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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Associated Press

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
September 11, 2002

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

(Interview with Thelma LeBrecht, Associated Press)

Q: Mr. Secretary, September 11th. What does that date mean to you?

Wolfowitz: Obviously it's the day this country was attacked in a vicious way, a horrible way and I think it's changed the whole world. It certainly changed I think the understanding of Americans, our stake in the world. It's always been large, but I think there was a bit of a tendency after the end of the Cold War to begin to think we could ignore what was going on outside us. We can't afford to do that.

But we confront a threat that's completely different from the ones we've confronted in the past. The challenges are enormous. But I'm also absolutely confident this country has risen to that challenge and will continue to do so.

Churchill after the attack on Pearl Harbor which was a similar shocking surprise for this country commented on the fact that the United States was like a giant boiler, and once the fire is lighted underneath it there's no limit to the power it can generate. I think the terrorists have already discovered that they've lit a fire under this gigantic boiler and I think they will live to regret it.

Q: On September 11th, how soon was it on that date that you and the Defense Secretary realized this nation was going to be going to war?

Wolfowitz: Well, it depends on what you mean by going to war. I think we realized almost immediately that we were at war, that we had been attacked. We didn't start this war, they did. If you mean when did we realize we would actually be sending troops to Afghanistan, I think it was September 20th, if I remember, that the President gave the order to begin that planning.

It's worth pointing out because in the Department of Defense I think we are often criticized and I think often unfairly for being slow and cumbersome, it's a great credit to our military that in the space of basically two weeks they put a plan together to send troops to a country that nobody had ever dreamed of sending troops before and they obviously did it spectacularly well.

Q: It's now been a year in Afghanistan. What is the latest with al Qaeda? Has it been damaged? What about the al Qaeda remnants now moving back from Pakistan? How do you assess the al Qaeda now in Afghanistan?

Wolfowitz: Before we get too deep into Afghanistan let's remember al Qaeda has cells we estimate in some 60 countries around the world including obviously very important dangerous ones here in the United States. Hamburg, Germany was one of the headquarters for the September 11th hijackers, so they've been all over and this is a worldwide war against them and we're getting cooperation from much more than 60 countries in going after them.

The military campaign itself, obviously, is focused on Afghanistan and I think it's achieved some very big successes. We've killed and captured a lot of them, we've forced others to run and once they run they're more vulnerable. In fact we captured one key terrorist in Pakistan because he had had to flee Afghanistan. We've gotten evidence in Afghanistan that's led us to terrorists in places as far away as Singapore and Morocco.

So the basic point I believe is we've made major gains against al Qaeda, major gains against the terrorists. We've disrupted a lot of plans, but there are still a great many of them out there and we need to be very careful, very vigilant, and we need to keep the pressure on.

Q: What about the al Qaeda that's now moving across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan? Is that a growing problem now? What is the latest on that?

Wolfowitz: I think it's a persistent problem. I think we're making steady progress but it's wild, wild country, it's very high mountains, many of them going up above 20,000 feet. The government of Pakistan traditionally has not had a great deal of authority in those areas. It's almost ungoverned area so people move back and forth across the border. That's why we continue to have to maintain combat troops in Afghanistan. We still are killing and capturing these people on an almost daily basis. I don't think they're growing, but I think they are going to be a problem for some time to come and one of the things that does potentially get worse over time as they have a chance to regroup and design their tactics and figure out what we're up to, so it's a constantly changing enemy and we have to be constantly changing our approach to them.

Q: What about the security situation now in Afghanistan. Of course you're aware of the car bombing last week, the assassination attempt on Hamid Karzai. What is your concern about the security situation there?

Wolfowitz: We're very concerned about it but I would also caution, I read something that suggests that security in Afghanistan has collapsed. That's rather absurd, actually. Let's think about where it was a year ago. It was under the control of a tyrannical regime that had several million people on the edger of famine who were their enemies. Nobody was safe in that country.

It's been a huge, huge step forward to liberate that country, to install a civilian government that was elected by traditional Afghan representative processes, and I think a lot of the violence including, we may well find out, the assassination attempt on Karzai are the product of remnants of the old regime that are still around that are still trying to kill us and kill our allies and make way again for terrorists.

There are some other problems that are much more local in nature and in dealing with those our main strategy is to build up the Afghan National Army. That's going to take some time but I think we're making progress in that area.

Q: Let me just follow up a little bit. You said that you suspect al Qaeda might be involved in it. Can you elaborate on that at all?

Wolfowitz: Not necessarily al Qaeda. I was alluding to the possibility of the Taliban as well.

I don't think we know in detail, but we certainly have a lot of intelligence that the remnants of al Qaeda and Taliban are actively plotting to kill Americans, to kill Karzai, to conduct acts of terrorism in Afghanistan. A bomb went off in Kabul also. This was Muslims killing Muslims, it must be pointed out, not Muslims killing foreign infidels.

We're dealing with some pretty awful people whose way of operating is to kill rather randomly and we'll obviously have to find out much more about who was behind the attempt against Karzai, but it should not be a surprise given what we know about the intentions of these people that there are going to be violent acts directed particularly at us and our allies.

Q: What's your latest thought about expansion of the international security assistance force and the U.S. military doing something with that?

Wolfowitz: It's an important question. I must say to me it's a little bit puzzling when I go up to the Congress, for example, and all they talk about is expanding the International Security Assistant Force. We asked for some $100 million in authority to draw on our budget to build up the Afghan National Army and the Congress wouldn't give us that money.

I think the first priority needs to be with the Afghan National Army. I think the second priority has to be the sustained, the current mission of the International Security Assistance Force which is in Kabul where it's performing a very important role.

I would point out, by the way, we've had some serious bombings and problems in Kabul itself including just recently, so the International Security Assistance Force is not the answer to all the security problems of the country either, but sustaining its mission in Kabul is important and that takes some effort. Countries have been slow to volunteer. Turkey very bravely stepped into the breach after six months when the British said we can't lead this any more. The Turks said we'll take it for six months. Our number one task right now is to find another country to take over after Turkey's six months are up.

Our third priority I guess I would say is to look at the possibility of enlarging ISAF, if I can use that acronym. It's easier than saying International Security Assistance Force every time, to enlarge the peacekeeping force. And if we can get more countries or countries participating to put in more troops one can imagine the missions they might do in particular places around the country. But no one should be under the illusions that you can create the kind of peacekeeping force for Afghanistan that has worked I would say remarkably well in Bosnia and in Kosovo. Those are very small places where once the fighting was over the remaining law and order problems were relatively minor.

In Kosovo I believe we put in 60,000 peacekeepers and on a per square mile basis to have that many peacekeepers in Afghanistan you would need I think on the order of three million. This is a huge country, it's a mountainous country, it's got formidable deserts and it's got very very tough people, so we have to work with Afghan mechanisms to produce long-term stability.

Q: Let me just follow up. You before said you no longer oppose an expansion. Is there in some distant possible future that the U.S. might actually take part in an expansion?

Wolfowitz: We never opposed expansion. We've tried to make it very clear that we don't oppose expansion. I think the exact missions for a larger ISAF are ones that have to be considered very carefully and in that context you have to think through very carefully what the proper role is for the United States.

One point that people don't think about enough, we are there actively fighting the most dangerous, vicious people in the country. We don't want those people to start targeting ISAF as one of their missions in life. If Americans are in both roles, that's one of the things that starts to happen.

So there are Americans in the command element in ISAF. The United States plays a crucial role in providing logistics, intelligence, and emergency support for that force so it's not as if it's a hands-off approach, but there is a certain division of labor which I think has served us very well so far, and if we're to change it it's something we're going to have to think very carefully about.

Q: and let me ask you, on the war on terrorism we have gone into the Philippines, Yemen, and it's been militarily sort of quiet of late. What is the latest plan, how many other countries do you think might benefit from that sort of similar approach? Is there any thought to expanding that now, the war on terrorism, militarily to other countries?

Wolfowitz: We continue to work with the Philippines. Our active presence is much smaller but the success that we had there has encouraged us to move more vigorously with the Philippines on building up their own capabilities and training their people to do the job.

In Yemen we're still at an early stage. We're hopeful that they will become more energetic in pursuing some very dangerous people whom we know are in remote parts of that country. That's the purpose of our training. We're still -- I would not say we've achieved anything like the cooperation or the success in Yemen that we achieved in the Philippines.

We're doing some training in Georgia, the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, not the state of Georgia, where there are some very bad actors who are using, these are al Qaeda people from the Middle East are using the Chechnyan issue to make trouble in Russia.

There are other -- Beyond that it would be a mistake for me to try to predict where there might be a more active American military role, but again, this is not just a military problem. It is very much a problem of intelligence and law enforcement. We're arresting people every day. We're searching ships every day. So it's a worldwide effort. The risk of a common jargon inside the Beltway is an interagency effort, that is it's cooperation between the FBI, the CIA, the Treasury Department, Defense Department, State Department, all of us are working together.

Q: How severe a threat is there for the terror threat for America today? For the anniversary? How imminent might another terror attack be?

Wolfowitz: I think one of the basic points that is very important to understand and it also goes to the heart of the discussion about Iraq is that our intelligence, while it can do some wonderful things and we can find out, particularly through our amazing technical means things that really are mind boggling, we're dealing with people who, one of their few strengths is there ability to operate in great secrecy and they are quite successful at it. That word imminent that you used, in my view is just not the right word to use. We're very rarely going to get intelligence that points to the imminence of a threat, just as we're very rarely going to get proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that standard which is totally appropriate in the criminal justice system, just doesn't apply in the area of national defense. We have all kinds of hearings going on about why weren't the dots connected before September 11th? Well, it's a useful discussion to have. It's particularly useful if it will enlighten people to the idea that you can have a lot of docks, and if you insist on you can't connect them until the threat is imminent, you're really almost saying you won't connect them until the threat's already happened.

What the President has been saying is in the face of countries that are hostile to us, openly hostile, openly consorts with terrorists, and that have weapons of mass destruction and developing more, we simply can't wait until after something terrible happens.

Q: And that is the argument, the policy the President has established on Iraq. What is the threat that you can now say, as many lawmakers are saying, they haven't heard enough about a threat from Iraq that is new that would justify military action.

Wolfowitz: The President just started making our case last week and we're going to be making it very vigorously. He's speaking at the United Nations, making our case to the whole world. And it's very important. After all in the case of Iraq in particular we're dealing with a country that has violated some, I think the number is 26 out of 29 U.N. Security Council restrictions on their conduct and their behavior. So this is not just a challenge to the United States, it's really a challenge to the whole United Nations system. It's also, we believe, a direct threat to the security of the American people. I think as we make that case I would hope more and more people will be convinced of it.

But if they say you haven't proven to us that he's about to strike us tomorrow then they I think misunderstand the whole nature of the threat and the problem and what the President and the Administration are trying to say. This is not something where you can wait until you have clear evidence. In fact one of the fundamental points that September 11th should have brought home to us is you may not even have a clear case after the fact because the nature of terrorism is that it operates in the shadows, and it could be a way for a country that wants to do us harm to do it in a semi-anonymous way.

So the old notions about deterrence where you'd always know where the threat comes from have to be reconsidered.

Q: Can you justify a preemptive military strike without that evidence?

Wolfowitz: We're talking about self defense. I think it's always been the case that countries, including this country, make judgments about what is necessary for our self defense. But it's also something beyond that. Some years ago, I think it was 1997, the Congress passed a law, the Iraq Liberation Act, that made it a matter of national policy to support proliferation of Iraq and a point that is also fundamental here which I think needs to be appreciated is there's no quarrel between the United States and the 20-plus million people of Iraq who, by the way, from everything I know are one of the most talented people in the Arab world, and four million of them live in exile because of that regime. Our quarrel is solely with a regime that's based on a very very tiny minority of that country, that is abusing its own people just as it threatens us. That means that to defend ourselves and to defend our friends and allies around the world if we can help the Iraqi people to liberate themselves we will not only help them, we'll have helped ourselves. I think that's a key to going forward here.

Q: What would you say to an effort in the United Nations to pass a new resolution to set a deadline for Saddam Hussein to disarm or there will be punitive action?

Wolfowitz: Clearly when the President goes up to New York tomorrow and speaks to the United Nations General Assembly his focus is going to be on making our case to the world and looking to the world to help support us. And again, it can't be emphasized enough that the Iraqi regime is in violation of a whole series of U.N. Resolutions that have already been passed going all the way back to the one that ended the Gulf War 11 years ago. I think the international community has got to think about what that means for the credibility and authority of the United Nations if those kinds of resolutions can go unheeded.

Clearly we want to move forward with as much international support and understanding as possible and I believe with the kind of effort that is now underway and the President's speech tomorrow, that we'll be able to get that.

Q: Do you think the momentum might be building for an international agreement for some sort of resolution that would give some agreement to set this deadline? Some agreement on Iraq internationally?

Wolfowitz: I don't want to prejudge exactly what the outcome would be. Really, that's for the President to say when he speaks tomorrow. But I do think he will make it very clear that we're looking for international support and that we're looking, if it's possible, to find a peaceful way out of this situation. But I don't think anyone should be under any illusions that there will be a peaceful solution unless the Iraqi regime believes that that's its only alternative. In other words, the distinction that is sometimes falsely made between force and diplomacy is wrong. The only way in a situation like this that diplomacy can succeed, I believe, is if there is a credible threat of force in the background.

Q: One sort of final question. If you were approaching the end of your term and of Rumsfeld's term, what would you regard as a failure? Say a failure to capture Osama bin Laden? And also what would you regard as an accomplishment?

Wolfowitz: I'm not thinking about failure, I'm thinking about success, and I think we've had a lot, I think we'll have more. Not just on the front of fighting terrorists but also making this fantastic defense establishment of ours not only good for this decade but for the next decade as well. There's a lot of work to be done there.

I think that this is likely to be a long struggle and we need at least prepare ourselves for the distant possibility that we'll have more terrorist attacks. We need to prepare ourselves for the distinct possibility that some key terrorists may hide out for a very long time. But I think success will come in what I believe is growing support for the idea that this kind of behavior is unacceptable. That countries that have been in the business of making terrorism determine the national policy will increasingly reconsider that as an approach to life. And that perhaps most importantly the President has spoken about more than just killing and capturing terrorists. It's about building a better world beyond the war on terrorism. I think it gives us an enormous stake in countries like Turkey or Indonesia where I was ambassador for three years, that have Muslim majorities that are working very hard to become free and open and democratic societies because I think that's what most of the world's Muslims aspire to as well.

I think when it's clear that that alternative is available to them the terrorists will have much less to work with.

Q: Let me just quickly follow up. What about Osama bin Laden?

Wolfowitz: He's a terrible man. He needs to be brought to justice if he hasn't already been. We don't know for sure. But nobody should be under illusions that that network depends on a single individual. In fact to a dangerous degree it is set up in independent cells that can do a lot of damage each one by itself and that's why unlike -- If a country threatens you, you can capture its capital, take its leader and that's the end of the threat even if there are hundreds of thousands of people in the Army, when a network like this threatens you, you have to go after cell after cell after cell. But each time you take out one cell, you weaken the others, you get intelligence about the others. So that's why one has to keep emphasizing it's not about one country, it's not about just the use of military force, it's about the integration of all the instruments of national power across the whole world.

Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for joining us.