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Newsmaker: Paul Wolfowitz

March 18, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: And to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Mr. Secretary, welcome.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Good to be with you.

JIM LEHRER: First on the Pakistan shoot-out, can you shed any light on what’s going on over there? Have they got the number two guy cornered?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: We certainly don’t know. I don’t know they know. I think what we do know, and we’ve known this for a while, is that the government, the Pakistani government is very serious about catching the terrorists that are on its territory.

Thanks to them we got Khalid Shaikh Mohammed over a year ago, the mastermind of Sept. 11, and they are now working in territory that’s very wild, very difficult territory with substantial military forces, and I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Hopefully they will get somebody important.

JIM LEHRER: Are U.S. forces involved in this operation?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Not to my knowledge, but we obviously are — work closely with the Pakistanis on the intelligence side, and we are in a broader sense trying to help repair a relationship with Pakistan in the military area that really suffered badly over the last 20 years.

JIM LEHRER: This number two guy, whose name is Ayman al-Zawahiri, if he — would he be quite a catch if this turns out to be that?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: He’d be huge. I mean, he was the head of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which was his major terrorist organization that merged with al-Qaida. He’s regarded as the number two, but, you know, sometimes Americans, I don’t know what it is, but we get obsessed with the silver bullet solution. Obviously getting bin Laden would be a very big thing, but anyone who thinks that that’s going to be the end of al-Qaida, the end of these terrorists networks, doesn’t understand how they work. They are very decentralized operations, the kind of killing that we saw in Spain just a few days ago. It’s not a large number of people. They don’t need support from Afghanistan, so you’ve got to go after them one by one.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Okay. Also today the president of Poland said, we just had it in the news summary, that while Iraq is a better place because Saddam Hussein is gone, he said “I also feel uncomfortable due to the fact that we were misled with the information on weapons of mass destruction.” Poland has 2,400 troops in Iraq. Does he have a right to be uncomfortable over this?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I don’t think he has a right to say they were misled. I mean, let’s take an example from I guess it’s 15 years ago before the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Iraq was supposed to have no nuclear weapons. They signed a nonproliferation treaty. The U.N. inspection agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that Iraq has no nuclear weapons program. They were wrong. They weren’t misleading the world. They just were wrong.

People make mistakes in this business, and one thing that’s important and I hope somebody will tell the president of Poland this. Iraq was in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441. It was the 17th and supposed to be last resolution after 12 years of Iraq defying the United Nations. They did not comply with that. They lied in their declarations. They obstructed the inspectors.

JIM LEHRER: He’s talking specifically, he had a news conference, he’s talking specifically that he was told by the United States and Britain that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and then after the war proved that there were not. That’s what he’s talking about.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I don’t know specifically what he was told. I know what I was told and it was the best judgments of our intelligence community at the time. Were they all accurate, no, they weren’t all accurate, but nobody was misleading anybody.

JIM LEHRER: You don’t feel misled yourself?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I use the word “misled” when somebody knows a fact and tries to persuade you of a different fact. When somebody tells you their best estimate of a situation and it turns out to be wrong, that’s life. That happens often.

JIM LEHRER: We’re sitting here almost a year to the day from the beginning of the war. Do you — have you — do you have any doubts personally about whether or not this was right thing to do a year later?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: No, I don’t. I think it’s a huge victory. I think 25 million of some of the most talented people in the Muslim and Arab world have been liberated from one of the worst tyrannies of the last 100 years. Iraq is no longer a government that supports terrorism. We don’t have to worry about them restarting nuclear programs or restarting biological weapons programs, and if you have any doubt about it, I guess I’d encourage people to go read this letter that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, probably the most dangerous terrorist in Iraq today, sent to his colleagues in Afghanistan. He said things are bad for us here. If we can’t start a civil war pretty seen between the Shia and Sunnis, our goose is cooked and this is important. They understand that this is a battle for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, and I think they are afraid they are losing it. I think they are losing.

JIM LEHRER: You have no concern over the fact that one of the primary premises for the war has turned out not to be valid?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Obviously one is concerned. This isn’t the only time I’ve encountered intelligence — as I mentioned, before the Gulf War in 1991, our intelligence was wrong the other way. We didn’t know how big a nuclear program it turned out — we later found that he had.

But I don’t think there’s any doubt as I said that he was in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution that was supposed to be the last and final resolution, and I think the fact that we made it clear that these resolutions mean something, and that when you’re caught in violation of the resolution, you’re in real trouble if you don’t comply, that’s had consequences for Iran, it’s had consequences for North Korea. I think it’s a major part, if not the major part of the reason, why Qaddafi has now surrendered his nuclear weapons. It’s a remarkable achievement.

JIM LEHRER: But ’91 and 2002 or 2003 are kind of apples and oranges, are they not? I mean in, that case in 1991, Iraq invaded another country called Kuwait, and that was the reason for going to war. In 2003, the main reason for going to war was the intelligence said they — Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: The reason for going to war was because Iraq was in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution. In fact, there were three major reasons, and if you go back and read Secretary Powell’s speech to the U.N. in February of last year, he said specifically it is weapons of mass destruction, It is their support for terrorism, and it’s the oppression of their people and we had agreed in fact with Resolution 1441 to limit it to weapons of mass destruction and give them one last and final chance to come clean and he did not come clean.

JIM LEHRER: The — Hans Blix was the chief U.N. weapons inspector leading up to the war, was a guest on this program last night. And he said that whatever else, he doesn’t — whatever else, the credibility of the United States and Britain as far as intelligence is concerned has been hurt severely, the credibility of this. Do you agree with that?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Well, you know, the IAEA which Hans Blix headed at one period of time was an organization that gave a clean bill of health to Saddam Hussein when he was building nuclear weapons. I don’t think it’s very useful to go throwing around charges about credibility. I think what people need to help folks understand is that intelligence is not a science. Just because we can read license plates from space doesn’t mean that we can penetrate the minds of people.

Saddam Hussein was a dictator who to this day has some of his people scared to talk. We have Dr. Germ, I think she’s known as, Dr. Taha, I think, according to David Kay she still isn’t talking at all, so I think it’s — one shouldn’t expect intelligence to be perfect. It’s like putting together pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and where you don’t get them all and you’re trying to guess what the total picture is.

JIM LEHRER: I may have misstated Dr. Blix’ comment. What he was referring to specifically, and he also said this in his book that just came out, which is the next time the United States — if there is a next time, when the United States or Britain says something we have intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in North Korea, in Iran or somewhere else, because of what happened in Iraq, there could be a problem. You do not share that concern?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Well, if people like Blix keep saying it we can have a problem, and I agree there is an issue, but let’s take the case of Libya, which just happened a few months ago. We, through some very good intelligence work, found that Libya was breaking its commitments under the nonproliferation treaty. It was developing nuclear weapons, and we went to them and said you better get right with the world or you’re in trouble, and they got right with the world, so I think we had credibility with the Libyans.

JIM LEHRER: But you don’t — you just disagree with that, that statement?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I wouldn’t deny that there’s a certain problem, Jim, but I think what would be more helpful instead of implying that intelligence can be perfect, and if it’s not perfect there’s a credibility problem, and if there’s a credibility problem someone was misled, that’s the line that we’re going down.

Let’s admit that when Hans Blix was the head of the IAEA they made mistakes. Does that mean he has a credibility problem? I don’t think so. It means that when dictatorships punish people in the most brutal ways, if they reveal secrets, it’s a very hard job to penetrate and Saddam Hussein was given a chance to come clean, he was given a chance to tell the world the truth and get rid of what he had, and he did not do that.

JIM LEHRER: One more thing on Dr. Blix for the record because I asked him about it last night. It’s also from his book. He repeated what was in the “Washington Post,” a story about — that you asked the CIA to gather information about him for purposes of discrediting him and that you were very upset when the CIA did not deliver. Is that a true story?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: You know, I’m glad to have an opportunity to say it is total nonsense. I asked the CIA a perfectly reasonable question which is: what should we infer from Hans Blix’s leadership of the IAEA when they failed to detect that Iraq had nuclear weapons and was in violation of the nonproliferation treaty? I think it’s a perfectly reasonable — it was a factual question. It wasn’t an investigation. I wasn’t interested in his background or anything that would discredit him personally. I was interested in knowing his competence as a nuclear weapons inspector. It was a perfectly normal, natural question. It was a question.

JIM LEHRER: Now, on the ground in Iraq, is what’s going on right now about what you expected to be going on about a year after the war began?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: We expected a war. We expected a very difficult fight. Some things have gone better than we expected. Some things have been tougher. I think what is the heart of our challenge there is the fact that this regime that is defeated and the leader was captured hiding in a hole, nevertheless, has some significant numbers, in the thousands, not in the tens of thousands, but in the thousands of killers who still want to destabilize the society and believe that somehow they can bring back some version of the tyranny. That’s the main problem we confront. That’s the main problem we confront. The other problem we confront is people like Zarqawi, who were basically, if they are not literal members of al-Qaida, they are from the same mind set and they’re associated who believe that if they kill enough people, they can destabilize the country, they can defeat democracy. So that is a challenge.

But things like electricity. Remember back last summer we were having some problems with electricity. You heard about it a lot. Electricity is now back to prewar levels. It doesn’t make news. Oil production we were having troubles with. You heard about it a lot. It’s now back to prewar levels. It doesn’t make news. I tell you to me the most important positive developments, and I don’t want to say it’s all positive, I mean, these bombings are just terrible.


PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Americans getting killed is terrible, and we lost some wonderful civilians the other day who were down in southern Iraq promoting women’s rights, but on the political front, what they call the interim constitution or fancier words, the transitional administrative law I think, is an extraordinary, positive document that guarantees rights for women, guarantees separation of powers, civilian control of the military. It’s transitional — many steps remain, but it was a big step.

The other thing, and to us in the Defense Department maybe the most important thing, is this coalition which is now 35 countries, plus the U.S. The 35th country is Iraq, and there’s some 200,000 Iraqis in the police force, in the civil defense corps and the army who are out there on the front lines fighting for their country risking their lives, unfortunately sometimes losing their lives. That’s where the future lies and that’s what has Zarqawi so discouraged. That’s why they are one of his big targets.

JIM LEHRER: Looking back, particularly on the military side, the Defense Department side, a year ago then Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki said at least two hundred thousand U.S. troops —

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Several hundred thousand —

JIM LEHRER: Several hundred thousand — were going to be needed to stabilize Iraq. You kind of rebuked him when he said that. In retrospect was he right?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Well, we don’t have several hundred thousand there. We have 120,000. My biggest concern was, and I think he knew it, that General Franks was the combatant commander. General Franks was the one who made estimates of what troop requirements would be, and having the chief of staff of the army who maybe wanted a bigger army saying it’s going to take 300,000 troops, I thought it was wrong. It was not the estimate that our combatant commander had for what it would take to fight the war, and we didn’t think you’d need more after the war than to fight it. By the way, the war isn’t over yet. That’s part of the problem.

The real answer to getting the right number of forces in Iraq is to get the right number of Iraqis, because it’s their country. They speak the language. They know the people, and at the end of the day I think that is the key to success.

JIM LEHRER: New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote about this subject today, and he said “we do not” — he said it before — he says, “We do not have enough troops in Iraq. We never did. From the outset the Bush Pentagon has treated Iraq as a lab test to prove that it can win a war with a small mobile high-tech army.” Is he wrong?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Well, he’s certainly wrong that we’re treating it as a lab test. Believe me, this is a war and people want to win it. It’s the combatant commanders who have made the recommendations about what troops are required, and they have gotten what they’ve asked for. They say that what they need is more intelligence and more Iraqis, not more American troops.

Unless you have better intelligence, you are just going to have people there for people to take shots at them and that’s not a good thing either. We have a very large force there. It’s probably larger than we expected we’d have at this point, but General Abizaid is asked regularly by the president and by the secretary of defense, do you have what you need and if it’s not what he needs, he gets what he needs.

JIM LEHRER: So you are satisfied that the U.S. put the proper resources in there to get this thing done and has them in there now?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: We — and we’ll keep them in there as long as we need them.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Looking back a year ago, the decision — forget the weapons of mass destruction part of it. We’ve already talked about that, but in light of events in Spain and whatever, what was the — what was the decision making, the rationale between going after Iraq rather than going off with the same kinds of resources after al-Qaida? In other words, if 130,000 troops and $85 billion had been spent over this last year hunting for al-Qaida, trying to put them out of business, would we be in a different situation?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Well, for one thing, we think there is a connection between Iraq and al-Qaida. We think that Zarqawi and the people associated with him are al-Qaida people who were finding sanctuary in Iraq, that there were contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida, so that was part of the equation, as Secretary Powell said in his U.N. statement.

The notion that somehow if we applied 100,000 troops somewhere else, I guess we could repeat the mistake the Soviets made in Afghanistan. We have succeeded, I think, in Afghanistan, and I know there’s room for debate, but General Franks from the beginning and a couple times I know because I was arguing maybe we should have more people, he convinced me that the last thing we want to do is go in there with a kind of heavy ponderous occupying force that the Soviet Union had, and more American troops in Afghanistan isn’t going to find al-Qaida people if they are hiding in the wilds of Pakistan.

That gets you to the heart of the most — well, I want to put a qualifier on this — the most important remnant of al-Qaida that you can get at with military forces is on the sovereign territory of Pakistan, and the Pakistanis, while they have been enormously cooperative and done great things themselves, are insistent that it’s their country and they are not eager to have one American soldier much less a hundred thousand invading northern Pakistan.

By the way, there are a lot of other places where al-Qaida hang out, including as we discovered in Spain. We think they are in Spain, and those people can operate independent of anything they get from Afghanistan or Pakistan. This is a big problem. It is a global problem. It’s not going to go away when we get bin Laden, which I’m sure we will do one of these days. It’s not going to go away when we get Zawahiri. It’s going to be a long and difficult task, and it requires also, as the president said a few months ago in his very speech at the National Endowment for Democracy, it requires a positive effort to move the Arab world and the Muslim world forward into a democratic era.

JIM LEHRER: But forget the specifics of 130,000 troops. I’m talking about the energy and the resources of that magnitude, whatever it took. I don’t mean necessarily troops in Afghanistan or troops in Pakistan or whatever, but if that massive an effort had gone after al-Qaida rather than — and put Iraq on the back burner for a while, would we be in a different situation?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I guess the point that is important to understand and I and my colleagues I think may have been a little slow to understand it, this is a war of intelligence. Mass isn’t going to help you — if you don’t know where to look, having more resources doesn’t make a difference, and there’s an enormous effort devoted to finding these people, not only the top two or the top one particularly, but in fact we have wrapped up around the world some two-thirds of the top leadership of al-Qaida I guess if you take the top 30 or so, and there have been a lot of victories.

It’s worth emphasizing particularly because I hope the Spaniards aren’t about to be an exception to this, but every time al-Qaida has had a big tactical success and killed a lot of innocent people starting with 9/11 it’s been a strategic disaster. If they thought 9/11 was going to make Americans run, they were wrong. If they thought 9/11 was going to suck us into a quagmire in Afghanistan, they were wrong. If they thought that killing 200 Australians in Indonesia was going to make the Indonesians or the Australians run away, it’s actually led the Indonesians to finally get tough on terrorism.

The bombings in Saudi Arabia in May of last year got the Saudis to finally get tough on terrorism. The bombs in Istanbul that were supposed to divide Turks from Jews and Brits has actually unified Turks against terrorism and this I think in some ways is the most important thing. I think the signs are very clear that these hideous bombings in Iraq are not splitting Sunnis and Shias. They are not causing the civil war that Zarqawi wants. They are actually unifying Iraqis, and it’s not an accident, I think, that the Shia decided to put aside their objections to this constitution and go ahead and sign it after those terrible bombings took place.

JIM LEHRER: As you know, Mr. Secretary, a lot of people would argue, people in this country, but in the rest of the world, that going after Iraq and invading Iraq has actually made the terrorism problem worse, that it has rallied recruits,; it’s rallied resources rather, it’s done just the opposite of what you suggest. What do you say to those folks?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Well, you know, most of the people we’re dealing with were there before, and they didn’t need an invitation. They didn’t need a rallying cry. One of their rallying cries, by the way, if you go back and read bin Laden’s 1998 Fatwa — his big rallying cry was that we had all these American troops in Saudi Arabia and were bombing Iraq every day as part of the so-called containment policy. I think the Saudis are in a much better position now to crack down on terrorists because we don’t have to have 7,000 American troops and a couple hundred airplanes in Saudi Arabia. They have a freer hand.

If you read Mr. Zarqawi’s letter, these people know that if we win in Iraq, it’s a big defeat for them, and I think it is. I think — you know, there’s a colonel we visited when we visited the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul back in July who said that he says to his troops that what they are doing in Iraq is every bit as important as what their grandfathers did in Japan and Germany and what their fathers did in Korea and the Cold War, and I think he’s right. I mean I put my interpretation on it.

I think terrorism is the totalitarian evil of our times. These people are killers the way the Nazis and some of the extreme Communists were killers, but I also think that a free and democratic Iraq is going to begin to build stability in a part of the world that desperately needs it, just as a free and democratic Japan, free and democratic Germany, free and democratic Korea, has made such a big contribution to the world that we live in today.

JIM LEHRER: You mentioned Spain. What is your reaction to the prime minister-elect’s decision, and he reinforced it — and he said it again today, unless the U.N. is running things in Iraq he’s going to pull Spain’s troops out of there —

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Well, I hope maybe he’s with that word about the U.N., maybe he’s got an exit strategy that will bring him on board, because I think otherwise he’s gotten himself in a position where, unfortunately, he will appear to reward terrorism. He’ll appear to be appeasing terrorists and I think that would be really unfortunate.

The Spaniards are courageous people. I mean, we know it from their whole culture of bullfighting. I don’t think they run in the face of an enemy. They haven’t run in the face of the Basque terrorists. I hope they don’t run in the face of these people.

JIM LEHRER: He pointed out again today, wait a minute, I ran for office on saying, promising the Spanish people I would pull the troops out and he said that long before the terrorist attack. That doesn’t — that doesn’t mean anything from your point of view?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: No, it means something. Of course it means something, and we — I mean, it’s a constant issue in democracies. People run for office on certain ideas. They mean them, they believe them. Sometimes they learn things after they get in office they didn’t know before. Sometimes things happen, and I would say in this case something happened just before he was elected that I hope enters his calculations, because if he can find a way through that door he opened of the U.N., because I think the U.N. has a big and growing role to play and the Iraqi Governing Council just issued an invitation for the U.N. to please come back and help them arrange this transitional government, if he can go through that door and tell the terrorists you did not succeed with this horrible attack in Madrid, that would be a good thing.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: A pleasure, thank you.