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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with RCTI

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
January 16, 2005

Jakarta, Indonesia           


            RCTI INTERVIEWER: Deputy Defense Secretary, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, welcome to our program. Now many people who have just been to Aceh, including the Secretary of State Colin Powell have said that they are often at loss for words. What did you see there, three weeks on?


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: One is at a loss for words. It’s just, nothing prepares you for it. You read stories in the newspaper, you see pictures on television, but until you actually see it. One of the things that’s just stunning is to see the way whole ships have been moved, places have been moved, houses have been torn down, just things level, and you try to imagine what it was like to be there in the middle of it and it’s, and it’s unimaginable. And the scale of it is frankly, something also that until you actually see it with your eyes, you can read that it’s large, but it’s just huge. And that bears also on what we have to accomplish now, because the, I think if I were an Acehnese who had survived this, I wouldn’t have any idea of what I should do next, or where to begin, the problem seems so big.


            RCTI INTERVIEWER: You also mentioned the need to address sort of the “retail problems” rather than “wholesale,” could you explain a bit about what you meant by that?


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: I don’t mean to dismiss the wholesale. You can collect a large amount of relief supplies and then it turns out that you can’t get them to the people that need them except by helicopter. And the capacity of helicopters to deliver goods, I mean we’ve delivered a lot, we’ve delivered over two million pounds, but if those were the wrong two million pounds, it wouldn’t solve the problem. So you can have a hundred million pounds collected in Medan or in Banda Aceh, that’s not going to do you any good if you can’t deliver the right things. And that’s what I mean. It’s why it’s also very important to do what we’ve doing now, which is to assess the medical situation of the displaced populations, so that if they need medicine, we’re putting medicine on the helicopters instead of rice. At the moment we think it’s food and water, but we want to make sure that other things aren’t needed more urgently.


            RCTI INTERVIEWER: Now, what do you make of this timeline of March 26th, that the government has set for the Indonesian Government to take the lead role?


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: I think it’s a target, I think it’s a reasonable target. In fact, I think, you know, it’s not, some things the Indonesian government is already doing, some things they’ll take over long before March 26th, and they may very well find that there are still things after March 26th where in some smaller ways, some aspect of the U.S. or other foreign militaries are needed. I can’t imagine that we’ll still be delivering food and water by helicopter three months from now, we, frankly, that would be a failure if we’re still doing that.


            RCTI INTERVIEWER: Now, will, after the March 26th sort of timeline, will the U.S. military still be there, and will the Abraham Lincoln, the USS Abraham Lincoln still be there?


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: Well, the Abraham Lincoln needs to get home. It probably has to leave by the middle of February, I think at the latest. I think it’s important for people to understand the Lincoln was headed home, and got turned around so that the sailors on the Lincoln are, they’re happy doing the job they’re doing, I mean they feel very good about being able to help people, but they’re a little homesick and as I said, I don’t think we’ll be needing that kind of helicopter capacity long past February. And if it’s needed there, we’ll have to look for it from some other places and but, our assets are heavily used in many different ways.


            RCTI INTERVIEWER: Do you feel that the role though of the U.S. military, especially in Indonesia, in Aceh, is sort of being second-guessed in terms of what the intentions of the U.S. are?


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: Oh, we’re used to that.


            RCTI INTERVIEWER: You’re used to that?


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: I don’t mean to make light of it, but you know, I was asked earlier today is this all a part of a plan to get an American military base in Sabang Island. I’ve been hearing questions like that since I was the Ambassador here 20 years ago. We do not want military bases in Indonesia, and we understand how sensitive an issue that is and I guess that’s why I’m not surprised at what you call second-guessing. But I can tell you very plainly and directly, we have one and only one interest in this and that is to relieve the human suffering in Aceh and in the process, we would like to make sure that the people of Aceh understand that it’s their government, the Indonesian Government that is responsible in delivering the goods.


            RCTI INTERVIEWER: Now, much has also been said of the so-called embargo, the limitations on sales of U.S. arms towards Indonesia imposed in 1999. Now that a second Bush presidency will have a larger majority in Congress, do you think that it’s that the Bush government can push for the lifting of those restrictions?


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: This isn’t an issue that we’re going, that we want to, if we end up dividing along any kind of lines in the Congress, frankly, I think, we won’t accomplish what we want to accomplish. I think there is growing sentiment in the Congress that Indonesia, having now had its second successful democratic election, and moving on the path of reform, including military reform, needs the support from the United States. And that contact between our officers and your officers can actually help that process of reform. And I think it’s very important if we’re going to achieve real change in this area, and I think real change is needed, that it’s done with consultation with the Congress and we may not persuade everybody about the need for change, but we want it to be something close to a consensus, I think that’s better for everyone.


            RCTI INTERVIEWER: Now you’ve also mentioned your prior experience as Ambassador to Indonesia, and that was before the democratic changes in Indonesia. Do you find the Indonesian government today more difficult or easier to deal with in terms of U.S.-Indonesian relations?


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: Well, you know, democracy has its plusses and its minuses, and I will take the balance. I think it’s, you know, sometimes it may be a little slower to get something done, but when it happens, it has the support of the people and that’s important. I think overall what’s impressive to me is that Indonesia succeeded as well as it has in the face of, if you remember people calling it the “economic tsunami” in 1998. Democracy came to Indonesia under the most difficult economic circumstances and yet, your people have managed to keep moving forward and shown a great deal of political maturity in my opinion. Everyone has very high hopes for this new President and his administration. In fact, it’s a challenge, it’s, expectations are high, they’re going to be hard to realize, but we’re very happy working with them.


            RCTI INTERVIEWER: Now, President George W. Bush will be inaugurated this Thursday, what can people in Indonesia expect from a second Bush term in terms of relations with America?


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: I hope they’ll continue to be good, I hope maybe they can even get better.  I think that one of the few good things that can come from this tragedy is if we deal with the aftermath in a way that we all can be proud of, then that can be a base for many other things. I think what you can also expect is this President means what he says about political reform in the Arab world, and in, they use this phrase, the “broader Middle Eastine.” I don’t think Indonesia is a part of the broader Middle East, but obviously Indonesia’s an important example for other Muslim-majority countries and that’s important to this President. I’d say finally, the elections, the Palestinian elections earlier this month, have given us some hope that this may be a real opportunity to move forward trying once and for all to achieve what the President has correctly said is the only real solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, and that is a two-state solution.


            RCTI INTERVIEWER: Now President Bush also mentioned in a recent interview that he regrets sort of the unintended consequences of what he called “fighting words.” Do you think there will be less of that, even if it deals with defense relations?


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: I don’t think there was that much of it. I mean, I know what he was expressing regrets about, but, I know this President pretty well and I’ve seen him. He’s a very gracious man who has enormous respect for other people and other religions. And I know for example to take, he came back from his short visit here, I guess it was last year, right, very moved by the experience, very taken with Indonesia and with what this country’s accomplished, and the fact that it’s a predominantly Muslim country is part of that picture. So, I wouldn’t, I . . .


            RCTI INTERVIEWER: But there are policies which may be considered alienating Muslims, including the policies on Iraq and in the Middle East?


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: But it depends on which Muslims. I mean, I know a lot of Iraqi Muslims, a lot, most of whom are very grateful that they don’t have to live under Saddam Hussein anymore, and who are grateful for what we’ve done. And frankly, they’re a bit critical of Muslims in other countries, particularly in other Arab countries who never said a word against Saddam Hussein, but are free to criticize what they call the “American occupation.” I think you’re going to see in these elections a great many Iraqis who are going to risk their lives in order to vote for their own government for the first time, just as in October we saw 8.5 million Afghans, I think 40% of them women, who came out and voted even though the Taliban was trying to scare them away. I’m convinced that what is going to happen over time is, the Afghan people will appreciate what’s been done for them, and the Iraqi people will appreciate what’s been done for them, and maybe that effect will then spread out a little bit wider.


            RCTI INTERVIEWER: Do you think Indonesians will also appreciate the U.S. work in Aceh, rather than second-guess you in the future?


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: If we do it right, if we do it wrong, it would be fair to be criticized, but it’s, when I say “we,”  I actually, I really mean not just the United States. It’s not mainly our responsibility, its your government, first and foremost, but in the case of Aceh, we’re in it together, this is a cooperative, international commitment led by the Indonesian government, with a lot of support from other people and certainly my country has an interest in both of us being successful.?


            RCTI INTERVIEWER: Well, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, thank you very much for your time, and we hope that a second Bush presidency will bring perhaps more cordial relations..Thank you.


            DEPUTY SECRETARY WOLFOWITZ: Terima kasih kembali. [You’re welcome.]

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