(Interview with Melissa Block, National Public Radio)
Q: Secretary Wolfowitz, welcome to the program.
Wolfowitz: It's nice to be back.
Q: Let's begin with Turkey's recalcitrance to having U.S. troops on its soil. How much time would you say that Turkey has, when would it become too late for an agreement on troop placement?
Wolfowitz: We've been working with the Turks for a long time and we're still working with them. We are running out of time but it's very important to try to get this right. The consequences are large both for Turkey and for us. It makes a big difference in terms of our ability to deal with the Iraqi problem. It has significance for our long-term relationship.
It also, and I think if there are some Turkish listeners I would make this point too. If there's going to be some small chance still of either persuading Saddam to disarm peacefully or persuading him to leave peacefully, nothing would be more effective than to have him see that he's surrounded by a coalition that's ready, if necessary, to use force, and Turkey is really the key piece in surrounding Saddam Hussein.
Q: How complicated would it make U.S. military strategy if that piece were not in place?
Wolfowitz: Well, I suppose the other message, and this is to Baghdad. We will win with or without Turkey. There's no question about it. I think -- If we have to.
The big difference that Turkey makes is there's greater certainty and therefore things will probably go faster. Faster meaning fewer consequences for the Iraqi people first of all, which is important. I know the Turks care about that. Secondly, for the surrounding countries, and Turkey is one of them. Third, for the Turkish economy which they obviously care a lot about. And from our point of view it's easier and better on our forces. So everybody gains, including Turkey. This is a point we've been making now to them for months.
Understand, they have still quite a new government. They're still wrestling with a lot of their own problems. They would much prefer this Iraq issue didn't exist. But it is there, it has to be dealt with, and Turkey can do a lot for itself as well as the rest of the world if they will fully cooperate with us.
Q: Can we talk just a bit about the military ramifications, though? Would lack of Turkish cooperation weaken any attempt of the northern front going into Iraq? Would it jeopardize oilfields in the north of the country?
Wolfowitz: Turkey is critical to having an effective northern option, and that northern option would speed the outcome but the outcome is going to be the same one way or the other. And if we have to use force Saddam Hussein will be gone and he needs to know that. I think the Iraqi armed forces know that. So the outcome is certain either way.
Q: Turning to the United Nations and efforts of a second UN resolution on Iraq. Do you see a risk in prolonged consultation at the UN level? Or is there a greater risk in beginning a military campaign without the backing of the United Nations?
Wolfowitz: There are a variety of risks that a President has to balance here and there's no question that the longer we wait the more time Saddam has to prepare weapons of mass destruction, to prepare diabolical plans to gas his own people. We get some reports about that kind of thing. The more time he has to expand the terrorist networks that already operate out of northeastern Iraq and have sanctuary in Baghdad. So those risks grow.
I think the strain on many of the countries that are literally in the front lines grows with time. It doesn't get easier on many of the countries that are really critical to us to delay and delay. And when you say acting without the United Nations you're really saying acting in spite of a French veto. And one has to say how important is France versus how important are all the other people who are there and ready to support us? And how long do you say wait and wait and wait in the face of what is clearly open defiance by Saddam and the Iraqi regime, total absence of any serious willingness to disarm?
Q: How important is France since you raised that question?
Wolfowitz: They have a veto in the Security Council. Beyond that, we'll have a very strong coalition, very effective in terms of the basing we need, the overflight we need, the military support that we need. If it becomes necessary to use force the President has already assembled a very big coalition with or without France.
Look at what happened in NATO. We started out a couple of weeks ago already with 16 of 19 NATO countries supporting assistance to Turkey. We unfortunately had to go back to the procedure that was standard during the Cold War of taking decisions to the Metz policy committee which was set up precisely after deGaulle took France out of the NATO military planning structure and it became difficult to do anything with France for most of the Cold War. We went back to that structure and Germany and Belgium came around and we now have the decisions we need to have NATO support for Turkey.
I think we'll get there, and I hope at the end of the day the French will be with us also. I think it's important for France.
Q: Is it important for the United States?
Wolfowitz: It's better. Obviously the more people that are with us the better. The more endorsement we have from the United Nations, the better. But remember four years ago when President Clinton went to war in Kosovo he did not have support of the United Nations but he had a strong coalition. He got the job done. And I would remind people if it was worth going to war to end the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and to deal with a dictator named Milosevic, in Iraq we're dealing with a much worse dictator who is guilty of much worse crimes against his own people.
Q: We've been hearing concerns voiced by Arab countries about the risks of war with Iraq and an eventual U.S. occupation of that country. At the United Nations yesterday there were envoys from Muslim countries warning of massive political instability in the region, of huge numbers of deaths and injuries as well as refugees.
How do you respond to those concerns?
Wolfowitz: First of all to say that we will do everything humanly possible to achieve the defeat of the Saddam Hussein regime with minimum casualties to the Iraqi population and to try to -- There's no such thing as a humane war, but to try to minimize the inhumanity that will result. I think clearly some of the fears come from I think probably exaggerated notions of what may happen.
Those fears are real, though, they are concerned about how their own populations will react to what will unquestionably be a disturbing and unsettling thing. It's one of the reasons why the President has tried so hard to achieve a peaceful disarmament of Iraq. But at the end of the day I think many of these governments understand that if the United States is really prepared to act, that it will be an act of humanity of the Iraqi people, that it will be an act that will bring more stability to the region, not less. But don't expect them to stand up before we've made our decision and say please go take care of Saddam Hussein. This is like asking some small shopkeeper to take on the Mafia in their neighborhood. They expect the law enforcement authorities to do the job.
Q: There are concerns, too, though about the rise of Muslim extremism in the region inflamed by the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and in fact we did see that after the first Gulf War, an increase in anti-American activities and Islamic extremism. Isn't that a very real concern?
Wolfowitz: First of all let me correct the history because we didn't see that. After the first Gulf War we saw the Madrid Conference, the first time that most Arab countries sat down and met face to face with Israel, which should hardly be surprising if you remember that to go back another ten years it was Saddam Hussein in Baghdad that organized the so-called confrontation block to oppose Anwar Sadat's efforts to make peace with Israel. When Saddam Hussein was no longer considered dangerous, we were able to get the Madrid Conference together.
That was followed by the Oslo Agreement which has not lived up to its expectations, but it's clearly one of the major breakthroughs.
What I believe has contributed to some Islamic extremism is the fact that we have had to stay for 12 years now, containing Iraq with sanctions on Iraq, with weekly bombing of Iraq because Saddam Hussein continues to defy the United Nations. Another 12 years of doing that is certainly going to feed the Islamic extremism.
But we're not talking about the occupation of Iraq. We're talking about the liberation of Iraq. We're talking about the liberation of one of the most talented populations in the Arab world and perhaps the most long-suffering population in the Arab world.
In the conference room that we're sitting in and talking now, last Friday I met with five Iraqi-Americans from Michigan. Interestingly, three Shia, one Suni, one Caldian Christian. Very broadly representative of the population back in Iraq. Two things were striking to me.
One was the almost desperate desire that they reflected and clearly that their relatives, some still inside Iraq reflect, to be rid of this tyrant. And every one of them had terrible stories from their own experiences or their families' experiences. Three of them in fact, actually were overcome with emotion in the course of telling their stories and had to stop for a minute or two. It's very moving. It wasn't a surprise to me if you -- I get a little irritated sometimes when people say well we all know how bad Saddam Hussein is. Well, we really don't. I mean I dealt with Ferdinand Marcos. Ferdinand Marcos is a Sunday School teacher compared to Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein is in almost a unique category.
Therefore, when that regime is removed we will find one of the most talented populations in the Arab world, perhaps complaining that it took us so long to get there. Perhaps a little unfriendly to the French for making it take so long. But basically welcoming us as liberators. Then it's up to us to behave as liberators, and I'm sure we will.
Americans are not conquerors. The Arab world is going to see that and it's going to have a very big impact not just in Iraq but throughout the Arab world.
Q: But the presence of -- I have to take you back one more time after the Gulf War. The presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia has been one of the most inflammatory things for al Qaeda and groups like that. That they see U.S. occupation or U.S. presence in that country as something that they must fight against. How would it be any different in Iraq?
Wolfowitz: First of all, let's talk about Saudi Arabia. We won't need troops in Saudi Arabia when there's no longer an Iraqi threat. The Saudi problem will be transformed. IN Iraq, first of all the Iraqi population is completely different from the Saudi population. The Iraqis are among the most educated people in the Arab world. They are by and large quite secular. They are overwhelmingly Shia which is different from the Wahabis of the peninsula, and they don't bring the sensitivity of having the holy cities of Islam being on their territory. They are totally different situations. But the most fundamental difference is that, let me put it this way. We're seeing today how much the people of Poland and Central and Eastern Europe appreciate what the United States did to help liberate them from the tyranny of the Soviet Union. I think you're going to see even more of that sentiment in Iraq.
There's not going to be the hostility that you described Saturday. There simply won't be.
Q: I don't mean within Iraq necessarily, but external to Iraq.
Wolfowitz: It's hard to see how people externally can complain if the Iraqi people are saying these people came and liberated us.
Q: Mr. Secretary, you're considered among the most hawkish advisors to the President. I don't know if that's a label you wear with pride or not. Others tilted toward a more diplomatic route through the United Nations on the matter of policy toward Iraq. Now that the UN negotiations have become so prolonged, do you feel that it was a mistake to take that route, to go through the UN? And has it complicated your military strategy?
Wolfowitz: No, I don't. There's a certain mythology around it somehow. That there were people here, for example, who opposed going to the United Nations. That's simply not true.
We've had a lot of important and useful debates about specific tactics, and frankly the President encourages that kind of debate and I think he makes better decisions because people do argue different points of view. It wouldn't be very helpful to have everybody coming in for the single recommendation. You don't even think about that recommendation as clearly unless you get some counterpoint.
But I would say actually in the Defense Department, perhaps more than anywhere else, we understand the benefits of going, if you have to use force, the benefits of having a coalition with you. I think we understand again perhaps better than anyone else, if you have to use force the benefits of having the American people with you, and having the United Nations with you is an enormous help.
But what we can't do is allow a French veto in the United Nations to prevent us from defending the American people. This has now become in many ways a test of the United Nations. I hope it passes. I hope it doesn't put itself in the same category the League of Nations did in the 1930s in showing that it was incapable of performing the role it needs to.
I don't think we're at that point. In fact I would argue that if it does become necessary to use force we will have already accomplished a great deal by the 15-0 resolution that Secretary Powell secured from the United Nations last November.
Q: This past weekend there were massive protests against a possible war with Iraq around the world, and the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw conceded on Monday that going to war against Iraq in the face of such widespread public opposition would be in his words very difficult indeed. Do you share that concern?
Wolfowitz: First of all, I take his concern very seriously. The British have been perfect allies in this and Prime Minister Blair has been a real profile in courage. I remember more years ago, in 1964, being in front of the Lincoln Memorial and hearing Martin Luther King give that incredible speech, "I have a dream," and there were several hundred thousand of us there demonstrating for civil rights. I understand that very powerful emotions are generated by those large numbers of people.
But I would ask people to stop and think for a minute about the fact that people are not free to demonstrate in Baghdad. People in Baghdad are literally terrorized into silence. The penalty for speaking out, even whispering against the regime there is the most horrible kinds of torture and death, not just for yourself but for your family. It's monstrous.
If the people of Baghdad were free to demonstrate you'd see millions in the street saying "please come, why haven't you come sooner?" And quite honestly, if the demonstrators want to prevent a war the best thing they could have done would have been go and demonstrate in front of the Iraqi embassy and send a message to Saddam saying time is running out for a peaceful solution here.
Q: I'm going to take you back to something which you mentioned earlier which is your hearing about Saddam Hussein possibly gassing his own people. I wanted to just follow up a little bit on that.
As you work through war scenarios, how do you assess the likelihood that Saddam Hussein would, if he's attacked, use weapons of mass destruction, for example, or attack Israel?
Wolfowitz: It's something we take extremely seriously. It's one of those things that is in Secretary Rumsfeld's list of things that can go wrong.
The most important thing I think to focus on is that he can't do these things by himself. And people that are going to execute those kinds of orders or issue those kinds of orders have to ask themselves if they want to be the last person to die for Saddam Hussein because he will be gone and they will not be protected and they will be punished severely if they participate in that kind of action.
But it's clearly a major thing that we think about in our military planning. It's a major reason if we have to use force to be able to use it in the most decisive way possible.
Q: And what are you hearing about what you mentioned earlier, which is Saddam Hussein gassing his own people?
Wolfowitz: Well he's done it before, as we know. It's one of several scenarios that we worry about. He's capable of it I think, and I think, I hope and we will do our best to make it more than just a hope, that anyone under his command understands that if they carry out orders of that kind there's going to be nobody around to protect them afterwards.
Voice: If I could add one follow-up question which would give the Secretary a chance to more fully answer a global public opinion question, why, given U.S. Administration efforts to bring the rest of the world on board with this, why does global public opinion appear to be so strongly against a war in Iraq?
The Administration has taken great pains to put its arguments out there before the United Nations. How do you explain the widespread opposition on the streets around the world to this plan for a war against Iraq?
Wolfowitz: I think some of it just stems from a feeling which I share and I know the President shares, and I think everyone in the Administration shares, that war is a terrible thing. We want to avoid a war. I can't answer why people think they should look to the United States to avid a war as opposed to looking to Saddam Hussein to avoid a war. The decision really is up to him and there is no question that the only way of getting him to make the right decision is to convince him that it's his only choice.
The only way we got inspectors in there in the first place was by the threat of force. The only small progress we've made is by the threat of force. I think that is a point that people really need to focus on.
If it comes to use of force let me just say emphatically, this is not a war for oil. There is clearly a lot of misunderstanding when you hear that slogan. If the United States wanted access to Iraqi oil, we would have just dropped our whole policy 12 years ago and let him have his weapons of mass destruction. If any country is more -- Well, I could nominate some other countries whose policy may be motivated by oil, but certainly not the United States.
And it's not a war for Israel. It's a war, if it comes to a war, the whole policy is aimed at removing what is a real threat to the United States, to our friends in Europe, and by the way also to the Iraqi people and the people of the Persian Gulf. This group that was arrested in London recently that was planning to put ricin into the London subway system. Ricin is one of the most deadly poisons known to man. They are connected to that facility in northeastern Iraq that Secretary Powell spoke about that is connected to Baghdad. Their leaders have found sanctuary and shelter in Baghdad. There is a real threat there. There is a real danger. And President Bush and Prime Minister Blair and the other leaders -- many many leaders who are prepared to step up to this -- understand that it is their job to secure the future of their people and that's what they're doing.
Q: Secretary Wolfowitz, thanks so much for joining us today.
Wolfowitz: Thank you.