TOPICS > Politics

Troubled Transition

April 20, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, just back from their April recess, called on Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz this morning to provide a near-term outlook for the military in Iraq. The chief concern was the recent surge in attacks against U.S. and coalition forces that have caused a dramatic increase in the numbers of troops killed and injured.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I think the enemy that we are facing is an enemy that rests on killing and death and terror, not an enemy that has genuine popular appeal. We have to work on our side on improving the belief of the Iraqi people in their future and the belief in what we can do for their future, but we also have to work to overcome the fear that these people implant.

There are enormous problems. General Petraeus called it the “man-on-the-moon phenomenon.” That is to say, you Americans can put a man on the moon, how come my electricity doesn’t work? How come the sewers aren’t fixed? How come everything isn’t perfect after liberation? One of the lessons we are trying to learn is the roadblocks that have made it slower than I believe is acceptable to get projects moving. Some of those roadblocks are unavoidable. They are the inevitable result of an insecure situation.

KWAME HOLMAN: Committee Chairman John Warner asked how the U.S. military would operate after the planned transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis on July 1.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: We’ve seen recently in the Fallujah operations where there’s been some honest difference of opinion between members of the Iraqi Governing Council, current governing body, and our military commanders as to the timing, the quantum and otherwise the use of force. And if you’re going to give them sovereignty and at the same time our military commander, as I believe you’re saying, has the authority to make those decisions as to how to apply force, I see a basic conflict of interest here.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: The answer is you have got to be prepared to discuss, to negotiate, and also at the end of the day to use the authority that is granted to us. That is I would say describes the way we’re proceeding in Fallujah, it’s the way we’ll have to proceed until such time as Iraq is fully in control of whatever forces are there.

KWAME HOLMAN: As he has many times before, Wolfowitz also defended the president’s decision to go to war in the first place, repeating some familiar reasons why Saddam Hussein had to be driven from power.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Saddam Hussein was more than just another bad guy. He institutionalized and sanctioned brutality on a scale that is simply unimaginable to most Americans. He ruled by fear, creating a society in which the ideal citizen was a torturer or an informer, a smothering blanket of fear woven by 35 years of repression, where even the smallest mistake could bring torture or death, or fates worse than death, like the death of one’s children or the rape of one’s relatives. That fear won’t be cast off in just a few weeks or even just a year or two.

KWAME HOLMAN: Taking his turn in the questioning, Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy acknowledged Hussein’s human rights record, but criticized Wolfowitz for what he didn’t say.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: There wasn’t a word in this presentation about the weapons of mass destruction in this presentation here this morning. Now Mr. Secretary you were one of the principle architects of war with Iraq. It’s been on your agenda since the end of the Gulf War, 1991.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: The notion that an invasion of Iraq has been on the agenda since 1991 is simply wrong, sir.

KWAME HOLMAN: Kennedy also challenged Wolfowitz to explain assertions in a new book by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward that in 2002, the Pentagon rerouted millions of dollars Congress approved for rebuilding Afghanistan to begin preparations for the Iraq war.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: Can you tell me why the administration diverted funds though when we were beginning to target Osama bin Laden, had him evidently, effectively trapped in Tora Bora and the administration diverted $700 million out of that to go to — to advance the process in terms of Iraq? And if so, how much responsibility do you bear in that?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: That $750 million number comes from a set of tasks that CentCom put together in the summer of 2002, as things that they would want to have in the event of an Iraq contingency. All the investments were designed to strengthen our capabilities in the region or support ongoing requirements. No funding was made available for those things that had Iraq as the exclusive purpose.

KWAME HOLMAN: Minnesota Democrat Mark Dayton complained he was not getting the kinds of answers he’d hoped to hear.

SEN. MARK DAYTON: We’ve been given a series of glossy statements of what transpired over the last year and how bad Saddam Hussein is, which we know, and the fact that there aren’t any weapons of mass destruction and that our military, armed forces are now, as the ranking member said, are suffering greater casualties than at any other time. What we hear is that he’s a really, really bad man. That’s not the point here. The point is that we have a right to know and we should be told what is really going on over there in factual terms, military terms and that’s what I’ve sat through now most of the last three hours and watched other parts of it on television to find out that virtually nothing’s been said.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Senator Dayton, the reason I talked about the nature of the Saddam Hussein regime is because that is still the enemy. We are still fighting them, they are still threatening Iraqis in a way that is part of our challenge. It’s not getting into old debates.

KWAME HOLMAN: John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, asked whether domestic debates over U.S. policy might have a negative impact on the ground in Iraq.

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN: I believe very strongly that the only way that we lose in Iraq, Afghanistan, really this whole global war on terrorism, but especially right now war in Iraq is if we lose the support of the American people. And I want to get your sense of the political comments that are made here how it affects the military operation and the morale of the terrorist, and the insurgents over in Iraq.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: We simply can’t allow the enemy to deny us the right to hold free debate, our men and women out there on the front lines are fighting so that we can have a free country and a country where we debate freely. I think everybody in that debate has to think about what their proper role is, but what I have said I said it clearly in my testimony. I applaud what Senator Lieberman said. I think it is very important that we do what we can to send a message to the enemy that don’t confuse American debate with American weakness.

KWAME HOLMAN: Today’s session was the first of several congressional hearings scheduled this week on the subject of Iraq. Wolfowitz is to appear before the House Armed Services Committee tomorrow.