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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with AFRTS

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

(Interview with the American Forces Radio and Television Service.)

Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us today. We appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to be here.

Overall how is Operation Iraqi Freedom progressing? Are things going pretty much according to plan?

Wolfowitz: I think one can say it about any war, I think things are progressing well. I think that General Franks and our people at CENTCOM have really put together a, I would say, a brilliant plan. I don't use the word brilliant lightly. Someone said no plan survives first contact with the enemy, but that's built into this plan too. There's enormous flexibility in it. There was the ability to take advantage of an extremely valuable target that came up as a target of opportunity at the opening of this war. By the way, some incredibly brave pilots took on that target without any prior attack on Iraqi air defenses.

I think your listeners will appreciate more than most the importance of surprise in warfare and I think General Franks achieved a remarkable level of surprise--even more remarkable when you stop and think that this was an attack that some people would say was advertised months in advance. But he worked against Saddam's expectation that the American way to war is always with weeks of bombing and only then do you introduce the ground troops. We introduced the ground troops first. I think he didn't even know they were there before we started hitting him.

So it's a good plan, it has a lot of flexibility in it. An enormous jointness built into it. And one thing I'm sure is that it's going to bring us victory.

Q: In the first couple of days coalition forces seemed to meet with very little resistance, but now in the last few hours we've run into some negatives. We've had a British plane shot down by a U.S. Patriot missile. We've had a U.S. soldier attacking his comrades in arms. And now American POWs being paraded before Iraqi TV cameras.

What is your reaction to these events, and how do you think they will affect our troops' morale and the morale of their families as well?

Wolfowitz: Obviously there are a lot of tragedies in war and self-inflicted tragedies have a certain greater sorrow attached to them in a way.

I think it does say something about how successful we've been so far that these are the things that are capturing the greatest attention. But we also can't underestimate the enemy. He's still out there. He's still dangerous. We may encounter more serious problems from the enemy before this is over.

I am impressed, though, that all the reports I get on the morale of our young men and women is that it's extraordinary. The 101st, which just suffered the tragedy that you referred to with one of their own, doesn't seem to be phased by it. There's a brigade of the 101st already deep inside Iraq. I think they know they have a job to do. They're determined to get it done. They are incredibly skillful, incredibly brave. And there's another side of the American military which we're starting to hear back from the Iraqi people and that's the humanity--the way in which they treat others, the way in which they treat civilians.

Some Americans look at those pictures on television and they say we're bombing Iraq. But the truth is those people who are doing the targeting are not bombing Iraq, they're doing everything they can to avoid civilians. They're bombing the Iraqi regime. It's a regime that has terrorized and killed its own people for years and years. This is not only a war that's going to free the American people from a serious threat, it's going to free the Iraqi people from one of the world's worst rulers.

Q: Another thing that our people are seeing overseas is protesters. What's the response to that? How do you see that affecting their morale?

Wolfowitz: I hope they look at the poll numbers, too. The country is behind them. The country understands why it has to be done.

I understand the protesters. I think our troops do too. No one likes a war. The question is, is it more dangerous to have this war, or to let this dictator go on continuing, essentially, a war against his own people, building up the weapons to carry on a war against us.

I know that the President thought long and hard. This was not an easy decision for him, but he also recognized that the cost of doing nothing, the risks of doing nothing, the American lives that would probably be lost if we did nothing, were much greater than what we're doing now. I think some of the demonstrators obviously don't understand this, but it's a free country. They're free to demonstrate.

What Iraqi-Americans tell me is what the demonstrators don't understand is no one in Iraq is free to demonstrate. There's a war on in Iraq by Saddam against his own people. It's killed 100,000 Kurds; it's killed several hundred thousand Iranians; hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers that have died in wars that Saddam has started. We're going to end that terrible war that he's conducted against his own people for years.

Q: You mentioned example of bravery by the pilots and the 101st. What is your evaluation overall of how U.S. forces are performing?

Wolfowitz: Just superb across the board. I guess I should realize when you mention the Air Force or you mention the Army it makes the Navy feel left out. I had the honor of working in the Defense Department during Desert Storm for Secretary Cheney, and I was impressed at that time of the professionalism and the jointness of the U.S. military. There is so much more jointness now than there was ten years ago when I was impressed. It's stunning, the ability of the Navy and the Air Force to coordinate their operations in a way they never could ten years ago. Most impressively, the ability of the combined air forces of all the services to deliver fires where the guys on the ground need them the most, the most urgently, is just remarkable. That precision, which I think I referred to earlier, of hitting the targets that you intend to hit, and avoiding the people you want to avoid, it's never been done before in history like this.

Q: You talk about jointness. We can take that one step forward. The successes that we've seen so far, how has interoperability between U.S. and coalition forces helped us in that regard?

Wolfowitz: A great deal. I suppose it's a political accident that the two countries that have been in there with us first and bravest have been the United Kingdom and Australia. But it's a great military piece of good fortune. These are the countries we've exercised with most closely over the years, so that you can actually go into some of these very dangerous operations in the western desert with Australians and Brits and be absolutely confident in one another. It's remarkable.

Anyone who listens to the President of France saying the whole world is against us should stop and think for a minute. There are some 50-plus countries who are supporting us either militarily or politically, and quite a few of them are in there fighting with us.

Q: American Forces Radio and Television is being seen and heard by a lot of the forces that are participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom. What message would you send to them?

Wolfowitz: That you are a long way from home, separated from your families, running risks that most Americans don't have to run, but you're doing it for a just and noble cause. You're doing it to make our country safer.

We back home are incredibly proud of you and we're incredibly grateful for the sacrifice you're making. The world will be a better and safer place because of it.

Q: At the same time there are many family members watching AFRTS as well, sitting at home on pins and needles. What would you say to them?

Wolfowitz: I would say that it is certain what the outcome of this war is going to be. I can't tell you how quickly it will be over. I wish I could tell you it would be over soon, but that would be a mistake. But I can tell you that our message to the Iraqis who think about fighting us is that they're fighting for a lost cause. They're fighting for an ignoble cause. They're fighting really for a criminal cause. The sooner they stop fighting the more pain and suffering they will be able to spare themselves and their own people, and also spare us.

I do think at some point that message of the inevitable doom of this regime that we're up against, will bring an end, and maybe sooner rather than later. That's our hope.

Q: Operation Iraqi Freedom is garnering a lot of the attention from the media but U.S. forces are performing other missions around the world. How important are the jobs that those men and women in other places are doing?

Wolfowitz: Incredibly important. This is all part of the war on terrorism. We wouldn't be risking American lives in Iraq just because this man's a tyrant. He is a tyrant, but more importantly, he's a tyrant that threatens us by his connections to terrorism and his weapons of mass destruction. And there are quite a few terrorists that died in some of those strikes up north the other night. So that's part of what we're accomplishing. But we're still chasing terrorists in Afghanistan. We're still finding evidence in Pakistan or in the Philippines that's leading us to terrorists who are planning attacks on the United States. This is a global war. It's going to go on for some time. And everybody who's participating in it, whether they're on the front lines in Iraq, whether they're working the mountains in Afghanistan, whether they're doing civil action in the Philippines, whether they're back here somewhere in the United States spending hours working over the complex intelligence that we're collecting, it's all part of a single effort that really is government-wide. We've had some great successes by our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, but a lot of those successes would not have been possible without the work that the military is doing.

So don't think that it's only Operation Iraqi Freedom that has the Secretary's attention. Every morning when he's briefed by General Franks there's a briefing on Afghanistan and there's a briefing on other aspects of the war. And even as we're doing all of that we're getting briefed by Admiral Fargo on the situation in the Philippines, the situation in Korea.

Some people say why does this country still have such a big defense budget? The answer is because we have big responsibilities. We have a lot of people, fortunately, who are willing to volunteer to serve in our military to carry out those responsibilities.

I know, speaking for the President and the Secretary and for myself personally, we are truly grateful for their service and frankly honored to be part of this great defense team.

Q: One final question. I know a lot of planning has gone into this operation. What surprises you the most so far?

Wolfowitz: What surprises me the most. Well, I can't -- What I'm most pleased about is that I believe, as I said earlier, that General Franks was able, with a lot of careful planning and a lot of careful work with Secretary Rumsfeld and the President, to develop a plan that had so much flexibility built into it that we could respond in the space of a couple of hours to a high priority target of opportunity. But more importantly, that we could reverse Saddam's expectations in such a way that I think we, it remains to be seen, I think we achieved a significant measure of surprise at a time when everybody said it was impossible. We'd assembled 200,000 troops on his borders, we had six months of debate in the UN, we've been talking about this issue for over a year. In fact by some counts we've been at this issue for five years or 12 years. Yet when the final moment actually came, an enormous degree of operational and tactical surprise was achieved. Hopefully that saved some lives.

Q: Mr. Secretary, those are all the questions I have. Are there any other messages that you would like to get out to the troops?

Wolfowitz: I just read last night something that moved me a lot and if I could -- if you'll indulge me.

Q: Please.

Wolfowitz: We have recruited a number of Iraqis, most of them are Iraqi-Americans but not all, to join what we call the Free Iraq Forces to help our troops when they get into Iraq. A number have already been trained in Hungary and are in the region now with our troops. They did interviews when they finished the training in Hungary and I just love one of the questions the exit interviewer asked. "Tell me about the training. Was it what you expected?" This Iraqi named David said, "I am overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed by these beautiful young men and womens" -- his English wasn't perfect -- "these beautiful young men and womens who left their loved ones in the United States and they came here to train me. I feel so small compared to what they're doing."

Then he went on, the interviewer asked him what he thought about the demonstrators. He asked, "What would you tell the demonstrators?" David said, "Well, I would tell them I'm proud of you. That's what democracy is all about. That's what freedom is all about. Free, you can talk, you can do anything you want to do. But the people of Iraq cannot do it. Where you been," same English, "when Saddam Hussein killed 100,000 Kurds? Where you been when he killed a million Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi civilians? Where you been when he occupied Kuwait and killed over a thousand Kuwaitis? Why nobody says nothing?"

Then he says, "If Saddam Hussein were here now I would tell him what comes around goes around. Now your time to go. Your time is up. Now we're 21st Century. No room for dictators."

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I appreciate your time.

Wolfowitz: Thank you.