Hear More From Paul Wolfowitz
Some issues of the past still affect the present. Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz sat down Friday with former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the man widely known — fairly or not — as the "Architect of the Iraq War."
Wolfowitz wrote a spirited attack on the so-called "realists" of the foreign policy world, including those who support President Obama, in the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine.
Raz asked Wolfowitz about his view of realism but also about issues he was somewhat reluctant to discuss: Iran and the Iraq war.
Foreign policy realists, in simple terms, believe the United States should only act when it serves its own interests. Many of them opposed the invasion of Iraq.
In his article, Wolfowitz writes that Obama is not a classic realist.
Paul Wolfowitz: If you wanted to find a realist, as someone who believes foreign policy should support American interests, then I know of very few people who wouldn't associate themselves with that view. And certainly I do, and I'm sure President Obama does. The question is what are American interests? And there is a school of thought — and it's a fairly influential one — that says American interests should concern themselves only between the external conduct of countries and the external relations between states, and that we have no business getting involved with their internal affairs and in fact that's interference and it's beyond our capacity. And my basic point is that, first of all, it is our business: The internal affairs of other countries has a big impact on American interests. To me, the evidence on that is dramatic, and we have an ability to influence it, more in some places than some others.
Guy Raz: Is that — when do you pick and choose?
PW: Well, you tailor what you can do according to the circumstances.
GR: Because you can't apply it consistently.
PW: Look, I think the notion that there's a dogma or doctrine of foreign policy that gives you a textbook recipe for how to react to all situations is really nonsense.
GR: But I want to ask you about President Obama, because you say that he is not a "realist." You argue that he is something else
PW: Look, they made me take the quote marks out. It bothers me that the so-called "realists" have appropriated this term, "realism." Obama is, I think, a realist.
GR: By "realist," you're referring to people like professor Stephen Walt from Harvard, John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago ...
PW: I'm not trying to refer to a particular individual; I'm referring to people who believe in a doctrine that the internal affairs of countries is not our business, OK? And if people want to say there's no such person, then fine, that argument is over. I don't think that's true, actually, but I'm not really interested in individuals. I'm interested in saying we have a record over 25 years where American promotion of freedom and democratic institutions — and, by the way, the rights of women, which is part of that, and if you, looking ahead in the Muslim countries, I believe, improving the condition of women is not only something one should do because it's right, but it's in American interests. And I think Mrs. Clinton — Secretary Clinton, excuse me — has that piece of the agenda correct, and I think she's being a realist. I think someone who puts themselves in a doctrine that says the way Saudi Arabia treats its women is no concern of ours, they may call themselves realists, but I think they're very unrealistic.
GR: In defense of the argument that foreign policy realists are making, they're not saying that democracy promotion shouldn't happen; I think the argument they're making is it shouldn't happen at the point of a gun.
PW: There's no argument that you don't do it at the point of a gun, and one of the points I make in that article is despite a lot of inaccurate representations — including this use of the word "architect" to describe me, I'm sorry — we went to war in Iraq, those of us who supported it, because we believed —
GR: I mean, you were described that way in 2004 and —
PW: You're not the only one who did it, but I don't want to get into an argument. ... The real point is this: Look, people who supported it, including me, did it because we believed Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and not because we believed we needed to go to war to install a democracy in Iraq.
GR: In a response to your piece in Foreign Policy, one of the best known realists, Harvard professor Stephen Walt writes, "Idealistic wars of choice like Iraq invariably force policymakers to engage in threat inflation and deception, and Wolfowitz was an able practitioner of this art." There are so many unanswered questions about Iraq. First, your response to Stephen Walt.
PW: Look, I didn't do this Q&A in order to argue about the Iraq war. I did this Q&A precisely for the opposite reason, which is to say that --
GR: But this is a response to your --
PW: Let me finish — which is precisely to say, don't confuse the Iraq war with promoting democracy peacefully, and that is an extremely important part of American foreign policy, and I personally don't think we should use force to promote democracy. Maybe there's someone around who does, but the real point is, we can have a lot of argument about Iraq, and a lot of people can feel very strongly that it was the wrong thing to do, and I'm just, in effect, pleading: Don't let that carry over to saying we should abandon anything that looks like, quote, interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. Don't abandon the cause of women's rights. Don't abandon the cause of people pushing for freedom and democracy in Iran.
GR: But surely you can understand the skepticism of those like Walt who say we need to be very careful now because of the mistakes of Iraq.
PW: We need to always be very careful about the use of force. There is no question about that, but I don't think it applies to being, quote, very careful about supporting democratic reformers in the Arab world.
GR: The question is not about supporting democracy in the Arab world but what Walt in his argument calls "idealistic wars" —
PW: I'm sorry, that isn't the issue. I'm not arguing for "idealistic wars," so we have no argument about that. If that's what the issue is — and if he thinks nobody is questioning support for democracy — then there's no issue with him. But there are people who, in fact, believe that we have no business getting involved in internal affairs.
GR: But there are clear examples of when you were trying to connect Iraq and al-Qaida — you've seen the Pentagon inspector general's report that was released by the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2007. I mean, you write to Doug Feith, "We are not pulling together these links." I mean, can't you understand --
PW: Look, you want to re-debate the Iraq war — that's a different subject. But when I --
GR: This is one of the most important foreign policy decisions taken in the last 30 years —
PW: But the issue that I'm trying —
GR: That you were a major part of.
PW: What I'm trying to say is no matter how much you detest the Iraq war, no matter what you want to say about arguments that I made, the fact is that it remains in our interest to do the kind of thing that we did with Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, that we did with Chun Doo Hwan in Korea, that we did with the whole Eastern Europe/Soviet Union, that we've done since then with promoting democracy in places like Serbia. Look at the change that's taken place in the Balkans because of the political change in Belgrade.
GR: There's some testimony you gave to the House Budget Committee in 2003 shortly before the war, and I want to play that for you:
It's been a good — a good deal of comments, some of it quite outlandish, about what our post-war requirements might be in Iraq. Some of the higher-end predictions that we have been hearing recently, such as the notion that it will take several-hundred-thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark. First, it's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army. Hard to imagine.
GR: Not hard to imagine today.
PW: Well, look, even at the height of the surge, I believe we got 180,000 American troops, and I don't think we'd have had to do that if we had built up the Iraqi security forces from day one the way we should have. But look, you're sort of illustrating, it seems to me, an obsession — and I ... understand why people want to debate the past, but what I'm trying to say is, in terms of making policy today, whatever you think about the past, let's try to come to some agreement, if we can, that in fact it is in America's interest to promote reform in the Arab world and to do it peacefully.
GR: But knowing what you know now about what happened in Iraq, would you have done it in a different way? I mean, you say —
PW: You can't leave Iraq alone.
GR: I mean, is it more difficult for us to go to a country like Saudi Arabia and say, "We want you to do X, Y and Z, and we want you to follow these democratic principles in light of allegations of torture, in light of the mistakes made in Iraq —
PW: You know, it's interesting, it's interesting —
GR: I mean, isn't it hard to make —
PW: No it isn't. It isn't. And it's especially not hard for this president. I mean, this president has a bully pulpit like no other, and whether it's fair or unfair, George Bush would have had a problem. Barack Obama has an incredible opportunity because he has a clean slate, because of who he is, because of what he represents about the best of America.
GR: Do you believe Iran poses a threat to the United States?
PW: I think on the track they're on, I think it's a very dangerous country.
GR: I'm wondering, if you think it's a dangerous country, can you understand the skepticism that many Americans would have, particularly because of Iraq and because many Americans were led to believe Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States, that they would be skeptical about whether Iran poses the same kind of threat?
PW: Look, I think Iraq was dangerous. I think a country that defies 17 U.N. resolutions and which, the day after 9/11, Saddam Hussein says, 'Until Americans suffer the way they've made other people suffer,' that its government will never change its policy, it was a dangerous country. Some people misread the danger, by the way. It wasn't just George Bush. Bill Clinton was the one who said, I think in 1998, "I guarantee you someday they'll use these weapons."
GR: But he didn't invade Iraq.
PW: He bombed it for four days. I think he thought that might bring them around.
GR: But there's a difference — we're talking now about a war that's cost $800 billion, 4,300 lives.
PW: I'm not saying it hasn't been costly and difficult, but George Bush made that decision after many more years of frustration and after an unbelievable demonstration of what terrorism could mean and what weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists could mean. I mean, we're going to probably debate the Iraq war for at least as long as I'm alive --
GR: And you can understand why.
PW: I can understand why. What I'm trying to say is, don't confuse everything that President Bush was in favor of with the Iraq war that you may not like.
GR: You have no regrets about what happened.
PW: That's not true, but I didn't come here — look, there were a lot of mistakes that were made, and some of them, I would say, I identified and some of them I didn't, and I'm not the "architect," I'm not the sole author here. But that's not the point. The point here is we have a long record of American support for democratic institutions and for freedom, and we shouldn't give that up because we think it's somehow the Iraq war.
GR: Ambassador Paul Wolfowitz is the former deputy defense secretary and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Thanks for coming in.
PW: Thank you.