United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share

Transcript


Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Maria Ressa, CNN International

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz
May 31, 2003

Q:  There is a report in Vanity Fair today that just quoted you as saying that the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was just a bureaucratic reason.  Can you respond to that?

 

Wolfowitz:  No, it’s a misquote.  In fact, the full quote you can see on our website where the whole interview is there.  What I was trying to explain – there’s a complicated situation.  We had, in fact, three concerns about Iraq, from the beginning, and it’s repeated in Colin Powell’s statement in the UN.  One was weapons of mass destruction, about which I’ve never seen as unanimous a view in the intelligence community on almost any issue.  Second was the Iraqi connection with terrorism, about which there is a range of views, although everyone agrees that there is a connection there.  And the third was Iraq’s mistreatment of its people, which has unfortunately never been in any doubt.  But in many ways, it’s the first two reasons that were crucial, and as I said in that interview, there is really a fourth reason, which is that connection between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.  That’s the axis the President originally was talking about in his State of Union message, is that connection between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.  It’s complicated, it’s not a simple issue, but when people say our rationale keeps changing, its not that keeps changing.  We’ve had all three of those reasons from the beginning but people who often choose to focus exclusively on the weapons of mass destruction piece of it.

           

Q:  Even this article seems to highlight the distrust that’s around that.  The perception seems to be that weapons mass destruction was an excuse to move in.  How did you respond –

 

            Wolfowitz:  I can tell you quite emphatically it was not an excuse.  What really changed in our whole perception of this issue was September 11.  Before September 11 terrorism was viewed as something ugly, but you lived with it.  Saddam Hussein was viewed as something ugly, something that was for the Iraqi people to take care of.  After September 11, terrorism looked different.  Saddam Hussein, who played with terrorists, and had weapons of mass destruction, looked much more threatening to United States than just to his own people.  And so it changed the calculation entirely.  I mean, without that perception of threat, I don’t believe the President would have considered it something that American lives should be risked for, as terrible as the regime is -- I mean there is no question the regime was a horrible thing.

 

Q:  The fact that there hasn’t been substantial cache of weapons of mass destruction -- is that an embarrassment?

 

Wolfowitz:  No.  Is it an embarrassment to people on the other side that we’ve discovered these biological production vans, which the defector told us about?  Look, this dictator had twelve years to develop innumerable ways to hide his program, and we’ve said from the beginning, the only way you get to the bottom of it is when people start to talk to you.  That’s why we gave the UN inspectors unprecedented powers to interview people.  I think it’s evidence in itself that Saddam never allowed a single one of scientists to go outside the country for interview.  In fact he never allowed a single one of them to be interviewed in the country without monitors present or at least tape recorders present.  So he was a man with something to hide, and we’ll have to find it.

 

Q:  What kind of repercussions do you think this will have now, in the Arab world and in Southeast Asia?

 

Wolfowitz:  I heard from one Arab foreign minister that it’s a shame that we weren’t able to do this for ourselves, but it had to be done and thank heavens you did it.  This is an Arab official.  I think in the Arab world it was actually not a surprise that thousands of mass graves turned up.  I think the Arab people understand that this man was responsible for killing more Muslims than I think any other single individual and there is an opportunity now to build a much better Arab society and to demonstrate to the rest of the world that Arabs are capable of democracy.  I believe they are.

 

Q:  And yet at the same time as the Senior Minister said last night, there also seems to be a growing concern and in some nations a fear that the US will go it alone.  Senior Minister Lee kind of chided the US a little bit last night.

 

Wolfowitz:  I found it surprising frankly.  Why don’t you chide President Chirac for going it alone?  There were 15 NATO nations on our side and France had Belgium and Luxemburg and Germany with it, in what seemed frankly like a rather cynical disregard of facts and disregard of the suffering of the Iraqi people.  In all of this discussion about multilateral, unilateral, we had 46 countries with us.  But more importantly, and I would say we had 95% of the 20 million Iraqi people with us and their voices ought to count for something.

 

Q:  So you don’t see it as a unilateral action at all, do you?

 

Wolfowitz:  No, I don’t.  In fact we had more international legal sanction I think for what we did than for the action in Kosovo that NATO did a few years ago, and no one disputed that.

 

Q:  How do you respond to things like the Senior Minister and what other diplomats have said?

 

Wolfowitz:  First of all, to say that we had a coalition of 46 countries, that we weren’t acting unilaterally, that the time came that some action had to be taken.  Frankly, it was I think France’s action that has weakened the United Nations.  We’ve seen in times past in history when the failure to come together to act is terribly damaging to the international community.  And I think we were acting not just in behalf of our own interest, although our own interests were definitely involved, but I think we had very major regard (inaudible) quite significantly.  We had all the support that we needed in the region.  None of the terrible things that people said were going to happen -- there weren’t terrible mass casualties in Iraq, there wasn’t a food crisis or refugees crisis.  We, I think, did a lot to take care of the concerns that people had.

 

Q:  What about Iran?  What policy will the U.S. pursue?

 

Wolfowitz:  We have concerns about Iran.  It’s sort of actually a welcome development that our concern about Iran’s nuclear program is now finally being shared by other countries that were dismissive about that concern for a long time.  We have a big concern about Al Qaeda in Iran.  We are not quite sure whether the Iranians hold them or don’t hold them or what they are going to do with them if they are holding them.  We are concerned more generally Iran’s support for terrorism.  But I believe that one of the ways that we can help to influence Iran to a different kind of policy is by getting things right in Iraq, because the example of a free and democratic Iraq I think is going to increase the pressure the Iranian regime already feels to its own people and that’s a good thing.

 

Q:  Is the threat of military action a possibility in Iraq?

 

Wolfowitz:  You know, I think you know, we never rule out that kind of thing.  But let me put it this way.  I think the most effective way we have to persuade the Iranian regime to change is the fact that some 75 percent of the Iranian people voted few years ago for a different government.  They didn’t get the government they voted for, but nevertheless this is a regime that is susceptible I think to some extent to pressure from its own people.

 

Q:  The thoughts of Senior Minister Lee have been mirrored often by other Muslim leaders in Southeast Asia, by the Indonesian, by the Malaysians.  And within the Muslim world, it seems to be amplifying into a paranoia that the U.S. is going to attack and pick them out one by one.  I’ve heard that said also.  How do you respond to something like that – this growing paranoia in the Muslim world that the U.S. with its power can pick them out one by one?

 

Wolfowitz:  I think there are many Muslims, like the foreign minister I referred to earlier, including many Arabs, who welcome the positive change in Iraq.  They wish that they had been able to do it and didn’t need us to do it.  But they don’t see it as “picking off.”  They see it as liberating a major important Arab people.  I do think it is important to make progress now in the Arab-Israeli issue.  That is something that will do a great deal to balance the concerns that we are one-sided and that we only worry about one kind of justice. 

 

I think it is very important also to see this Iraq thing through to success, and while we’ve had some spectacular gains -- it’s barely two months since the war began, let’s remember that -- there is a lot of work to be done.  I think those are two very positive contributions that when, if we can achieve them, I think the whole issue will look different.  Nobody likes war.  It’s not a pretty thing.  It’s only compared to mass graves and the kind of terror that Saddam Hussein was putting forward that you can say it’s the lesser of two evils.

 

            Q:  (Inaudible)

 

A:  Well we have an opportunity now.  The President is meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, I think Monday, with leaders of three Arab countries and with Prime Minister Sharon and the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, and then he’ll go on to Aqaba to meet with just the Israeli and Palestinian.

 

There is a new atmosphere there.  There was a new atmosphere there, it’s worth remembering, in 1991 after the defeat of Saddam Hussein that I think is what opened the way to the Madrid conference, opened the way to the Oslo agreements, which were two of the most positive steps that we have seen in that process. 

 

Removing the neighborhood bully has got to improve the environment.  But also the United States now goes into this with a credibility we didn’t have before.  And I think that’s going to make a difference for everybody. 

 

Q:  Do you think that that is the source that fueled a lot of the extremism?  Do you agree with that analysis of it?  The Middle East?

 

Wolfowitz:  I think it’s overstated.  There’s no question that if fuels extremism.  But the idea that if you take that away, none of the funding of Madrases would take place – nonsense.  None of the hatred of the United States would be there – nonsense.  In fact, let’s be clear, if you read Bin Laden’s proclamations, the thing that he most complained about was the presence of American forces in Saudi Arabia as part of the containment of Iraq.  So that I believe is progress also -- that the Saudis have no longer have to carry the burden of large American forces on their territory, bombing Iraq almost daily, to support a containment policy that was failing.

 

Q:  But wasn’t the U.S. in its own way supporting the Saudis who were also exporting Wahabism.  Isn’t that going to be changing?

 

Wolfowitz:  Well, it doesn’t mean we are supporting the Saudi export of Wahabism.  It does mean there are worse things than the government in Saudi Arabia, and we certainly didn’t want to see it taken over by a hostile neighbor.  I believe in fact that the bombing that took place in Riyadh about two weeks ago, ten days ago, was a kind of wake-up call for Saudi Arabia just as I believe Bali was a wake up call for Indonesia, and 9-11 was a wake up call for us.  And while the terrorists achieved a certain, from their point of view, tactical success, I think it was a strategic failure and I think the Saudis are much more serious now but dealing with their own problems than they were before.  And they have a much freer climate to do it because Saddam Hussein isn’t over their shoulder and the Americans aren’t on their doorstep.

 

Q:  In Southeast Asia, there has been a lot of arrests over the last month.  Intelligence reports are saying that there were really two main places Al Qaeda operatives fled to post-Afghanistan -- there were five areas where Al Qaeda was operating – but two main places – the Horn of Africa and southeast Asia, southeast Asia having the most Al Qaeda operatives coming in here.  How large of a threat remains here in your perception?

 

Wolfowitz:  It’s hard to know because if we knew it, we’d pick them up.  So we are guessing about what we know we don’t know.  And by the way you have to count Pakistan and Iran as two other major places.  And northeastern Iraq, by the way, which is no longer a sanctuary.  So it wasn’t one place.

 

My sense of the Al Qaeda problem here is that it was more indigenous, not so much that people fled from Afghanistan into southeast Asia, but that the penetration into southeast Asia was more extensive than we had understood at least before 9-11, and in some ways we first started to get an inkling it from materials we captured from Afghanistan that led us to that group in Singapore and those arrests. 

 

But Bali brought home just how bad it is here.  The fact it is doesn’t take more than a few hundred people of that kind, in a country if 200 million to create a serious problem.  But I’m very impressed by the professionalism with which the Indonesian police gone after the Bali bombers.  I think there is a new spirit in Indonesia.  The Philippines and Malaysia and Thailand were already quite serious and of course Singapore -- well they were a little shocked that terrorists could be even in this nice tightly controlled little country. 

 

We are not going to eliminate terrorists overnight or with one magic bullet but I do believe that the last year has been much more a series of defeats for them with minor tactical successes here and there. 

 

Q:  Despite that there has been a lot said about Indonesia doing a lot to dismantle the network, but the network still remains.  As late as April you still have JI and Al Qaeda still meeting in Indonesia.  I guess from you, a sense of how this network that’s here, JI, how large a threat of --

 

Wolfowitz:  Look, there are still terrorists operating in United States and in the UK and in Europe.  Particularly I think in democratic countries, it takes time, and you have legal restrictions on what you can do and political constraints on what you can do, and even in less democratic countries these people go underground.  So that’s why our President had said from the beginning it's going to be a long war, it’s not going to be won with one victory in Afghanistan or a second one in Iraq.  It’s not going to be won just by arresting 3,000 people, although we have done that.  It’s going to take time and I do believe it’s also important during that time that we build up the positive forces.

 

Q:  Redeployment of U.S. troops.  Looking at the threat, and then bringing the troops.  Where in Southeast Asia are we looking at?  We know they are coming to the Philippines, but where --

 

Wolfowitz:  No they are not.  Here is the basic thing.  We are looking at our military posture worldwide including in the United States, Congress has given us authority and it’s not easy to get that authority to do a base realignment and closure commission in the United States starting in 2005.  That's a big thing.  We are doing it in United States, we are doing it worldwide, because we have to figure out how to make the most effective use of our military forces.  I know we have a lot, but the requirements are large as well, and the threat has changed.  The threat turns up in places in the world we had never imagined we’d be in before. 

 

But the technology has changed also, and allows us to do things with an efficiency and an effectiveness and a reach that didn't exist when we set up many of these bases.  So we need to approach our posture differently.  But some of these announcements in the press that come if anything from some ninth level bureaucrat, and I'm not even sure that it came from there. 

 

We are not about to move our Marines from Okinawa to Australia -- that's wrong.  We are not about to base forces in the Philippines -- that's wrong.  And in any case we are not going to make any of these changes without consulting with our Congress and consulting with our allies and our friends in this part of the world.  So, the general principle is correct, most of the details that I have read or either inaccurate or extremely premature.

 

Q:  What are the key ideas that are going to motivate this new change?

 

Wolfowitz:  I think there are really three things.  One, that we can do things at long range with precision in a way that was never possible before.  Secondly, the same sort of internet revolution that you can see on your home computer brings together disparate forces with an effectiveness that never existed before.  But the third thing is that the threat is so dispersed that you need a kind of mobility and flexibility in how you move your forces around. 

 

It’s very different from old Cold War posture in Germany, where you thought you knew exactly what the Soviet war plan was, and exactly what you had to do to meet it, or the threat you face on the Korean Peninsula.  Those are very fixed, they are very calculable.  You need a very big force in place to deal with them.  The new threats are unpredictable, widely dispersed, and what you may need is a much smaller force, much more quickly.

 

Q:  There is a growing paranoia or fear among the Muslim nations that the U.S. power, will result in them getting picked off one by one.  How do you respond to that?

 

Wolfowitz:  I think by my count, seven times in the last ten years or so, U.S. military forces have gone into harm’s way to rescue people from aggression or from ethic cleansing or from war-induced famine.  I'm thinking about Kuwait, I'm thinking about northern Iraq after the Gulf War, I'm thinking about Somalia, I'm thinking about Bosnia, I'm thinking about Kosovo.  I'm thinking of Afghanistan.  I'm thinking Iraq. 

 

All seven of those countries were majority Muslim populations.  We were there helping Muslims who were suffering, not because they were Muslims, but because our interests were engaged and because in many cases our moral impulses were engaged as well.  I think what we're trying to accomplish in Iraq is to help the Iraqi people build a free and democratic country which I think will have a powerful political effect throughout the Muslim world and the Arab world.  Not all change is accomplished by the use of force.

Additional Links

Stay Connected