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In an interview billed as his first since leaving the top Pentagon post, Donald Rumsfeld calls Afghanistan “a big success,” but says U.S. efforts in Iraq are hampered by the failure of Iraq’s government to establish a foundation for democracy.
“In Afghanistan, 28 million people are free. They have their own president, they have their own parliament. Improved a lot on the streets,” Rumsfeld says in the October issue of GQ magazine.
While “that’s been a big success,” he said, the Baghdad regime “has not been able to … create an environment hospitable to whatever one wants to call their evolving way of life, a democracy or a representative system, or a freer system. And it’s going to take some time and some effort.”
Rumsfeld stepped down as Secretary of Defense in November, a day after congressional elections that cost Republicans control of Congress. Dissatisfaction with his handling of the Iraq war was cited by many as a major element of voter dissatisfaction.
Rumsfeld said the Department of Defense and the U.S. military are not responsible for any failures there or in Afghanistan.
“In a very real sense, the American military cannot lose a battle, they cannot lose a war,” he tells the magazine. “On the other hand, they can’t win the struggle themselves. It requires diplomacy, it requires economic assistance, it requires a range of things that are well beyond the purview of the Department of Defense.”
In the interview, conducted at his ranch near Taos, N.M., the 75-year-old spoke at length about his career and offered guarded comments on former colleagues, policy decisions in Iraq and his own forced resignation.
When asked if he has any “regrets” about the last six years, Rumsfeld replied, “Well, sure. I mean you’d always wish things were perfect, but they never are.”
He said the refusal of Turkey, a NATO ally, to allow U.S. troops to cross its border into Iraq at the outset of the war, gave would-be insurgents “free play for a good period of time. I mean, there’s a dozen things like that.”
As to what he might have done differently, Rumsfeld says, “If you do anything, someone’s not going to like it, someone’s going to be critical of it. So if you’re in the business I was in, that goes with the territory.”
Rumsfeld, the nation’s youngest U.S. defense secretary in the Ford administration and the oldest under President Bush, also served four terms in Congress, and as ambassador to NATO and numerous other posts.
He also said he believes Bush “is a lot more intelligent and curious than people give him credit for.”
Rumsfeld said he couldn’t recall the last time he and the president spoke.
Do you miss him? “Um, no,” Rumsfeld said.