Video - Clinton to Rumsfeld: Why should we believe your assurances now?

Published: Thursday August 3, 2006

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United States Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) tore into Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld today as he testified before a Senate hearing.

Yesterday, Clinton wrote Rumsfeld urging him to appear in open proceedings, after it was earlier announced that he would only be speaking to a closed hearing. The Secretary agreed in the 11th hour to appear. He has since joked to the press that he never received her letter, which was, as he noted, released to the press.

A transcript of Clinton's remarks follows the video, which may be viewed below.

CLINTON: Mr. Secretary, we're glad you're here. In your opening statement, you referenced the common sense of Americans. Well, I think it's fair to say that that collective common sense overwhelmingly does not either understand or approve of the way you and the Administration are handling Iraq and Afghanistan. Under your leadership there have been numerous errors in judgment that have led us to where we are in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have a full fledged insurgency and full blown sectarian conflict in Iraq. Now, whether you label it a civil war or not, it certainly has created a situation of extreme violence and the continuing loss of life among our troops and of the Iraqis. You did not go into Iraq with enough troops to establish law and order. You disbanded the entire Iraqi army, now we're trying to recreate it. You did not do enough planning for what is called Phase IV and rejected all the planning that had been done previously to maintain stability after the regime was overthrown. You underestimated the nature and strength of the insurgency, the sectarian violence, and the spread of Iranian influence.

Last year, Congress passed the United States Policy in Iraq Act, which I strong supported. This law declares 2006 to be a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraqi security forces taking the lead, for the security of a free and sovereign Iraq, thereby creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of US forces from Iraq. However, we appear to be moving in the opposite direction. With the number of US forces in Iraq scheduled to increase, not decrease - that's the only way I think you can fairly consider the decision with respect to the 172nd Stryker brigade.

So, Mr. Secretary, as we return to our states for the August recess, our constituents have a lot questions and concerns about the current state of affairs in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I don't need to remind any of us that we continue to lose our young men and women – 120 from New York alone. Besides the US loses, violence does seem to be increasing. From January to June of this year there were 14,338 Iraqi civilian casualties, at least as far as anyone can count. In May and June alone, more than 5,000 deaths and 5,700 injuries. In a July 22 article in the New York Times, General Abizad was quoted as saying, “Two months after the new Iraqi government took office, the security gains that we had hoped for had not been achieved."

Then, there was the big ballyhooed announcement of “Forward Together" and the commitment by the new Iraqi government to secure Baghdad. Two months into that, it's clear it's not working, and we are putting in more American troops and following the lead of Senator McCain's line of questioning, removing them from other places that are hardly stable and secure.

In Afghanistan, your Administration's credibility is also suspect. In December 2002, you said, “The Taliban are gone." In December 2004, President Bush said, the “Taliban no longer is in existence." However this February, DIA Director Lieutenant General Maples said that in 2005 attacks by the Taliban and other anti-coalition forces were up 20 percent from 2004 levels and these insurgents were a greater threat to the Afghan government's effort to expand its authority than in any time since 2001. Further, Gen. Eikenberry made a comparable comment with respect to the dangers that are now going in Afghanistan and the failure to be able to secure it. Obviously, I could go on and on.

A recent book, aptly titled Fiasco, describes in some detail the decision-making apparatus that has lead us to this situation. So Mr. Secretary, when our constituents ask for evidence that your policy in Iraq and Afghanistan will be successful, you don't leave us with much to talk about. Yes, we hear a lot of happy talk and rosy scenarios, but because of the Administration's strategic blunders, and frankly the record of incompetence in executing, you are presiding over a failed policy. Given your track record, Secretary Rumsfeld, why should we believe your assurances now?

RUMSFELD: My goodness. First, I have tried to make notes and to follow the prepared statements you've presented.

First of all, it's true, there is sectarian conflict in Iraq and there is a loss of life and it's an unfortunate and tragic thing that that's taking place. And it is true that there are people who are attempting to prevent that government from being successful. And they are the people who are blowing up buildings and killing innocent men, women, and children and taking off the heads of people on television and the idea of their prevailing is unacceptable.

Second, you said the number of troops were wrong. I guess history will make a judgment on that. The number of troops that went in and the number of troops that were there every month since, and the number of troops that are there today reflected the best judgment of the military commanders on the ground, their superiors, General Pace, General Abizad, the civilian leadership of the Department of Defense and the President of the United States. I think it's not correct to assume that they were wrong numbers, and I don't think the evidence suggests that and it will be interesting to see what history decides. The balance between having too many and contributing to an insurgency by a feeling of occupation and the risk of having too few and having the security situation not be sufficient for the political progress to go forward, is a complicated set of decisions and I don't know that there's any guidebook that tells you how to do it. There's no rule book, there's no history for this. And the judgments that have been made have been made by exceedingly well-trained people, the gentleman sitting next to me, the people on the ground in Iraq. They were studied and examined and analyzed by the civilian leadership and by the President, and they were confirmed. So I think your assertion is at least debatable.

The idea that the army was disbanded I think is one that's kind of flying around. My impression is that, to a great extent, that army disbanded itself. Our forces came in so fast. It was made up of a lot of Shia conscripts who didn't want to be in it and thousands or at least many, many hundreds of Sunni generals who weren't about to hang around after Saddam Hussein and his sons and administration were replaced. The work to build a new army has included an awful lot of the people from the prior army, and it has benefited from that.

Third, the assertion that the government rejected all the planning that had been done before is just simply false – that's not the case. The planning that had been done before was taken into account by the people who were executing the post major combat operations activities. The comments about Baghdad, I'll possibly let General Abizad comment on, the goal is not to have US forces do the heavy lifting in Bagdad. There are many, many more Iraqi forces in Baghdad. The role of the US forces is to help them, to provide logistics, to assist them as needed, and to create a presence that will allow the Iraqi security forces to succeed and then as our forces step back, allow the Iraqi security forces to be sufficient to maintain order in the city. I can't predict if it will work this time. It may, or it may not, it happens to represent the best judgment of General Casey, General Chiarelli and the military leadership. And General Abizad and General Pace and I have reviewed it, and we think that it is a sensible approach, as General Abizad testified earlier.

Afghanistan. I don't know who said what about where the Taliban had gone, but in fact the Taliban that were running Afghanistan and ruling Afghanistan were replaced, and they were replaced by an election that took place in that country, and in terms of a government or a governing entity, they were gone - and that's a fact. Are there still Taliban around? You bet. Are they occupying safe havens in Afghanistan and other places, correction in Pakistan and other places? Certainly they are. Is the violence up? Yes. Does the violence tend to be up during the summer and spring, summer, and fall months? Yes it does. And it tends to decline during the winter period. Does that represent failed policy? I don't know, I would say not. I think you've got an awful lot of very talented people engaged in this, and the decisions that are being made are being made with great care after a great deal of consideration. Are there setbacks? Yes. Are there things that people can't anticipate? Yes. Does the enemy have a brain and continue to make adjustments on the ground, requiring our forces to continue to make adjustments? You bet. Is that going to continue to be the case? I think so. Is this problem going to get solved in the near term about this violence struggle against extremism? No, I don't believe it is. I think it's going to take some time. And I know the question was some wars lasted three years, some wars lasted four years, some wars lasted five years. The Cold War lasted 40 plus years. And the struggle against violent extremists who are determined to prevent free people from exercising their rights as free people is going to go on a long time and it's going to be a tough one. That does not mean that we have to spend the rest of our lives as United States armed forces in Iraq. The Iraqis are going to have to take that over. We can want freedom more for the Iraqi people than they want for themselves. And Senator Thune mentioned earlier about that issue. And I would point out, the number of tips that have been coming from Iraqi people have been going up steadily, they're at a very high level, and it does suggest to me that the Iraqi people do want to have a free country, as I mentioned, because of their voting patterns. So I would disagree strongly with your statement.

CLINTON: Well Mr. Secretary, I know you would and I know you feel strongly about it, but there's a track record here. This is not 2002, 2003, 2004-5, when you appeared before this committee and made many comments and presented many assurances that have frankly proven to be unfulfilled. And,

RUMSFELD: Senator, I don't think that's true. I've never painted a rosy picture. I've been very measured in my words. And you'd have a dickens of a time trying to finds instances where I've been excessively optimistic. I understand this is tough stuff.

CLINTON: Well, Mr. Chairman, I would like unanimous consent to submit for the record a number of the Secretary's former comments, and also may we keep the record open for additional questions.

CHAIRMAN: Record will remain open until the close of business today for all members to contribute additional questions.

CLINTON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.