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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Los Angeles Times

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
April 29, 2002

(Interview with Nathan Gardels, Los Angeles Times Syndicate)

Gardels: The first question I'm afraid is a big one, a stand-back question a little bit before we get to some of the more current events.

As I mentioned in my notes, the U.S. now has the preponderant military power in history -- eight times, if you buy Paul Kennedy's figures, eight times larger than the next, or larger than the next eight militaries put together, with a preponderance more than Rome, more than (inaudible).

From a strategic standpoint, before we get to some of the specific things, what does the U.S. do with this power? What is the point of having this power? What is the strategic way to use this? I've mentioned people like Bill Clinton say let's make the world safe for interdependence. That's what the role of this power is. Or Joe Nye talks about global public good like the British Empire. Be sure there's free trade, be sure there's a balance of power.

So from a strategic perspective, standing back on top of all of this power, what do we do with it? What's its main purpose? How do we do this?

Wolfowitz: I think all the statistics about how much military power we have are frankly not very helpful. I think it's partly -- on the one hand one could say it's even more than what those statements say because I think what is really remarkable and very positive in this era is it's not just that we have such substantial military capabilities, but the most militarily competent countries in the world besides us are our allies. And even Russia is beginning to move from clearly no longer an enemy until in certain ways becoming a potential ally.

On the other hand, first of all the Romans didn't have to worry about terrorists with nuclear weapons or any number of very potent threats that September 11th is just a small illustration of. You can have all the preponderance of military power in the world and that isn't necessarily going to -- there are some equalizers out there that are pretty nasty.

But the other thing I think even more importantly is that this is not the Roman era when you could use military power to enforce your will on subject nations, nor is this country at all politically of a mind to do so. Military power is a much more defensive tool.

So the real power of the United States is not its military power. The real power of the United States I think is more important than military power is our economic power and more powerful than both I think is our political strength and what we stand for and the fact that all around the world even in some countries where the regimes hate us the people admire our system and want our kind of system.

And ultimately me to me the important point is for us it would be very congenial to have a world in which people are free to govern themselves and that there's a, I don't want to overstate it, there are differences of interests between countries, but because of the way we define our interest there's a sort of natural compatibility interest between the United States and most countries of the world. I think the trend towards self-government takes things in our direction. That's our great strength, not the fact that we can defeat any army that comes against us.

Gardels: The point of strength though, is in effect to protect and promote the capacity of people to freely govern themselves.

Wolfowitz: I think so. It's sort of like a protective fence around things. It allows you to set certain boundaries and it allows the idea of large armies crossing borders, at least for the time being, does not seem to be a major threat because of that strength. That's sort of the limit of what it does. I shouldn't say it's the only thing. It's enabled us to go after terrorists in Afghanistan in an impressive way.

(phone interruption)

Gardels: You were mentioning our allies. Some have said with all of this power, and you know the quote from Chris Patton who kind of, I use it a couple of times in my questions here because he's a pro-American European and he's saying "Unilateralist instincts, paired with all this power, the axis of evil speech, it betrays a unilateralist instinct." I have two questions.

One, why be defensive about that? If American security is at stake and we see a clear danger and want to prevent it from becoming a present danger in terms of mass destruction weapons, what's wrong with unilateralist instinct? A.

B, after the axis of evil speech can you feel any impact, not from our allies and others, but from those -- Iran, Iraq, North Korea. The response of a leadership, the response of the powers that be to that strong rhetoric?

Wolfowitz: I suppose one is defensive because unilateralism has this bad odor. But I think the president's been very clear from the beginning that we were attacked, we're going to take the measures we need to defend ourselves, this is not an attack on Kuwait, it's an attack on the United States and for those people who work with us.

But it is also not a notion that we can or must go it alone. I think that's why one rejects that notion.

It's kind of interesting coming from Chris Patton who had his own view, which I actually have a lot of sympathy with for what was the right thing to do in Hong Kong, and persisted even though the Foreign Office kept undercutting him. Now he seems to be a little bit more in the other camp. But --

Gardels: -- commission.

Wolfowitz: Right. (laughter)

But we are getting a lot of cooperation from a lot of people and to me a lot of the difference is not unilateralist versus multilateralist, it's whether you lead or not. This president is leading. He's setting a very clear course. In the State of the Union message he stated very clearly what the problem was and in effect said we can't live with this for, he didn't put a time limit on it, but I mean we lived with al Qaeda for ten years and what happened on September 11th seems to be what he's going to saying is we're not going to live with hostile regimes pursuing weapons of mass destruction and supporting terrorists for ten years. But it was an invitation I think very clearly for our friends and allies to come forward and way what would you do about this. Not to say it's not a problem. If you want to say we ruled that out and that's unilateralist, we ruled that out, but there are different means to get there.

That relates to the second part of your question which is the president was by no means ruling out diplomacy. Indeed I think if you want diplomacy to work you've got to have leverage. That actually should be a first part of Diplomacy 101 although people seem to frequently forget it. You don't get the kinds of regimes we're talking about to change policy simply by having nice conversations with them. And I don't think it's an accident that it was after the State of the Union message that we finally got the North Koreans responding to our indications of over a year ago that we were willing to talk with them. I think you see signs of positive change in Iran motivated I think by the same concern. If they don't find a way to get right with the United States it could be very bad.

Gardels: It keeps bubbling up again, this idea of having contact with the U.S. and Iran in some fashion.

Wolfowitz: And they say it's now coming from quarters that used to oppose it entirely. There's a long road there but it's a kind of simplistic view of the world to say it's multilateralist versus unilateralist. I think it's a simplistic view to say it's diplomacy versus accrued power. The two work with each other.

Gardels: In Iraq, in Iran and North Korea there's been some movement, but nothing on Iraq. I just have to ask this question because it was in the New York Times, that the military has a plan. But I know the president hasn't made a decision. But the military is prepared if the president makes a decision.

Wolfowitz: The military is prepared for all kinds of things and continues thinking and planning and preparing, but the president has made no decision about --

Gardels: But this is one of the contingencies, obviously, that has to be prepared for.

Wolfowitz: Obviously. And it's not simply to be prepared if the president makes a decision. We are prepared also if Saddam Hussein does.

Gardels: A month from now the U.N. voting on the inspections going back to Iraq, do you have any faith in that process at all? Is that part of dealing with Iraq still, do you think? Or do you think that's a wasted effort?

Wolfowitz: There is a fundamental problem here which is that even when we had effective inspections going on the Iraqis were constantly obstructing them every time they got close to something and the only reason we got as close as we did on some occasions was because his brother-in-law who was in the middle of his programs defected and gave us a lot of intelligence.

You've got to recognize we're now starting with more than four years of no inspections, lots of opportunity to hide, no brother-in-law inside, so and an inspection regime that was consciously watered down a few years ago to somehow try to make it acceptable to him.

I think the standard has to be that under Resolution 687 he is required to have gotten rid of all this stuff six months after the end of the Gulf War. The fact that he still has it is a violation and it has to be ended. I can't speculate here about what would be convincing, but it's going to take a lot more than just inspectors wandering around the desert aimlessly to demonstrate that that's happened.

Gardels: I think you answered my question. Now to quote Chris Patton again, one of the beneficiaries of Sharon's incursion, this isn't Patton exactly. But people are now saying one of the results of Sharon's incursion and what is perceived as a green light to U.S. (inaudible) or the wink is Saddam. That it's made it possible, as demonstrated again by the Saudi visit, for the U.S. to build a diplomatic coalition, [no less] a military one against Iraq. Isn't it true in that sense that the Sharon incursion has benefited Saddam in that sense? Made him less isolated? Less vulnerable to U.S. pressures?

Wolfowitz: We have two challenges. One is to try to deal with the Arab-Israeli problem both in the short term to try to reduce the level of violence and in the longer term to find some way to a political solution because that's the only solution that really works. At the same time, as the president's made very clear, we have a problem providing our own security and dealing particularly with this very dangerous nexus between weapons of mass destruction and hostile regimes that support terrorism. We've got to pursue both and I think progress on either one of those agendas will help you on the other one and difficulties on either one of those agendas obviously does create difficulties on the other. But I think there's no alternative but to press ahead as strongly as we can on both. I think the president made that pretty clear, even in the statement he made sending Colin Powell out to the region.

I do think it's important to say that there's no question in my mind that if Powell hadn't gone the situation would have become a lot worse. There was a real potential for this war spreading to Lebanon and Syria. There was a real potential for Sharon going much deeper and even arresting Arafat. So I think against what I think were realistic expectations for that trip, I think Powell accomplished a lot.

Gardels: This is a Chris Patton quote. Sharon, it's the nexus you were talking about, the war against terror, our war against terror and the Sharon war. He says, "Sharon has hijacked the war against terrorism." Again I raise him because he's exemplary of a certain European mindset and when we're talking about allies it's very important. He says Sharon's hijacked the war on terrorism, and I guess in order to answer that one has to say where does the U.S. interest in the war against terrorism intersect with Israel's interest against the Palestinian authorities? And where does it depart? Or has Sharon hijacked it? Answer it any way you want, but --

Wolfowitz: It seems to me that the core of the problem is that this tactic of suicide bombing or homicide bombing as the president calls it has created enormous difficulties both for any hope of the peace process but also for clarity about what we stand for I think in terms of fighting terrorism and I think it's just very simply wrong for some people and it seems to me far too many Europeans, to kind of suggest that that kind of terrorism is okay and to distinguish between good and bad terrorism.

But the president has also been absolutely clear and I think it's important for us to remain clear that the ultimate solution to the Arab-Israeli problem or the Israeli-Palestinian problem. It has to be a political settlement essentially based on resolution 242 on a Palestinian state and that in some form or other the issue of settlements which some people say is very dear to Sharon's heart is going to have to be addressed. But the obstacles to addressing all of that is in fact the suicide bombers and it would be nice if we heard a little more from the Europeans who have enormous influence over Arafat. Because Arafat doesn't care about how much his people suffer, but he does care about his standing in world opinion. It would help if we heard more from Europeans about how the suicide bombers, the homicide bombers, who are the obstacles to a Palestinian state, to the end of the occupation, was all there on the table at Camp David two years ago. The only way to get it back is to end the terrorism.

Gardels: I don't want to dwell on this, but just to flesh out the argument, the argument the Europeans make back in turn, not just the Europeans, is that true as that may be, Sharon's objective from the get-go was to destroy the prospects of a Palestinian state without which there can be no political solution. I guess the question is that the U.S. departs from that Sharon point of view in this war against --

Wolfowitz: Well why don't they say the same thing about the homicide bombers' objective was to destroy Oslo? Oslo's greatest chance was at Camp David and Sharon had nothing to do with the failure of Camp David. If we could get the kind of process started that the president wants, Sharon would have to come clear one way or the other. If they want to put Sharon in the position of having to be the obstructionist and create conditions where negotiation is possible, that's not possible under conditions of suicide bombing.

Gardels: A quick question, I think I know your answer but I have to ask it. Peacekeepers are now on everybody's lips, for the European Union people and here in Washington now and Daschle talked about peacekeepers I saw this morning. Can you imagine any circumstance in which U.S. troops would be used as peacekeepers in Israel-Palestine?

Wolfowitz: If there were real peace to keep, I suppose yes, but there's a tendency I think when you have a problem that seems otherwise insoluble to say let's throw peacekeepers at it. That's in effect what we did in Lebanon 20 years ago and the result was terrible. We did it in Bosnia after there was a peace agreement and the result was very positive. So the question is what peace are they keeping and how are the peacekeepers going to work? So far all I hear, and I sympathize with it, is a sense of desperation, we've got to do something.

Gardels: Keep people apart.

Wolfowitz: Yeah, don't just stand there, do something. But that isn't always the best advice.

Gardels: But that's not something American troops would do is keep them apart, because American troops would be targets just like the Marines were in Lebanon. They'd be targets for suicide bombers.

Wolfowitz: There is no peace to keep, not yet anyway.

Gardels: To go back to the unilateralist argument at the beginning, the question about America's role. Abroad many people look at the States and the whole Middle East thing and the detour the war on terrorism is taking with Sharon, has made them look at the big picture which is the U.S. has withdrawn from the ABM Treaty. Kyoto, which is not in your brief, but the Kyoto Treaty is considered part of it. There may be a taking back of the signature on the ICC which is another issue. And some suspect after the Nuclear Posture Review that the next treaty to fall is the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Because what the Nuclear Posture Review does in the view of some people like Bob McNamara is it throws out the deal that the nuclear powers have got to reduce their weapons and not modernize them in exchange for others not getting them.

So I guess the question is, then there's the missile shield. So people look at this and say America is becoming an isolationist hegemon. It decides which treaties it wants and which it doesn't want, and it's going to go ahead and modernize its nuclear forces and protect itself with the shield. So it's this big power, but in the sense that it's an isolationist power.

Does your image of what the U.S. is doing fit in any way with that perception?

Wolfowitz: I just think that's nonsense. Here we are engaged in the deepest nuclear reductions we've ever made probably going back to levels that are lower than what they were when McNamara left office, although I can't say for sure. And to call, to say that the Air Force is scrapping the non-proliferation regime, that we're not interested in controlling nuclear weapons is to me just not a serious comment.

Yes, there are some agreements out there that I think the U.S. did a poor job of dealing with or negotiating it. To go to Kyoto and sign a treaty that 97, the Senate voted I believe 97 to nothing in disapproval of Kyoto, was pretty bipartisan. That's not a very good way of presenting U.S. interests and it's not a very good contribution I think to multilateral activities. You allow something to go through that way that is so overwhelmingly opposed at home. But I come back to it.

I think, I suppose one reason why I don't at all accept this notion of unilateralist is I really think that a lot of what we're fighting for are things that most of the people of the world aspire to. Take very specifically the Muslim world. I was ambassador to Indonesia for three years, the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. I think the overwhelming majority of Indonesian Muslims, and I strongly believe the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world, really do aspire to live in the kind of world that we would like to see for them. A lot of their problems have to do with tyrannical regimes or corrupt regimes, and to want to change that I don't think makes us unilateralist. I think it makes us potentially the allies of the great majority of the world's people. And it's not always the easy way, but it's what leadership is about.

Gardels: But there's more disagreement now with the European allies and the Chinese than ever before on all of these issues. Is that just rhetoric on their part? Why do they perceive the U.S. as so unilateralist then? Because they're not part of the decisionmaking process? Where does this, these people aren't imagining -- you know what I'm saying?

Wolfowitz: I'm not sure about the Chinese. I remember the kinds of things the Chinese were saying about it just three or four years ago, pretty venomous stuff. I think it's actually better now as a matter of fact. And we're going to have the Chinese vice president visiting here, and actually is going to meet with Secretary Rumsfeld as well as the president I believe.

So, and I would also distinguish between rhetoric and reality. The fact is we had NATO for the first time in its history invoking Article 5. It was invoked on behalf of the United States. We've got more coalition troops fighting in Afghanistan than we do Americans. Are there -- I think a lot of what you're referring to was actually a reaction to the president's State of the Union message. It seems to me as time has gone on more and more people, including Europeans, have come to understand what the president was talking about, come to understand that he wasn't about to go off and do crazy things right away. But they've also, I think, come closer to our position and I think that's what leadership is about. I think that's what taking your allies seriously is about which is what we do.

Gardels: -- Europe is forming their own identity against U.S. leadership. I mean we've been against, you know what I'm saying? It's used as a foil to help, they have a currency now and they're trying to find an identity. This talk of unilateralism, this perception is a way of defining their own cohesion some way politically.

Wolfowitz: Maybe, but I think there's still a huge reservoir of pro-American sentiment and desire to cooperate with the United States and it may be stronger in some countries than in others, and it may be stronger in individual countries than when they sort of all get together as a group.

But you know, ten years ago when the Berlin Wall came down people said okay, we don't need NATO any more, that's the end of NATO. Yet now, 12 years later, people are saying NATO is essential to stability in the Balkans, NATO is essential to the security of the United States here at home.

It was 1975 I think when Kissinger declared the year of Europe and everybody immediately said oh, U.S.-European relations are the lowest point they've ever been. It is in the nature of this alliance to have a certain amount of that kind of friction which I think is part of what ultimately makes it a strong relationship because people voice their views and people's views change in the face of that.

Gardels: You're famous for being the hawk in the administration and people say you're the hawk because you want to attack Iraq, but you made it clear in your response before that that's not by any means necessary, that it didn't mean military means. It's not hawkish to -- America's been attacked on its own soil. I quoted Vice President Cheney, "On our soil by people who will use any means on any scale to do it." It is not a hawk to defend America's interests and it's not unilateralist. I guess that's the point that needs to be made. That's not a hawk to do that. That's what your job is, isn't it?

Wolfowitz: I think it is. I don't like the label because it seems to me the label suggests you're somebody who's eager to go to war at any time, anywhere, anybody, and that's certainly not me.

But I am totally unapologetic that I think what we've done in Afghanistan is right. I think it has to be done. I don't think you can respond to that kind of attack on your country by going around and taking international public opinion polls as to what you ought to do.

I think leadership, which is what this president has shown from the beginning, does include convincing people that what you're doing is right and I think we've done a pretty good job of that. And I think the president is also right in saying we can't continue living indefinitely with this specter of hostile countries supporting terrorists and threatening us with weapons of mass destruction. We've got to do something about it. If there are political and diplomatic ways to achieve that I would much prefer that to the use of force. I don't think that makes me a dove, either. I'd like to get the results. I'd like to get the results in the most effective possible way for American interests and I think that's very clearly what President Bush thinks.

Gardels: How did you feel when you were giving that speech to the pro-Israeli rally and were boo'd by mentioning the (inaudible) Palestinians? What was the message you got from that? Why were they boo'ing you? What did it make you feel about that political --

Wolfowitz: I didn't expect them to like that particular phrase. I didn't expect them to react that strongly. And I think my feeling was that it's unfortunate -- And by the way, it was the minority of the crowd, to be fair to the rest of the crowd it should be said. But this is what happens when violence inflames passions, and there's an enormous amount of much more dehumanization I'm afraid on the other side but it's one of the reasons why it's very hard to get any kind of a peaceful process going until you calm down the violence.

Gardels: That's a good full picture. Do you have anything else you want to be sure that you add?

Wolfowitz: No, I don't think so.

Gardels: Is there anything else to say?

Why did you switch from math to science? I'd like to get that in there. I know the answer to that. You were a student of (inaudible) isn't that right?

Wolfowitz: That happened afterwards. I was a Cuban Missile Crisis kid. I was a sophomore in college when all that happened. There were other things in it as well. It was a kind of passion for history and politics even though I was good in math and science. But it is amazing to me to realize how remote the idea of nuclear war is to my kids' generation. We lived with it as a reality. I suppose that was one of the things that motivated me originally.

One other thing -- we didn't talk much at all about Afghanistan.

Gardels: It still motivates you to prevent war.

Wolfowitz: Absolutely, including nuclear war. I think one of the great blessed results at the end of the Cold War is just the likelihood of that kind of massive use of nuclear weapons is enormously diminished if not virtually eliminated, but we still, we now see these other dangers of the terrible single or isolated use which would be awful.

One comment worth saying about Afghanistan because Rumsfeld and the president have been saying from the beginning that it's going to be a long struggle, and I think a lot of people, first they said why is it taking so long. Then in December they decided it was all over. And we're still fighting there and we're going to be fighting there and it's going to take persistence and patience. It can't just be turned over to an international peacekeeping force.

Sometimes it's amusing it see people say we had 60,000 troops in Bosnia and that's what brought peace. Bosnia is a tiny little country compared to Afghanistan. In fact, can I just show you one of my --

Gardels: Yeah, it's huge. That's why your troops are on the border now with Pakistan.

Wolfowitz: Yeah, that's chasing bad guys. That's Afghanistan on a map of the United States. And this is more dramatic because it's an aerial photograph of Afghanistan. It's got whole areas the size of the state of West Virginia and Tennessee and Kentucky. Those are mountains, 6,000 to 20,000 feet high. There's a reason why this has been an ungoverned place for a very long time, or ungovernable. So it's not going to be something that we solve quickly or (inaudible). It would take three million peacekeepers to have as many per square mile --

Gardels: There's no timeframe on it.

Wolfowitz: There can't be a timeframe. People would like --

Gardels: When the job's done.

Wolfowitz: When the job is done. We are making progress, I feel very sure about that.

Gardels: Thank you very much.