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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with CNN

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
July 30, 2001 5:30 PM EDT

Saturday, July 28, 2001 - 5:30 p.m.

(Interview for CNN with Robert Novak and Al Hunt.)

Novak: I'm Robert Novak. Al Hunt and I will question the No. 2 man in the Pentagon.

Hunt: He is Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

(Begin videotape)

(Voice on videotape): The Bush administration budget is giving the new team at the Pentagon far less than it wants, but much more than the Senate's Democratic leadership thinks is necessary.

Rumsfeld: It's the largest increase since 1986 in the heyday of the Reagan administration; it's the largest increase of any department percentage-wise and in absolute figures by a mile, and it is an enormous amount of taxpayers' money.

Is it enough to correct all of the shortages that existed because of year after year after year underfunding of the department? No, it's not.

Hunt: This week President Bush visited U.S. troops in Kosovo and announced that there would be no unilateral American withdrawal from the Balkans, as he promised during his presidential campaign.

President Bush: American and allied forces came into Bosnia and Kosovo. We came in together, and we will leave together. Our goal is to hasten the day when peace is self-sustaining.

(End videotape)

Hunt: This is Paul Wolfowitz's third tour at the Pentagon. He was a 34-year-old assistant secretary during the Carter years and under secretary of policy during the first Bush administration. His government posts during the Reagan administration were head of State Department policy planning, assistant secretary of state for Asia and ambassador to Indonesia. He was out of government during the Clinton administration, serving as dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Hunt: Mr. Wolfowitz, for all the ambitious talk about beefing up the defense budget during the campaign, the White House pared back your initial request. Once you get beyond increased R&D spending and actually start buying stuff, getting to anti-missile defense, aren't those problems going to be just exacerbated?

Wolfowitz: We're going in, as the secretary said in the segment you ran, for what is the largest real increase in defense expenditure in 15 years. It's a substantial amount of money. We've looked very carefully at how to balance among different priorities. I would say the top priority in the increases we've added is to deal with readiness training, infrastructure problems and to boost up military pay, in other words, to take care of our people.

Beyond that, we are starting investment in what we call transformational technologies, but I would say the most important of those technologies is the ability to defend against ballistic missiles. The ballistic missile is the only capability our enemies have today that we don't have a counter to. It is the only capability rocket-head in the Gulf War that we underestimated. We've got to get moving and dealing with that.

Hunt: You've studied that and you've advocated this for years. You've been in now for six months. Your critics say that eventually that's going to cost well over $100 billion, is that right? Is that what the cost will be over the next 10 years?

Wolfowitz: I don't know where they get their --

Hunt: You can certainly give us a ball park figure.

Wolfowitz: No you can't. The problem is we're in a development phase. We're trying to figure out what works and what doesn't work. We've developed -- finally 12 years after the Gulf War, which is a long time considering how long it took us to get to the moon -- 12 years after the Gulf War we have finally developed a means of shooting down those primitive Scud missiles that killed 24 Americans in Dhahran that almost dragged Israel into the war.

We're now developing means to intercept the faster missiles that would come in at intercontinental ranges. Until we know what works and what doesn't work, I can't give you cost estimates.

Hunt: But isn't your big problem there, and in the defense budget in general, that with the tax cut that was enacted, there's not going to be the resources that you had hoped for the sorts of increases in defense spending?

Wolfowitz: Look, I think if we can get our $18.4 billion from the Congress, and I hope we will, but it's going to be a battle -- as I said, that's the biggest increase in 15 years. Could we use more? Of course, we could use more. But these notions of the missile defense is going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars are figments of people's imagination.

As long as we were constrained by the ABM Treaty, we were limited from doing those things which would allow us to do missile defense most efficiently. By asking Secretary Rumsfeld to design a program that would develop those things that are not permitted by the AMB Treaty, I think we'll find cheaper ways to do the same job.

Novak: Mr. Secretary, there's been many reports about the uniformed military objecting to the changes that you and Secretary Rumsfeld want at the Pentagon; they want more of the old kind of spending. Have you been able to convince the uniformed military that you're right? Or do you just have to get a new bunch of generals and admirals in place before you can have a unified Pentagon?

Wolfowitz: Well, we're in the midst of really examining basic strategy and long-term force structure. What the words QDR, which probably don't mean anything to anyone outside the beltway, the quadrennial defense review, which is this four-year plan that was mandated by Congress, so we're engaged in some pretty fierce debates and arguments about where we ought to go. But one thing that just impresses me about the military is when a decision is made by the commander in chief or by the secretary of Defense, they salute and they carry it out. Up until that point, we want the debate, we want to know the argument.

I do agree that there is a tendency to think about tomorrow's problem, about the possible war in Korea tomorrow or the possible war in Iraq tomorrow and that's a medium you've got to worry about. We're trying to get them to also think about the war that might happen 10 or 15 years from now, which may be an unknown enemy, may be unknown technologies and try to correct that balance.

Novak: There was a report on page one -- in fact, it was the lead story in The Washington Post the other day -- by Thomas Ricks saying that you had a decision of a real change in the basic kind of defense we're going to have; less war-fighting capability around the world. Is that an accurate story?

Wolfowitz: I'm not going to get into press critique, but I read a lot of things in the press that don't have much relation to the meetings I was in. We're wrestling with trying to get -- let me put it this way, we have three requirements. We have today's requirements which are things like Kosovo and, by the way, the president never said we were going to withdraw unilaterally. He's always been careful on that score, and you can't withdraw unilaterally. There's a whole group of things out there today...

Novak: We'll talk about that later.

Wolfowitz: OK. There's tomorrow's requirements that I'd like to call on, which are the wars that might happen tomorrow in Korea and Iraq, and there's the day after tomorrow, which is the hardest thing to think about, which is 10 years, 15 years from now, and we're trying to get all those things in balance. But I would say what we're focused on is, don't exaggerate tomorrow's requirements; that is, in order to justify the force structure you think you generally need to have don't exaggerate what Iraq can do. We know what Iraq can do. We fought that war. We know their weaknesses, we know our strengths.

Let's look at some of our weaknesses, one of which is our complete inability to defend against ballistic missiles. Let's look 10 years down the road when some enemy is going after our vulnerabilities, our Achilles heel, and let's defend against those things.

Hunt: Well, Mr. Secretary, is what you're really saying is that the United States does not face any serious conventional threat in the near-term?

Wolfowitz: No, no. Let me be very clear. We face enormous conventional threats from North Korea. If a war started --

Hunt: Any place else?

Wolfowitz: Well, I would also say in the Arabian Peninsula. Iraq is still a potent force. If the United States weren't there, Saddam Hussein could be in Riyadh tomorrow. But what I'm saying is we need to be realistic about what it takes to defend Saddam Hussein. We've been through it once. Actually, we overestimated, except for the aerial missile defense, we overestimated what we needed against Saddam Hussein.

I'll come back to it. The one place where he had more capability than we ever imagined was his ability to keep launching ballistic missiles, trying to drag Israel into the war, taking out an American barracks in Dhahran. So I'm not saying we don't face any threats, but what I'm saying is the threats in the future, which are harder to see and harder to analyze, may be much more formidable than the ones today. So let's get the balance shifted.

Hunt: Let me ask another one before we take a break. Secretary Wolfowitz, within the last week President Bush and President Putin of Russia agreed on a tentative or arrived at a tentative linkage of long-range and short-range missile defense. Some of the military are a little concerned that this kind of an agreement gives the Soviets -- not the Soviets, I'm sorry -- the Russians a veto power over our long- range missile capability; that they are able to force us to get rid of our long-range missiles to a dangerous extent. Does that worry you?

Wolfowitz: It doesn't worry me and, I mean, it's amusing that you use the Soviets. I think on both sides of the --

Hunt: It's a Freudian error.

Wolfowitz: Well, but it's illustrative on both sides of the debate in this country, I think. We still have people who are wedded to the ABM Treaty, which I think is a relic of the Cold War, people who are wedded to extraordinary high levels of nuclear forces, which are a relic of the Cold War. The president isn't giving the Russians a veto either over missile defense or over our offensive capability, but what he's saying to the Russians is, "We both have a need to be defended against limited attacks. We can't defend ourselves against what you have. We're not trying to. We're not enemies anymore; and, in fact, neither of us need to have the kinds of forces we have today." We're going to bring ours down, whatever the Russians do. It'd be much better if we can encourage them to do the same thing.

Hunt: OK. We're going to have to take a break and when we come back, we'll ask Paul Wolfowitz: Will we ever get U.S. troops out of the Balkans?

(Commercial break)

Hunt: Secretary Wolfowitz, as you know, the White House got very upset when Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle accused this administration of isolationism a week or so ago. But "The Economist" that just came out a few days ago had a headline this week -- I think we agree that's not a [inaudible] publication -- about the tendency of this administration to reject various treaties and the headline was "Stop The World, I Want To Get Off. Has George Bush Ever Met a Treaty That He Liked?" And they were specifically talking about your rejection of a germ warfare treaty. There really is a sense that you all are unilateralists, isn't there?

Wolfowitz: Look, I can't be responsible for what people say and write, but what you just picked on is a good example. We are not rejecting the germ warfare treaty. The United States is a party to the biological weapons treaty. We comply with the treaty. We think it is an important treaty.

What is at issue is a 210-page document which I doubt any other head of state has even bothered reading which in the name of making that treaty more enforceable would actually allow Libyan and Iraqi inspectors to start poking around American pharmaceutical companies. It's ill-conceived, and that's the problem. It's not that there's any quarrel with a treaty that will limit biological weapons, but the details are very important.

And, frankly, one of the reasons some of these details are gotten wrong is frequently the United States is the only country that is willing to stand up and say what other countries are concerned about. So they pretend to be for it because they know that we'll protect them in the end.

Hunt: To walk away from the protocol, why instead wouldn't it have been better to say, "All right, we don't like it, but we'll try to make it better." Isn't that...

Wolfowitz: We're prepared to look at something that will make it better. I don't think you start with that 210-page document and put footnotes on it. You've got to start back, I think, with a different philosophical approach. And by the way, we signed the treaty in 1972 knowing that it couldn't be verified. The truth of the matter is verification isn't the biggest problem. We have caught countries, including the old Soviet Union, with biological weapons, and we couldn't enforce the treaty, and that's where I would have people focus even more than on how to verify it.

Hunt: Mr. Secretary, I looked up what the president, as candidate Bush, said during the campaign about being in the Balkans. Of course, he didn't say we're going to get out unilaterally, but he did say very clearly that the United States would get out before the NATO partners and leave the occupation to NATO. What made him change his mind? Why did he decide that we're going to stay there and leave with the NATO allies from Kosovo and the other Balkans state?

Wolfowitz: I don't remember the quotes the way you remember them. What I remember is that he's said all along, and by the way, he supported the operation in Kosovo even though he thought that the diplomacy that got us there was so much more --

Hunt: He said we got out earlier is what he said.

Wolfowitz: When the Congress was proposing a deadline on withdrawal last spring, he joined with Senator McCain in opposing that. I think he's been clear that you don't want to leave precipitously. What he's also been clear about, I think, is that without some American pressure to bring down requirements and some American pressure to shift burden to the Europeans, we'll be stuck with a longer and bigger burden than we need to have.

I'll give you an example. In Bosnia, for example, Secretary Rumsfeld has been pushing very hard on our allies because there are a whole range of functions in Bosnia that ought to be performed by civil authorities, ought to be performed by police and we're getting the military out of those functions. That's going to reduce our commitment in Bosnia. Will it get us out down to zero in a predictable time? I can't predict that.

Hunt: But we now have an open-ended policy that there is no deadline for getting out, is that correct?

Wolfowitz: There's no deadline, but there is a constant look really; and, in fact, a regular review every six months of what our force levels are going to be, and we're pretty steady bringing those forces down, and we may come to a point -- I can't tell you when it would be -- when we could say that it could be done with a deterrent that's offshore. But I also can tell you we do not want to create a situation where that terrible war starts all over again and once again, we're putting in American troops to stop something that should never have started.

Hunt: Mr. Secretary, like your boss, Secretary Rumsfeld, you are an old Washington hand. I've been here even longer than you have, and I can't recall any time since the end of the Vietnam War where congressional Pentagon relations have been as acrimonious as they are now. Complaints are so plentiful on the Hill about the Pentagon. Why is that?

Wolfowitz: I can recall quite a few times when they've been more acrimonious.

Hunt: But you're getting it from Republicans like Pat Robertson and John Warner as well as Democrats.

Wolfowitz: Well, I think there are a couple of things. I think there's a frustration which we understand that it took a long time because of the transition, and in fact, in part because the transition was slow, they were waiting for the '01 supplemental, and by the way, that's something we're trying to correct, this whole idea that the fiscal year budget isn't decided until half way into the fiscal year through a supplemental. That's a budgeting practice we're trying to get away from.

And then they were waiting for the '02 budget to appear and that, I think, caused some frustration. The B-1, though, that you mentioned is an example, and I think it's an example of the kind of problem we're going to have through together because there is no way we can pay for all the things we need to do to fix our military if we insist on keeping everything around whether it works or doesn't work.

In the case of the B-1, we took 90 bombers that really weren't working very well. Their availability was about 50 percent, and even when they flew, they had serious deficiencies. We're getting rid of 30 of those 90 bombers and taking the money that we save to make the remaining 60 a fully capable long-range bombing force. Now that takes eight bombers out of bases in three different states and we've heard from those delegations. We're not looking for trouble. I hope in the long run the Congress will join us in saying that that kind of saving is what the American people need, and in the long run, it'll benefit their states as well.

Hunt: Mr. Secretary, just briefly before we take another break. China is the only country in the world with double-digit increases in its defense budget and the kind of sophisticated weaponry that nobody else is building. Should the United States now regard China as a potential enemy?

Wolfowitz: Look, I think I'm as leery of the Chinese as anyone you'll find. You're right about the double-digit growth, but let's not exaggerate. They're starting from a very low level. They're nowhere close to our level. The fact that they're growing, the fact that they're a major country with major ambitious as a power means that we've got to think very carefully about how our relations work out. But I think it'll be a terrible mistake if we end up in a position where we regard each other as enemies. I think it doesn't have to be that way and it shouldn't be that way.

Hunt: We're going to take another break and when we come back, we'll have "The Big Question" for Paul Wolfowitz.

(Commercial break)

Hunt: Mr. Secretary, the Iraqis have been trying to hit U.S. planes; almost knocked down a U-2 the other day. Where is the answer? Should the United States really go after Saddam Hussein or just bow out and abandon the no-fly zone?

Wolfowitz: I don't think we can bow out. This man is a menace. He's not just interested in American planes. That's bad enough. He's interested in overthrowing his neighbors. He's interested in acquiring weapons of mass destruction. As long as he's there --

Hunt: Will you go after him?

Wolfowitz: When we find the right way to do it, I believe we should.

Hunt: Mr. Secretary, did it bother you that the decision to phase out U.S. military operations in Vieques, Puerto Rico -- that you were largely irrelevant and it was made chiefly by the White House political shop?

Wolfowitz: It would be a bother if that were true, but it isn't true. I mean, the decision was largely made a year ago when the Congress passed into law the referendum proposed by President Clinton that would require the Navy to submit its operations to a referendum next November. And if we lose, we'd be out in the same time frame we announced.

And frankly, no political realist that I know says we had a prayer of winning that referendum. It was a decision by the Navy to say, "Let's get these last two years of training in an effective and less rancorous way, because we're not going to stay beyond '03 anyway." The law and the referendum doomed us, not any interference from the White House.

Hunt: Secretary Wolfowitz, thank you for being with us.

Robert Novak and I will be back in a moment with a comment or two.

(Commercial break)

Hunt: Bob, I thought Paul Wolfowitz, today, effectively put the best face on the budget problems, but this budget was pared back by the White House. And they ain't seen nothing yet, because with that tax cut it's going to get really rough in the years ahead.

Novak: Al, he didn't deny that there is a fierce debate going on over at the Pentagon over the shape of the military. But he made it clear who's going to win the debate. The uniformed military is going to salute sharply to the civilians and say, "Yes, sir." And that's the way it should be under our system.

Hunt: And they always do. They're great at change. You know, I asked him -- I have never seen Hill-Pentagon relations any worse, and the culprit is not Paul Wolfowitz. The prime culprit, if you talk to people on the Hill, is his boss Don Rumsfeld.

Novak: You know, Paul Wolfowitz has been around a long time. And he is not a right-wing extremist or a wild man or a warmonger. He's more of a hawk than I am, but I think he is a defense intellectual. And I think he is well qualified for the position. They ought to be happy to have a soft-spoken person instead of a shouter in that post.

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