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American Jewish Committee
Remarks as Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Capitol Hilton, Washington, DC, Friday, May 04, 2001

Thank you, Harold [Tanner, President of the American Jewish Committee], for that kind introduction. And you didn't even mention one of the most important things that we have in common, that we're both graduates of Cornell University. I'm very proud to be sharing the podium here with the chairman of our Board of Trustees [of Cornell]. [Applause.]

I think he said I was one of the earliest confirmed appointees. I'm also one of the only confirmed appointees in the Pentagon. In fact, until last Thursday I was one of only two confirmed appointees, along with Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld. But fortunately, Don Rumsfeld has the drive and energy equal to the combined strength of about a dozen people, so we've been pulling the wagons pretty hard these days.

 

Before I get into my main remarks, I'd just like to take a moment to add my praise to AJC's remarkable and influential publication "Commentary," which I've been a reader of for some 35 years, I believe, and which continues under Neil Kozodoy's capable direction the tradition of powerful debate and incisive analysis that was the hallmark of Norman Podhoretz's great leadership for so many years.

I notice that a recent issue of "Commentary" described me along with [National Security Advisor] Condi Rice and [National Economic Council Director] Larry Lindsay as individuals who "defied easy characterization" and reflected certain "maturity." In my case there are some who might agree with the former description and question the latter, but I've decided to take both of them as a compliment and I appreciate it.

When I came back to the Pentagon for what is now my third tour of service in the Department of Defense I thought it might be a lot like Yogi Berra's famous remark, "déjà vu all over again." But then when Secretary Rumsfeld introduced me in my welcoming ceremony and said, "I'm going to keep bringing you back until you get it right," I realized I was in for some challenges. [Laughter.]

Now I'm the only thing--and I'm not sure I am standing between you and your lunch--but at least between a leisurely enjoyment of your lunch. I think the only way you'll bring me back is if I promise to be brief, and I'll try to keep the promise.

At the turn of the last century, a hundred years ago, a distinguished Harvard professor, one of the leading social commentators of his time, declared, "There are far more human beings materially well off today"--remember, this is 1900--"than ever before in the history of the world. How interesting our times have been and still are." We who have seen the dawn of the 21st Century can echo his observation and his hopes. These are indeed interesting and extremely promising times.

Like our predecessors at the beginning of the 20th Century, we live in a period of exceptionally rapid growth and technological progress on a scale and at a pace that are without historical precedent. And we, too, share in the great optimism that the world's economic progress will broaden and deepen and perhaps even accelerate.

Common also to both periods of history has been a great optimism about the prospects for peace. In 1910, Norman Angell's sensational best seller argued that the notion that nations could profit from war was obsolete, indeed as he titled his book, it was The Great Illusion. In his view, economies had become so interdependent that war had been rendered unthinkable.

One of Angell's disciples, David Starr Jordan, then President of Stanford University, argued that despite the threat of a war in Europe, such a war would never come for, as he concluded, "the bankers will not find the money for such a fight; the industries will not maintain it; the statesmen cannot. There will be no general war." Unfortunately for him, he made that prescient forecast in 1913. A year later with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the great illusion gave way to the Great War.

In 1938, the year of the Munich Crisis, Hitler's evil intentions compelled him to throw aside caution and embrace outright risk. Reflecting in that same year on the enormous changes he had witnessed since the beginning of the 20th Century, Winston Churchill wrote, "The smooth river with its eddies and ripples along which we sailed at the beginning of the century seems inconceivably remote from …the rapids in whose turbulence we are now struggling." In a mere 38 years, the world had been transformed.

Hopefully history will not repeat itself and events of the last century will not be harbingers of our own destiny. But as we try to manage our course along what has so far been the relatively smooth river of this new century, there are issues that we must consider if we are to realize our most optimistic hopes.

Near the top of the list of these issues is the proliferation of dangerous, militarily useful technology. As those who follow events in the Middle East will understand particularly well, some of the world's most irresponsible powers and terrorists are determined to acquire weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles to deliver them. Some of them are already within missile range of Israel and our other allies in the region. Others are developing missiles that will bring our allies within range. Some have already used them.

The threat of ballistic missile attack is not something in the remote future, not something uncertain. It is already ten years into our past. When Saddam Hussein was launching terror weapons called SCUDs against Israel, I was there with Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. We saw children walking to school carrying gas masks in gaily decorated boxes -- no doubt to try to distract them from the possibility of facing mass destruction. They were awfully young to have to think about the unthinkable.

Ten years ago in the waning days of Desert Storm, a single SCUD missile hit a U.S. military barracks in Dhahran and killed 28 of our soldiers and wounded 99. Thirteen of those killed came from a single small town in Pennsylvania called Greensburg. It was the worst single engagement of the Gulf War for the American forces. And yet today, more than ten years later, our capacity to shoot down a SCUD missile--the most primitive that we have to worry about--is not much improved.

 

We are a couple of years away from deployment of the PAC-3 missile, our answer to the SCUD. The Israelis have just recently deployed their response, the Arrow. But for either of us, 10 years is a long time to respond to a threat of that seriousness. We didn't, I might point out, get to the moon in 10 years with that kind of approach.

Not long ago I spoke to the American Turkish Council and I took a bold risk, reciting an old Turkish saying in Turkish, a feat that I won't attempt for you today. I'll do it in English. The saying goes, "bad news comes back, even from Baghdad." Ten years after the Gulf War we're still getting bad news from Baghdad, from the same tyrannical regime. This regime which has meant bad news for so many for so long poses one of today's most pressing obstacles to peace. It has become clear that there is no cost-free or risk-free option in dealing with that regime.

We must see Saddam without illusion if we are to know how to deal with the dangers that he creates. We cannot appease him. His appetites cannot be satisfied. There will be no peace in the region and no safety for our friends there--Arabs or Israelis, Kurds or Turkamons--as long as he remains in power.

But we are not without options, for Saddam has significant vulnerabilities, bearing out Franklin Roosevelt's observation that "dictatorships do not grow out of strong and successful governments, but out of weak ones." Saddam's primary vulnerability is that he is a failure -- politically, economically, and militarily. His power rests on fear, like Joseph Stalin's, and because he is feared, he is also hated. Thus he faces significant potential opposition both outside and inside his own country, and he has failed to exercise control over significant areas of Iraq, particularly in the North.

As Secretary of State Powell has said, "Saddam Hussein is sitting on a failed regime that is not going to be around in a few years' time. The world," Secretary Powell said, "is going to leave him behind and his regime behind as the world marches to new drummers, drummers of democracy and of free enterprise." And let me add to that, it is our obligation to help this forward march in every way that we can. In doing so, we help ourselves.

The demise of the Soviet Union demonstrates how international conflicts are often caused by the character of national regimes, not by any kind of international misunderstanding. The Cold War was caused by the evil regime in the Soviet Union--not by a failure of diplomacy. In a similar way, Slobodan Milosevic and his evil cronies were responsible for the tragedies and suffering in the Balkans over the last decade, whose effects we are still coping with today. The American Jewish Committee worked for years against Milosevic, speaking out forcefully on behalf of his victims, especially the Bosnian Muslims. Without Milosevic's influence and power, the Balkans have a much better chance today to embark on their own forward march.

Today the tyrannical regime in Baghdad is the root cause of the most immediate dangers that we face in the Persian Gulf. Hope for Iraq and hope for peace in the region rests on the liberation of that country from the tyranny of Saddam's regime. In the interest of human rights and global stability, the United States favors a new leadership in Iraq, a humane, inclusive leadership that will preserve the territorial integrity of that country and live at peace without threatening its own people or the region. Again, to quote our Secretary of State, "We believe a change in the regime in Iraq would be in the interests of all concerned."

But so long as regimes of that character exist, we must protect ourselves and our allies and our friends. As President Bush said in a speech at the National Defense University this past Tuesday, "Today's most urgent threats stem not from thousands of ballistic missiles in Soviet hands, but from a small number of missiles in the hands of the world's least responsible states, states for whom terror and blackmail are a way of life."

This new strategic environment demands new concepts and new forms of deterrence. As the President also said, "Today's world requires a new policy, a broad strategy of active, non-proliferation, counter-proliferation, and defenses. We must work with allies and friends," the President said, "who wish to join with us to defend against the harm they can inflict. And together we must deter anyone who would contemplate their use."

In the interest of world peace, it is essential that we build a strong foundation for peace through strong alliances and a strong American military capability. These provide the basis for stability and continued progress. Our military strength is not antithetical to our peaceful ambitions and our peaceful goals. It supports them. We cannot take for granted the allies and friends that we have now. We must continue to build and solidify those relationships and try to win new friends around the world.

President Bush has also made it a national priority to strengthen America's armed forces, to strengthen the bond of trust with the American military. As the President has said, "Peace is not ordained, it is earned by the hard and often dangerous work of our men and women in uniform. They do what is truly noble work. They voluntarily put their lives at risk to defend liberties that we hold dear and the security that we enjoy."

 

This administration is dedicated to working on behalf of our forces and their families who risk so much and sacrifice so much. We must continue to improve pay and quality of life for our military. We must reexamine the balance among force levels, the number of our commitments and our deployments overseas, and we must give our forces the tools they need and the respect they deserve. We will work for this.

So in this time of great challenge and equally great opportunity, let us take a lesson from Nehemiah, the practical man of action. Today I suppose that if he were heading for high office in government he'd most likely be filling out forms and awaiting confirmation. But, he was a man of action who led the Jews who had returned from Babylon as they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. He inspired them to persist in their formidable task, even in the face of threats from their enemies.

The Bible tells us that as they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem "each did his work with one hand and held a weapon with the other. Every builder while he worked had his sword at his side." In the same way, we must strengthen our alliances and buttress our defenses, even as we work to build a more peaceful world.

As we set about the task of fashioning a safer, more secure world, we must remain vigilant to those who would threaten us and our allies. Working together, we can assure that what lies before us is not a great illusion, but a great peace. Thank you. [Applause.]

Harold Tanner: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. Thank you for being here. Paul Wolfowitz has agreed to answer two questions and then he has to leave.

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: If they're not nice questions, I'll only do one. [Laughter.]

Question: Mr. Secretary, I came in as you were speaking so forgive me if you answered my question in the earlier part of your remarks. But you talked extensively of the threat of Iraq, and yet I didn't hear you talk about sanctions or the administration's new proposed policy on sanctions. I wonder whether you would comment upon both aspects -- the existing sanctions and what you propose.

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: We're working out the details of the new approach to sanctions that Secretary Powell outlined in his February, I believe it was, trip to the Middle East. But I think the fundamental point of what we're trying to achieve there is to lay a basis through revising the sanctions both to preserve what is important in those sanctions and also to try to establish a clear basis for the other elements of our policy.

When I say a clear basis I'm referring to the fact that Saddam Hussein unfortunately has made great propaganda successes out of the argument that we are only interested in punishing the Iraqi people. I think our strategy has to rest on separating Saddam from the Iraqi people and making it as clear as possible that American actions are aimed at him and at his tyranny, not at the people who suffer under his rule.

Indeed, I think a point that is sometimes missed is that there is, not only around the Arab world, considerable criticism, and that's a mild word, that sanctions are making the Iraqi people suffer. There is a wide recognition that Saddam's tyranny makes the Iraqi people suffer as well. And unfortunately, a suspicion, since it's easy for them to suspect the United States, that somehow that is our intended desire.

As I have tried to make clear in this speech, we would desire nothing more, like nothing more than to see Saddam go, and I think in pursuing that goal we are also helping the Iraqi people. So I see those two things as mutually reinforcing.

Question: Sir, Conrad Rubenstein from Australia, Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. Can I commend you and the administration on the priority you're attaching to missile defense. I think the President's speech the other day was very reassuring and dealt with some of the initial criticisms in terms of the global dimension that it has and the fact that it's really committed to enhancing deterrence and security globally. That's especially important in Asia and obviously in the Middle East and elsewhere, and I'm delighted that you and your colleagues will be going on a mission over the next week or two to convince skeptical elements about the merits of the proposal. I'm just wondering if you could say a word or two more about how you're going to convince the skeptics that this priority is a very important one in view of the dramatic threat that the proliferation of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] really does represent.

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: I didn't plant the question [laughter], but I thank you for the question, and I'm going to try to make two points, first, using that question as an opportunity to appeal to this audience, which has obviously got a lot of influential opinion makers in it. We as a country have also got to put the Cold War behind us. We had many debates about missile defense in the context of the Cold War -- debates that are very interesting to revisit as an academic. Did SDI [Strategic Defense Initiative] break the back of the Soviet Union or were they collapsing anyway? Was it a fantasy on Reagan's part, or was it something that made sense?

The point is, the nature of what we are trying to do with missile defense today is entirely different from a defense against a Soviet Union. And the nature of the threats we're dealing with today are entirely different from the threat posed by the Soviet Union. And third, and most important, we need in our relationship with Russia to get the nuclear dimension out of that relationship. We shouldn't be saying that the centerpiece of U.S.-Russian relations is the ability of our two countries to annihilate one another with nuclear weapons.

As I said to a Russian general who came to visit me the other day, I studied some Russian literature in college; my father who was a mathematician at Cornell made me study Russian because it was the language of science; Russian music is great. I said, Russia is a great country, but not because you have nuclear weapons, and the sooner Russia does what so many former empires have done, building a normal country on a normal basis, the sooner that greatness will be recognized.

And that, I believe, is the framework in which President Bush is approaching not just the issue of missile defense but the issue of reducing our offensive nuclear weapons as well and moving away from threats of mutual annihilation.

The second point--this is in answer to your question now. I'm going to be going with Steve Hadley, Deputy NSC Advisor, on consultations next week in Paris. He'll be in London and Brussels first; I'll join him in Paris and go with him to Paris, Berlin, Warsaw and Moscow. And I anticipate the most difficult pointed discussions we'll have will surely be in Moscow. But this won't be the first time Steve Hadley, as a government official, went to Moscow to talk with Russian officials about missile defense. The first time was in 1992, when he participated with Dennis Ross, who became famous for other things, in what were known as the Ross-Mamedov talks where we began for the first time talking with the new Russian security authorities about what we viewed as a common interest in defense against limited ballistic missile attacks.

There were two points in these discussions that, ten years later, people who are in the room remember still vividly. The first point, perhaps least surprising, was when we began showing them our projections of how missile capabilities were developed in various countries like North Korea, Iran, and showed them the sort of typical CIA or Pentagon briefing that shows maps with missile arcs of varying ranges, and the Russians pointed out most of these missiles are going to reach us long before they can reach you.

But the most striking point came in a discussion when the American side said we would like to be in a position 10 or 15 years from now where if there were a missile launched at Russia, we would have the capability to shoot that missile down ourselves; and the Russian eyes popped. You mean, you really would be interested in helping to defend Russia? The answer was "yes," and it seems to me the answer is obviously "yes."

We have no interest in seeing Russia vulnerable to limited missile attacks, nor do I believe we should tolerate any longer than we have to having Los Angeles or Chicago or New York or Washington, D.C. vulnerable to limited missile attacks. It's not a good thing; it's not a healthy world.

I think instead of making mutual annihilation the basis of our relationship, we ought to look at reducing mutual vulnerabilities. And that is what we hope to be able to persuade the Russians of, and our experience from 10 years ago suggests to me that at least some of them are willing to listen. Thank you for listening to me today. [Applause.]