With a vote on his nomination to head up the World Bank scheduled for this week, Paul Wolfowitz attempted to calm foreign jitters by speaking out. In an interview with NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth, he discussed his prospective new job, as well as his past and current role in making U.S. Iraq policy. Excerpts:
What are you going to tell the Europeans as to why you would be a good head of the World Bank?
I want to tell the Europeans why I think I would be [a good candidate], but also I want to listen to them, hear their views and better understand their expectations for the bank.
But what's the answer to the question "Why you and the bank?"
I believe deeply in the mission of the bank. I believe that reducing poverty and promoting economic development is one of the important things we need to do to leave our children and grandchildren with a better world.
A lot of people always thought of you staying in Washington and being in the cabinet rather than going off into the World Bank.
I think this is an incredibly important job. And I think in terms of the president's goal and all of our goal of expanding the realm of freedom in the world, there's both a political dimension and an economic dimension and they're not tightly linked, but they support one another.
Your opponents say you are going to use the bank to pursue the Bush administration's philosophy of pushing democracy all around the world.
No, but I think when the bank performs its mission, which is reducing poverty and promoting economic development, it makes it more possible for people around the world to achieve their own goals of freedom and democracy.
Do you see a different bank under you than under James Wolfensohn? And if so, how?
I think the differences will be less significant than the similarities. And if I get the job, I will be responsible to the 184 countries that are members of the bank, and I need to be clear about what their agendas are.
Who is your biggest opponent among the Europeans? The French?
Well, I would say that on the whole the reaction from the Europeans has been very constructive. They're looking to make sure that if I'm approved that I have a good understanding of their concerns, one of which is the priority they attach to the bank's work in Africa. I understand how important the bank is for Africa.
So the worry is that the bank will become a more unilateral American organization?
I think as they talk to me they get a little less worried, and I think they will understand that, contrary to reputation, I'm not a unilateralist.
It's been reported that you had an increasingly tense relationship with Secretary Rumsfeld.
That's not why you left?
No. Look, he has, I think, done terrific things in this job. I'm very proud to be associated with him, very proud of having helped him.
Do you think that what's going on in Lebanon and the recent vote in Iraq are vindications of your policies in Iraq?
I know people use that word a lot and I wouldn't. I think we still have a lot more work to do, and if people want to talk about vindication, they should wait awhile. But I think that I have believed and continue to believe that the desire of people to be free and to choose their own leaders is one of the most powerful forces in the world. It's not utopian. I think it's realistic to figure out how to mobilize that force on our side because we are the natural allies of people with those goals.
Do you take responsibility for any mistakes made in planning for the war in Iraq, and what do you see as the key mistakes? Dissolving the Army?
There's so much finger-pointing that goes on. It's a long exercise to dissect all the things that are wrong [in what has been] said about why this has proven to be difficult. And the notion that there was no planning is simply wrong.
You mean that there was planning for the aftermath?
The usual phrase is, there was no planning for the post-conflict phase. And the real problem is that the conflict hasn't ended and that there is an enemy still out there actively trying to prevent the emergence of a new Iraq. But on Jan. 30 [Iraq's Election Day], they were handed a stunning defeat by the Iraqi people, whom they attempted to intimidate. I think people shouldn't have been surprised that a regime that had burrowed into Iraqi society over 35 years and killed and tortured and intimidated people so effectively didn't quit just because they were driven out of Baghdad on April 9, 2003.
But do you think there were mistakes? We said we were going in to get weapons of mass destruction but there were no weapons of mass destruction, so there were obvious mistakes, right?
And there were some great successes as well. And I think if people want to go through this exercise, they ought to first do an assessment and put the pluses up there with the minuses. And if the purpose is to learn lessons so that we can finish winning this war, I would say focus on why it is that the people who abused and tortured that country for 35 years have proven to be so resilient. That's where the problem lies.