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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Media Availability En Route to the United States

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
June 03, 2002

(Media Availability En Route to the United States)

Q: Can we start with --

Staff: Great.

Wolfowitz: Okay. Oh, you're ready? I guess let me just start quickly with some observations about this trip, which I found extremely useful, I think, starting with the event in Singapore, which in a small way, was historic; a remarkable collection of defense ministers. I don't think we've ever had defense ministers in a group like that before. And it brought home to me how, once again, how important this region is for the United States, but also how important we are to the region, and how welcome we are out there.

I -- it was a subtext that most of the bilateral meetings I had, and it seemed to me even both the things that were said, and the things that weren't said, in the public sessions -- not that we escaped all criticism. I don't mean that. But I think generally, people are quite reassured by the fact that, as I put it, we have this remarkable bipartisan consensus in the United States now about remaining a Pacific power.

I think to me, it also brought home how many problems are still out there, and the question about China's future, which could easily have dominated the whole conference before September 11th, was still a very, very large question. And it was very good to have the Chinese represented there. And even though I didn't agree with quite a few things the Chinese representative said, I thought it was very helpful to have him there, and be willing to engage. And I hope that the next time, they'll bring him in at a higher level. And I also feel that, for the most part, the discussion was on a pretty high level, and a reasonably high level of frankness.

The -- and in terms of other problems, I mean, we have the fear of a war breaking out on the western side. That could have been the entire subject of the conferences by itself. We had this slight anomaly that before the -- for legitimate reasons earlier, the organizers had decided not to invite Pakistan. So, it was a little one-sided on that score. But still, the subject was very much on peoples' minds. That array of proliferation issues that was talked about the last morning are scary.

And finally -- and this may sound surprising coming from me because I'm probably about as aware of this as anybody -- but doing the arithmetic coming over, and realizing that there are half a billion Muslims in that part of the world. It's not just Indonesia. And then, coming here to the Philippines and being reminded once again that this country is 5 or 10 percent Muslim; that we're not only dealing with a very large Muslim population, but also with some very important lines of interaction between the Muslim world and the non-Muslim world.

And at the risk of beating my horse once again, but what I talked about in that Monterrey speech about bridging the gap, or bridging the dangerous gap, between the West and the Muslim world, this is a place to be building bridges. And I think it's a favorable place to do so because, as I think you folks reported to me from what you saw in Basilan, it's not a religious issue.

And there's a higher level of tolerance out here, I think, than in some other places, on both sides, by the way. It's not -- I think it's not irrelevant that Islam is spread out here less by conquest, and more by preaching. And so, you don't have these images that still dominate some attitudes in Europe that go back to the siege of Vienna. It's -- so, maybe it's better ground on both sides. But it's very, very tricky, and we saw it here in the Philippines. And you could see it in many different forms if we went to Indonesia.

That's the one other thing I would -- I guess I'd like to add is, a meeting like the one we just attended is a kind of a convention of defense ministers. And how many bilaterals -- you know how many bilaterals I worked in, I think, because we didn't -- I had an extra meeting with Fernandes, but at any rate, I don't -- none of them were -- so, it was about seven or eight, I believe. And it was very productive. The meeting with the Indonesian was surprisingly productive to me. I say, "surprisingly," because I'd only met -- I'd met with him only three or four weeks before.

But that particular issue has moved along some. Having that Congressional delegation there, by the way, including Jim Colby, who's the Chairman of the relative -- relevant Appropriation Sub-Committee in the House, and also some key senators, I think, advanced the dialogue, in terms of there needs to be a better relationship with the Indonesian military, but it can't be unconditional. It's -- I think both those themes, which I think Jack Reed expressed clearly. So, we've been gone, what, about 100 and -- a little over 96 hours. We've gotten a lot done, I think, in that time.

Q: Did you want to talk about the Philippines?

Wolfowitz: Oh, yeah. The Philippines specifically, it's -- well, first of all, what our -- the young men and women are doing is, once again, incredibly impressive, everything from just the sheer competence of our pilots in both the C-130 and the helicopter. And realizing that, you know, they're -- that even the C-130 was taking a combat approach. If you noticed that sort of rapid descent, and firing off the many guns on the way into Basilan, it -- they're doing this. You know, it's not a -- doing it one time, it's not a big deal, but they're in this situation every day. And it's dangerous work. They do it very professionally.

And what is also impressive, and this, I think, is particularly because we're dealing heavily with Special Forces people, the extraordinary skill they show in working with foreign -- foreigners, both foreign military and foreign populations. And the sophistication of their sociological survey -- I mean, not that one should overdo that. They didn't overdo it, but, I mean, I think, in a straightforward way, they -- it's a fact-based effort, and very thoughtful, and very committed. So, that's always wonderful.

I emphasized in my little nostalgia trip about sort of reminding people what had happened here 16 years ago, not just for purposes of nostalgia, but because I really believe that the peaceful transition for Marcos was a huge accomplishment of the Filipino people themselves, with some outside assistance from us, but without us getting in the middle and running things. And that's not a bad model for what we're trying to do now.

We -- what is clear to me is complete agreement by both governments that this should be their job. They don't want us taking it over, and we don't want to take it over. And that's a -- I think perhaps when we started, there were some fears in the Philippines that this was going to Americanize their problems. And I think they're now thoroughly reassured that that's not at all what we want. And we're -- we've developed some confidence that they're capable of significantly improving their own capability with some help and some training from us. They've been very receptive to it.

So, it's a real success story in that respect. And I think the stakes are much bigger than just the Abu Sayyaf group, or just Basilan Island. It's both the future health of this country of 75, 80 million people located in a very important part of Asia. But also, the success or failure of a developing country that has a large, 5-or-10 percent Muslim minority, and some history of real difficulties between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority.

But as I think we all learned in the visit to Basilan Island, a lot of these issues are not at all issues about religion. They're, first of all, issues about basic human needs of security and livelihood. And a lot of the extremists prey on the fact that it's a way to make money; that people can be intimidated easily when there's no law enforcement nearby. But it ends up exacerbating religious differences, so that we're -- if the Philippines can be successful in addressing those basic questions, then I think it's a natural environment for religious harmony, I believe.

Some of it may have been advertised a little bit for our benefit, but it was interesting that one of the senior officials in the Defense Ministry is -- has a Muslim father himself, from Cacik, I think, they call it, from the south. I met with this man, Barouk Hussein, who was a Muslim rebel. I mean, he's still a Muslim. He's not a rebel anymore. Now he's a governor. They've made some real progress, but clearly, that kind of progress is what the al Qaeda extremists would target if they can.

And a last comment, too. It's also an open society, which is why, at different periods, the al Qaeda people have exploited countries of Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. We don't know exactly who's there now, but we do know that some of the worst people ever were operating out of the Philippines five or six years ago. I mean, Ramsey Yousef, when he was run out, and his two confederates who were captured, and that was not -- I mean that's not a defense department issue. It's something more in the FBI channel, but we continue to have good cooperation with the Philippine police. But when you have open societies of any kind, but particularly open societies with large Muslim populations, the extremists are going to figure out how to try to exploit it.

I think I covered the ground. Okay. Questions?

Q: Secretary, both Senator Hagle and Senator Reed said that they were expecting, at some point in the near future, that the administration would come forward with a proposal for figuring out a way for the U.S. to perhaps re-engage the military with Indonesia. Can you talk to us at all about what the way forward is, or how the administration would do that?

Wolfowitz: Well, I'd say the first way forward would be for the Congress to give us the money we requested in the '02 supplemental. And I hope, maybe, after this meeting, that some of the senators and congressmen will go back urging their colleagues to do that. We requested $8 million for counter-terrorism training, and another $8 million that would go to assisting in peacekeeping of the kind that the Indonesians are doing, where there's been serious communal violence between Christians and Muslims in Sulawesi and Maluku; not, I would emphasize, not counter-insurgency. We do not believe that the solution to the problems in Atche is a military one, and that's not what we want to get mixed up in.

If we have the resources with which to engage, then our engagement has to be pursuing two goals at the same time. One is military reform. The other is military effectiveness. And we've made it clear repeatedly -- I did again with the Defense Minister -- that we are not going to be in the business of writing blank checks; that there are serious problems in the Indonesian military, that they need to be addressed.

They've made some steps in the direction of addressing them, but I think there's still a lot more to do. But it's also fair enough to turn around and say, "It's hard to address those kinds of problems when we don't have spare parts for our C-130s, and our people aren't paid properly." Not that we'll be in the business of paying, but I mean, there's a lot that can be done, I think, in the way of restoring their morale and effectiveness that ought to help on the reform agenda.

And it's -- and the final element is to begin rebuilding the relationships that we can do through military education and training. And the -- we have a lot of support in Congress for that already. Although as Congress can do, one part of the Congress will vote you money for that purpose, and then another part will say, "But if you spend a nickel of it, we'll punish you."

So, I think we need to come to some consensus that there are useful ways to move forward, again, that do not simply encourage a reversion to all the bad practice of the past. It's really key. And I think all of us who heard Lee Kuan Yew speak the first night, and then the Congressional delegation heard it again in private, it obviously came as a real shock to the Singaporians that the al Qaeda people had found as much fertile ground as they already had.

And the Singaporians didn't get to where they are today by ever underestimating a threat. So, once you sort of put that on -- and I'm, I think, more hopeful and optimistic about Indonesia's future. That might have come through in these comments. But I don't think they're wrong to be concerned that the condition -- the Indonesian military has got to be addressed as part of dealing with that broader issue.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the Philippines, on-the-record basis, not about longer term? You come away from these meetings, and particularly today's meeting, not only looking at what Basilan in specific has, but you know, what does that say more broadly about U.S. military or U.S. involvement, even generally, in the Philippines long term?

Wolfowitz: I think it's true that what we're doing in the Philippines now -- though obviously, it was inspired by September 11th, and might never have happened without September 11th -- is really re-establishing the defense relationship with the Philippines, after being thrown out of the bases. Not that it disappeared, but I'm -- this is sort of the first really major engagement, I think, since then.

And I think it's very timely. I -- Philippines is an important country in an important location, with a huge population, and as I said earlier, with the interesting fact that it -- 5 to 10 percent of its people are Muslim. It has big security problems. Basilan Island happens to be one of the worst ones, but the kinds of -- as they call it -- peace and order problems that you see in Basilan, you see in many other parts of the country, especially the southern parts of the country.

It's enormous -- it enormously retards economic development. Take tourism, right off the bat. I think you can get a sense, even from our fleeting trip, what a tourist paradise that could be if it were safe. But you're not going to get a lot of tourists going there when, you know, there are even a few kidnappings that -- and there have been more than a few.

We also heard today that, in most parts of the Southern Philippines, the only aid agencies that are willing to work are USAID. The others are still afraid of putting people in, which means that money and assistance isn't going there. And obviously, investment doesn't go in those conditions, which gets you into a vicious circle, where people remain poor, and they're more easily exploited by these terrorist groups.

I believe we've already made some impressive progress in just a few months on Basilan, both in terms of improving the conditions on the island itself, which is one objective. But also in increasing the capability of the Philippine armed forces to deal with problems like this, which is really the -- is the principal objective.

But these are problems that you, obviously, do not solve overnight. And we need to think through very carefully what our strategy is going to be for the long term. We have the benefit now of a lot more knowledge than we had when we started, including knowledge that this seems to be well received by both the Philippine armed forces and the Philippine people. That was not at all clear when -- at the beginning. I think President Arroyo was very gutsy in making the decision to go ahead with us.

I think our military were nervous that somehow this might prove an embarrassment, and our people were nervous that this would be some kind of restoration of American colonialism. And I think all of those fears have been largely laid to rest. Although you saw what one wild rumor about the Kitty Hawk could do in the Philippine press. It's -- I will say once again for the record, there's absolutely nothing to it. The last thing we want to do is be sending the Kitty Hawk down to Basilan.

Q: Do you see other types of operations like this patterned after Basilan in other parts of the country, or something --

Wolfowitz: That -- I really need to be careful, because I'm -- I was there to get a -- to gather facts, to get a better sense of what we might do, so that I can advise the secretary on what he should decide. And, therefore, I want to be very careful about not putting him in any kind of corners.

But I do think that this exercise has demonstrated the value of training exercises of this kind. And when I say, "this kind," I mean, it's obviously more than your usual exercise. It's a lot more operational than most exercises are, but that's probably the framework in which we need to be working going forward. And let me just leave it there.

Q: Based on what you saw today, sir, do you come away more inclined to become an advocate for moving U.S. trainers down to the company level?

Wolfowitz: I'm not going to get into that kind of detail. I will say this: I come away more of an advocate for engagement with the Philippines. That, as I've said in some of my earlier comments, that the stakes are large there, and so are the problems. You can't commit yourself to something just because it's important. You've also to have a sense that the strategy will be successful.

And I do think it's important to keep both -- the larger picture in mind. There's a little bit of a -- I'm not, in saying the following, I'm not prejudiced one way or the other on the issue of advisors at the company level. And it's a very interesting question. And we've had a lot of discussion about it in the last 24 hours, and I'm sure we'll have more with the secretary.

But it's not the big issue. I mean, you could just argue that one round or flat. I don't think you can argue that the success of the Philippines, in dealing with this, with its significant Muslim minority, is hugely important. And how you go about doing that is going to be much more than simply whether we put advisors at the company level.

Q: I've got one more question, or maybe two or three. You tired?

Wolfowitz: I'm ready to sleep, but actually I'm feeling a little exhilarated. That's maybe -- don't put that on. That's not on the [indiscernible].

Q: That's because the island part was at the end of it, instead of the Singaporian part, huh?

Wolfowitz: Well, the -- it really is -- it's absolutely predictably uplifting to visit American troops. I remember Cheney commenting ten years ago, "Go to the Gulf to lift their morale, and come away with your morale lifted enormously." And I feel very good about it, and it's -- it is also fun to get out to the field. I mean, boy, do I understand the -- how eager these guys are to get out of Pentagon jobs, and go do something they consider real-world.

But the -- I mean, the truth is -- and they understand this; I understand it -- that the decisions that get made in the Pentagon, and the decisions that get made in Washington, are critical to their being effective.

Q: They constitute the site as making you decided about what they might -- all the positive things they might do in places like, say, Iraq?

[Laughter].

Wolfowitz: Eric, you're smart. But I think --

Q: Just take a little piece, and you know, if you can get it and bond, and --

Wolfowitz: I think I'll leave that one.

Q: Okay.

Wolfowitz: [Audio Gap] in India tonight, and of course, Rich Armitage will be going the 6th and 7th in Pakistan. It may be just as well that I don't have a lot of time, because I don't want to start stepping on their lines.

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