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CNBC EXCERPT: FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD SPEAKS WITH LARRY KUDLOW TONIGHT ON CNBC'S "THE KUDLOW REPORT"

When: Today, Tuesday, March 22nd at 7pm ET

Where: CNBC's "The Kudlow Report"

Following is an excerpt from the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on CNBC's "The Kudlow Report" tonight at 7pm ET. All references must be sourced to CNBC.

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LARRY KUDLOW, host: Here now is former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He's the author of "Known and Unknown: A Memoir." The book is on The New York Times best-seller list, and I'm pleased to say that the proceeds of the book are going to charities that support the military, military families, their wounded and their children.

Secretary Rumsfeld, welcome, sir.

Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD: Thank you so much, Larry.

KUDLOW: It's my great pleasure. Look, I want you to help us understand this Libyan business, I'm going to call it. I guess--I guess that we've already had mission creep. Now we've moved from a no-fly zone to regime change to get rid of the madman Gadhafi. And I just want to ask you, how's that going to happen? How we going to get rid of Gadhafi? How we going to have regime change?

Sec. RUMSFELD: Well, in my book I talk about the--a principle, and the principle is that the mission ought to determine the coalition, and the coalition ought not to determine to mission. That is to say that you need to decide up front what it is you want to do and then fashion a coalition around that. And it seems to me that the confusion about what the mission is, whether it's regime change or not--and we've heard very clearly from Mike Mullen that the issue was not regime change. And we've heard from others that it might be. And so I think there's a big debate about what it really is. And that is a problem.

A second aspect of that, Larry, is this. Put yourself in the shoes of someone in the Gadhafi regime, a military leader, a soldier, an ambassador, and you're debating what you should do, and you see that there's ambivalence and confusion about what the mission is, whether or not Gadhafi might right--might remain. If you think there's a chance that Gadhafi might remain, your decision might be somewhat different than it would be if you knew the coalition was determined to remove Gadhafi.

And so the same thing with whether or not a person should support the rebels, and the rebels are appealing for food or they're appealing for assistance. And we--they--people on the ground in Libya listen to this confusion about whether or not the issue is regime change, and they're going to be very cautious about supporting the rebels.

KUDLOW: Well, yeah, but look it, there are a couple of things here right off the top that I don't understand. Maybe you can clarify. First of all, I want to know, do you yourself support this whole action?

Sec. RUMSFELD: I don't know what the action is. If we listen to the press and we are unclear what the mission is, I think it is impossible to know what one would support. I think that the long delay missed--probably missed an opportunity. And I think the issue--open issues that remain make it somewhat difficult.

I would like to add one other thing. It seems to me that we ought to keep in mind that anything that we do with respect to Libya we ought to have in mind what the implications might be for the really important aspects of the circumstance in the Middle East, and that is Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. They are the crucial, really important aspects of what's taking place there in all this turmoil. And it seems to me that any decisions that are made with respect to Libya and even with respect to Tunisia, ought to be with consideration to what the implications might be for those two very important anchors.

KUDLOW: OK. I hear you on that. But look it, first of all, regarding the leadership of the mission, it looks like a mess. The French are bickering with the British. They're all bickering with NATO. We don't know the position of the United Station--United States. We don't even know whether it's a UN-enforced operation, whether they might have boots on the ground. We have no idea. No one understands this. It just looks like a mess. And here's my other point, I--who are these rebels? OK? Eastern Libya was, once upon a time, as you know much better than I do, an al-Qaeda training ground. Do we know these are truly pro-democracy rebels, or, as George Will says, this is just a tribal civil war going on here that we don't really have any skin in that game?

Sec. RUMSFELD: I think your question is just critically important. And we have--at least the American people and those of us outside of the government, I don't believe have been given any real fix as to who the rebels are. And the answer to that question, of course, is of critical importance. And one would hope that we--that there are people in the intelligence community who are trying to sort that type of thing out. Although, if one goes back to Egypt, we have to know that we did not have a very good fix there as to what made up the revolution, the turmoil, the people opposing the Mubarak regime.

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