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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
June 07, 2004

            Q:  [In Progress]  … Indonesia.  He also served as a senior official in the State Department under President Reagan.  He’s joining us now here in our Washington studio.  Thanks, Mr. Secretary, very much for joining us.  Ronald Reagan had this ability to disarm even his critics, but what was it like to work for him? 


            Wolfowitz:  Well, he was a remarkable leader and it’s a life very, very well-lived.  I had the privilege of working with him on a part of the world that people, I guess, thought didn’t get his main attention.  It was East Asia.  And of course, he’s best known for what he did with the Soviet Union in ending the Cold War…


            Q:  But did he always see East Asia, the Philippines or Indonesia within the prism of the Cold War? 


            Wolfowitz:  No.  I think he saw it as something much bigger than that.  He saw it, for one thing, I think with the perspective of a Californian, someone who looked out to the Pacific as a new frontier.  It was a place that reflected his great optimism and great looking to the future and I think he understood there were huge forces at work in East Asia.  I remember going with him to China in 1984 on a historic visit.  I think it’s the first official visit by a U.S. president to the People’s Republic.  Of course, he had a lot of…


            Q:  Right in the hotbed of communism.


            Wolfowitz:  Absolutely.  And he had a lot of reservations about the nature of that system, but he also had a great belief in the importance of building a positive relationship between the U.S. and China.  And he went there and he talked quite openly about the need for democratic reform and the need in a polite and diplomatic way, but nonetheless, it was clear. 


            Q:  Do you think he actually believed what he said, when he said that the evil empire would eventually become part of the dustbin of history?  Did he really believe all of that, because it turned out that way?


            Wolfowitz:  Well, it’s pretty stunning.  When you look at the number of times he said it, if he didn’t believe it, he was certainly taking one heck of a chance.  No, I think he really did believe in it.  I think he was right that it’s in the nature of that system that it wasn’t going to last forever.  I don’t know that he would have dared to predict it would collapse during his own time as president. 


            Q:  Well, like the current president, he was almost always underestimated by his critics.  But he used that to his advantage not only on international issues, but on domestic issues, tax cuts, across the board, certainly politically.  And you understood what was going on at the time or do you just look back with hindsight and understand how he did it? 


            Wolfowitz:  Well, first of all, even to this day, I think he’s underestimated by his critics.  I mean, I was struck very much when working with him on last years of the Marcos regime in the Philippines.  And there was a tendency to say:   Oh, Reagan only dislikes communist dictators; he’s perfectly comfortable with right-wing dictators; Ferdinand Marcos is his close friend.  This was the general line.  And he was gracious with Marcos.  He and Nancy visited the Philippines.  They had Marcos here as a state visit. 


            But I remember on one occasion when Ambassador to the Philippines came back and was explaining to Reagan how you really couldn’t trust anything that Marcos said, Reagan classic throwing back his head, he said, well, what was it Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  He knew what was wrong with that system.  He knew that Marcos ultimately was – in fact, Marcos left long before the Soviet Union collapsed and in no small measure, because Ronald Reagan laid out a notion that the United States would support reform in the Philippines. 


            Q:  As we are looking at these pictures of his body lying in repose at the presidential library in Simi Valley -- and we’ll continue to show our viewers these live pictures from California – he helped rebuild the U.S. military in the ‘80s after Vietnam, after the enormous setbacks of the ‘60s and ‘70s.  And when you look back -- put on your academic hat for a moment – how significant was that in eventually resulting in the collapse of the Soviet Union? 


            Wolfowitz:  I think very significant.  I mean, there are so many different factors that contribute, it’s hard to say.  But I remember being – having a visit with Secretary Cheney in the Pentagon some 12 years ago by a young Russian who was a democrat, who was actually leading a first ever, I think, movement of the Russian handicapped.  And as he was leaving Cheney’s office, he said he was going to California and he wanted to visit “Ronald Reagan, the father of Perestroika,” he called him.  And so we said, well, we think we know what you mean, but why do you call Ronald Reagan “the father of Perestroika?”  And basically, this young man laid out a theory which a lot of Russians believe, that the military buildup and not just SDI, but also the whole range of strengthening of American military forces, said to the Russian military, you’re not going to win this if you continue down the road of bankrupting your economy.  You can’t compete.


            Q:  They just couldn’t compete.  They just couldn’t compete.


            Wolfowitz:  And so, as this young man said, they realized they had to change.  And the more they changed, the more they had to change more and eventually things unraveled for him. 


            Q:  Unfortunately, the last decade he’s been suffering from Alzheimer’s before he passed away.  But if he could have understood what was happening in Iraq over the past year, year and half, where do you think he would come down on that? 


            Wolfowitz:  Well, let’s go back to what you said.  I mean, his greatest strength, I don’t think, was that people underestimated him.  His greatest strength was that he understood some fundamental things about this country and about human nature.  And most of all, I think he understood the power of the idea of freedom and that freedom is something that all men and women aspire to and he was supportive of freedom, not just in the Soviet Union, but as I said in the Philippines, in Korea, in Chile.  I think he would have understood the importance of the idea of freedom in the Middle East.


            Q:  Because as you remember, in the ‘80s -- in ’83 and ’84 -- when the going got tough in Lebanon, he wanted freedom for the democracy, for the Lebanese, as well.  But when the going got tough after 241 Marines were killed in that Marine barracks terrorist attack, he pulled out. 


            Wolfowitz:  Well, we’re in a different era.  September 11th has changed everything.  I think it would have changed it for Ronald Reagan.  We’ve gone from just being concerned with the freedom of other people in the Middle East to the threat to our own country from totalitarian regimes that support terrorism and that’s produced the same kind of, in a sense, marriage of interest that we just celebrated in Normandy where the opposition of fascism was also a chance to bring freedom to Japanese and Germans, as well as to our allies. 


            Q:  What’s your understanding?  How close is the administration to getting a new U.N. Security Council resolution passed? 


            Wolfowitz:  Well, I think we’ve made enormous progress.  This new Iraqi government is impressive.  They’ve really stepped up to the plate in an impressive way.  The letter that Prime Minister-designate Allawi has sent to the secretary general of the U.N. that lays out his request for a resolution that would support a multinational force in Iraq I think should make it, I would think, fairly straightforward now.  Of course, you always get into difficult negotiations, but I would hope it would come soon. 


            Q:  One final question, before I let you go. You were among those at the Pentagon who were supposedly close to Ahmed Chalabi.  You see now the trouble he’s in, the accusations that have been hurled against him.  How serious are these accusations against someone who was once considered such a close ally in Iraq? 


            Wolfowitz:  You know, one of the urban legends around is that he was somehow the favorite of the Pentagon.  He was one of many people whom we saw as credible opposition figures, Dr. Allawi is another one, the two very distinguished Kurdish leaders, Mr. Talabani, Mr. Barzani.  I think it needs to be the policy of the United States not to have favorites, but to work with everybody. 


            Q:  So you don’t see this rise and fall, if you will, of Ahmed Chalabi as a huge setback to you? 


            Wolfowitz:  Certainly not that. 


            Q:  Paul Wolfowitz, thanks so much for joining us for a few minutes and talking about Ronald Reagan.


            Wolfowitz:  Thank you.  It’s a honor to be able to talk about this great man. 

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