United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share

Transcript


Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Nolan Finley of the Detroit News

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
February 23, 2003

Q: If we can start just by asking how close are we to being ready to go if that's the decision that's made to go? I know we have the deal with Turkey and we've deployed a lot of troops since Christmas. How long, how ready are we? Or how near ready are we?

Wolfowitz: We're not going to talk about timetables of operations, but we have a very powerful force there. We really are ready whenever the President wants us to be.

Q: And we do hear talk of sending in a lot of men, a lot of equipment. How long can we keep the gun cocked? We're now in a diplomatic dance that could go on and on.

Wolfowitz: I don't think it's driven by military considerations. I think the President's made clear that this is Saddam's final opportunity and that we're not going to say oh well gee, maybe it's your next to final opportunity. The President clearly means it, and so far unfortunately Saddam has totally failed to comply with the resolution. As we've been saying, it's a matter of weeks, not months, for him to comply fully.

Q: We're going to the UN tomorrow, the United States. Does the Administration have any feel for the likelihood of getting a resolution passed that would authorize you to [inaudible]?

Wolfowitz: I'm sure Secretary Powell has a very good feel and he's been working hard at it, and it's their business, not Defense Department business.

I do think it's important for everyone to recognize that this is a test of the United Nations and I hope the people who have those votes in the Security Council will realize that it's a historic occasion for the UN to step up to its responsibilities and to demonstrate that when they pass a resolution like 1441 it really means it.

Q: You are involved in keeping our allies together.

Wolfowitz: Very much so, and we've had -- We have a huge coalition forming. General DeLong was just telling me today of a couple more people who signed on. We're getting so much support from our European allies, from countries in the Middle East, from countries even far away in East Asia.

Q: [inaudible] in the last couple of weeks, at least the perception is that it's been sort of on the wane. Is that --

Wolfowitz: No, not at all. I think it builds constantly. Some people would prefer not to advertise their support, particularly given the nature of that region. If you live in that region you may be willing to support the United States if we decide to take action but you don't want to be out there advocating action for a lot of reasons.

Q: If we were to go to the UN, if it doesn't go our way, does it become a harder job to keep those people who are on board on board? Or --

Wolfowitz: When I say we have a large coalition assembled, I mean a large number of countries that have assured us that they will be with us with or without a resolution. Obviously probably every country, including our own, would prefer to see another resolution, but it was very clear in fact when we negotiated Resolution 1441 that another resolution was not necessary. I think it's worth reminding people in this country particularly that when we went to war in Kosovo under President Clinton we did not have a UN resolution at all.

Q: You've been watching Saddam Hussein for a long time. If the war puts him on notice and then backs out, if we take his troops and come back home without disarming him, what are the long-term consequences of that?

Wolfowitz: I think we absolutely have to, as the President said, achieve the disarmament of these weapons of mass terror, as I call them. Peacefully if possible, but by force if necessary. I think our ability to deal with anything else, just like the war on terrorism, to deal with the problems of North Korean nuclear weapons will practically vanish if we're seen not to be serious about this. We are serious about this, I can assure you. The only question is whether Saddam is serious or whether he's going to force us to use force.

Q: If he, between now and March 7th, if he starts the process of dismantling these missiles and what not, he has been a master of delay. Give the appearance of wanting to cooperate, but is it likely he'll do just enough between now and March 7th to throw things [inaudible] for the UN?

Wolfowitz: He may do something that will fool some people but if it's the old game of cheat and retreat, it's not acceptable. And just fiddling around on the edges while you continue to threaten scientists with talk of death while you continue to hide your anthrax and your botulism, that's not cooperation, and you can't say well they're cooperating more when in fact they're fundamentally obstructing the whole process.

Q: Assuming we go in, we'll be going in with a smaller force than last time, correct? Smaller numbers. Is that because of improved technology?

Wolfowitz: I don't want to get into saying exactly how big the force would be. It's a different force, it's a different mission, and in most respects it's a much-reduced opponent. But the one respect that we think most about and worry most about is it is an enemy with weapons of mass destruction. We think a lot about how to deter and prevent their use.

Q: What is our response to the use of weapons of mass destruction?

Wolfowitz: First and foremost, it's to warn anybody in the chain of command that they will suffer the most severe personal consequences if they participate in their use. And Saddam isn't going to be able to do this all by himself.

I think one of the things, we even see this already in the intelligence, I think if we have to use force it will be much more evident that as the inevitability of his demise starts to sink in to his people, no one wants to be the last one to die for Saddam Hussein.

Q: Now if we're faced with weapons of mass destruction, do we respond with weapons of mass destruction? Have we left open that option?

Wolfowitz: Look, the President always has to keep every option available but I think, and this partly answers your earlier question, too, we have just overwhelming conventional capabilities, and in many respects, especially our ability to deliver precision weapons and our ability to find moving targets is orders of magnitude greater than what we had 12 years ago, and what we had 12 years ago amazed the world.

Q: When we went into Afghanistan there was a good deal of consideration about collateral damage and harm to civilians. Is that consideration equally as strong this time? Can we do the job this time without collateral damage?

Wolfowitz: It's fundamental in our thinking and one of the great contributions of the technological advances we've made over the last 10 or 20 years is the ability to discriminate between the military targets that you have to attack and the civilian targets that you want to avoid. General DeLong and his staff have spent literally hours trying to make sure that we minimize the consequences for the civilian economy and for the civilian population.

Q: Does that sort of consideration put our own troops at risk? Does it make it harder for our --

Wolfowitz: The safety of our troops has got to be first and foremost in the President's mind, the Secretary's mind. But I think our troops themselves would say that accomplishing the mission requires that you accomplish it in a way that has a long-term strategic advantage for the United States. That is most benefited by the discrimination that we've shown.

We have a stronger position in Afghanistan today and our troops are safer because we used force discriminately.

Would you agree with that Mike? (Lt. General Michael DeLong)

DeLong: A hundred percent. No matter what kind of war we would fight anywhere in the world today, we're much more technologically advanced both intel-wise and war fighting wise than we've ever been before. So as the Secretary said, we can discriminate between, most of the time, between good and bad. And the troops are, it's not even a question of them being [agreed], it's not even an issue. We just [inaudible].

Q: Our troops are prepared for urban fighting and for chemical warfare, biological warfare? We're comfortable with their readiness?

Wolfowitz: We're certainly confident that they are prepared as well as they can possibly be. I wouldn't use the word comfortable in talking about either of those situations.

DeLong: They're trained and equipped properly.

Q: When the military -- If we don't get the UN cooperation that we're looking for, the military will have a pretty significant role in the after-fighting. In putting back together Iraq, won't it?

Wolfowitz: It will regardless. I would say whether or not we get a second resolution from the United Nations, I suspect we'll get an awful lot of countries, including some that are not being very cooperative right now who want to cooperate in the reconstruction of Iraq. Iraq is such an important country. It's one of the potentially richest countries in the Arab world, and I don't just mean in terms of its oil resources, but even more importantly people who are so talented and educated. I think frankly some of the problems we've had over the last ten years come from countries that want to have that relationship with Iraq and they'll want it even more if it's a democratic Iraq. So we'll need a lot of help but we'll get a lot of help, but the initial task of reconstruction and immediate humanitarian relief and so forth are going to have to be carried out by the military.

Q: I know you don't want to talk about timing, but is it possible to, if we move on [inaudible], is it possible to get the heavy fighting finished before the hot summer?

Wolfowitz: Not only can I not talk about timetables, it's very hazardous to predict what the course of a war will be.

I think a key factor, if it comes to a conflict, is going to be that this is a man who rules exclusively by terror, and I think even in his inner circle the loyalty is largely based on fear. And when that fear starts to disappear it's going to crumble. I don't want to make a prediction, as I say it's a dangerous thing to do, but I do think in a way that's our principle target, is the psychological one, to convince the Iraqi people that they no longer have to be afraid of Saddam. And once that happens I think what you're going to find, and this is very important, you're going to find Iraqis out cheering American troops. I even had the experience not so long ago of talking with a European journalist who surprised me a little bit because I thought he was, his natural sympathies were with the demonstrators. And I understand the desire to avoid a war. We'd love to avoid a war. But I think what some of those demonstrators don't understand is that the real suffering of the Iraqi people comes from this regime, the [inaudible] this regime, and if it comes to the use of force our hope is it can be as short and brief as possible, as discriminating as possible, and I feel quite certain the end result is going to be millions of Iraqis finally free to speak their opinions, finally free from terror, finally able to construct a democratic country.

Q: Of course the audience you were talking to today, many of them had personal experience in Iraq. [Inaudible] we will actually pick up help, military help from opposition groups or from people who have an interest in unseating this regime?

Wolfowitz: I think we'll get a lot of help. We may even find that we're getting help from Iraqi military units.

Q: We'll accept that help.

Wolfowitz: You always want to make sure that it's real help and not somebody who's pulling you into a trap, but yes. I think we're thinking about ways to make sure that first of all the units that don't want to fight are encouraged not to fight, and I think that's going to be most of them.

Q: So this is markedly different than Afghanistan where we had identifiable opposition groups that were armed that we could work with.

Wolfowitz: Well, it's very different from Afghanistan, that's the basic point. The Iraqi army is much more formidable than the Taliban army, but that doesn't mean -- I don't want to exaggerate. The force we're putting in here ourselves, what would you say Mike, it's 10 or 20 times what we had in Afghanistan. We're not here to discuss the numbers, but this is not Afghanistan.

DeLong: Don't --

Wolfowitz: I know.

DeLong: If the President ever took the option to do that, whatever [inaudible], we would win.

Q: The poll we did indicates there's still a great deal of confusion about whether America is fighting two wars or two fronts of the same war.

Wolfowitz: This is part of the war on terrorism.

Q: It is part of the war on terrorism. That seems to be something that folks have a hard time grasping. Even the people who might support action against Iraq don't see how it's linked to the [inaudible]. How does action in Iraq make us safer here at home?

Wolfowitz: First of all there are al Qaeda terrorists who operate in and out of Iraq. Secretary Powell was quite explicit about some of them in his speech to the United Nations. That by itself would be justification for military action. Not as openly as they did in Afghanistan, for obvious reasons. Saddam is not quite as foolish as the Taliban. But the support for terrorism is clear-cut. The support for al Qaeda is clear-cut.

It's interesting that even al Qaeda has kind of come out in defense of Saddam Hussein. They've declared that Saddam Hussein [is bad]. There's also no question that the defeat of this terrorist regime that terrorizes its own people, that has weapons of mass terror and that has ties to terrorism will be seen throughout the terrorist world as a defeat for their side. No question about it.

Q: You mentioned al Qaeda, and as I drove over here this morning I was listening to BBC. One of the hosts was asked whatever happened to Osama bin Laden and whatever happened to al Qaeda? What are we doing to continue the pursuit of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda? And are we still optimistic that we'll someday apprehend him, break that organization?

Wolfowitz: I wouldn't make predictions about that. It's possible. I don't say that it's my belief. But we'd still like to know where he is and with who he is, and it's possible we've killed him already. I don't think that's the case. But the point is we're not talking about one man we're talking about a whole network, and we continue to wrap up members of that network. There were arrests here in the United States in the last week. There have been arrests around Europe. There have been key arrests in Arab countries, in the Persian Gulf. We are pursuing that aggressively.

I think, by the way, the cooperation we get from some of the less savory governments we have to deal with are enhanced by seeing what happened to the Taliban, and if they see the same thing happen to Saddam Hussein. We're sending a message that it doesn't pay to harbor terrorists, it doesn't pay to threaten the United States with terrorism. It doesn't pay to have links to al Qaeda.

Q: Does Osama bin Laden now [inaudible]?

Wolfowitz: Absolutely.

Q: And we'll pursue that at the same time we're --

Wolfowitz: At the same time and in the war with Iraq. I mean one of our first priorities going into Baghdad will be to look for these people that are hiding there. We're going to be looking for intelligence that can lead us to people who are elsewhere. We're going to be after them for a long time.

DeLong: The coalition is down in Tampa right now and they're focused on Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa. Just Monday we had 45 countries. Friday we had 48 countries. Three more that have joined the coalition focusing on the war on terrorism. And as the Secretary said, Osama bin Laden is sort of like the CEO of a company. The company's still there if the CEO's gone. So we're going, if you can't find him, fine, we're looking for him, as he said, but we're dismantling the middle management quite a bit and they're going apart. We are winning the war on terrorism. We haven't won it yet, but we are wining the war on terrorism. We continue to win the war every day because the rest of the world is assisting the United States and this coalition both financially and with their police forces.

Q: There was a feeling when we went into Afghanistan that when we finish there, when we destroy the Taliban, when we destroy al Qaeda this war on terrorism will be over. Now we're going to Iraq and there's a sense that okay, this is the end of it. It's not, is it?

Wolfowitz: No. You say there's a feeling. I'd say anybody who read with a modicum of care what the President of the United States said or what the Secretary of Defense said would not have made that mistake because they've said over and over again it's going to be a long conflict. It requires rooting out all these infrastructures and terrorist networks and getting all countries out of the business of supporting terrorism. It's not going to be over soon.

It is not also, let's be clear, it's not primarily a military conflict. The Afghanistan phase is heavily now, nearly entirely military. The Iraq phase is heavily military. But the worldwide war on terrorism is, if anything, more a matter of intelligence and law enforcement work. But the different pieces reinforce one another.

We are working very hard in regard to your question about bin Laden and the senior leadership of al Qaeda, to make sure that we have the kind of close connection between our intelligence and law enforcement people and our military people so that if we do get a firm fix on where one of these guys are and we want to go after them militarily, there's no delay between gathering intelligence and the military --

DeLong: Worldwide they share [inaudible].

Q: If we're going to win this long term, if we're going to win this war on terrorism for good, it may mean going into some other countries or doing some other regime changes, right?

Wolfowitz: I think some other countries have got to change their policies. In some cases quite fundamentally. But there is more than one way that it can happen. With Saddam Hussein we're dealing with one of the most extreme people in many respects in the way he treats his people. He's at the extreme edge in the way in which he openly brandishes the terrorist threat, he's extreme in his defiance of the UN. Maybe if we can make a good example out of him other people will decide that it's better to be cooperative.

Q: As we measure extremism and particularly in that region of the world that concerns us right now, are we seeing an increase or a decrease in extremism?

Wolfowitz: I think an honest assessment would probably say that there's something of an increase, and some people would say it's all our fault, which is wrong. Some of it is because when you're in the middle of a war and you're using military force, some people just don't like that. Some of it is that we're dealing with a trend that started 10 or 15 years ago and is continuing forward and we need to check it.

But I think the key to combating extremism is to take a medium and long-term view and to recognize that two things have to happen. The bad guys have to lose and the good guys have got to get help. The bad guys are the terrorists and the extremists, and the more defeats they suffer the fewer people will think it's a great cause to sign up in. And on the other hand, the good guys or the moderate Muslim countries like Turkey that need a lot of help, and most of all, the people of Iraq in overwhelming numbers are going to turn out to be terrific allies in the war on terrorism. If they're free to speak their minds, which they're not today, if the Iraqi-Americans are free to speak their minds, and we'll be hearing it this afternoon, I think they're going to be a powerful voice against extremism and against terrorist regimes, and a powerful voice that says thank heavens the Americans and President Bush and our incredible men and women in uniform had the guts to change things.

Q: Do we expect once action starts in Iraq that there will be counter-strikes against us in this country?

Wolfowitz: There have been strikes and they weren't counter-strikes. Someone asked Secretary Rumsfeld the other day whether this would inspire attacks on the United States and he said these people don't need inspiration. [Laughter] They've been at it. We're defending ourselves and we shouldn't start feeling that once again we're to blame.

There may very well be attacks, there are going to be attacks either way, and there will be fewer attacks in the long run the more aggressively we go after these people.

Q: Some of these countries in the region that are friendly to us now, but are dealing with their own extremists, will they be more vulnerable? And what will we do to help places like Pakistan and other countries where the extremists are always on the verge of taking over? How will we shore them up while we're busy in Iraq?

Wolfowitz: I think they all are concerned and we share that concern that if there's a military action in Iraq that it will be a lightning rod for demonstrators and there would be some of those problems to deal with. I must say we had the same fear 12 years ago during the Gulf War and it turned out to be nowhere near as bad as people expected. It may be worse this time. It's a reason to work the way we are. First of all find a peaceful solution if we can. There's still a small hope for that, but also to assemble the kind of force and the kind of coalition that produces as rapid an end to this regime as possible. Because I do think once the regime is gone a lot of those destabilizing reactions will fade and then we'll have a lot of other important work to do including, I think, most of the countries in that region are hoping, and I think our President believes, that it will be an opportunity to move on and try to make some progress on the Arab-Israelis.

Q: Once we liberate Iraq how do we get those people to live together in a peaceful manner amongst themselves?

Wolfowitz: I'm hoping to hear a little more about that this afternoon from these Iraqi-Americans. I heard from them last week and they said you know, there's not a history of inter-communal violence in Iraq. I think it's basically true. It was true in Bosnia before Milosevic got going, but after Milosevic had done his ethnic cleansing and different ethnic groups had killed one another you have a hard problem to deal with. But in Iraq it's this horrible regime against everyone else. And there is going to be a problem of how do you account for the past and who do you hold to blame as a war criminal. But the Shia and the Suni -- The Shia of Iraq actually fought very loyally for Iraq against Iran. I think the ethnic differences in Iraq are there but they're exaggerated and I would ask people to pay a little more attention to what's happened in Northern Iraq for the last 10 years where Saddam has been out and two different groups of Kurds who don't always like each other have done a fairly decent job in difficult circumstances.

Q: You would expect them to join greater Iraq once this is --

Wolfowitz: Absolutely.

Q: There's not going to be a separate Kurdish state?

Wolfowitz: There can't be. It would be a destabilizing thing for the region. I think the Kurds understand that and I think they're really Iraqis.

Q: I appreciate your time.

Additional Links

Stay Connected