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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with KSSK Radio in Oahu, Hawaii

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
May 02, 2002

(Interview with KSSK Radio in Oahu, Hawaii.)

KSSK: Is this your first time here in Hawaii?

Wolfowitz: Oh, no. I've been here many times. I'm kind of an old Pacific hand in some ways myself.

KSSK: I didn't know in your current capacity if it was the first time you've had a chance to visit us. I was assuming it was.

Wolfowitz: In my current capacity, yes, it is my first time and it's exciting to be here. in this position, I must say.

KSSK: Is it a little like old home week for you, sir? Working with Dick Cheney once again, as close as you must be?

Wolfowitz: I think one of the reasons that the President's team works so well is that so many of us have worked with one another and know what team work is all about. And I must say it's great to work for this kind of leader. He's a President who listens and then makes decisions and leads the team in a smart way. It's exciting.

KSSK: It must be an interesting chore here. We always sort of get lit up with pride when there's a change of command. We understand that the primary reason to visit here was to welcome Admiral Thomas Fargo into his new job.

Wolfowitz: Well, it's to actually bid farewell to Admiral Blair and to welcome Admiral Fargo. And it is an emotional day. We're going to mark the end of one great Navy career -- in fact I think Admiral Blair is the sixth generation in his family in the Navy, and welcome another outstanding commander. But it's also a day to recognize the outstanding men and women who wear the uniform.

I had a chance earlier today, a great privilege actually, to visit the submarine USS Buffalo and the destroyer USS Russell. On the Russell I got a chance to present the just newly authorized National Defense Service Medal which recognizes the sacrifices and contributions our armed forces are making. The Russell's just come back from a six-month deployment to the Gulf and I was able to award the medal for the entire crew.

KSSK: We understand Ensign Jessie Saguro, highly awarded, also Petty Officer David Chat, both of the Russell. It's sort of prophetic I guess in a way, sir, because we have just marked the 60th anniversary, as you know, of Pearl Harbor and here we are a part of yet another war that seems so far away.

I'm wondering if you're noticing that we're losing the tension a little bit sometimes, that the public is so far away from what's going on does it seem the intensity, that the support is still there? We're concerned about that on our shows all the time.

Wolfowitz: I think you're right to be concerned and anything you and other people in the media can do to remind people that the threat is still very real, and I suppose if we'd thought more about Pearl Harbor maybe we would have been more attentive before September 11th. We can't keep making those kinds of mistakes because nothing's happened for a little while. We know those evil people are out there plotting. We know we've had some great successes in arresting many of them and capturing a lot of them in Afghanistan and killing a lot of them, and we know we've made it a lot harder for them to plan. But we also know they're still hard at work trying to figure out how to kill Americans and we've got to keep at this war and we've got to keep as strong a defense as we can at the same time.

KSSK: Earlier today we were reflecting on how Hawaii has finally positioned itself with homeland security and been certified. Normally we're not very high up the list. Here in Hawaii, the Pacific, we're kind of I guess operating on a slower clock than the rest of the country. We seem to be positioned pretty well this time.

What about the rest of the country in defense? Are we more realistically prepared for whatever might be the next round of this terrorism?

Wolfowitz: I think we're way up on the step in terms of both our ability to prevent terrible things from happening and also in our ability to respond if they do. As you may know, we just certified what we call a Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team for Hawaii in the Hawaii National Guard. I think it's one of the first 17 such teams certified around the country. We hope we'll never need these people because they are for real disasters, but if we have a real disaster it's good to know that we've got some folks out here who are ready to help do what we can to help minimize the damage.

KSSK: If we could reflect on that for a second. We certainly have empathy and sympathy for those that were affected by the events of 9-11 in that we are the only real estate in America that knows what it's like to have somebody attack you. Do you think that in the overview, because people here got very very concerned right after September 11th, here it comes again. How vulnerable is Hawaii? We feel pretty safe. You're here to do the blessing of the CINCPAC. We feel pretty safe with the fleet and everybody here, but doesn't it also put another little risk on us because of the assets that we have?

Wolfowitz: It's always a mistake to feel safe when you know people are out to get you, I think.

Look, when you look at the targets that are highest on the terrorists' lists, I guess you can be thankful Hawaii doesn't pop up at the very top. But on the other hand they will go where they think they can do damage and you've just got to keep your guard up. We've got to keep our guard up all around and not just in the United States but also around the world. We also know they're working actively surveiling targets where we have embassies, where we have troops deployed. And as you point out correctly, all of these troops here would make a nice hit for terrorists.

KSSK: It's something that I guess we're getting used to living with.

I suppose because of our instant connection with your office, sir, with the President on a daily basis, we flip on the networks every morning here. As you know, with the time difference we are on the way to work, able to get a tremendous dose of information. A lot of us are pretty much, by the time we get to the office, supplied with what's going on for the day.

It seems like we're just sort of holding water with events right now, waiting for the next victory of waiting for the next incident.

Wolfowitz: Do you have a lot of people who watch Secretary Rumsfeld's press briefings? I'm told he's got a big following in San Francisco among the older set.

KSSK: I would think it would be even bigger here with the younger set. The reason for that is you take off at this time of the year with daylight savings time, it's under three hours. So you can see Secretary Rumsfeld every day while you're having your cup of coffee in the morning and reading the paper before you go to work. It's really sort of a privilege that we have, being so far behind the East Coast at this time.

Wolfowitz: I'll have to report that back to him. But you know what he says over and over again, and it can't be said enough. We still have a lot of work to do just in Afghanistan and these terrorists have burrowed into 60 countries around the world including our own, including some of our best friends in Europe and there is a lot of work to do. We need to keep alert, we need to keep at it, and we've got men and women going in harm's way right now in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

KSSK: Let me ask you this, sir. Things are certainly different. This is not your first time, it's your third tour, so to speak, around the White House. Are we a little bit more in perspective than we used to be with respect to getting information? We sort of demand this stuff. Here's Secretary Rumsfeld who's probably as well known a face as anybody in the country, and I'm not sure that's always been true for the Secretary of Defense.

Wolfowitz: This is a different kind of war and it's going to be a long one. I think the questions you've been raising absolutely appropriately about whether people are getting too relaxed, it's a challenge when you're dealing with a shadowy enemy where most of the fights aren't on conventional battlefields. Many of the most important victories are truly in the shadows and yet the threats that are out there could be, we've seen one glimpse of it on September 11th. As the President said in the State of the Union message, there are people working at much more horrible things using weapons of mass destruction.

KSSK: How are we sort of positioned with regards to watching what's going on between the Israelis and the Palestinians right now with respect to Afghanistan. It seems like some of the efforts are put on hold while we watch a developing Middle East Situation, and hopefully it's fruition to peace.

Wolfowitz: We have to work that one very hard and I think the President sending Secretary Powell out there did a lot to prevent that situation from really going over the cliff. I think we're seeing some progress, we're seeing the Israelis pull out of Ramallah, but we also have to recognize that after the kind of violence that's been inflicted there, it's going to be awhile before, if we're lucky, before people will get I think serious about negotiations.

In the mean time we are going full bore on everything we can do to go after terrorists and to build a strategy for regimes that are supporting terrorists. It's going to take time but I am absolutely confident that we can meet the challenge.

KSSK: It's certainly comforting to hear that. I'm just kind of wondering if maybe as a final shot, taking a look at this thing, we keep getting told it's going to be awhile. We seem to have rebounded economically. The economy of this country seems to be, concerning the fact that we are at war, a pretty vibrant one right now. We need to have this continually happening, don't we, to continue the level of support that you're getting and to continue the -- There actually seems to be a little bit of slippage right now in the approval ratings, but by the same token it's still higher than it's ever been for a President particularly at war. How do we deal with that? How do we deal with keeping the enthusiasm level? We started that earlier. Maybe as a parting shot you could give us some final words on that.

Wolfowitz: I think you are right that the strength of our economy is one of the greatest strengths of our country, I must say the greatest strength of our country are the marvelous people that make it up including, I'd say, particularly the marvelous men and women who man our armed forces. But it's great that that economy is coming back.

I remember right after Pearl Harbor Winston Churchill in his diary said that he felt relieved and he remembered what the Foreign Minister of England had said when the U.S. came into World War I. He said, "The United States is like a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lit under it there is no limit to the power it can generate."

And I believe with the kind of leadership that President Bush is showing and the kind of support he's getting from Congress and the American people, that gigantic boiler is fired up and strong.

KSSK: Well, Dr. Wolfowitz, I certainly enjoyed spending a few minutes with you. I hope you're going to be able to take your shoes off and get some sand between your toes while you're here in Hawaii. It's part of the deal.

How much longer are you going to be able to stay and what do you have in mind for a bit of recreation?

Wolfowitz: I thought it was part of the deal too, and then my boss said you've got to be back here on Saturday, so I'm going to have to leave pretty early tomorrow morning. But I am determined to get back here. I love this place. It's beautiful and the work that's done here at Pacific Command is incredibly important.

And I'll just say one last parting thing. I think some of our biggest security challenges in the future are out here in this huge, beautiful region called the Pacific, and to have this foothold out in the middle of the Pacific in these beautiful islands is a great advantage for the whole United States.

KSSK: Well said, sir. Thank you so much for joining us and in spite of having to go back we do hope that you can get just a little bit of R&R.

Wolfowitz: Thanks for taking me on.

KSSK: Aloha to you.

Wolfowitz: Aloha to you.

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