May 30, 2003


Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Sam Tannenhaus, Vanity Fair (United States Department of Defense, May 9, 2003)
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: [Y]ou 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.

It's hard to recall a public official who has ever been portrayed quite so ominously in the media but who comes across so well when the media actually talk to him. Posted by Orrin Judd at May 30, 2003 7:15 PM
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