Wolfowitz Interview with Vanity Fair's Tannenhaus
Wolfowitz Interview with Sam Tannenhaus, Vanity Fair
NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense
DoD News Briefing
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
Friday, May 9, 2003
Q: What do you think all the conspiritorial talk is? Do you have any notion, in Europe and here? What are people looking at this way?
Wolfowitz: I think it's pretty obvious and I think it's pretty disgraceful but all you can do is ignore it and go on and get the job done.
Q: What is it? I mean some say anti-Semitism. I guess in Europe that would be --
Wolfowitz: I just said all I'm going to say about it.
There's a question now as to whether in Iraq itself --
Wolfowitz: You know it's completely out in the open who holds what views in this Administration. You couldn't be more transparent about what the arguments are. The most significant thing that has produced what is admittedly a fairly significant change in American policy is the events of September 11th which are going to count as one of the -- If you had to pick the ten most important foreign policy things for the United States over the last 100 years it would surely rank in the top ten if not number one. It's the reason why so much has changed, and people who refuse to look at that, for whatever reason, or are unwilling to face up to the implications of that then go around and look for some nefarious explanation. But it's shameful.
Q: Since you brought that up let me ask you something related to that. I've looked at the remarkable Defense Policy Guidance of 1992 --
Wolfowitz: Wait a minute. Did you look at the guidance or did you look at the draft that was leaked before I saw it?
Q: That's a very good point. Actually all I saw were summaries of it. Is there a big discrepancy as to what was reported and what was in it?
Wolfowitz: Yes. In short. At some point I guess it's acquired such a life of its own I ought to go back and refresh my memory.
But the way I remember it approximately is as follows. I gave a quite substantial briefing to Secretary Cheney and what was then called I guess the Defense Resources Board on a post-Cold War defense strategy, the essence of which was to shift from a strategy for being prepared to fight a global war, to being focused on two possible regional conflicts. And to downsize the U.S. military by some 40 percent.
That was sort of taken to the President, promulgated in a speech in Aspen on August 2, 1990, which you may recall happened also to be the day that Iraq invaded Kuwait. In fact we had, in that briefing that I gave in May I think, it focused on the Iraqi threat to the Arabian peninsula as one of the regional problems we needed to be prepared to deal with. At the time that was considered a revolutionary idea. By the time the President gave the speech it had already happened. [Laughter]
Then that general briefing had to be translated into a guidance document for the department. Some people on my staff wrote a draft. Before I even got to see the draft someone leaked it to the New York Times, apparently because they didn't like it. The New York Times then wrote about the draft.
If you go back, and you can do this with Lexis/Nexis. If you go back, the excerpts from the draft are nowhere near as hysterical as the way the New York Times reported it. So people in the first place were reacting to the New York Times description of the draft as opposed to the actual text of the draft which the Times in fact did publish.
I repeat, it was not a draft that I'd even reviewed yet.
As I recall, one of the pieces of hysteria was the idea that this is a blueprint for a massive increase in U.S. defense spending, when in fact it was a blueprint for a 40 percent reduction in U.S. defense spending. It goes on from there.
When we did a revised draft that in fact I had reviewed carefully, the State Department initially didn't want us to put it out, I think because it was a little too much. Well, I don't know why. They didn't want us to put it out. I don't want to speculate on motives. But in January of 1993 as we were about to leave, I said to Cheney don't you think we should publish it? And he said yes, we should. So it's available in the full text as the Regional Defense Strategy of January, 1993.
I know people say oh well, they just sanded off the corners because the real thing received such an adverse reaction. But the truth of the matter is what the Times was writing about was something that I'd never seen. What is published, while I will admit some of the corners are rounded off on it, reflects my views.
Q: What did you make of the reaction at the time? You were an important public official then, but you weren't particularly visible. And I looked at the Times -- That was the right hand column front page story on the same day, by the way, that the Whitewater story broke in the paper, March 8, 1992.
And of course there were Democratic primaries coming up, Super Tuesday. Was this your first taste of what the media will do to you when they think they have a story? Or were you schooled in that before?
Wolfowitz: I've run into it before. If the media had more of a right wing bias I would have run into it in a major way with the Philippine policy. We had a few shots at us from the conservative press that we were undermining Reagan's good friend Ferdinand Marcos. No, I've been shot at from both directions.
I think the first time was over the Team B exercise back in 1976.
Q: Oh, that's right.
Wolfowitz: It seems to go with the territory.
Q: And there again you'd written a fairly straightforward account, wasn't it of intermediate missiles or something?
Wolfowitz: That's right. Which turned out to be, I wouldn't say prophetic, but it was prescient. It was completely borne out by what came subsequently, but it was again -- I don't know whether people caricature it in order to discredit it, or they caricature it because they don't understand it. Or maybe some of both.
But the way I would put it in terms of the '92 document and briefings is that, you have to remember, the Cold War had ended. There were a lot of people who said we don't need any of these Cold War alliances any more. We don't need NATO any more. Then President Bush was asked why do you need NATO now that the threat's gone away? He said the threat's still there. They said what is it? He said the threat's uncertainty, and people sort of laughed at that.
Well, it's not a bad description for what's happened in the Balkans in the intervening period. And what we were basically arguing in that document is that while we can manage with a substantially reduced U.S. defense force, for a lot of people to retain 60 percent of it in those alliance commitments, they somehow, I guess, thought we could go to complete disarmament or something. I'm not sure what their model was.
In fact the New York Times specifically had this absurd line, I remember, that we had abandoned 50 years of reliance on the doctrine of collective security, I think. I'd have to go back and get the quote. But basically it's as though for 50 years we'd been relying on the United Nations and this document was going to undo it, as opposed to for 50 years we'd relied on NATO and our alliances in Northeast Asia and this document was trying to support them.
I remember at the time that a couple of Democratic senators -- It's easy to recover them. You just go and look in Pat Buchanan's book -- sort of became hysterical about this grand plan for continuing and maybe even expanding American commitments. Because we did, in a sense one of the more radical things in there was, if I can use an awful phrase, the adumbration of NATO enlargement. We weren't quite so bold as to say it but we were hinting at it. There was some discussion about, in a complementary document that was also leaked, about whether the United States could honor a defense commitment to Lithuania if we had one. This was considered wildly outrageous and various Democratic senators attacked us.
Pat Buchanan's "Republic Not an Empire" book spends its first chapter attacking the so-called Wolfowitz Memorandum.
Q: Right, I know that book.
Wolfowitz: And he laments the fact that these same Democratic senators who were attacking--in his view, appropriately attacking--the Wolfowitz Memorandum, had climbed on board the whole policy when it became Clinton's policy in the mid 1990s. He's correct in saying that what was considered by the New York Times to be such an outrageous document was U.S. consensus foreign policy, but during the Clinton Administration, not in this Administration. That is that these alliances needed to be retained, that NATO could be enlarged successfully, that we could downsize our military but we needed to retain a capability to deal with two major regional conflicts, which, by the way, is something that needed revision by the time I got back here. But it was the defense policy of the Clinton years, ironically.
Q: In fact John Louis Gaddis said that.
Q: John Louis Gaddis has said that, that if you look at Clinton's policy it actually does come out of the '92 guidance to some extent.
Wolfowitz: Not to some extent. It's pretty much verbatim.
Q: But you're --
Wolfowitz: -- without acknowledgement.
Q: Except you have been skeptical about Clinton's, the sentimental liberalism in his ideas, his approach to foreign policy, right?
Wolfowitz: Well, yes but let's remember that -- I think they made a serious over-reach in Somalia when they went beyond just ending starvation and tried to do nationbuilding. I think Haiti was a waste of American effort. I think, as we've learned, the North Korea Framework Agreement was delusional. But on two of the key things they did, namely Bosnia and Kosovo, Bob Dole supported Clinton quite strongly and I would say courageously on Bosnia and I'm proud to claim some credit in having advised --
Q: You did too.
Wolfowitz: I did too, but I also was there when Dole was being pushed by some of his Republican colleagues to go after Clinton saying this would be a catastrophe. I said no it won't be, and moreover, it's the right thing to do.
If they had dropped the arms embargo on the Bosnians as they promised to do when they came into office it might not have been necessary to still have thousands of foreign troops in Bosnia. But by the time you got to it in 1995 it was the only alternative.
And similarly, on Kosovo, when Bush was deciding whether to support it or not, I was strongly urging him to do so. When some Republicans tried to undercut Clinton on Kosovo, it was Bush and McCain together who told them don't do that. It's wrong.
So it's not that everything they did was wrong, but I think things like Haiti and Somalia were over-reached and generally there was, I think, a difficulty in distinguishing what was American interest from what were sort of vaguely seen as international community preferences. But I'm not a unilateralist by any means. In fact I don't think you can get much done in this world if you do it alone.
Q: Do you think there was a reluctance on their part even to use the threat of force? To make force an option in the way that it's now become -- I think about North Korea, Syria and Iran, and actually --
Wolfowitz: And Iraq.
Q: And Iraq. When I think about it, these other three that have now been brought up, being discussed, have actually been very kind of multinational and diplomatic and yet it's partly the threat of force that seems to strengthen the approach, doesn't it?
Wolfowitz: There's no question that in certain -- First of all, diplomacy that it's just words is rarely going to get you much unless you're dealing with people who basically share your values and your interests. I'm not against, I mean sometimes it does help to just have a better understanding.
But if you're talking about trying to move people to something that they're not inclined to do, then you've got to have leverage and one piece of leverage is the ultimate threat of force. It's something you need to be very careful about because, as Rumsfeld likes to say, don't cock unless you're prepared to throw it.
By the way I think there was a tendency to cock it too often with Kosovo. If you go back and look at the year and a half or so leading up to when we finally did use force there were so many empty threats issued that Milosevic clearly concluded, ultimately wrongly, that we weren't serious.
So I think yeah, I think the threat of force is one of the instruments of diplomacy, but it's one that needs to be used carefully.
I'm going to have to break here for a few minutes and we'll try to get back to you soon.
Q: Thanks so much. Goodbye.
Saturday, May 10, 2003
Q: How are you doing?
Wolfowitz: Pretty good. How are you?
Q: Okay. I will try to make this painless. It reminds me of an interview I read with Philip Ross once in the Times and he said what a day. First the dentist, now a journalist. [Laughter]
Wolfowitz: The dentist was easy, so I hope you can stay below his threshold. [Laughter]
You're kind of faint.
Q: I was telling Kevin, I have a headset and I type as we speak, which is one reason I'll want to see the transcript just so I don't make errors. I'm reliable, but I'm not a letter-perfect typist and I won't always be able to keep up with you.
Can you hear me okay now?
Wolfowitz: Pretty well. It's okay.
Q: This is a feature magazine and people want to know a little about you so let me just lead you through a few questions there.
One is, where were you on September 11th? Were you at the Pentagon when --
Wolfowitz: I was in my office. We'd just had a breakfast with some congressmen in which one of the subjects had been missile defense. And we commented to them that based on what Rumsfeld and I had both seen and worked on the Ballistic Missile Threat Commission, that we were probably in for some nasty surprises over the next ten years.
Q: Oh, my gosh.
Wolfowitz: I can't remember, then there was the sort of question of what kind of nasty surprises? I don't remember exactly which ones we came up with. The point was more just that it's in the nature of surprise that you can't predict what it's going to be.
Q: Do you remember then the impact of the plane into the Pentagon? Or had you first heard stories about New York? What was --
Wolfowitz: We were having a meeting in my office. Someone said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Then we turned on the television and we started seeing the shots of the second plane hitting, and this is the way I remember it. It's a little fuzzy.
Wolfowitz: There didn't seem to be much to do about it immediately and we went on with whatever the meeting was. Then the whole building shook. I have to confess my first reaction was an earthquake. I didn't put the two things together in my mind. Rumsfeld did instantly.
Q: Did he really?
Wolfowitz: Yeah. He went charging out and down to the site where the plane had hit, which is what I would have done if I'd had my wits about me, which may or may not have been a smart thing to do. But it was, instead the next thing we heard was that there'd been a bomb and the building had to be evacuated. Everyone started streaming out of the building in a quite orderly way. Congregated on the parade ground basically right in front of the Pentagon which would have been about the worst place to have a crowd of a couple of thousand people in that moment if we'd again had our wits about us. But we were out of the building anyway.
Q: Let me ask you then about the next couple of days. There is --
Wolfowitz: Just to complete it. We went back into the building and that was an experience I won't ever forget. There was a huge fire, there was smoke gradually filling -- not all, just the small number of us who were basically in the command group. Rumsfeld was there and General Myers who was still the Vice Chairman at that point. The Chairman was on his way back from overseas and I was there. We were in the National Military Command Center and there was this acrid smoke gradually seeping into the place. Rumsfeld simply refused to leave. He finally made me leave, which I was not happy about.
I went up to this bizarre location that was prepared to survive nuclear war.
Q: In the Pentagon.
Wolfowitz: No, no. Way out of town.
Kellems: That's why he left, was to separate them.
Q: I see.
Kellems: To provide continuity.
Q: And then in the next few days, then there was the statement which now looks remarkably [prescient] when you said this is a campaign. At that point, I think it was the 13th, at that point was Iraq sort of moving into the scope, under the radar screen? What was your thinking at that point?
Wolfowitz: I know my thinking at that point was that the old approach to terrorism was not acceptable any longer. The old approach being you treat it as a law enforcement problem rather than a national security problem. You pursue terrorists after they've done things and bring them to justice, and to the extent states are perhaps involved, you retaliate against them but you don't really expect to get them out of the business of supporting terrorism completely.
To me what September 11th meant was that we just couldn't live with terrorism any longer.
Throughout the '80s and '90s it was sort of, I've never found quite the right words because necessary evil doesn't describe it, but a sort of an evil that you could manage but you couldn't eliminate. And I think what September 11th to me said was this is just the beginning of what these bastards can do if they start getting access to so-called modern weapons, and that it's not something you can live with any longer. So there needs to be a campaign, a strategy, a long-term effort, to root out these networks and to get governments out of the business of supporting them. But that wasn't something that was going to happen overnight.
Q: Right. So Iraq naturally came to the top of the list because of its history and the weapons of mass terror and all the rest, is that right?
Wolfowitz: Yes, plus the fact which seems to go unremarked in most places, that Saddam Hussein was the only international figure other than Osama bin Laden who praised the attacks of September 11th.
Q: So now there is the much-reported, I just want to make sure I get it right, famous meeting at --
It's been reported in a couple of different ways, and I'd like to get it in your words if I can, the famous meetings that first weekend in Camp David where the question of Iraq came up. I believe the President heard you discussing Iraq and asked you to elaborate on it or speak more about it. Can you give us a little sense of what that was like?
Wolfowitz: Yeah. There was a long discussion during the day about what place if any Iraq should have in a counterterrorist strategy. On the surface of the debate it at least appeared to be about not whether but when. There seemed to be a kind of agreement that yes it should be, but the disagreement was whether it should be in the immediate response or whether you should concentrate simply on Afghanistan first.
There was a sort of undertow in that discussion I think that was, the real issue was whether Iraq should be part of the strategy at all and whether we should have this large strategic objective which is getting governments out of the business of supporting terrorism, or whether we should simply go after bin Laden and al Qaeda.
To the extent it was a debate about tactics and timing, the President clearly came down on the side of Afghanistan first. To the extent it was a debate about strategy and what the larger goal was, it is at least clear with 20/20 hindsight that the President came down on the side of the larger goal.
Q: Believe it or not, because this is a feature magazine, I'd like to ask you a little bit about your background. None of this is going to be personal. I know that you protect the privacy of your family so this has really nothing to do with that.
First of all, the question of ideas. That is, is there anything at all, we talked about this a little off the record, is there anything at all to the Straussian Connection?
Wolfowitz: It's a product of fevered minds who seem incapable of understanding that September 11th changed a lot of things and changed the way we need to approach the world. Since they refused to confront that, they looked for some kind of conspiracy theory to explain it.
I mean I took two terrific courses from Leo Strauss as a graduate student. One was on Montesquieu's spirit of the laws, which did help me understand our Constitution better. And one was on Plato's laws. The idea that this has anything to do with U.S. foreign policy is just laughable.
Q: There is something kind of humorous in it because a few weeks ago all we heard was he's been the kind of cowboy, rampaging around the globe looking for evildoers. And now he seems to be in the vehicle of erudite philosophy.
This is very helpful.
Wolfowitz: It sort of calls to mind the joke about the President and the Pope are on a boat, and the Pope's hat blows off. The President says, no, I'll get it for you and walks across the top of the waves, picks up the hat and walks back across the top of the waves, hands the hat to the Pope and the next day the headlines are, "President Bush can't swim." [Laughter]
Q: Let me ask about one other [inaudible], and that's Albert Wohlstetter. A couple of people, believe me, who are not [inaudible] at all, say that Wohlstetter was a far-sighted military strategist whose notions have been about low yield nuclear weapons that we're hearing about today, and different ways of fighting wars. It doesn't have to be an all or nothing, zero sum, no mutually assured destruction. Are there any notions like that on where the military is today or how you look at --
Wolfowitz: Wohlstetter is a much more relevant figure and it's interesting too, by the way, that the same fellow who, or one of the same fellows who discovered the Straussian Conspiracy kind of throws Wohlstetter in as a Straussian when Wohlstetter was actually philosophically a student of Quine.
Q: The analytical --
Wolfowitz: Exactly. If there was anything anathema to Leo Strauss it was analytical philosophy.
Q: I bet.
Wolfowitz: And Wohlstetter was somebody who really just almost painfully resisted being labeled even as to political party. He was so insistent on ascertaining the facts. He had a very fact-based approach to policy. It's very impressive. And indeed, I was his student and often identified as such, and it occasionally troubled me just a little bit that I thought, well, maybe he was also associated with these sort of cold-blooded systems analysts who kind of seemed to leave the moral piece of politics and strategy as though it wasn't part of the equation.
It was terrifically gratifying to me as I got to know him better, to realize that there were intensely moral considerations in the way he approached these issues. Most dramatically in his deep concern about the fate of Bosnia in his late years.
But to come back to sort of more concretely, I mean here's something that I think is quite important, quite relevant. Albert Wohlstetter was one of the first people, most influential people, to understand what a dramatic difference it would make to have accurate weapons. And that in particular what he was really interested in was the ability, two things. Number one, to be able to use conventional weapons in ways that people, that only nuclear weapons could be used, to be able to get out of the nuclear mindset kind of things.
But secondly and importantly, to be able to avoid unnecessary loss of innocent life in war. And in fact there's a fairly seminal document that was done under Fred Ikle when he was Under Secretary of Defense for Policy called Discriminate Deterrence which may be interesting to know if you can find it on the internet. As I recall, even at the time, the State Department didn't like it because for some reason or other it offended some of our allies.
Q: Was that when you were working --
Wolfowitz: No, no. I was actually doing East Asia policy at the time. I can't claim any credit for it.
Q: This was in the '80s then.
Wolfowitz: Yes, mid '80s. '84 or '86, I don't remember which.
But going back much earlier, Albert, starting in '73 or '74 put together something called the New Alternative Workshop or New Alternative Panel. I think it was Workshop. To look at the implications of new technology. But the ones that interested him the most were the ones that promised great improvements in accuracy. And as a result he was the first intellectual figure to recognize that the Tomahawk cruise missile which was being developed by the Navy primarily as a nuclear delivery system, was much more significant as a conventional delivery system because it could give you very accurate weapons with ranges of what we have now, 600 miles or more.
If it hadn't been for Albert, I believe the Tomahawk cruise missile would have been traded away in the SALT II talks in 1976. But what happened -- am I getting into too much historical detail?
Q: No, this is fascinating.
Wolfowitz: What happened was the Ford Administration at the time was trying very hard to get a SALT II agreement based on the agreement in principle that emerged in Vladivostok. The Soviets were basically saying they would only make an agreement if we banned all cruise missiles at ranges greater than 600 kilometers which would have included the Tomahawk. The Navy, frankly, was quite happy to give it up because they'd only built it in some measure at Kissinger's urging earlier on, when Kissinger wanted some nuclear delivery system he could use as bargaining material in the SALT talks and as far as they were concerned, it was just an unnecessary burden to be carried by attack submarines that had only limited torpedo space.
It was Albert and his group who said wait a minute, if you can have a conventional delivery system it's worth the torpedo space, I mean an accurate conventional delivery system, and the way I understood the history but I'm sure there are slightly different versions of this, he and I persuaded Fred Ikle who was then the Director of ACDA that we should oppose giving up the tomahawk on arms control grounds because it had the potential to substitute conventional for nuclear weapons and that was a good thing from the point of view of arms control.
The Secretary of Defense at the time who was somebody named Rumsfeld, by whatever means he came to it, concluded it was not something he wanted to give up even if the Navy brass were prepared to. As a result it was not sort of used as a bargaining chip in those negotiations, although I think absent those two individuals it probably would have been.
So it was a matter of considerable personal satisfaction to watch those missiles turning right angle corners in the Gulf War in 1991 and demonstrating that this stuff really could do what Albert Wohlstetter had envisioned 15 years before it might be able to do.
It's also an interesting case I think, without wanting to suggest that there's anything unintelligent about the military, it's too easy to misinterpret this comment. I mean there are very smart people trying very hard to do the right thing, but what's involved here is a tradeoff between a very expensive system that might some day be accurate, against things that are available here and now and that are much cheaper, and they may not be accurate but they seem to "do the job".
It's been true also of things like global positioning systems and the JDAM, the accurate GPS bombs that were used so heavily in the last war. The last two wars. It took a certain amount of pressure from the Congress to get the Air Force and the other services to invest adequately in those systems because a certain skepticism about the promise of briefing charts versus the reality of the here and now, and I think it was -- It's somewhat, I'm going way too far off on this. But if you wanted to understand Albert Wohlstetter you've got to understand how somebody can perceive that a seemingly cold technical fact like this fact about accuracy translates into a whole transformation of strategy and politics.
That had a similar impact in the 1950s when he was asked to look at, by the Air Force, at what's the most cost-effective way to base our bomber force and came out of that with the observation which is like a blinding flash of the obvious but no one had noticed it before then, that the real issue isn't what's cost effective, the real issue is how do you build a bomber force that's not vulnerable to a first strike by the other side?
Q: That was seminal.
Wolfowitz: Absolutely seminal. And it derived not from reading Plato, believe me. Nor did it derive from any ideological prejudices whatsoever. It derived from saying here's the problem, look at it factually, see what the questions are that emerged from the thing itself so to speak -- inductive rather than deductive -- and I suppose that's the difference between ideological thinking and pragmatic thinking.
Q: Is that true for your own approach as well?
Wolfowitz: Well, it turns out he was a mixture and I think I'm a mixture. People ask me how do you characterize yourself. I guess the closest I can come to saying it is I think I'm a practical idealist. I mean I don't like the caricature Wilsonian view that says we're going to impose something on the world regardless of whether it can take in the real world. But I also don't like the sort of, the kind of pragmatism -- I consider myself pragmatic but I don't like the kind of pragmatism that sort of stares at people who hold principles very strongly and think that it's all just a matter of doing business and being sensible.
Q: Which leads me to the last couple of questions --
Wolfowitz: I remember once when the President in the middle of a discussion about a particular country said just how brutal are its leaders. I thought it was an incredibly perceptive question and it's too often left out of the equation as a sort of pragmatic view that you've got to deal with them as the leaders of country X and you shouldn't inquire too deeply into what kind of people they are. I think you do have to deal with all kinds of dubious characters in the world in order to accomplish the national security objectives of the country.
But it's really important to keep in mind what this country is about. It's a lot more than just physical security or economic health.
Q: Does that also raise a question then if you're looking at leader who truly is brutal, [inaudible], raising that question, and also maybe someone who doesn't necessarily think the way you do. I know Wohlstetter had this phrase, I think he called it Western preferred Soviet strategy.
Wolfowitz: Exactly. It's probably the second greatest source of intelligence error is mirror imaging. I mean I think the greatest mistake is assuming that people will behave, well it's a version of mirror imaging, I guess. People will be rational according to our definition of what is rational.
Wolfowitz: I guess they really are the same thing.
Q: I'm sorry. What's the first one?
Wolfowitz: The first one is that people will, the kind of mistake that in a sense I think we made implicitly in assuming that anyone who was intelligent enough to fly an airplane wouldn't commit suicide with it. Or the mistake that Saddam Hussein made of thinking that -- Let me back up. I guess I'm getting --
The mistake that Saddam made was in assuming that we would behave in a certain way, i.e. we would never go to war until we'd had six weeks of bombing first. That's a sort of classic intelligence failure, to have a certain expectation and then see all the evidence in light of that expectation.
Hitler made the same mistake in assuming that of course we'd attack in Calais, so we achieved one of history's great deceptions by reinforcing that conviction of his. But the sort of second and related source is mirror imaging. Those are not examples of mirror imaging. In fact Saddam was assuming that we were too weak to go in on the ground, unlike his tough macho approach to life. But mirror imaging I think is another major source of error.
What was that phrase, U.S. preferred Soviet --
Q: I think it's Western preferred Soviet strategy, which is kind of an ingeniously [compressed] phrase.
Wolfowitz: That's typical Albert, yeah.
Q: And of course that was part of his approach to the Cold War as well. And also the sort of standard, now we are getting off the track but it is interesting, that the sort of standard arms negotiation which entails that we should sort of remove options from our side of the table actually kind of limited our ability to have choices and to maybe even win the Cold War, right?
Wolfowitz: I think that's right, but I'd rather you not put those words --
Q: No, I wouldn't put them in your mouth.
Wolfowitz: It's too complicated a subject to --
Q: I was just curious to see what you had to say about that.
Wolfowitz: I think if one dug into it that's not a bad characterization.
Q: Then, and this is about as personal as I'm going to get, your father was at distinguished mathematician. You studied math and I think chemistry at Cornell. Were you interested in politics all along? I know you were in Washington I believe in '63 when Dr. King made his great speech.
Wolfowitz: '64 I think it was.
Q: I think it was '63, but --
Wolfowitz: Whichever year it was, the "I have a dream" speech.
Q: Right. And you were there. You were interested in politics and also questions of social justice and democracy? How did all this happen for someone who was kind of a science guy?
Wolfowitz: I think my father deserves a large part of the blame or whatever it is. It's a funny thing because he really did think that the ultimate thing in life was to be a mathematician or a theoretical physicist. There's a certain snobbery about mathematicians and theoretical physics, in some ways a branch of mathematics almost that is well known among scientists at least.
I was good at math but I kept feeling it was too abstract and I thought maybe if I could work on a cure for cancer I'd be more fully satisfied which is why I sort of headed into the chemistry major. I was actually accepted for a PhD at MIT which I was going to do in biophysical chemistry, but I had also, I think unbeknownst to my father. I don't remember now, applied to -- I'm not saying it was -- There's no deep, dark secret here. I had applied to Chicago for political science. And what I remember is the decisive moment was when I had to decide with respect to Harvard, was I going to apply for government or chemistry. And I finally came out realizing that I wanted to do government, applied to Harvard in government, and told my father and all my chemistry professors that I had looked at the MIT catalog and I had already completed the first two years of graduate course requirements in chemistry so I could afford to take a year and experiment with political science.
They all saw through it and they basically said you don't understand son, the real stars have already completed three years of graduate course work in chemistry. That wasn't really the point. The point was they knew I was -- If you're serious about hard science you don't go off and experiment for a year with something as soft as political science.
Q: You applied to Harvard as well?
Q: You were admitted everywhere?
Wolfowitz: Yeah. They just loved having mathematicians, it was sort of funny.
But to go back to why -- He was one of these scientists, and there are many, -- I don't know whether it's many. I think largely because of the experience of World War II and also because -- Well, he read the New York Times every day as though the future of the world depended on his reading the New York Times. And he had an absolutely passionate interest in politics and history, read a lot of history, knew a lot of history, and I can't help thinking that's where I got the bug from at a fairly young age.
I remember when I was in high school, ninth grade, I'd been looking for Alan Paton's "Cry the Beloved Country" in English, and we arrived on what was going to be a long three or four months in Europe, arrived in France and there it was in French on a book stand. I'd had one year of high school French and not a very good year at that. But I picked it up and I sort of struggled my way through it with a dictionary. And it was partly because I wanted to learn French, but it's also because that sort of, I don't know if you know "Cry the Beloved Country" --
Q: Oh, yeah, I know the novel. It's a tremendous important novel in that era, late '50s, early '60s.
Wolfowitz: It really was, and it was sort of gripping from a political, moral point of view. Those are the kinds of things I tended to read a lot of. George Orwell. Books about the Holocaust unfortunately. John Hersey's Hiroshima.
Q: Did you look at --
Wolfowitz: I did not -- See, this was my big recognition my senior year in college was that when I had spare time I read politics and history and when my fellow math majors had spare time they did extra math problems. I realized there was a message there.
To be really good at something you need to do more than just do well in your coursework. You need to be consumed by it.
Q: And just to get this straight, the Allen Bloom connection. You've now entered literary history because a Nobel Laureate has fictionalized, referenced you at least.
Wolfowitz: It's half of one paragraph, which again -- [Laughter]
Q: Well, it's irresistible for journalists. Because there he is, the great American novelist and you are a very important figure and you're in his novel, and if it [inaudible], it's hard not to use --
Wolfowitz: By the way, that conversation never happened. That particular one.
Q: It didn't make sense. He was fabricating then.
Wolfowitz: He was sort of -- He wasn't fabricating the fact that Bloom loved to talk to any students of his who were in government, and even though I wasn't his closest student I was probably one at the highest level in government so it gave him the most bragging rights. And I'm sure that every time we had a conversation, judging from the way Bellow describes it and I would have expected it. He sort of -- He had a way of seeing everyone as larger than life. Almost everyone he dealt with was a figure from a platonic dialogue almost. In a way it's -- The way of looking at the world that was eye-opening in a certain sense, maybe the story -- [Laughter] Anyway, I'm sure that whatever things were exchanged were exaggerated.
The thing I was grateful to Bellow for was noting very clearly that nobody would ever have told Bloom anything that was classified because he couldn't be trusted with a secret.
Q: That's right. He was very clear about that. He said in fact that [inaudible] doesn't tell him anything that you don't want to appear in tomorrow's press. [Laughter]
Did you take several courses with Bloom?
Wolfowitz: I actually only took one course with Bloom but he was a resident faculty member of the place where I was living.
Q: That was Teluride?
Q: And is it true that, Bellow actually had I think, [inaudible] faculty actually warning your father against Bloom. Is that something [inaudible] at that point?
Wolfowitz: I think it's a composite of various Bloom students. I don't think -- Certainly the way it's put there is not my father, and my father was not a business professor. In fact my father was actually one of the leading figures in mathematical statistics and, even though Bloom didn't have a clue as to what the whole subject was, he knew that my father was something much more than a, however it's described in there.
Wolfowitz: In fact I remember he was in some awe of my father because he would do his work pacing the large quadrangle of the Arts and Sciences College at Cornell, lost in pure thought, without a pencil or paper, and working, and I think it's a fairly rare phenomenon --
Q: This is your father who did that?
Q: He would think it through --
Wolfowitz: He would be thinking about math problems in his head. On the one hand Bloom was somewhat disdainful of hard science in general because it left out the philosophical dimension, but on the other hand I think he was in some awe of, he believed in the life of the mind and theory and all of that, that somebody could actually be thinking through fundamental questions simply in his head.
Q: This is great.
Wolfowitz: So it's a kind of a mixture. When I read that particular paragraph I could have --
Wolfowitz: -- that I had never sort of really seen before. I mean there was a bravery about the guy which included his facing death the way he did I think that's pretty remarkable. I mean I'm not saying I didn't see it before, but I saw it more clearly.
There's an uglier side that I don't want to get into here, but it is sort of glossed over.
Q: It's fair to say you're not a disciple of Allen Bloom. We can say that. You studied with him.
Wolfowitz: And I didn't even study a great deal with him. He had a lot to do with my coming to appreciate that the study of politics could be a serious business even though it wasn't science in the sense that I understood science to be. That was an important eye-opener. But I never, for better and for worse, took the political theory either way most of his other students did.
Q: Did he know Wohlstetter? Bloom had studied with Strauss at Chicago and --
Wolfowitz: No, it was kind of an interesting accident. In trying to choose between Harvard and Chicago, Harvard seemed to have the advantages of a much stronger international relations department and Chicago had the advantage of a much stronger political theory department. Even though I thought international relations was what I wanted to do, I have more confidence in my ability to sort of learn that without a lot of help, and I thought -- I mean Strauss really is quite a remarkable figure. That doesn't make me an acolyte but he really is pretty remarkable. I thought well here's a chance you shouldn't pass up.
Q: So you knew who he was.
Wolfowitz: Yes, I certainly knew who he was. And one of my professors at Cornell said, and by the way there's this guy Albert Wohlstetter who's just moving to Chicago from Rand and you and he would probably get along very well. I'd never heard of the man, if that tells you something about how unconnected I was to the field. This was 1965.
I arrive in Chicago. The first student/faculty tea I'm introduced to Wohlstetter and he said, "Oh, are you related to Jack Wolfowitz?" I said as a matter of fact that's my father. He said I studied mathematics with him and Abraham Wald at Columbia. Then he said, what's your --
Q: They were collaborators, weren't they? Your father and Wald?
Wolfowitz: Yeah. My father was Walds' student and then his principal collaborator until Wald died in an airplane accident in India at too young an age.
But then when Albert discovered I was a math major he immediately glommed onto me. I was his dream of -- His approach to issues was very technical and very technologically oriented and I was the perfect student.
By the way, Alan Greenspan also was a student of my father's. He says that my father had a fundamental influence on his understanding of what was then the brand new field of econometrics.
Q: Right, so this is at Cornell?
Wolfowitz: No, that was at Columbia. That was 1949-1950.
Q: I see. When did he go to Cornell?
Wolfowitz: -- my father, I shouldn't do that.
Q: We're supposed to brag about our fathers.
When did you all go to Ithaca?
Wolfowitz: The first move there was the fall of '51--'52, and then my father immediately had a sabbatical -- no, '52--'53 we moved to Ithaca. Then he immediately had a sabbatical and '53--'54 we spent half in Los Angeles and half in Urbana, Illinois. I still remember, the reason I see the announcement of Stalin's death in 1954 was the street I lived on in Urbana, Illinois at the time.
Q: You'd been living in Manhattan before that?
Wolfowitz: Manhattan. I was born in Brooklyn but we grew up in Manhattan, one block down on Morningside Drive in a house that no longer exists. One block down from the President of Columbia who for part of that time was Dwight Eisenhower. My sister tells me that she remembers seeing Eisenhower go to his car as we were roller-skating on that block, but it didn't make any impression on me. I was probably three or four.
Q: This is all very helpful.
This is sort of the two very small, well, they're big questions but I don't expect you to give me extended answers to the questions of the day. One is there is some question as to whether the Pentagon underestimated Iran's readiness to intervene in Iraq and whether that upset the plans at all, the post-war plans.
Wolfowitz: That's nonsense.
Q: Okay. That had been reported.
Wolfowitz: There's so much that's reported that -- No. In fact it's, I don't want to comment [inaudible] government. We've understood very clearly that Iraq, especially the Shia population of Iraq, is both a source of danger and opportunity to the Iranians. I think it's more danger than it is opportunity. But the danger itself is incentive for them to try to intervene because the last thing they want to see, which I think is a real possibility, is an independent source of authority for the Shia religion emerging in a country that is democratic and pro-Western.
Q: That's a --
Wolfowitz: There's going to be a huge struggle for the soul of Iraqi Shiism, there's no question about it.
Q: What about the notion that the military campaign went so quickly and so brilliantly that you did not have everything else as much as you might have in place for this later era, later period [inaudible]?
Wolfowitz: It certainly has gone quickly. People that remember when you want to take your story, I mean we're, 50 days after the war began people started -- Having been wrong about the first quagmire saying we were in a quagmire in terms of the restoration of the civil services in Iraq or dealing with any number of other obvious problems. To me what's remarkable is how much was accomplished in 50 days.
Things are not going to happen overnight. The notion -- I mean policy, like life, is fundamentally about choices and the notion that we should have chosen to delay until we had a huge force and go more slowly and deal with all the problems that would have come from going slowly so that we would have had enough people, for example, to guard the museum in Baghdad is frankly absurd. And it may well turn out, in fact, that the museum in Baghdad was looted before the war even began, in which case no amount of guarding would have done any good.
There are choices that had to be made and I don't think there's any question that the fundamental speed of the operation, the remarkable speed of the operation, played a role in preventing a number of the worst things that we feared from happening. We'll never know exactly why the oilfields were not destroyed. We did not have an environmental disaster resulting from huge hydrogen sulfide fires in the north. We did not have attacks on Israel. We did not have a fortress Baghdad. We did not have a civil war in northern Iraq or a Turkish intervention in northern Iraq. We didn't have an Iranian intervention to speak of in southern Iraq. We didn't have any Arab governments collapse. Should I keep going?
Q: These were all possibilities you weighed, right?
Wolfowitz: Absolutely. And most of these were things that people warned were absolutely certain to happen if we went to war. I think a few of them I thought were exaggerated. The one that has always worried me the most was the use of weapons of mass destruction. We still don't know why they weren't used. That's something maybe we'll know more about one of these days, I don't know.
But there seems to be very little doubt that everything came at the Iraqi regime much faster than they expected it. That the war began sooner, that the ground troops moved in faster, that they moved up north faster, that they moved into Baghdad faster, and a lot of things happened before for that matter some of the meddling neighbors could interfere, either.
One of our senior generals in a discussion of a related but different subject made the observation that speed kills, as in it kills the enemy, and that getting to an objective quickly is often the thing that's most effective militarily. There's always usually a tradeoff between speed and mass.
Q: And then the last question, you've been very patient and generous. That is what's next? Where do we stand now in the campaign that you talked about right after September 11th?
Wolfowitz: I think the two most important things next are the two most obvious. One is getting post-Saddam Iraq right. Getting it right may take years, but setting the conditions for getting it right in the next six months. The next six months are going to be very important.
The other thing is trying to get some progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. I do think we have a better atmosphere for working on it now than we did before in all kinds of ways. Whether that's enough to make a difference is not certain, but I will be happy to go back and dig up the things I said a long time ago which is, while it undoubtedly was true that if we could make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue we would provide a better set of circumstances to deal with Saddam Hussein, but that it was equally true the other way around that if we could deal with Saddam Hussein it would provide a better set of circumstances for dealing with the Arab-Israeli issue. That you had to move on both of them as best you could when you could, but --
There are a lot of things that are different now, and one that has gone by almost unnoticed--but it's huge--is that by complete mutual agreement between the U.S. and the Saudi government we can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia. Their presence there over the last 12 years has been a source of enormous difficulty for a friendly government. It's been a huge recruiting device for al Qaeda. In fact if you look at bin Laden, one of his principle grievances was the presence of so-called crusader forces on the holy land, Mecca and Medina. I think just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to open the door to other positive things.
I don't want to speak in messianic terms. It's not going to change things overnight, but it's a huge improvement.
Q: Was that one of the arguments that was raised early on by you and others that Iraq actually does connect, not to connect the dots too much, but the relationship between Saudi Arabia, our troops being there, and bin Laden's rage about that, which he's built on so many years, also connects the World Trade Center attacks, that there's a logic of motive or something like that? Or does that read too much into --
Wolfowitz: No, I think it happens to be correct. The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but -- Hold on one second.
Kellems: Sam there may be some value in clarity on the point that it may take years to get post-Saddam Iraq right. It can be easily misconstrued, especially when it comes to --
Wolfowitz: There have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there's a fourth overriding one which is the connection between the first two. Sorry, hold on again.
Kellems: By the way, it's probably the longest uninterrupted phone conversation I've witnessed, so --
Q: This is extraordinary.
Kellems: You had good timing.
Q: I'm really grateful.
Wolfowitz: To wrap it up.
The third one by itself, as I think I said earlier, is a reason to help the Iraqis but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did it. That second issue about links to terrorism is the one about which there's the most disagreement within the bureaucracy, even though I think everyone agrees that we killed 100 or so of an al Qaeda group in northern Iraq in this recent go-around, that we've arrested that al Qaeda guy in Baghdad who was connected to this guy Zarqawi whom Powell spoke about in his UN presentation.
Q: So this notion then that the strategic question was really a part of the equation, that you were looking at Saudi Arabia --
Wolfowitz: I was. It's one of the reasons why I took a very different view of what the argument that removing Saddam Hussein would destabilize the Middle East. I said on the record, I don't understand how people can really believe that removing this huge source of instability is going to be a cause of instability in the Middle East.
I understand what they're thinking about. I'm not blind to the uncertainties of this situation, but they just seem to be blind to the instability that that son of a bitch was causing. It's as though the fact that he was paying $25,000 per terrorist family and issuing regular threats to most friendly governments in the region and the long list of things was of no account and the only thing to think about was that there might be some inter-communal violence if he were removed.
The implication of a lot of the argumentation against acting -- the implication was that the only way to have the stability that we need in Iraq is to have a tyrant like Saddam keeping everybody in check -- I know no one ever said it that way and if you pointed it out that way they'd say that's not what I mean. But I believe that really is where the logic was leading.
Q: Which also makes you wonder about how much faith there is in spreading democracy and all the rest among some of those who --
Wolfowitz: Probably not very much. There is no question that there's a lot of instability that comes with democracy and it's the nature of the beast that it's turbulent and uncertain.
The thing is, at a general level, I've encountered this argument from the defenders of Asian autocracies of various kinds. Look how much better off Singapore is than Indonesia, to pick a glaring contrast. And Indonesia's really struggling with democracy. It sort of inherited democracy under the worst possible conditions too, one might say. But the thing that -- I'd actually say that a large part of Indonesia's problems come from the fact that dictatorships are unstable in the one worst way which is with respect to choosing the next regime. Democracy, one could say, has solved, not solve perfectly, but they represent one of the best solutions to one of the most fundamental instabilities in politics and that's how to replace one regime with another. It's the only orderly way in the world for doing it other than hereditary monarchy which doesn't seem to have much of a future.
Q: Thanks so much.
Wolfowitz: You're very welcome.
[Web Version: http://dod.mil/transcripts/2003/tr20030509-depsecdef0223.html]