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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with CNN Novak and Shields

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
March 16, 2002

(Interview with Robert Novak and Mark Shields for CNN's "Novak, Hunt and Shields.")

Shields: I'm Mark Shields. Robert Novak and I will question one of America's leading war planners.

Novak: He is Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

(Begin videotaped background report.)

Novak: President Bush this week was asked about possible U.S. use of tactical nuclear weapons.

Bush: We've got all options on the table, because we want to make it very clear to nations that you will not threaten the United States or use weapons of mass destruction against us or our allies or friends.

Novak: The president was asked whether he would take unilateral action against Iraq.

Bush: Again, all options are on the table. But one thing I will not allow is a nation such as Iraq to threaten our very future by developing weapons of mass destruction.

Novak: Paul Wolfowitz has spent much of his career in public service as a national security official, starting at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency during the Nixon administration. President Reagan and the first President Bush subsequently named him to high-ranking State Department and Defense Department positions, including ambassador to Indonesia. He was dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University before President George W. Bush appointed him to the Pentagon's second-ranking post.

(End of videotape.)

Novak: Secretary Wolfowitz, you in the past have said you don't want to answer questions about Iraq until the war in Afghanistan is cleaned up. But the president has kind of opened that door by talking about Iraq. So the question I have for you -- and maybe the American people are entitled to know -- is, sooner or later, will there be U.S. military action against Iraq? Is that just about assured?

Wolfowitz: That's something for the president to decide. What the president has laid out, I think, very clearly in the clip that you just showed is that we have a situation there that's really just not acceptable.

With 20/20 hindsight, I think we can see that if we'd taken more seriously the threat from al Qaeda in Afghanistan five years ago, we might have prevented September 11th. What the president is talking about is how to prevent a much greater tragedy that would come from this linkage of weapons of mass destruction with terrorists. But he has made no decisions about how to deal with that.

He has identified problems and he's, among other things, sent his vice president to key countries in the world to talk about how to deal with that problem. In the meantime, as you alluded in your question, we have a lot of work to do in Afghanistan. And when people heard us saying that and thought, "Oh, yes, but it's all over but the shouting," I think the events of the last couple of weeks have made it clear there's a lot of fighting still left for us in Afghanistan.

Novak: When the question was asked the president in his press conference, he twice used the word "All options are on the table." Mr. Wolfowitz, that was widely interpreted as meaning that, if necessary, the United States will use nuclear tactical weapons in this war against terrorism. Is that a correct interpretation?

Wolfowitz: Oh, I think it's hyperventilation, if I might say so. All options are always on the table, including the diplomatic option. And I think people who think that you separate diplomacy from the threat of force don't understand how diplomacy works. So saying that all options are on the table, I think, is essential --

Novak: That was not a nuclear threat, then?

Wolfowitz: It was definitely not a threat. And what the president said about nuclear options is something that every president has said. No president has ever forsworn our ability to use nuclear weapons. But the essence of it -- and it's very important to say this -- is not to use nuclear weapons but to deter other people from using weapons of mass destruction against us.

Shields: Mr. Secretary, a kindred soul of yours, former colleague Ken Adelman, has said if the United States does go into Iraq that it will be a cake walk. Yet military folks that we talk to say we're talking about a force required of up to 250,000 American troops. Who's right?

Wolfowitz: You know, I have enough trouble dealing with the views that are attributed to me. I can't deal with all the news attributed to my friends. We have not made any decision yet about what to do in Iraq militarily or any other way.

I mean, the president has stated that there's a problem. He has all his options on the table, as he said. I think in every case our preference is always to try to solve these things through diplomatic means if it's possible. Obviously this is a man who's shown great resistance to accepting any reasonable outcomes. But there's been no decision yet made on using military force.

Shields: This war on terrorism is the first war since the Mexican-American War the United States has entered without a draft and without a tax increase. Don't you think it requires a debate, a full debate in the country, and a declaration of war, if, in fact, we are going to go to war?

Wolfowitz: I think the Congress has already made very clear its strong support. The American people have made clear their very strong support for what the president is doing. It is a different kind of war. In fact, sometimes one is more inclined to call it a campaign than a war. It is -- I don't think we've ever had a, quote, "war" in which the work of the intelligence community and intelligence services around the world have been as important as in this one.

We're not just talking about fighting in Afghanistan, as the president has said over and over again. Al Qaeda is present in some 60 countries in the world, including the United States of America. So I think we have not only all the authority the president needs but the incredible backing of the American people, because they understand that what is at stake is our physical survival and the survival of the values that we care about.

Novak: Mr. Secretary, there's been considerably less talk by administration officials in recent months about trying to link Saddam Hussein to the terrorist attacks on America of September 11th. Can we infer, can the American people infer, that it is not necessary to link the Iraqi dictator to those attacks in order to have military action against him?

Wolfowitz: Let me go back and say what the president made, I think, very clear, crystal clear, in his State of the Union message. And I have to say it's exactly the same kind of clarity, I think, that Ronald Reagan introduced in understanding the Soviet Union, is that we have a problem.

We have countries that have declared, and declare regularly, their hostility to the United States, countries that are involved with terrorists, countries that are developing weapons of mass destruction. That is the most noxious brew possible, and it makes the possibility of an event in which tens of thousands or millions of Americans are killed, something that would make September 11th pale in comparison. That is out there. We have to do something about it.

Exactly what we do, I think, is something that we've got to work with the American people; we've got to consult with our allies. But what we can't do is just wait another 10, 20 years and hope that nothing happens.

Novak: Mr. Secretary, this week the Washington Times has run almost a daily story on the fate of Lieutenant Commander Michael Speicher, a U.S. aviator who was downed in the early stages of the Gulf War. His status was -- he was deemed killed in action. That status has been changed. There's no evidence that he is alive, but Pentagon sources are quoted as indicating he could be alive.

Now, there is some suspicion that this is part of a buildup to go to war against Iraq if there is -- if they are actually holding or withholding information on this aviator. Could you enlighten us why there was a silence by the Pentagon for a decade and now this is suddenly coming to light?

Wolfowitz: I can't -- look, it hasn't been silence for a decade. In fact, we moved Speicher from the killed-in-action list to the missing-in-action list a few years ago, during the last administration. It was based on pretty hard evidence that he wasn't killed when his plane was shot, that he somehow survived his crash. That's the only hard evidence I know of.

It's a subject that obviously excites a lot of concern, a lot of anxiety. We still see, 25 years, nearly 30 years after the end of the Vietnam War, people are very concerned about what happened to people who were missing in action where we think the enemy country has some reason to know what happened to them and they're not coming clean. I don't know of any recent information about Speicher. I wish we had it.

Shields: Are you suggesting that there are still POWs of the United States who are unaccounted for, that somehow --

Wolfowitz: I didn't say POWs. I say --

Shields: Missing in action.

Wolfowitz: -- we have large numbers of people missing in action from the Vietnam War, we had this one individual from the Persian Gulf War, about whom we do not know their fate and where we have reason to think that other countries have knowledge about their fate. And that is something we continue to press; we press aggressively.

Shields: Saddam Hussein has been called Hitler by the American president, a devil and worse. If, in fact, invasion is made by the United States or led by the United States, he has to know that his removal, his death, are inevitable, or that's the logical course. What is to restrain him anyway from the use of chemical, biological weapons? What's to restrain him in any way from attacking Israel?

Wolfowitz: First of all, there's been -- there has been no decision by the president about what to do. Let's make that clear.

Novak: You've made that clear.

Wolfowitz: (Laughs.) Okay. Clearly we're dealing with a very dangerous man. And the kinds of things that you referred in your question are obviously one of the things the president has to take into account in figuring out a course of action. They're also the kind of thing that has to be taken into account if you continue to pursue a course of inaction.

For 10 years we've more or less claimed that Saddam Hussein was in his box while his capabilities have grown. And I think what we've seen with September 11th is there are a lot of ways to attack the United States that are not necessarily conventional means. And it's a problem we've got to take seriously. But the issues you raise are among the very serious issues that the president is considering right now.

Shields: Well, on that very subject, Vice President Cheney, in his trip, apparently to round up support, to test the waters, to enlist allies, has gotten, from all reports, cold shoulders at virtually every capital he's visited, or at least been told time and again that the United States, rather than invading Iraq at this point, ought to devote energy, time and effort to resolving the still thorny and difficult and painful problems between Israel and the Palestinians. Is that a correct analysis of the reaction?

Wolfowitz: Well, Vice President Cheney's trip is to consult about a wide range of issues with a number of countries that are absolutely crucial to this war on terrorism and crucial to our interests in the Middle East.

There's a long record in diplomacy, particularly in the Middle East, I think it's fair to say, where people say one thing in public and another thing to you in private. I don't know yet what the vice president has heard in private, so I would not jump to conclusions about what he's heard.

On this larger issue, one of the subjects on his agenda is very definitely to find ways to end the horrible violence that's killing Palestinians and Israelis alike. It is something that we're putting great effort into trying to reach a settlement. The president has sent General Zinni out there.

The Saudis, as you know, I think, have a new initiative, something that is quite a new position for the Saudis. And I'm sure that's one of the things the vice president is interested in pursuing.

I think we need to make progress in the war on terror. We need to make progress in the Arab-Israeli issue. I don't think they're linked, and the vice president made it clear that he doesn't think they're linked.

Shields: Okay, we have to take a break. But when we come back, we'll ask Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz about the outlook in the war in Afghanistan.

(Announcements.)

Novak: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, you have made clear the war in Afghanistan is not over, but apparently Operation Anaconda, which had some American lives lost, has been a success. Can we at least say that it may not be quick, but the United States is in a mop-up operation in Afghanistan right now?

Wolfowitz: I really hesitate with a word like that. We have -- I mean, Operation Anaconda is the biggest operation of the conflict so far, and it's months into it, and it happened after the Taliban had fallen and it happened after we'd taken hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners.

I think it's more reasonable to expect that there will be more actions like Anaconda. On as big a scale as Anaconda, I really can't predict. But there are still significant numbers of terrorists. It's a huge country. It's the size of the state of Texas.

And that doesn't even do it justice, because the terrain is much more formidable. The terrain is like the Canadian Rockies. We had people fighting at 10,000 feet, climbing 3500-foot cliffs in a couple of hours. It was -- it's an incredible performance that our men have put in in that fight.

Novak: Sir, there are many Democrats on Capitol Hill who say that in order for Afghanistan, after the fighting is done, not to return to its status as a breeding ground for terrorists who threaten the lives of Americans, the United States has to -- I hate to use the word -- engage in nation-building, with a long military presence. Do you agree or disagree with that?

Wolfowitz: You know, I agree with the goal. I think we all agree on the goal that we don't want Afghanistan to revert to what it was, which is a sanctuary for the world's worst terrorists. How you achieve that goal, I think, is not something we can write formulas for. We can't approach it with dogma, I don't believe.

It is a country that historically has never had a strong central government. And I think, as we approach it, what we have to achieve, I think, is the right balance between this new interim authority, which has shown very promising initial steps toward developing a kind of consensus among the Afghan people, but a very considerable decentralization of real power and authority in that country.

And it would be, I think, stupid to come in with some blueprint written for some other country, whether it's Germany after World War II or Somalia or Bosnia. Afghanistan is unique, and we'll have to have a unique solution for it.

Shields: Mr. Secretary, this week we saw the biggest Israeli military operation since 1967, 20,000 troops, with United States-supplied Apache helicopters, American tanks. Is there any way, when we're the principal supplier of the armaments for Israel, that we can exercise any restraint on General Sharon as they invade Israeli -- the Palestinian towns and camps?

Wolfowitz: You know, again, that's something where the president calls the shots. We have a tragic situation going on there. We have -- Israel faces a terrible terrorist problem. The Palestinians are suffering enormously, both from the effects of the siege of the blocking and from the violence itself.

I think the important thing is to focus on how to get past this violence and how to get toward a solution. Two years ago there was virtually no violence and there was serious negotiation heading toward a solution. I think what General Zinni is there (for) is to try to at least tamp down the violence so the two sides can begin to talk to one another about a better outcome.

Shields: One of the targets of United States opprobrium and interest and concern has been those countries involved in the distribution of weapons of mass destruction. And yet exempt from any mention are Russia and China, the two principal purveyors, suppliers of the technology and, in fact, the instruments themselves. Why is that? Do we want to pick on the little guys and exempt the big guys?

Wolfowitz: Look, our issues with Russia and China are issues about proliferation. And in some cases we think it's proliferation that may be actively approved by the government. In some cases it's companies that operate out of control of the government.

It's a very different thing from countries that have declared hostility to the United States, that have declared openly a desire to kill Americans, that have engaged in killing Americans. That's a different story entirely.

And I think that's what the president was talking about when he talked about evil regimes -- and regimes, by the way, that are in a different category of evil when it comes to mistreating their own people. It's not an accident, I think, that the countries that express this kind of profound hostility toward the United States have hundreds of thousands of their own people in concentration camps.

Novak: We have time for one more question before we take another break, Mr. Secretary. The expenditure of our arsenal, the U.S. arsenal in Afghanistan, particularly in the early stages of the war, has depleted, according to Pentagon sources. Has that been built up, or is it going to take a long period before we have enough missiles, bombs, to continue to launch a similar operation anyplace else?

Wolfowitz: Well, you're right that we've been using a lot of important munitions at pretty high rates and with great effectiveness. And almost from day one, we've started addressing measures to rebuild those stocks, because we realized how important they would be.

But anyone in the world would make a huge mistake to think that the United States has exhausted its military capability with this campaign in Afghanistan. We have enormous strength to do whatever the president asks the U.S. military to do. And as you know, our men and women will do it with great skill and great will and great bravery.

Shields: We have to take a break. When we come back, we'll have the big question for Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

(Announcements.)

Shields: The big question for Paul Wolfowitz. Last night an interceptor smashed into a dummy warhead, making the third successful test of six attempts. Are we ready to declare success now and say that the missile defense system is ready and on course and Americans should feel better?

Wolfowitz: By no means. But I think what we can say is that our test program is proceeding and showing some quite impressive success. I'll say right off the bat, before some critic discovers it, this was not a, quote, "realistic" test of exactly what an intercept would have to do. But it's the first time we've had anything that looked like a decoy warhead, and it picked out the real warhead from the decoys. They're not as good a decoy as we would expect to face later.

We're in a development program; people need to understand that. We are going to push where there's success. We killed one program this year because it wasn't working well. As we have said over and over again, it's an important area where we're going to go down the avenues that work and cut off the avenues that don't work.

Novak: Mr. Secretary, the critics of this program say it's useless; the Cold War is over. But the question I have is that, if and when this program is really operational, would the purveyors of the "axis of evil" that President Bush talked about, North Korea, Iran and Iraq, would they be neutralized by this missile defense system?

Wolfowitz: We'd be a lot better off than in a situation where we're completely vulnerable. I think those people ought to go -- if, in fact, the Cold War is over and there's no threat, they ought to go and ask those countries why they're investing such a large part of their pretty small national treasure --

Novak: It would be effective against them, though, you think?

Wolfowitz: It will be -- it's designed to be effective, not against the kind of massive attack that we would have faced from the Soviet Union, but from the more limited capabilities that these countries have. That's the intention, yes.

Novak: Paul Wolfowitz, thank you very much.

Mark Shields and I will be back with a comment after these messages.

(Announcements.)

Novak: Paul, Secretary Wolfowitz has widely been regarded as a leading hawk in the movement to move against Iraq with military action. But he certainly, in our conversation with him, was the voice of reason. He was saying that's up to the president. He did not -- he issued less of a clarion call for action than the president did in his press conference this week.

Shields: And, Bob, on the subject of Iraq, he wouldn't say whether he agreed that some said it would be a cake walk or it would require up to 250,000 troops. But I think it does highlight the need for full public debate in the Congress and in the country about what our commitment is there and what we're willing to do.

Novak: Paul Wolfowitz more or less flatly said that the president saying all options are on the table was not a statement that we are ready to use nuclear weapons in the war against terrorism. He said, of course, no president ever forswears the use of nuclear weapons, but that wasn't what he meant.

Shields: The other point that he made was that in spite of Vice President Cheney getting a public rebuff and apparently criticism on his Mideastern trip about Israel in particular, the United States need to bring peace there between the Israelis and the Palestinians, at the same time he said that there was no linkage between Palestinian peace and Iraqi invasion.

I'm Mark Shields.

Novak: I'm Robert Novak.

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