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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview on NBC Meet the Press

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
July 27, 2003

(Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview on NBC Meet the Press with Tim Russert)

Russert: Our issues this Sunday, Uday and Qusay Hussein are dead, but where is their father? And where are the weapons of mass destruction? And how long will the guerilla war against American troops continue? With us, a major architect of the War in Iraq, the Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

Then, we will never forget September 11th, 2001. Could it have been prevented, could it happen again? With us, the chairman and vice chairman of the congressional joint inquiry into the terrorist attacks that produced this 850-page report, Bob Graham, Porter Goss, Richard Shelby, and Nancy Pelosi, together only on Meet the Press.

But first, he has just returned from a four-day trip to Iraq, the number two man at the Pentagon Paul Wolfowitz, welcome.

Wolfowitz: Nice to be here, Tim.

Russert: Since Uday and Qusay have been killed, there seems to be an outbreak of more violence against our troops. Fifteen American soldiers killed over the last seven days. Has the killing of Saddam Hussein's sons made Iraq more dangerous for our troops?

Wolfowitz: Well, first of all, let's take just a moment to thank our troops for the sacrifices they're making, and condolences to the families of those who have been lost.

In fact, what the battle to secure the peace in Iraq is now the central battle in the global war on terror, and those sacrifices are going to make not just the Middle East more stable, but our country safer for our children and grandchildren, which is very important, what they're doing. And the spirit of the troops out there is fantastic.

When Uday and Qusay were killed, we acknowledged there would very likely be a spike in violence, but what we also said is, this was going to build the confidence of the Iraqi people to give us information. And, in fact, if you see the headline in yesterday's New York Times, it says, Iraqi informants tips grow after brothers deaths. In the last week alone, we've picked up 660 surface to air missiles, that's a product of the increased intelligence the Iraqi people are providing us.

Russert: Let me go back to May 1st, and this was the scene on the U.S.S. Lincoln, President Bush arrived on it, and as he is walking to the podium, you see that banner, mission accomplished. Since that day, 400 U.S. soldiers have been wounded or injured, 107 killed, 48 from hostile fire. Was the president premature in suggesting that the mission in Iraq has been accomplished?

Wolfowitz: Look, the mission for those Navy pilots, and it was a magnificent mission, was accomplished because, as the president said, major combat operations were over. But, you know what, the president also said, Tim, why don't we quote him, we have difficult work to do in Iraq. We're bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous. We're pursuing and finding leaders of the old regime who will be held to account for their crimes. The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done. And then we will leave, and we will leave behind a free Iraq.

This is a criminal regime that smothered that country in an unbelievable blanket of fear for 35 years. It's difficult for Americans to imagine what it's like to live in a country not only where they can grab you at night and torture you, but they'll grab your children and torture them in order to make you talk. It takes time to root out that kind of criminal gang.

Russert: General Tommy Franks said the other day that he expected Saddam Hussein to be captured with 60 days. Do you concur?

Wolfowitz: Tom is truly a brilliant general, he has the luxury now of being able to speculate freely. I hope he's right, but we're going to go after him until we get him. And it's a mistake to put time tables on these things.

Russert: Military men on the ground said, we have his scent, and the reports they came within 24 hours of seeing him yesterday. Do you believe we are close to getting Saddam Hussein?

Wolfowitz: We'll only know when we get him, but let me take another minute to explain this link between the atrocities in that regime and our ability to get the information. We met with the inspector of the police academy in Baghdad, a newly selected leader training this new police force. And I'm always a little suspicious about whether these people, if they were in the old police, if we can trust them, and it turned out he'd been in jail for a year. I said, why were you in jail? He said, because I denounced Saddam Hussein. Well, I was a little surprised at that. I said, what, are you crazy that you denounced Saddam Hussein? Well, I said it to my best friend. You say it to your best friend and you spend a year in jail. That's the kind of country people have lived in, and it takes time for them to trust us to give us the information. But they're giving us more and more, and I think what happened last week with the deaths of those two miserable creatures is encouraging more people to come forward.

Russert: If we kill or capture Saddam Hussein, are you confident the resistance will then come to an end?

Wolfowitz: No. I don't think you can be confident. Look, it's a criminal gang of many thousands of rapists, murderers, and torturers. There is no question, though, that getting rid of Saddam Hussein will have more effect than any single thing we can do.

Russert: Let me turn to our commitment to Iraq. Richard Lugar, Republican, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said this: He criticized the Bush administration's reconstruction efforts in Iraq as haphazard, and called on the president to request supplemental spending legislation committing American taxpayers to tens of billions of dollars over the next four years.

Lugar's remarks were striking because he's a respected figure on foreign affairs, who staunchly supported the war and generally avoids publicly challenging fellow Republicans in the White House. The Indiana Senator said war supporters who originally suspected that U.S. troops would be embraced by Iraqi civilians were guilty of naivete. The gap between the cash needed to rebuild the country's economy and that produced from oil, estimated at $14 billion in 2004, could be as high as $16 billion a year.

Is the president prepared to go to the American people and say, Senator Lugar is right. We're going to be there at least four years at a cost of $16 billion. This is a long, difficult, expensive undertaking.

Wolfowitz: Let me quote the president again: He said the transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. And I think that's a fundamental point to bear in mind, is that this is a big task, it may be an expensive task, but it is a very, very important task. And something else to keep in mind ultimately, the resources of Iraq will pay for its own reconstruction. It's some period of transition, we don't know how long, before they can really get on their feet. I remember in the hearing before the Senator's committee, one Senator said to me, it's going to cost $5 billion just to get oil production back up to the million barrel a day level. We reached a million barrels a day a week ago with an investment of just a few hundred million.

Russert: But is Senator Lugar wrong in saying that we should appropriate $16 billion a year for the next four years now?

Wolfowitz: Tim, I don't know the exact figure. Ambassador Bremer is trying to come up with a best estimate for the next 12 months. There's a basic point to make about planning that people need to understand. You can't write a plan for a military situation, and this is basically a military situation. That is like a railroad time table. There are too many things that you learn as you go. And it may be exactly what Senator Lugar says, it could be more, it could be less. There should be no underestimating the task in front of us, but there should also be no underestimating its importance.

Russert: Senator Lugar said, naivete for those who thought that we would be embraced by the Iraqis. This is what Paul Wolfowitz said in February, and I'll show you and our viewers: It's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would to take to conduct the war itself and secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army. Hard to imagine. The fact is, we have just as many troops there now as we did during the war.

When General Shinseki --

Wolfowitz: I believe that's what I said, it's hard to believe it would take more.

Russert: And when General Shinseki said it would take the number of troops that were currently in the region, about 200,000, you said --

Wolfowitz: He said several hundred thousand. Most people understand several hundred thousand can mean twice the number we have there.

Russert: This is very important because there were 200,000 troops in the region at that time. General Shinseki said it would take the number of troops we had in the region, several hundred thousand, meaning two hundred thousand troops. You said it was widely off the mark. Based on what we have seen over the last several months, would you not acknowledge today that General Shinseki was right, that it does take just as many troops as it took to win the war as to secure the peace. And, as you acknowledged the other day, that some of your assumptions were wrong, and you vastly underestimated the number of troops necessary to secure the peace.

Wolfowitz: You're inserting words like "vastly" which I never said. We can get into -- we can fill up air time.

Russert: That was my word.

Wolfowitz: Let's be clear. You said it was my word. Look, I think it's not productive to spend a lot of time arguing about what several hundred thousand means. I've said very clearly it was hard to imagine that we would have a number which I thought of as twice what we were planning for winning the war. The difference between 200,000 and 150,000 obviously is not wildly different, but the important point is, our troops, our commanders, will get what they need. They've been asked repeatedly, do you need more? They say, right now at least, we don't want more. What we want more of and what we're working to get it is, foreign troops. I've visited a Polish brigade that's going to take over a whole province of Iraq. An Italian brigade is going to take over another whole province.

And here's the most important thing, Tim, which we really need to focus on, it's time, and I probably should have started sooner, to enlist Iraqis to fight for their country. They are part of the coalition. Many of them are willing to die for their country. It is much more appropriate to have Iraqis guarding banks and guarding power lines than to have Americans or even Pols or Spaniards, and that's where we need to go.

Russert: Let me turn to the rationale for the war. You gave an interview in Vanity Fair magazine, and the Pentagon released the full transcript of your remarks, which we're going to use, because they are your words, and let me share them with our viewers. The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason for the war in Iraq, if you will. But there have always been three fundamental concerns, one is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. The third one by itself, as I think I said earlier, is a reason to help the Iraqis, but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did. The second issue about links to terrorism is one about which there is the most disagreement within the bureaucracy.

Just analyze your comments, one, weapons of mass destruction. Thus far, we have not found weapons of mass destruction. Two, in terms of support of terrorism, as you acknowledge there is broad disagreement within our intelligence community about that and whether there's any direct link of Saddam to Al-Qaeda. And the third, as you said, Saddam's treatment of his people is not a reason to go to war.

So, if you don't have weapons of mass destruction, and you don't have a direct link to terrorism, and you do have the third, which the administration has been emphasizing, but you yourself said it's not a rationale to go to war. What now is the rationale for having gone to war?

Wolfowitz: Okay, let me have as much time to answer as you took to ask the question. It's important. I appreciate it.

And, by the way, you know, you go to war based on your best assessment before the war. You will, especially with a country like Iraq, you will learn things afterwards that may be different. But, first of all, the fundamental thing I was saying, and I wish people would pay attention to it, was there was no disagreement before the fact whatsoever on weapons of mass destruction. It was unanimous. And, frankly, the Senate and House Armed Services Committee, the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, had access to all the intelligence that people are now debating.

Russert: But, not on nuclear, it was not unanimous?

Wolfowitz: It was unanimous that there was a program, there was disagreement about how far along it was, or how long it would take him to get there. Okay. That's point number one.

Russert: This is important, because this is what the State Department said, and this is from the national intelligence estimate that the White House declassified and released. This is what they said. The activities we've detected do not add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what the State Department Bureau of Intelligence Research would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons.

Wolfowitz: I don't have the text in front of me, Tim, but everyone including the State Department, look at those qualifiers, comprehensive, integrated, everyone agreed there was a program of some stage, and that it would become comprehensive, integrated, and real the minute he got rid of inspectors. There was no disagreement in the government about that. The nature of terrorism intelligence is intrinsically murky. And while I haven't had a chance to read the 900-page report that was released last week, my understanding from what has been said about it is that the basic conclusion there is that we should have connected the dots, we should have seen in this murky picture of terrorism intelligence what was coming to hit us. Well, if you wait until the terrorism picture is clear you're going to wait until after something terrible has happened. And we went to war, and I believe we are still fighting terrorists and terrorist supporters in Iraq, in a battle that will make this country safer in the future from terrorism. It is, as I said, I think winning the peace in Iraq is now the crucial battle in the war on terrorism, and the sacrifices that our magnificent troops are making is for their children, and their grandchildren, for our children and our grandchildren, and it is for our security.

Russert: Porter Goss, who will be our guest in the next segment, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, led a delegation to Iraq, and wrote a report, this is what his conclusion came to. The evidence does not point to the existence of large stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons. That's the Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Do you agree with that?

Wolfowitz: Look, I don't know how he knows. I flew over Baghdad, it's a city, I believe, as large as Los Angeles. You look at all those houses and realize that every basement might contain a huge lethal quantity of anthrax. I don't know how anyone can know yet. It's a difficult job, and people are working hard at it, but since we're quoting things, I mean, as the vice president said, the NIE, and this was a unanimous judgment, we judged that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction program in defiance of U.N. resolutions and restrictions. If left unchecked, he quotes the NIE, it will probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. It has currently chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles with ranges in excess of U.N. restrictions. And as the vice president said, it would be irresponsible for an American leader to ignore that kind of judgment.

Russert: Many people are now asking, why the urgency in going to war, if, in fact, we have not found the weapons of mass destruction, could not we have waited a few months, with more coercive inspections, and have resolved this without a war?

Wolfowitz: Let me say a couple of things, Tim. People act as though the cost of containing Iraq is trivial. The cost of containing Iraq was enormous, 55 American lives lost, at least, in incidents like the Cole and Kobar Towers, which were part of the containment effort, billions of dollars of American money spent.

Russert: Was Iraq linked to those?

Wolfowitz: Absolutely. Not to the -- I don't know who did the attacks. I know that we would not have had Air Force people in Kobar Towers if we weren't conducting a containment policy. I know we wouldn't have had to have the Cole out there doing maritime intercept operations. And worst of all, if you go back and read Osama bin Laden's notorious fatwa from 1998, where he calls for killing Americans, the two principle grievances were the presence of those forces in Saudi Arabia, and out continuing attacks on Iraq, 12 years of containment was a terrible price for us, and for the Iraqi people it was an unbelievable price, Tim. I visited a village of Marsh Arabs, people who have been driven nearly to extinction by 12 years of Saddam's genocidal policies against them. They would not have survived another three years, much less another 12. We went to that mass grave, and the people who were buried in those mass graves, the people who were executed in this industrial style execution factory in Abugra (sp) prison, for them every year was a terrible cost, every year under sanctions was a terrible cost. So the question is, what did you gain by waiting? And I think one of the things that would have come by waiting, frankly, is more instability for the key countries in our coalition, including Arab countries, and unfortunately still prefer not to be named. But, we had the coalition we needed. We went to war. There was no knowing if six months later some of those countries would still be with us.

Russert: John Deutch, the former director of the CIA, testified before Congress on Thursday and said something that was quite striking, and I'll put it on the board for you and our viewers, if no weapons of mass destruction, or only a residual capability is found, the principle justification enunciated by the U.S. government for launching this war will have proven not to be credible. It is an intelligence failure, in my judgment, of massive proportions. It means that our leaders of the American public based its support for the most serious foreign policy judgments, the decision to go to war, on an incorrect intelligence judgment.

Wolfowitz: Well, it's interesting, he's the former director of the CIA, and I'm sure if you go and read the intelligence judgments made when he was director, they would be equally emphatic about the existence of those weapons, and those programs. President Clinton spoke in 1998 in words that are almost identical to President Bush, he has these weapons, and if we don't do something about it I guarantee you some day he will use them. I think people should be a little careful about throwing around words like intelligence failure. It's easy to go around and play this blame game. I mean, let's stop and realize that in a country like Iraq, and let me repeat, where children are tortured to make their parents talk, secrets are kept in a way we can't even imagine. And let's take some things that aren't secret at all. We know that for 12 years Saddam Hussein did everything he could to frustrate U.N. inspectors, he sacrificed $100 billion in money that he could have spent on palaces, and tanks, and all those things that he loved so much, in order to frustrate those inspectors. Isn't that in itself an indicator there was something there? Let's be patient and let's wait until we can find things out.

Russert: Maybe the inspections worked, and if in fact we do not find significant amounts of weapons of mass destruction, should we be wiling to say our intelligence community missed this, and we have to go back and reexamine why?

Wolfowitz: Well, we always ought to compare what we thought from our intelligence with what we discovered later, and it's a difficult job to do, especially if every time somebody discovers a discrepancy it is described as a "failure." Let me tell you a story, which I think puts this in some perspective. I mentioned visiting the police academy. It's an impressive operation there, where they're training a new police force. Senator Lugar, whom you quoted earlier, and Senator Biden visited a couple of weeks ago, and I know they were impressed by this training of a civilian police force. Since their visit, but before mine, a woman came forward and described how she had been tortured hideously in a small compound behind the police academy. And I visited that, I was taken there when I went to the academy. They not only showed me the training, they also showed me this unbelievable torture chamber, the back gate of which leads into Uday's compound. He used to come in at night to personally torture prisoners. Think about it, Tim, I mean, for weeks we were using that police academy, we were training people there, probably someone knew about it, we didn't discover it until this woman came in and told us her story. There must be thousands of hidden, secret things in that country that we're only just starting to get a grip on.

Russert: Let me go back to Deutch's testimony and share this with you. The next time military intervention is judged necessary to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction, for example, North Korea, there will be skepticism about the quality of our intelligence. Is that fair?

Wolfowitz: If people keep treating every intelligence uncertainty as an example of failure I guess we have a problem, But, stop and think, if in 2001, or in 2000, or in 1999, we had gone to war in Afghanistan to deal with Osama bin Laden, and we had tried to say it's because he's planning to kill 3,000 people in New York, people would have said, you don't have any proof of that. I think the lesson of September 11th is that you can't wait until proof after the fact. I mean, it surprises me sometimes that people have forgotten so soon what September 11th, I think, should have taught us about terrorism. And that's what this is all about.

Russert: Will he be sending another $1 billion to Afghanistan to shore up our commitment to that country?

Wolfowitz: We'll wait and see, but clearly what's going on in Afghanistan is another battlefield in this war on terrorism. It's very important. Again, the best thing we can do in Iraq is help the Iraqi people help us. The best thing we can do in Afghanistan is help the Afghan people help themselves, which helps us.

Russert: But, a tripling of the amount of money to Afghanistan is an indication that things aren't going as well as we thought?

Wolfowitz: Sometimes things go well, sometimes things go -- sometimes things go better, Tim, sometime things don't go as well. Again, the nature of military planning is not to have a timetable, it is to be able to adjust your plan as circumstances change. I think that's what was so brilliant about Tom Franks' military plan. He called about six or seven major changes in the course of things that produced major results, and Ambassador Bremer and General Abizaid are doing the same thing right now, both in Iraq, and in the case of General Abizaid in Afghanistan.

Russert: Will our troops be going into Liberia?

Wolfowitz: As the president has said, we are prepared to assist the United Nations to establish a cease fire, to evacuate Charles Taylor from Liberia, to bring in regional troops, and that's the key to this, Tim, is to not have the United States taking on every task in the world, but for us to help other people take on their role. And in this case, I think what they call the Ecowas countries of West Africa are prepared to step up.

Russert: But, we will join them on the ground in Liberia, if need be?

Wolfowitz: We will help them to get there.

Russert: Before you go, we're going to talk about the September 11th, 2000, report with our members of Congress. There's another national commission looking into what happened on September 11th, headed by former Republican Governor of New Jersey, Tom Kane, and he has said this, it is a critical time for the commission. We've worked hard to stay on schedule, to complete our work by May 4. The coming weeks will determine whether we'll be able to do our job within time allotted. Time is slipping by, extensive and prompt cooperation from the U.S. government, the Congress, state and local agencies, is essential. This report offers an initial evaluation of the cooperation. The problems that have arisen so far with the Department of Defense are becoming particularly serious. Governor Kane is saying he can't get information from NORAD, from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from the Defense Department. Will you take steps so that you will cooperate fully with Governor Kane immediately, so his commission can do their work?

Wolfowitz: We've already taken steps to try to accelerate it. We have no -- we want to cooperate fully with the commission.

Russert: And you will?

Wolfowitz: Absolutely.

Russert: Dr. Paul Wolfowitz, we thank you for your views.

Wolfowitz: Thank you.

Russert: Coming next, the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Congressional Joint Inquiry Into the Terrorist Attacks of September 11th, Senator Graham, Congressman Goss, Senator Shelby, Congresswoman Pelosi. They are next, together, only on Meet the Press.

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