(Interview with John Gibson, The Big Story with John Gibson, Fox News Channel.)
Q: Saddam Hussein may still be alive, but he is not running Iraq or any other country.
Our military has decisively dislodged the brutal regime in Iraq. And one of the principal architects of that campaign and the policy joins us now. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
Secretary, thank you for coming on.
Wolfowitz: Nice to be here.
Q: So, were you surprised at how it went? Did it go faster? Did it go better than you thought it might? Or was it about what you expected?
Wolfowitz: Well, I think it went in many ways, better than anyone had any right to expect. But I think it wasn't an accident. I think General Franks designed the plan that emphasized speed, and achieved a degree of surprise that is truthfully surprising, since Saddam had more than a year and a half to think something might be coming.
Q: Many of us were surprised when we looked up and saw American tanks in Paradise Square in downtown Baghdad. Did you know it was coming, or were you surprised as well?
Wolfowitz: Well, he told us 24 hours before it was coming. But the whole pace of this has been phenomenally rapid. And people should recognize too that nothing is free in life. When you go fast, it means you go with a smaller force, it means that there are gaps left behind. It means, unfortunately, there has been looting which takes a little while to get under control. So, it is not like all the problems are solved. But I think enormous progress has been made in an astonishing short period of time.
Q: Saddam Hussein, there is a crater where there used to be a restaurant. And there was at least some real-time information that he might have been there. Do we have American troops digging through that crater now, or are you satisfied that he is somewhere else? Do you think he is alive or dead?
Wolfowitz: Well, we are going to check out all the possible places where senior Iraqis might have been, because it is important to root out this regime. It has had a staying power over the years that is going to continue to intimidate people. But whatever he is doing, I think you had it right in your introduction. He is not running Iraq or any other country. And if he is alive, he is probably hurting pretty bad.
Q: As you know, the Chief of Staff Andrew Card said last night, in some form, that he thinks Saddam Hussein is dead. It's his personal opinion. Do you have a personal opinion?
Wolfowitz: My boss Mr. Rumsfeld has taught me not to have a personal opinion, to go by the evidence and the facts here. And he is a man from Missouri on these issues.
Q: Is there a peace dividend that follows this war? What is it that's accomplished by this war?
Wolfowitz: I think what is accomplished is greater security for our country and for the whole world. And, obviously, a chance for the first time for the Iraqi people to actually build their own government. To have, if I could paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, a government that is of Iraqis, by Iraqis and for Iraqis. And that will be truly a brand new development for the whole Arab world.
Q: I've got to read something to you, this is the editor of the "Daily Star" in Beirut, Lebanon writing in the last day or so. And he said the taking of Baghdad is designed to send signals to all other Middle Eastern and Asian regimes. But the new rules of the game are now being explained to the world through the televised display of Mesopotamian show and tell. In other words, other regimes should be worried they could be next. Is anybody next?
Wolfowitz: Well, you know, everybody is talking about what's next. I think the most important thing that can happen in Iraq is for Iraqis--who are about two-thirds Arab, one-third Kurd, overwhelmingly Muslim--to demonstrate to the whole world that they are capable of having a democratic government. I think it will bring progress in some places that are very far away and, hopefully, progress in a peaceful way.
Q: You know, there is expression that is being used in the administration now, it's been used by the secretary of state that there is a changed environment. I think that is obvious. But what does that mean to you and to the administration?
Wolfowitz: I am sometimes accused of spending too much time talking about my experience in East Asia, but I am going to do it again. When Marcos was overthrown in the Philippines, in a peaceful revolution that brought a democracy to power, it produced a changed environment in Asia in which Asians began to think the Japanese aren't the only ones in Asia who can have a democracy. And we saw a change in Korea. We saw a change in Taiwan. We saw a change throughout the region. I think it's the prospect of inspiring other people by example, to do what I think the Iraqis are now free to be able to do.
Q: One of the things they are free to do is create a little chaos in their own country. There is a lot of looting going on as you know. But major combat operations are over. There are still some cities where there is still some organized resistance. There are gatherings of armed people who want to engage the Americans. What has happened in places like Mosul, and Kirkuk and northern Iraq where the enemy forces are still armed and dangerous?
Wolfowitz: Well, there are pockets of dangerous enemy all over the country. The biggest problem, you're right, that Mosul in the northern area is an area of concern. Not so much because of pockets of enemies, but because of the need to stabilize a region that has traditionally had quite a bit of tension between the Kurds--who have been in the majority, the Arabs who have been brought in, and this very important Turkish minority. And our goal has got to be to convince everybody up there that the issues, and they're real issues, have got to be resolved peacefully.
Q: What about the law and order issues throughout the country? When would you anticipate that the American military, in concert with the policemen who are coming back, are going to be able to restore some law and order and calm, so we don't have people thanking us for getting Saddam off their neck, and at the same time yelling at us because it's, in the secretary's words, untidy?
Wolfowitz: But let's remember the context. We're talking about a country that for several decades, has been suffocated by one of the most brutal tyrannies around. And when you remove that, things are going to be untidy, if that is the word. I think we're seeing a remarkable degree of stability being introduced in a number of places. And the real key to that is having Iraqis start to organize themselves, for policemen to come back to work--hopefully not the policemen who committed the crimes in the past, but the decent ones. And what we're finding is even a relatively small presence of American or British forces begins to give the Iraqis the courage to take care of their own affairs. And I think things are settling down.
Q: We now know some of the benefits of acting in Iraq. What would have been the downside of not acting, letting this go on?
Wolfowitz: Well, to begin with, we've paid a very big price for the last 12 years that I think sometimes people haven't noticed. It's a price that's been paid in money. It was a price that was paid in lives. More than 50 Americans were killed over the course of containing Saddam Hussein. But I think the biggest price of all was that we made ourselves a huge target for people like Usama bin Laden, who kept complaining about the fact that we were bombing Iraq every day, and that we had troops occupying the holy land of Saudi Arabia.
I think it is a different environment now. We don't know what price we would have paid if it had gone on, and he had given weapons of mass destruction to the hands of terrorists. But that was, of course, the real risk that we were running. And the president decided, and I think he was right--it is not a risk we could afford to continue to run, not after September 11.
Q: For those of you just tuning in, I've been talking to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Weapons of mass destruction, I know we are looking. Do you think it is essential that we find them?
Wolfowitz: Well, if they are there, we've got to find them so we don't fall into the wrong hands. I've never seen the intelligence community as unified in their judgment as they were before this war that those things are there. Right now, we're focused more on restoring order and stabilizing things. We are looking when we can, but it's not the main object of our effort yet.
Q: Well, I guess I meant by important to find them in the sense of justifying the war. The Europeans and others say, well, the Americans justified this war on the basis of weapons of mass destruction. They've got to show those things.
Wolfowitz: No, I don't -- I think we went to war to remove a threat to us and we removed that threat. I think it is also clear in the process, we've removed a regime that was brutalizing the Iraqi people. And all the people who thought there was something wrong with this war because it was a war for oil--it was never a war for oil. The people who said it is a war against the Iraqi people, I think the Iraqi people have shown them what they think. This is a war that's actually liberated a whole important country in the Arab world.
Q: We're starting to see evidence of the way Saddam treated its own citizens, his political prisoners and others, torture chambers. Do you think you're going to find a lot more than that than already has been found?
Wolfowitz: I think it's going to come pouring out. I think there are probably still a lot of people in Iraq who aren't quite convinced that their neighbor, who may have been a Ba'ath party official, isn't going to get him if he talks. I was struck when I met with Iraqi Americans in Dearborn, Michigan. Some of them told me there are still people here in the United States who are afraid to talk in public about what happened to their families, because they're afraid Saddam will come and get them. That was when he was still around. But if you were an Iraqi, you'd be cautious.
Q: We're seeing American troops talking to the camera once in a while saying, I can't believe how these people live and then this palace I'm walking into. Of course, there are haves and have nots in Iraq, and Saddam was the haves and everybody else was the have nots. But how dramatic was that difference?
Wolfowitz: Oh, it was huge. And he exploited it shamelessly. He starved his people and he blamed it on our policies and the sanctions. I think General Franks captured it with that phrase of his, it wasn't oil for food, it was oil for palaces.
Q: There is this other issue, we're now asking the U.N. to lift the sanctions so the oil can be sold for the benefit of the Iraqi people. That seems to be one of the hang-ups there is, well, have we found the weapons of mass destruction? The sanctions won't be lifted until the country is free of weapons of mass destruction. Is that a sticking point on ...
Wolfowitz: There's no logic in that reasoning. It's true that we want to make sure that whatever Iraqi government replaces this one doesn't go back to building weapons of mass destruction. But give these people a break. At least remove the sanctions long enough for them to get organized and demonstrate that they are committed to doing the things that Saddam Hussein refused to do. There's absolutely no reason to keep them under sanctions now.
Q: Did the fall of Baghdad tip the north Koreans into the talks that have just been announced?
Wolfowitz: I don't know. But if I were sitting in the North Korean leadership right now, I would be a little nervous.
Q: What about the rest of the axis of evil, specifically Iran?
Wolfowitz: You know, I think the effect on Iran is more political than it is military. Iran has to start to think about what's going to happen to their own people if there's an example next door of a country that's predominantly Shia, that is overwhelmingly Muslim, that becomes a real democracy. It may make the Iranian people impatient with the way they're ruled.
Q: What did you see in this war that demonstrates, and ought to demonstrate for the world as well as Americans, the new capabilities of the American military?
Wolfowitz: You know, the most impressive thing is not something that's new. It's that old, incredible American character. I mean, these young men and women who performed enormous feats of bravery with incredible professionalism and enormous humanity. I just love these pictures and there's one after another of Marines taking care of little kids, feeding them. And not just Marines, it's all of our services performing magnificently.
I think the other thing is, there is a message here that we are able now to act with a degree of precision that allows us to avoid killing innocent people to a degree that wasn't possible in the past. And, hopefully, that can help us frustrate the tactics of guys like Saddam Hussein who deliberately made his own population -- tried to make his own population--a target. Every school we have been into, over 100 schools in southern Iraq, every single one of them was a military command post. Every single one of them had weapons hidden in them.
Q: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Mr. Wolfowitz, thank you very much. There are many more questions, I don't have time for them. Other people will yell at me about that later. Thank you very much. We'll be right back.
Wolfowitz: My pleasure.