My column last week, based on an interview with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, left a mistaken impression in some minds regarding President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq. Here's a transcript of what Mr. Rumsfeld actually said:
"I think that there is no question but that the declaration that was submitted to the United Nations by Saddam Hussein was flawed, was inaccurate, was false and that the United Nations had gone through some 17 resolutions and that it was appropriate to enforce those resolutions as the coalition did. So I believe the president did the right thing."
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says there is "no question" the declaration presented by the United States to the United Nations justifying war against Iraq "was flawed, was inaccurate, was false," but nonetheless President Bush "made the right decision."
In an interview Saturday for my Fox News Channel program, Mr. Rumsfeld commented on the Senate Intelligence Committee report, which concluded that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction and that the CIA was wrong to cite their existence as justification for toppling Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Rumsfeld also said this: "A great many people have been rushing around trying to prove the negative. The conventional wisdom has concluded that the negative has been proved, that is to say, that there were not stocks of weapons of mass destruction. I think it's hard to conclude that. We keep finding that there are things we didn't know. We may very well find, as we go forward, that there are things that we don't know today."
An October surprise, perhaps? Mr. Rumsfeld didn't say. He did reiterate the administration's position that most of Congress and the world saw the same intelligence the administration saw and reached the same conclusion: that Mr. Hussein, who had violated 17 U.N. resolutions, had to go -- and only the United States had the power and resolve to topple him.
What about the decision by Spain and the Philippines to pull out troops following terrorist attacks and kidnappings? Mr. Rumsfeld responded, "When a country negotiates with and acquiesces in a demand of terrorists ... it encourages that type of behavior on the part of terrorists."
Mr. Rumsfeld surprised me with his answer to a question about whether the flawed intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war will make the neoconservative doctrine of pre-emption more difficult to employ when the United States faces new threats.
"It makes it more difficult," he said. "And the balance is going to be a difficult one for the world because we have, in the 21st century, more readily available weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological weapons, as well as nuclear and radiation weapons. And we have extremists across the globe who have been killing innocent men, women and children in Spain, Bali and Saudi Arabia and in the United States."
Mr. Rumsfeld projected an almost Dr. Strangelove doomsday scenario over the possible acquisition of such weapons by terrorists. "They will be able to kill not just 3,000 people, as were killed here on Sept. 11, but 30,000 or 300,000," he said. So when governments consider pre-emptive strikes, they are going to "have to make a judgment about the risk of being right and the risk of inaction."
I asked Mr. Rumsfeld about Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's pledge to rebuild the military should he be elected president.
"The United States military is the finest in the world," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "It is more capable than at any time in our country's history, in terms of the ability to do its job and to put precision weapons on precise targets in an effective way and in a way ... that is able to penetrate long distances on relatively short notice. ... Between Sept. 11 and Oct. 7, 2001, the United States military was able to begin a process that resulted in liberating 25 million people, and in a relatively short time and in a highly successful way, with a minimum loss of civilian lives."
What about Mr. Kerry's pledge to consult more with our allies and the United Nations in the war against terror?
Mr. Rumsfeld laughed dismissively: "It's an easy thing to say that we ought to have greater international involvement, but to actually make it happen is tough work, and I think the president has done an outstanding job."
Cal Thomas' syndicated column appears Wednesdays in The Sun.