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NBC's Guthrie to Rumsfeld: Do You Take 'Responsibility' for 'Specter of Iraq' 'Looming' Over Syria?

In an exclusive interview with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie attempted to blame the Bush administration for President Obama's difficulty in garnering support for military action against Syria: "Looming over this debate time and time again has been the specter of Iraq. Most recently, the U.K. Parliament, many members cited the failure of intelligence leading up to Iraq as the reason that they won't take action now in Syria..." [Listen to the audio]

Turning to Rumsfeld, Guthrie wondered: "Do you personally take any responsibility for that? Or feel any responsibility for that?" Rumsfeld reminded Guthrie of the lengthy process that led up to the Iraq War: "President Bush went to the Congress, got the support of the Congress. Went to the U.N., got the support of the U.N. And fashioned a very large coalition. So it seems to me that all the appropriate steps were taken and the Congress, a Democratic Congress, voted for regime change in Iraq."

The fact that NBC even brought Rumsfeld on was surprising, given the former Defense Secretary's criticism of Obama's handling of Syria. In her first question to Rumsfeld, Guthrie noted: "You had some tough words for President Obama at an event yesterday. You said this plan for sort of a shot across the bow, limited strikes, would be ineffective and an embarrassment for the United States. My question to you is, would it be better to do something limited or do nothing at all?"

Rumsfeld replied: "Well, it seems to me that's a false choice. I think either you do something that's worth doing or you do nothing at all."

He then called out the administration: "And it seems to me that the leadership has lacked a vision, and the essence of leadership is to have a vision and clarity, that's where you develop the kind of support and unity in our country, in our congress, and in the world. And if there's anything that's clear, it's that they do not have that kind of unity at the present time because of a lack of clarity."

Here is a full transcript of the September 4 interview:

7:00AM ET TEASE:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: This morning in a live interview, why former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the President's plan is a, quote, "embarrassment."  

7:10AM ET SEGMENT:

GUTHRIE: Let's turn to Donald Rumsfeld. He served as secretary of defense during the Bush administration, he is also the author of Rumsfeld's Rules. Secretary Rumsfeld, good morning to you.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Targeting Syria; Rumsfeld on Possible Strikes, Military Options]

GUTHRIE: You had some tough words for President Obama at an event yesterday. You said this plan for sort of a shot across the bow, limited strikes, would be ineffective and an embarrassment for the United States. My question to you is, would it be better to do something limited or do nothing at all?

RUMSFELD: Well, it seems to me that's a false choice. I think either you do something that's worth doing or you do nothing at all. The danger of doing something that's not worth anything, that results in nothing, that leaves Assad standing, it seems to me, is that it makes the United States look like that's what we prefer. And it's quite the contrary. The President said repeatedly that that's not what we prefer. And it seems to me that the leadership has lacked a vision, and the essence of leadership is to have a vision and clarity, that's where you develop the kind of support and unity in our country, in our congress, and in the world. And if there's anything that's clear, it's that they do not have that kind of unity at the present time because of a lack of clarity.

GUTHRIE: Do you think it was a mistake for the President to consult Congress? Do you think it gave Assad the gift of time?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I think that if he gets support of Congress that's probably a useful thing. On the other hand, he did not need to go to Congress. President after president has recognized that the authorities they have as commander-in-chief enable them to use force, within reason, and then at some point go to the congress.

GUTHRIE: Looming over this debate time and time again has been the specter of Iraq. Most recently, the U.K. Parliament, many members cited the failure of intelligence leading up to Iraq as the reason that they won't take action now in Syria, because they don't trust U.S. intelligence. Do you personally take any responsibility for that? Or feel any responsibility for that?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think that the intelligence community turned out to be wrong and the presentation made by Secretary of State Colin Powell proved out to be wrong. On the other hand, you had a brutal dictator in Iraq who had used chemical weapons against his own people, used them against its neighbors, rebuffed 17 U.N. resolutions. And President Bush went to the congress, got the support of the congress. Went to the U.N., got the support of the U.N. And fashioned a very large coalition. So it seems to me that all the appropriate steps were taken and the congress, a Democratic congress, voted for regime change in Iraq.

GUTHRIE: I was thinking about your book, Rumsfeld's Rules, and one of the maxims you have is, "It is easier to get into something than get out of it." I know you're somebody who thinks that perhaps regime change is the thing to seek in Syria. Does that rule apply here?

RUMSFELD: Well, it is true that it's easier to get into something than to get out of it. There are also times that leadership requires that you act. And it seems to me that, in this instance, the instinct I have is to be supportive of the President and to wish him well if he decides to use force. I think that the presentation made by Secretary Kerry – who I must say, I think has been dealt a very difficult hand – the presentation was forceful and persuasive.

GUTHRIE: Well, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it's always good to get your insights. Thank you very much for being with us.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.