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Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz Interview with BBC

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
September 11, 2003
BBC:  Mr. Wolfowitz, could you say perhaps what the difference is this time, the second anniversary of the September the 11th acts as compared to last year?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Well, I suppose things are not quite as fresh, but I think it brings home the fact, and I hope it does bring home to the country that this is going to be a long struggle.  The President said it almost from the first day that it will be a long struggle.  These terrorists had ten years or even decades to build up the kind of threat they have, and September 11th was, I think, a wakeup call for us -- that we couldn't continue just treating terrorism as a manageable evil.  Given the scale on which it can threaten us and threaten us directly, we have to deal with it in a much more fundamental way, and that's going to take time.

 

            BBC:  Do you think perhaps though, there might be more uncertainty this time, on the second anniversary, because of the uncertainties in Iraq, particularly the problems you're having there, than there was last year?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Well, I'd actually say, I just got a memo from the CIA, an unclassified memo the other day, assessing where we are after two years, or more properly where the al Qaeda network is.   Their description was they're reeling from the blows that have been struck against them.  The mastermind of September 11th was arrested earlier this year.  Probably the mastermind of the Bali attack was arrested very recently.  The number of captured al Qaeda people is enormous and they are really struggling.  They're on the run.  They're trying to show that they're there and that gives us an opportunity to keep them running.

 

            BBC:  The President has actually now put Iraq central stage rather than al Qaeda in this global war on terrorism --

 

            Wolfowitz:  You can't separate them.  In fact al Qaeda has put Iraq center stage.  I think Zawahiri in his latest tape says that.  They're al Qaeda people.  They've been in Iraq before the war, they were there during the war, they're there now, and they see any opportunity to kill Americans, to defeat Americans, as part of their war. 

 

            We need to understand something else, too, which is that there are two fronts in this battle.  There's killing and capturing terrorists, but there is also what the President spoke about in the State of the Union message -- building a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror.

 

            A free Iraq, an Iraq of the Iraqi people and by the Iraqi people, for the Iraqi people -- if I can butcher Lincoln's wonderful words -- is something that really will contribute on that second front.  Just as an Arab-Israeli peace will contribute on that second front.  That's why it's a big job.  It's not going to be won with just a battle in Afghanistan or just a battle in Iraq.  It's not going to be won just by arresting Khalid Sheik Mohammed, as wonderful as that was, or Hambali, as wonderful as that is.  These are networks.  These are countries that support those networks.  These are wealthy people that finance those networks.  We've got to go after them in a very broad way and we can't expect overnight success.

 

            BBC:  Nevertheless, the Bush Administration and yourself in particular, to some extent, have come under a lot of flack recently because of the troubles, the problems you're facing in Iraq.

 

            Do you personally think that in Iraq, as one of the intellectuals I've reported, behind that conflict perhaps, do you think you underestimated the challenges that are being faced?

 

            Wolfowitz:  No, I don't know what people expected, that suddenly this regime which is responsible for killing a million Muslims, that for 35 years abused and tortured and raped the Iraqi people, would disappear and suddenly everything would be fine overnight?  We're what, four or five months into it?  People who have been in Kosovo and Bosnia, which was a picnic compared to Iraq, who say that Iraq is already way ahead.

 

            BBC:  Lots of the skeptics before the war were giving estimates of the kind of commitment, the length of commitment, the size of the commitment which people in the Administration seem to be disparaging.  And --

 

            Wolfowitz:  Absolutely not.  We have said -- excuse me.  We said from the beginning this would be a difficult task. We didn't make any estimates of how long it would take or how difficult it would be.  War is a difficult and uncertain thing.  For a democracy to grow on the level of what that regime left behind is a difficult thing.

 

            We've had 200 years to build our democracy and if you go back to our early history it wasn't easy.  I'm very close to Indonesia.  I was Ambassador there.  It's the largest Muslim population of any country in the world.  I was ecstatic when they got rid of the old dictator four years ago.  And by the way, he was nothing compared to Saddam Hussein.  They've been struggling, but they've been making progress.  Democracy is a progressive struggle.  Look at the countries of Central Europe.  They've made enormous progress in ten years, but it does not happen overnight.

 

            You could almost say some of the things that didn't happen are miraculous.  The Shia have reacted so calmly to absolute horrible acts of butchery in one of their holiest Muslim sites.  I could go on with a long list of things that have not happened, but this is going to take time and we need to be patient.

 

            BBC:  Do you think right now as a result of the global war on terrorism the United States is a safer place than it was in the immediate aftermath of the attacks?

 

            Wolfowitz:  The CIA came out with this assessment recently that said al Qaeda is reeling, and I think it's an accurate description.  The capture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was the mastermind of September 11th, certainly makes it safer.  We've captured Hambali who is the mastermind of JI that's responsible for both the Bali bombing and we're pretty sure the Jakarta bombing.  That's got to make us safer.

 

            Are we safe?  Of course not.  These folks have been burrowing in for ten years or longer and it's going to take time to root them out, but we have been succeeding in that.  We've taken sanctuaries away from them in Afghanistan and now in Iraq. We have 90 countries, including very importantly the United Kingdom, working with us.  And it is not just a military task, let's make it clear.  There are heroic men and women in our military and your military risking their lives every day, but so are our diplomats, so are our intelligence people, so are law enforcement people.  They're working together.

 

            BBC:  You've talked about people you've captured.  What about those 600 or so detainees in Guantanamo Bay who have been in detention for a long time.  What is going to happen to them?  How soon are they going to be facing tribunals of some description?

 

            Wolfowitz:  The most important thing is that we're getting intelligence from them.  Intelligence that's led us in a number of cases to breaking up other plots and that's our number one goal.  Where they're not dangerous, we've been able to release some numbers of them.  Where they are dangerous, at least they're not able to do any harm.

 

            The next step, of course, is to try to bring them to justice and we're doing that --

 

            BBC:  That will happen?

 

            Wolfowitz:  It has to happen, but it has to happen very carefully and in a way that both ensures our counter-terrorism goals, but also ensures our commitment to justice and civil liberties.

 

            BBC:  You've described this as a global war on terrorism.  The President, as you said, has said it's a long struggle.  Isn't there a danger precisely because of the nature of this conflict in calling it global war, that you're never going to be able to declare a final victory?

 

            Wolfowitz:  You certainly aren't going to declare a final victory if it's -- You're not going to declare a very good victory if you set your goals so low that you're still in danger. We can certainly create conditions where criminals like the ones who did the World Trade Center, the criminals like the ones who flew into this building, the criminals like the ones who killed innocent Australians in Bali, and all these other criminal acts, don't find it so easy to get money, don't find it so easy to find people who show them how to make bombs, don't find it so easy to find sanctuary.

 

            If you get it down to a couple of isolated -- you always have the problem of isolated individuals.  What makes the network so dangerous is that it is a network and it is a network that gets help from governments.  That it is a network that has the prospect, and this is what's really terrible, of getting biological weapons or chemical weapons, or God forbid, even nuclear weapons.  Those possibilities we can never eliminate, but we can certainly bring it way down below where it is today.

 

            BBC:  Finally, in order to get the kind of help, the international help you say you'd like now in Iraq in particular, aren't you going to have to feed to the United Nations or other international bodies, countries, more say, more control over what will happen in Iraq?

 

            Wolfowitz:  The important thing is to put control over what happens in Iraq as quickly as possible into the hands of the Iraqi people.  I think that's something where we're in agreement with the UN.  And I think it's going to be a central part of this new resolution.

 

            Let's not exaggerate, there are some 30 countries, including prominently the UK, who have troops there already, who understand already the stakes.

 

            We'd all be happier with a UN mandate, and I think particularly in the wake in that tragedy in Baghdad, I think we'll be able to get it.  It's never been [an issue].  We want as much contribution from other countries as possible.

 

            I think our common goal, and I believe it's increasingly understood as a common goal -- and Sergio Viera De Mello gave his life in pursuit of this goal, he made a major contribution to creating that Iraqi Governing Council -- is to let Iraqis have their country back, and back isn't the right word.  Have it for the first time in 35 years.

 

     BBC:  With all the commitments that the United States now faces around the world, which obviously [inaudible], but [inaudible].  Isn't the military and the U.S. Army in particular overstretched?

 

            Wolfowitz:  We're certainly not over-stretched in any sense that we're not about to make our commitments.  It is stretched, there are strains on people. We're trying to reduce those strains. One way to reduce those strains is not just have people deployed because they were there 10 years ago or 20 years.  We're examining our whole global footprint with a view to what the real priorities are today. 

 

            We're in a different era, we're fighting a different war with a different enemy.  In some respects our force posture is an inheritance of something that goes back before the fall of the Berlin Wall.  So we're taking that kind of re-look but no one should be in any doubt about the ability of the U.S. armed forces to meet the commitments we have.

 

            BBC:  Thank you.

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