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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with CNN International Business

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
June 07, 2004

            Q:  [In Progress] … much, indeed, for joining us.  How would you characterize Ronald Reagan’s presidency? 

 

            Wolfowitz:  It was a period of extraordinary change in the world and an extraordinary leadership by this man who came from very humble roots in the center of our country with great belief in the values of freedom and of people’s desire to be free, not just Americans, but people around the world. 

 

            I had the privilege of working with him on East Asia.  I was the assistant secretary of state for that part of the world at the time of the peaceful democratic revolution in the Philippines.  And it was remarkable to see this man correctly described as a conservative who had a amiable relationship with President Marcos of the Philippines, but who never missed for a moment that Marcos was a dictator and that dictatorship is not the natural state -- the proper state -- for people to be governed. 

 

            Q:  Interestingly, the old Soviet Union and Russia, of course, played an important part in his presidency.  There are those who’ve been reported today as suggesting that history will probably record Ronald Reagan as a fortunate president, lucky to have been on watch when the Soviet Union began to crumble.  What would you say to those people? 

 

            Wolfowitz:  Well, I’d say no one wants to give him the credit for the remarkable achievements he made.  I think, you know, you can’t prove these things, but I think there’s not much question that the United States that Ronald Reagan assumed the leadership of was the United States with a lot of problems in the world, a lot of weaknesses in our military.  He undertook a major buildup of U.S. military forces.  It was very controversial at the time.  He undertook a major deployment of U.S. nuclear forces in Europe, which was very controversial at the time.  He had a very, very clear voice about the nature of what he called “the evil empire.”  And I remember when he made that speech in 1984.  Many people said this is going to bring about a war.  But I think Ronald Reagan was a man of peace, a man of peace who understood that the key to peace was to present the Soviet Union with strength, to discourage the Soviet Union from continuing the kinds of assaults that we had seen throughout the 1970s, culminating in the invasion of Afghanistan.

 

            Q:  How different was Ronald Reagan’s watch from the watch which George W. Bush, for example, has assumed in the 21st century?  I’m thinking about the question of ideology and ideas, perhaps, rather than as specifics in world politics. 

 

            Wolfowitz:  It’s a good question and they’re very different eras in terms of foreign policy.  Reagan’s era was dominated by the continuing threat of communism and the specter of nuclear war that brought with it.  Although I would also say in having worked with him principally on the Asia-Pacific region, it was also an era marked by this remarkable growth -- economic growth -- among East Asian countries and the beginning of an era that Ronald Reagan as a governor of California, was very attentive to this emergence of the Pacific region as a great era of opportunity. 

 

            George Bush confronts a different kind of threat, but it is a kind of ideology, a kind of totalitarian ideology in its own way.  I think it has more in common with fascism and communism than it does with the religion that it claims to represent, but which it really desecrates. 

 

            And I would say there are these two things in common that are very important.  I think Ronald Reagan understood the importance of commitment and purpose in what proved to be a long struggle, even though it ended on his watch --  the Cold War was a long effort -- and he understood the power of the idea of freedom.  And I think both of those apply in this confrontation with terrorist fanatics that it’s not going to be a struggle that ends quickly.  But I think the key to winning it is to enlist hundreds of millions of Muslims who believe in freedom and would prefer to live a good life on this Earth than trashing other people and killing other people and dreaming of some other life after death.  Those are the hundreds of millions of people to be brought on our side. 

 

            Q:  Mr. Wolfowitz…

 

            Wolfowitz:  In a way, you know, just as…

 

            Q:  … how would Ronald Reagan react…

 

            Wolfowitz:  … Ronald Reagan understood that our greatest allies in the…

 

            Q:  …to this current challenge in Iraq.  I’m sorry. 

 

            Wolfowitz:  Ronald Reagan understood that our greatest allies in the struggle with Soviet communism were the subjects of the Soviet empire themselves who longed for freedom.  I think a similar parallel applies here in the Muslim world and especially in the Arab world. 

 

            Q:  Let me just ask a question.  I think stepped in on you, as you were answering there.  How do you believe Ronald Reagan then would react to this current challenge by the U.S. and its fellows around the world face that of Iraq and the greater issues of the Middle East peace process at present? 

 

            Wolfowitz:  Well, I think he would have – I remember visiting Northern Iraq in July of last year and meeting with a colonel in the 101st Airborne Division there who said that he tells his young soldiers that what they’re doing in Iraq is just as important as what their grandfathers did in World War II with Japan and Germany or what their fathers did in the Cold War for Korea or Eastern Europe.  And I think Ronald Reagan would relate to that.  He would understand that we’re doing two things at the same time.  One is to fight a great evil that threatens the security of this country, but the other is to help people in other countries build better societies, build free societies and that the United States benefits from that as importantly, perhaps, as from fighting the enemy.

 

            Q:  OK.  Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. deputy secretary of defense.  We must leave it there.  We thank you.

 

            Wolfowitz:  Thank you.

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