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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with New England Channel News

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
March 23, 2003

Q: Dr. Wolfowitz, thank you for your time this afternoon.

I wonder if you might be able to shed any light on the unaccounted for American servicemen and women? Have they in fact been taken prisoner?

Wolfowitz: We know there are Americans missing. We're in the process right now of notifying the next of kin. That's our first obligation. We don't know their exact circumstances. We don't know if they have been taken prisoner or how. We've seen those scenes on Al Jazeera that others have seen. We have reminded the Iraqis, and I'll do it if they're watching this program -- that there are very clear obligations under the Geneva Convention to treat prisoners humanely, not to humiliate them, and in this case, I think we'll be in a position before long to enforce any violations of the Geneva Convention.

We treat our own prisoners, and there are hundreds of Iraqi prisoners, extremely well. We feed them, we take care of them, they're very safe with us.

Q: At least this far you have had no progress in finding weapons of mass destruction. If that's incorrect, please feel free to update.

Wolfowitz: It's kind of the wrong premise of the question. We aren't trying to make progress. The purpose right now is to get rid of this regime and win the war. We're not out on a search for weapons of mass destruction until we've established control over the country. So to say we haven't made progress -- I think we've been, depending on how you count it, roughly 72 hours into this. We have a huge military task still in front of us and that's the priority.

Q: When you get to that task, however, if you don't find them, does that begin to crumble part of the foundation of this operation?

Wolfowitz: Let's wait and see what happens. Right now we need to -- there's no question now that our task right now is to get rid of this regime. It's a regime that we are quite certain is a threat to us. There's no question it's been a threat to its own people. When it's gone, the world will be a better place and we'll find what's there.

Q: Looking back over the last year, the administration's arguments for action against Iraq have included destruction of weapons of mass destruction, regime change, democratization, safety for America and its citizens from terrorism. Has there been a mixed signal with all of these?

Wolfowitz: I don't think so. All of those arguments are present. And in fact it wasn't just this administration, it was the last administration and a huge bipartisan majority in Congress that declared in 1998 that the liberation of Iraq was the goal of American policy. So that has been a concern and it combines together all the things that you mentioned.

The important point in the President's mind, and I think he's right about this, is what has justified this level of American commitment, this level of risk of American lives, is the connection between a regime that has weapons of mass terror, chemical and biological weapons and working on nuclear weapons, and that has these connections to terrorists and uses terrorism as an instrument of national policy. That is at the core of the argument. But to suggest, therefore, that we have no interest in also freeing the people of Iraq is wrong. As a matter of fact, one of the things that makes it possible to free us from the threat of weapons of mass terror is that the Iraqi people, I believe, are so eager to be freed from that regime that they can be our real allies.

Q: Have you been able to take a look at what was in that camp in Northeastern Iraq that was hit? Is there anything there that more firmly makes that link between al Qaeda and Saddam?

Wolfowitz: Once again, I can understand impatience, but let's identify it as impatience. It's a camp full of very, very dangerous, armed people who have a habit of decapitating their enemies when they capture them. We had a strike in there last night. We're getting Special Forces into the north, we're getting arms into the Kurds, we'll get to that site but it's not just something you sort of walk in after a bomb strike and expect to wander around looking for things.

Q: Senator Kennedy said before the combat began that the Administration had a fixation on Saddam, and he said at the time that he believes this operation may in fact make the world more unsafe for Americans, rather than safer. Is there a chance he's right? Or is he flat-out wrong here?

Wolfowitz: The world is an uncertain place and history takes uncertain courses. Certainly the former President of the United States, President Clinton, declared in this building five years ago that Saddam has chemical and biological weapons and if we don't get rid of them I guarantee you someday he'll use them. That was five years ago. We've been trying for 12 years by every means, we've been trying diplomacy, it hasn't worked; we tried economic pressure, that hasn't worked; we tried limited military action with bombing them in the north and bombing them in the south, that not only hasn't worked, I think it's had severe harmful consequences throughout the Middle East and the Arab world. It's meant keeping American forces based in Saudi Arabia for 12 years now, bombing an Arab country. That not only hasn't worked, it's been very costly. We've had now 17 UN resolutions. Those haven't worked.

It is a dangerous regime. It is a terrible threat to its own people. It's really been at war with its own people for 20 years now. The world, I believe, will be better off. The Iraqi people will surely be better off. And I think we'll all be safer when this war is over.

Q: I'm sure you have probably seen the pictures of the demonstrations not only overseas, but here in major cities in the United States. What do you think when you see those demonstrations and hear what those people have to say.

Wolfowitz: We've been training some Iraqi-Americans to go along with American units to go into Iraq. They've been trained in Hungary and when their training was over, they did some exit interviews with one of them. I just read an account of one of these Iraqi-Americans -- I think in his 30s or 40s who was asked the question -- what do you think of the demonstrators? He expressed my view exactly. He said it's wonderful. They live in a democracy where they're free to say what they think. Unfortunately the Iraqi people are not free to say what they think. Where were the demonstrations when tens of thousands of Kurds were being gassed? Where were the demonstrations when Saddam invaded Kuwait? Where are the demonstrations when he tortures his own people now?

No one wants a war. I understand why people are marching. I think what they don't understand is just how dangerous this man is, how horrible it is to live under his rule, and that there really is a war going on. There's been a war going on by him against his people and this will end that.

Q: Some of the demonstrators believe this is a war about oil.

Wolfowitz: That's nonsense. I mean that's just ridiculous. If we had wanted Iraqi oil, there was a simple way to get at it and that was just to forget about his weapons of mass destruction 12 years ago, drop the sanctions, and we could have been in there doing business.

The United States and --

Q: Very simply, we could have bought it is your argument?

Wolfowitz: If our interest was oil, as opposed to his weapons of mass terror we would have dropped the sanctions 12 years ago and we would have been in there developing Iraqi oil. This is not about oil. This is about security, and frankly I think it's also about the ideals that this country believes in and stands for.

This is not the legitimate government of the Iraqi people. This is a regime that has hijacked a great nation for nearly 30 years now.

Q: You are among a group of national security experts, who for the better part of a decade now, has been promoting this policy change that we have recently seen -- that talks about the use of preemptive action when there is a clear and present danger or threat.

Opponents of that suggest that it is not only unilateral, but arrogant.

Wolfowitz: We can go through a lot of things. I'm not part of a little small group that has believed that Saddam Hussein is a threat. The last Administration said very clearly that we needed to get rid of this regime. They endorsed what was passed by large bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress in 1998: the Iraq Liberation Act, that said it's the policy of the United States is to get rid of this regime. There are 17 United Nations resolutions endorsed in some cases unanimously by the international community saying that he has to stop repressing his people, saying that he has to give up his weapons of mass destruction. This is not preemption. This is long delayed, long overdue enforcement of the conditions under which the war was supposed to have been ended 12 years ago.

Q: But again, back to the broader policy change that was promulgated several months ago. What is the message that sends the rest of the world about the United States as the sole remaining super power?

Wolfowitz: Look, this is not about preemption. This is about whether the will of the United Nations means anything. This is about whether 17 UN Security Council resolutions mean anything. I am concerned, I don't think the UN distinguished itself in the last few months and that's not good for the world. But it would be even worse for the world if we went down the road that we did in the 1930s, when the League of Nations failed to act and all the great powers used that as an excuse for their inaction.

We have more than 50 countries now who are supporting us militarily or politically in this coalition, and I believe very strongly when Iraq is a free and liberated country that even some of the countries who opposed us will come in to help because this is one of the most important countries in the Arab world. The people of that country are suffering. They have no question, no question which is the right side here. I think when the world gets a chance to hear the voices of the Iraqi people, no one is going to say this was unilateral action.

Q: What does a post-Saddam Iraq look like? Is this a country that is ripe for blossoming democracy?

Wolfowitz: I don't know. But you know, the tone of your voice, the premise of your question, forgive me, maybe it's not you -- I've heard far too many people say the Arabs are incapable of democracy. I think that is a terrible notion and I think there is an opportunity here to demonstrate in one of the most important countries in the Arab world that Arabs are capable of democracy. Am I sure of it? I am not sure of it. I'm certain that until this criminal regime is gone they don't have a chance.

Q: Dr. Wolfowitz, that was not the premise of the question.

Wolfowitz: Okay, well --

Q: When you look historically at Iraq, the creation of this construct out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, an attempt to hold together Kurds, Shia, Suni, Turkmen. Is this -- What does that on the ground mean for trying to bring about a stable --

Wolfowitz: My gosh, it's like holding together French and English-speaking Canadians, or Walloons in [inaudible].

Look, I will grant you that, historically, we haven't seen democracy in Iraq, but, historically, it's a great civilization. It's been the, Mesopotamian civilization has been a major factor in world culture and civilization going back 3,000-4,000 years. I think in the last 20 years, we've had some striking demonstrations over and over again that people who were never capable historically of democracy have managed to do it.

I was Assistant Secretary of State 20 years ago dealing with South Korea. I remember how many people said look, they've never had democracy, it's a Confucian culture where people believe in hierarchical rule. Forget about democracy in Korea. Well, we've had a flourishing democracy in Korea now for going on 15 years. You don't hear that any more about Koreans. I think it would be nice some day if we get to the point where we don't hear it any more about Arabs either.

Q: Any message for the families of those who are serving in this operation? What can you say to reassure them?

Wolfowitz: First of all, I want to say thank you. The young men and women who are defending this country thousands of miles from home are just extraordinary. They're extraordinary in their skill and competence; they're extraordinary in their bravery; and they're frankly extraordinary in their humanity. I don't think you'll find many armies in the history of the world who have treated innocents as carefully as our people are.

They're at risk. There's no question they're at risk. I know this President feels keenly the risk that the young men and women are exposed to and he would not be putting them at that risk if he did not believe profoundly that they are protecting this country from a far greater risk. For that I'm deeply grateful. I know the President is deeply grateful. I think the whole country owes them our gratitude.

Q: For 50 years the United States contained the Soviet Union which had thousands of nuclear warheads. What went wrong with containment? Why was it not possible to continue a policy of containment against Saddam Hussein?

Wolfowitz: I think at the heart of it is this connection that we became acutely aware of after September 11th that the connection between states that have weapons of mass destruction and terrorist networks that can deliver those weapons, in effect anonymously and without a return address, meant that many of the fundamental concepts of deterrence are out the window.

Moreover, do containment of the Soviet Union was something we were forced to. There was no alternative.

Containment of Iraq has been a very costly business. When people say we can just go on with it for another 12 years, let's stop and think. Rough estimate, it's cost us $30 billion to sustain the forces that contained Saddam Hussein. But it's not mostly about money.

The containment of Iraq has meant that for 12 years now you had a very large American force based in an Arab country in Saudi Arabia, and that force has been bombing Iraq more or less every week for the last five or six years -- ever since the inspectors left. We've had 200,000 people there to enforce Resolution 1441.

Containment is not cost free, and if you go back and read the propaganda that Osama bin Laden put out with his Fatwa, for example, in 1998, the two big grievances he promotes are the American occupation of Saudi Arabia and the American bombing of Iraq.

We have 17 UN resolutions. We've given Saddam every chance to comply. We gave him 48 more hours to leave. Now it's time to see an end to that regime.

Q: Thank you very much, sir. I appreciate it.

Wolfowitz: Thank you.