Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
Interview with the BBC's Jeremy Vine
October 31, 2001
BBC: I was reading your fascinating October 3rd and 4th Joint Armed Services
Committee presentation. We presumed it was all written in the three weeks preceding
the presentation. It was just fascinating.
WOLFOWITZ: I'm trying to remember. That was on the Quadrennial Defense Review.
WOLFOWITZ: Actually, it was the (inaudible) that was written over the course
-- in a sense, the ideas in there were developed over the course of the summer,
and then September 11th happened they asked (inaudible) and start over again.
The conclusion was no, it was sufficiently on target. The strongest change from
September 11th was we should have done it faster and should have done it a long
BBC: I was thinking about it, thinking about the attack. It's strange, although
it looks like a big globalization of terror that you referred to, could in a
way be described as quite a low-tech attack.
WOLFOWITZ: In the place they talk about asymmetric warfare or -- it refers to
the fact that if you're going to take on that the United States you tend not
to go after our strengths, you go after the weaknesses.
WOLFOWITZ: What is malevolently ingenious about September 11th, though, is how
they took our own system, relatively simple operation and in a very sophisticated
way turned it against us.
WOLFOWITZ: There was some ingenuity involved.
BBC: -- there was no fall-out from the CIA (inaudible). You never heard that.
Presumably that wouldn't be a priority in the days after.
WOLFOWITZ: The priority is actually the other way around, particularly now because
so much of the effort now depends on their work. (inaudible) I think you would
see the same thing reflected in the Navy 60 years ago. Pearl Harbor (inaudible).
BBC: Can I just ask you first of all about the latest developments in the war
in Afghanistan which is that positions north of Kabul are being now carpet bombed,
we hear. Is that a change of strategy?
WOLFOWITZ: I don't think it's a change of strategy. That's a journalistic term,
I believe. We are certainly putting very heavy effort against Taliban positions.
The strategy from the beginning has been to empower the opposition forces inside
Afghanistan to be able to undermine and eventually hopefully overthrow the Taliban.
BBC: But moving from a position where clearly the strikes were one off from
surgical to B-52s going in and it looks like carpet bombing to anyone who saw
WOLFOWITZ: Again, I find it -- this is not carpet bombing a la Dresden and World
War II. It is one of the reasons, by the way, we did not send (inaudible) from
the beginning is, it is twice the size, it covers a significant area, but it's
areas that are chosen quite precisely to be front line units. When you're going
after front line units you don't take out one soldier at a time.
BBC: Does it reflect surprise in the administration at how tenacious the Taliban
have turned out to be? I'm just thinking of the words of Rear Admiral Stufflebeem
who said I'm a bit surprised at how doggedly they're hanging on to towns.
WOLFOWITZ: He may have been surprised. I don't think most of us were surprised.
Look, these people are tough fighters on both sides. There's a lot of history,
even British history, in dealing with that. I don't think anyone should be surprised.
One of the reasons for certain deliberation in the way one proceeds here is
because these are not people that you just walk in and deal with in any kind
of easy fashion.
BBC: There's some reports from inside the Pentagon that you personally are frustrated
the war is progressing too slowly?
WOLFOWITZ: I don't know how anybody could begin to know my personal views.
BBC: Are you?
WOLFOWITZ: No, I'm not frustrated, no.
BBC: Do you feel that it is progressing too slowly?
WOLFOWITZ: No. I think we've said from the beginning that this is going to take
time, people should not have the expectation that it's something that's going
to be over quickly. I think frankly, the last ten years particularly have created
a level of expectation I think among Americans that military force is very swift
and decisive. It depends on what your objective is. But this is a difficult
war. Just the Afghanistan people, let alone (inaudible).
BBC: You obviously can't give anybody an assurance that you will catch or kill
Osama bin Laden because you don't know, but can you claim to have won the war
if he hasn't been caught or killed?
WOLFOWITZ: The purpose is to eliminate terrorism, the ability to function and
carry out terrorist acts. And certainly one could imagine dismantling the entire
structure under him and having him live as a fugitive somewhere in the mountains
of Central Asia and say we've [won]. So I don't think one has to say that it's
essential, but obviously of all the people we'd like to catch he's number one
on our list.
BBC: So it's not necessarily a necessary condition of prosecuting the war successfully,
but would it be --
WOLFOWITZ: Nor is it a sufficient --
BBC: I was going to say. Would it be a sufficient --
WOLFOWITZ: Not at all. Not at all.
It's quite clear -- look, it's quite clear past a certain point, probably months
before September 11th, that that organization in the United States had the capacity
to carry out a monstrous act of terrorism even if bin Laden had been captured.
Whoever is mailing the anthrax around now has the capacity to do enormous damage.
No matter what we do to bin Laden.
This is a network that has penetrated into some 60 countries including very
definitely our own and it's got to be rooted out everywhere, and particularly
in the countries where they (inaudible) do damage.
BBC: The prime minister of Britain, Tony Blair, has just completed a visit to
Syria. Are you happy with the way in which hands of friendship are being reached
to countries like Syria, like Iran, which sponsor terrorism?
WOLFOWITZ: The goal is to eliminate terrorism. Sometimes that means you have
to deal with people who know about terrorists and even have been dealing with
BBC: Or are still.
WOLFOWITZ: Well, but I think what seems to me clear after September 11th is
that the whole world, the United States included, has sort of tolerated levels
of state support for terrorism and levels of terrorist activity that seemed
simply at a nuisance level and said well, there's not too much we can do about
it. I think what September 11th makes clear, and in some ways the anthrax attacks
after September 11th make clearer, is that with the weapons available to modern
terrorists we have to have a zero tolerance policy.
BBC: But isn't that the point? Why then befriend Syria? Why not pursue Syria?
WOLFOWITZ: First things first. Our initial objective is getting rid of al Qaeda
in Afghanistan, getting rid of Taliban. And we believe that, not that that's
the only thing (inaudible). I'm talking about military priorities. Our intelligence
priority in many ways is getting after the network here in the United States.
So you need to think about everything you do in relation to your tactical priorities,
but your long-term objective is to get everybody (inaudible).
BBC: We were never given the impression at the beginning that all of this was
to be seen solely in the context of what happened on September 11th and who's
to blame for it. So does it not make you as a well-known hawk in the administration
uneasy when you see the prime minister of Britain reaching out a hand of friendship
to the leaders in Syria?
WOLFOWITZ: We will do whatever we need to do to go after the networks and dismantle
them. Clearly at some point countries like Syria have got to get out of the
business as well. But if they have useful intelligence to provide us on how
to get these networks, obviously you (inaudible).
BBC: President Bush said in his address to Congress soon after September 11th,
"Every nation has a decision to make. Either you are with us or you are
with the terrorists."
Which camp do you think Syria is in?
WOLFOWITZ: I think it's probably too soon to judge.
BBC: Are you worried about the ongoing relationship with Syria then in this
WOLFOWITZ: Which ongoing relationship?
BBC: How you handle Syria in the context of what happened in September.
WOLFOWITZ: I think it's pretty clear that what you want from Syria or any other
country is maximum cooperation going after the terrorists and getting out of
the business of supporting terrorism, and until you get to those end points
it's hard to say. Certain countries, and Syria is clearly on the bridge, have
a lot more to do to clean up their record than we do.
BBC: Do they support Hesbollah or Islamic Jihad and Hammas?
WOLFOWITZ: They've been very active in (inaudible).
BBC: So do you not feel looking at this from inside the Pentagon that as you,
your country, if I can put it like this, climbs into bed with these countries,
in some way compromises the ideals on which the war began originally?
WOLFOWITZ: I think it was a British prime minister who said about 60 years ago
that "If Herr Hitler invaded hell I would find a way to (inaudible)."
That was Churchill talking about cooperating with the Soviet Union during World
War II. I don't think he in any way compromised his abhorrence of communist
tyranny to say that there were orders of priorities and first things first and
deal with who you need to deal with to get through your list. But I think we
have the strength -- moral, political, military, economic, intelligence -- to
win this war across the board (inaudible). But it's not going to happen overnight.
BBC: Same with Iran? Your very close associate Richard Perle said it was crazy
that the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw went to Iran.
WOLFOWITZ: I'm not going to take exception to every characterization you make
of me or people who are my "close associates". Let's just talk about
Look, Iran is a country with a very complicated mixed picture. On the one hand
it is one of the leading state supporters of terrorism including acts of terrorism
against the United States and against Americans. On the other hand, they held
an election which was by Middle Eastern standards amazingly open in which 75
percent of the people essentially voted against the regime. Now our interest
is in helping to see those 75 percent of Iranians really get the regime that
they voted for, and that I think is a step on the road to getting Iran out of
Again, it doesn't mean because we want to get Iran out of supporting terrorism
that we therefore won't cooperate with Iran when it comes, for example, to delivering
humanitarian aide to Afghanistan.
BBC: But a briefing --
WOLFOWITZ: There's a big difference, and I think people need to understand this.
There's a big difference between strategy and tactics. I think the president's
been very clear about both. The strategic objective is exactly what you cited
a few minutes ago. The tactics for getting there have got to be considered in
a [special] way.
BBC: You said at a briefing on September 13th, you talked about removing the
sanctuaries, removing the support systems and ending states that sponsor terrorism.
WOLFOWITZ: That was a misstatement which we corrected, and nobody seems to want
to correct it.
Look, obviously, it means ending support for terrorism. You don't end states.
WOLFOWITZ: Ending state support for terrorism is exactly what the president
and everyone else is --
BBC: Can we speak about Iraq in that context then? What are you going to do
about Iraq? Because during the Clinton Administration you wrote a letter to
President Clinton saying these strikes at Iraq were virtually a waste of time.
Now if it's the case that Iraq now has weapons of mass destruction, how do you
deal with that?
WOLFOWITZ: Carefully and at the right time and thinking about it not as a straight
debate about it.
Look, I think again, as the president -- the president's made it clear, our
initial concentration is where we think al Qaeda is headquartered and that's
in Afghanistan. Getting rid of the regimes that have harbored him now for the
last five years. That has to be our focus and that's determined a lot of other
things including how we deal with Iraq. But Iraq is a problem. It's a problem
particularly because they continue to (inaudible) developing more weapons of
mass destruction. That combination together with support for terrorism is (inaudible)
seeing right now.
BBC: Have you advised the president during this process that it would be right
at this moment to attack Iraq?
WOLFOWITZ: One of the great things about this president is that he encourages
open debate and then makes very clear decisions. We have a team that supports
his decisions because you can only have one president, one leader at a time.
This means you don't get into -- I'm sorry to disappoint you and your listeners.
You don't get into public discussions about I advised the president this and
I advised against that and do a kind of Monday morning second guessing.
BBC: Do you think it would be sound policy at this point to bring Iraq into
WOLFOWITZ: I'll tell you, I think it's sound policy at this point to have one
policy -- not two and not three. And that again is an important point. I've
seen at times in the past the United States seems Monday, Wednesday and Friday
to be supporting the Shah, and Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday to be opposing the
Shah and never having a single policy at all. It's very important, especially
in operations, conflicts and (inaudible).
BBC: But if it was right to have as an aim toppling Saddam when you wrote that
letter to President Clinton, why would it be wrong now?
WOLFOWITZ: Because circumstances now -- we have a very, we have a much higher
priority now than anything we had two, three, four years ago. That is to deal
with an immediate terror threat to the United States as a whole and everything
has to be --
Look, we have a different policy towards Pakistan than we had before September
11th. We have a different policy towards Indonesia. We have a different policy
towards Russia. Practically everything has changed since September 11th.
BBC: Would you in the context of the campaign you're conducting currently rule
out the use of nuclear weapons?
WOLFOWITZ: It's hard to see where they would be useful. In fact it's hard to
see where they wouldn't be possibly counter-productive. This is one of these
speculations about the future that I just don't want to engage in.
BBC: Colin Powell (inaudible) ruled them out.
WOLFOWITZ: I don't know which statement you're referring to. We have no thought
about nuclear weapons in the current campaign. But obviously if some country
were to attack us with a nuclear weapon, I don't know, it would be a mistake
to say absolutely we won't ever do something, but certainly in this conflict
in Afghanistan we (inaudible).
BBC: In your war against terrorism can you tell us, Mr. Wolfowitz, how many
other states are being looked at?
WOLFOWITZ: I think I've already said there are some 60 countries where there
are al Qaeda cells including our own, and I should say no country (inaudible).
It's a worldwide problem, and it's not just al Qaeda. It has to be addressed
on a global basis. I don't have an exact (inaudible).
BBC: In terms of the states which actually sponsor terrorism, are any of them
WOLFOWITZ: Unfortunately, yes. North Korea has a record, and they seem to have
gone quiet lately, which (inaudible).