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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with The New York Times

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
May 09, 2003

(Phone interview with Steve Weisman, The New York Times.)

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Wolfowitz:  Paul Wolfowitz.  Hi.

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Wolfowitz:  Fine, thanks.

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Wolfowitz:  I guess -- well it is -- the general description of it is just grossly overstated and I don't think it's ideological or philosophical, I think in fact there is great agreement within this Administration on the sort of goals and ideals and the kind of world we’d like to see.  So it's not a debate about ideology or philosophy.

 

     There may be a certain tendency to partly, institutionally, to emphasize different means to those goals.  You kind of expect it, that there are certain things that are institutional to the diplomatic service, certain things that are institutional to the military.  The institutional knowledge needs to be reflected.

 

     But my feeling generally is there is a sort of -- at the risk of saying it -- a kind of sophomoric view that's common in relatively sophisticated people in Washington, that sort of views every decision as a victory, one agency over another agency, and can't understand that it's possibly the case that people actually were encouraged by the President to debate views forcefully, which happens.  That the end result of that debate is a decision because this is a President who also likes to make decisions.  And that when those decisions get made, people not only understand the importance of pulling together to implement them, but there's enormous respect for the people with whom you were arguing that day.  There's certainly -- I mean Armitage and I have been in all kinds of battles over the years, almost invariably on the same side, going back to when we were doing East Asia policy together in the Reagan Administration.  That's why there's not a philosophical disagreement at all.

 

     It's important, however, to debate what are the best ways to achieve goals and I would say, in fact, that if -- I don't think the same decision arrived at without debate has the same quality as that decision arrived at with debate.

 

     I can remember in past accounts -- maybe not past -- one can hear accounts of decision processes where everybody seemed to agree on the conclusion, that it wasn't reached by consensus, that it was sort of pre-cooked. I find that basically kind of disturbing because I don't know of a single policy decision that's a serious one that is better than 60/40, and usually they're 51/49.  If it's presented as though there's really only one course of action, then I think you inevitably go into it not prepared for the downsides and not prepared for the things that can go wrong.

 

     So I think the President, who really is a -- I mean he's a great credit to the Harvard MBA program if that's where he learned it -- is a very good manager and understands the benefits that come to him from having things debated and having the edges sharpened in the process of leading to a decision which then becomes a decision that people are pretty solid about implementing.

 

     I find myself very often in speeches quoting Colin Powell because he states the policy in ways that I think are articulate and powerful and I agree with.

 

     Voice:  You might look at our web site sometime, Steve, and do a search of Wolfowitz and Powell in the same search box.

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Wolfowitz:  By the way, before I forget it.  The quality of the two department principals is stunning.  I think, I mean I haven't tried -- in some ways I'm going to regret saying it.  I think you'd have to go back to Atchison and Marshal to find two people in these positions of equal stature.  I don't mean necessarily -- in other words, when the pair of them was of such comparable high stature.  I don't mean this is the greatest Secretary of -- well, let me stop before I get myself in trouble.  Maybe they are.

 

     I just mean that --

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Wolfowitz:  That guy who was the fourth Secretary of Defense might have been better.  (Laughter.)

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Wolfowitz:  I forgot about that.  Anyway, without making -- to me what it calls to mind -- can I restate this for the record?

 

     To me what it does call to mind is something that constantly impresses me about Truman's Cabinet.  That he had a Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State of such enormous stature, and that he was perfectly comfortable with the two of them too, is striking.

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Wolfowitz:  No, because I'll take my own position on this issue going back to the things I was writing in at least as early as 1994.  That I think the key to success in dealing with North Korea rests on unity of approach among us and our two major allies in Northeast Asia, and to a lesser extent with China.  Lesser extent only because one has to, unfortunately, expect lesser then they're probably more important, or as equally important.  But no, I've always believed that the key to the success of North Korea is in fact a multilateral approach and I think that's actually the Administration's and the President's position.

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Wolfowitz:  I don't know that the State Department doesn't --

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Wolfowitz:  All I can tell you is, I don't think we should be picking favorites.  I think we should take the big tent approach.  I think not picking favorites also includes not having a special animus towards anybody.  That's my view, that's my position, and I have difficulty commenting on the unknown motives of unknown people who don't talk for the record.

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Wolfowitz:  There is an interesting point in the question which is that it's convenient for other people to claim that there are splits because that serves their own purposes in one way or another, even if they aren't there.  And sometimes to try to create them.

 

     But I know that the President is deeply committed to making progress on the middle east peace process, particularly post-Saddam and sees it as an opportunity to be able to do so now.

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Voice:  Steve, would it be useful at all to do this one on background so you can learn more of his views?

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Wolfowitz:  I don't want to get in the middle, especially at this particular moment, as you point out.  It's not, there are lots of good reasons one of which it's not fair to the Secretary of State to have people articulating our policy other than him.  Even if I -- even if there's no disagreement at all, and I don't think there is.  I might get a nuance or two wrong.

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Voice:  Yeah.

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Voice:  It sounds good.

 

     Wolfowitz:  That's fine.

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Wolfowitz:  I think there's a heightened need for diplomacy on Arab-Israeli issues.  Well, I suppose in general I might say there are opportunities to be seized and I think that's one of them.

 

     I think the President's really been pretty clear ever since the famous axis of evil speech -- not in the speech itself which tended to treat all three countries the same -- but if you look at the way he unfolded his policy statements a couple of months afterwards, he laid out effectively different strategies for each of those three countries and I think Iraq is one that lent itself much more to the use of force if necessary.  North Korea I think is one where the key, as I said, has all along been confronting the North Koreans with a unified approach among the major powers in the region.  Iran I think is more a matter of figuring out how to use the opening that's provided by the fact that a great majority of the Iranian people aren't too happy with their own government, and that it's not as tightly controlled a dictatorship as either of the other two.  So there are opportunities to influence things.

 

     We had some access to the Iranian people that we really never had for the Iraqi people or the North Koreans.

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Voice:  They won't leave without you, but we should let you go.

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Wolfowitz:  So we did it all on the record.  Okay.

 

     By the way, I don't complain about anonymous quotes, I just complain about -- when they're wrong, when people make allegations then it's impossible to respond to.  That's all.

 

     Have a good trip.  How long do they expect to have you on the road?

 

     Weisman:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Voice:  All right.  Bye.

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