Q: Now joining us with the latest on the war and on plans for peace is a man with key roles in shaping war policy and assembling a post-war interim government, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
Secretary, let's first stop with an obvious question. For all intents and purposes, has the regime already fallen in Baghdad?
Wolfowitz: No, but it's on its way out, there's simply no question about it. We're barely two weeks into -- we're barely past two weeks of this war and already we've made enormous progress and our troops are on the outside of Baghdad, control Baghdad International Airport. The feared Republican Guard have suffered enormous losses, and it's clear where the end is. It's a shame that this brutal regime continues to send young men out to die in -- for a lost cause, a hopeless cause, but the end of this regime is here.
Q: So, who is in control of Baghdad right now?
Wolfowitz: I suppose you'd have to say the regime still controls large sections of Baghdad, but the important point is -- and since the whole world is watching, I hope the Iraqi people realize that this evil leader and his regime are not going to survive this time. There's a sort of fear that he's come back so many times before, but he's not going to make it this time.
Q: There's an argument we've heard in recent days that it doesn't really matter whether he's alive or dead -- I'll show you a brief clip of Secretary of State Colin Powell making the point recently about Saddam Hussein.
[Begin video clip.]
Secretary of State Colin Powell: Whether he is there at the end or not, or found or not, is almost irrelevant.
[End video clip.]
Q: Is that the case? A lot of people in Iraq seem reluctant at this point to join in with coalition forces precisely because they believe that Saddam is almost literally bulletproof, and if they don't have evidence that he's dead, they figure that he's going to come back and torture them again.
Wolfowitz: Well, it isn't just Saddam personally. Bear in mind it's the several thousand people -- whether you want to call them death squads or execution squads -- that he's planted, especially in cities like Basra where the population hates him, to make sure that people get killed quickly if they even express a contrary opinion. So, at some point that whole mechanism of terror is going to collapse --
Q: But Saddam still is the key figure. He is the one, that unless there's some evidence that he's been taken out, there's still going to be a problem.
Wolfowitz: We'll see. I mean, when the fear goes away, we'll know that the regime is gone. And maybe some remnants of them will be hiding in a tunnel somewhere, but this mechanism of fear has to be dismantled.
Q: There are reports that some key leaders have been fleeing Baghdad in various directions. Some may be headed toward Iran. Are we permitting them simply to filter out? Is the government happy to see them go away, or is it important to apprehend them?
Wolfowitz: Oh, no, we want to get as many of these people as we can. But, obviously, it's a big country. It's -- the border you mentioned is a wild one. I don't think, frankly, though they're going to flee to Iran as much as they might go in a different direction.
Q: Like Syria?
Q: What do you make of the Syrians right now?
Wolfowitz: They should understand that it's time to do the right thing.
Q: In other words, stop shipping weapons, close their borders, no longer permit fighters to make their way into Iraq?
Wolfowitz: All of the above.
Q: Deputy -- I mean Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made the same point about a week ago. Has it made any difference?
Wolfowitz: I wouldn't -- you know, it's hard -- we're trying to observe things, I guess you could say through a glass darkly. Intelligence sources don't suggest a change of behavior yet, no.
Q: Do they understand that in fact they're risking much bigger trouble with us?
Wolfowitz: I hope they understand. It's a strange regime. You know, it's a pretty brutal one in itself. I don't know what game they're playing, but they need to stop.
Q: Well, they argue that they figure they're next, they might as well go ahead and resist right now. Would you like to see a regime change in Damascus?
Wolfowitz: Our focus right now is on getting rid of this regime in Baghdad, that for 12 years really has been continuing the war--in their minds that never ended--and to free the Iraqi people from -- one of the most talented people in the Arab world, by the way, and they've suffered so long under this regime. I think there is a real hope that what's going to happen after the liberation of Iraq is the Iraqi people are going to have a chance to show the whole world what Arabs are capable of.
Q: And do you think that may have ramifications elsewhere, such as Syria and Iran?
Wolfowitz: It can have the ramifications everywhere. There's this sort of silly notion that there's a kind of domino theory and it goes from one country to the next country. That's not how it works. But, you know, in a funny way, if you go back and look at Asia, you will discover that the example of Japan, even in countries that had bitter memories of the Japanese, inspired many countries in East Asia to realize that they could master a free market economy, that they could master democracy. It spread to the Philippines. It spread to Korea. It spread to Taiwan. Democracy is on the march in Asia, and it would be nice to see it -- a slow march -- I mean, it's not going to happen over night. It's been 20 years, actually, since the Philippines joined Japan as the second democracy in East Asia.
Q: So, let's switch to one other battlefield thing, and then I want to get to post-war reconstruction. Weapons of mass destruction, there's been a lot of talk about it. To the best of your knowledge, has anybody found any actual weapons of mass destruction so far on the battlefield?
Wolfowitz: Let's be clear -- these incredible young men and women of ours are fighting a very tough fight. On -- yesterday, I was with some wounded Marines out at Bethesda Naval Hospital -- their spirit is fantastic, by the way. I mean, these -- it just makes you proud to be an American. They're wonderful. And -- but they -- they're in very tough fights out there. They have got to focus on winning this war. If they come across evidence of weapons of mass destruction, obviously we're interested, but right now our goal is to get control of the country, to get rid of this evil regime, and then --
Q: So, that's a secondary job, you'll look for those afterwards?
Wolfowitz: And in fact, bear in mind we've said all along the key to finding these things is to get the people who know about it in circumstances where they're no longer fearful, intimidated, and let them tell us. And we aren't yet at that point. In fact, most of those people are probably collected in places where they're intimidated and terrorized.
Q: In other words, they've been rounded up?
Wolfowitz: We suspect so, yes.
Q: Saddam Hussein -- there is a tape that came out the other day purporting to show him dealing with rapturous fellow Iraqis on the streets of Baghdad. When you look at a tape like that, what do you think?
Wolfowitz: Well, I think there's -- maybe it will enter the annals of history like those old Romans who used to read chicken entrails, the people who try to figure out whether this is him or it isn't him. The one thing I know is whatever is on that tape, this regime is finished, and he is finished.
Q: So, after he is finished, we start talking about interim governments, and you are helping put that together. First, give us a sense of the time and the place. There are reports that as soon as next week there may be an attempt to put on Iraqi soil Iraqi citizens and some Iraqi expatriates to start constituting an interim authority? True?
Wolfowitz: Well, let's -- I think it may help to put all of this in a little bit of context. There are two principles here, and two different things, actually, that we need to balance. First of all, we need to balance the need to have effective administration from day one. People need to have food and water and medicine, and the sewage has to work, the hospitals need to work. That's going to be the responsibility for the -- of the coalition, at least initially, and we've got to make sure that works or we're going to have problems and the people of Iraq will suffer. The other principle, though, is that we're not there to run the country, we're there to hand it over to Iraqis. So we need to set up a process, and this interim authority is a bridge to that process that creates a legitimate government of Iraq.
The second thing we have to balance is that while millions of Iraqis have been struggling for freedom, either in northern Iraq or living abroad for the last 10 years or more, some 20 million or more Iraqis have been living under this regime of terror, and they have to have a chance to express themselves. You can't decide what the future government of Iraq will be when 20 million or more people can't say what they think.
Q: Nevertheless, there has to be, as you said, an interim authority, somebody there to be a placeholder until the Iraqis are free and capable of electing public officials. So, do you anticipate having an Iraqi interim authority on the ground somewhere in Iraq within the next week or so?
Wolfowitz: I can't give you a time. I mean, it's -- the interim authority is really a bridge from the coalition administration that's going to start to ultimately a legitimate and competent government for Iraq. And it's going to depend a lot on how people are able to come out from inside the country to express themselves, how able the Iraqis are to come together. But it's an important point. I mean, we know that democracy means debate and division, and we also know that at the end of the day, in a functioning democracy like ours, people come together after all the debate and division. The Iraqis need to be able to do the same thing, and when they reach that point, we'll move forward.
Q: There is not a long history in recent years of democracy in Iraq, and many of these people have no residual notion how it works. We saw in East Germany it took quite a while for people to get accustomed again to any kind of freedom -- that's a Westernized nation. What makes you confident that democracy can take hold in a nation that has been more or less under the thrall of Ba'athist dictatorships for more than 40 years and does not have the kind of history that other nations have?
Wolfowitz: I don't think you can be confident. I think cautiously optimistic might be the right word. But look, we've had a -- I was going to use the word "experiment," it's not an experiment -- we've had an experience for the last 12 years in northern Iraq where Saddam Hussein's forces were pushed out of that part of the country in early April of 1991 by a coalition force that included U.S. and British and several other European countries contributed. That force left, I believe, on September 1st, 1991, and the people of northern Iraq have been running their own affairs reasonably successfully for 12 years now.
Q: Are you confident that those northern Iraqis, primary Kurds, will willingly join in a national Iraqi government and will not try in their own ways to create a greater Kurdistan?
Wolfowitz: You know, I've met quite a few of those leaders, including Kurdish leaders, and it was inspire -- there's one particularly inspirational character named Barhim Salih, who is the prime minister --
Q: Right. He's been in this studio many times.
Wolfowitz: Okay, well you know him. He lived in this country for a long time. He went back to very dangerous circumstances voluntarily. In fact, he's been the victim -- the target of at least one assassination attempt. And he said to me, in pretty much these words, I know the world won't let us have an independent country, so why can't I, as a Kurd, be a prime minister of a unified Iraq? That's the kind of attitude I think that will pull the country together.
Q: Now, the role of the United Nations in all this, after we do reconstruction -- a couple of our allies, in fact, I'm going to read some quotes, we'll start with Dominique de Villepin, who is the French foreign minister. He says, "The United Nations must play a central role in the settlement of the Iraqi crisis. The United Nations must exercise this role from now own." And also Gerhard Schroeder, the chancellor of Germany, says, "It is vital that reconstruction is organized under the auspices of the United Nations."
Wolfowitz: The U.N. has an important role to play. It -- particularly in the functionally agencies that the U.N. has run so successfully. And also, bear in mind that reconstruction of Iraq I think is going to be one of the most important projects for the international community in many years, and the U.N. can be a mechanism for bringing that assistance to the Iraqi people. But our goal has got to be to transfer authority and the operation of government as quickly as possible, not to some other external authority but to the Iraqi people themselves.
Q: So, the coalition runs the operation until it gets handed off to the Iraqi people?
Wolfowitz: With an important role for the U.N. to play in facilitating that.
Q: Will French, Russian and Germany companies have the opportunity to bid for contracts in rebuilding Iraq?
Wolfowitz: You know, I think those are decisions that we hope will be made sooner rather than later by a legitimate Iraqi authority.
Q: So you think it is going to be possible to hand over power to an Iraqi authority -- how soon? I know you hate timetables, but --
Wolfowitz: I do hate timetables --
Q: -- you're talking very optimistically here about what appears to be a fairly short period of time -- six months, a year?
Wolfowitz: No, I said six months is what happened in northern Iraq.
Wolfowitz: This is a more complicated situation. It probably will take more time than that.
Q: Kanan Makiya has said that Iraq ought to be a military-free zone. One thinks maybe of Germany after World War II or even Japan. Do you agree?
Wolfowitz: I think the whole subject of the defense of Iraq, which is going to be important -- every country needs to defend itself, and if you live in that neighborhood, you need some defense -- but it needs to be rethought in a very different way. There were many years where we thought the key to stability in the Persian Gulf was to balance two large countries to see which one -- keep one from being overly strong. I think there's a different way to achieve balance --
Q: So, you'd --
Wolfowitz: -- with lower levels of force, and I think Kanan Makiya is on to basically the right idea.
Q: Do you see a presence of the U.S. military as there was in Germany, still is in Germany, to try to create stability and peace there in the region?
Wolfowitz: It's a possibility, but I think it's too soon to say what those arrangements will be. Again, many of these issues have got to be decided in partnership with an Iraqi government that represents the Iraqi people. And we need to get there so that we can make those decisions in partnership with them.
Q: Final question. Let me draw you into a political controversy. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, running for president, is fond of a line -- I'm going to read to you one of his more recent iterations. He says, "What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States." That has a lot Republicans ticked off that -- the use of Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush in the same sentence. What do you think?
Wolfowitz: Well, I think that President Bush has been a fantastic leader. He has kept --
Q: I know you think President Bush is great. I want to ask about your opinion of John Kerry?
Wolfowitz: We don't do politics in the Defense Department.
Q: I tried to get him to bite. Okay. Paul Wolfowitz, thanks for joining us.
Wolfowitz: Nice to be here.
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