(Interview with Susan Baer and Tom Bowman, Baltimore Sun. An article resulting in part from this interview was published in the Baltimore Sun on May 12, 2002.)
Q: I wanted to ask you, coming into this job how important you felt it was to reverse or dramatically change the foreign policy and national security policy of the Clinton administration?
Wolfowitz: The honest truth is coming into this job I really felt I had my hands full with the Defense Department and with the lack of a -- for shorthand, what we call transformation. And I had a feeling, which was obviously misplaced, and I've asked myself -- I had a feeling that somehow foreign policy wasn't going to be that important. I'd kind of become captured by the dumbing down of foreign policy. I thought there was a lot wrong with the Clinton administration foreign policy, and there were times when I actually thought it would lead to serious problems. I don't want to get into a partisan thing here but I do believe that things like Iraq and North Korea were sort of pushed off into the future and now it is the future. And the result of pushing them off I think are more apparent.
But to be honest, I was somewhat [lulled] myself and I saw the big challenge as how do you manage a major transformation of this department at a time when resources are getting tighter and tighter because the general public isn't sure that we need defense any more. That's sort of the battle we were working through most of the summer and suddenly September 11th happened.
It's ironic, we were actually having breakfast that morning with a congressional group and in some way, it may have been specifically tied to missile defense or it may have been tied to the larger budget debate, that we made the observation, I don't know if whether it was Rumsfeld or me, but we both think the same thing on this issue, that sooner or later there was going to be a nasty surprise of some kind and people who put themselves on the side of unpreparedness are going to be uncomfortable and we puzzled why we they doing that? Then he said what sort of surprise do you mean? We said maybe the North Koreans would set off a nuclear weapon or the Iranians would get an ICBM. And an hour later I was sitting here holding a meeting and the building exploded at the other end.
Rumsfeld's point from a long time ago, from the beginning of his tenure, has been to emphasize the importance of uncertainty and surprise and the need to take account of that in planning. And he's fond of, in a very good-humored way, reminding the Vice President that in his confirmation hearings nobody, either he or the senators questioning him, ever mentioned the word Iraq. So I reminded him that in his confirmation hearings no one mentioned the word Afghanistan. So maybe we can predict the future by going back and looking at confirmation hearings. [Laughter.]
Q: Has your job changed tremendously, the emphasis of it since September 11th?
Wolfowitz: Inevitably, yes. Enormously. Although that original piece is still a very big part of my job and in some ways --
Q: The transformation piece?
Wolfowitz: The transformation piece. And in some ways because the Secretary has gotten so tied up with the war, more of that [devolved] on me. Although he gets involved in everything that's interesting here to some degree or other, but just in terms of time I probably, I couldn't say I've spent more time on it but I've had more responsibility for it. He is wonderful about a sort of alter-ego model of deputies. He also likes to say that bad things flow downhill. That's what deputies are for. [Laughter] Which is fine. I mean deputies I think are to free up the top guy so he can do those things that only a cabinet officer can do. But I've been very much involved with him in both the day-to-day monitoring of what goes on -- We have a morning phone call every morning with the commander of Central Command which includes the secretary and myself, the chairman, the vice chairman, and usually a couple of other people on the phone.
Q: A videoconference or just on the phone?
Wolfowitz: It's usually just on the phone although we do use videoconferences with other groups. It's been a great tool to have one. We've even had people in a tent in Bagram on a videoconference.
I suppose realistically somewhere between 50 percent and three-quarters of my time now really is taken up with various aspects of the war on terrorism, so yeah, it's changed a lot.
Q: How often do you talk to the secretary during the day? Are you in sort of constant contact?
Wolfowitz: Pretty much constantly, yeah. His office is just right through here. I have his calendar and I know when he's got people here and when he doesn't, and he's completely comfortable about being interrupted. I usually walk down there more than picking up the phone. By the time you work through the secure -- there's a lot you don't want to talk about on a non-secure line. I've been four times already this morning and the day is young.
Q: You've been described as a unilateralist, as a hardliner, a maximum force hawk. How would you describe your worldview, your geo-strategic philosophy and what the role of the U.S. should be in the world?
Wolfowitz: I hate those stereotypes, first of all. I don't think I fit them and I don't think they work very well. It's sort of strange to have, for people to say that somehow a conservative position to want to help the Iraqi people liberate themselves, or that it's a liberal position to leave Saddam Hussein in power. I mean I use that as an illustration of I think how poorly the label fits.
I'll tell you what I think, and this may seem like it's so mushy that everyone agrees with it, but I really believe deeply in the importance of democracy and freedom and peace. I very much, this unilateralist label is passe. I don't know anyone who's a unilateralist. I mean I don't know of anyone in serious policy debates who are unilateralists. The question is who do you cooperate with and how, and there is a tendency when you try to cooperate with everybody including the worst dictators in the world that inevitably you alter your objective to achieve consensus. How far you want to go with that is I think the real debate.
But my whole career I've spent, as has Rumsfeld, being deeply committed to NATO and to the importance of our alliances in the world, and I believe frankly that part of the key to maintaining those alliances is for our allies to have confidence in our strength, both our physical strength and also our strength of will. We didn't put together that great coalition ten years ago in the Gulf by being unilateralists, but we also didn't put it together by going and asking everybody what do you think we should do. We went out there and say this is what we're going to do, will you join us and lo and behold a lot of people signed up.
I really do think, I mean I'm deeply patriotic. My father was an immigrant. I very much appreciate what the United States has done for a lot of people in the world including my grandparents, all of whom were immigrants. But I also think there is something, at the risk of being -- I don't what to be chauvinist but there is something kind of unique about America's interests because they are, generally speaking, much more compatible with the interests of other people.
A sort of case in point is what's happened in Asia, which your father-in-law is very familiar with and which I'll take my little piece of pride in. But I think over the course of the last 20 years with encouragement from the United States we've seen first the democratic transition in the Philippines which I was privileged to sort of participate in when I had the State Department job; then a transition in Korea; then a transition in Taiwan; and instead of Japan now being the only democracy in Asia, and now Indonesia, though it's struggling. Democracy really looks like it has a future. It's the Chinese communists who are kind of on the defensive in that respect. And that's clearly been a great success for American interests but it's also been a huge success for the people of the region. I know there are lots of ways of critiquing the notion that there's a natural compatibility of interests between the United States and other countries but I think it's much closer to the truth than the opposite.
Q: There was a recent New Yorker piece that talked about your view of the world versus Richard Haass. I don't know if you saw the piece.
Wolfowitz: I read it quickly. [Laughter.]
Q: It talked about Haass viewing the world as power politics and so forth, and your view is more that the U.S. should be the sole super power [against] spreading democracies throughout the world. And you were now in ascendancy in the administration because you got the better job than Haass.
Wolfowitz: That stuff is really silly.
Q: What do you think about that? Should the U.S. try to remain, do everything it can to remain as the sole superpower?
Wolfowitz: The stuff that's referred to in that article which goes way back to the defense strategy that we wrote for Cheney ten years ago, was really the notion that we should -- Remember this was at a time when some people said the Cold War is over, why do we need NATO, why do we need the alliances in Asia? Was to say that look, it's very much in our interest to keep Europe and the democracies of East Asia tied to the United States, and also, by the way, it's in our interest to the extent we can prevent any hostile superpower from dominating either of those regions or dominating the Middle East, especially the Persian Gulf.
I haven't yet heard anyone nominate a hostile superpower that they would like to see dominate those places. And indeed if you look at what happened to American foreign policy over the 1990s, it became almost accepted truth, in fact here I will mention Pat Buchanan. Pat Buchanan complained that the people who criticized our defense planning guidance when it first appeared were later in favor of enlarging NATO and in favor of an American peacekeeping role in the world, all of which he didn't like. But the truth is I think there's something much closer to a consensus. It's not that the United States should go around dictating its will to people, but that the United States has an absolutely crucial leadership role to play in pulling people together.
Again though, --
Q: -- spreading democracy. Can you sow the seeds of democracy in the Middle East?
Wolfowitz: I think --
Q: -- Saudi and --
Wolfowitz: I think you can do things that help create the conditions for it to grow. You cannot grow it, you cannot force feed it, you certainly can't impose it. But if you look at what happened in the Philippines, I think what we saw there was an opportunity if Marcos would be pressured to back off in various ways which we had some influence to do, that there was a real opposition and over the course -- I mean it didn't happen overnight. When I first went to the Philippines in early '83 I was sort of told by -- I was very skeptical about Marcos and the embassy kind of told me well, he's not a great guy but there's no alternative. But over the course of a couple of years, and it was a crisis intensified by Aquino's murder, I think we helped to create conditions where Filipinos understood that if they got their act together, took their future in their own hands, that the United States would be supportive rather than leaning against them. That's a powerful message in a country like the Philippines where they think we have much more influence than we really do. That's gives us some influence.
Q: And you think the same can be in say Egypt or Saudi or Kuwait? More democratization --
Wolfowitz: I'm quite sure it could be done in Iraq.
Q: What about the other countries? Our allies that really aren't all that democratic.
Wolfowitz: They're trickier, but take Korea. There's another example. I went there with President Reagan in 1983. We were criticized for even visiting Korea when it was under the rule of a dictator, and part of our response was look, the major purpose of this trip is to get Chun Doo Hwan to commit personally to the president of the United States that he'll keep his word to his own people that he'll step down after one term in power. I know there was a lot of skepticism at the time but that in fact is what happened. I'm not claiming the United States imposed it, but I think we -- again it was, the seeds were there, the Korean people pushed. But at a crucial moment in 1987, which was after I left and [Gaston Kruger] had my job, I remember that Gaston sort of stepped forward at a crucial moment and made it clear that the United States favored direct elections. And it had a very powerful influence.
I don't believe in revolutions. I think the record is bloody and ugly. But I do believe the way to avoid catastrophic collapse of these authoritarian regimes is in fact through reform. We tried, not hard enough maybe, but we tried ten years ago to get Suharto to begin to think about preparing the way for the future. Instead he just locked up tighter and tighter. I think Indonesia would have been in much better shape today, I mean it's managed the transition but it would have been a much better one if we had been able to successfully push him for reform.
Does that therefore apply to Egypt or other countries in the Middle East? I really hesitate, for one thing it's the State Department's responsibility, and for another thing, I don't know the innards of those countries as well as I do some of the ones in East Asia.
But it does seem to me that we ought to be doing everything we can, and I'm not always sure we do, to give support to democratic voices in the Arab world. I saw this up close when I was on the board of directors of the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Middle East programs we ran were in some ways the toughest. For one thing it was hard to persuade Middle Easterners, especially Arabs, to take money from the United States even if it was from a non-governmental organization. But it was also hard to find people that you were really comfortable giving that kind of support to. But there were some spectacular Arab democrats that I got introduced to in the process of that, one of whom, though I didn't meet him personally, but who [inaudible] who ended up being thrown in jail by the Egyptians for two years on what seemed to me as very thin reasons. That can't be helpful for the longer-term evolution of --
Q: Where is he now?
Wolfowitz: They've released him. The question is whether they will retry him or not. Hopefully they won't. But even that isn't clear.
Q: Can you talk about some other turning points or defining moments in your background and experience that have shaped or informed your view of the world in our national security and foreign policy?
Wolfowitz: I suppose one, it's not a moment, one was just sort of coming to Washington. Initially it was on a one year leave of absence from Yale and after a year, which meant then giving up any, I was on a so-called tenure track job, but I was having so much -- I was here to work on nuclear arms control issues. One of the big changes for me when I went to the East Asia bureau in the 1980s, and expected to spend most of my time working on China and Japan and ended up spending much more time working on the Philippines and dealing with the Marcos transition. It brought home in a very personal way something I kind of believed in before but I think the experience was, living it is much more than just thinking it, just how powerful a force democracy is in the world.
And going back to your question, I've sometimes been critical of putting the label of realist on people who ignore what goes on. The realist view is supposed to ignore what goes on inside countries or inside societies. Democracy was a tool for change in the Philippines, it was a tool for change in the Soviet Union. It was I think a very positive instrument, an instrument of power.
But that was a sort of major event for me. In fact I have to confess that when I left that job which was only a couple of weeks after Marcos left his job, I thought well this is the high point of my government career. I'll never do anything as exciting as this. [Laughter.]
It was, at the risk of sounding hackneyed, it was also a kind of a lesson in teamwork. We had I think, though there were occasional, it wasn't always easy, but we managed to get a coherent U.S. government policy across the State Department, Defense Department and the White House. There were a couple of serious hiccups at the end, but my view of it is what's more impressive is that we managed really in a coherent way and with more or less one voice. Or when it was multiple voices it was -- sometimes we deliberately, for example, used the Congress to be the bad copy in this way. It was a coordinated team effort, but more importantly I think we got our role vis-a-vis the Filipinos correct. We did not go in -- For example there were people outside government after the stolen election before the outcome was clear that said we should go in and encourage the military to take over, as though this was the road -- I thought that was a terrible idea. In hindsight, maybe we were just lucky. But I remember having someone, I think it was Jim Lehrer or MacNeil saying right afterwards, this is a triumph of American foreign policy. I said partly because it was our policy to say it but also because I believed it was actually a triumph for the Filipinos and we played a supporting role. I think that's sort of the way you need to think about it.
So that was a transforming experience.
I was thinking back the other day actually, remembering -- The first time I worked here in the Pentagon was '77 when Sadat went to Jerusalem. I had heard Arabic before in radio broadcasts. It sounded pretty guttural and angry. And when he first, when you heard him on television and the first words came out in Arabic I didn't know what he was saying, but the whole moment was so powerful and moving and the language sounded so beautiful and I said okay, I'm going to learn Arabic. I had thought about doing it before, and I spent the next few years commuting in and out of this place listening to Arabic tapes. I got to where I could read simple newspaper articles and I have not kept it up, so I don't claim to be an Arabic speaker. [Laughter.] But what was more important than the Arabic was I think somewhere along the way, and maybe that was the moment, that I became deeply convinced of the importance of moderate Islam and moderate Muslims.
I had visited Turkey for the first time the year before, and I've been deeply interested in Turkey ever since, and the thing that grabbed me about Turkey most of all was seeing how different it was from my stereotype of a closed Middle Eastern society. It was particularly striking, by the way, the role of women. Even just the physical appearance of women. Again, I was operating off the stereotype. I thought grandmothers were all cooped up in harems. I don't know whether they were or not, but it was, Bernard Lewis I think has said of Turkey that it looks different depending on whether you approach it from the Middle East or you approach it from Europe. When you approach it from the Middle East, which is the kind of mind that I had, you're amazed at how far it's come, but the more you know about Turkey the more you think about how important that demonstration, potential demonstration because it's not yet a real success. But the potential demonstration of a successful combination of Islam with democracy and modernization could be a model.
I sort of stumbled into Indonesia at the other end. But that too is an example of a country that is majority Muslim, indeed 90 percent Muslim, where Islam is not the state religion and where the traditions are incredibly tolerant.
September 11th has brought this out dramatically but to me it's been evident for a very long time that you have a billion people, a billion plus, who have yet to see that they can clearly succeed in the modern world on modern terms and we have every interest in demonstrating that that is the road to success. And at the risk of misplaced analogies it seems to me that Japan was sort of a beacon for the rest of Asia, even though lots of Asians dislike the Japanese or resent them in some way, but it demonstrated that you could succeed with democracy and modern economy without being a Western European Christian country. I think the success of Korea and Taiwan and Singapore and Hong Kong inspired change in China and elsewhere in Asia.
I think it's important for people to see that people like them can be successful, and when they see the opposite, that people like them are not successful, then they tend to look for conspiracy theory explanations. They tend to say it's because world is against us, and they tend to be open to the worst kind of doctrine.
So I think part of winning this war, and the President has said this I think eloquently. It hasn't gotten as much attention as the axis of evil statement, which wasn't intended to get attention. But he said, I wish I could remember the quote, but you'll see it at the end of the State of the Union message, that we have to support those people I think he said including in the Islamic world who stand up for our values.
Q: Do you see any [inaudible] Ataturk in the Muslim world?
Wolfowitz: Well --
Q: -- their country --
Wolfowitz: Musharraf actually studied in Turkey and sees Ataturk as a model. The stakes in Pakistan are just enormous. In a way if September 11th hadn't happened one shudders to think the road that Pakistan was on. I mean Pakistan really was heading towards being much, much worse than Afghanistan. Whether he can turn it around, still I think one has to say it's an open question, and one has to be a little uncomfortable at putting your bets on the side of a military ruler, shall we say. But I'm not dogmatic about how you get to democracy, and I don't think you always get there by holding an election. I think the kinds of changes that he's trying to accomplish in Pakistan are very important for the long-term future.
Voice: You wanted to mention something about a current example of --
Wolfowitz: Oh. You ask your question and I'll --
Q: Okay. I wanted to ask a couple of quick things. I wondered if you had ever considered serving in the military yourself?
Wolfowitz: I considered it and I didn't. Back when we were young --
Q: What was --
Wolfowitz: There was a lot of paternal pressure, actually. My father tried to enlist in the Navy after Pearl Harbor and when they discovered he was a statistician they said no, you go and work with the Statistical Research Group at Columbia, which is actually a group that included Milton Freidman and Allen Wallace. They did actually quite revolutionary stuff with operations research. I can't claim that, but sort of his view was if they aren't drafting you, and I had a student deferment, you should stay in school, and I'd already had enough of an argument over switching out of mathematics which he considered divine and going into political science which he considered something low.
What Kevin was mentioning, by the way though, and I think it's an important point to stress about this Administration but it also I think very much reflects my view.
I remember years ago when we were actually doing the Philippines thing being told there was a sign on Reagan's desk that said there's no limit to what you can accomplish as long as you're willing for someone else to get the credit. And it's the nature of government because it's a matter of getting big organizations to work together, that nothing is accomplished without teamwork. If you want to be successful you've got make teams work. I really think Bush gets only a fraction of the credit he deserves for being able to pull together very, very formidable individuals, not to be afraid to have people in his Cabinet who can out-argue him on issues, obviously, and not to be afraid to have people in his Cabinet who will argue with one another and produce what I think is --
Q: Some of the debates between the Pentagon and State have been highly publicized.
Wolfowitz: And I think somewhat exaggerated. I think the truth is you get good policy when people can seriously debate both sides of the issue, and then when the president decides what his policy is you work together. A good example is missile defense where each department came in with its biases, but the president had a dual objective. He wanted freedom from the treaty and he wanted to preserve the relationship with Russia. And I think, of course we each think that we knew exactly the true path, but I do believe the honest answer that we got to that dual result more successfully because both points of view were strongly represented all along the way, but it was a team effort. I think we're all proud of where we are with Russia today and where we are on missile defense.
Q: You talked about freeing the Iraqi people as something everybody could agree with whether you're a hawk or what your position is.
Wolfowitz: I didn't quite say it that way. I said I found the label surprising. In fact they don't all agree with it. That surprises me.
Voice: You may need to continue this conversation in some fashion at some point --
Wolfowitz: I've got the Bulgarian defense minister waiting.
Voice: Can we do it afterwards, is that all right?
Wolfowitz: I don't think we can do it today.
Q: One quick question. I'm wondering if you think any sanctions could be crafted in a way that could be workable in Iraq --
Wolfowitz: Sanctions can do some things but they're certainly not the solution.
Q: And will the inspectors do you think ever get back in? Can they do meaningful work?
Wolfowitz: We're now getting into bigger issues than -- for one thing I can't do them quickly, but these are things where I could state the principles or the policy, I can't tell you what the answers are until the president makes his decision.
Q: Do you have a sister living in Israel?
Wolfowitz: I do, yeah.
Q: Has that affected your dealing with the current conflict, or have you been concerned about her safety or --
Wolfowitz: I'm obviously concerned about her, but I'm amazed at how calm she is. I think the main thing is sort of, it's really brought home to me how deeply the Israelis really want peace. She has her own political view which I'll leave to herself, but -- [Laughter.]
Q: Are they different than yours?
Wolfowitz: No, no. But they are an interesting window on Israeli politics, that's all.
Q: Thank you.