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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with PBS NewsHour

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
September 16, 2001 6:00 PM EDT

Friday, September 14, 2001 - 6:00 p.m. EDT

(Interview with Margaret Warner, NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, PBS TV)

Warner: Mr. Wolfowitz is the number two man at the Pentagon. He also served in the Defense Department during the first Bush administration and played a major role in planning the Gulf war.

Welcome, Mr. Secretary.

Wolfowitz: It's nice to be here.

Warner: First, our condolences on your losses at the Pentagon.

Wolfowitz: Appreciate that. It's pretty grim.

Warner: Let's start with the news today, the president authorizing the Pentagon to call up up to 50,000 reservists for homeland defense, he said. What are they needed for?

Wolfowitz: A variety of things. Perhaps the most important and I think in greatest of numbers is mobilizing Air National Guard units so that we can maintain air defense protection over the country, and particularly over crucial locations, major cities. We're going to have, I think, a significant draw on the National Guard and Reserve in helping to deal with the colossal tragedy in New York City, everything from mortuary services to helping the New York authorities in various municipal functions. That's basically the kind of thing we're talking about.

Warner: How many U.S. cities -- there've been conflicting reports on this -- are being protected, essentially, by this stepped-up surveillance?

Wolfowitz: I don't want to give a number. But the fact is we have capability to respond very quickly if there were another incident reported. We responded awfully quickly, I might say, on Tuesday, and, in fact, we were already tracking in on that plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. I think it was the heroism of the passengers on board that brought it down. But the Air Force was in a position to do so if we had had to.

Warner: What were the rules of -- would the rules of engagement, would they have allowed the Air Force to shoot down a civilian jetliner if it had appeared headed for a target?

Wolfowitz: I think -- again, I don't want to get into rules of engagement. But I think it was pretty clear at that point that that airliner was not under the pilot's control and that it was heading to do major damage. And ultimately it's the president's decision on whether to take an action as fateful as that. But, thankfully -- I mean we really have to say what an incredible thing. And there's been so many great Americans doing great things, and the people on that plane are clearly among them.

Warner: Does the U.S. government have reason to believe that some terrorist members of perhaps this same group, or affiliated with them, are still in the United States and they're still intending violent acts against Americans?

Wolfowitz: I think we have to operate on the assumption that there may still be people from that group in this country. And I think we have to operate on the assumption that we haven't seen the end of this kind of terrorism. But we also have to, I think, understand that what we saw on Tuesday completely transforms the problem. We've got to think anew about this. The policies of the last 20 years, whether you think they were carried out effectively or ineffectively, obviously don't work. This is not going to be a problem solved by locking somebody up and putting them in jail. It's not going to be solved by some limited military action. It's going to take, as the president has said and Secretary Rumsfeld has said, a broad and sustained campaign against the terrorist networks and the states that support those terrorist networks.

Warner: Secretary Rumsfeld and the president have both used essentially the same term, the 21st Century battlefield, a war of the 21st Century. From where you sit, the military side of that, what is that war going to look like?

Wolfowitz: Well, first of all, it has to involve more than the military. And when we talk about the full resources of the nation, we mean obviously our military resources, which are awesome and can be made even more awesome. We're talking about our intelligence capabilities, which are impressive and could be made more impressive. But we're also talking about our economic strength. We're talking about our diplomatic strength. I think the most important weapon we have is the political will of this country. And I think we'll find once again, as has happened before in history, that evil people, because of the way they think, misread our system as one that's weak, that can't take casualties, can't take blood-letting, can't carry out a sustained operation. Hitler made that mistake. The Japanese made that mistake. It looks like the people on Tuesday made that mistake.

Warner: Of course, many in the public, and even on Capitol Hill and in the military, have up till now also thought the United States people wouldn't accept casualties. Are you saying that the way you read it there is really a new mood in the country now?

Wolfowitz: Well, first of all, I reject the idea that we don't accept casualties. We went into the Gulf war ten years ago ready to take significant casualties. The fact that it was miraculously low I bless. But the American people were ready for it. But, obviously, there's a different mood. And, obviously, there's an understanding.

I mean, let's understand, just at the Pentagon alone, more Americans were killed last Tuesday than in the Gulf war itself. And that's a pale shadow of what happened in New York. We think when the numbers come in we'll find that more Americans were killed on Tuesday than any single day in American history since the American Civil War, worse than any single day of World War I, any single day of World War II. It's massive. And I think that focuses the mind. It makes you think in a different way. It makes you think anew. And if it doesn't do that, then people also ought to think that given some of the weapons, kinds of weapons these terrorists are after, what we saw on September 11th could be just the beginning. We've got to put an end to it.

Warner: So go back, though, to the military side. And I take your point about the economic and the diplomatic side, as well, and Secretary Powell was here last night and talked about some of that. But from the military side, give us an idea.

Wolfowitz: Well, first of all, I'll tell what isn't going to work. I mean we had two embassies blown up a few years ago, and we responded with some cruise missiles that took out some targets of questionable value. Obviously, it did nothing to prevent the problem. I think the president is the one who's ultimately got to decide what are the military options that make sense. I can tell you that at the Defense Department, both his senior civilian advisers and his senior military advisers are really thinking -- I hate to use Pentagon jargon -- but thinking outside the box, recognizing that the assumptions that went into military plans on September 10th just don't apply any more, and that one has to think about, if necessary, larger forces. One has to think about accepting casualties. One has to think about sustained campaigns. One has to think about broad possibilities. And we're trying to present that full range of possibilities to the president. He's the one -- and I must say I've been very impressed in the discussions I've heard him in just in the last few days at his grasp of the breadth of the effort that's required.

Warner: When you speak about broad possibilities, you were known at least at the Pentagon during the Gulf war as an advocate for having gone further, not quitting, not stopping the war when we did, perhaps going all the way to Baghdad. Are you talking about going so far as occupying a foreign country?

Wolfowitz: Well, I mean if we want to get into history, I never thought we needed to occupy Baghdad. I do think, and I think former President Bush himself has said that if he had known Saddam Hussein was going to survive that massive defeat, he might have kept the war going a bit longer. I think his people were on the verge of overthrowing him. And that's something to remember, in general, that most of the regimes that support terrorism against us support terrorism against their own people, basically. They rule by terror. And one of our greatest allies against them, whether it's in Iraq or many other parts of the world, are going to be their own people. And as we develop strategies, our target is not the people. Our targets are the regimes, and the people very often are going to be our ally.

Warner: So if I were a leader of a country that -- well, I don't want to put it that way. Where on the continuum of supporting terrorists, which certainly we would all agree Afghanistan does, to harboring them, to maybe tolerating them: where on that continuum does a foreign country now have to be concerned about perhaps not just diplomatic and economic action by the U.S., but military action?

Wolfowitz: Oh, well, let me put this way. As you point out correctly, I think every country in the world is examining where they are on that continuum today. And if they tolerate it or are not sufficiently cooperative in police work, I'm sure they're thinking about what the Americans are come in asking and what the FBI and Justice Department are going to be looking for. If they're over at the other end where they have been actively financing and training and providing logistics, intelligence support to these terrorist networks, I would hope every one of them is thinking about getting out of the business and getting out quickly. And that's what a strategy has to look at. The objective, I think, has got to be very ambitious. And I think the president has stated it as an ambitious objective. And as Winston Churchill commented the day after Pearl Harbor that dictators underestimate American strength, but America is like a great boiler, and once it gets fired up, the energy that it generates is enormous. And when we commit ourselves to an ambitious goal, we can achieve it. But that doesn't mean there is a single solution for each one of these pieces.

Warner: How careful does the United States have to be to not provoke a backlash, particularly in the Muslim world? I mean, isn't it possible that Osama bin Laden on some level wanted to provoke the United States. They don't seem to have covered their tracks very well. It seems that whoever the perpetrators were, they've already been -- many of them, at least -- identified on the planes. Is there a danger for the United States that it might take actions that just inflame anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world?

Wolfowitz: Well, I think there's a danger of that. I think they'd like nothing more than to provoke us into an attack that proves totally ineffective, as, unfortunately, most of our responses over the last 20 years have been. And these people have thought a lot. I think we have to think about the fact that they've painted such bright targets in certain respects. Maybe they want us to hit them; maybe they don't want us to hit one that isn't painted quite as bright as that.

But on the broader point, I think it is very important. We had a number of memorial services at the Pentagon today, and one of them was by our Muslim employees. This is not an Islamic act that was conducted. If I'm not wrong, there are only two significant figures in the Muslim world who've praised this attack, Saddam Hussein being one and the leader of Hamas being another. Even Yasser Arafat, even the Syrians, I think even Qadhafi has distanced himself from it. I'm not sure. But I was the U.S. Ambassador to the Indonesia. It's the largest Muslim population in the world. I know every Indonesian that I know has got to be shocked at people claiming that this is justified by the Muslim religion. Every religion has its extremists. And these are religious extremists that we're dealing with. But one of our greatest allies in that struggle has got to be the hundreds of millions of Muslims who do not believe that that's the face of Islam.

Warner: All right, Mr. Secretary, thanks very much.

Wolfowitz: Thank you.

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