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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with The Washington Post

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
June 26, 2003

(Interview with Tom Ricks, The Washington Post.)

 

    Q:  Okay, let's start the tape recorder.

 

    Are we going to change U.S. policy in Iraq or do you think things are basically on course despite this rash of attacks?

 

     Wolfowitz:  I think we've been quite serious for some weeks now about the fact that we're dealing with a very -- what's the right word -- remnants of a really horrible regime much like a very large Mafia gang.  Ruthless and intimidating.  And we need to clean them out.  But I think the basic approach that the military is using is a sound approach.  It's not to sit back and wait for them to attack us, it's going after them.  Going after the foreign terrorists that are trying to kill Americans too, and we don't know the level of association between the two, but I wouldn't say there isn't one just because we don't know it.

 

     Q:  So you don't anticipate any change in direction or policy or posture?

 

     Wolfowitz:  I think we did make a change in direction -- change of direction is too strong a word.  A few weeks ago I think we began, and Gary Anderson was maybe a little ahead of everybody else recognizing that -- almost perhaps because the regime failed so quickly -- that the major remnants of the regime were still around, quite dangerous, and they've got to be cleaned up.

 

     I think we have two powerful things on our side.  I think one is we have a clearly superior force and we have the great bulk of the population on our side.  I think that's going to be a key ingredient here is removing the atmosphere of terror that they are still able to cultivate.  Obviously it will help if we can prove that Saddam Hussein is dead at some point, or at least detained.

 

     Q:  I take it there's a pretty intense hunt for him going on right now.

 

     Wolfowitz:  I believe so.  I can't say that I know in any detail how it's being done.

 

     Q:  Could it be stepped up?  Could the hunt be any more intense than it is now, do you know?

 

     Wolfowitz:  That's the commander's tactical judgment.  I have no idea.

 

     It's majorly a function of how much intelligence you have.  The same people who think that you can automatically know where to look for weapons of mass destruction.  You need leads on both of these things.

 

     You I think used the words “change of direction”.  I was just reading some of the chronology of the post-VE Day experience in Germany and the number of audibles that McCoy and Clay had to call.  Bremer is calling audibles and Sanchez and Franks are calling audibles.  It doesn't mean you're changing your direction.  In fact I guess I'd say the direction is pretty clear.  The direction, and sometimes it may be three steps forward and one step back, but the direction is toward a more secure Iraq, toward the Ba'thists I think overall in a progressively weaker position, basic services being restored, and in the fairly near future I think a kind of a political pathway forward as well.

 

     And it's not uniform.  It's much better in the south and in the north than it is in Baghdad, and it's better in Baghdad than it is in that sort of Suni triangle north and west of Baghdad.

 

     Q:  What's your take on this pattern of events today then?  This rash of attacks in Baghdad.  The first attack that I'm aware of on a civilian occupation vehicle following the Shiite attack on --

 

     Wolfowitz:  I don't think I can make a pattern judgment based on one day's events.  These people are ruthless.  They clearly are out to undermine the reconstruction effort.  They're out to kill Americans in the mistaken belief from Somalia and Lebanon that we'll give up and go home. We're not going to.

 

     This is a major important battle and we've got the staying power to beat them.

 

     Q:  You mentioned sort of the U.S. posture of being offensive and taking the fight to them.  Do you see any possibility of escalating?  Is there any way to be more offensive than we're being right now?

 

     Wolfowitz:  I think we’ve got some very inventive, aggressive commanders and have a new Commander of Central Command -- Well, not quite yet.  Almost.

 

     Q:  Is he going to be confirmed today?

 

     Wolfowitz:  It's possible.  I guess one shouldn't predict the actions of the Senate.

 

     Have you seen his testimony from yesterday?

 

     Q:  I was there.  Yes.

 

     Wolfowitz:  He's got it right, in my view.  And I think he's right that there are these three different strands.

 

     I do think the key in the battle against the Ba'athists is getting people to turn these thugs in, and I think the more aggressive we are the more eager and willing people will be to cooperate with us.

 

     But again, it's easier to cooperate if you live down in Shia country or up north.  If you live in Tikrit you probably really need to be convinced the Americans are winning before you -- before you share information with --

 

     Q:  -- turn these thugs in.  Yeah.

 

     It's funny you mention the word thugs because actually one of the impressions I took away from Iraq was the best way to understand Saddam Hussein is to watch the “Sopranos”.

 

     Wolfowitz:  I've been saying the Godfather for 15 years.  It really is.  It's the offer you can't refuse.  It's the unbelievable brutality combined with occasional lucrative rewards.  And a code of silence.

 

     I think that's why we're getting so little out of the high-level defectors that we're holding, at least for now.

 

     Q:  You said we did make a change a few weeks ago.  What did you mean by that?

 

     Wolfowitz:  If I said we made a change then I think again -- I think there was, and I can't say when it came in, but I think there was a recognition somewhere after the statues fell in Baghdad, and I guess I'd have to put it somewhere in May, that an awful lot of the violence we're encountering came from Ba'thist remnants and some debate about whether it's organized or not or loosely organized, but it's people with a common agenda.  I would say, as you alluded earlier, common gang membership -- except this is a very large gang who have been abusing their people for a very long time.

 

     I guess this is, and I'm going to have to go, but I think it is worth emphasizing that these guys lack the two classical ingredients of a victory in a so-called guerilla war if that's what you want to say they're conducting.  They lack the sympathy of the population and they lack any serious source of external support.  They are getting some of these foreign killers coming in which is fine.  It's better to kill them in Iraq than have to have them come and get killed in the United States.  But basically they're on their own in a population that I think can and will be turned.

 

     It's interesting, there was a paper called, I have the Arabic name here somewhere, at any rate, it's an Arabic newspaper in An Najaf that published a public opinion poll.  I can't vouch for its scientific validity or sampling techniques, but the results sound pretty reasonable.  Eighty percent of those polled wanted the American troops to stay for a limited duration; 70 percent rejected a lengthy stay by the Americans.  In other words these people are happy to be liberated.  I'm sure they want us to stay and finish the job, and when the job is done they want to be left to run their own affairs.  That's our plan.  It's been our plan from the beginning.

 

     I'm going to have to go, Tom.

 

     Q:  Okay, thanks very much.

 

     Wolfowitz:  You're very welcome.  Bye.

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