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World: James Woolsey, Former CIA Director, Speaks To RFE/RL At Forum 2000

James Woolsey

RFE/RL: You have written and spoken extensively in the past about World War IV and the war on terrorism. Four years after the invasion of Afghanistan on 7 October, how do you see that proceeding now with things in Iraq and so many different developments having occurred?

James Woolsey: When Elliott Cohen wrote about WW IV right after 9/11, I picked up on it because I thought his concept was right, which was that this war was going to be like what he called WW III, namely The Cold War -- it was going to be long, it was going to have a major ideological component and there would only be fighting some of the time. But as people hear the phrase world war they tend to think of Anzio and D-Day and Guadalcanal and Stalingrad and after all World War II for the United States lasted less time than has elapsed from 9/11 until now. So I think Elliott’s original idea that this would be a long war, decades not years, is correct. I have come now to start calling it "the long war of the 21st century." I think it is with three totalitarian movements in the Middle East and one of them particularly is going to be around for a long time and we need to get used to that and design our strategy accordingly.

RFE/RL: Mr Woolsey, on a different note, Mr. Nikolai Patrushev of the FSB said this year the West is trying to destabilize Russia and the near abroad with the help of its intelligence services working under the guise of NGOs. From your experience and your knowledge how much truth is in this statement?

Woolsey: Well President Putin was particularly kind to an NGO that I headed at the time, Freedom House -- I have since stepped down but I was chairman for 2 and 1/2 years -- he criticized Freedom House especially for its work in Ukraine. I consider that a badge of honor. We are really quite honored that President Putin, who is increasingly coming to head a government that is edging towards fascism in Russia, would be critical of what the NGOs, including Freedom House, were doing to help bring about a movement toward democracy in Ukraine. The Russian administration under Putin is cracking down on the media, it is cracking down on any businessman who tries to move into politics, it is intimidating human rights activists and it is generally behaving more and more like a fascist government. And I think it is a real shame, the great Russian people had two chances in the 19th century and two chances in the 20th century to have leaders who would move toward democracy and it looks like they have been betrayed each time. They had the Decembrists in 1815, they had the era under Alexander II when serfs were freed, they had the Menshevik revolution which the Bolsheviks took over and then they had the end of the Cold War and Yeltsin which now Putin has taken over. So four times now they have seen a movement towards essentially dictatorship betraying the Russian people and I think it’s a great shame.

RFE/RL:But is there a connection between the intelligence and the NGOs?

Woolsey: There was no connection between the intelligence services and Freedom House, but this is a typical kind of paranoid kind of blame-the-outside-world approach that the Russian security services are lapsing back into. We had a period of time in the early 1990s when we were working cooperatively with the Russian security services, but now apparently they have decided to try and blame the security services in the West for their own movement toward fascism. And it’s a real shame and unfortunately it’s an historic pattern.

RFE/RL: Since we are in the region, the colored revolutions that have occurred in the former Soviet states of Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine seem to have lost some of their luster in recent months, particularly the Orange Revolution in Ukraine there have been some problems with the new government there. The new prime minister made a much publicized trip to Moscow recently which the regional media basically covered as his surrender to Moscow and people are writing about the end of the Orange Revolution, the end of the colored revolutions. How do you view that?

Woolsey: These things are going to wax and wane under different circumstances. If one looks back to 1945 when there were 20 democracies in the world and then looks at today where there are 89 that operate under the rule of law and another nearly 30, according to Freedom House numbers, that are electoral democracies, we have a situation where over 60 percent of the governments in the world and over 60 percent of the people freely elect their leaders. So over the 60 years since 1945 the overall sweep of improvements in governments, movement towards democracy, and improvements in the human condition, have been substantial. Now there are always going to be some dictatorships, and unfortunately Russia is coming to be again a dictatorship, that will try to work to undermine advances toward freedom and there are countries that will lapse back from freedom and democracy to dictatorship -- it’s happening in Venezuela now and certainly happened in Germany in 1933. So it may be that one of more of the developments that took place during the 1990s and early 21st century and the movement toward democracy will have a setback here and there. But Mr. Putin and his movement toward fascism in Russia are on the wrong side of history. They are not going to succeed, they may hold on for some time in trying to undermine the democratic revolutions near Russia and in these adjoining states, and they may be partially successful here and there, but ultimately they will lose.

RFE/RL: One old paranoia that you still hear from some people in the Soviet Union, especially the communist-orientated, is that the collapse of the Soviet Union was to a large extent a CIA plot.

Woolsey: Well, I think it gives us more credit than we deserve. The CIA did some very useful things in undermining the Soviet Union. One thing was assisting the mujahedin in Afghanistan because it was a huge blow to the hubris of the Soviet leaders at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s when they thought they could conquer and dominate that country. Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa have both said that the single most important thing that the United States did during the Cold War was Radio Free Europe and of course for the first 20 years of its existence it was a CIA covert action until it became a public institution in the 1970s. I think another very useful CIA undertaking was in the Reagan administration when we learned through the French actually what types of technology the Soviet KGB was attempting to steal from the United States and we let them continue to steal it -- various types of computer chips and so forth -- but we made some changes in the chips they were stealing and we were able therefore with what they stole to see them put it into their national gas pipelines and the rest and they had terrible problems getting their gas pipelines to work, they had some big explosions and the like, all because of their own theft of American technology which we had made some adjustments in. So I am proud to say that the CIA did some useful things in helping to bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union but it was far from the most important institution. The most important institutions in the collapse of the Soviet Union was the spirit of human freedom in the hearts of people like Sokorov, and Walesa, and Havel, that’s what ultimately undid the Soviet Union, as we in the West more or less contained the Soviets with deterrents and our military deployments in NATO.

RFE/RL: Secretary of State Rice is going to Central Asia shortly, and according to some State Department sources democracy is sort of going to be put on the back-burner in her talks with officials there. If so, how are we to take this new sort of ‘realistic’ approach?

Woolsey: These tactics come and go. My view is that there is nothing realistic about moving away from democracy, it’s really fundamentally in terms of the sweep of what is happening in history, it’s fundamentally a stupid idea to move away from advocating a democracy and not realistic at all. But the tactics of diplomacy from time to time are going to be varied, I don’t think one should read too much into that. The State Department bureaucracy has historically always wanted to get along with whomever is in power in different states, and not to perturb the situation. So although the President and Condi Rice herself are very much involved in trying to help move the world more toward democracy and the rule of law, various bureaucrats in the Department of State are always, and I guess probably always will be, saying ‘let’s not disrupt things too much, let’s be nice to the autocrats and dictators,’ that’s sort of the way parts of the State Department bureaucracy are. So you are always going to have leaks coming out of the State Department saying ‘we are pushing democracy too hard, we can’t keep doing this.’ Sometimes they may temporarily be accurate, but the people who do not want to pursue moving toward democracy and the rule of law have been losing for 60 years and they will continue to lose.

RFE/RL: How do you view the prospects for democracy in Belarus?

Woolsey: Belarus will be an extremely hard nut to crack because [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka is an extremely brutal man and I think we could see some changes along the lines of what we have seen in Georgia and in part in Ukraine and in Kyrgyzstan, but I don’t look for it immediately. I think what is important is to help build up civil society, the student organizations, the NGOs and the others that the FSB and President Putin hate so much. So in a way I would say that President Putin and President Lukashenka on this matter are very good guides, sort of like weather vanes put on backwards -- if you assume they are pointing in exactly the wrong direction, whatever they complain about we should be doing, whatever they don’t like we ought to help occur. So, insofar as they are very upset at the idea of independent organizations like student organizations calling for elections, real elections and the like, to exactly that extent I think we should understand that’s precisely the sort of thing the West should be trying to promote.

RFE/RL: You have used some very strong language in regards to President Putin and Russia, fascism, more than once. I am wondering whether your thoughts on Russia and Putin and on where Russia is going have anything in common with officials in the U.S. government and their view. Do you see the U.S. and Europe sort of coming to a divide over this, because relations between Western Europe and Russia seem to be only improving every day with energy deals between Germany and Russia, for instance.

Woolsey: We need to change the underlying reality of the economics of the relationship between Russia and the rest of the world, and for that matter between Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world, by doing what we can to move away from oil. One reason that the Europeans are being so nice to Russia is that Russia has a lot of oil and I think that if you would consult the paper that former Secretary of State Schulz and I have written [it’s on the website of the Committee on The Present Danger] we suggest moving very promptly towards the use of hybrid-electric vehicles particularly with a plug-in feature so they can get their about half their energy from the electric grid. We suggest moving towards bio-fuels such as ethanol from cellulose, such as diesel from waste products and doing it with government encouragement as quickly as possible. If, over the course of the next decade not only Russia, but Saudi Arabia and other major oil-exporting states begin to see that oil-importing countries need less and less of their oil and see the curves of fuel economy and use of alternative fuels changing for the better, they will start being more reasonable. Both President Putin and the Saudis believe they have something of a whip-hand over the rest of the world because of their oil capacity and the fact they are the two largest producers and exporters of oil in the world we need to do everything to undermine that source of their power.

RFE/RL: What do you see as the limits of democracy promotion from the outside? What is allowed and what is not?

Woolsey: It depends on the circumstances, whatever works. We have moved -- not we in the United States but the West in general -- the world from 20 democracies 60 years ago to nearly 120 democracies today, it’s happened all sorts of different ways. Until we get to Afghanistan and Iraq, only three of those changes came about as a direct result of American use of military force. We defended South Korea against North Korea -- South Korea stayed a dictatorship for 30 years but eventually it became a democracy and it certainly would not have if we had not protected it against North Korea -- and then we had Granada and Panama in the Reagan administration but other than that these nearly 100 added democracies came about in all sorts of different ways. In the Philippines it was people power, in Spain a brave king had an important role, in Portugal the German Social Democrats working with the Portuguese socialists helped steer them away from communism. There are all sorts of ways that we helped, the outside world, helped democracy grow. And we need to continue to do whatever succeeds.”

RFE/RL: But normally they say that there are other reasons to use military force. Do you think it’s reasonable to use military force just for the purpose of promoting democracy?

Woolsey: It depends on what the alternatives are and it depends what the state has done. Saddam Hussein, for example, wasn’t just not a democrat. The King of Bahrain is not a democrat but he is running a very humane society with civil liberties and freedom of religion and freedom of speech. But Saddam Hussein over the course of his 30 years was responsible for something in the order of 2 million deaths if you count the casualties in the Iran-Iraq war which I think you should. That’s something like 65,000 deaths a year on average. He ran rape rooms where his Ba'athists could rape Iraqi women, he murdered children in front of their parents, he was not a benign authoritarian who permitted freedom of speech and the rest, he was one of the world’s most hideous dictators. I was in favor of using force to overthrow him as early as 1997 when I started testifying before the Congress, and Congress in 1998 passed the Iraq Liberation Act calling on human rights grounds for Saddam to be overthrown. After all the U.S. went to war twice with Milosevic and he was guilty of about 10 percent of the murders and deaths that Saddam Hussein was guilty of. So it depends on the circumstances on whether one uses military force and one of those is how hideous is the dictatorship.

RFE/RL: What do you think of the impact of the Israel-Palestinian conflict on Muslim communities around the world and do you think it’s possible to reform Shari'a, or Islamic law?

Woolsey: I think the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has some importance but that in reality it is much further down the line of causes of the current support for terrorism and so forth that one sees in some parts of the Muslim, principally the Arab world, than people suggest. I think you could have an Israeli-Palestinian settlement tomorrow, and the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia would still be fanatically anti-Shi'ite, anti-Sufi, anti-Jewish, anti-democracy, anti-Christian, anti-female, anti-music and so would Al-Qaeda be. Indeed the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia and the Islamists Jihadis such as Al-Qaeda pretty much agree except on one thing -- who should be in charge. Should power and respect be focused on one state, Saudi Arabia, or should it be the case that anyone who wants can go off on jihad flying airplanes into buildings in New York and the like. That somewhat mirrors the dispute in the 1930s between the Stalinists and the Trotskyites. The Wahhabis are sort of the Stalinists, they believe in allegiance to one state. The Islamist Jihadis such as Al-Qaeda are sort of like the Trotskyites believing in moving against revolution in all parts of the world now, but they are both totalitarian and that totalitarian movement is not going to go away just because there is a settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I would say that the Wahhabis and the Islamist jihadis such as Al-Qaeda are not at all true representatives of Islam, we do not need to take their word for that any more than that the world needed to take the word of Torquemada in the Spanish Inquisition in the late 15th century that they were true representatives of Christianity -- they were not, they were totalitarian b***ards. And the Wahhabis and Al-Qaeda are the modern equivalents.

See also:

Forum 2000 Looks At War On Terror

Click here for RFE/RL interviews with Forum 2000 participants