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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with the Jerusalem Post

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
September 22, 2003

(Interview with Janine Zacharia, the Jerusalem Post)

           

            Q:  I guess the first thing I wanted to ask you is how you feel about the pre-war argument that toppling Saddam would help with Middle East peacemaking.  Do you still see that as the case and how?

 

            Wolfowitz:  The same way as I saw it before.  I mean, you know, help with – there’s no magic cure, no magic answer.  But it certainly helps to remove a dictator who funds terrorists and incites terrorism and harbored key Palestinian terrorists -- some of whom we captured.  That’s got to be a positive thing.  And I think more importantly in the longer run, when the Iraqis can demonstrate the possibility of a democratic representative government, I think it will have a good effect throughout the Arab world.  I mean, hopefully we’ll make some real progress on Middle East peace before we get to that point.  I think they’re mutually reinforcing processes.  That’s what I’ve said all along; I still believe it.

 

            Q:  This idea of a domino effect perhaps of spreading democracy with the Arab world.

 

            Wolfowitz:  I don’t think it was an accident by the way that we were able to get an unusual level of support from Egypt and Saudi Arabia at Sharm el Sheik in the wake of the defeat of Saddam Hussein.  And there are many indirect affects.  It’s the fact that we can now get most of our troops - virtually all of them - out of Saudi Arabia because the Saudis have a much freer hand to deal with terrorism internally -- which is, again, a generally positive contribution to the overall climate.

 

            Q:  But in somehow changing the dynamic within Israel and the Palestinian areas if you have Arafat as one partner and Ariel Sharon.

 

            Wolfowitz:  Each of these problems has its own internal dynamic that is unique and it’s not mainly going to be solved from outside.  The point always to me has been that you don’t wait on one until the other is solved.  Solving either one contributes.  Remember we were in a mode of people saying, well, don’t do anything about Saddam Hussein until you solve the Arab/Israeli problem.  I think that was simply wrong.

 

            Q:  The idea of spreading the democracy throughout the Arab world.  How soon do you think we can see something like that?  Is it first it has to get itself together in Iraq and then?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I’ve tried to really emphasize that these are long-term evolutionary processes.  And I’ve seen it in Asia over a 20-year period, and I’ve seen incredible change in Asia over 20 years.  When I became Assistant Secretary of State for that region in 1982, there was one democracy in the whole region of east Asia and that was Japan.  And in the 20 years since then we’ve seen the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, and even in China I think there is – I mean they have a very long way to go, but they’re beginning to feel the pressure of other people in the region achieving democracy, and it makes it harder for governments to resist it.

 

            And I think – so these changes don’t happen instantly and it isn’t all going to come out of Iraq -- I think the things that the Moroccans are doing so far look promising. I think the things that are being done in Bahrain are promising.  You know King Abdullah of Jordan just recently spoke at, I think, at the (inaudible) Conference and said some pretty remarkable things about the significance for his country of the prospect of democracy in Iraq.  So change of this kind is, and should be, a gradual process.  But the idea that we could live with another 20 years of stagnation in the Middle East that breeds this radicalism and breeds terrorism is, I think, just unacceptable -- especially after September 11th.

 

            Q:  Some people have said that the influx of terrorists into Iraq is actually a good thing for the war on terrorism.  Do you agree with that?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I’ll put it a little differently, I think.  Building a free and democratic Iraq is going to be a huge victory on the war on terrorism, and the terrorists realize that.  And that’s why they’re in there trying their best to defeat it.  And, in fact, in one of the recent al-Qaeda publications they say something to the effect that democracy – success of democracy in Iraq - would be a terrible thing because it would teach Muslims and Arabs to love life, fear death and be unwilling to become martyrs.  I mean that’s the twisted world in which they live.  And a positive Iraq would be definitely a huge defeat for them.

 

            Q:  I was wondering if there was any –

 

            Wolfowitz:  It’s not a bad thing to be killing and capturing people like Ansar al-Islam. But, and as people say, it’s a lot better to kill and capture them there than in London or Paris or New York.  But I think the really important thing is – and they are behaving as though they understand it -- is that our success in Iraq will be a big blow to them.

 

            Q:  Is there anything now that you wish you had done or considered differently in the pre-war period regarding the post-war period?

 

            Wolfowitz:  In all this terrible planning that we did that prevented oil fields from being destroyed, the prevention of humanitarian crisis, the prevention of fortress Baghdad, for any use of weapons against Israel, prevented (inaudible).

 

            Q:  No, I know – I’ve heard you say all these things.

 

            Wolfowitz:  No, I’m getting a little tired of all these things we didn’t plan for when there was so much good planning that prevented all these things that these critics predicted.  And most of these critics frankly never predicted the main problem that we have today, which is the persistent violence of the old regime loyalists.  And, you know, we tried very hard before the war to do the one thing that might have made a difference, and that was to train free Iraqi forces.  And there were just a lot of people who said, wait a minute, this is inconsistent to the diplomatic approach to solving a WMD problem.  So we didn’t get as far as we wanted to.  So, I mean, if there’s one thing I wish we had more of, it was more Iraqis trained before the war.  But we’ve done very well.  I mean to have gone from virtually none when Baghdad fell to some 60,000 Iraqis in the police and other security forces is pretty impressive.

 

            Q:  I mean there were those INC people going to Hungary and they were doing that training but it was limited, right, was it?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Because most people – not because we didn’t try, but because there were people saying in different ways and in different countries that it was cutting across the U.N. diplomacy, basically, and fair enough.  There was a constant tension between planning for the post-war and working to avoid war.  And that’s when they kind of (inaudible).

 

            Q:  A lot of people in Israel are focused on the Iran question.  I guess here, too, as well.  And I’m wondering if does the absence of finding at least the stashes of WMD -- is that going to impair U.S. argument making about other tyrants and weapons of mass destruction?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Be patient.  Let’s see.  I mean you, like everyone else, have jumped to the conclusion that it isn’t there.

 

            Q:  No, no I didn’t say that, I said it could be hidden or it could be somewhere else.

 

            Wolfowitz:  Look, the only thing I know is that – well I guess I know two things.  I know, number one, that the intelligence on that program was essentially unanimous.  I mean there were disagreements on the edges on smaller points, but everyone was convinced of the certain basic conclusions.  And secondly, Iraq is what the intelligence people call an extremely hard target, and it’s a kind of a anti-septic, technical way of saying it’s a place where people’s tongues were cut out if they talked when they weren’t supposed to, and where secrets were kept ferociously and continue to be kept quite ferociously.  So we have very good people working on it, and I assume we’ll get to the bottom of the thing, but it will take time.

 

            Q:  I’ve wanted to ask you a question since – for 14 months now about when you were booed at the Israel Solidarity Rally on the mall when I was standing there and people around?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Were you booing?  (laughs)

 

            Q:  No I was standing next to somebody who said, that’s Paul Wolfowitz, and I was like?  I found it a very extraordinary moment and I wondered if you could remember what it felt like to be booed at a pro-Israel rally?

 

            Wolfowitz:   Well, first, I think the main sentiment I left with is feeling that even though they may have been loud, and in front of the crowd, that they were a distinct minority of the demonstrators.  And when I left the stage Elie Wiesel, and as I remember it an Orthodox Deputy Cabinet Minister and a lot of other people came up and said, thank you for what you said.  It was the right thing and we’re ashamed of the people who booed.  I think it’s a sort of sad commentary when decent human beings, and I assume they were decent human beings, get so impassioned that they can’t see that there’s anything to sympathize or have concern with on the other side.  And that’s a challenge. But as I say, I really do believe it was a minority of that crowd.

 

            Q:  You weren’t sad?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Look, I know they didn’t come there mainly to hear that particular line.  I just thought it was important to say it.

 

            Staff:  For clarity’s sake, that line being?

 

            Wolfowitz:  That line being that we have to recognize that there are Palestinians there dying also.  And we know what the cause is, and I guess that’s why some people don’t like hearing it.  But innocent people are dying on both sides.

 

            Q:  Can you comment about Yassar Arafat?

 

            Wolfowitz:  No.  {Laughter}  Believe it or not the State Department does foreign policy and I’m going to stay out of that one.

 

            You know I’ll just say this indirectly.  I mean, I think…

 

            Q:  I didn’t ask about the road map!

 

            Wolfowitz:  I mean he’s clearly failed his people and he’s failed the whole peace process.  And Anwar Sadat demonstrated in a powerful way what a deep craving Israelis have for peace.  And if a Palestinian leader could come forward in as convincing a way as Sadat did, and say, you can have real peace, but here’s what you have to do, I think it would be astonishing how quickly we could get to what most people would recognize, I think, as the inevitable outcome.  But the President has talked about two states living side-by-side in peace.  It’s getting that convincing message across that requires a new kind of leadership.

 

            Q:  You have a sister, I guess other relatives, living in Israel and I was wondering personally how you deal with that?  Do you worry about her when there’s a bombing in Jerusalem?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Sure if it’s too close to where they live, I call. 

 

            Q:  I know she lives in Jerusalem, I won’t to ask you what street she lives on – that’s fine, I was just curious as someone who’s lived in Israel for a long time and had very worried relatives, you know, how do you deal with that?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I mean I think it’s impressive how Israelis generally deal with it and it’s a tough thing to live with.

 

            Q:  Getting back to the Iraq question, the question of Syria and sort of what the –

 

            Wolfowitz:  I thought we were going to do – never mind?

 

            Q:  No, you want to stick with this?

 

            Wolfowitz:  No, you’re getting me into a lot of ground where I’m not going to give you very good answers, just because I’m not about to make news on Syria, but give it a try.

 

            Q:  No, I won’t.  That’s okay.  We can skip it.  I was just -- in terms of how it relates to Iraq, I wasn’t going to try and probe, you know, what should U.S. policy be or something, but as one of the countries that sort of fits the characteristics of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, are not being helpful on Iraq, if you had any general thoughts about that?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I’d say the most important thing right now is not being helpful in Iraq. And it would be in Syria’s own interest, I think -- although it may take a lot to convince them -- to not get in the way of what we’re trying to do there.

 

            Q:  I was looking over the chapter you wrote for Present Dangers -- the book in 2002 where you talk a lot about democracy building, and if I may, I wanted to read you a quote from that.

 

            Wolfowitz:  If I wrote it, I’ll try to remember it.  {Laughter}

 

            Q:  I think I’m quoting accurately I didn’t bring the book with me.  It was after Vietnam and before you talked about Haiti.  “Both because of what the United States is and because of what is possible, we cannot engage in either promoting democracy or  nation building as an exercise of will, we must proceed by interactive interdiction not imposition.”  I’m wondering if that is something that can be applied to Iraq, does that sort of suggest that we need a team effort on this idea?

 

            Wolfowitz:  I mean Iraq is in many ways a kind of special case that was sort of forced on us to use military force, because of the threat it posed.  I certainly wouldn’t have advocated it.  I don’t know that I know many people who would have advocated using military force simply to create a democracy in Iraq.  Before September 11th, the whole spirit of the Iraq Liberation Act, and those of us who supported it, was to help the Iraqi people liberate themselves.  And I think it’s unfortunate that we didn’t do more earlier that might have made that possible.  Just as I think if we had done more for the Bosnians earlier, they might have been able to protect themselves.  And we wouldn’t have had to go in there with big international forces.  So I think, I mean, what I was saying in that article was much more about the fact that I think, ideally what we do is to try to create conditions where people build the institutions for themselves.  It’s more like somebody said, it’s more like gardening than it is like architecture.  That if you keep the plants watered and keep the weeds out, they can grow into amazing things on their own -- not something that you create.  And the whole concept that we go in and we build nations -- I think we can create conditions where people can build a nation for themselves.

 

In the case of Iraq, we have such a stake in having it come out right.  And we’re in there in ways that we wouldn’t normally choose to be -- that you got a big job to get the security piece right, and we got a big job to get the infrastructure into shape where they’re not repairing 30 years of really abusive mismanagement by the dictatorship.  I mean at some point and I – most of us feel sooner rather than later -- you need to let go in having created the conditions.  Let them do the best they can with it.  Which is also why, you know we use that word democracy a little too glibly.  There are many, many different ones around the world and we took 225 years to get to where we are, and the British took four centuries.  I mean, I think more appropriate models for Iraq are the countries of Central and Eastern Europe which are still struggling, most of them, all of them really.  But they’ve made extraordinary progress from where they were 10, 12 years ago.  And I think that’s the right thing to expect of the Iraqis and of Iraq, and hopefully they’ll do it.

 

Q:  So what are you doing for Rosh Hashanah?

 

Wolfowitz:  Probably spending most of the time in synagogue.  {Laughter}

 

Q:  Can I say a reformed synagogue?

 

Wolfowitz:  Yeah

 

Q:  But are you generally observant or how would you characterize yourself as?

 

Wolfowitz:  I guess observant as a reformed Jew.

 

Q:  In a reformed kind of way?

 

Wolfowitz:  Yes, yes, I mean I do take it seriously.

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