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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Greta Van Susteren, Fox News Channel

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
July 09, 2002 10:00 PM EDT

(Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Greta Van Susteren, Fox News Channel)

VAN SUSTEREN: As President Bush tackles the CEOs terrorizing your 401(k) accounts, he's also vowing to tackle Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Earlier, I spoke to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and asked him about the state of Al-Qaeda today.

WOLFOWITZ: Today is roughly just a couple days more than nine months since we started Operation Enduring Freedom, and we've accomplished a lot in that period of time. But, people should understand this is an organization that has burrowed in all over the world. We estimate some 60 countries that have or have had Al-Qaeda presence. Afghanistan is only one of them.

And I think sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that Al-Qaeda is like a snake, and that if you can just find the head and cut it off, it would be harmless. And it's absolutely the wrong analogy. What I think is the better way to understand it, it's like an infection that has taken over a healthy body, and you've got to fight all of the various different sources of infection. From that point of view, I think we've made a great deal of progress. But if we let up the pressure, it will come back, and you see all kinds of signs that they continue to try to regroup and reorganize, and we've got to keep them on the run.

VAN SUSTEREN: Any clue, the 60 countries is one indication, any clue the number of people who are part of Al-Qaeda? Can you quantify it, or is that impossible?

WOLFOWITZ: You can come up with numbers, but in some ways they're misleading because -- take September 11th, for example, there were four or five people who were the key people who were the pilots and who knew they were on a suicide mission. From what we can tell, most of the others, the 14 or 15 kind of mules that were sent in at the last minute, from what bin Laden said in that weird tape that he was recorded on, he took some pleasure in the fact that they didn't even know they were on a suicide mission. So, the number of people that are really key to this organization is probably much smaller than the number in the hundreds of people who have some loose affiliation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Any ability to sort of quantify, I mean, how many people are in the know, the important members of Al-Qaeda, the numbers of those people?

WOLFOWITZ: Well, we do try to get our hands around what seems like the top ones on the list, and there are, in fact, wanted posters out on the major ones. And, from what one can tell -- I really hesitate here, not only because they're classified, but because we're talking about an organization about which a lot is not known. I think we're talking about in the dozens of key people, not in the hundreds.

On the other hand, until we've nearly eliminated their ability to organization, eliminated their sanctuaries, you have to assume that if you get rid of some of the top people others will replace them.

VAN SUSTEREN: You said it's not a snake where you can cut off the head and the whole thing dies. But, if bin Laden is killed and/or captured, and Al-Zubari, his number two, is killed or captured, does that change the dynamics of the organization so much that that puts us significantly ahead of the game?

WOLFOWITZ: I think every time you get one of these top, any of them, but every time you get one of these top people, I think it has a big pay off. Abu Zubaydah, for example, who was -- it's not a hierarchical structure, but we said he's probably the number three in the organization, he was captured. And, by the way, he would not have been captured except because we drove him out of Afghanistan through the success of our military operation there, he was captured in a neighboring country. He has now given us information that has led to some other people, including this man, Padilla, the American citizen who was arrested in Chicago. Every time you catch one, especially if you can get them to reveal some information, or you can get some information out of their computers that leads you to others -- we got a videotape out of an Al-Qaeda safehouse in Afghanistan. It revealed a plot underway in Singapore. The Singaporians picked up the whole group, that led them to other people in the Philippines, in Malaysia and Indonesia. It's chasing down a network, and you get one node in the network and it leads you to other nodes.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it's so enormously complicated, it's so large, and the president has said, this is going to be a long war. We're looking into the future, how will we know when the war is over? Is there a way to tell?

WOLFOWITZ: Well, I think we will know, but it's not going to be because there's a great surrender ceremony on the deck of the Missouri. There are many things that are unusual about this war, one of the things that's most unusual is, on the one hand, in terms of the number of Americans killed directly, in terms of the threat to the United States, in terms of the ongoing threat of the potential of chemical and biological weapons, this is, in some respects, as big as any war we've fought. And, at the same time, it's against an enemy that hides, an enemy that is in important ways invisible.

VAN SUSTEREN: But if you --

WOLFOWITZ: And victory is going to be measured by what doesn't happen as opposed to what does happen. When Americans can go to malls and shopping centers and not have to worry about being hit by terrorists, and we don't think that on any moment there might be a suicidal airplane attack, then we'll know that we've dealt with it. I think there will be lots of indications that this network is gone, but the indications are that it's weakened, but it's still very much there.

VAN SUSTEREN: Standby, sir, we're going to take a short break.

WOLFOWITZ: Okay.

VAN SUSTEREN: We'll be right back.

VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back. I want to focus on Iraq. Is there a plan? I know that I've heard that there is a concept for the United States to go into Iraq. Do we take it one step further and call it a plan?

WOLFOWITZ: We get into semantics here. There are obviously a lot of serious discussions going on because the president has said very clearly, as a country, we face a very serious problem. In certain ways, September 11th is a wake up call. We've had problems. They've been out there. Terrorism has been an evil aspect of international relations for a long time. But September 11th reminded us just how dangerous terrorism is in this new era when terrorists have access to weapons of mass destruction, and there could be much worse things than, as bad as it was, than airplanes loaded with 300,000 pounds of jet fuel.

What the president talked about in the State of the Union message was countries, and Iraq is one of them, that have weapons of mass destruction, that is chemical, biological, and possibly nuclear weapons, that are working on getting more of those weapons, that have, as a matter of national policy been supporting terrorists, and are hostile to the United States. That's a deadly mixture that we can't continue living with indefinitely.

VAN SUSTEREN: Does he have a delivery system to get those deadly weapons here to the United States?

WOLFOWITZ: Well, one delivery system are terrorists, and we learned that on September 11th. You don't have to have a long-range missile necessarily to deliver a deadly weapon, especially if it's powdered anthrax, for example. That doesn't need a long-range missile.

VAN SUSTEREN: What would it take to go into Iraq? Do we need support of the Kurds?

WOLFOWITZ: You know, what the president has done is lay out a plan. And he's got a lot of smart people working and figuring out what kind of solution there would be. But I think one thing that's very important in understanding this whole problem, and in a sense you could say there's a certain generalization here, every regime that I know of that supports terrorism as a matter of national policy also terrorizes their own people. That was true of the Taliban, and that's why when we succeeded in removing the Taliban in Afghanistan, we received such a welcome from the Afghan people. I think it's nothing compared to what the Iraqi people will say and do when they're rid of Saddam Hussein. That includes the Kurds, but it's much more than just the Kurds. The Shi'a in the south, who are the majority, roughly 60 percent of the population, have been brutally repressed by Saddam's regime for decades now. But even the Sunni Arabs who are sort of the core of the regime are, for the most part, terrified, repressed people. And I believe when there's a new regime in Iraq, and hopefully one that really speaks to the democratic possibilities of what is one of the most talented populations in the Arab world, you're going to see a great, huge national sigh of relief.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, you hear or read so much that the United States in order to be successful against Iraq must have support, must have support of European nations as well as Arab countries. Do we really need that, or could we do it alone?

WOLFOWITZ: Well, the more support you have, the better it is. There's no question about it. But, one of the things that gives the United States a great ability to protect our own interests and help other people is there is an awful lot we can do without other people helping us. And what you find, I think, frequently, is, if you go to people and say, we desperately have to have your help, they may decide they don't want to give it to you. If you go to people and say, we have to take certain actions that are in our national interest, and we would appreciate having you with us, but we're going to go anyway, you find a lot more people coming along.

I was with Secretary Cheney, it's 11 years ago now this coming August, when he went to Saudi Arabia right after Iraq invaded Kuwait. And he didn't go there simply asking for their help. He went there saying, here is what the United States is planning to do, and of course we'd like you with us. I think we got a positive reaction because we went there in a leadership role, not in a pleading role.

VAN SUSTEREN: You've had a long career in public service. You mentioned your service with now Vice President Cheney. You talk about your job, when you got your job, I mean, I assume you didn't realize what you were signing up for in terms of September 11th. What's the most gratifying part about it?

WOLFOWITZ: The sense that if you do your job right, you can help protect this country, and help make the world a better place.

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