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Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz Interview with Michael Dwyer, Australian Broadcasting

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
May 31, 2003

Q:  First of all, last night at the dinner you were seated next to Senator Robert Hill, Australia’s defense minister.  I was wondering if you could allude to what some of the talk was after the roasted lamb…

 

Wolfowitz:  Well, first of all, great appreciation for what Australia has been doing with us in the war in terrorism and as I said in my public remarks today, it’s just wonderful to have an ally that takes security seriously and takes its commitments seriously.  I think we both feel a real sense of accomplishment of what’s been done in Iraq and the uncovering of these mass graves, which should not have come as a surprise to anybody, I think is a proof that there’s no question about the morality of what we did, and now the big challenge is to make sure that we can deliver on what the Iraqi people have a reasonable expectation will come after this terrible regime.

 

Q:  At the dinner last night, Singapore’s Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew alluded to American unilateralism and suggested very gently that the US might like to consider taking a more sensitive approach so as not to push people into a corner where they feel the need to oppose the United States.  Are you going to be taking that kind of advice on board?

 

Wolfowitz:  I certainly don’t think we should push people into a corner, but it seems to me it was Mr. Chirac that pushed us into a corner, pushed the whole United Nations into a corner.  And frankly, if anyone was behaving unilaterally, I think it was really the French.  We had 46 countries with us, including, very importantly of course, Australia and the UK and Poland that actually all contributed troops.  And most importantly of all it’s clear that we had most of the 20 million people of Iraq with us, and their voices should have counted for something.

 

Q:  Certainly within southeast Asia you do have a number of countries with you in the coalition of the willing, Australia and Singapore to name two.  There were also some countries that weren’t part of that coalition, for example, Malaysia and Indonesia.  Is the United States aware that there is a certain amount of discord within southeast Asia between countries which are considered to be strong allies of the United States and those that have significant differences of opinion?

 

Wolfowitz:  Absolutely.  And we respect differences of opinion.  I think in many ways the problem was that with some of our traditional European allies that went beyond differences of opinion into really active obstruction of policies that we believe were essential to our security and frankly I think to world security.  But obviously an issue like Iraq is going to be a sensitive issue in a majority Muslim country like Malaysia and Indonesia.  I think both sides managed our differences well and we continue to have excellent cooperation with both those countries on our common interest in fighting terrorism. 

 

Q:  Obviously different countries look at regional terrorism through different eyes and countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have domestic political considerations and different considerations with regard to nuanced understandings of Islam.  Has there been a suitable rapprochement between views of countries like Australia and United States and views of countries like Indonesia and Malaysia in dealing with regional terrorism?

 

Wolfowitz:  I think there’s a pretty good common approach.  It’s not perfect, but I think it’s worth remembering that for many years many of us in both United States and Australia were hoping for democratic government in Indonesia and now we have one, and as a democratic government it’s not able to deal with terrorists as decisively, to use a charitable term, as the old authoritarian regime was able to do.  So I think some of our differences in outlook frankly have more to do with that basic issue of what is acceptable in a country that’s trying to institute the rule of law.  But clearly there is a little bit of a tendency among some Indonesians who abhor terrorism to nonetheless be concerned that actions against terrorists not be seen as actions against Islam or against Muslims, but they’re not.

 

Q:  Does the United States still see southeast Asia as the second front in a war against terrorism?

 

Wolfowitz:  Well, you know I spoke today about what I think of as the second front in the war on terrorism, and I used it not a geographic sense, but in a psychological political sense, that is to say the first front is killing and capturing terrorists which you have to do, but the second front is what President Bush referred to last year in the State of the Union message as building a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror and in particularly in the Muslim world. 

 

I think clearly efforts have to be made to counter the sense of hopelessness and humiliation that I think affects many parts of the Muslim world, particularly the Arab world and that gives the extreme views more of an opportunity to propagate, gives terrorists more of a chance to recruit.  So I think that supporting countries like Indonesia that are struggling to manage a successful transition to democracy, supporting countries like Turkey which is one of the I think models of progressing, not completely progressed, but a progressing Muslim country.  A country like Morocco that’s making some real strides forward.  We need to support those kinds of efforts just as strongly as we go after the terrorists.

 

Q:  Just a couple of questions on Iraq.  I was just wondering as of today, where you consider the weapons of mass destruction to be and why the United Nations and weapons inspectors are still not being invited back into Iraq.

 

Wolfowitz:  Well on the second point, they’re certainly welcome to come back and in fact I believe we’ve made some arrangements already for the IAEA to come back to do some checking on sites that are known.  But bear in mind this regime had 12 years to develop very sophisticated methods of hiding things.  We have found those biological vans that the defector in Germany told us about.  They seem to be exactly what he said they would be.  And I would think that would pretty well corroborate the rest of his story which is they were for the production of biological weapons. 

 

We said all along that we will never get to the bottom of the Iraqi WMD program simply by going and searching specific sites, that you’d have to be able to get people who know about the programs to talk to you.  And that’s why we gave the UN inspectors authorities they never had before to interview people. 

 

It’s quite significant I think that Saddam never allowed any of his people to be interviewed without tape recorders present or monitors present, and we now have our hands on some small number of those people, and I think eventually with information that we get from people who know about the programs, we’ll get to the bottom of what was there and what happened to it.

 

Q:  Tomorrow is one month since President Bush announced a military victory in Iraq.  One month later the country seems to be in some degree of mess.  Why is that the case?

 

Wolfowitz:  Well, I could give you a two-part answer.  First of all he announced the end of major combat operations.  He didn’t say the end of combat operations.  We were very careful in the choice of words because we knew that low level combat operations continued and they continue actually to a disturbing degree.  It’s a clear demonstration that this regime didn’t disappear simply when Baghdad was captured and the statues came down.  If you have 20,000 or 30,000 former members of the secret police -- torturers, war criminals -- those people are still around.  They’re making trouble.  They attack armed American convoys everyday so you can imagine what they do to unarmed Iraqis who may support us. 

 

It’s a problem.  It will be dealt with.  And that’s the second thing I would say.  I believe its only 72 days since American and Australian forces first crossed the border into Iraq.  It’s not very much time since the beginning of the war.  One of our generals, John Abizaid, who actually is an Arab American, a native Arabic speaker, commented he’d been Kosovo, he’d been in Bosnia.  He said we’re way ahead in Iraq of where we were at the comparable stage in those countries; and I think those are much simpler cases, so it will take some time. 

 

There’s still substantial work to be done, and in my view, and I think the President shares this view, we’re not declaring victory.  Our victory will come when the Iraqi people have a new and free country that they deserve.

 

Q:  There seem to be increased questions being raised in the media about the validity of some of the intelligence that was put into the public domain by the United States and Britain in particular -- questions about WMD and about other aspects of the war and the justification for the war.  I’m wondering whether the kinds of reports that we’re seeing increasingly in the media and the kind of skepticism which the media is developing.  Is that potentially going to be creating problems for the United States when it comes to deal with Iran, when it comes to deal with Korea; that there’s going to be public skepticism about what the United States is saying, that there’s a view that the United States and Britain will say what it takes in order to get job done.

 

Wolfowitz:  Well, let me say first of all nobody distorted intelligence or said what it would take.  In my experience in government there have few issues on which the intelligence community was as unanimous as they were on the existence of Iraqi chemical weapons and biological weapons, and the intention to develop nuclear weapons.  Look, intelligence is an art, it’s not a science.  It’s true that we can read the numbers on a license plate from space, but that doesn’t mean that we therefore know everything that goes on in the country.  If you think back to 1991, we clearly made massive mistakes in underestimating what the Iraqis had, and before what we discovered after we got into Iraq was that they had a much more advanced nuclear program than we believed.  It’s interesting too, by the way, we didn’t find it right away.  Three months after the end of the last Gulf War, the UN inspectors were ready to declare Iraq nuclear free.  They held off, and six months later they discovered that Iraq had not one but four different routes to nuclear weapons that they were pursuing with investments that were massive.  It’s a big country.  They’ve worked at hiding things very, very deliberately.  There’s no question in my mind that there was something there.  There are just too many pieces of evidence and we’ll get to the bottom of it.

 

Q:  Is that skepticism there in the public domain?

 

Wolfowitz:  The press is paid to be skeptical, and the public is always questioning government.  I think that’s the strength of democracy, frankly.

 

Q:  Thank you.