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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with U.S. News and World Report

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
October 04, 2002

(Interview with Mark Mazzetti, U.S. News and World Report)

Q: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Our piece we're working on is on the Saddam threat. I was wondering, though, if I could start with a question that -- from something that came out of the briefing this morning. Torie Clarke mentioned that you guys have seen some movement of -- in Iraq of trying to conceal weapons of mass destruction. And I was wondering if you could maybe provide any detail about that, about what they've been trying to do, and whether they've been trying to move them into presidential sites.

Wolfowitz: I'm not sure which details she was talking about. We've been seeing a lot over the last years and the last months, so, and I -- the stuff I know is too classified to talk about.

Q: Okay. I mean, I think the indication was that it was since Iraq had agreed to let inspectors back in. Are you still seeing that type of concealment?

Wolfowitz: I'm -- I don't know what you're specifically referring to. I'll try to see if we can get you an answer.

Q: Okay. Thank you. The first question I wanted to ask was on the idea of the Saddam threat, and this is something that you've obviously thought about a great deal. And I would like to ask what is it that makes regime change now so important? Is the most pressing threat the idea that Saddam could have a nuclear weapon in a small period of time? Or is it the idea that terrorists could get weapons of mass destruction and strike at the United States? What, in your mind, is the greatest threat?

Wolfowitz: Well, let me say first in general terms, the problem here is that time is not on our side. When people say, "Why now," they imply that somehow it'll be better later. As I think Senator Lieberman said, "Every additional day that" -- this is a direct quote -- "Every additional day that Saddam Hussein is in power in Iraq is an additional day of danger." And that's absolutely correct. The focus on nuclear weapons is actually a bit distracting from the fact that he has large quantities of anthrax and botulin toxin and aflatoxin. When he declared to the inspectors some time ago that he had, for example, 2,000 plus gallons of concentrated anthrax, UNSCOM inspectors estimated he had three to four times the amount that were declared, and no evidence that he destroyed what he claimed to destroy. So that's a perfect weapon to hand over to a terrorist, and you don't know when a threat like this will be imminent.

I mean, think about it this way. The pilots who did the World Trade Center attack and the Pentagon attack were here in the United States in early 2000, and the entire crew was here by spring of last year. So if we had gone to war with Afghanistan in June or July of last year, it would have already been too late to prevent September 11th. We don't know when it will be too late to have dealt with Saddam, and he's dangerous already.

Q: Do you think that if we don't act, then he will inevitably not only get a nuclear weapon, but his weapons will inevitably get in the hands of terrorists, and who will strike at the United States? I mean, do you think all of this is inevitable?

Wolfowitz: Does it have to be inevitable to do something about it? I think it is highly probable and extremely dangerous. And the question comes, why would we continue to tolerate it, when we've had eleven years of flouting the United Nations, sixteen different resolutions that he has defied. And frankly, part of the point here is that we have an opportunity to deal with this threat like no other because, in fact, there has been a very clear declaration by the international community of the requirement that he disarm. All this talk about the, you know, that we're inventing some new doctrine is total speculation. With respect to Iraq, there's no new doctrine whatsoever. This is eleven years of old, and unfortunately, failed policy.

Q: You and Secretary Rumsfeld talked a great deal about weighing the risks of war, and the risk of action versus the risk of non-action -- or inaction, sorry. And you talk a lot about what the risks of inaction are, and I was wondering if I could just get you to talk a little bit about what, in your mind, are some of the risks of action? What keeps you up at night in terms of things that could go wrong, or risks that could be borne out if, in fact, regime change by military force does go into place?

Wolfowitz: Well, first of all, just to frame this clearly, the risks of inaction are the continuing and growing danger that tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of Americans will die in some catastrophic attack with a biological weapon, or if we wait long enough, a nuclear weapon. So the risks of inaction are severe. Anytime you send American troops into combat, you're running a serious risk of people dying for their country. And I don't believe you should send American troops to die, except in defense of the country, but that's one of the major risks. And the other major risk is that we know he has these weapons, and there is a danger at any point that he may use them in some terrible way. But our ability to prevent that now, if there's a military confrontation, is greater than it will be a year from now, or two years from now, or three years from now. So --

Q: Sorry. And that is because?

Wolfowitz: Because our capabilities are great now, and his are more limited. So it's -- if you're going to act, and I believe we have to act, the sooner you act, the lower the risks, but one shouldn't minimize the risk that he will do something terrible with what he's got. One place where I believe that people seriously exaggerate the risks, either out of ignorance, or just repeating some of the same errors that we heard eleven years ago about how the Middle East would go up in flames if there was a war with Iraq, I believe, frankly, that the risks of dealing with a post-Saddam Iraq are not only exaggerated, but are largely misstated.

I think there's an opportunity here, actually, to help liberate what most people say is perhaps the most talented population in the Arab world, including 4 million very successful exiles, who, many of whom would want to go back to Iraq from what is one of the worst tyrannies in the modern world. And that is a huge strategic advantage on our side. This, like every other regime that supports terrorism, rules its people by terror. We saw with the Taliban what a huge weakness that created for the regime. I think it's an even bigger weakness for the Iraqi regime. I think there are very few people in Iraq who want to be the last person to die for Saddam.

Q: And even getting before the post-Saddam -- idea of a post-Saddam Iraq, I mean, there seems to be concern in the Middle East and elsewhere that the actual attack itself would create instability, and the idea that he could use these weapons of mass destruction certainly against Israel. I mean, is this something that -- as someone who went to Israel during the Gulf War to urge restraint, how concerned are you about Israel being brought into this?

Wolfowitz: I'm very concerned that, at any point, that clique in Baghdad, and it is a very small clique, will do what they can to make the situation worse. That is one of the real concerns. But I really believe on this issue about broader instability in the Middle East, I think when people see huge crowds in Basrah and Kirkuk and Mosul and Baghdad eventually cheering the arrival of American troops, and saying, "Why didn't you come sooner," I think the air will go out of a lot of whatever excitement there may be temporarily.

Q: So the notion of mass unrest in the Arab street you think, once again, is something that is being overstated right now?

Wolfowitz: It was definitely overstated eleven years ago. As Yogi Berra says, "It's dangerous to make predictions, especially about the future."

Q: Right.

Wolfowitz: But I think to the extent we have insight into what the conditions are like in that country, there's every reason to believe that this is going to be a liberation of the Iraqi people, not a war against the Iraqi people.

Q: Could the -- do you think the Pentagon can do a better job than was done during the Gulf War of trying to either take out Scuds being launched, or prohibit Saddam from actually using these WMD -- or the WMDs that he has? You said this is a concern of yours, but do you think the capabilities are better?

Wolfowitz: No question the capabilities are better. Our capabilities to detect are better. Our capabilities to attack targets on the ground quickly are better, and our capability to intercept missiles, and the Israeli capability to intercept missiles, are vastly better, but that may not be good enough to prevent something. I should emphasize -- by the way, I hope you'll put this primarily in whatever we say -- that the President has not made a decision to use force --

Q: Right.

Wolfowitz: -- and in fact, though it may be improbable, Saddam Hussein has shown himself over many years to be a survivor. And it may be improbable that he will finally give up his ambitions to have weapons of mass destruction, but he may be finally confronted with the fact that this is the only way he can survive. And if he faces that choice clearly, it's just possible he will have an extraordinary change of heart, and we'll be able to do this without a war.

Q: And based on your studying of Saddam and your studying of the Iraqi regime, how would you gauge the probability of that?

Wolfowitz: Based on the fair amount of trying to figure them out, I wouldn't attempt to predict how they'll behave. That's what makes them so dangerous.

Q: Okay.

Staff: We're about out of time, Mark.

Q: Okay. Could I ask one more quick question?

Wolfowitz: Sure.

Q: And just going back to this threat issue, obviously, there's been a lot of concern raised among U.S. allies about a possible attack. And I'm wondering why you think that allies, our allies, seem to gauge the threat differently than certainly the U.S. and Britain seem to be, who are obviously most prominent in talking about the Saddam threat. Is it just a question that they gauge it differently, or that they just don't have certainly the September 11th experience? What is your thinking on that?

Wolfowitz: Well, if you go and look at the magazines that were published in Baghdad on the anniversary of September 11th, including one that shows the World Trade Center burning and in Arabic says, "God's Judgment," maybe they don't feel quite as targeted as we do. I think in the case of some countries, they have been in the business of courting Baghdad for economic benefits for a long time, and it's a hard habit to break. And there are some countries that are just terribly afraid, for good reason, of antagonizing this man. It's -- you don't ask the small shopkeeper to take on the Mafia. You expect the law enforcement people to do it, and that's -- in this case, it's the United States.

I do think that you are seeing increasingly, thanks to the President's speech to the United Nations, a clear demonstration that we intend to go the U.N. route if it all possible, that even countries like Saudi Arabia are -- have shifted their position quite significantly in just the last few weeks.

Q: Sir, thanks very much for your time.

Wolfowitz: You're very welcome.