'This Week' Transcript: Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld

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RUMSFELD: Well, the first thing one has to say is that we have U.S. military forces involved, and everyone has to be hopeful that it turns out well and that the progress proceeds.

What concerns me is -- is the questions that have been raised, and they're fair questions, questions about who the rebels are. And I think probably the most important question is whether or not Gadhafi will stay.

If you put yourself in the shoes of the rebels, they -- they wonder whether or not the coalition has an interest in Gadhafi leaving. And there's a great deal of ambiguity about that. Gadhafi's forces wonder whether or not Gadhafi will be leaving. And there's -- that same ambiguity affects their decision-making. And until that's clarified, it seems to me, we'll have a much more difficult time. I think that the goal has to be that Gadhafi leaves.

TAPPER: Well, that is not, obviously, the goal of the military campaign. The military campaign's mission is civilian protection and a no-fly zone. Do you think that the U.S. should not have entered this coalition without Gadhafi's removal being a goal?

RUMSFELD: My personal view is that, once you're involved, you have to recognize that the prestige of the United States is at stake. And if you think about the region, what's strategically important to the United States, it seems to me we'd have to say first is Iran and Syria and their close linkage and the damage they're doing us in Iraq and in Afghanistan and in Lebanon. They are sponsoring terrorism in major portions of that region, which is terribly damaging to us.

Second, in terms of strategic importance, again, is not Libya. It's Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the gulf. Those are the anchors in that region for stability and for the United States of America. And what we do in Libya will unquestionably -- how we handle it, how it turns out -- will unquestionably have a serious impact on the more important issues of Iran, and Syria, and Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and the gulf.

TAPPER: You seem to be suggesting, Mr. Secretary, that Libya was not high on the priority list in that region for the U.S. to be involved in. I'm wondering, if you had been secretary of defense as Gadhafi's troops stormed into Benghazi, and Gadhafi himself threatened no mercy, and there was a very real fear of a mass slaughter, what would you have recommended to the president?

RUMSFELD: Well, I wasn't there, so I can't answer that question. I will say that I think that President Obama and Secretary Clinton are both experiencing the differences from serving in a legislative branch and then serving in executive positions. The perspective is enormously different. And I think you can almost see them transition in their thinking and in their handling of this.

I listened to Secretary Gates. And I must say, I agree with a lot of what he says. He said, when someone asked, well, how many people might be killed or how long will it last or what will it cost, there's no one who can answer those questions. And he's absolutely right in that respect.

I think that you have to pick it up from where we are now. And where we are now is not where your question started, what would you do in the beginning? The fact is, we are involved. And the prestige of the United States is involved.

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