Rumsfeld in Heated Exchange With Reporters Over Iraq

By: E&P Staff

A press briefing on Thursday by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld drew wide attention when he deflected heated questions from reporters by asking them to calm down and “just back off” and wait, again, for positive results in Iraq.

An exchange at the very end of the briefing, however, got little notice and is reprinted below from the transcript. It came after the Pentagon chief suggested the Iraqis were actually doing a fine job in stepping up to the plate to control violence there. Rumsfeld also revealed that while certain benchmarks would be set, there would be no likely penalty, such as pulling out U.S. troops, if they weren’t met, indicating to some that the whole process was irrelevant.

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Q Given the record, Mr. Secretary, can you blame us for the tone, expressing some skepticism? Because —

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, no. That’s your job. You can express all the skepticism you want.

Q Every time a benchmark has been laid down in terms of security forces, and the like, the Iraqis have been unable to meet them.

SEC. RUMSFELD: That is just false.

Q And you have no —

SEC. RUMSFELD: Just a minute. Just a minute!

That is false!

Q That is not false.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Every time a security benchmark has been laid down the Iraqis have failed to meet it? Wrong! Just isn’t true. And it would be a shame if people walked out thinking it.

Just a minute! Just a minute!

Q Okay.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Now, why do I say it’s wrong? Well, first of all, it has the benefit of being true that it’s wrong. The Iraqi security force training program that we have laid out has been proceeding in an orderly, reasonable way. We have projections that we release to the Congress every month or two or three; we show them what we think we’re going to have by way of training and equipping. We show them that the chain of command’s been set up. We’ve shown them when the new divisions get shopped over — Iraqi divisions — to the chain of command because they have the capability of handling it. We’ve done it — two of them now. There will be more coming along. We can’t say precisely what day that will happen. But it’s all laid out there. We think it’s working. They’re doing a good job. When we said that they would handle the bulk of the security for the last election, they did. We were in an outer cordon, they were handling it in the inner cordon. They did a good job. The election took place.

I mean, to say that every security — I mean, that’s — there’s people ranting like that up on the Hill, but that is just wrong to say that! It’s not even — it isn’t even close to being true!

Q They have met the benchmarks in numbers, but not the ability to stand up and take control. It was evidenced here. General Casey said as much in the fight to retake Baghdad, that when the U.S. military called on the Iraqi military to provide forces to assist in that operation, they provided only a small fraction of what is needed.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Okay. Look at it this way. Have there been instances, many instances, when the Iraqi security forces have been able to do precisely what was intended and what was predicted? Answer: Yes. Have there been instances where they were not able to do what was predicted and hoped for or intended? Answer: Yes.

That means your question, your statement, your assertion is flat wrong. You said “every” security benchmark has been missed. That’s not true! They’ve done a darn good job.

Q Perhaps the assertion was too precise —

SEC. RUMSFELD: Too precise? It was inaccurate.

Q But in terms of their ability —

SEC. RUMSFELD: You might want to retract it. Just for the fun of it, just retract it.

Q (Laughs.)

Q In terms of their ability to provide for their own security, there are many times when the U.S. has called upon them where they just haven’t stood up. Is —

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, wait a second. Wait a second. Wait a second; there are many times. There are some times. There are some times where they took over something, it didn’t work, and people had to go back in and help them, no question, and take it back. I’ve said that from the beginning. That’s part of this process.

It is not a smooth road. It’s a bumpy road. We know that. We’ve said it repeatedly. There’s no surprise to it. But anyone who runs around denigrating the Iraqi security forces and minimizing their capability is making a mistake and doesn’t understand the situation.

Q Are the people of Baghdad safer than they were six months ago?

(No audible response.)

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