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Interview with Rita Cosby, Fox Newswire

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
May 25, 2002

(Interview with Rita Cosby, Fox Newswire)

RITA COSBY: Tensions with India. This as American soldiers remain at stake as they fight for freedom in nearby Afghanistan. But will the war on terror soon include Iraq? It has been the focus of a lot of talk in Washington and around the globe. For the very latest, I talked to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

There has been a lot of talk about what to do and maybe what not to do with Iraq. We are hearing that there is a lot of conflicting opinions, that the president and the defense secretary are getting a lot of different opinions. What are you hearing?

WOLFOWITZ: Well, the most important thing is what the whole country heard on January 29th in the State of the Union message where the president laid out the basic problems we face as a country, which is there are countries, and Iraq is one of them, that are hostile to us, that support terrorists, and that have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons and are working to develop more of them. And that is a real danger. It could create a disaster that would make September 11 look like something rather small. And we have got to do something about that problem, we can't continue living with it forever.

COSBY: How close do you think they are to developing weapons of mass destruction if they are not stopped?

WOLFOWITZ: Oh, I think the Iraqis have some already and there was not much doubt about that when the U.N. inspectors were kicked out four or five years ago. They are working on more and the longer we wait the longer it takes, the more such weapons they'll have.

COSBY: In your assessment, when do you think we would need to take some sort of action?

WOLFOWITZ: Well, you can't give precise timetables. And ultimately these are major decisions for the president himself to decide. You have got to weigh all the different factors that go into what can contribute to success, what are the costs of delay. But it is a serious problem.

COSBY: In your assessment, is it something that needs to be taken care of by the end of the year or the beginning of next year...

WOLFOWITZ: I can't put timetables on it.

COSBY: ...we've heard all these different reports.

WOLFOWITZ: Yeah, and you'll keep hearing all these different reports. Maybe a little confusion is a little helpful in this subject.

COSBY: There are some reports also that some senior military officials have been telling some senior civilian leaders at the defense department that our military is stretched too thin, that we have too many interests now in Afghanistan and elsewhere, that we can't possibly go into Iraq. Is that true?

WOLFOWITZ: You know, I think Secretary Rumsfeld addressed this very clearly in his press conference this morning where he explained that, look, from the point of view of any individual commander, almost invariably in peacetime or wartime there are going to be things they'd like to have more of. In fact, it led to the result of when he went to war in the Persian Gulf 11 years ago. We actually brought home 90 percent of what we brought with us. So I think all of that has to be assessed against that. And the most important thing in all of this discussion is for our enemies to understand the U.S. military retains the capability to do anything the President asks of them, and anyone who makes the mistake of underestimating our capability will be very sorry they have done so.

COSBY: We also have heard some reports that Secretary Rumsfeld has said come up with some imaginative ways to possibly go into toppling Saddam Hussein. Not necessarily the standard technique that we did in the Gulf War, we brought in troops and had a war. Maybe squeeze him from the north and south and try to maybe tie him economically. Do you think that is an option, is that a realistic or effective option?

WOLFOWITZ: The secretary is always pushing people to be imaginative. And if I could shift gears slightly, I mean we are fighting this war on terrorism, and as the President has defined it so large, it is a large, ambitious goal. But at the same time we are trying to build a military that we may need to fight the country's wars ten years from now. And that requires thinking smart and being imaginative. It is one of the reasons why the secretary decided, and it was a difficult decision, to cancel the Crusader artillery system and to put that money into things that will allow us to be smarter, faster, creative if we face a conflict ten years from now.

COSBY: Are there any suggestions, you're someone who has kept a close eye on Iraq and considered very much an expert in this area. What do you see as sort of the most threatening aspects and also the best ways to go into that country, to go in after Saddam Hussein?

WOLFOWITZ: I'll just go over the same ground again. I mean, the problem with Iraq is what the President stated. It is a very clear problem, and there is no question that the solution is a change of regime in Iraq. And we have been very clear about that. I think if you could ever take a free vote of the 25 million or so Iraqi people, you get somewhere well in the 90s, high 90 percentiles agreeing with that view. How we get there involves very crucial decisions that really only the President of the United States can decide.

COSBY: Is there anything that Iraq could do at this point that could change anything, and let's talk about weapons inspectors, if they were to allow weapons inspectors back in would that change anything at this point?

WOLFOWITZ: The problem is very fundamental. Five years ago, four or five years ago when Saddam Hussein stopped the inspectors and then kicked them out, we had quite amazing sources of intelligence. His son-in-law had recently defected and gave us all kinds of new leads for his programs. And in the years intervening, he has no doubt had time to hide things in places that would be very hard to look. So he has made it very, very difficult to ever convince the world that he has done what he was supposed to have done 11 years ago, which was to get rid of these things. And it is very clear that he hasn't gotten rid of them.

COSBY: I know you can't give me specifics on timeframe, but you believe even in the next decade per se we would see a change of regime for sure in Iraq influenced by the United States and other countries?

WOLFOWITZ: We're not talking about imposing things. I mean, let's come back to the nature of that regime. It is a regime that governs its own people by fear and terror. And as I said, I don't think there is any question that if the Iraqi people are given a free choice, there will be a change of regime. And we would like to facilitate that free choice by whatever means. I would not rule out that it might be done without the use of military force.

COSBY: What about Iran, because there has been a lot of talk this week, and topping the terror lists that the administration released, do you see Iraq as the biggest threat or do you see Iran?

WOLFOWITZ: We don't measure things that way. Iran is a very different kind of country. It is about twice the size, for one thing. It is bigger and different. But one of the important things that took place in Iran a couple of years ago was they allowed an election. It wasn't a completely free election, but it was a lot freer than the hard-liners there probably wished they had allowed. And the result is that some 75 percent of the Iranian people voted for a change of government. Well, they got their candidate in as president, but they really didn't get a change of government. The security forces, the instruments of terror and coercion in that country, are still held by the minority that got at best 25 percent of the vote.

So when you think about Iran, you think about how to get Iran out of the business of supporting terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction, one of the things you have to think about is how to leverage that already quite open opposition to the regime that was even expressed in the form of a vote.

COSBY: There has been a lot of focus on Iran, especially with President Bush in Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin came out and said he would not assist in any form Russia facilitating Iran's acquiring of weapons of mass destruction. Do you believe that? Do you believe...what degree do you think Russia is assisting?

WOLFOWITZ: It is a problem. I think the president was very frank as he indicated with President Putin about the nature of the problem. We think that ultimately it is going to be a much bigger problem for Russia than it is for us. And we would hope their own self-interests would come into play here.

COSBY: And we will have more with the Deputy Secretary of Defense right after this break, including his thoughts about our men and women fighting on the front lines. And then House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt answers tough questions about Washington's ongoing partisan battle over who knew what prior to September 11. Stay tuned, a lot more ahead on Fox Wire.

[Commercial Break]

COSBY: Welcome back to Fox Wire. Is the decision by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to halt the controversial Crusader weapons program affecting America's war on terror? We continue now with our discussion with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

You talked about the Crusader program. The weapons program that of course has been scrapped. Do you support Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's decision to scrap it, is that the right decision?

WOLFOWITZ: Oh, very strongly. It is definitely -- look, taxpayer dollars, as your listeners know, are scarce. We need to spend them in the smartest way possible, to put the best weapons possible in the hands of our troops.

COSBY: What do you think we can replace it with?

WOLFOWITZ: Well, it is important to emphasize, this is a decision to move Army artillery more rapidly into the future. And there are systems that will give us much greater accuracy in Army artillery. Indeed in all kinds of artillery, Marine Corps and Navy as well. And that will allow us to deploy artillery more rapidly to the theater and within the theater deploy it to remote parts of the theater. Ultimately what this is going to mean I think in five or ten years is the ability to deploy much more lethal ground forces much faster and ultimately to make our ground forces far more effective. We don't need to replace Crusader right away. We have a lot of good artillery. It is not as good as Crusader. We have a lot of good artillery, both rockets and cannons in our force today. It was enough to achieve a decisive victory ten years ago.

COSBY: Define if you could winning the war on terror. I mean, do you think this is something we will see in our lifetime, or do you think this is going to be a struggle for generations to come?

WOLFOWITZ: Well, I think for generations to come it is going to be a threat out there that we have to think about. But the President said this will be a long struggle. But I do believe that we can get to a point much sooner than you have suggested about where generations are not living in fear any longer. We are -- networks like al Qaeda are if not eliminated, virtually completely eliminated. It will always be possible for some lone individual or a small group of individuals to do great damage. But I think we can eliminate these worldwide networks. We can eliminate state support for terrorism, terrorism of that kind. And I think that will make a very big difference in our ability to enjoy the liberties and the freedom that are so important to us, and so important really to the fiber of our societies and our economies.

COSBY: Many believe that Osama bin Laden is still a threat. There was a new video that was released not too long ago which seemed to suggest that he survived the attacks on Tora Bora in the fall. Do you believe he is still alive?

WOLFOWITZ: Oh, it is not even clear that was a new video.

COSBY: It is hard to tell with these videos.

WOLFOWITZ: It is very hard to tell. One thing I do know is that al Qaeda can no longer use Afghanistan as a sanctuary. Al Qaeda is on the run. We have captured or arrested or killed hundreds of them. There are still more out there. Maybe Osama bin Laden is one of them.

COSBY: Do you believe he is?

WOLFOWITZ: He is not the main point. They are dangerous with or without him. But he and his ilk are much weaker today than they were six months ago and we will keep at it.

COSBY: This is Memorial Day weekend. You and I are first generation Americans, both of our fathers were Polish. What does it mean to you to be an American and what does it mean, Memorial Day, for you?

WOLFOWITZ: Well, as a son of an immigrant, I know how fortunate we are to be Americans, to live in a country where we don't have to...where we are free of persecution, free of fear. And I also, I think, on Memorial Day, appreciate even more how grateful we all need to be that there are so many of our countrymen and countrywomen who are willing to die to preserve that way of live. And I think one of the reasons we have been as effective as we have been even as a military is because our strength comes from something much more than weapons or technology. It really...the greatest strength this country has is what we stand for. And we have been a beacon for immigrants for generations including your father obviously and mine. And many more to come. And it is I think why this is a fight about more than just about America's interests. It is a fight about values that are quite universal throughout the world.

COSBY: Our thanks to the assistant secretary.

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