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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Newsweek

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
March 12, 2003

Newsweek: You must be thinking a lot about this and it must be perplexing to you why, if a threat is so imminent and the dangers are so real, why is it so difficult to get the international community, or at least much more of the international community on board here? What happened? What's going on? Is this a Kitty Genovese moment, you know, in the sense that people just don't want to know how bad it is? What's going on?

DepSecDef Wolfowitz: I think for one thing there's a lot of what can be called free rider activity going on. People are so used to the United States taking care of problems and they know the President's going to deal with this one so they can reap the benefits in whatever form serves their purposes, and frequently that's domestic politics. Sometimes it's as simple as they don't want to buck a domestic tie. Blair's a real stand-up guy and it takes a lot of political courage to do that, but unfortunately part of his problem is caused by a number of leaders who are actually demagoguing this issue and whipping up opinion.

Newsweek: But in all these countries it's a really strong domestic tide.

DepSecDef Wolfowitz: But it's fed by leadership. Leadership matters. American opinion is different because our leadership is talking about it differently.

Newsweek: But even in those countries that are really strong traditional allies of ours where the leadership is with us, a country even like Poland, their majority is against them.

DepSecDef Wolfowitz: But they're hearing all these echoes from France and Germany and supposedly respectable European opinion.

I think another part is that they're not threatened directly the way we are. They didn't experience September 11th. They're not the target of Saddam's threats the way we are.

We have historically also had to lead the world on the issue of non-proliferation and understanding what these weapons can do. But I would say finally, and I think this is very important, and I think it is going to have a big effect on public opinion in the aftermath, I really don't think many people really appreciate what a horrible regime this is. When we met last week at the White House with a group of Iraqi-Americans--and they have a letter I want to give to you. You might say it's an ordinary letter but the thing that really struck me is it refers to "our President" meaning George Bush. These people are Americans. They intend to stay in the United States. Quite a few of them are willing to volunteer to go over there and help, but they've fully made the transition. And by the way, I think it shows that Iraqis can handle democratic politics.

But one of them said, and I quoted him in the speech yesterday, said there's a war going on right now against the Iraqi people by the regime. The people who are demonstrating against war, he had a more eloquent formulation and I can get it for you, but the people who are demonstrating against war are in effect allowing this war to continue. If it comes to the use of force against Saddam Hussein it will be a war for the Iraqi people not against the Iraqi people. It will be a war to end Saddam's war against the Iraqi people. I think it will change a lot of minds and hearts, particularly in Western countries when the stories start pouring out about how he has treated his people and how grateful they are to be liberated. And perhaps how they feel about some of the countries that have been fighting us in the United States.

I got a taste of that in Dearborn. These people have noticed what the French are doing, and I think they're quite representative. They all have families back there. There's a whole range, a lot of Shia, a lot of Suni, a fair number of Caldian Assyrians who are Christians, but every one of them had suffered or their family had suffered and suffered badly. And it's not, when people say we all know Saddam is a bad guy, but -- the speed with which they get to the "but" tells me they really don't know how terrible he is.

I was mentioning to a pretty distinguished journalist the fact that this is a regime that tortures children in order to make their parents talk. He mentioned it to his wife who couldn't get it out of her mind. In fact he came back to me and said what's the evidence for it? So I went back and got Max Vanderstill's report and the Amnesty International report and then I go to Dearborn two or three weeks ago and somebody brings up his, I'd say nine-year-old son, maybe a little older, who was severely brain damaged because at the age of one an Iraqi soldier had kicked him in the head in order to try to get his mother to tell where the father had escaped to. It's just routine.

It's going to be a problem. There's going to be a lot of--if it comes to the use of force in the liberation of Iraq--there are going to be a lot of scores to settle and our hope will be to discourage as much as we can the score-settling. Try to get people to look to the future.

I do think that there will be a lot of political and moral pressure that can be exercised by reminding people of what will happen if they don't deal with their differences in a peaceful way. They don't want to go back to the horror they had before.

In China in the 1980s I was struck at how, whatever people thought, they were determined not to go back to the Cultural Revolution. It's been striking in the decade of the '90s that even at the worst period of Russia's economic problems, the communist party has never really made it back. And I think one of the things that we will have to work with--it's not a magic cure for anything--but one of the things we'll have to work with in Iraq is people know what it means if they have to return to the rule of the strong man. The only alternative to that is working together, building a single unified country with a democratic representative government that respects people's rights, respects the rule of law.

It's a complicated business. It's a difficult business. But if you look at the number of countries in the last 20 years that have managed it with no prior historical experience -- from Korea and Taiwan to any number of Central European countries -- I think it's a much more doable thing in the 21st Century because the world is interconnected and people do understand how other people live. Many many people have the experience of having spent time in school in democratic countries. In the case of Iraq, a lot of their four million exiles, many of whom have spent years and years in England and the U.S. -- I guess I should emphasize because this is another one of these tricky things. We're trying very hard to make sure that the message inside Iraq is we're not coming with an exile government to impose some American-selected leadership on you. That's the essence of anti-democratic. And we don't know what the people inside think because they haven't been allowed to say. So there have to be processes that allow outside views and inside views to merge and reconcile one another.

The other message we're trying to get across--and now I'm speaking for the Defense Department--is that there is no point in fighting or dying for a doomed regime. Whatever sins you may have committed in the past, don't commit any new ones that you'll have to answer for. There is a great opportunity here to participate in the liberation of your country. We're going out of our way not only to try as we did in Afghanistan to minimize civilian casualties if we have to use force, but also to avoid damage to the civilian infrastructure which was not an objective ten years ago, as I think the world knows, unfortunately. But also to let all kinds of Iraqis at all sorts of levels, including ordinary soldiers, know that there's no reason they have to die for this unworthy cause.

Newsweek: The cost of rebuilding Iraq, the UN has estimated that it will be [inaudible] $30 billion over the first three years, and yet when it put out an appeal recently for I think it was $37 million as opposed to billion, they got no response.

Are you worried that you don't have enough allies to participate and make contributions not only to the war effort but to the post-war rebuilding of Iraq?

DepSecDef Wolfowitz: Actually it is very encouraging how many countries have stepped forward and given us help of various kinds from basing and overflight rights to actually contributing forces. It's a large number. It's more than enough to get the job done. This is not going to be a unilateral action if it's required.

Newsweek: But the other -- I'm sorry to interrupt, but could we have a list of those 40?

DepSecDef Wolfowitz: No. For one thing a lot who live in the neighborhood do not want to be identified as Saddam's opponents until they're sure that he's gone. So there are quite a few countries that have said privately; there are others who have said look, it's going to depend on what happens in the UN. But if you make a good-faith effort in the UN we'll be with you. Some others, I mean it would be nice to get another resolution because there are some countries for whom that's crucial.

But I also think that's the harder part. If the Saddam regime is removed and there's a liberation of Iraq then you're going to have an opportunity for countries to participate in rebuilding. It's one of the potentially most important countries in the Arab world--not potentially, one of the most important countries in the Arab world--and a potential success story. It's not like, I don't mean to say this disparagingly of Afghanistan, but Afghanistan is a poor country. It's remote. It doesn't offer a whole lot commercially or in any other way. Whereas Iraq is not only a huge potential source of natural resources which is what most people look at, but even more importantly, it's got one of the most educated populations in the Arab world. Unfortunately, a lot of those educated people have left, but I think they will come back. So a successful Iraq could be a real engine of growth in the Middle East, and I think the kind of place that countries are going to want to participate in the rebuilding and get some credit for the rebuilding. So I think we'll get a lot of help in that department. But I also think it's not something that's possible to estimate.

I did see somebody who said the war could be over in a week. I mean these predictions of how much it will cost or how many troops it will take or how quickly it will be over, it's foolish to make predictions because there are so many uncertainties. We know that Saddam has plans to try to destroy the oilfields and we're trying to see what can be done to discourage people from carrying out those orders. But it makes a huge difference whether he does or he doesn't. Whoever made that UN estimate, what they assume an American military campaign will look like, they obviously don't know what our plans are.

Newsweek: Presumably there are people here in the Pentagon who are trying to make these kinds of estimates on precisely that -- rebuilding the oilfields and --

DepSecDef Wolfowitz: And they know that they are precisely at exactly that --

Newsweek: The reason that you've not put those out is because they're estimates that you don't have a lot of confidence in?

DepSecDef Wolfowitz: That's not quite the right way to -- They're estimates that are so dependent on assumptions that nobody can know. It's not that we can't have confidence in saying how much certain things might cost, although there are problems there too. But we don't know whether those bills are going to have to be paid or not. We don't know how much damage there is in Iraq. Some of that bill probably is for reconstruction that's got to be done anyway. If the wealth of that country is going into reconstruction instead of building more palaces and bunkers and tank transporters, it certainly will move along a lot better and a lot faster.

That's another huge difference from Afghanistan. Afghanistan has no source of income. Iraq has very substantial sources of income and rather large reserves that are -- billions of dollars in either frozen assets or in UN escrow accounts.

So it's a big challenge, it will be a big job, but I think there are a lot of Iraqi resources and I think there will be a lot of people who will want to help. The stakes are large.

Newsweek: I want to ask you, it is complicated, you know how complicated it's going to be. Huge challenges. I wonder what you worry about, what keeps you up at night as you're possibly poised on this enterprise. You mentioned score settling, all of the ethnic problems. What do you think are the biggest challenges? What concerns you the most about this?

DepSecDef Wolfowitz: I still think the thing that worries me the most is the use of chemical and biological weapons. We're quite sure he has them. We know he's used them. We don't think he'd have any qualms about doing so. We put a lot of effort into both military actions that can prevent him and what's called psychological operations that can discourage people from carrying out his orders because he can't do these things by himself.

There are a lot of other things that one can worry about. That's the one that really does worry me the most.

I think there's a tension up in Northern Iraq which it's unfortunate that the Turkish Parliament didn't agree to cooperation with us because I think American participation in the north would not only have meant a faster and more certain end to any war if there is one, but also I think would have helped to calm the tensions between Kurds and Turks. That's something we're going to have to work at, we are working at already.

I think it's doable, but it takes, it's going to take a lot of attention.

I think it's going to be a challenge to try to move as quickly as we can to hand over responsibility to Iraqis because I think it's not that it would be intolerable if it takes a long time. We've been in Bosnia for seven years now where the stakes are much much smaller, but I think the faster you give people responsibility the -- put it the other way around. The longer you take to give them responsibility the greater danger is that they'll become dependent in some form or other on outside help, on international assistance. It's a little bit I guess of teaching someone to swim by putting them in the water instead of going a baby step at a time.

At the same time there really does have to be a pretty systematic vetting of the old institutions and figure out who are the people who really were just perfectly reasonable administrative functionaries and who are the people who at the very least should not have any future political role in the country.

For the most part those are decisions that fundamentally have to be made by Iraqis, but it's going to take some depth of supervision on our part.

It happened quite naturally and quickly actually in 1991 in Northern Iraq, and that's an experience that people barely noticed and easily forget about. But after the Gulf War had ended, a month after the ceasefire, Saddam Hussein was slaughtering the Kurds in the north and the Shia in the south and the Kurds fled, a couple of million of them to the Turkish border. So we intervened to create a sanctuary so people could go home. The effect of that intervention with some Kurdish help was to kick the Iraqi army out of the sort of northern third of the country.

I remember three months afterwards, General Shalikashvili was the commander there, was saying it's time to leave, they don't need us anymore. And some of us back here including me were skeptical. We made them stay another three months. But in September I guess of '91 they left. And the Kurds have managed their affairs pretty well in those 12 years, particularly considering that they've been under the same UN sanctions as the rest of the country; they've been under constant threats from Saddam Hussein; they've been attacked more than once by Saddam's forces. So there's a lot -- And by the way, it's an interesting fact that Jay Garner who is going to be heading the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance was Shali's Deputy Commander in Northern Iraq 12 years ago. That's one of the reasons we picked him. He's had hands-on experience with -- from the military side, but he's seen how you can evolve responsibility quickly to local people. We're going to be doing it on a much larger scale, but I think it can be done.

Newsweek: The Iraqi legal system will cease to exist once you go in there for all intents and purposes, and yet Iraq needs for foreign investment, as you've pointed out, to [inaudible] the oil industry. How do you do that? How do you get foreign investors to come into a country that has no laws regulating foreign investment and which also is saddled with $60 billion in commercial debt and other debts that would scare, under normal circumstances, scare investors away?

DepSecDef Wolfowitz: You obviously don't do it overnight. But I suspect that first of all, I would imagine there are some pretty large number of laws that don't have to be thrown out. That if you got some reasonable Iraqi legal experts, both from inside and outside the country they could probably tell you pretty quickly which are the instruments of Ba'thist control that you have to scrap and which are reasonable laws about property ownership and things of that kind.

Newsweek: You haven't done that yet?

DepSecDef Wolfowitz: I don't think it's our job to do. There's been a certain amount of work in the State Department working groups over the last year on principles about legal systems, but I think there's just a lot you can't do until you're on the ground, people are free to say what they want and speak their minds, and then there are just going to be a whole series of decisions that are going to come and I think may come very quickly.

There's just a huge number of countries that have faced this problem over the last 15 years, some more successfully than others, but on the whole, I'm talking about all the countries in Central and Eastern Europe, I'm talking about Indonesia, talking about, well those countries principally. I guess one could say okay, there are countries like the Central Asian republics that don't seem to change very much since the Soviet Union. I don't think that's what's going to happen here. I don't think the people would put up with it. And --

Newsweek: How do you have an Iraqi leadership develop organically? How do you make that transition to Iraqis governing themselves? I know that's a big question. I guess I'm interested in the very first step. How does that happen?

DepSecDef Wolfowitz: My instinct says it comes through both the process of elections and a lot of people have suggested if you start with local elections, give people a chance to establish some legitimacy that way. Again, these are things I think -- But the other thing I think is that people are going to establish legitimacy by the extent to which they can be convincing that they do speak for larger groups of people and the extent to which they can demonstrate that they can deal with the country's problems.

I'm suspecting that you will find that some people will emerge as natural leaders and other people will emerge as natural troublemakers and --

Newsweek: Do you have specific people in mind?

DepSecDef Wolfowitz: No, absolutely not. I mean we really go into this with a view that this is not something for Americans to decide.

Newsweek: Do you have a model in mind? Someone in the Administration once said to me we're looking for someone like, someone who was, let's say, a military hero in the Iran/Iraq War, but untainted by the other --

DepSecDef Wolfowitz: I think it's foolish to look for an American model, I really do. We don't know what these people are going to feel after what they've been through. You're probably going to get some competitive models among Iraqis.

I suppose I could tell you one thing. I would like a model that's someone who says--and it's interesting, I'll tell you where this phrase came from. I didn't get it from here, but it reminds me - "I'm not a Suni, I'm not a Shia, I'm not a Christian, I'm not a Turk, I'm not an Arab, I'm not a Kurd, I'm an Iraqi." I actually heard this. It isn't where the phrase came to mind, but I heard a Kurdish leader saying a year ago why shouldn't I as an Iraqi Kurd be able to be the president of Iraq? I thought that was a very positive development. They accept that the world isn't going to allow them to have their own state, and part of that acceptance is say okay, I should be entitled to be president of the country that you're making me be a citizen of.

The person that I remember, I think it's not insignificant, Megawati Sakarnoputri, when she ran for President of Indonesia, would regularly say she has one grandparent who's Balinese and three who were Javanese. She said I'm not a Balinese, I'm not a Javanese, I'm an Indonesian. And it was not a cliché. She was saying this to large crowds of cheering Javanese for the most part.

Indonesia is a country with enormous problems but it is interesting how well they managed in -- Most of those problems I would say are the result of the economic shambles that Suharto left them. They actually ran a peaceful, democratic election in which out of 43 parties they produced a reasonable consensus on who had won the election. I think it shows that even people in difficult circumstances -- It's a powerful idea and I think people who have been deprived -- That is, democracy is a powerful idea, and I think people who have been deprived of it as long as the Iraqis have have a hunger for it.

Newsweek: Thank you.