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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with London Sunday Telegraph

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
October 28, 2001

Friday, Oct. 26, 2001

(Interview with David Wastell, London Sunday Telegraph.)

Q: Thank you very much for seeing us. It's an interesting day to see you. As you know, the British government announced today that there's a large contingent of British troops being committed to the region, including some commandos. I wondered if you --

Wolfowitz: You have some of the best in the world.

Q: That's what I wanted to ask you about. What is our contribution at this point? How important is it to you?

Wolfowitz: I think it's very important. In the first place it's very important in the level of I guess what Napoleon called morale -- war is 25 percent material and 75 percent morale. Having one country that is with us 100 percent the way the UK is is fantastic. But it's more than just that. It's extraordinarily capable people.

I've been following the activities of particularly your SAS people in the Gulf region since I first met Peter de la Billier back in the late 1970s who later became your commander in the Gulf War. There is a wealth of experience and an extraordinarily high level of military competence. I wouldn't want to say there is anybody as good as our people, but I'm sure your folks would say the same thing. They're clearly world class.

Q: We think they're going to be operating together. I don't know much about how these things work, but the impression is they're going to be collaborating.

Wolfowitz: I may know a little more than you, but I can't talk about that part.

It is true, it's well known because of the extreme danger of these operations that these are people who are very reluctant to rely on anybody even of a different unit, much less a different nationality. And it is striking that the British are put in a different category. They're almost treated like our people. So I think the cooperation will be very close.

Q: Dick Cheney has said on more than one occasion, I think, that this may be the first war for you in which you may have suffered more civilian casualties than you do military casualties. Do you think that could be true for Britain as well?

Wolfowitz: Well, I think you already suffered more civilian casualties than any previous terrorist incident in your history. That's my understanding. I think there were 100 or 200 killed in the World Trade Center.

Q: We think, yeah.

Wolfowitz: So you're already, like we are, unfortunately, starting with a large number on the table.

I don't know. I think it would be prudent to anticipate that these murderers will attack the UK as well, and more so because you're so closely identified with us.

Q: And frankly, we're more convenient, in their faces in many ways. We're easy to get to or into.

Wolfowitz: I don't know about the into. We seem to be awfully easy to get into, and that is the decisive thing. It's not the distance you have to travel, it's getting across the border.

Frankly, I think in some ways you have a lead on us because you've been dealing with domestic terrorism in very serious ways for so long. So you probably may be a little better in that department. But I would urge your compatriots not to think that this is not just an attack on the United States.

Q: Obviously there are lots of [contact persons] here, but do you think that the unpleasant arsenal of possible weapons that they may have, including chemicals and possibly biological, might be deployed against civilians? Either here or elsewhere?

Wolfowitz: Well we don't know the origin of the letter attacks, but it is certainly a reasonable assumption that they have that weapon in hand already. So I think you have to think about the worst-case possibilities, then you make some prudent judgments about how far do you go in turning your normal life upside down in order to deal with them. Obviously that's one of their objectives as well.

Q: But there's an aside, there really is an aside I think, that the European Defense Force is something that I know you've discussed in the past, but people from (inaudible) leading from Britain. What is your sense of the implications for that global bit? What is the joint effort that's now being made? Tell us about the need for such a European Defense Force, if anything.

Wolfowitz: I'm not sure. I must say one of the things that is striking to me, what it says about NATO, because I was in London ten years ago for sort of the first post-Cold War NATO Summit, at least advertised as such, where we talked about the new relationships with the former Soviet Union, [I guess] the Warsaw Pact had been fully unraveled, and there are two things I remember that were rather striking. One was Mrs. Thatcher's observation that the world stands on the dawn of a new era just as it did in 1919 and 1945. I think those were the years she picked; i.e., the new era never quite turned out the way we expected. Was this '91 or '90? I'm sorry, it must have been '90, because a month later Iraq attacked Kuwait and the new era wasn't quite what we anticipated. It was '90, it was 11 years ago.

But the other thing is that we were sort of, those of us who believed in NATO, were very conscious that many people were saying we don't need NATO any more, the Soviet Union's gone away, the threat's gone away, and here we are 11 years later and we have NATO AWACS defending the United States, and we have NATO playing an indispensable role in the Balkans. And both of the views that America doesn't need NATO any more because the threat's gone away, and Europeans don't need NATO any more because they can do it as a European force, at least as of October 2001 it would seem that NATO is an absolutely crucial instrument.

And that's really been our view of the whole European defense effort. It is fine if it stays within the umbrella of NATO and it will be a luxury none of us can afford if it somehow (inaudible).

Q: Can I ask you, there's been lots of comments in the last few days about the apparently slow progress of the current campaign in Afghanistan, speculation about whether bin Laden might escape, it's going to take a long time, what it does for next summer. What is your assessment of where the war has got to now? What progress has been made? Are the obstacles worse than we've been expecting?

Wolfowitz: I think we've been saying from the beginning that this is going to be a long campaign, and the campaign in Afghanistan is -- the whole campaign is going to be a long campaign and the campaign in Afghanistan is going to be a long one. And I think we're encountering some of the unrealistic expectations that were created by the conflicts of the last decade.

I think obviously we want to be careful not to make some of the mistakes that other foreign powers have made, most notably the Soviet Union. Of course our goals are very different than the Soviet Union and that shapes a different kind of campaign. We're not trying to control Afghanistan or rule Afghanistan. We're trying to wrest it from the nasty Taliban and create conditions where we can root out the terrorists.

It is hard to, I think -- in the first place I think it's hard to make a very good assessment of where the balance of forces lies inside Afghanistan. It's intrinsically a sort of murky picture. But also I think it's a hard one to measure from a snapshot because the nature of things in Afghanistan seem to ebb and flow, I think. Partly because people go from one side to the other sometimes several times in a single day, I'm told.

So people are looking, in my view, for results, dramatic results, much too early.

Q: Even one of your people, Rear Admiral Stufflebeem said on I think Wednesday, he said I'm a bit surprised at how doggedly they're hanging onto their power, talking about the Taliban. [ transcript ] But that your military are also --

Wolfowitz: I don't think (inaudible) was surprised.

Q: Okay.

Wolfowitz: He's a tough customer, you know that.

Q: What do you think in the sort of debate about whether bin Laden would be better dead, captured, chased out of the country or whatever? What's your judgment on that?

Wolfowitz: We just want to get our hands on him any way we can, then we'll figure out what to do with him.

Q: What about the --

Wolfowitz: It's also important to emphasize, obviously there's no single terrorist we would like to get more than that one, but this is not about one man. There's a huge network out there that will operate even if we get him. On the other hand, if we got the entire network it might not matter whether we get him.

So clearly, he's number one on our target list, but the president has emphasized over and over again this is a global problem, there are global terrorist networks that work with one another, there are states that support them. We're after, I think this is now, in the secretary's words, we're out to drain the swamp not simply to kill individual snakes.

(Phone interruption)

Q: -- the hours must be tremendous. They can't be what you expected. It would have been an exceptionally challenging job here, but not quite --

Wolfowitz: It's worse, yeah. It is worse.

My staff keeps reminding me this is a marathon, not a sprint, and we've got to get back to a more sustainable pace.

But I'll tell you, the thing I miss the most is Sundays off. I can go a long time if I get one day off a week, but there was a long stretch there when we were working seven days a week. I got last Sunday off, but I can't complain.

Q: Back on the war for a minute, or to the progress of it, can you say at least what the ranges are of, possibility (inaudible) in Afghanistan, for administering (inaudible).

Wolfowitz: I think it's really impossible. And I think it's a fundamental mistake to try to predict --

(Phone interruption)

Q: We were talking about the duration. That it's fundamentally impossible to --

Wolfowitz: You really can't know. And I think if you sort of build expectations of a particular schedule you're setting yourself up for trouble, to be honest.

Obviously the sooner the better, but we'll take as long -- we'll do what it takes. We clearly are in this to win.

Q: What's the duration of, as it were, the bigger campaign? The campaign on (inaudible) terrorism. People talk as if it's maybe 50 years or something. Looking at history, do we have anything to judge this by?

Wolfowitz: We don't. We've never fought an enemy like this that is so hard to identify or pin down. I guess the 50 years come from the Cold War analogy which has a certain applicability. There are things about this where it's helpful to think of the Cold War in the sense that it's a global campaign, it's a sustained campaign, you're going to need help from a lot of different people.

I think also that at some level it's ultimately a battle of ideas, just as the Cold War was ultimately a battle of ideas.

Of course the military piece of it is very different. Where in the Cold War we were dealing with an enemy that was too strong to defeat militarily, in this war we're dealing with an enemy that is hard to find, but once you find it is much weaker than we are. So it's a different kind of balance. I would hope it's not going to take 50 years, but I think we're talking about years and not months.

Q: Well doesn't it have a terrible sort of chilling strength from the lengths at which they are apparently willing to go to do damage to us domestically?

Wolfowitz: It's pretty horrible, that's right.

Q: We don't have that strength, do we? We're not willing to inflict anything like that on anybody else to win this, are we?

Wolfowitz: It's not clear that you could win it by doing that. I think the greater thing to fear more is that they will push us into doing things to ourselves that we would rather not see and rather not do.

Q: For example?

Wolfowitz: Changing the way we live. Changing what we consider acceptable infringements on individual liberty. Clearly we have to adjust in certain ways as long as they're out there, and that is one of the reasons to defeat them sooner rather than later so that we don't end up having to live that way for a long time.

But they clearly are willing to do anything, and that makes them extremely dangerous.

Q: Can I ask you, something many (unintelligible) organizations have been complaining already about things like these cluster bombs and the sense that there will be critiques of some of the methods used by the United States (unintelligible) countries in the list. What's your reaction to that?

Wolfowitz: I guess my main reaction is we lost somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 people in a single day. We're now being threatened with weapons that could kill tens of thousands of people. We're trying to avoid killing innocent people, but we have to win this war and we'll use the weapons we need to in this war.

Q: I'm talking (unintelligible) should they start to use even more hideous weapons themselves, is there a point at which we will be willing to use (unintelligible) bigger and more (unintelligible) weapons than (unintelligible) weapons?

Wolfowitz: It's a mistake to ever take anything off the table, but I think the real problem is finding the guilty people and getting them. We've said over and over again, correctly, this is not a war against the Afghan people, it's a war against foreign terrorists who have penetrated Afghanistan and a medieval sort of regime that is oppressing the people of Afghanistan. I think this new level of threat obviously suggests what was I think clear already, which is the United States has enormous will and willingness to do what it takes to get this job done. We'll do what we need to do it.

Q: As a matter of fact do you think, someone said to me that using small nuclear weapons against some of these caves would actually be the best way to get people once they're in these elaborate --

Wolfowitz: You can speculate about everything, but we have weapons to take out caves without going nuclear.

Q: Can I ask you just on --

Wolfowitz: There's just a lot of caves. That's the bigger problem.

Q: True, a lot of (inaudible) nuclear weapons.

What's your instinct on the origin of this domestic anthrax attack?

Wolfowitz: I don't think one should go on instinct, I really don't. I think it's clear that this is a deliberate and malevolent act and I think we passed any doubt about that point some time ago. But where it comes from or what these people might do next are things at this point we would only be speculating about. We're working very hard to try to trace the origins of it and we are doing everything we can to anticipate what people who have this might do next.

Q: -- other biological weapons of the moment?

Wolfowitz: Well, or more extensive use of this one. Because so far it's a horrible weapon, but distribution is unlimited. It could get much worse.

Q: And we could see it elsewhere in the world I suppose, too.

Wolfowitz: That's right. There have been cases reported in South America but I don't know if any of them have been confirmed.

Q: I'm not sure. I don't believe any of them have been --

Wolfowitz: I've only read about them in the newspapers which they did say had not been confirmed.

Q: I want to ask you about Iraq for a minute, a topic that you have talked about a lot in the past. Is it at least conceivable that Iraq could be the originator of this anthrax --

Wolfowitz: I don't think you can rule out anybody. I know the Iraqis have worked on weapons of mass destruction, as have a number of other states that support terrorism, and as the secretary's said often, the combination of state support for terrorism and states pursuing weapons of mass destruction is a particularly deadly combination.

But right now our focus is on al Qaeda in Afghanistan. It's very important to make sure that whatever we do retains that focus so that we aren't sitting here three years from now discussing what our time table's going to be in Afghanistan.

Q: So you are content in the end, although we all understand (unintelligible), you're content for the time being with the administration's position that we'll come back to reconsider --

Wolfowitz: There's something very fundamental which I think a lot of people outside government don't appreciate and that is it is terrific to have a president like this one who listens to debate and makes clear decisions and when decisions are made people pursue them as a team because --

(Phone interruption)

Wolfowitz: Let's back up. I was in mid-paragraph or mid-sentence.

Q: You were talking I think about the kind of thoughts that you had.

Wolfowitz: It is very important in situations like this one that you have a single policy and not two or three different policies competing with one another, and it makes a huge difference that you have a president who's willing to listen to debate and make decisions and sort of march along.

The president's father was remarkable in that way ten years ago. I once made a list for myself, it was about 12 really difficult major decisions that he made, and you could sort of almost sense the energy that that created in the bureaucracy because people would, instead of continuing to spin their wheels arguing old debates, they would march on, and we went through that one pretty methodically, and I think, I feel very much the same way here.

Q: And we should understand, correct me if I'm wrong, that at some point further down the road when the campaign in Afghanistan has progressed a lot further, that question will be revisited as part of the policy, is that right?

Wolfowitz: Part of the policy is we don't discuss future -- (Laughter)

Q: What next, as it were.

Wolfowitz: But also people shouldn't think that we're going to go to war with the whole world. I mean I think after Afghanistan a lot of people who have been in the business of supporting terrorism are going to have second thoughts about it. We may be able to achieve some of the results we want to achieve by effective, coercive diplomacy rather than by true military power. So we expect a different environment when we get there.

Q: Is there a danger that, as it were, in the efforts to preserve the coalition that some of the objectives of the United States and Britain are being --

Wolfowitz: We don't talk about "the" coalition. The secretary talks about "coalitions" and I think that's the right way to think about it. We have one coalition for dealing with Afghanistan and obviously Pakistan and Uzbekistan are absolutely crucial members of that coalition. We have to think in a great many things that we do about how our actions are going to affect the stability of those two countries that are right on the front line.

Indonesia, which is a country where I was ambassador for three years, is a very important country with respect to the role of al Qaeda and terrorism in Southeast Asia, but Indonesia's not important at all with respect to Afghanistan.

Q: What does that tell us about Indonesia then? Will it be a focus in the future of --

Wolfowitz: No, it says that -- we're not in the future. Right now we're looking for ways to help them root out their own terrorist problems. But we're not looking for them to take positions that may be very controversial with their own people with respect to the war in Afghanistan. Obviously if they can be helpful, that's great, but that's sort of what I meant before about the UK being an ally who is with us on everything and 100 percent. There are other countries who will be comfortable cooperating with us quietly and privately and sometimes covertly and who will be reluctant to speak out openly. I suppose there are some others who will give us great public support and not do very much in private, but at least they won't hurt us.

Q: -- ordinary lives, complaining on the ground as you must have heard a million times by now. We hear it from our (unintelligible), from our correspondents in Northern Afghanistan, they're complaining that America is not doing enough to deal with the Taliban forces on the front line; that planes are flying over and not dropping bombs, in quite large numbers, apparently. And they say that your over-concern about [defending] Pakistan is (unintelligible) the action on the ground.

Can you just give me your readout of what the truth is on that?

Wolfowitz: I don't think there's a political constraint on our operations if that's what's implied. I think we are certainly anxious to see them make as much progress as quickly as possible, and by the way, I think that's also important to averting a possibly humanitarian disaster up north in the winter because a point that is not mentioned often enough is that a lot of the humanitarian problem in Afghanistan is caused deliberately by the Taliban cutting off relief supplies to areas that are not under their control. So we would like to see them make as much progress as possible.

It is hard, frankly, I mean I've read those reports, I've heard others delivered privately, and I've heard different accounts. It's hard to get precise ground troops on exactly what's going on in a very wild country with some very wild people, but part of what we're working on very hard is to get as much direct contact as possible with the Northern Alliance forces, and indeed with all opposition forces in Afghanistan so that we can coordinate what we do in a way that is of maximum utility to them.

Q: In an ideal world --

Wolfowitz: Not, by the way -- I mean it's not as easy as most people think including probably most people who are used to fighting guerilla wars in Afghanistan.

Q: Is it conceivable that before the winter sets in hopefully and everything grinds more or less to a halt, at least as far as [lines] are concerned, that the Northern Alliance will have, the anti-Taliban forces could have got into Kabul and taken over Kabul and taken over the other cities in the north of the country and established a kind of zone? Is that at least a possibility? Or is that looking too on the bright side?

Wolfowitz: The word "conceivable" encompasses a lot. But I think the right way for us to think is because we're not in this as an academic exercise, the right way for us to think is to plan on what could be a long time table. As things happen faster, obviously we'd like to make them happen faster, then we'll take advantage of that. But don't build a plan that depends on getting something done by --

Q: Okay.

Wolfowitz: That's a famous phrase that gets you in trouble in military operations.

Q: Can I ask you very briefly about Israel? Everybody's concerned about that. How dangerous is the position in the Middle East with everything else we are doing now? In other words, how much does it spill over?

Wolfowitz: I think it spills over. I think it's one of those things that creates -- it compounds the insecurity of a number of the Muslim countries that are opposed to terrorism and against terrorism, supporting us, and probably the closer they are to Israel the more it exposes them.

(Interruption)

Wolfowitz: I think the closer they are to Israel probably the more pressure it puts on them, so I think it's more of a problem for Egypt and Saudi Arabia, let's say, than it is for Pakistan or Indonesia. But obviously, even before September 11th we were very interested in seeing the violence calm down in the Middle East and the progress made between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It would be far more desirable, I mean far more important today to see that kind of progress, and we're working hard at it. But we have to prosecute the war against terrorism regardless of what's happening there.

Q: Sure. Is it hypocritical to tell the Israelis not to pursue what they view as terrorists directly, I'm sure in the Palestinian territory, when you're doing this in Afghanistan? How do you answer that? It's a point they're constantly making.

Wolfowitz: I'm not in the business of judging hypocritical. I think there's no question that it's helpful to us and to our effort and to the shaky condition of some of the countries that are supporting us, the more the Israelis can show some restraint. It's not a question of what's justified or unjustified. It's a question, as I view it, that Israel obviously faces a very difficult problem with terrorism, and it's a bit presumptuous of us to judge as though we were in their shoes what things are effective and what things aren't effective. But it's not presumptuous of us to say to them, look, we have some serious political/strategic problems which are made worse every time you appear to over-react. So if you can just show some restraint, that helps us.

Q: Does it annoy you to be constantly tagged as a hawk or a hardliner or a right winger? The phrases that we journalists slip next to your name to make our life simpler?

Wolfowitz: If I were in the academic world I could explain my position and you could decide what it is, but I don't do that now.

Q: It doesn't annoy you to be constantly characterized in this way? I just wondered what it feels like from the inside --

Wolfowitz: All I can say is that I am amused sometimes by the views that are attributed to me, but I'm not allowed to say which ones are right and which ones aren't. (Laughter)

Q: Can you give me any sense of how President Bush, we all see this from outside, we all believe has been transformed in some way by this event. Can you give any sense of what you've seen of him as how he's different or how he's managing, how he's adjusting?

Wolfowitz: I suppose those of us who knew him pretty well from going back to October of 1998, I would say I got to know him pretty well, I expected this sort of performance from him if called upon, and that's the reason why I was very proud to help in his campaign and proud to serve. I think he has terrific qualities of leadership as somebody who's willing to listen, who is willing to make decisions, who has a certain appropriate humility. I think that often goes with good decision makers. Harry Truman had it, Abraham Lincoln had it. My heroes. Winston Churchill is one of my heroes, and his humility wasn't one of his great strengths. (Laughter) But I think he was somebody who was always listening to other people. That was one of his strengths. And so yeah, he has risen to the occasion in a way that may even surprise him a little, but I think he had all those qualities before and a certain clarity, simplicity.

The intellectuals are always looking for a president who can pass a Ph.D. qualifying exam. That's not what presidents are supposed to do. Presidents are supposed to understand things with a clarity that allows them to be decisive and allows them to explain to the larger public what has to be done in ways that gain support, and I think this president has those qualities. It's obviously improving every day, but it's not a surprise that he's risen to the occasion.

Q: If you've got time for one more, I'll just ask you what you think about the world being turned upside down since you've been here. You're always telling people to think outside the box and to think in different ways about everything, but here we are now suddenly in a world in which Russia is becoming almost overnight a close ally. Countries who you've had an ongoing (unintelligible). Could you have imagined that such a shakeup could have happened in such a short time?

Wolfowitz: It's interesting you pick those two examples. It's funny. Because those are two things I think we should have done five years ago or ten years ago. It's been a terrible mistake, I think, of U.S. policy that we have isolated the Indonesian military and isolated the Pakistani military, and it's not that I don't understand the problems that led us down that road, but it was ultimately so counter-productive from the point of view of all of the values that we cherish to have pushed those two important groups kind of out into the cold, and I think this is an opportunity to fix it.

And with respect to Russia, I've felt for ten years basically this is a country that has gone from being a potential enemy to being a potential ally. If you go back and look at the kinds of things the president was saying as a candidate back in May of last year which a number of us helped to write, that we need to get out of the Cold War box where the most important thing is to preserve the ability of these two countries to incinerate one another on 30 minutes' notice. I think that should have gone on the ash heap of history along with some other things. So finally it's moving in that direction.

Q: Could you envisage Russia inside NATO?

Wolfowitz: I could, but not just -- before you put the words in my mouth -- not now and not five years from now, but 20 years from now? I can envision Russia as part of Europe. I think that's where they want to go, I think that's where we should want them to go. And when that happens, unless people decide we don't need NATO any more, which I hope they won't because I have a feeling it will have a utility long beyond this crisis, that that means some Russian relationship with NATO.

But I think the first step is to understand that we have huge interests that are aligned with one another rather than being potential enemies. It's a bigger problem on the Russian side than on our side. But we have (inaudible).

I thought where you were going to take me was sort of what's the next big thinking outside the box, and I think one of the things I've been saying is even when we're fighting this war we have to think about what might be the next war. The next one, just judging from history, will be very different from this one which will by then be the last one.

One of the clear lessons of September 11th which we shouldn't have had to learn again is to be prepared for the unexpected, to anticipate surprise. The answer to that isn't to get perfect intelligence so you're never surprised. You should get the best intelligence you can, but the lesson of history is there are going to be surprises. And if you build a defense posture based on the idea that there aren't any threats any more, or you build it on the basis that we know exactly what the threat is and we'll prepare for that one threat, then you're exposed to the surprise that comes from an unexpected direction.

You can't prepare for everything, but you need a posture that has some flexibility built into it. And I would say I hope, but we'll probably have to learn this again, we can afford what it takes to provide for an adequate defense. And when we don't do it or if we're unable to provide for it, the costs are so much greater than the $10 or $20 billion that we argued about in heated debates of a few months ago.

Q: In effect, that's what we're seeing now.

Wolfowitz: Absolutely.

Q: I don't know quite what we could have done to prevent this, but there has to have been something.

Wolfowitz: We probably couldn't have prevented it, but the point is, it's easy for me to come up with a list of tens of billions of dollars of capability that would have been nice to have invested in over the last five or ten years that we didn't. Starting with airborne warning and surveillance aircraft. We're fortunately able to borrow from the Europeans, but we're using more than half of our AWACS fleet to defend the United States. We didn't plan on that.

We are making very good use of unmanned aerial vehicles, the Predator aircraft in Afghanistan. I'd like to have ten times the number that we have.

So there are areas of investment we just shorted ourselves and we'll make it up. We have, we're not, we're still in a very strong position militarily, but it was penny wise and pound foolish in my opinion not to have invest earlier.

Q: Do you feel the Predator --

Wolfowitz: There is an industrial base issue. You can't suddenly turn your -- this is not like turning on paper mills or something. It takes awhile to build up your capacity, but we're doing it as fast as we can.

Q: Thank you very much for your time.

Wolfowitz: Thank you.