'Shaming effect' on Arab world
Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published April 29, 2003
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a key architect of President Bush's Iraq policy, said yesterday that the ouster of Saddam Hussein has had a "shaming effect" on the Arab and Muslim world where other tyrannical rulers exist.
"I think that already to some extent the magnitude of the crimes of that regime and those images of people pulling down a statue and celebrating the arrival of American troops is having a shaming effect throughout the region," Mr. Wolfowitz said in an interview with The Washington Times.
He specifically mentioned Syria and Iran, both U.S.-designated state sponsors of terrorism, as places where political reform is needed. He said Iran has the potential for a democratic revolution, but he sees less of a chance in Ba'athist-ruled Syria.
"In terms of the larger picture, I think they're like several other countries on a sort of dead-end course," he said. "They're less immediately threatening to us than some of those countries, but I think they're going to have to face that opportunity."
For the United States in a postwar Middle East, he said, "It does seem to me there is an opportunity now to demonstrate that we are who we say we are, and we come as liberators and not as occupiers."
The Pentagon's No. 2 official, a highly influential thinker in conservative quarters, called the allied ouster of Ba'ath Party rule in Iraq an "enormously important event."
Mr. Wolfowitz, along with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, was a strong advocate for removing Saddam Hussein by force.
He also said in yesterday's interview that fewer troops will be needed to keep the peace in Iraq than the 135,000 there.
"We're are not going to need as many people to do peacekeeping as we needed to fight the war," Mr. Wolfowitz said.
In a wide-ranging interview, Mr. Wolfowitz also said he is confident prohibited weapons will be found in Iraq, said that Syria allowed "killers" to cross its borders, and predicted the Iraqis themselves will impose penalties on countries that blocked U.S. action against Saddam, such as France.
Mr. Wolfowitz said he expects to see a reduction of U.S. military forces in Saudi Arabia now that a southern no-fly zone over Iraq to protect the Shi'ites is no longer needed. The United States has maintained a large Air Force presence at Prince Sultan Air Base, including a state-of-the-art Combined Air Operations Center that directed the air war against Iraq.
The Saudis are under pressure from their own religious leaders and populace to reduce the U.S. presence in the oil kingdom. Some of the bloodiest terrorist acts, such as the attacks on the destroyer USS Cole and the Khobar Towers barracks, were directed at U.S. troops supporting the containment of Saddam.
"The Saudis have wanted us because we were needed, but there's obviously a huge scope for change" with the fall of Baghdad, he said.
"We maintain a close defense relationship with Saudi Arabia whether or not we have forces there," Mr. Wolfowitz said. "I don't think either of us want to give up the capability to come back if and when we are needed."
Asked whether he is as confident today as he was before the war that banned weapons are in Iraq, Mr. Wolfowitz said: "The answer's yes. I think we're very confident that all the evidence points to the fact those weapons are there, and that they were very carefully hidden."
Regarding U.S. troops in Iraq, Mr. Wolfowitz said reductions are likely, based on what is needed for stability and peacekeeping, and what a future Iraqi government wants.
"Over time, whatever we started with, I assume over time it's going to come down," he said. "And hopefully not too slowly, but we'll need to see what is needed. We need to see what the Iraqis want."
Before the war, Mr. Wolfowitz rejected an estimate from the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, that it would take an American occupation force of "several hundred thousand" to stabilize Iraq.
The deputy defense secretary yesterday stuck by his testimony before the House Budget Committee, where he called Gen. Shinseki's estimate "wildly off the mark."
"We didn't need anything like that to fight the war," he said. "I still think it's true that we're are not going to need as many people to do peacekeeping as we needed to fight the war."
"The concern I had about that very big number... I think it's the wrong message to send to the region and to the Iraqis that we expect to have a great big occupation force for a long period of time."
On Syria, Mr. Wolfowitz said he believes Damascus facilitated the flow of hundreds of foreign guerrillas into Iraq before and during the war.
"There's no question that paramilitaries crossed the border, and it's a pretty tightly controlled border, so I have to assume they had some degree of official sanction," he said. "That's why we expressed very strong concern about what was going on."
But since the fall of Baghdad, the Syrians appear to have stopped more paramilitary fighters from getting into Iraq. "There does seem to be a change in that respect," he said.
But the fact that Syria "should have had an indulgence in sending killers into Iraq to threaten our people, that was simply unacceptable," Mr. Wolfowitz said.
Asked whether Syria is showing signs of political reform, like Iran, Mr. Wolfowitz said Iran tolerates more diversity of opinion.
"Oddly, in a certain way Iran is a more dangerous country in some of its policies," Mr. Wolfowitz said. "But it's a more open country in terms of the degree of diversion of opinion that's possible inside Iran."
"Syria's a pretty tightly regimented place and less obviously open to political change," he said.
"But that doesn't mean it can't change. In this modern world no country is immune, except maybe North Korea, to information from the outside. And when I spoke earlier for the need for Syria to confront the dead-end that it's on, there probably are people within that regime who can understand that they're on a dead-end course. Whether they can persuade President [Bashar] Assad to change it is a different matter."
Asked whether France and Russia would be penalized for opposing U.S. efforts to oust Saddam, Mr. Wolfowitz said, "I think there are going to be consequences."
"I suspect when Iraq has its own government and that government can make its own choices about who it wants to do business with, it's going to make some difference whether countries helped to liberate it or didn't help to liberate it," he said. "A lot of those kinds of consequences that take place in the real world."
Mr. Rumsfeld is visiting Gulf allies to discuss a small U.S. presence now that the man who threatened those nations is out of power.
"We have good friends and allies in the region," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "We've had long, multiple-decade relationships, and we intend to maintain those relationships."