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Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz interviewed by Juan Williams

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
October 30, 2003
           Q:  Good morning.

 

            Wolfowitz:  Good morning, Juan.  How are you?

 

            Q:  Fine, thanks.  And thanks for doing this.  I appreciate it very much.

 

            Wolfowitz:  I enjoy talking with you, actually.

 

            Q:  We're joined now by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.  Thanks for joining us, Mr. Wolfowitz.

 

            Wolfowitz:  It's a pleasure.

 

            Q:  Mr. Wolfowitz, at the National Security Council meeting Wednesday at the White House, is it true that the President was suggesting that the Iraqis play a greater role in patrolling the streets of Baghdad?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Juan, I wasn't in that meeting but I can tell you our whole thrust for months now has been to develop Iraqi security forces as quickly as possible, not just in Baghdad but throughout the country. We're having real success in that regard.

 

            We've got over 80,000 -- the number I've seen is 86,000 but I wouldn't quibble exactly, precisely.  The point is that since June 1st when we started with nothing, we're now building police, we're building civil defense forces, we're building border guards, we're building a new Iraqi army.  It makes a huge difference.

 

            I visited a police station on Sunday which was the target of a suicide bomber attack on Monday.  It was stopped by alert and brave Iraqi guards who shot at the driver, the car swerved.  Only the driver was injured badly.  We'll see if we can get some information from him.  He seems to be a Yemeni who was on a Syrian passport. 

 

            But Iraqis are fighting for their country.  That's a very important piece of news along with some of the bad news.

 

            Q:  But there is no indication or no directions for the Pentagon to increase the use of Iraqis, even shorten training for Iraqi soldiers and police forces in order to get them on the street?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Oh, we are looking at -- One of the purposes of my visit this past weekend was to look at ways in which that whole process could be accelerated and how money might be moved around.  One of the things I observed from all our commanders is that this new Iraqi Civil Defense Force which is more than a police force but less than a regular army, has already made a big difference.  We are looking at how to accelerate the expansion of that force.

 

            Q:  Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, is there any thought of putting more U.S. troops on the ground?

 

            Wolfowitz:  You know, everywhere you go our commanders say the solution to this problem, which is an internal security problem is having more Iraqi troops on the ground with us, both because it's their country and they need to fight for it, but also because they can do things that Americans can't do, no matter how well trained we are, no matter how well equipped we are, and we are certainly the best military in the world.  We don't speak Arabic, we don't know the neighborhoods, people don't have the same level of trust with us, so the combination of Americans and Iraqis is what seems to be working all over the country in important ways.

 

            Q:  What about internationalizing the military force in Iraq?  Is there any hope of that?  Or in fact has it been dashed somewhat since those seven Ukrainian soldiers were ambushed?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Actually, I visited down in that area.  I met with the commander of the multinational force.  It's in the Shia heartland where some people predicted we'd have all kinds of trouble after the regime fell.  It's one of the most stable parts of the country.  The multinational division commanded by a Polish general, I think he has 21 nations under his command including El Salvador, Spain, I could go with the long list.

 

            One of the interesting things is this Polish general said when Iraqis complained to him that there are power blackouts and unemployment, he said look, my country, Poland, more than ten years after we were liberated from the Soviet Union, we still have 18 percent unemployment and power blackouts, but we're making progress and we're certainly happy that we're rid of the Soviet dictatorship.

 

            It's interesting that a newly liberated country like Poland can speak to these Iraqis in a way that no American possibly can.

 

            Q:  Is it likely then, do you think more international cooperation will lead to more military forces on the ground?  But not U.S. forces, forces that would come from other countries?

 

            Wolfowitz:  One of the President's goals for Iraq is in fact to internationalize the force and thanks to his leadership and Secretary of State Powell we have now a third U.N. resolution since the end of the war and this one authorizes U.S. leadership of a multinational force under U.N. auspices.  I think that's going to help us get other international forces in.

 

            But the real key, again to cite the President's objectives, the real key for all of us is to give Iraqis the capacity to govern themselves, to defend themselves, to take care of their own economy as quickly as possible.

 

            Q:  Are you concerned about the growing sophistication, the effectiveness of the attacks on U.S. forces, and U.S. friends in Iraq, Iraqis who are cooperating with U.S. forces?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Of course.  You have to be.   But let's keep some perspective here.

 

            The Bhader Meinhoff Gang terrorized Germany for I don't know how many years with just a few dozen members.  We saw in this country what Timothy McVey and Terry Nichols were able to do on their own.  And more terrifyingly, I don't know, what was it, some 20 hijackers did on September 11th.

 

            Unfortunately in this business of terror, terrorists in very small numbers can wreak enormous havoc.  The way to beat them is to get an Iraqi government, Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi people taking care of their own country.  They sure as heck don't want it to go back to the Fedayeen Saddam and those criminals or the Islamic extremists who are arriving from Yemen and other places.

 

            Q:  Secretary Wolfowitz, different Administration officials say different things about the extent of foreign involvement in these attacks.  I wonder what's your assessment?  The President and Paul Bremer have said it's the people coming from outside, foreign terrorists.  General Odierno has said no, few foreign terrorists, it's mostly people who may have been loyal to the Ba'athist party.

 

            Wolfowitz:  Well the commanders that I spoke to who I think have the best feel on the ground, and General Odierno is one of them, would say, and even they have to make a lot of educated guesses.  These people don't exactly come forward and tell us what they're doing.  That's a basic problem.  One should recognize that intelligence is going to be imperfect on this kind of a subject.

 

            But I think they would say somewhere above 80 percent of the problem comes from Fedayeen Saddam and Secret Service people and other criminals from the former regime, and the remainder is extremist groups including one that's indigenous, the so-called Ansar al Islam, but Ansar al Islam is basically a subsidiary of al Qaeda.

 

            There are some indications that these people work together, even some indications that they've been working together for several years.  So I think it's a mixture and we've got to fight all of them.

 

            Q:  You mentioned a moment ago intelligence, and I wonder if you're satisfied with the quality of intelligence that's available so that you can stop these attacks?  I'm reminded that Carl Ford who just retired as head of the State Department's Intelligence Bureau is recently quoted as saying that all U.S. intelligence agencies have failed to provide the Administration with good information about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction as well.

 

            So there are two fronts there on the intelligence discussion.  I wonder if you can address them both.

 

            Wolfowitz:  Well the urgent important one is, if I can distinguish between the war we're fighting now and the prior history which is not unimportant but sometimes it seems to me almost as though we're trying to conduct the Pearl Harbor hearings in the middle of World War II. 

 

            The really important issue now is getting at the SOBs who are killing people.  Killing innocent people, killing American soldiers, and no, we're not satisfied with the quality or quantity of our intelligence.  Actually one of the problems in some respects is we are so overwhelmed with reports that sifting out the good from the bad is a real challenge.  So you want to do steadily better.

 

            I personally, and I think most of our commanders would say the key doesn't lie in some intelligence headquarters in Washington or in Baghdad.  The key lies in getting more Iraqis out fighting with us because they are natural intelligence collectors.  They can go in a neighborhood that they may even have grown up in that neighborhood.  The neighbors can tell them some strange folks were down here digging a hole.  Maybe the next group is going to put a bomb in it.  That kind of thing that comes from being able to read your own geography and read your own culture is, I think, in the end of the day going to give us the best intelligence.

 

            But something -- Carl Ford is a wonderful man.  He used to work for me.  He is a guy who says what he thinks.  But I have to say from what I've ready about his remarks, I think he's much too harsh on himself and on the intelligence community.

 

            Remember, this was an extremely hard target, and that's a euphemism in the intelligence business for saying Iraq was a place where people who -- You remember that old phrase during World War II where we tried to get people not to reveal secrets?  "Loose lips sink ships."  Well in Iraq, people who were guilty of having loose lips can have their tongues cut out or their children tortured before their eyes or their wives raped.  It produced a real conspiracy of silence which in very important parts of the country continue because a lot of people are still terrified of those people that are on the loose.

 

            So I think yes, we want to always look at how we can do better with our intelligence.  And let's remember before the previous war in 1991 we grossly underestimated Iraq's nuclear and chemical and biological capabilities.  Maybe there was a sort of over-correction.  I have no idea.

 

            But basically also I would say, the David Kay report already makes clear, that Saddam Hussein was in flagrant violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution.  We can argue about how much he had and whether he moved his program, and whether he was waiting to rebuild it, but he was hiding something pretty important.

 

            Q:  Secretary Wolfowitz, how can the United States persuade international relief organizations to come back to help rebuild Iraq when U.N. Headquarters, the International Red Cross headquarters, both bombed.  At this point the U.N., the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, have all withdrawn their staff.

 

            What's the message to those groups?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Look, that's exactly what the terrorists are trying to achieve.  And the Saddam loyalists.

 

            As the President said I think yesterday or the day before, it's dangerous in Iraq because there are people who can't stand the thought of a free and peaceful Iraq and they believe that we're soft, that the will of the United States and the international community can be shaken by suicide attacks, and to some extent they're successful.

 

            I think our challenge is to defeat them, and there are a lot of courageous, heroic people, both Iraqis and foreigners who are prepared to stand up to them.

 

            The hotel I was in was attacked on Sunday.  Sunday afternoon I visited the five most seriously wounded who were still in the hospital.  Not a single one of them said I wish I hadn't been here.  There was one State Department secretary who volunteered, came in from Guatemala.  She I think had only been there two weeks or maybe it's two months.  A very short time.  She was proud of having been there.  Another was a U.S. Army colonel who seemed to be in the worst shape.  He had an oxygen mask and they lifted it up so he could talk.  I asked him where are you from?  He said do you mean where do I live or are you asking about my accent?  I hadn't noticed his accent, but I said why don't you tell me both.  He said I'm from Arlington, Virginia but I grew up in Beirut, Lebanon.  I said which is worse?  He said oh, Beirut.  I said how do you feel about building a new Middle East, and he gave me a thumbs up and then asked to have a picture taken together.

 

            That's the spirit -- and among the five I visited, it's interesting.  One soldier, four civilians.  Among the civilians, one Brit, three Americans.  The three Americans were from the State Department, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Defense.  That Sunday when one of their number had been killed they were still all back at work at CPA Headquarters.

 

            There's a great deal of courage, and including among Iraqis who stand up in the face of death threats.

 

            Q:  I'm wondering also, to just go bake on the ground for a second, there are lots of ammunition depots that remain unguarded.  Apparently the borders are porous.  So how can you protect U.S. forces in that environment?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Well again, it's very imperfect but we continue to work on it and continue to make progress. General Odierno himself believes that we've now achieved a high level of security along the Iranian border in his sector.

 

            Remember, a big part of border controls is not more forces, it's an ability to check passports and make sure that people aren't getting through in the legal crossing points, and then you try to kill or capture the one who come across illegally.

 

            It's a mixed picture but I think the key is in fact both better documentation and better controls at the checkpoints and then more Iraqi border guards, which is another one of the pieces we're looking at accelerating.

 

            Q:  Secretary Wolfowitz, as the top intelligence official in the Pentagon, Army lieutenant general Jerry Boykin has to deal with counterparts from other countries including Arab and Islamic countries.  How can he win their trust and their cooperation in the war against terrorism when he's said demeaning things about their religion?

 

            Wolfowitz:  You know, General Boykin has asked to have an investigation of his comments and what he said and I think in those circumstances I don't want to comment on his particular case.

 

            But the President has been clear, all of us have been clear, the enormous respect that we have for mainstream Islam which is the overwhelming percentage of Muslims.  I, just to speak personally, I had the privilege of being invited to speak at a memorial service here in Washington for Mohammed Dakar Al Hakeim who was the Shia leader who was brutally murdered in that bombing in Najaf back in August, and I went and I recited the Fatiha which is one of their prayers in Arabic -- I learned it when I was Ambassador to Indonesia.  I was told because of that his brother, who is his successor in the organization, invited me to have dinner with him when I was in Baghdad.  We had a fascinating discussion for two or three hours Sunday night.  I can tell you, he didn't have any doubt about our attitude toward Islam as a country I mean the U.S. attitude toward Islam as a country.  And he was eloquent, really eloquent in talking about his personal and his family's belief in religious tolerance and the steps they had made over many years to reach out to Christians and to Jews.

 

            So I think that's where we need to keep our focus.  I know General Boykin well enough to know that he's not only an incredibly heroic soldier who's been wounded almost quite a bit, several times, and that is going to affect your view about the universe and about God, but he also believes that the mainstream of the Muslim community are our allies, not our enemies.

 

            Q:  Secretary Wolfowitz, I'd ask Hollin's indulgence for just a second.  Let me ask one more.

 

            I want to ask you to look into your crystal ball and describe what you expect to see in Iraq a year from now.  Will they have their own government?  Will the security situation be stabilized?  Will economic recovery be in place?

 

            Wolfowitz:  Yogi Berra, that great Yankee catcher and philosopher once said it's dangerous to make predictions, especially about the future.  [Laughter]  But I guess I will say this, without saying where we'll be a year from now, is that on all of those fronts that you mentioned we'll be a lot further along.

 

            Q:  All right, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.  Thanks so much for doing this.  We appreciate it.

 

            Wolfowitz:  Thank you.

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