February 22nd, 2015

Wolfowitz: Jeb Bush “is his own man”

On CNN’s State of the Union Iraq war architect Paul Wolfowitz discussed the fight for Iraq a decade later and the role of radical Islam with Gloria Borger. A full interview of the transcript is available after the jump.

BORGER: And joining me now, Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of Defense and a key player in the George W. Bush administration as it prepared to go to the war in Iraq. Thanks very much for being with me, Mr. Wolfowitz.

I have to start by saying the president held a summit on violent extremism this week as you know. He refuses to use the terms Islamic radicals or Islamic extremists because he believes it’s both inaccurate and that it’s also inflammatory. What do you think about that?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, FORMER DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: Look, I have a little bit of sympathy for what he’s wrestling with. He doesn’t want to give Islamic extremists, which is what they are, a monopoly on that word Islam. But I think to pretend that Islam has nothing to do with the problem is a mistake.

I think what we need to say is what we’re dealing with is a totalitarian ideology that exploits Islam and many of our best friends and allies in the fight against that ideology are going to be Muslims themselves.

BORGER: You know, it’s interesting to hear you say you have sympathy for the president on this point because this week there is a large controversy, as I’m sure you know. New York mayor Rudy Giuliani caused quite an uproar when he came out and said that the president doesn’t love America.

What do you think about that? Do you believe that?

WOLFOWITZ: No, I don’t, but I think this refusal to call a phenomenon what it is makes him look silly. It makes him look as though he’s an authority about what is true Islam when he’s not even a Muslim.

I think people understand that Islam has something to do with what we’re fighting and when you deny it, I think you lose a lot of support and understanding, including from the American people.

BORGER: But on the one hand you said you had sympathy with him and on the other hand now you’re saying he is refusing to kind of acknowledge reality?

WOLFOWITZ: Look, yes, I have sympathy for him because I don’t think we want to alienate the Muslims who are on our side. That’s where my sympathy stops. I think unless you’re frank about what the problem is, you will, in fact, not recruit them.

BORGER: You’re a foreign policy adviser to Jeb Bush now. You were one of the original drivers of the invasion of Iraq when his brother, George W. Bush, was president. Do you think now that it will inevitably take American combat group — boots on the ground to successfully battle ISIS there?

WOLFOWITZ: I don’t think it will inevitably, but I think we have to be open to all the possibilities, and I do think one thing we learned —

BORGER: Likely?

WOLFOWITZ: I think at the rate things are going we’re not winning I think is the problem. And what we need to be doing a much better job of is finding the Sunnis who are on our side and not setting ourselves up basically as I think General Petraeus said, the air force for the Shia militias of Iraq.

BORGER: Let me play for you a little bit about what Jeb Bush said about Iraq last week and then we’ll talk at the other side.


JEB BUSH (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: There were mistakes made in Iraq for sure. Using the intelligence capability that everybody embraced about weapons of mass destruction was not — turns out not to be accurate. Not creating an environment of security after the successful taking out of Hussein was a mistake.


BORGER: You were there at the time. You believed you would find weapons of mass destruction and you also said, and I quote, “These are Arabs, 23 million of the most well educated people in the Arab world who are going to welcome us as liberators.”

Were those your mistakes?

WOLFOWITZ: I think in large parts in Iraq people did welcome us as liberators. What we were up against was a terrorist organization that was built on the — basically the old Saddam security structures and that had a terrific capacity to intimidate people and to scare people into opposing us. I think —

BORGER: What were your mistakes?

WOLFOWITZ: I think a — clearly something we should have done at the beginning was to have a counter insurgency strategy. When we finally adopted one after four years, it worked amazingly quickly and brought things down to a relatively peaceful relatively stable level by 2009. And I think one of the mistakes was to leave in 2011 and not make a serious effort to keep an agreement to keep an American presence in Iraq.

BORGER: Let me also ask you this question which is a little bit political, but Jeb Bush said he wants to be seen as his own man. He made that very clear. And yet his team of foreign policy advisers is largely staffed by people like you and former members of his brother’s foreign policy team.

How can he be seen as his own man when the people who are advising him promoted a foreign policy that in retrospect has largely been regarded as flawed and unpopular?

WOLFOWITZ: Gloria, you’re painting an awfully broad brush there. A lot of people in that group and actually including myself who participated in the Reagan administration which I think was a successful foreign policy. Secretary Shultz, Secretary Baker — there’s a wide range of views there but in any case he is his own man.

I think he demonstrated that quite clearly in the question and answer session after his speech where he obviously was very comfortable answering a whole range of questions. I think he demonstrated that he knows this subject, he doesn’t need a lot of coaching.

BORGER: If you could give him one piece of advice about what went wrong when you were there that should not occur again, what would you say?

WOLFOWITZ: Look, I think it’s a perennial piece of advice about any time you use force you need to anticipate that as they say in the Pentagon, the enemy gets a vote. You can’t predict what’s going to happen.

BORGER: OK. Thank you so much. Paul Wolfowitz, thanks for being with us.

WOLFOWITZ: You’re welcome.

BORGER: And when we come back, my exclusive interview with Ohio governor, John Kasich on whether he’s in the 2016 mix (ph) and what Republicans can do to win back the White House.