WASHINGTON — Former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld has scoffed at praise for President Barack Obama for ordering the killing of Osama bin Laden, saying he would have recommended the operation in a minute.
The blunt-talking and controversial former Pentagon chief, best known for the Iraq invasion, was asked in an interview whether he agreed with remarks by his successor, Robert Gates, that Obama made a “gutsy” call.
“I don’t,” Rumsfeld, a Republican, said late Wednesday on “The Charlie Rose Show” on public television.
“It seems to me that it is a 15-minute decision and the first 14 are for coffee. For me, not a complicated answer. Do it,” he said.
But Rumsfeld conceded that he agreed with Obama’s decision to send in special forces and not an alternative — which Gates later said that he recommended in internal deliberations — to hit bin Laden’s compound with a missile.
Had Obama ordered a missile strike, the United States would not have known immediately whether it killed bin Laden and would not have been able to collect valuable intelligence, Rumsfeld said.
Gates — appointed by president George W. Bush to succeed the unpopular Rumsfeld and kept on by Obama — said he had been concerned by the lack of irrefutable evidence before the raid that bin Laden was living at the house in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad.
In a separate recent interview on “The Charlie Rose Show,” Gates said that, if bin Laden turned out not to be there, Pakistan may have shut down supply lines for US troops or become “even more aggressive in supporting the Taliban.”
US officials have long been concerned that Pakistani intelligence maintains ties to extremists.
The successful raid also infuriated Pakistan. Later last year, it closed the supply routes in retaliation for a US air raid that killed 24 Pakistani troops near the Afghan border.
Rumsfeld denied accounts that the United States botched the 2001 assault on the Tora Bora cave complex in Afghanistan, allowing bin Laden to slip into Pakistan.
“I can assure you that no one got up to any level anywhere near me or the president suggesting that anything should be done that was not done,” Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld, however, said he has “never bothered” to ask then CIA chief George Tenet for details about the intelligence agency’s operations during the Tora Bora battle.