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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with 60 Minutes II

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
April 01, 2003

Q: You have U.S. officials, you also have Iraqis in [...tape skip...] to bring in Iraqi exiles.

Wolfowitz: First of all, the word exile. I call them, in many cases these are Iraqi-Americans. These are American citizens of Iraqi origin or at least Iraqis who have been living here for a long time. They're a unique asset. They are people who grew up under tyranny and now live in freedom. They understand free institutions. They demonstrate what I believe is true, which is that free institutions are not the property of one culture or one ethnic group but they're really a kind of universal thing. And they potentially, I think, are a real bridge. They're a bridge between the country they came from and the country they are now citizens of. They're a bridge in a way between two cultures. I guess I'd like to say they're a bridge between Iraq's brutal and horrible past and its more hopeful future. They have skills and understanding that are unique to their circumstances.

Q: How important are they to the rebuilding effort once the war is over?

Wolfowitz: They're very important. They're even important to the war effort.

There was a dramatic example the other day of a member of the Free Iraqi Forces which would mean somebody who had been recruited here in the United States, or in Europe, who was attached to an Army Civil Affairs unit. There were these two suicide bombers in Um Qasr who had thought better of their task but didn't know how to surrender. They heard an Arabic speaker, Iraqi speaker actually, because there are dialects of Arabic attached to this American unit. They came forward and they said we don't want to do this. How do we turn ourselves in? It was dramatic.

Another one of these folks found the documents of the Ba'th party headquarters in An Nasiriyah. So they're contributing right now, but --

Q: Because they're embedded with the U.S.?

Wolfowitz: They're embedded with some G units. But the bigger role is obviously going to be in the post-Saddam era. That's when we're going to try to be working with the Iraqis to help them build free institutions, and these are people who understand free institutions and, under Iraq, in a way that nobody who's not an Iraqi will ever understand it.

Q: What's the mandate for the exiles that are going back in after --

Wolfowitz: You keep calling them exiles.

Q: I know. But they refer to themselves as well.

Wolfowitz: And it's true. I believe many of them have left a large part of their heart in Iraq and I wouldn't be surprised if some would say, "I became an American citizen but Iraq is the country I'd like to live in now." So we're not trying to draw sharp distinctions.

It's a little hard to use the word mandate. There's a lot of feeling our way here. There are really, I think, three key principles that guide us. Number one, that the goal is an Iraq that stands on its own feet and that governs itself in freedom and in unity and with respect for the rights of all its citizens. We'd like to get to that goal as quickly as possible.

The second principle is you can't get to that goal overnight. Among other things, you can't sit abroad -- even if you're an Iraqi originally, certainly if you're an American -- and write a blueprint for how Iraq should be governed and still talk about self-government. I don't know, two-thirds of the population are still not free to express what they think. So we're going to have to feel our way.

The third principle is that there's a huge responsibility while we're feeling our way, to make sure that people have food and water and electricity and jobs, and we want to share that responsibility as widely as possible. But we want to make sure that gets done.

So we're going to be working our way from trying to have a functioning administration, into, as rapidly as possible, Iraqi free self-government. If anyone thinks you can write a blueprint for that they've never thought about it for more than five minutes. It's hard. It's going to be--they love this phrase in bureaucracy--a work in progress.

Q: Do they have enough time? Some of them have just come together over the last two or three weeks?

Wolfowitz: We're doing a lot in a hurry. It's the nature of -- This is an event of just enormous, dramatic, rapid change, and a lot of things are happening quickly, and a lot more will happen quickly. But I think they are in a position, really in teamwork with us. They're very conscious of their own independence, I would say. These are people for the most part-- and we're not again trying to write exact rules--who are not there representing a particular Iraqi political faction. They're on their own in their own personal capacity. They want that independence to also be in relation to--they don't want to be seen as the instruments of a new colonial power. We don't want them to be that, and we don't want to be a new colonial power. So I think teamwork and idealism, I would say, are the things that characterize our relationship with them.

Q: Idealism.

Wolfowitz: Because these are people we really believe understand what this country is about and therefore understand what we'd really like to see in Iraq. That's priceless.

Q: When you went to Dearborn last month for a Town Hall meeting, what are the key points that you came back to Washington with? What did they tell you?

Wolfowitz: I'd say three things. First of all, overwhelmingly, that they and the families with whom they're still in touch back in Iraq all desperately want to be free. All desperately want to be rid of this horrible tyrant. There was no dissent on that point whatsoever.

The second thing to me--and I've been reading horror stories about Iraq and hearing horror stories about Iraq for years--it kind of amazed me that you can still be surprised. You can still find one after another, just heart-rending and sometimes brutality that you know they're capable of, but you couldn't quite imagine it. Every one of them had a story that would break your heart.

But the surprising thing was afterwards they said but you didn't hear the worst of it. Because number one, a lot of people are still afraid to talk. I said even here in the United States? Oh, yes. They're afraid that the long arm of the regime will get them or get their families back in Iraq.

The second thing was the one thing no one will really talk openly about is, the systematic use of rape as an instrument of terror, because it's such a humiliating subject.

Q: So you came back feeling that they wanted the United States to go in and free the Iraqi people.

Wolfowitz: And the third point, which may be the most important apropos the situation we're in right now, was enormous skepticism that we were serious.

Q: Because they weren't shy about saying that the United States had let them down in 1991.

Wolfowitz: And I know that feeling is there. Even I was surprised at how strong it was.

I know how serious this President is, and I know what he's committed to, and I know how wonderful our troops are and they're not going to stop until they've won.

Q: What promises did you give them? What did you say that made them willing to trust the U.S.?

Wolfowitz: Remember, this was still a point where the President hadn't yet decided to give up on the diplomatic process. But I did say if it comes to the use of force there is no question that we're not going to stop until this regime is gone. This is a President who understands the importance of that and if it starts it will end with his demise. In fact if you would just permit me, I would like, if your listeners will bear with me, I think what the President said just yesterday in Philadelphia is a more eloquent version of what I told them he thinks--which is he said, "We're coming with a mighty force to end the reign of your oppressors. We're coming to bring the food, the medicine, and a better life. And we will not stop, we will not relent, until your country is free."

Q: That might, the Iraqi people might not hear that the same way right now after we've bombed them.

Wolfowitz: Look, I think they understand that far more Iraqis are being killed even today by this regime than by our bombing. And I think they understand after what they've been through for 30 years that you're not going to get rid of this brutal dictator in a clean and antiseptic way.

I think sure, there are going to be some Iraqis who are attached to this regime who don't want to see us come. I think for most Iraqis the real question is are you serious, are you really going to get rid of him. And when you've gotten rid of him are you going to stay at least long enough to make sure that the execution squads that he's distributed so liberally all over the country won't take us out afterwards.

Q: The U.S. is committed to getting in, getting the job done, getting out. How long are we talking about? Are we talking months? Are we talking years?

Wolfowitz: I think the President has said it precisely. We'll stay as long as it takes and not a day longer. And anyone who thinks they can predict that is making a mistake.

I do think the more rapidly we move to handing over responsibility to people the more likely it is to be successful.

Q: Will you be handing over the responsibility to this group that's coming from the United States with the U.S. government?

Wolfowitz: No. They'll be part of a process that will ultimately hand over responsibility to a government that represents all the people of Iraq, and remember, two-thirds of those people have no way of expressing their real views right now. So we can't decide in advance how that's going to be.

Q: So the people who are coming from the United States right now are there temporarily.

Wolfowitz: Right. Well, they're free to decide to stay if they want to, the Iraqis.

Q: But their contract with you is, it says right now you're there temporarily.

Wolfowitz: Temporarily. And maybe we'll have a series of temporary periods, but of all the various peacekeeping exercises that we've been involved in over the last 15 years, the one that has been most successful and least attended to, maybe because it was successful, was in April 1, 1991, a month after the Gulf War ended. We went into Northern Iraq in what was known as Operation Provide Comfort, to provide a haven for the Kurdish refugees--two million of them that were crowding the Turkish border, dying of cold and starvation. And six months later, September 1, 1991, we left completely. We didn't leave peacekeepers behind. Those poor people were still under the same UN sanctions that applied to the rest of the country. They've done a pretty fair job of governing themselves in those 12 years.

Now it's a simpler--it's just a piece of the country, it's rudimentary in a way, so I'm not trying to say six months is our goal. But I think rapidly letting people tend to their own affairs is the best way to build responsibility.

Q: How dangerous a mission is this for the Iraqis who are going from the United States? They're going in with support, with provisions from the United States government, from the same people who have just been bombing them. Is this causing them to risk their lives going back in?

Wolfowitz: You mean because they're going to be greeted with hostility?

Q: Will they be welcomed or will they be rejected?

Wolfowitz: I imagine they will be welcomed. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if they are greeted as part of the liberation effort.

We've worked very hard to send a message that this is not a war of occupation. It's a war of liberation. There are incredible young American men and women who are fighting this war, and fighting it with such care to spare Iraqi lives. They are heroic and incredibly professional and they're incredibly humane.

Q: But what if the Iraqi people don't view this as a liberation because of the bombing? Because of the destruction?

Wolfowitz: It's true, almost anything can happen. That I find very unlikely.

What I think is much more likely--and we've found this elsewhere in the Middle East--was that there are going to be some elements who are dissatisfied. There will be some elements coming in from other countries trying to kill Americans. It can be a dangerous place when you have people who are willing to blow themselves up to kill Americans. Some of these people may try to kill Iraqis. But I think there's every reason to think that huge numbers of the Iraqi population are going to welcome these people and the coalition forces that are accomppanying them, provided we don't overstay our welcome, provided we mean what we say about handing things back over to the Iraqis. That's going to be very important.

Q: What is it that the Iraqi exiles are bringing in with them that makes them so important to this?

Wolfowitz: Everyone is important to this effort including first and foremost--and I'm going to say it again-- those brave American, British and Australian soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines who are fighting this war. But I think what you mean is what's unique about these people. I think the answer is, first of all, many of them have extraordinarily high levels of professional skills, all kinds of technical subjects. But much more than their technical knowledge, which is impressive, is their knowledge of our society and their knowledge of free institutions, and their knowledge, on the other hand, of Iraq and Iraq's problems.

The free institutions of Iraq--and I am reasonably hopeful that we'll build free institutions--are going to be Iraqi. They're not going to be British or American or Japanese or Korean.

If you look at the many varieties of democracy around the world you'll find that it's not a one size fits all. And yet the basic principle, the basic human rights that we talk about in the Declaration of Independence, I think are universal.

Q: Prioritize their assignment. Is it to get the roads rebuilt? Health ministries. What --

Wolfowitz: All the above. We're going to have so many priorities when we get there. And I think different people --

Q: But you want to get them started rebuilding what right away?

Wolfowitz: I think there are two different kinds of tasks and I think we're going to find some of them more useful in one, some in the other.

There are the immediate tasks of making sure that the normal functions of administration I think, of water and roads and -- start with food, water and medicine. Maybe electricity is next after that. By the way, it's not going to be as bad, I believe, as some people fear, because we have been extremely successful in avoiding destruction of the infrastructure and we've gone to great care for exactly that reason, to avoid it.

Q: But has the bombing gone from shock and awe to more comprehensive taking out of the infrastructure at this point?

Wolfowitz: No, and I don't care for that phrase that you just used --

Q: Shock and awe?

Wolfowitz: It has always been targeted on the key pillars of the regime, its command and control, its long range strike systems like its missiles, the Special Republican Guards, the intelligence agencies, and increasingly now on those ground forces that are [inaudible] our people. We never targeted infrastructure. We've gone to great lengths to avoid it. In fact, in contrast to 1991, when there was some deliberate targeting of those functions that had both a military and a civilian application.

But the other task is to work with the various disparate Iraqi groups. Some of them outside the country, and more and more will be from inside the country, to help design a process that leads to a free and representative government. It's a process, someone, in fact it was George Schultz really, whom I once worked for, who said that that kind of process is more like tending a garden than building a house. You don't go buy a blueprint. You create conditions in which plants can grow. You clear out the weeds and you discover what it turns into.

Q: Someone in the Defense Department said that this is unproven and unprecedented. Is this a big experiment?

Wolfowitz: Let's come back to why we're in this. We're in this because we're dealing with a regime that threatens Americans and we need to get rid of that threat. That's why young Americans are risking their lives.

I believe it is important also, and helpful that in undertaking that activity, we don't have to fight a whole country. It's not a whole country that hates Americans. It's not a whole country that insists on having weapons of mass destruction and terrorists. It's a regime which in fact holds that country hostage.

Q: But in taking --

Wolfowitz: So we didn't do this in order to conduct an experiment. We did this in order to move a threat.

Q: No, but I'm saying the experiment is taking in the Iraqis. The Iraqi-Americans. Is that unproven and unprecedented to take in Iraqi-Americans?

Wolfowitz: Every case is new. But I would say if you look at the history of the second half of the 20th Century, over and over again, in many different ways, the United States worked with people to create free institutions. My own most formative experience in a way was with working with President Reagan and Secretary Schultz in the 1980s, in supporting the Filipino people in getting rid of Ferdinand Marcos and the transition to democracy there. We had a not dissimilar experience a few years later in Korea. And everyone knows these huge examples of Germany and Japan. But those are specific cases of whole countries that were defeated. I think they're not typical.

I think what we've seen in Central and Eastern Europe is the defeat of the Soviet Empire and a whole range of very different countries--from Romania with an experience that's almost as black as Iraq's, to Poland which had free institutions before the Soviets invaded. Each one in a different way has managed to build free institutions, and the United States has done a lot to assist them.

Now this is a bigger challenge than most of those, but it's not, I believe, unprecedented.

Q: Worst case scenario, though. The bombing goes on longer, the campaign goes on longer than planned. The Iraqi-Americans still go in. Isn't this whole plan based on the Iraqi people seeing the U.S. as liberators?

Wolfowitz: I think the whole plan is based on the idea that we have a threat there which we have to remove. And when we remove that threat we want the Iraqis to form their own government. And we don't want to be there forever. We'll have to see how it works.

It really is not based on their view of us. It's based on their view of them. We'll have to see what they're capable of.

Q: But these people are going in and they're -- When you see them in their office they have their sign set up, this is the Ministry of Health, this is the Ministry of Justice. They're really planning to go in and work on the ground in these different ministries. They are going to be, in effect, the temporary government there aren't they?

Wolfowitz: No, they'll be working in teamwork with Jay Garner's operation which we call the Coalition Provisional Administration I believe is the --

Q: But it's going to be a temporary government, at least temporarily --

Wolfowitz: Administration.

Q: An administration of Americans and Iraqis from around the world who have been in exile over the last few years.

Wolfowitz: Look, at the basic function of delivering water and electricity and medicine and food, it's got to be done. I don't think anybody's going to view that as horribly controversial. In fact I think the only problem we'll have is if we can't deliver those things. That's the basis.

With respect to what kind of government follows from that, that is going to--ultimately to be successful has to be an Iraqi decision. But I can't accept the proposition that seems to underlie the widespread pessimism, that suggests that the only way this country can be governed is with a dictator as brutal as Saddam Hussein. There's got to be a better answer.

Q: Will a government, an administration that's run by expatriates and exiles have legitimacy in Iraq and also abroad?

Wolfowitz: We're not there -- Our legitimacy, such as it is, comes from having acted in our own self defense to remove a threat to us. I think our initial legitimacy will come from our success in meeting the basic needs of the population. But the, ultimately, legitimacy of government in Iraq has to come from its own people. That's I suppose one of the important qualities that Iraqi-Americans or Iraqis living abroad bring, is that they are Iraqis at the end of the day. If they decide to stay they can stay. They can express opinions on issues as Iraqis and not just as foreigners. So that's going to be important.

Q: And you think they will be accepted?

Wolfowitz: Look, let's recognize, the heart of democracy is controversy and debate and disagreement. And will there be disagreements about almost everything? I'm sure there will be. What I hope there will also be is consensus.

It was interesting to me in a little microcosm. When I went to Dearborn--I only learned this later--but this predictable, I suppose predictable, fighting took place, not fighting, arguing about who is going to get the credit for having invited the Deputy Secretary of Defense here? Who is going to run this meeting? As happens in all kinds of community organizations in this country there were at least 16 different candidates who had a claim. And someone finally basically stood up and said look, if we continue this way we're not going to have this event and this event is important to us as people who want to see a better future for our country. They managed to -- I didn't see any of those disagreements. By the time I got there it was all settled out.

Now if that's a microcosm of how people can fight and argue and debate as we know in this country and still come to some decisions that are accepted broadly at the end of the day, I think that's what democracy is largely about.

Q: Let me ask you quickly about the money. $75 million for the war and there's -- I'm sorry, $75 billion for the war, $2.5 billion for rebuilding. Is that enough?

Wolfowitz: First of all the numbers aren't quite right, but in the big number which is in the supplemental --

Voice: [Inaudible]

Wolfowitz: I'll just do it real quickly.

Any numbers you've heard about the costs of rebuilding Iraq are inevitably preliminary. And the numbers that are in the Congress are numbers that relate to amounts that we think we need to get through the end of the fiscal year.

But when it comes to rebuilding Iraq the important thing to remember is this is not a bill that needs to be paid by the United States. There are a lot of sources of help, and most importantly -- unlike Afghanistan, unlike Somalia, unlike Bosnia and Kosovo and most of the other cases that you can mention -- Iraq has enormous resources of its own. It has natural resources wealth and it has incredible human resources wealth. And ultimately it's a country that will, I think, fund its own reconstruction.

Q: When will they go in? When do you know it's time to take the Iraqi exiles in?

Wolfowitz: We don't discuss future operations.

Q: Is it before the war is over? Is it once the --

Wolfowitz: It's going to be a decision that's going to have to be made based on how things progress. There are parts of Iraq already, both in the north and now increasingly in the south, where one could almost begin talking about liberated zones. But it's going to have to be a decision made by General Franks as to when he's ready to start in any part of the country moving to a post-Saddam civil reconstruction.

Q: So they're on call.

Wolfowitz: On call.

Q: Once Saddam's forces take off their uniforms and they slip in to the crowd, how difficult will it be to root them out? The Iraqi-Americans we're talking about, their roots are deep.

Wolfowitz: We'll have to see, but I suspect a lot of them are going to want to run and hide because I think their neighbors will be rooting them out for us.

Q: Will it be difficult to make sure that they don't wreck the peace and wreck this new democracy that's being born?

Wolfowitz: Absolutely.

Q: It will be difficult.

Wolfowitz: Oh, I thought you said important.

It will be important to make sure they don't wreck it. I hope it's not going to be difficult. I think one of the challenges that Iraq will face like most other countries that have gone through transitions as dramatic as this is how do you deal with crimes [defense]. We have everything from South Africa's dramatic example of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to other places where they dealt more brutally or less perfectly.

Again, these are decisions that we can have an opinion about, but ultimately Iraqis will make those decisions. They have to.

Q: Okay.

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