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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with NPR All Things Considered

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
September 23, 2001

Friday, Sept. 14, 2001

(Interview for NPR All Things Considered.)

NPR Radio: President Bush has sounded increasingly militant since he returned to Washington. Even in the prayer service today at Washington's National Cathedral he said, "Our responsibility to history is clear -- to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil." Speaking of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He said yesterday, "Now that war has been declared on us we will lead the world to victory."

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz joins us now.

Mr. Wolfowitz, I'd like to ask you about something that you said yesterday. You were talking about not only going after those states which, terrorists, but after their sanctuaries. "Removing their sanctuaries, we must remove their support systems," and then you said, "ending states who sponsor terrorism."

Wolfowitz: I think I twisted my tongue. "Ending state support for terrorism is what I meant to say. I think that has to be one of our major objectives here."

NPR Radio: Ending state support for terrorism is what you meant to say?

Wolfowitz: Yes.

NPR Radio: How do you do that?

Wolfowitz: Well, first you decide what it is you have to do, and then you figure out the ways of doing it. There are a variety of ways of getting to that result. I would hasten to add they're not exclusively military. But I think we have to address this on a broad front. I think it is clear that that kind of state support which has more or less passively tolerated for a couple of decades now simply can't be tolerated any longer.

NPR Radio: You talked -- Mr. Wolfowitz, you talked about this conflict that is apparently coming, and that it should be broad, should be sustained, it should be long term. You said that you were not talking about lobbing in cruise missiles or even sending aircraft, but something more serious than that.

What sort of thing is the Bush --

Wolfowitz: I think you're --

NPR Radio: -- will be necessary?

Wolfowitz: I don't think you're quite quoting me accurately. What I --

NPR Radio: I'm sorry. I'm not actually quoting you. Let me back up and I'll clean it up.

Should we just start, Mary Louise, do you want to just start from the -- OK. All right.

You and the president and the secretary of State have used a number of words to describe what I take it is a conflict you feel must come. That it has to be broad, that it has to be sustained, that it will be long term. What are we talking about here?

Wolfowitz: First of all, I wouldn't say a conflict that must come, I would say it's a conflict that has arrived already. It would be like saying World War II began after Pearl Harbor. It began with Pearl Harbor for this country. And I think it began on Tuesday this time. It's going to require not simply figuring out some target to retaliate against or some individual to put in jail and then applauding ourselves and saying we've taken care of the problem. It's going to require, as the president has said, removing the support for these terrorist networks, removing the harbors that they find sanctuary in, and preventing these kinds of things from happening in the future, and especially preventing them from acquiring the kinds of weapons that could be available in the future.

NPR Radio: It seems fairly clear considering the extraordinary steps that the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon took that if they had had more serious weapons with them, they might have used them. Is that your working hypothesis? That if groups like this had nuclear weapons, say, they would use them?

Wolfowitz: I don't know -- first of all I think it's important to understand that there is a great deal about these groups that we don't know, and even with the best possible intelligence work we'll probably never find out, and our strategy has to take account of the fact that we're not going to work on perfect knowledge here. Therefore, that affects the way you go at it.

But yes, I think the evidence suggests that there are no civilized human limits on what these people will do, and therefore I think the working assumption has to be that if they retain the capacity to mount operations of that kind and add in the capacity to acquire more terrible weapons that we could see things much worse than the unimaginable things that we saw on Tuesday.

NPR Radio: If you go about trying to remove their sanctuaries, to make it impossible for them to operate out of states which give them space and give them support, how do you do that? What do you do?

Wolfowitz: I think first we have to decide if that is what we need to do. And I really mean it. I think particularly for a country with the vast resources of the United States, and they're not just military resources, they're economic resources, they're political resources, there's the will of the American people, and it's a magnificent will that I saw out there. I've been out now four times with the rescue workers and the volunteers and the people who are crawling inside this building looking for people. The spirit of the American people is just fantastic and it's been underestimated by evil leaders in the past, and I'm afraid they underestimated us again.

So I think the real point is we have to decide that the task is a substantial one, it's an ambitious one, but that it's important to step up to that standard and not try to find some easy, quick, satisfying action that is not a solution.

NPR Radio: No cruise missile into one site, for example, you're saying?

Wolfowitz: Right. That doesn't mean no cruise missiles, but it means -- for a clear example, what we did in 1998 in response to the embassy bombings in East Africa may have been satisfying to some people, but it certainly accomplished nothing. And that work that was considered responsible for the embassy bombings has only gotten stronger in the intervening years and probably has gone on to do even more terrible things.

So when the president and secretary of Defense talk about a broad and sustained campaign, we mean something much more than just finding a target and hitting it, or finding an individual and locking them up.

NPR Radio: What about putting military troops into a country that is friendly to terrorists? As we know, there are many of them. There's Iraq, for example, Afghanistan.

Wolfowitz: I think first we have to decide on the objective, and I don't think we should rule out anything that may help us to accomplish that objective. Again, there's sort of this I think seemingly constant, resort to what are the military options, and certainly that's our job in this department. Secretary Rumsfeld is working very hard with our senior military leaders to give the president the widest possible range of military options to think about. But we also have many, many other instruments at our disposal. We have extraordinary capable intelligence services. We have economic resources that the whole world begs for. If people want all kinds of help from us now in all kinds of ways, then they're going to have to help us in this enterprise.

These groups and the countries that support them are on the backwash of history, and many of their people have indicated a profound desire to live in the modern world with regimes that not only don't terrorize Americans, but have stopped terrorizing their own people. I think we can find a lot of allies even in some of the countries that are the source of this problem.

So once you decide what the goal is, then you apply all the instruments of national power, national resources. You bring in all the countries that have a similar serious concern and are willing to take possibly difficult steps with you, and you win. That's what the president has said we will do. We will win.

NPR Radio: Surely, though, it's very difficult to win against an enemy like this one. We have seen a great deal of grief and destruction rained down upon the United States by a group of people with a relatively small constituency, operating out of a very limited set of options, and still they were able to do to us what they have done.

Don't we take a terrible risk that these groups will continue to retaliate? That they'll spring up in other places and try other things?

Wolfowitz: I think we have to understand that there is no course in front of us that is without risk. That taking these people on incurs risks, but not taking them on incurs even greater risks. We saw this week I think the result of ten years of thinking it was just one of those things you live with. You maybe retaliate here and there and you have a few trials here and there.

I think we now recognize it's something much more serious, and if we don't take the risk of dealing with it now the risks of trying to deal with it later are just going to be much, much greater.

NPR Radio: The secretary of State said today, "The enemy is in many places, including," as he pointed out, "here in the United States."

You said that this kind of conflict is a completely different ball game.

What is needed from a military standpoint, from the point of view of the Pentagon and your responsibilities, to deal with that?

Wolfowitz: That is something that we are thinking through very hard now. We are in very close discussions not only with our military leadership, but with our colleagues in the administration and of course most of all with the president.

And because this is such a new problem, or I suppose it's not a new problem but it's such a new understanding of the magnitude of the problem, it quite frankly takes some time to think through on a sufficiently deep scale what the real options are. And so it's going to take some time to think it through.

But I think the basic point is that the military resources of this country are enormous, combined with the resources of our allies they are simply overwhelming. And to the extent there are military solutions to this problem, we have the resources to carry them out.

NPR Radio: Congress is preparing to vote $40 billion to handle the immediate costs of coping with this crisis. Your boss, Secretary Rumsfeld, planned to review the whole Department of Defense budget and make some critical decisions about what a new world required. Is all of that going to change now? Is this going to be something that's going to involve a tremendous expense?

Wolfowitz: Well, the answer is no, it's not all going to change; but yes, I think what we're facing is going to involve a very considerable expense.

The thinking that we've been doing prior to September 11th was about how to transform the U.S. military and prepare it for the kinds of conflicts of the next decade. Quite a bit of that was thinking about the possibility that people would try to go after us at our seeming weak points and clearly this week's events revealed one of them. We had that on the -- it's something we were aiming at in our long-term plans.

I think what changes here is that obviously everything that fits that definition needs to be accelerated. But the other thing is that obviously if the president decides that significant use of military force is needed then we're also going to be talking also about some significant increases to operate our forces at a higher tempo, to deploy forces, to go to higher levels of readiness.

So where the review that you referred to was thinking about our requirements for the next decade, we now also have to think about new requirements for this month and this coming year.

NPR Radio: Let me just change the subject and ask you about the people that you work with at the Pentagon. Of course it's an extraordinary thing for everybody in this country to see one side of that building in ruins. I know that the people who are at the Pentagon are part of the military and expect to risk their lives, but not to risk their lives while they're holding down a desk job at the Pentagon.

How are people handling it?

Wolfowitz: I think with obviously enormous grief. I think all of us who are still alive here also in some sense in our minds realize that the people who got killed, got killed in our place. They could have hit some other side of the building and we might be gone. That's a very sobering thought. I don't just mean in terms of your narrow escape, but to think that your good fortune was somebody else's bad fortune, it's a very sobering experience.

But I must say I think the spirit of this building is terrific -- uniformed people and civilians. They're rallying around one another. They're helping one another. We have people who go back to their desks, some of them right next door to burned-out sections of the building, do their job for eight hours, then go outside and volunteer for another five or six hours to help bring out debris and bodies. It's very difficult work.

I was out there last night with a group of FBI people and chaplains and rescue squads. It's a wonderful slice of America that's out there working to try to deal with the consequences of this tragedy.

That's the great strength of the American people and it's constantly underestimated by the evil-doers of this world. They think that an act like Tuesday's will somehow stop us, and what it does simply is to energize us. As Winston Churchill said the day after Pearl Harbor, "The United States is like a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it, there is no limit to the power it can generate."

NPR Radio: I just want to go back one second and ask you one other question which is, you seem to be talking about a new kind of war which has to be waged with politics, with intelligence. But do I hear you saying also with a kind of blackmail that says the United States is entirely prepared to wage war against nations if it comes to that?

Wolfowitz: I don't know why you call it blackmail. I think the United States is no longer prepared to tolerate, should no longer be prepared to tolerate countries that wage war against us through their support for terrorist organizations that this week have killed more Americans than on any single day since the end of the American Civil War.

We lost more people at the Pentagon than we lost in the entire Gulf War, and what happened at the Pentagon is unfortunately just a pale shadow of what's happened in New York. We simply can't tolerate regimes that consider that in some sense a normal activity.

So it seems to me the answer is they either have to change their mode of behavior or they have to accept the consequences of having effectively declared war on us.

NPR Radio: Thank you, sir.

Wolfowitz: Thank you.

NPR Radio: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. He joined us from his offices at the Pentagon. Thank you so much for doing this.