(Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview on Fox News Sunday with Brit Hume)
Hume: U.S. soldiers say they miss nabbing Saddam Hussein's security chief, and perhaps the dictator himself, by a mere 24 hours near Tikrit, Hussein's hometown, earlier today.
Overnight, one Marine was killed by a grenade attack south of Baghdad. His death follows a bloody week of attacks against American soldiers in Iraq. On Saturday, a grenade attack killed three U.S. soldiers and wounded four more as they guarded a children's hospital northeast of Baghdad. Another soldier was killed later in the day. To date, 163 U.S. troops have been killed in action.
For a progress report on Iraq, we turn now to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz who just returned from a four-and-a-half day trip to that country. Good morning, Mr. Secretary, welcome.
Wolfowitz: Nice to be here.
Hume: News reports this morning indicate that we may have been within 24 hours of actually getting to where Saddam Hussein himself was and perhaps capturing him. What do you know about that?
Wolfowitz: I don't know the details. I do know that, having just come back from Iraq, that the two overwhelming impressions I have of what the Iraqi people are feeling is, number one, almost unanimous -- well, not quite unanimous -- sense of gratitude for helping to liberate them but also the fact that there is still an enormous amount of fear of that regime and fear that it may come back and getting the two sons was a major step in helping to remove that blanket of fear, and it's brought in a lot more information. So I'm not surprised if we're getting closer. But until you actually get him, it's hard to know how close you were.
Hume: Now, there was expectation and hope that the killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein would take some of the steel and the energy out of the forces that are trying to attack the U.S. There's no sign of that, so far. Indeed, the number of attacks seems, perhaps, to increase -- four lost yesterday, one more today. Is this a spike, Mr. Secretary, or a trend?
Wolfowitz: We don't know. In fact, Secretary Rumsfeld said there could well be a spike. What is definitely also taking place, though, is a real increase in the amount of information that we're getting from Iraqis. And this is a war that's going to be won, not by smothering the country with individual guardposts. It's going to be won by better and better intelligence, and the intelligence was improving even before Monday, and I think it's improved since then.
Hume: How worried are you that this trickle of reports of American casualties, this sort of drip-drip effect of this, will undermine Americans' public support for this conflict?
Wolfowitz: Well, let me say, first of all, that the sacrifice our troops are making are spectacular. It's difficult conditions, it's dangerous conditions, and it takes a lot of ingenuity to figure out how to do some of these civil military things they're doing, but it is a sacrifice that's going to make our children and our grandchildren safer because, Brit, the battle to win the peace in Iraq now is a central battle in the war on terrorism, and what these troops are doing, and they understand the mission, is something that's going to make our country safer.
Hume: Well, what about the public support for the war? Don't you believe that whatever military significance it may or may not have that, politically, those continuing reports of American deaths are corrosive?
Wolfowitz: The reports of deaths are terrible, and any American death is a terrible thing, but I think the American public understands that when you're fighting a war against terrorists, when you're fighting for the security of this country, that sacrifice is something that you have to expect. The president has said from the beginning, since September 11th, this war on terrorism is going to be a long war, and if you think about how many people we lost in just a single day just to commercial aircraft, it's not going to be over easily. I mean, the war goes on in Afghanistan, and we're rounding up terrorists everywhere.
Hume: You mentioned the terrorists, round up terrorists, you just said -- most administration officials have made a kind of indirect connection to terrorism from Saddam Hussein. Do you believe the connection was more direct than they've been saying?
Wolfowitz: Like many other things about that country, it is wrapped in a veil of secrecy; that climate of fear enforced. I visited a police academy in Baghdad. Some American senators visited it a couple of weeks before, and it just seemed like a police academy where we're training a new Iraqi police force, which it is. But hidden behind that academy, it turns out, we've since learned, because a woman came forward, was this horrible torture chamber where Uday Hussein used to come and torture prisoners at night. We didn't learn that until this woman came forward. I'm not saying, by the way, it's part of the current police academy. It's one of the buried secrets of Iraq. I think there are many buried secrets in that country.
Hume: Do you suspect that when all is said and done, we will find a stronger direct link to terrorists and to Al Qaeda than has been disclosed or even argued?
Wolfowitz: Well, you know, there's been a lot disclosed already. I mean, we know that the man who murdered our diplomat in Jordan was connected to the Zarkawi network, which was connected to Baghdad. So it's the nature of terrorism, though, Brit, that intelligence about terrorism is murky. These are people who operate in the shadows with a great deal of secrecy and a great deal of false information planted all over the place. I think the lesson of 9/11 is that if you're not prepared to act on the basis of murky intelligence, then you're going to have to act after the fact, and after the fact now means after horrendous things have happened to this country.
Hume: In your briefing the other day, you mentioned your concern with foreign government-supported media operating within Iraq. Presumably, you're talking about Al Jazeer, Al Arabia, the two news agencies there.
Wolfowitz: -- actually --
Hume: You say foreign government-supported, what should be done about that, in your view, if information, and what could the administration do to curb the -- what are you complaining of here?
Wolfowitz: Well, what I'm complaining of are false reporting and very biased reporting that has the effect of inciting violence against our troops, and these governments should stop and realize that this is not a game; that they are endangering the lives of American troops, and, you know, they have a way, when they want to cover somebody favorably, including Saddam Hussein in the old days, of slanting the news incredibly. Well, a little bit of honesty would help and the lack of -- and ending this incitement would be what we'd like to see.
Hume: Well, if you were getting slanted coverage in this country and, perhaps in some instances you think you are, is there anything you could do about that? Because this is a free country. You want Iraq to be a free country. How can you, at the same time --
Wolfowitz: We're not asking for -- you know -- yeah, you want Iraq to be a free country, but there's not illusion that these particular stations were doing an accurate job of reporting on Saddam Hussein. They were slanted the other way, and now the minute they get something that they can use to spread hatred and violence in Iraq, they're broadcasting it around.
Hume: Give me examples.
Wolfowitz: In fact, while we were there, Al Jazeera ran a totally false report that American troops had gone and detained one of the key imams in the holy city of Najaf. It was a false report, but they were out broadcasting it instantly.
Hume: So what is the administration doing and how come you've not --
Wolfowitz: -- we're talking to the owners of those stations and asking for some balance in their coverage.
Hume: Now, the owners of those stations government-connected -- what about the governments? What are you saying to the governments?
Wolfowitz: Well, the governments themselves and --
Hume: Correct, and what are they saying?
Wolfowitz: So far, I think the answer we're getting is that those broadcasts are continuing, and that's not satisfactory.
Hume: So what's the next step?
Wolfowitz: We'll have to see.
Hume: Talk to us about the free Iraqi forces. There was a force of some size there that was in business during the conflict. What happened to those forces?
Wolfowitz: Well, it wasn't as big as it should have been. There was some debate before the war about whether we needed Iraqi forces at all. I thought it was clear at the time and I think, in hindsight, it's even clearer that, yes, we need those people. The 72 people that were with us, I think have left, but there's an enormous eagerness among Iraqis to help us, and when we advertised a few days ago for volunteers to join the new Iraqi army or the new Iraqi civil defense forces, I think we have 7,000 people signing up in just the first 24 hours. The number of Iraqis who want to help liberate their country, who view the Baathists who were trying to back Saddam Hussein as enemies are in the thousands, and we'll get help from Iraqis.
Hume: There's a sense that the U.S. organization there is not well managed; that it is overwhelmed. You've just been there. What do you say about that?
Wolfowitz: I think they're doing an incredible job. The circumstances are difficult, but Tom Lantos, who was a holocaust survivor and was in Europe after World War II --
Hume: -- the Democratic congressman from California --
Wolfowitz: -- the Democratic congressman from California -- said if conditions in Europe had been as good at three months after the war as they are in Iraq, we would have been unbelievably grateful. If you look at the history of the World War II occupation, which goes down as one of the great accomplishments, they were constantly changing their plan, because the plan encounters reality, and when you encounter reality, you have to adjust. That's the nature of planning. It's not the kind of thing where you can construct it like a railway timetable and proceed in a clockwork fashion. But Ambassador Bremer is doing an outstanding job on the civilian side. He has a strategy for addressing the economic, the political, and the security aspects, and the military -- the military, Brit, are just unbelievable, and the courage of our troops, their skill, and one of the more amazing things is they bring this American sense of how to do community organization to places that never had community organization in the past, and you can see the effects in the North and in the South, particularly, where the situation is more stable.
Hume: You paint a much more optimistic picture of the state of play in Iraq than anyone reading the front pages of the newspapers and watching news broadcasts in this country. We get -- partially, I suspect that's because of the trickle of reports of American casualties but also other reports of resistance as well. What is the news media -- what are the news media in this country missing?
Wolfowitz: I think the success stories. It's a country that's not easy to get around in, admittedly, and it's not easy to understand. There's a language problem, to begin with. And I don't want to paint a rosy picture. There are real problems -- the security problem is real, and the security problem is making it difficult to solve other problems like getting the power and electricity restored. But when we visited Najaf, for example, where a relatively small Marine unit is preserving a quite stable situation -- not perfect situation -- but quite stable in a city of a half a million Shia, who some people predicted would be a huge problem -- you had a cameraman there, and I asked if he'd been here before, and he said, no, he hadn't, he'd been up North where the fighting is going on, but he hadn't been in the South. And the Marines told me, yeah, there was a CNN cameraman who has come here once in the last month, and that was when a Marine was killed.
It's a hard story to cover but, frankly, I think, maybe success -- people think isn't as good news. But the South of the country is largely stable. This is the Shia heartland, which some people predicted would be big trouble. The North of the country is largely stable. This is a country where you have a potentially volatile ethnic mixture of Kurds and Turks and Arabs, and some people predicted that would be trouble. Where we're having trouble, and we're making progress even there, is in this Baathist-Saddamist heartland, including his hometown of Tikrit, where the killers of the old regime are putting out $100 for someone to attack a power line and $500 for someone to attack an American, and that's where the trouble is coming from.
Hume: How long is it going to take to suppress that and to at least strong diminish, if not end, these attacks on Americans?
Wolfowitz: You can't predict these things in a military operation. What you can know, and this is encouraging, is that the volume of intelligence information that's coming is growing enormously. The cooperation by the local populations is growing. There was one illustration last week when, of course, we had the two big successes against his sons; we also captured number five, who was the commander of the Special Republican Guards, and in the course of the past week, we see 660 surface-to-air missiles, which are one of the weapons we're most concerned about. So we are making progress. I can't tell you when they will give up.
Hume: How large a force are we going to continue to need there and for how long?
Wolfowitz: Whatever the commanders say they need, and we ask repeatedly, "Do you need more troops?" And they said, "We don't need more Americans. We do want more foreigners where we can, and there's a Polish brigade taking over a whole province in Iraq. There's an Italian brigade taking over another whole province in Iraq. Most importantly, we need Iraqis. Iraqis are prepared to die for their country, and Iraqis can do some of these jobs as well or better than we can.
The Americans who were killed yesterday by a grenade thrown out of a hospital, and it's interesting the enemy is still fighting out of hospitals in this -- it's an old pattern -- they were doing guard duty. That guard duty can and will be done by Iraqis when we get them trained up to do that job.
Hume: Turning to Liberia, what's the next development there in terms of American involvement and American forces?
Wolfowitz: What the president has said is we are there to assist the United Nations and the countries of West Africa to stabilize the situation to avert a humanitarian disaster and, as part of that, it's necessary to get Charles Taylor to leave the country and for the U.N. to begin a political process. But the president has emphasized repeatedly, our job is to set the conditions for other people to step up to their responsibilities.
Hume: There is an argument that says that the Americans have a very, very strong and historical relationship with that country; that Americans and American forces, even, are held in particularly high regard in that country, and that we are in a position to do something there militarily that might not be true anywhere else in the world, and yet we hang back from a strong intervention. Some old hands from the region say we'd actually be welcomed. What do you say to that argument?
Wolfowitz: Well, we're not hanging back from the system. We are assisting, and we're taking responsibility in Liberia that the British have taken in Sierra Leone and the French on the Ivory Coast, but it is very important, Brit, if we're going to succeed in dealing with a large number of unstable places in the world that countries of the region, in this case Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, who have the capability and have expressed the will to do this job be in the lead and that the U.N. be in the lead in dealing with the complex political problems of Liberia.
Hume: So the American -- further American forces that have been moved nearby are not going in there, if at all, until what?
Wolfowitz: They're going in when there's a cease fire, when Charles Taylor is leaving, has left, and when --
Hume: -- so until he's gone, we don't go in?
Wolfowitz: And the important thing here is they're going to go in to support ECOWAS force of West African troops.
Hume: That's -- and ECOWAS being --
Wolfowitz: -- Economic Cooperation of West African States, I think.
Hume: Thank you, and when do you anticipate that those countries might be prepared to do anything?
Wolfowitz: We are, right now, assessing their capabilities and how fast they can get there.
Hume: And what do you say to the argument -- because we've not gone in there, that we are responsible, this country is responsible for the continuing bloodshed?
Wolfowitz: We need to be sure that we set up a situation where the United Nations does its responsibilities, where the West African states do their responsibilities, where if we assist, we're assisting in a situation that's on the road to a solution.
Hume: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for being here.
Wolfowitz: Nice to be here.
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