(Interview with Doug Jehl, New York Times. Kevin Kellems, OASD(PA) also participated.)
Wolfowitz: (Inaudible) The State Department Future of Iraq Project was a major source of these people. In fact, when we were initially trying to make contact with Iraqi-Americans, that… I think virtually all the people we met in the first go-round were from that project.
Kellems: And the IFD itself, which was the host organization, I think I referred you to them before, I mean, the beauty of that as a host organization for that town hall, from which a lot of this flowed, was that they don’t back any candidate nor any ideology and it’s right there in their by-laws. They’re for two things: getting rid of Saddam, and establishing democracy. Period. End of story. In fact, they don’t allow political involvement. And so the purity of that as a starting point, first of all was a rare find, and secondly the fact that these folks, the leadership and core people who formed the core then of the IRDC, were all veterans, or most of them were veterans of the Future of Iraq Project. So it was a nice inter-departmental starting point as well.
Kellems: I don’t like the secretive part, because we haven’t been secretive in any way, shape or form. So you can drop that second part of it. I mean, for example, I don’t know if you’ve looked at our website, but…
Wolfowitz: There are four different interviews that…
Kellems: We did 60 Minutes II, Foreign Press Center briefing, LBC, Al Arabiya, BBC. That’s a small fraction. There were dozens, if not hundreds, of interviews done. In fact, I used it as sort of a major way to get the word out about IRDC and a way of putting an Iraqi face on the whole process.
Wolfowitz: I think the question sort of answers itself. I mean, it’s an enormously valuable asset to have people who share our values, understand what we’re about as a country – in most cases actually are citizens of this country – but who also speak the language, understand the culture, know their way around that country. I mean, I’d be amazed or rather a bit unhappy if the U.S. government didn’t take advantage of a resource like that.
Wolfowitz: That is simply absurd. I mean, what they’re saying is they share our values, so we shouldn’t be dealing with them. I mean, we have all kinds of Americans working for us there, and it is particularly valuable to have Americans who know their way around that country and can interpret that country for us. And the fact that they share our values, I would have thought would have been a clear point in their favor. I mean, frankly, it is very puzzling why there should be so many questions about the role of Iraqi-Americans as opposed to non-Iraqi-Americans. They obviously bring something important to us.
One of our challenges in that country is going to be figuring out which of the people who’ve been there all along are people that we can deal with, and we’re going to need lots of sources of information. But the implication of the question is that, you know, maybe we should go to the CIA instead of Iraqi-Americans. We’re going to look for information from wherever we can get it.
Wolfowitz: Among the people who’ve been there, who are the people that we can really trust and work with, and who are people who represent the values of the old order?
Kellems: Well, I’m not sure that we’re done with this topic yet. I mean, I don’t…
Wolfowitz: Before we leave the other subject, I mean, I hope it’s clear – if it’s not clear, it should be made clear – that these people are not going to play a political role in Iraq. They’re going to help give us technical advice and liaison with the people who are going to have to administer ministries for us, and in fact precisely if these folks want to be participants in the Iraqi political process, then they have to terminate their connection with IRDC. There are a couple who went to the Nasiriyah meeting who did exactly that. Is that clear?
Wolfowitz: Well look, I mean, I’m sorry, that’s not unique to Iraqi-Americans. We’re going to have to figure out which of the values that are important to us really are requirements for a free and democratic Iraq and which are issues that Iraqis need to decide for themselves, and there are going to be a lot of people giving advice at the end of the day. There are going to be decisions made and, if they’re U.S. government positions, they’ll be made by the appropriate U.S. government officials. And if they’re Iraqi decisions, they’ll be made by people who are not on our payroll and not working for us and who are part of the political process. I don’t know the gentleman you referred to, but it sounds like he expects to be an advisor to the senior American who is playing a role in that particular ministry, and I mean, I certainly wouldn’t want to discriminate against someone who holds those views.
Kellems: It sounds to me like the people who are feeding you this are inflating – purposefully or out of misunderstanding – the role, the seniority, that these people have, as a way to try to undercut or whip up fear and misinformation.
Wolfowitz: There does seem to be an agenda at work, Doug.
Kellems: No, there are no senior. No senior. These are teams.
Kellems: I don’t understand there to be a formal structure where there is a… Okay, go ahead. I’m taking up too much of your air time.
Wolfowitz: They’re advisory roles, and no one person’s opinion is in any way a decisive opinion, and I mean, we are nominating a whole bunch of senior advisors, none of whom – one might say unfortunately – are Iraqi-American. I don’t know whether that’s good or bad. As it turns out, none of them… I don’t even think there’s an Arab-American among them. They’re mostly State Department ambassadors. They’re playing a senior advisory role in the ministries. They’re going to be a filter for any advice of the kind you describe. I hope they won’t filter out democratic advice; that’s certainly not their job. And they themselves are advisors and, insofar as the U.S. government has a position on anything as fundamental as whether or not we take a position on the role of religion in a future Iraqi government, I can assure you that’s going to be way above even those senior advisors’ level. So, there’s a fear mongering at work here that’s very counterproductive.