EDITOR’S NOTE: During testimony before the 9/11 Commission on Tuesday, March 23, deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz addressed some of the contentions made by former U.S. terrorism official Richard Clarke in his new book Against All Odds. [The beginning of Wolfowitz’s response to former Indiana congressman Tim Roemer addresses a prior exchange among Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Commission members Bob Kerrey (former Democratic senator from Nebraska) and Slade Gorton (former Republican senator from Washington) regarding whether or not the Bush administration took their time in regards to addressing terrorism, between the inauguration and Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.] The transcript appears below.
ROEMER: . . . One final question: Again, Secretary Wolfowitz, this is again to be fair, and I want to shoot straight with you on this. We have Mr. Clarke coming up tomorrow. And he has a reference in his book to an April 30th deputies meeting, where he claims — and we want to know if this is accurate or not, so that we can ask him the direct questions tomorrow — he claims that in this meeting, when they were talking about a plan to go forward to go after bin Laden and Al Qaida, that you brought up the subject of Iraq and that you put too much attention on Iraq as a sponsor, as a state sponsor of terrorism and not enough emphasis on Al Qaida as a transnational sponsor of terrorism.
I have just two comments or two questions on that. One would be: Is that fairly accurate? Is his portrayal of that deputies meeting accurate at all or accurate to some degree?
And secondly, in an interagency meeting, where dialogue and discussion of these things should take place, that’s what the interagency process is about, isn’t that where these discussions should take place, that opinions should be bounced back and forth and debate should be heated at times about the different threats to the world?
WOLFOWITZ: Thanks for giving me a chance to comment.
Before I do that, let me just make a comment on the last exchange you had with Secretary Rumsfeld.
WOLFOWITZ: And it applies to quite a few comments, including Senator Gorton’s question about the luxury of seven months. I think there’s a basic difficulty of understanding what a plan really is. A plan is not a military option. Military option is to a plan what a single play in football is to a whole game plan. And this notion that there’s a single thing that if we’d only done it, it would work, is like a Hail Mary pass in football, which is what a desperate losing team does in the hope that maybe they can pull things off at the end.
A plan has got to anticipate what the enemy will do next. It has to anticipate what the government of Pakistan will do. It has to anticipate what world reaction will be. It has to go down many pathways. And it’s not a timetable. No one can tell you what’s going to happen next. You have to be able to call plays and call audibles. And that’s why to put a plan together in seven months wasn’t a long period of time, even if we had everybody on board. It was actually rather fast.
And I give you as an illustration, in 2002, in January, when the president said, OK, I want to see military options for Iraq, it wasn’t until nine months later, I believe, that he finally said, OK. I see that we have a military option against Iraq. And that still wasn’t a plan, because that only allowed him to go to the United Nations and be prepared to use all necessary means. It wasn’t a decision to use all necessary means. And General Franks’ planning continued for another five or six months.
So I think there’s, A, a failure to understand just how complex planning is. And we could get into this.
But to Senator Gorton, I fail to understand how anything done in 2001 in Afghanistan would have prevented 9/11.
And certainly, Congressman Roemer, the option you present of killing a few relatively low-level Al Qaida in some camp in Afghanistan might have been a worthy thing to do as part of a general plan, but it certainly wasn’t going to affect 9/11 except, as the secretary said, to make 9/11 look a retaliation. So let’s keep some clarity.
But let me…
ROEMER: Perspective. The point is we’re not saying that you could have prevented or should have prevented with that particular one action, 9/11.
WOLFOWITZ: Let’s be clear, the retaliation…
ROEMER: We’re saying that there’s no silver bullet. There are a host of options that could have been out there.
WOLFOWITZ: The retaliation for the embassy bombings did nothing to prevent the attack on the Cole, right?
ROEMER: There are a host of things. We’re not just saying, you know, a cruise missile going into Afghanistan. We’re talking about the breadth of policy here, Northern Alliance, covert operations…
WOLFOWITZ: And Congressman, that’s exactly what took seven months.
ROEMER: … cruise missiles.
WOLFOWITZ: We started in April with the notion of attriting (ph) the Taliban by assisting the Northern Alliance.
ROEMER: OK, good enough.
WOLFOWITZ: By September, we said the goal is to eliminate Afghanistan as a sanctuary for Al Qaida, much more ambitious thing.
With respect to Mr. Clark and let me say, I haven’t read the book yet. I was called by a reporter on the weekend with a quote from the book attributed to me. I tried to get the book. It wasn’t available in book stores. It was only available to selected reporters. And I got it yesterday, but I did not have time to read it in the last 24 hours. I’ll get to it at some point.
But with respect to the quote that the reporter presented as having been put in my mouth, which was an objection to Mr. Clark suggesting that ignoring the rhetoric of Al Qaida would be like ignoring Hitler’s rhetoric in “Mein Kampf,” I can’t recall ever saying anything remotely like that. I don’t believe I could have.
In fact, I frequently have said something more nearly the opposite of what Clark attributes to me. I’ve often used that precise analogy of Hitler and “Mein Kampf” as a reason why we should take threatening rhetoric seriously, particularly in the case of terrorism and Saddam Hussein.
So I am generally critical of the tendency to dismiss threats as simply rhetoric. And I know that the quote Clark attributed to me does not represent my views then or now. And that meeting was a long meeting about seven different subjects, all of them basically related to Al Qaida and Afghanistan.
By the way, I know of at least one other instance of Mr. Clark’s creative memory. Shortly after September 11th, as part of his assertion that he had vigorously pursued the possibility of Iraqi involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, he wrote in a memo that, and I am quoting here, “When the bombing happened, he focused on Iraq as the possible culprit because of Iraqi involvement in the attempted assassination of President Bush in Kuwait the same month,” unquote.
WOLFOWITZ: In fact, the attempted assassination of President Bush happened two months later.
It just seems to be another instance where Mr. Clarke’s memory is playing tricks…
ROEMER: You’re doing pretty well for not having read the book, Paul.
WOLFOWITZ: I read the quote.
ROEMER: Let me just say…
KEAN: To the Congressman, we have to move on to the next commissioner.
ROEMER: OK. Let me just say in conclusion, thank you for those remarks. And we do have Secretary Armitage in the private interviews with us saying that he thought that the committee process had not moved speedily before or after 9/11, the deputy meeting process and the process on a seven-month or nine-month plan.
WOLFOWITZ: The government doesn’t move fast enough in general. I agree with that.
RUMSFELD: Mr. Chairman, may I make a comment also? I want to make certain there’s no misunderstanding. I would have supported missile attacks on training camps anywhere, had I believed that we could have achieved the goal that you suggest of killing jihadists.
And the issue is that what happens is frequently, we know that people are posted and they know when things are going to happen. And people empty those camps from time to time. In fact, we’ve seen reactions when ships or planes or missiles begin to go someplace, that they go to school on that and move out.
So the fact that a weapon costs a lot more than a training camp is no reason not to do it. The only reason for not doing it is if you, as I indicated, are working on a plan that you think is more comprehensive and you believe you can do a better job a different way.
ROEMER: Thank you.
WOLFOWITZ: In case I wasn’t clear, I was not dismissive of Al Qaida as a threat. The whole meeting was about Al Qaida. I also believed that state support for terrorism was a problem. But I have never been dismissive of Al Qaida, and I think precisely because I think terrorism is such a serious problem, as I testified as early as my confirmation hearing.
ROEMER: Thank you.