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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview on the Pentagon Channel

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
May 04, 2004
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview on the Pentagon Channel

Q:  First, sir, most of this is for military appreciation month and then some on the progress Operation in Iraq Freedom.  If you could start by giving us a little bit of an overview of what our military has accomplished for our nation in the last year or two? 

 

WOLFOWITZ:   You want to start now?

 

Q:  Yes. 

 

WOLFOWITZ:    You know, it was said to me, I thought an extremely good summary of the whole effort that’s been under way since September 11th.  One of the colonels who commanded the brigade and one of the first Airborne divisions up in Mosul, said to me when we visited last July that what he tells his troops of what they’re doing is every bit as important as what their grandfathers of the greatest generation, as Tom Brokaw called it, did in Germany and Japan of World War II or what their fathers did in Korea and Europe and the Cold War. And what I think he meant, when he said in my words is it’s two things.  It’s fighting a terrible evil that threatens our country.  And in that case, it was fascism and Communism.  But the modern-day terrorists are the same kinds of killers who believe that the end justifies the means.  But also helping people liberate themselves in building societies, just as our country today is so much better off because Japan and Germany are democracies and because Korea and Poland are democracies. 

 

The men and women of the American armed forces in just the last two and a half years that liberated 50 million people – 25 million in Afghanistan, 25 million in Iraq – almost all of – most of the Muslims from two of the worst dictatorships in the world and giving those people a chance to build the kinds of country, the kind of societies that not only make them better off, but make America a safer and more secure.  It’s an incredible achievement. 

 

Q:  When you get a chance to talk to people-- American citizens, what kind of support do you see for our troops from them? 

 

WOLFOWITZ:    Enormous support.  And in fact, one thing that strikes me over and over again is no matter what people think about the policy, the admiration for the troops is across the board.  That’s number one.  And number two, again, no matter what people, wherever they are in the spectrum of support the policy, lukewarm about the policy, oppose the policy, every time they go to Iraq or Afghanistan, they say, gee, it’s better than I thought.  And I think that’s one of things that’s a little frustrating to the men and women that I talked to is they are doing this incredible job.  They see real progress and they sometimes read in the presses, though, nothing has improved for the better and a lot has, of course. 

 

Q:  With Military Appreciation Month, what are some of the things that we can do to help them understand or help them get the message back to the United States that progress is being made?   

 

WOLFOWITZ:   Well, I think, first of all, just keep making progress. I mean, I do believe eventually the facts get through over the statements – false statements.   And it is absolutely critical that we win Iraq and that we win Afghanistan.  And of course, what sometimes I think people don’t understand is we’re trying to rebuild societies that are still at war and especially in Iraq, the war is still on with essentially the same regime that was governing the country for the last 35 years with some foreign terrorists supported and some other allies.  But it is mainly the same fight that we fought all the way to Baghdad and it’s spread out into some of the towns in central Iraq. 

 

Q:  That critical job obviously, it’s very difficult for our military, but it’s also difficult for their families.  Is there something you’d like to say to the families? 

 

WOLFOWITZ:  Well, first of all, Military Appreciation Month should definitely include through family appreciation month.  That is one thing that is different from the World War II generation.  The World War II generation were mostly unmarried men.  All volunteer force is mostly family members then.  Very few were heads of families-- men and women.  And it’s an enormous burden on families just to be separated so long and to be separated under combat conditions where every day you’re hoping that the bad news isn’t coming.  The anxiety is enormous.  And I think our whole country has got to be enormously grateful that there are men and women ready to serve our country in that way and families who support the way these families do. 

 

Q:  The Armed Forces Day theme is “A Tradition of Heroes.”  And I assume you feel that our military members are heroes? 

 

WOLFOWITZ:    Incredible heroes. 

 

Q:  What makes that so? 

 

WOLFOWITZ:   The same qualities that have made so many American heroes through decades and that is enormous courage and selflessness.  What comes through over and over again is the sense of devotion to their fellow soldiers or service members.  We just read the tragic, but heroic story a couple days ago of a Marine who jumped on a grenade to save the lives of his comrades.  And a devotion to our country and to the things that this country stands for – not just some brave people who fight for money or other kinds of things.  Our brave people fight for the values that this country believes in and its [Inaudible].

 

Q:  Let’s talk about that a little bit more.  There’s been some recent violence in Fallujah and that’s a tumultuous area.  Iraq has also made some political gains on their own.  How has our role changed in the last couple years and why? 

 

WOLFOWITZ:  It’s really the last year since we came in.  And I think, you know, we’ve always understood from the beginning that the key to success in Iraq isn’t for the United States to run that country for decades to come.  The key to success is putting Iraqis in charge of their own future.  It means politically transitioning to an Iraqi government and that process is going to start on July 1st.   It’s not going to finish July 1st.  There are many steps along the way, including elections that are going to take place at the end of this year, beginning of next year.  But that is key. 

 

Another key is having Iraqis increasingly being in the front lines fighting for your country.  And we’ve been training and equipping thousands of Iraqis, police and the Civil Defense Corps, the army and the other two branches of the Iraqi security services.  They’re a long way from being ready to take care of themselves and we – in the last month, we’ve seen some places where they were outgunned, where they didn’t stand to fight. But I would say, overall, you know, I think what many Americans don’t know is that more than 300 Iraqis have died in the line of duty in the last year. 

 

I think that’s the path to success.  Fallujah, we’ve known all along, was a real hotbed of former members of the security army of the Saddam regime, not ordinary soldiers, but the real killers that raped and murdered and tortured that country for 35 years.  And it’s a tricky business cleaning them out but I think we’ve been doing a great job. 

 

Q:  Despite the message from the Department of Defense that it is a tricky business and it is going to take awhile, there are some people that still feel, hey, we’ve been there an awful long time, how come we’re not gone yet? 

 

WOLFOWITZ:   I know.  It’s – look, impatience is an American quality and it has – often, it’s good because we get things done, but I mean, put it in context here a little.  This is a country that for 35 years has suffered under the abuse of one of the worst dictatorships in history.  Saddam didn’t do this by himself.  Most of the country is glad to be rid of him.  But they were some thousands – maybe a couple of 10 thousands – of real killers who enabled him to rule.  And a lot of those people are still on the loose.  They are the core of the groups that are fighting and killing Americans.  Sometimes they’d hire some unemployed kid to do the shooting for them.  And sometimes they line up with foreign terrorists and they help bring them to the country.  But that’s the real enemy.  And you don’t get rid of that enemy over night. 

 

And compared to another situation, we went into Bosnia after the Dayton Agreement in 1995.  Some people mistakenly said we would be out in a year.  Well, it’s eight years later.  We have come down steadily.  We may actually in a year or so no longer have any significant American troops in Bosnia.  That’s eight years plus.  And Iraq is a country that has suffered much more.  And this is the key point, it is much more important to the future of the region and therefore the future of the United States.  So we need to be on a path to success.  We need to gradually -- gradually -- have the Iraqis assume more and more responsibility and us taking less and less responsibility and we need a little patience, too. 

 

Q:  Over the last couple of days we’ve seen some disturbing images on TV about…

 

[Cross Talk]

 

Q:  [Inaudible] American soldiers and there’s been some speculation as to what’s going on.  Can you address that? 

 

WOLFOWITZ:    Well, I think everyone I know in uniform and out of uniform, for that matter, find the behavior depicted in those pictures simply appalling.  And I think the people responsible have really betrayed their fellow service men and women.  It’s exactly the opposite of what Americans have fought and died for to bring Iraq the opportunity for freedom. But here’s the point, too – it is different.  I mean, these things happened in the old days, they were promoted.  It was the policy of the regime to do it.  These incidents were uncovered because a soldier who remembered his training, reported the incident to the army immediately – conducted, I think, no fewer than four different investigations are ongoing as well as a criminal investigation.  And the people who were responsible will be held accountable and if there’s anything systemic, it would be corrected.  So I think it’s absolutely clear that this kind of behavior is absolutely not the norm for American men and women in uniform.  They were as appalled by it as anybody else and we’ll take action. 

 

Q:  Is this going to effect what we’re doing over there? 

 

WOLFOWITZ:  Of course, it has a negative effect.  That’s why it’s such a disservice to everyone else, that a few bad apples can create some large problems for everybody. 

 

Q:  Let’s shift over to the progress we’re making there.  Do the Iraqi people still appreciate what we’re doing there? 

 

WOLFOWITZ:    Yes.  It varies by region.  And I think there’s an unease that’s creeping in, the level of violence disturbs them.  But there’s been enormous progress in building schools, getting schools going, the electricity is now back to above pre-war levels.  And large parts of the Iraqi economy are apparently booming.  I don’t know where the money comes from exactly, but satellite dishes sprouting like mushrooms all over Baghdad.  Again, there’s an impatience on the part of Iraqis.  It’s a little different, but it’s what one general told me – “the man on the moon effect, they know we can put a man on the moon, but they don’t understand why we can’t fix their country overnight.  And so we’re trying to catch up with those expectations.  

 

And I think the sooner we have an Iraqi government -- and that’s scheduled to happen on July 1st --  the better it will be, for two reasons.  First of all, they’ll understand it’s their government that’s responsible and if there are complaints, they need to address them to their government. But secondly, they’ll understand that we’re on a path to handing the country back to the Iraqi people.  I think one of things that does hurt us is the propaganda that says we’re an occupying power.  We’ve just come there to exploit the country and take its oil and that’s nonsense, but it’s a part of the world where people have been trained to believe in a lot of nonsense, so we usually have to create facts and show them that’s not true. 

 

Q:  Aside from, obviously, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, you represent the Department of Defense.  But you’re also a gentleman who serves his country.  So how does the progress we’re making and how does what we’re doing for our nation and the other nations make you feel, not as the deputy secretary, but as Paul Wolfowitz?

 

WOLFOWITZ:  Well, first of all, I’m enormously proud to be an American.  Incredibly proud.  I can’t tell you how both proud and grateful I am for the incredible men and woeman who serve.  And civilians as well as the military, I was at the Al Rashid Hotel in Baghdad.  One of these murdering bunches launched – I think it was about 15 rockets from this devilish device at the hotel.  Actually, an army lieutenant colonel was killed right below me.  We went to the hospital afterwards to visit the five most seriously wounded.  Four were civilians, one was the army colonel.  The army colonel, by the way, was an immigrant from Lebanon who really believed in what we were doing in Iraq.  There was one woman, there was one British civilian.  They all were committed to what we’re doing.  It was heroism of the finest. And I see it every time I got Walter Reed here, every time I go to Bethesda. 

 

It makes me enormously grateful that we have people who were so selfless and who serve our country in this time, because September 11th really has changed everything.  It made the stakes enormously high not only to defeat the terrorists, but also to enable the Muslim world to progress in a way that will ultimately dry up the sources of terrorism.  We can’t witness war only by fighting the enemy, we also have to begin recruiting the good guys and getting the Muslim world to understand that the real path to progress isn’t what the terrorists offer.  I think most people know that.  They need to be convinced that there’s an opportunity to have the benefits of the kind of freedom that we enjoy and [Inaudible]. 

 

Q:  I think as a senior defense person who’s gone through that sort of thing, does that give you a different perspective on what the military is doing over there? 

 

WOLFOWITZ:   You mean, actually being there and being shot at?  Well, in the following sense, I mean, we were there for one – well, you know, I guess a total of maybe two weeks, if you put it all together.  And I know what it’s like, but I get to go home.  I’m not there day after day after day.  And you know what, it really gives me a perspective on is the families.  I mean, my daughter first heard about that incident when we were already safe.  And I know the anxiety level it produced.  She’s sixteen now.  It produced a lot.  And you don’t have to experience it, though, to understand it, I think – just read any account in the newspapers.  The American people have ready access to understanding the sacrifices of our service members, you know, the sacrifices their families are making.  And I think that in a lot of ways they can show appreciation and it doesn’t mean you sacrifice your right to criticize the government and criticize the policy.  And I think letters to servicemen, support groups for families, all the kinds of things that ordinary citizens can do and I encourage people to do.  It’s a tough business.  It’s not World War II, where the whole country has to be mobilized, so the burdens are not distributed evenly.  But I think those who are lucky enough to have these people serving for us, should do everything we can to help. 

 

Q:  Now is your opportunity to tell the military people something.  What would you like to say? 

 

WOLFOWITZ:  I would, first of all, [Inaudible] huge thank you.  What you’re doing is making the world safer for my children and my grandchildren.  And I don’t know how to day thank you enough.  I know the sacrifice involved.  I know these soldiers these amazing [Inaudible].  I thank you for the toughness.  I thank you for the positive outlook and I thank you not only for the courage, which we’ve had down through the centuries and decades.  But I think this may be the smartest bunch of military we’ve ever had.  And indeed, this is a war that’s going to be won by not just combat effectiveness, but by winning hearts and minds and getting people to cooperate with us.  So it’s a war of brains as well as brawn and we’ve got both. 

 

Q:  Thanks so much for joining us. 

 

WOLFOWITZ:  Thank you.  My pleasure.

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