(Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz telephone interview with Richard Borsik, Asian Wall Street Journal 27 March 2002)
Borsik: I do want to focus on the war on terrorism and Southeast Asia, it's quite natural. Can I start with a general question by asking how you think it is going at this stage in terms of the general level of cooperation, level of achievement, the basic position of how things look in this neighborhood on the global effort.
Wolfowitz: It is a global effort. We've said over and over again, and it's a rough estimate, but we think there is an al Qaeda presence in some 60 countries in the world including the United States, including many countries in Western Europe, and while it's Afghanistan that gets the lion's share of the attention because it's a big dramatic event, and indeed Afghanistan was a very important piece of their operation, it wasn't by any means the only piece and it's an effort that we've got to pursue worldwide.
It can't be said often enough, we say it over and over again, that a large part of this campaign against terrorism is not a military campaign. An awful lot of it is law enforcement, intelligence work, tracking down bank accounts, a whole range of activities.
Put in that perspective, I would say that we have accomplished a great deal in Afghanistan in the last few months. There's still significant work to be done there and people shouldn't be surprised if there keep being military actions over, I don't want to predict a timeframe, but quite some way out. We just had the heaviest fighting of the entire campaign long after the Taliban regime had been eliminated. So there are issues there.
Coming to Southeast Asia, I would say, and this may sound like an odd way to put it, but let me say, there aren't any Afghanistan in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia is more like Europe, even though it may sound like an odd way to say it, or like the United States for that matter. That is to say it is largely a law enforcement problem. There is an exception in the Philippines where there are some areas that can only be dealt with I think by competent military forces, and we've been helping to train Filipinos and I think have had some success in improving their capability.
On the law enforcement side I think generally a lot has been accomplished in Southeast Asia and as in other law enforcement work you just have to keep tracking the leads and finding the people. It's a slow business but I think we're making steady progress.
Borsik: Of course some people in Southeast Asia, and it's obvious I'm referring to the Singaporians in particular, are frustrated for quite some time, have been, that they think the Indonesians are not carrying the ball far enough in this law enforcement effort and therefore the threat not only continues but may increase.
What's your current feeling, Mr. Deputy Secretary, about cooperation with the Indonesians and whether they're doing enough of what the U.S. would obviously like them to be doing?
Wolfowitz: I think we're getting good cooperation. The FBI Director was just there recently and came back reporting that he was pleased with what was happening.
Years ago at the time of the crisis in the Philippines in the early 1980s an Indonesian friend said to me that in the Philippines and in our country things move at a different pace from what you Westerners expect. You Westerners are a bit impatient.
But my experience as Ambassador says things may move in a different way but they I think move to a common result.
I think one of the most important things is probably for the Indonesian public in general to understand that this is a campaign against terrorists; it is not a campaign against Islam or against Muslim countries, and to say that there are probably terrorists in Indonesia is not an accusation against Indonesia. We make it clear there are terrorists in the United States. We think we just caught another couple of them yesterday. There are terrorists in Germany. One of the key plotters of the September 11th tragedy was living in Germany for a long time, probably did a lot of his organizational work there.
We're talking about a tiny handful of people that in no way represent mainstream Indonesian thinking. A point that I keep trying to get across to American audiences is that having spent three years in Indonesia I know that the overwhelming number of Indonesians, including the overwhelming number of Indonesian Muslims, have no use for this horrible way in which the terrorists have attempted to hijack Islam and claim that they're acting in the name of Islam. And that that is not the Indonesian view.
I guess from the other side I think it's important for Indonesians to understand that being serious about arresting terrorists doesn't mean you're participating in a war against Islam. All they could do with a still hopefully small extreme, really criminal element that is using religion to justify their crimes.
Wolfowitz: By the way, I don't know if I told you at the beginning, Kevin Kellems from our office is on this call and we're going to make a transcript of I guess the, other than the personal comments at the beginning.
Kellems: Standard operating procedure, we transcribe all interviews.
Wolfowitz: I guess our policy is we post them after the story.
Kellems: We post them after you post your story. We put them on our web site.
Borsik: That's fine.
Following up on the last Indonesia-related remarks, Mr. Wolfowitz, recently there were three Indonesians arrested in Manila that were alleged to have some links to some pretty powerful people in Jakarta. I think you know who I'm referring to here. Which leads me to ask if Washington is growing concerned that elements of the Jakarta elite, even if it's just a small element, are linked to, might be linked to Islamic extremism which would undercut the view and the understandable view that the overwhelming majority of Indonesian Muslims have nothing at all to do with this.
Wolfowitz: I certainly am not aware of anyone who has drawn that conclusion. We are very interested in these three people in Manila and in learning as much as we can from them and about them. But I still feel very firmly convinced about the view that the overwhelming majority of Indonesians are, I think, quite unsympathetic with terrorists.
It's interesting, there was a Gallup Poll that got an awful lot of attention recently because it suggested some horrific number of Muslims actually thought that the attack on the World Trade Center was justified. It turns out the methodology by which they produced their overall numbers was deeply flawed and what it buried was the, by doing averages in which each country counted equally, they counted Indonesia which had a tiny percentage of people sympathetic to the terrorists, gave the same weight as Kuwait in which I think nearly a third of the people were sympathetic to the terrorists.
It's interesting, I notice at the time Indonesia was, from a moral perspective, by far the best country on that list with respect to that question, and I still think that is the fundamental picture there. That's certainly what is believed here in the United States.
Borsik: Basically, just to wrap up the Indonesia part, do you think that going forward there will be no change in the current cooperation and arrangements for working together with, or trying to work together with the Indonesian government?
Recently there was a media report that suggested that the U.S. may put some troops to train or other in Indonesia. Of course that was quickly and vehemently denied. Are we going to see, do you think the continuation of the kind of level of contacts of course with the FBI Director being there? Or at some point is there some kind of guidepost or milestone, some level of change where something will be stepped up in the cooperation?
Wolfowitz: I guess I need to answer this with great precision because it is so commonly misunderstood.
There is no conception here of anything even on the relatively modest scale of what we're doing in the Philippines. There's simply no need for that kind of thing in Indonesia.
Back before some of the tragedies in East Timor we had a very good ongoing program of training and education with Indonesian armed forces, most of which I think took place in the United States, but it could take place anywhere that was convenient.
Because of what happened in East Timor, most of that military-to-military contact has terminated and we would very much like to find a way forward. It means having to address some of those basic human rights concerns that were strongly expressed in our Congress but also strongly expressed in Indonesia. But at the same time we believe that the Indonesian military under appropriate democratic control has a very important role to play in maintaining the security of Indonesia, and in the long run that's going to contribute to stability in the whole region.
So we would like to see some carefully developed, modest improvement in military to military relationships but we do not envision any large-scale training of Indonesian armed forces, I shouldn't say large-scale, let me erase that word large-scale. Any training of Indonesian armed forces in counterterrorism of the kind that we have in the Philippines.
Borsik: Turning to the Philippines, how ultimately will success be gaged with the American deployment there? I know it's supposed to be reviewed after six months to see whether it will be continued or modified. But again, is there some kind of yardstick or gauge like the release of the Burnhams or clear destruction of the Abu Sayyaf? Because it is a political issue and question in the Philippines, whether this could go on a long time and what would be the criteria for saying mission accomplished and withdrawing the Americans that are there?
Wolfowitz: I think the main criterion for mission accomplished is when we feel that we've done what we should do and need to do to help the Filipinos improve their own capabilities. Our focus is on improving their own forces.
One would hope that we can bring them to a level where they could significantly curtail us, not eliminate the Abu Sayyaf Group and what it can do.
But our real focus is on having them be competent. I think the more competent they are the more effective they are also as a deterrent against some other group deciding that sort of wild, remote area of the Philippines are a potentially good sanctuary to start doing terrorist training or organizing operations.
So I don't, to me that's not an open-ended project. We'll either be successful in some finite period of time or say we've reached the limits of what the Filipinos are able to absorb. But all the reports say that, in fact that training has already shown some significant results in their ability to operate and some of it is just as basic as improving their ability to communicate with one another in very wild terrain. It's something that we've demonstrated in Afghanistan, we've gotten pretty good at, and it's the kind of capability that we think we can transfer.
Borsik: We are still of course a couple of months, a little bit of time short of the six months, but it's your impression at the current time that when six months are coming up that the likelihood is that the program will be extended for another three or six months?
Wolfowitz: I don't want to predict decisions that other people have to make. But I would say that the progress to date has been encouraging.
Borsik: Based on information that's come to light or some of the pieces that have been able to put together in recent months, what's your view currently, Deputy Secretary, about fundamentally how important Southeast Asia was in planning or pre-planning or making in some way feasible September 11th?
When the FBI Director was in Southeast Asia recently he very clearly said the theory or the view that Malaysia was a launch pad for September 11th is incorrect. But some of the September 11th people were in and out of Southeast Asia. Clearly the way they've been able to move or meet or set up a kind of sub-network for al Qaeda in parts of Southeast Asia has some significance. Could you try to evaluate overall how important you see Southeast Asia was in this case?
Wolfowitz: I guess I would say first of all, people should understand that while we know enough about September 11th to be quite certain of al Qaeda's role in the operation an we know quite a lot about the individuals who were on the planes, there are large areas where our knowledge is very minimal including the whole area of how the thing was actually planned and who were the key operational figures in making those planning decisions?
So what I'm going to say is based on the part of the iceberg that we see, it may only be the tip of the iceberg and a lot that's under the surface that we don't see.
But based on what we do see I would have to say the most significant connections by far would be people in Afghanistan, people in Europe, particularly in Germany although a number of other European countries as well, and people in the United States. And possibly also, though we see a little less of it I'd be surprised if there weren't a lot of people in Pakistan involved in this. What I've seen of Southeast Asia would come down the list after all of those others.
Borsik: What about the, are you satisfied with the Malaysian response of recent months? They've been the most, maybe not the most, but they've been very active, Dr. Mahatir. A lot of people arrested, a lot of people wondering if he's used this opportunity for bolstering his political position and sidelining potential opponents to it.
But would you say from your perspective the U.S. has been pleased or very pleased with how Malaysia as another country, obviously important in the Islamic world, how it's responded?
Wolfowitz: First of all Asia has very effective police forces and I guess dating from the days of the old emergency laws that make it particularly helpful for the police and difficult for terrorists so I think they've had a lot of success on that front.
I would say Malaysia sits sort of very clearly in the pattern that we think is going to characterize an awful lot of what has to be done going forward which is working closely with individual countries or sometimes groups of countries to improve their capabilities to go after terrorists and to develop information that we get from them that may help us find people or information that we get that may help them find people.
I remember that one of the documents finds that we got in Afghanistan I think helped the Singapore authorities arrest some people who were plotting quite a dangerous terrorist action.
So I guess the short answer to your question is yes, it's pretty good.
I'm going to have to sign off, Rick.