Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he’s “disappointed” in how the Obama administration handled the early stage of the Libya crisis and called on the White House to work with other countries to “encourage” Muammar Qaddafi’s overthrow.
“The people in Libya and the people in the Middle East will be vastly better off if he, in fact, goes,” Rumsfeld said in an interview today on Bloomberg Television.
“We ought to be leaning forward, preferably with other countries, to try to find ways to encourage the overthrow of Qaddafi,” he said.
Rumsfeld, an architect of the 2003 Iraq invasion during President George W. Bush’s administration, also said creating a no-fly zone over Libya “has some merit.”
The Obama administration has worked with the United Nations to impose economic sanctions and travel restrictions on Qaddafi and his family. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in Geneva today that a no-fly zone is an option.
Rumsfeld said Arab governments, including Egypt, might have averted protests if they had addressed public demands more quickly.
“Those countries have not moved rapidly or sufficiently fast toward freer political or freer economic systems,” he said. “The countries that are doing well are the countries that have freer political and freer economic systems.”
While advocating a new government for Libya, Rumsfeld said, “I do worry, as I do in other countries in that part of the world, that you’d end up with a small minority of radical Islamists that are well-organized, disciplined and vicious taking over.”
Since leaving the Pentagon in 2006, Rumsfeld stayed largely out of public view until the release this month of his memoir, “Known and Unknown.”
Even as he called for Qaddafi’s overthrow and faulted other Arab leaders for not embracing political reform, Rumsfeld defended years of U.S. policy that has fostered cooperative relationships with Arab strongmen such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.
“Our national security and our economic interests require that we have relationships” with countries “where the governments are not exactly like us,” he said.
On other issues, Rumsfeld expressed concern that the national debt has become “crushing.” He rejected the notion that the problem requires deep cuts in the defense budget.
While some savings can be found in defense, he said, “If anyone thinks you’re going to balance the federal budget on the Defense Department, it’s just not there. It’s in the entitlements.”
Spending on the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid entitlement programs make up the largest share of federal spending.