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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with National Public Radio

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
July 02, 2002 2:00 PM EDT

(Live interview for "Talk of the Nation" on National Public Radio, with Neal Conan and Tom Gjelten.)

Conan: This is "Talk of the Nation." I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is our guest for this hour. Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz is a leading figure in the fight against terrorism. As second in command to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary Wolfowitz plays an important operational role at the Pentagon. He is among the most influential figures in the war on terrorism and on planning the future of the U.S. military. He is considered one of the leading intellectuals in the Bush administration, with influence beyond his title of deputy secretary.

To give you just a few of the highlights of a 30-year career, Paul Wolfowitz has been dean of the prestigious Johns Hopkins University School for International Studies here in Washington, D.C. Under the first President Bush, he was an undersecretary of defense and served as ambassador to Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz joins us now from our office at the Pentagon, and Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us today.

Wolfowitz: Good afternoon, nice to be with you.

Conan: Let me also introduce NPR's Tom Gjelten, who is with us here in Studio 3A, and actually, Secretary Wolfowitz, you are sitting in Tom's office, so be gentle with his stuff.

Wolfowitz: (Chuckles.) I noticed his name on the computer.

Gjelten: I left you a bottle of water there, sir. I don't know if you -- (laughter) --

Wolfowitz: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Conan: Our number here in Washington, if you have questions for Paul Wolfowitz, is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

And secretary, I have to begin by asking you what you can tell us about the incident, I guess two days ago now, near Kandahar in Afghanistan where apparently, in a mistaken incident, 40 people were killed in a terrible accident.

Wolfowitz: Unfortunately, not very much because we are still -- we have just gotten people in on the ground there to investigate what happened. There is always a great deal of confusion about what takes place in a battle, and there was clearly a battle going on. In fact, something that I learned years ago from Secretary Cheney is first reports are always wrong. We're now into the second and third reports, but we still don't know if they're right or not.

It does seem as though something went wrong, but we're still trying to get to the bottom of it.

Conan: One of the things that came up earlier today when Secretary Rumsfeld and General Pace were holding the daily briefing at the Pentagon was that there had been repeated incidents in this area of anti-aircraft fire directed at U.S. aircraft. Isn't that unusual? We've not been hearing that sort of thing. It does sound as if a battle has been going on in that area.

Wolfowitz: Well, it's an active combat zone. I think, you know -- I think the American people ought to realize and remember that we have people in serious danger out there day after day. I got a little bit of a reminder of it myself flying to the Philippines and Singapore last month, and the airplane that we were with was a converted KC-10 tanker, which had been doing tanking for fighter aircraft over Afghanistan. They got anti-aircraft at them once and had to scoot and get away. Even here in the Pentagon we hadn't been told about shooting at tankers, so there's a lot of -- there are a lot of weapons around there and there's a lot of shooting.

I think the important point from what General Pace said in the briefing today about this incident is it took place in an area where there are significant pockets of Taliban remaining. There was significant fighting underway. There were ground controllers on the ground directing fire from the air, so this was not -- it does not seem quite like the very tragic incident where we hit some Canadian forces in a situation where we just completely mistook what was going on on the ground. We had people on the ground, but we still don't quite know what happened.

Gjelten: Secretary Wolfowitz, it's Tom Gjelten. Can you just elaborate on that a bit? I mean, if I'm not mistaken, these seven 2,000-pound bombs that the B-52 dropped were targeting a cave complex. Do you see al Qaeda or former Taliban forces regrouping in some fairly significant numbers in that area? Up until now, we've sort of gotten used to this happening on the border with Pakistan. Are we now seeing some major regrouping of al Qaeda or former Taliban forces in that area north of Kandahar?

Wolfowitz: To the best of [our] knowledge, it's not major regrouping, but when the Taliban regime fell back in early December, the al Qaeda remnants seemed to flee largely to the eastern area of Afghanistan and across the border into Pakistan. But from what we can tell, a significant chunk of the Taliban forces dispersed more into the center of the country north of Kandahar and -- I'm making an assumption and it's dangerous to make any assumptions in this situation -- that what the operation was underway that had those ground controllers directing bombs at caves was going after what we believe were remnants of the Taliban, not a significant concentration that's reforming.

Conan: Let me ask you a question about the future of our situation in Afghanistan. In October, after U.S. forces first started to go in there -- I'm not sure whether it was a plan -- but the feeling certainly was that this was going to be a temporary situation and that U.S. forces would be leaving as soon as possible. I'm sure that's still the situation; as soon as possible seems to have stretched out over time, though.

How long are U.S. forces going to be there, do you think? -- and not just in Afghanistan -- there are supporting bases in central Asia now, in place like Uzbekistan.

Wolfowitz: You know, I don't ever remember words like "temporary" or "as soon as possible" passing Secretary Rumsfeld's lips. Other people may have said it. He's emphasized --

Conan: Well, it may have been my assumption, and it might have been dangerous for me, too. (Chuckles.)

Wolfowitz: I think what it's -- look, you're not -- if you made the assumption, you're not alone in doing that, but it's -- to some extent it's surprising the speed with which a lot of the international pundits went from saying, after just a couple of weeks of this war, that the U.S. was hopelessly bogged down to sort of declaring that it was all over. And I -- what we've tried to be clear about from the beginning is that even in Afghanistan this is going to be a long and sustained effort with two pieces to it: one, to continue going after terrorists and the people who supported them in the past; but secondly -- and this is more on the economic side, but there is a military component -- to assist the Afghan people in rebuilding their country so that it doesn't become a sanctuary for terrorists in the future.

But that's just Afghanistan, and as we've also tried to emphasize over and over again, al Qaeda has burrowed into some 60 countries, it had headquarters in Jacksonville, Florida and -- or at least bases in Jacksonville, Florida, and Hamburg, Germany, and many other Western cities as well as in Afghanistan. And it's only one of several international terrorist networks that we're concerned about.

So there is a tendency, when nothing spectacular has happened for a few weeks or even a month or two, for people -- quite reasonably -- to say, well, I haven't heard much about that so I guess it's over. Well, it isn't over, and we've tried to remind the American people over and over again that this is going to be a long and sustained effort. And certainly our military who are out there doing that hard work and the dangerous work understand that.

Conan: Moving on to another subject, this administration and you and Secretary Rumsfeld came in arguing strongly for a transformation of the U.S. military. We have a new strategy, a new policy announced by President Bush of preemptive strikes when necessary, and I'm wondering if those two things don't run in parallel, don't dovetail to some degree; that if you have a lighter, more responsive, a quicker military, which is what you guys were talking about, it might be able to carry out, to transform -- what President Bush said -- from a policy into a doctrine.

Wolfowitz: Well, I think there's a -- I'm more inclined to think of them as slightly separate, frankly; partly because the effort at transforming the nature of our military is more of a medium- to long-term effort, whereas the kind of preventive action that the president was talking about is much more focused on the immediate concern about terrorism.

I think there is a transformation in the way people think about how to deal with terrorism. For some 20 years, we tended to think of it as almost primarily a law enforcement matter, and even to the extent that it was a military matter, it was pretty much entirely reactive. The terrorists would do something and we would -- if we could find a culprit, we would retaliate and think that that would deter future action. And what September 11th brought home is when terrorists have the capability to kill 3,000 people -- that that's just the beginning of what they could do with chemical or biological or nuclear weapons -- we can't afford to wait until they've acted and then react. We've got to be able to prevent them.

Now you do make a point that's absolutely valid. If you're going to act in a timely way, whether in a preventive way or to act quickly to defend someone or a country that's under attack, you need forces that can respond quickly. And if I go back to the last time that I worked in this department, when Vice President Cheney was the secretary of Defense, when the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, we didn't put a force together quickly to deter that attack, and once they'd occupied Kuwait, it took us nearly six months to assemble the force needed to move them out.

And in contrast, when President Bush gave the order to General Franks to begin planning for Afghanistan -- and believe me, there was no plan on the shelf for a conflict in Afghanistan -- he put together a plan and a plan that worked pretty well, as it turned out, within less than three weeks. And we had -- military operations began on October 7th, and within two weeks of those starting we had special forces on the ground in the north.

So that's a little closer to the kind of speed and -- as we say in the Department of Defense -- agility that we'd like our forces to have, but we'd like to be able to do that in some circumstances on possibly a larger scale than what we did in Afghanistan.

Conan: Our telephone number is 800-989-8255 -- 800 989-TALK. Our e-mail address, totn@npr.org. And our first caller is Mark, who joins from Springhouse, Pennsylvania.

Caller: Yes, good afternoon. I have a question for Mr. Wolfowitz.

Regarding the missile defense system, assuming we build it and we are able to convince our adversaries that it will be 100 percent effective, that it's the greatest defensive measure in the world, won't that just simply cause them to figure out another delivery system for some weapon? I mean, we talk about the porosity of our border. It would seem to me that being attacked by missiles is a lot more complicated than, you know, shipping stuff in, smuggling it across the border, and are we just basically creating a very, very strong front door but leaving the back door and the windows open.

And I'll take my answer off the air.

Conan: Thanks for the call, Mark.

Wolfowitz: Look, we -- the caller is right that we can't just close off one avenue of attack and leave others open, and we' re working, we doing everything we can to close the door to terrorists. We're trying now -- finally, after 30 years of having our hands tied by the ABM Treaty, we are now beginning to vigorously explore ways of stopping ballistic missiles. And we've also got to look at how to stop cruise missiles, which are basically unmanned aircraft.

But one would have to ask if there's so little point in attacking the United States with ballistic missiles, why do countries like Iraq and Iran and North Korea that have so little money even for their military, much less for their people, spend such a large fraction of it on developing ballistic missiles that can attack us or attack our friend and allies.

I was actually in Israel during the Gulf War 10, 11 years ago, sent by President Bush to help persuade the Israelis not to get into that war, and I saw how much damage even short-range ballistic missiles with just conventional explosive on them -- how much damage they can do. And defense doesn't have to be a hundred percent perfect to be a lot better than complete vulnerability, which is where we are today.

Conan: Let's go now to Jeff, and he's on his -- (audio break, tape change) --

Caller: (In progress) -- Mr. Wolfowitz, I'm curious to know whether or not the American people should have some concern over the July 4th holiday coming up. Considering it's the Independence Day for our nation, does it make us vulnerable to another attack?

Wolfowitz: I think we need to be concerned that -- all the indications we have are that terrorists are out there actively plotting ways to attack us, both here in the United States and our forces overseas, and for that matter, a number of our friends and allies. And there's every reason to think that they would take a special evil pleasure from being able to pull off an attack of that kind on July 4th.

  • But I think I would make two points. First of all, July 4th isn't a unique moment of danger. We need to be alert and vigilant throughout this period. But secondly, I think Secretary Powell said it best over the weekend on Sunday on one of the talk shows when he said, "We've got to be alert, we've got to be vigilant, but we also should enjoy our national holiday," and that's what he's planning to do; that's what I'm planning to do. We can't let the terrorists drive us out of our normal lives.
  • That would be another victory for them.

Conan: Jeff, thanks for the call.

Caller: Thank you.

Conan: We're talking with Secretary of Defense -- Deputy Secretary of Defense -- almost promoted you there -- Paul Wolfowitz, and we'll be back after a short break, take more of your calls. Our number is 800-989-TALK, or send us e-mail: totn@npr.org. We'll turn the discussion to America and the world. It's "Talk of the Nation," from NPR News.

Conan: This is "Talk of the Nation." I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking about U.S. defense posture and the war on terrorism, now and beyond. Our guest is Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of Defense. You're invited of course to join the conversation. Our phone number is 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

Secretary, earlier we were talking about some of the highlights of your career. Did you ever serve in the military?

Wolfowitz: No, I didn't. I was a graduate student and had a student deferment at the time.

Conan: Now, you have been an academic, you've been in and out of government, you were a college dean. How does that work? I mean, you know, what influence does one job have on the other?

Wolfowitz: Well, George Shultz, whom I worked for when he was secretary of State, described people like me -- and there is an old cluster of us, what he called non-career professionals, the career professionals being our wonderful people in the Foreign Service or the career military. But I think what we all have in common, as he put it, is we are professionals; we take the subject of foreign policy and national security extremely seriously. And I would say I've devoted the better part of the last 30 years to trying to understand various aspects of national security and foreign policy as well as I could, and motivated, I think, by a sense that it makes a difference to understand things and to try to get the policies right.

Conan: E-mail question on this subject from Michael Colagner in Arlington, Virginia: "Here's a question that's been a lot on my mind lately as I struggle to start a career, and one that hopefully pays the bills. Mr. Secretary, what did you do throughout your 20s that eventually led to where you are today?"

Wolfowitz: (Chuckles.) It's an interesting question. I've had occasion often to advise students, and I even had one who was in his early 20s who asked me what he should do if he wanted to become an ambassador, which is something you sort of expect to arrive at in your late 40s, early 50s, and I suggested he was planning a little too far ahead.

Conan: You have had a couple of stints in the State Department and a couple in the Defense Department. Which do you prefer? Which suits you best do you think?

Wolfowitz: Oh, it would be undiplomatic to make a choice -- (laughter) -- (inaudible) -- at State. They both have a fascination for me. They both have some terrific people working for them. I must say that I think, by the way, that one thing that is kind of a surprise to people from outside government, I'd say particularly people in the academic world, when they have close contact to the kinds of professionals that I've had the pleasure of dealing with, both at State and Defense, is just how smart people are, how hard working they are, and how dedicated they are to trying to serve the national interest. They may have different views of what that is, but the level of dedication is gratifying in both places.

Conan: Let's go back to the phones. Our next caller is Chris, who's with us from Santa Cruz, California.

Wolfowitz: Hello, gentlemen. To give you a little background about myself, I'm a former Army officer. And one of the comments that I have is that right now it seems that the Army, and I believe the rest of the military as well, has a fairly old personnel system which moves people around fairly quickly. And particularly with today's people, in terms of officers, you're finding that spouses are completely unable to have any career. And that's why I left the Army, is because although I loved the work that I was doing, I found that I was forced to choose between my wife having a career and staying in the military. I'm wondering what you think could be done about that.

Wolfowitz: Well, I think you must be reading some of Secretary Rumsfeld's internal memos because he has been commenting regularly on the fact that we need to keep people in their jobs longer, for a slightly different reason than the one you emphasized, although that's an important reason. But he says, look, if people rotate out of their jobs after 12 or 18 months, and we see an unfortunately large number who do that, they don't even have time to learn what their mistakes are, much less to learn from their mistakes. And he has been pushing, in general, particularly at senior ranks, for longer tour lengths.

But your raise another point, which was put to me most strikingly by Senator Inouye, our great senator from Hawaii, who was badly wounded in World War II and probably has a Congressional Medal of Honor to his name. He mentioned that when he was in a military hospital at the end of World War II, 97 percent of the patients were single males like himself. If you go into a military hospital today, half the patients are dependents of military personnel.

We have a military that is made up of families, not just individuals, and we need to think in our personnel system about how to manage to do that better. A lot of attention goes into it, in spite of the concerns you mention. It's not as though military leadership has been ignoring this problem, but I think we still have some distance to go to catch up, and particularly on the point about employment for spouses is something we really need to pay some attention to.

Caller: Sir, one suggestion I would have would be instituting something along the lines of a regimental system where people could stay in one area and then be sent off of the installation for a special tour of duty, for example recruiting or to Korea, something like that, so that they can -- and what is these days a dirty word, they can homestead, stay in one place, have a stable family life as well as a more stable unit structure, so you don't get the brain dump that happens after a major deployment where all of a sudden everybody changes command, everybody goes into new jobs.

Wolfowitz: I know the Army is looking at some of the ways in which the Marine Corps and the Navy manage their units, which I think is a little closer to the system you describe. But it is -- you have to admit this, it is an incredibly complex operation to manage an organization of 300,000, 400,000, 500,000 people almost, in the case of the Army, and that's just the active duty force.

Conan: Thanks very much for the call, Chris.

Mr. Secretary, you were talking earlier about your stints in the Defense Department and the State Department. Is there always tension between Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon?

Wolfowitz: I'm not sure there's even -- there are always reports of tension. I just came from a serious policy lunch with my counterparts from State and the CIA and the NSC staff, and we discussed a lot of serious issues without any tension whatsoever, but there were differences in view, and I think it's healthy to have those differences in view. And I think that really makes a difference, and I've seen it both ways.

Right now we have a president who encourages that kind of debate, and then when the time comes to make a decision he's perfectly comfortable making the decision. And my experience has been that once the president decides something, people get together and work as a team and understand that you can't really have two decision-makers, you can only have one, but you can have lots of different sources of advice.

Conan: Tom Gjelten, Secretary Wolfowitz said one of those times of tension between Pentagon and State was undoubtedly in the Clinton administration, especially back when General Powell was chairman. And he wrote, of course famously, in his memoir that Madeline Albright once criticized him, or asked him what's the purpose of having a military if you're not willing to use it? She was of course interested in Bosnia. There seemed to be kind of a reversal of roles in those days when the diplomats were more in favor of the use of force than the people in the military were.

Now General Powell is at the State Department and you and Secretary Rumsfeld are at the Pentagon. Are we seeing now sort of a return to the normal situation where the State Department is more interested in using diplomacy to resolve international issues, and the military leadership, both in civilian and the uniform side, is more willing to consider the use of force?

Wolfowitz: You know, my experience over a long period of time has been that the military are always among the most reluctant to advocate the use of force, and it's, I think, for two reasons. The obvious one is that they're the people most likely to suffer the consequences if there's a mistake. But I quite honestly think that there's something deeper, because these are brave people who have volunteered to risk their lives, if necessary, for their country. I think there's a certain respect for the idea that if the nation makes a decision to go to war, it should be the civilian leadership who clearly have that responsibility. And to some extent, I think our military feels a little bit stunned by the Vietnam War, where the decisions were really made by the civilians but the military acted in such a way that they ended up being, I think in their view, somewhat unfairly blamed for it.

Conan: Let me ask you a little bit more about -- we talked about it briefly earlier, but this idea of preemptive strikes. Can you talk to us for a moment about, I guess, the moral underpinnings of this idea -- of this policy where one country, the United States, says if we think that you are going to attack us, we're just going to go in and take action. Can you talk to us about that?

Wolfowitz: We have this -- we're in a war today that is different from any kind of war we've ever fought before. It's different, for one thing, in the scale of the attack on the United States. It is the worst attack staged on the United States from abroad, I believe even worse than Pearl Harbor, and yet it hasn't been declared. The enemy is in the shadows. We don't know fully who the enemy is. We know some of the people involved; we don't know everybody. And we know that that enemy is working on acquiring a range of weapons -- chemical, biological, nuclear weapons -- that would make what happened on September 11th look like a relatively minor event. And we can't wait until they have those weapons before we do something to prevent it. And that's what the president has been talking about, that's what the vice president has been talking about. We are a county at war, and the people who associate with our enemies, who give help to our enemies should be treated as enemies.

Conan: Yet there is also an international order. There is the United Nations, there was what the president's father used to call the new world order, where -- after the Cold War it was a situation where you couldn't necessarily count on the Soviet veto in the Security Council anymore. It seemed to be a world where nations could talk to each other and try to work things out, and when they didn't work out, to work in concert as, again, they did in the Gulf War. What's different now?

Wolfowitz: For one thing, something fundamental is not different, which is the right of self defense, which is clearly recognized in the United Nations Charter and which I believe is clearly what the United States is doing today, in fact much more clearly in a certain sense than 11 years ago when we weren't directly attacked but we were coming to the aid of a country, i.e. Kuwait, that was attacked. But it is a different kind of enemy, an enemy that's harder to identify, an enemy that works in the shadows and one of whose main strengths is their ability to hide.

But we're not talking about just arbitrarily taking action against anyone who, in our worst paranoid fears, we think might someday do something to us. We're talking about people who are associated with people who have killed thousands of Americans already and are actively plotting today to kill tens of thousands if not millions.

Conan: Does the United States have a special responsibility, and I guess a special vulnerability as the only remaining superpower?

Wolfowitz: Certainly we have a unique and important role in the world, and I think a great many countries, I'd say the great bulk of countries understand that and fundamentally appreciate it. But I think that word superpower to some extent exaggerates our power. And you could almost say when there were two superpowers and people needed our help to protect them from the other superpower, in some cases we had more influence.

But there's no question, I believe, that the United States has an opportunity to build a world order, to contribute -- not build, it's too strong a word, but to help contribute to a world order in which countries and people can decide their futures for themselves. And I think that's what best serves America's interests. That fits with America's ideals and, I think -- you know, for all this talk about power, the great power of the United States is not our military power or even our economic power. I think the great power of the United States is the ideals that we have stood for for more than 200 years, and that are the aspirations I think of the great bulk of the world's people.

Conan: (In progress) -- is with us from Boise, Idaho.

Caller: Hello, sir. I had a question. This country is based on -- business and personal lives are based upon meeting our objectives and being in the military in the past, we always had a mission or had an objective where we could see an end result. And my concern is, although I have great pride and respect for the leadership of this country, I don't see an exit strategy, so I just want to understand what you thought the exit strategy for this war on terror would be.

Wolfowitz: Well, we're not looking for an exit, we're looking for success, and I think success is going to be measured when the American people no longer have to worry that there might be a terrorist attack on the Fourth of July, and the fact that that may not come overnight or even come quickly doesn't mean that it isn't going to come eventually. You know, if you think about the 40-plus years of the Cold War, there were many periods of time when some people became impatient, said, you know, let's give it up, there's no end in sight here. They didn't use the word exit strategy back then, but they might have said there's no exit strategy, and yet the American people showed extraordinary perseverance throughout that long struggle even in the face of some really major setbacks like Vietnam. And the end result was a huge strategic victory that led to the peaceful collapse of our enemy and the liberation of hundreds of millions of people from totalitarian rule and a world that is today much safer I believe overall and certainly much freer than it was before.

We -- in this war on terrorism, it's going to take time. I don't think it's 40 years, but it is going to take time, but we made a great deal of progress in just the first six months of this struggle and I don't think the final outcome is in much doubt.

Conan: George, thanks for the call.

Caller: Thank you.

Conan: Let's see if we can squeeze in a call from Mark in Buffalo, New York. Hello, Mark, you're on the air.

Caller: Hello. I came in to this conversation a little late and I don't even know who I exactly am addressing the question to.

Conan: Well, I hope it's to Secretary Wolfowitz, because I'm not going to have too many answers for you.

Caller: (Laughter.) All righty. Very good. I'm wondering why -- if we were interested in catching Osama bin Laden or, you know, getting him, why we would give him so much warning? Why didn't we do this in a covert manner? You know what I'm saying? It seems odd to me when I think about it, it's like why give him all this fanfare and let him know we're coming after him?

Wolfowitz: Well, I'd say two things. First of all, there wasn't much way to go after him when he was in Afghanistan except in a pretty large scale, but more importantly, I think you're making an assumption that is common but I think is fundamentally wrong, which is that Osama bin Laden is a problem. For all we know, he might even be dead today -- I'm not saying he is, we don't know -- but even if he were dead, hundreds of al Qaeda terrorists that have burrowed in all over the world, including here in the United States, remain extremely dangerous, and this is not a network that depends on one man.

I have said sometimes -- I said it last week in Senate testimony that it's a mistake to think of this organization as though it were a poisonous snake and if you just cut off its head, the rest of the snake is no longer dangerous. It's, I think -- the analogy that I find most helpful in thinking about what this plague of terrorism is like, it's like a disease that has infected a healthy body and you've got to go after the infection and all the different places that it's burrowed in.

Conan: We're spending this hour with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Back after a short break. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to "Talk of the Nation from NPR News."

Conan: Our guest this hour, Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense who is at our office at the Pentagon. Also with us here in Studio 3A is NPR national security correspondent Tom Gjelten. Our telephone number is 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address, totn@npr.org and Tom, why don't you start?

Gjelten: Well, Secretary, I wanted to ask you about the U.S. -- this administration's concerns about the International Criminal Court. The United States had vetoed on Sunday the resolution to continue the UN police training and assistance mission in Bosnia because of the concern that U.S. forces there participating in that mission might be exposed to ICC prosecution.

Now, you're somebody who has followed Bosnia for many years from before your time in this current round in the Pentagon, and I'm sure you know how important it is to train police forces there in Bosnia. Is your opposition, your concerns about the International Criminal Court so great that you would be willing to jeopardize the future of that police training mission in Bosnia?

Wolfowitz: We're still committed to keeping our troops in Bosnia, but we believe that when the resolution to provide the mandate for those troops is being considered, it ought to deal with what is increasingly a concern for us, which is that our peacekeepers in Bosnia and elsewhere in the world are potentially going to be subject to the jurisdiction of a court that has essentially no political supervision over it and prosecutors who are free to potentially try people on very political charges. We don't believe that that's kind of threat that we should expose our people to gratuitously. And we think there's every reason to continue the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, we're completely committed to it, and there's every reason to have a UN resolution that provides that kind of protection for the peacekeepers. Frankly, we think it's some of our allies that are being a bit unreasonable, and we hope to persuade them to our point of view.

Gjelten: Is your concern about the International Criminal Court the vulnerability that U.S. servicemen and women would have to its prosecution, or do you have a larger philosophical concern about the very idea of an international court that would enforce international humanitarian law and the rules of war?

Wolfowitz: You know, we've supported a number of international courts, including the one that's operating in The Hague right now, that is trying more criminals -- ironically -- for their crimes in Bosnia, but those courts have been established under UN Security Council supervision and with appropriate safeguards.

Our objection to this whole treaty is that there were none of those safeguards included when this treaty was negotiated. We think it was a very defective effort to accomplish a potentially laudable goal.

Conan: Our next caller is Robert who is with us from Carlsbad, California.

Caller: Yes, sir, I was wondering if the deputy secretary would think that this current terrorism war is different than World War II and that the public should be able to question the president on his unethical entanglement with Enron without being called unpatriotic?

Wolfowitz: (Chuckles.) I don't know which of those assumptions to challenge. The president had no entanglement with Enron, and nobody is saying that people can't debate and discuss Enron without being called unpatriotic. I haven't heard anyone in any way suggest that this isn't an appropriate subject for public debate. Indeed, the senior members of the Congress have been very free to question the conduct of the war itself. It's not unpatriotic to do so.

Conan: Robert, thanks for the call.

Caller: Okay.

Conan: Here's an e-mail question from Joe Moran in Kansas City. "When do we get Hussein out of Iraq?" he writes. "What will our occupation time frame be?"

Wolfowitz: What the president has said and said very clearly -- he said it in the State of the Union message, he said it more recently in his speech at West Point -- is that we have a problem. Certain countries -- and Iraq is clearly one of them -- have been open in their expressions of hostility to the United States, have been actively supporting terrorists and terrorist networks, and have nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and are developing more of them, and that is a very, very dangerous deadly combination, which we can't live with indefinitely. Exactly what the timetable is for dealing with them is different in the case of each country, and the most important decisions here are decisions that only the president can make.

I do think, though, in terms of thinking about what Iraq might be like with a different regime, it's not only a danger that can be avoided, but I believe there's an opportunity to liberate one of the most talented populations in the Arab world. The people of Iraq historically have been among the most skilled, most educated people in the Arab world, and several million of them are now in exile because of what a horrible regime exists there. And I think a post-Saddam Iraq could be a major force for good in this world and in this struggle for toleration and moderation against terrorism.

Gjelten: In 1991, your former boss, Dick Cheney, and then-President Bush said that one of the reasons they did not go to Baghdad was the idea that, well, we might still be there, the United States would be an occupying power in a Middle East country, which would be an extremely difficult operation to sustain. Do you foresee that if there should be an operation authorized by the president?

Wolfowitz: I think there are many reasons. Frankly, I don't believe at the time most people believed that Saddam Hussein would still be around 11 years later and capable of doing the kinds of things he's capable of. And you know, we've seen on September 11th a shadow, an inkling of what that kind of danger is, so there's a matter of a danger to be prevented, but I also believe that, as I said a few minutes ago, we're talking about very talented people with potentially enormous national resources. Unfortunately, the great bulk of Iraq's wealth today is squandered by this regime on building palaces and military weapons and weapons of mass destruction. I think there are plenty of human and material resources there to make a very prosperous, successful country.

Conan: Our next caller is Mary who is on the line from Rochester, Minnesota.

Caller: Thank you for taking my call. You were discussing earlier about the self-defense of the United States and our allies and going after our enemies before they strike us. I was wondering if that also would include the use of nuclear weapons? I'll hang up and listen to your answer. Thank you.

Conan: Okay. Thanks for the call Mary.

Wolfowitz: You know, for very good, prudential reasons, presidents -- and for that matter, secretaries of defense -- never rule out whatever options would be needed to defend and protect the people of the United States, but I do believe that we have more than ample conventional capability to deal with the problems that are facing us. The truth of the matter is that what we really need more of is not more military capability, but better intelligence, better ability to track these people down and find them.

The great bulk of the work in the war on terrorism is work that has to be done by intelligence and law enforcement agencies, but there's a very substantial interaction between the work that our military does and the work that our intelligence and law enforcement people do, and if I could take just a minute to elaborate what I mean by that, I'll give you one important example.

By depriving al Qaeda of their sanctuary in Afghanistan, our intelligence and law enforcement people were able to capture one of the leading terrorists, Abu Zubaydah, and he, in turn, led us to this man, Padilla, who was sneaking into the United States to set off a number of different possible explosive devices.

Similarly, we captured a videotape in an al Qaeda safe house in Afghanistan which led us to a terrorist ring in Singapore, which the Singaporean police wrapped up and in the course of wrapping it up, it led them to terrorists in Malaysia and in the Philippines. So this is a trail that leads all around the world and sometimes the military plays an active role in uncovering that trail, but we're not by any means the only or the principal instrument for doing so.

Conan: We've read recently of al Qaeda appearing to have new sources of income, that new weaponry has been showing up in Afghanistan. A, is that accurate? And B, any idea where that money is coming from?

Wolfowitz: Well, by the way, we also see reports -- complaints about lack of funding, so I think overall if you had to do it on a net basis that they're -- they have less resources now than they did in the past, but they obviously are doing what they can to rebuild some of the networks, some of the channels of funding and resources that were disrupted by our operation in Afghanistan. That's one of the reasons why this is a long struggle and why we have to keep at them. And as your question suggests, there are clearly some efforts to revive their capability in Afghanistan. Clearly, one of their high priority goals is to kill American troops in that country, but I certainly wouldn't put any bets on their long-term chances there.

Conan: You're listening to "Talk of the Nation" from NPR News.

Secretary Wolfowitz, can I ask you, do you see a linkage between the broader situation in the Middle East and the conflict that's going on between the Palestinians and the Israelis? Is there a political and a military linkage as well?

Wolfowitz: I think there is -- if I could take it even a step broader and I go back in part to my experience as ambassador in Indonesia where I served for three years and which has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, but it's one of only two countries -- Turkey being the other -- with a Muslim majority where Islam is not the state religion. Indonesia has 200 million Muslims, practice a very tolerant approach to religion and to religious matters and great respect for other religions in their country, but I think there is something of a struggle in the Muslim world between that point of view -- the tolerant, open-minded point of view, which I think in their hearts is what most Muslims aspire to, and this extremist, almost medieval view that is represented by the Taliban and some of the more extreme regimes in the Middle East. And there's no question that al Qaeda and the Taliban and people like them would really like to condemn Muslims to that medieval way of living, to put women under burqas as they did in Afghanistan; that is to cover them totally, and I think there is this larger struggle and I do believe as part of your question that, unfortunately, this more specific struggle between Arabs and Israelis over a very historically rich but tiny little piece of geography there in the eastern Mediterranean plays into the larger struggle, and it is one of the reasons why I do believe it is so important to try to achieve a political settlement of that tragic conflict between Arabs and Israelis.

It seemed so within reach a couple of year ago when Ehud Barak was the prime minister of Israel and the Israelis made an offer that some people didn't believe they were capable of, and unfortunately, the Palestinian leadership wasn't able to take advantage of that opportunity. Hopefully, we can create conditions where it will come around again, but after the violence of the last year and a half, particularly the last few months, it's not going to be easy.

Conan: Your family suffered in the Holocaust. You are widely known as a supporter of the State of Israel, both in and out of government. A few months ago, you were speaking before a pro-Israeli rally here in Washington, D.C. and when you happened to mention that there were people other than Israelis suffering in the Middle East, you got booed. What was that like?

Wolfowitz: Well, you know, I got a letter shortly after from Mayor Koch of New York City who pointed out to me that our ambassador in Bahrain, Ambassador Newman, had a corresponding experience from the opposite direction when at a school where they had a moment of silence for Palestinian children who had been dying recently, that he suggested a moment of silence also for Israeli children, and he didn't just get booed; there were people in the streets demonstrating against this horrible demonstration of humanity on the part of Ambassador Newman.

I think both episodes illustrate how strong the passions become when this kind of suicide bombing and terrorism takes place and how much more difficult it is to reach reasonable solutions when people are suffering, but as I said in that speech, I do think that the key to everything is if the terrorism can be ended, I believe the Israeli occupation can be ended. I think there is a very clear set of notions -- maybe clear is too strong a word because there's a lot of fuzz around the edges -- but there's a reasonably strong consensus about what a final outcome ought to look like, and if people would just settle down and deal with these things at the negotiating table instead of through terrorism, I believe we could get there and get there relatively quickly.

Conan: Secretary Wolfowitz, thank you so much for joining us this hour.

Wolfowitz: Thank you. It didn't seem like an hour. It went so quickly.

Conan: That's the way we like it. Paul Wolfowitz is deputy secretary of Defense and he spoke with us from our office at the Pentagon. Special thanks to NPR's Tom Gjelten, who was in 3A and to our technical staff, Mitch Eaton, who was in Tom's office at The Pentagon to help Secretary Wolfowitz with the knobs and dials.