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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Egyptian TV

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
April 16, 2003
Q:  Did the United States underestimate the anarchy that would occur in Iraq? You knew from the historical examples of Panama and Sarajevo that chaos and anarchy could happen, but you didn't seem to be prepared for that in Iraq.

           Wolfowitz:  Let me answer the question, but let me step back first. We wouldn't be doing what we're doing at all if there weren't a threat to our country and the world that  came from that tyrant and that's why we put young American men and women's lives at risk. But it's clear now I think to the whole world that we were also acting on behalf of the Iraqi people and that this was a war that ultimately liberated the Iraqi people. It was not a war against them.  It was only a war against that regime, and it was a terrible regime and it's good riddance.

            In the course of doing that, the emphasis of General Franks' plan was on moving with speed. I think if the military historians go back and look at this they will probably say there are a lot of things that didn't happen because of the speed with which we acted.

 

            There was a lot of fear that, for example, the oilfields, which are the patrimony of the people of Iraq, would have been destroyed in an absolute environmental catastrophe. That didn't happen.

 

            There was a fear that the Saddam regime would undertake some action against Israel that would turn this into an Arab-Israeli war. That didn't happen.

 

            There was a fear that he'd use chemical or biological weapons against our forces or against his own people. That didn't happen.

 

            I can give you a list of things we really worried about that didn't happen and I think in large measure you will find because of the speed with which we moved. Now that speed also meant that certain things couldn't be taken care of right away. The looting is something that is a great loss, but we are stabilizing the situation. The Iraqi people are coming forward to help. We're finding in most places where there's a small coalition presence the Iraqi people begin to organize their own neighborhoods, their own people, to calm things down. We're going to be taking active efforts to recover as much as we can, especially of those things that were taken from hospitals or museum or things that belong to the Iraqi people.

 

            Q:  The view is, the perception is, that the military has this looting, they are looking at this looting and the state of chaos in a different way from what the politicians are seeing this picture. Because the military think the problem of the looting and the chaos is a problem, but not a threat.

 

            Wolfowitz:  Oh, no. I think they understand that.  For one thing, our military is a democratic military that takes guidance from its civilian authorities and they understand. But let's be fair. They're still fighting a war. There are still pockets of resistance. There are still people actively trying to kill our people. There is a great deal of work that needs to be done also in terms of catching some of the criminal elements of this regime before they flee the country.

 

            So that force is very busy. We're concerned also up in the north, where we didn't have a large force in the beginning. We want to prevent any kind of ethnic violence between the Kurds and the Turks and the Arabs and some of those two big northern cities. So there's a lot of work to do and it's not a lack of concern or a lack of interest. We do want to rely as much as we can on local people and I think they're coming forward.

 

            Q:  Yes, but CentCom had already given statements. They said that, General Brooks was saying that the U.S. military forces there are not there to do the police force, it's not going to be used as a police force. So is it that the military disdain any non-combat operations?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Oh, no. I think it's partly when you think of how do you deal with civil order in a large country, and it's an Arab country. I don't need to tell you that. Or it's certainly predominantly Arab.

 

            People don't like to see foreign troops policing their neighborhoods. They want to police their neighborhoods themselves.

 

            As I said, we find that once we get in there with a small military force, the local people seem to organize themselves quite well to do those jobs.  And I think that's what General Brooks is referring to.

 

            Look, our real goal, increasingly now, is to develop stability. Our most important strategic objective in this phase is going to be to stabilize the situation in Iraq so that basic services can be delivered to the Iraqi people and so they can begin to create their own government.

 

            You might say that the poor people of Iraq have been delivered from tyranny and will shortly be given the power to decide their own destiny. Those aren't my words, actually. I took them from the Pakistan Daily Times of two days ago. I think that's a correct description.

 

            Q:  Dr. Wolfowitz, wouldn't you say that at this point when you need a certain police force to be taking care of the security in Iraq, because those Iraqis, as much as they need to be free, they need to feel secure as well. Wouldn't you think it is where the United Nations should be stepping in and to the job that they've been doing?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I don't think it's a job that any external power is going to do very well.  And certainly I think the immediate role for anyone external -- it falls on the coalition. We do have the forces there that can help the Iraqis to do that job. But the goal really should be as quickly as possible to have them do that job. I think we had a step forward in the larger context of the meeting we had in Nasiriyah on Tuesday. For the first time ever, I think, the Iraqis -- outside of the north at least -- were able to meet freely.

 

            I'd like to show your viewers this picture which I love. It's a young Iraqi woman who's been living abroad, meeting with two sheiks from southern Iraq. It was part of a meeting where people discussed what they wanted for the future, talked about the role of Islam in a future Iraq.

 

            It was interesting that one particularly fiery Shia cleric from Nasiriyah gave a speech in which he said it's very important to keep religion separated from the government.  And a lay teacher came forward and said no, no, we're a Muslim country, Islam has to be the state religion. Those are kinds of issues that Iraqis have to decide for themselves. And I think the shape of their police force is something that, it's important -- as early as possible, as much as possible -- to have the responsibility of the local people.

 

            Q:  You talked about this meeting in Nasiriyah which took place on Tuesday, yesterday, and there was criticism, not criticism. There were demonstrations actually in Nasiriyah --

 

            Wolfowitz:  Wasn't that wonderful?  It's probably the first peaceful demonstration against anything -- protest -- that's been allowed in that country for 40 years.

 

            Q:  But my question is about the criticism --

 

            Wolfowitz:  It's real democracy.

 

            Q:  It is real democracy. It's too early to judge that now, but --

 

            Wolfowitz:  No, but the existence of peaceful protest, which has been absolutely -- I mean you know what happened to anybody who spoke out against the official line in that country for the last 40 years. That fact itself is a huge move forward.

 

            Q:  So are you happy that there were demonstrations criticizing the meeting that some have been excluded and those who were chosen to attend the meeting were basically chosen and selected by the Americans?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Well we didn't simply consult ourselves in doing it. And by the way it was a coalition group that organized it. We had an Australian representative there, a Polish representative, a U.K. representative. We've now invited the Spanish and the Czechs -- because they have field hospitals in the country -- to join. So we're trying to spread the responsibility as widely as we can.

 

            But we talked to lots of Iraqis to find out who they thought were the right people.

 

            But think about this. Suppose we had held a meeting and no one in Iraq had objected?  The only way that happens is when you have the old Saddam Hussein regime where no one is allowed to object. There are going to be differences of view.

 

            I think most of those people who are demonstrating -- this is an interesting point -- are followers of Bakir Hakim.  Bakir Hakim was invited to send representatives. He chose not to do it. He wasn't excluded from the meeting. He may have thought he should run the meeting, should control the meeting. Ahmed Chalabi also was invited --

 

            Q:  Has he been invited?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Similarly, he was invited to send representatives. We didn't want the most prominent figures in the country to come to this meeting and appear --

 

            Q:  Mid-level officials only.

 

            Wolfowitz:  Mid-level people so that it would be clear that this is a first step. It's going to take a process.

 

            I think in one respect -- look, this is a country with a very difficult culture, a very different history from ours in America. And we have to be humble about understanding what's going to work there. But something that really works here, and I think it works in a lot of other countries I've been involved with, as different as Japan or Indonesia or the Czech Republic. When you give people a chance to openly express their views and debate issues you find that some points of view have no support whatsoever. And other points of view begin to represent the important divisions of opinion. Some people when they get up and speak, everybody sits silently and listens; and other people that get up and speak, well, maybe they'll say that guy's a bad guy from the old regime, or you'll just find they have no support.

 

            It's a kind of -- democracy is a funny process. It's a disorderly process that produces a remarkable degree of order and consensus.

 

            Q:  So Dr. Wolfowitz, you seem quite elated about the fact that demonstrators were voicing their opinion for the first time in Iraq, but that's my question.

 

            Wolfowitz:  Elated is not quite the right word. But I believe it is part of a democratic process. If you believe in democracy, and I do, you have to accept that it's going to produce disagreement, including disagreement with things that you may not agree with.

 

            Q:  Would you feel the same way if a radical government was elected in Iraq?  This country is made up of 60 percent of, this country of Iraq is made up of Shia and it is quite likely maybe they will be elected to run the next government in Iraq. Would you be supportive of that government?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I think there are certain things that are essential, and I think the Iraqi people will judge it's essential. That it be a government that respects its people, that represents all of its people, that preserves Iraq as a single country, and that respects its neighbors, that doesn't abuse Kuwait or Iran or any of its neighbors.

 

            Within that range, in other words if it behaves like a responsible member of the international community and a responsible government of its people, whatever views they want to hold I think is their business.

 

            If I could give you a real-life historical example, I was involved very much 20 years ago in the transition to democracy in the Philippines. There were people here in the United States who said you know, Marcos isn't a great guy but he gives us these bases. If you have a democratic government they may throw us out of the bases. My reaction was, I'll take that chance. I'd rather have a democratic government.

 

            Well, we got a democratic government in the Philippines. They threw us out of the bases. But we have a relationship with that government -- because it really represents its people -- that we could never have with a dictator.

 

            Q:  Since you just gave this example about the Philippines, you've also served in Indonesia and --

 

            Wolfowitz:  I was there for three years. I love that country.

 

            Q:  -- and Singapore. Some of your critics were saying Dr. Wolfowitz is looking at post-war Iraq from the same rosy prism from which he saw how the transfer to democracy happened in these countries in Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.

 

            Wolfowitz:  First of all, the prism isn't rosy. I've seen problems in every one of those countries. And Indonesia, God knows, has, unfortunately, more than its share because of the terrible shape that Suharto left the country in.

 

            No, I am a realist. I don't believe you get to perfection. But I do believe -- I think it was Winston Churchill who said that democracy may not be a great system, but it's better than any of the alternatives.  It produces government that respects the people, government that has a kind of stability that dictators can't have.

 

            Q:  Dr. Wolfowitz, is there an eastern democracy and a western democracy or --

 

            Wolfowitz:  You know --

 

            Q:  -- just universal?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I think respect for individual rights, individual freedom is universal. I think the desire for those things is universal. I remember being told once upon a time that Koreans don't care about individual rights. They believe in Confucian hierarchy. That's nonsense.

           

            The same people said Korea has had no experience with democracy, which was true. But Korea now has had a functioning democracy for some 15 years, but it is a Korean democracy. Japanese democracy is uniquely Japanese. Our democracy is different from what they have in England. So I think certain principles are the same, but take the most obvious thing. You referred, 60 percent of the Iraqi population is Shia. Probably 90 percent or more is Muslim. That's going to shape the character of Iraqi democracy. But the basic respect for human rights I think, for individual liberty, for the rule of law, for equal justice under law, I think those are universal.

 

            Q:  So Dr. Wolfowitz, earlier last week in the briefing to the press center, you said the U.S. understands the Arabs are sensitive towards this issue in Iraq. Do you care about how the Arabs feel about this whole matter in Iraq?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Yes. I mean I'd say first I care how the Iraqis feel about it, including Iraqi-Arabs which is over two-thirds of the population. But I think it's also very important for the rest of the region that this be understood as a war of liberation.

                       

            Would we have preferred it be a liberation undertaken by Iraqis themselves? Absolutely. Let's not forget that actually tens of thousands of Iraqis have died fighting this horrible regime and it's one of the reasons I think that more didn't fight right now, because they weren't sure what would happen to them. They'd been let down before.

 

            But I think it's very important for the future of that important part of the world -- it is the Arab world, and even the entire Muslim world -- that this be seen as not a repeat of the 19th or 20th Century episodes of colonialism.  But that we mean it as Americans when we say we believe in people's right to determine their own future, and we don't just say that because we're the first altruists in history. We're not. We have had a wonderful experience with countries that are much better partners for us, much better allies, because they're democratic than any dictatorship could ever be.

 

            Q:  Dr. Wolfowitz, one of the concerns in the Arab world is the appointment of Jay Garner, General Jay Garner to be the civil --

 

            Wolfowitz:  Mr. Jay Garner. He retired quite a few years ago.

 

            Q:  He is retired?

 

            Wolfowitz:  He is retired, yes.

 

            Q:  But he's a general?

 

            Wolfowitz:  He was once a general.

 

            Q:  His appointment to be the civilian administrator of Iraq has raised concerns or question marks in the Arab world. They are looking at him with skepticism, although he has not started his job yet because of his affiliation to Israel. He has been in JINSA, the Jewish Institute for National Studies, and he had been pronouncing his views regarding, his pro-Israel views, that is, that hailed Israel for its exercising restraint in curbing the Palestinian Intafada.

 

            What would you say, how would you respond to that? How would you respond to that skepticism and concerns on the part of the Arab street?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I have to let Mr. Garner, and he's now Mr. Garner, answer for his own views. But I can tell you -- and I like this opportunity to tell the whole Arab world -- that this notion that we acted in Iraq to advance Israel's interests is simply not true.

 

            We felt a threat coming from Iraq.  And also, those of us -- myself very much included -- who have been dealing with Iraqi people for many years now and I, particularly since the end of the Gulf War, feel acutely the suffering that those people have endured under one of the worst dictatorships in the world.

 

            General Garner's -- former General Garner's -- one of his principal qualifications here in my view is that he was part of that operation that went into northern Iraq in 1991 to create a safe haven for the people of the north, primarily Kurds. The forces that he commanded left Iraq six months after they came in -- left the administration of that part of the country entirely in the hands of the people of northern Iraq, who managed pretty well when you think about the pressure they were under from Saddam. And I know Garner. He is deeply democratic. He believes deeply in the right of the Iraqi people to decide their own future, certainly to decide their own foreign policy.

           

            If you stop and think about it for a moment, Iraq is a predominantly Arab country. We've said that. It's an overwhelming Muslim country. It would be very surprising if a democratic Iraq doesn't have a very strong sympathy with the just grievances of the Palestinian people. It's going to be maybe the first democratic ally they've had in the Arab world. That's going to be a powerful voice on their behalf. And I think it's one of many things here that I believe will contribute to a better chance for moving forward and resolving that long-running tragedy.

 

            Q:  Let's move to Syria. All of a sudden the U.S. Administration is turning its attention so conspicuously to Syria, threatening it. The Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, and then Secretary Powell, and recently President Bush. Why Syria now? And why are you turning your attention to Syria now? There's this conception that you're trying to distract attention from what's happening in Iraq.

 

            Wolfowitz:  Nonsense. Let's look at what Syria has been doing most recently.

 

            Syria sent people, I guess they're Syrians. Some of them are not Syrians. They appear to be civilian volunteers, but we don't even know. They may be army people who took their uniforms off. Into Iraq to kill Americans. That's what they did. And then they started sheltering war criminals and regime elements fleeing Iraq to escape their just deserts, in Syria.

 

            Syria has basically started to intervene in a harmful, dangerous and threatening way in Iraq. And what everybody has been telling them is this is a very stupid policy. It's taking Syria down a very bad course.

 

            But you know, the door has been open to Syria for a very long time to go down a different track, To give freedom to Lebanon.  To resolve the issue of the Golan. There were, I thought, very promising moves on the peace process between Israel and Syria which floundered. To move away from a militarized country to one that is open to the world and where the Syrian people benefit.

 

            But whatever they decide about those larger issues, I think it should be obvious why the United States cannot put up with Syria sending people into Iraq to kill Americans.

 

            Q:  But Syrians are just flatly denying those accusations. They are saying --

 

            Wolfowitz:  Excuse me. There are prisoners and there are people killed in action who have Syrian identification on them. There was a bus that the Australians stopped coming in from Syria with people with instructions to kill Americans and with $650,000 in cash to support that activity. This is fact.

 

            Q:  President Bush said there are many ways to deal with Syria. Do you know what he meant by mean means to deal with Syria? My most direct question would be are you thinking of a military action against Syria?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Look, when you face a problem you think about all the different ways you can deal with it. I think what the President was really trying to say to people is, don't jump to the conclusion that the solution here is a war or military action. There are many things that can influence Syrian behavior. It would not seem to be that difficult to persuade them that interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq is not a good thing to do now.

 

            Q:  Secretary Powell yesterday said there is no war plan to go and attack someone else, either for purpose of overthrowing their leadership or for the purpose of democratic values. Is that the Pentagon line as well?

 

            Wolfowitz:  He's speaking for the whole government when he says that.

 

            Q:  So you do agree that military action is considered right now regarding Syria?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Just to be safe I better leave it where the President left it.  But I think it's very clear if you look at what the President was saying, that he's saying this is a problem that ought to have a diplomatic and political solution. We're not asking the Syrians to do a great deal, just stop inter --

 

            Q:  One of the things that has been brought up in the accusations and charges to Syria was weapons of mass destruction. This is like ignoring the big elephant in the room, Israel. If the United States feels threatened by Syria, then the Arabs are feeling threatened by Israel's possession of weapons of mass destruction, a big arsenal, nuclear arsenal, and they're not denying that.

 

            Wolfowitz:  I think the whole issue of -- the larger issue of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East -- is one that clearly has to be addressed.  One thing that has to be addressed also in the larger political context is how you get to a really stable enduring peace, and that is clearly something that's very much in the interest of my country.  And we've worked very hard to get there. I think there's a lot of statesmanship shown in Egypt that brought a peace that's now lasted for 20 years.

 

            That's what we need to extend to the whole region and I think in that context one can talk about hopefully some radical steps to deal with those weapons.

 

            But let's be clear. What concerned us with Saddam Hussein and what concerns us with some of the other countries the President has spoken about, is this very dangerous connection between weapons of mass destruction -- or I prefer to call them weapons of mass terror -- and terrorists who have shown themselves willing to kill civilians without any restraint whatsoever.

 

            Q:  So you're talking about a larger political context for dealing with WMD and a radical step. Would you be thinking about a multilateral approach perhaps to that problem?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Now you're getting me into State Department business.

 

            I didn't mean to say a particular course. I think anything that gets you there. But there's, I think, a clear recognition, certainly in my government, I think almost throughout the world, that there has got to be some effective settlement of, peaceful settlement of, the several major issues between -- that divide Israel from either the Palestinians or from Arab countries. That's a big task. I don't know that you can do it all in one single process, but it needs to get done.

 

            Q:  Former CIA Director James Woolsey, a couple of weeks ago he was speaking at UCLA and he was saying that the United States is currently engaged in World War IV that is going to last for a long time. Would you concur with that view?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I certainly don't like that description, and I think -- I would go back to what the President said about the war on terrorism. He said right after September 11th that we recognize now, maybe we should have recognized before, that terrorism in this era, particularly with weapons of mass destruction potentially available to terrorists, is not just a sort of minor unpleasant aspect of international life that you life with. We can't really live with it any longer. Therefore we're going to be engaged in a struggle and it's going to take some time to really root out terrorism, not just one particular terrorist or one particular terrorist network, but to really end the whole support structure for terrorism.

 

            But the President also said something very important, I believe, and very strongly, in the same State of the Union message that got so much attention because of the axis of evil comments. He also talked about the importance of supporting the forces of moderation, particularly in the Muslim world.

 

            I was American Ambassador to Indonesia for three years. It's the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. And I know from my own experience that hundreds of millions of Muslims are on the side of moderation. That the last thing they want to do is have their fates determined by the likes of Osama bin Laden. So I don't think we should talk about it as though we're at war with most of the world. We're at war with that evil and dangerous minority that believe that the path to progress is to kill people.

 

            Q:  After the war in Iraq do you think America now is a safer place?

 

            Wolfowitz:  You can't measure these things on a daily basis. I think we made enormous progress in the war against terrorism. I think a number of the things that have been accomplished in the course of this conflict have damaged the terrorist cause. But you're not going to be able to say whether it's a net gain or a net loss until you see what comes afterwards.

 

            Q:  So the preemptive strategy that the United States is adopting, is it going to be a strategy that is going to be used with every and each country, that --

 

            Wolfowitz:  I don't like that word, and this was not a case of preemption. This is a country, or a leader. It wasn't a country, actually.  It was a criminal leader who really never accepted the ceasefire that ended the war in 1991. As far as he was concerned, it continued by any means that were available to him, including terrorism.  And we weren't preempting, we were actually enforcing 17 UN resolutions.

 

            I know that word has been used. It certainly doesn't apply to this case. And I think the broader issue really is how to create conditions. And it's not addressed by going to war everywhere you can think of. Create conditions of progress so that people aren't enticed down the road of terrorism. So that young people see a future for themselves. So that countries -- and since this has a certain Muslim character to it, particularly Muslim countries -- recognize that the path of freedom and democracy is the way to go. It's the future.

 

            Q:  A last quick question. The Bush Administration remains divided between the State Department and the Pentagon over the authority that is going to be ruling Iraq. The State Department wants more Iraqis to be involved while the Pentagon wants more control, U.S. control over that government and more involvement of Iraqi expatriates, those who are exiled, and they want to have more control over the agenda and the approach.

 

            Wolfowitz:  Most of the question isn't correct. Look, first of all --

 

            Q:  It's in the papers. In the Washington Post and the New York Times --

 

            Wolfowitz:  I know, and I hate to say it but there are some things in the papers that are inaccurate.

 

            But first of all, at the senior levels of our government there is much less disagreement than there may sometimes turn out to be at some lower level where somebody thinks the President should have adopted their particular point of view. Nor do I believe that everybody in the State Department holds the views that some people in the Pentagon think they hold, and I know that many people in the Pentagon don't hold the views that some people in the State Department think they hold.

 

            Look, the most important thing I think is that we are in complete agreement on the importance of transferring authority as quickly as possible to Iraqis. Of all the things I heard you say, that is one I can --

 

            Q:  How soon?

 

            Wolfowitz:  As soon as they're able to.