear weapons.' Their question is, why is the pressure on Iraq and, to use their phrase, it's soft-pedaling with North Korea? What would you say to those people if you were facing them eyeball to eyeball?
Rumsfeld: Well, I would say to those people, and I hope I am facing them eyeball to eyeball number one: it's true Korea has one or two nuclear weapons and it is a very dangerous situation. The difference with Iraq is that Iraq, for the better part of a decade, has been subject to U.N. sanctions. Everything has been tried, sanctions have been tried, military force, oil for food, inspections. The world community has pretty well run out the string. There's not anything else they can try with Iraq that they haven't already tried and failed.
Saddam Hussein is determined to maintain those weapons and all the diplomatic efforts and economic efforts that have been tried have failed. That is not the case in North Korea. We're engaged, diplomatic, serious.
The other distinctive thing about Iraq is the Iraqi regime has those weapons and they've used those weapons on the Iraqi people, they've used them on their neighbors, they've fired ballistic missiles at at least four of their neighbors. The Iraqi regime periodically, when it's not engaged in a charm offensive, tries to go out and undermine neighboring regimes. It invaded Kuwait.
This is a regime that has ... punched every single ticket of being an irresponsible member of the world community.
Rather: Mr. Secretary thank you very much, we appreciate your time.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.