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Deputy Secretary Wolfowtiz Interview With BBC TV and Radio

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
February 19, 2003

BBC: If I could start by asking you, the Turkish government still hasn't given a green light for a buildup of forces, U.S. forces there. Can you say how concerned you are about that at the moment?

Wolfowitz: We've done a lot of work with the Turkish government and we're still working. It's a very important thing to get right and we are unfortunately running out of time. But Turkey has been a strong ally going back to the Korean War and the stakes are large for both of us. I think not only with respect to handling Iraq but with the longer-term relationship. So we're still working hard at it.

BBC: Are you close to having to abandon that particular flank, if you like, of a buildup?

Wolfowitz: We're close to some key decision points in terms of our deployments, yes, but we're still working with the Turks.

BBC: Would it be a major problem for you if you had to make a decision that you couldn't put forces in there?

Wolfowitz: We've been explaining for months now to the Turks, and I do believe they understand this, that if it becomes necessary to use force we will achieve our objective with or without Turkish cooperation. But with Turkish cooperation it can be much quicker, much less painful for everybody including innocent civilians in Iraq, including Turkey and the Turkish economy, including the United States. So Turkey can do a lot if it becomes necessary to use force to make the consequences less harmful for everybody including themselves.

I would also say as far as there may be some small chance yet that Saddam Hussein will either decide to disarm or decide to leave, it would certainly help if he saw himself surrounded by a powerful coalition and having that Turkish piece in place would certainly complete the surrounding of Saddam Hussein.

BBC: In terms of the surrounding of Saddam Hussein as you say, on the broader diplomatic front there's been something of a really sense of disarray really on the diplomatic front. The United Nations, between the United States and some countries in Europe. Do you think that has also harmed the prospect of a peaceful solution to this problem?

Wolfowitz: Can I tease you a little? It's always these authoritarian regimes who describe democracy as a process of disarray.

I mean debate is disorderly, and getting opinions out on the table unless everybody's marching 100 percent behind Saddam as they did in that absurd referendum in Baghdad, there are going to be differences of views. I think the great strength of the NATO alliance is it's an alliance of democracies. The price is that you have different views, you hear different debates.

The positions shift as things move along. And I think honestly that the evidence just keeps piling up, number one, that the Iraqis are obstructing, defying the will of the United Nations. They have no intention to disarm as required by Resolution 1441. And this is a very dangerous man. The danger grows every month, every year that we wait.

The attack that was broken up in London recently with terrorists planning to put ricin, one of the most deadly poisons known to man into the London subway system is tied directly to that group of terrorists that are based in northeastern Iraq, and some of whose leaders have been sheltered in sanctuary in Baghdad.

It's a huge mistake to wait for this threat to just keep growing and I think your Prime Minister, he's a real profile in courage. He understands that the threat only gets worse if you wait, number one. And that to me is very important. I think he understands. It's unfortunate many of those demonstrators don't seem to understand that it's the people of Iraq who have suffered worst under this tyrant.

BBC: you mentioned the demonstrators there, and Blair to some extent is an embattled Prime Minister. They, the demonstrators, obviously don't see the threat as you see it and obviously don't see it as an issue that is worth going to war over. What more do you think you can say to them as somebody who's studied this?

Wolfowitz: I guess first of all I would say I understand the feeling of demonstrators. We're right across the river, of course, from the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. I remember in 1964 being in a crowd of several hundred thousand people demonstrating for civil rights and listening to Martin Luther King give that incredible speech about "I have a dream" and I know the powerful feelings that a little bit of self-righteousness even can overcome people marching for a good cause.

But my strongest message to them would be to stop and realize that people in Baghdad are not free to march and express their opinions. People in Baghdad are terrorized into silence. If you express opposition to that regime you not only subject yourself to the most horrible tortures and openly death, even worse, you subject your family to those kinds of punishments.

If the Iraqi people were free to demonstrate they would be on the streets in the millions now saying, "why didn't you come sooner? Don't make us wait any longer." I don't think there's any question where the feelings of the Iraqi people are.

If it comes to the use of force, I guess this is my other message, this is not going to be a war for oil. If we wanted Iraqi oil we would have dropped the sanctions years ago. This is not a war for Israel. It is a war to liberate perhaps the most talented population in the Arab world, people who I think are ready to build a society and a government that could become a model for the future for others.

BBC: What some people in the demonstrations I would guess are concerned about is if it does come to a conflict as you say, is the issue that the risk of the conflict. I think it's been reported recently that Secretary Rumsfeld has in his drawer a list of risks which include the possibility that Saddam Hussein could actually use his suspected weapons of mass destruction, that the war itself would be protracted and enormously destabilizing. What's your response to that?

Wolfowitz: First of all the risk is there, but the risk grows the longer we wait. If that means let's just keep waiting until he has more and more weapons and more and more connections to terrorists. The Zarqawi network which was involved in the operation in London has multiplied by many other networks and tentacles. It seems to me it's a formula for just having a bigger conflagration later.

It's dangerous to make too many historical analogies, but we have seen examples in the past where threats that could have been dealt with when they were small were postponed until they were large. It would have been much easier to deal with Iraq five years ago or even ten years ago. It would be easier to do it now though than to wait another five years or another ten years.

The risks are real. The President of the United States understands that. I think your Prime Minister understands that. That's what is leadership. It's the courage of recognizing that those risks need to be faced in order to avoid some more serious risks.

There's one other aspect which I think certainly moves the demonstrators and that's that war is an ugly thing. There's no question about it. People get killed. Innocent people get killed. And for that matter I know we have this distinction between combatants and innocents, but the American soldiers who are going to get killed if there's a conflict don't deserve to die either. They're prepared to do so because they're defending their country and they're defending the world. And I do believe if you look at it from a moral point of view, the number of innocent people that would be killed if this man remains in power is vastly greater than what it will take to get rid of him.

BBC: Do I take from all you say there that you don't think the demonstrations, the differences with European allies, is going to change the position of this Administration as far as the proceeding on the course of its choosing?

Wolfowitz: No, and most unfortunately, it's definitely not going to change the position of Saddam Hussein. I mean the real tragedy is that instead of marching to change American policy they ought to be marching to change Iraqi policy.

The decision on war and peace rests in the hands of Saddam Hussein. It would be, I was about to say simple. It would be simple for a normal human being to say enough is enough. I'm going to give up my chemical weapons, I'm going to give up my biological weapons, I'm going to give up my nuclear weapons program. The world would know it if he did it. We knew it when South Africa did it, we knew it when Ukraine did it, we knew it when Kazakhstan did it. We know that Iraq is not doing it now and it would be nice if instead of seeing a million or several million demonstrators letting him sit in Baghdad saying he's winning, if he saw a few million people on the streets saying your time is up, you'd better change, that would be the one hope of either getting him disarmed or getting him to leave peacefully.

BBC: If we have a conflict what is it going to be about? Is it going to be about disarmament or will it be about removing Saddam Hussein?

Wolfowitz: It's a fair question, people ask it. Clearly the purpose of the UN resolution is to disarm him. If he disarms peacefully, that would be his -- Well, the purpose of that resolution would be achieved.

If we have to disarm him by force there's only one way to do it and that is to remove him and remove his regime. If we're going to do that and we're going to run the risks, and the risk of American and British and other lives to do it, we're certainly not going to do it just to have another regime just like his replace him. I mean it has to be I think for something better. I believe the Iraqi people are hungry for something better and fully capable of producing something better which is to say a broadly representative government which I hope will qualify for the description democracy.

BBC: That is the other main area of concern recently, is what happens post Saddam Hussein? Is there enough work being put in early enough to ensure there will be a stable future for Iraq? You or the Administration has been criticized in Congress for doing too little too late, thinking too little too late. How do you respond to that?

Wolfowitz: First of all, I'm used to being criticized. I mean it's the role of Congress to keep the pressure on.

But we're doing a lot. I would point out, we're going to be dealing with a situation that is intrinsically unpredictable, so we're setting up an organization that will allow us to respond to the different range of circumstances that we will find on the ground. But we are doing a lot of planning in that, both with respect to humanitarian relief which will be the most immediate need; and with respect to reconstruction, although we're also even in a military campaign trying to avoid damage to infrastructure that would not be of military importance but would be important to the reconstruction of Iraq. Finally, in thinking about how to put together a working civil society. There we're certainly going to have to feel our way.

But I had a very powerful experience last week when five Iraqi-Americans all from Michigan, from the Detroit area in Michigan came to see us. With one exception they'd all been in the United States ten years or longer. They were thoroughly Americanized. They were I think interestingly, somewhat representative, although there was no Kurd in the group, but there were three Shia, one Suni, one Caldian Christian. The two messages that came through most powerfully, every single one of them had a heart-rending story about what had happened to them or to their families. Three of them actually broke down and just stopped talking for a minute or two in telling these stories, they were so horrible.

But the other thing was the hopefulness, the sense from all of them that this is not a country that has been driven by Shias killing Sunis or Sunis killing Shias. It really has been unfortunately equal opportunity oppression by this horrible regime that people want to get rid of. And I think there's a great sense of optimism that the Iraqi people are capable of the same kind of democratic transition that we've seen in eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet communists.

BBC: But there are frictions there or potential frictions there. I think you used the word "feel your way through" to some extent. Or the phrase, "feel your way through". I think that's what people are worried about. They're looking for a blueprint, if you like, of assurance.

Wolfowitz: I think blueprint, it's interesting, and I'm not trying to get into a debate about this doctrine of nationbuilding, but it is interesting that people can use this phrase build a nation as though foreigners can come in from outside and build a nation.

Nations grow. They're built from the inside. What I think we'll see is we can create the conditions by removing this horrible oppression where the Iraqi people can build something for themselves and we'll have to provide some of the supporting scaffolding while they do it, but it's got to have indigenous roots to be successful.

BBC: Secretary Wolfowitz, thank you very much.

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