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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Wolfowitz: WMD Chosen as Reason for Iraq War for 'Bureaucratic Reasons'

Aired May 30, 2003 - 19:12   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, ANCHOR: Turning to Iraq, there has been much focus on that country's supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction.
Before the war the Bush administration said those weapons were the primary reason to invade, but weeks after the end of the major combat there, there still is no evidence of chemical or biological weapons.

Now published comments by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz are raising some eyebrows. Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. commanders were warned before the war it was highly probable the Republican Guard units defending Baghdad had and would likely use chemical or biological weapons. So now senior officers in Iraq are puzzled.

LT. GEN. JAMES CONWAY, 1ST MARINE EXPEDITIONARY FORCE COMMANDER: It was a surprise to me there and it remains a surprise to me now that we have not uncovered weapons, as you say, in some of the forward dispersal sites. Again, believe me, it's not for lack of trying. We've been into virtually every ammunitions supply point between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad, but they're simply not there.

MCINTYRE: As the Pentagon announced the dispatch a 1,300-member search team of experts from the United States, Britain and Australia to intensify the hunt for WMD, officials refused to concede any intelligence shortcomings.

MAJ. GEN. KEITH DAYTON, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Things could have either taken and buried, they could have been transported or they could have been destroyed. It doesn't mean they weren't there when we thought they were there.

MCINTYRE: In New York this week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested Iraq may have destroyed its banned weapons before the war began.

Two days later in a radio interview he returned to his insistence the weapons are most likely well-hidden.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, I can assure you this war was not waged under any false pretext. MCINTYRE: Rumsfeld did speculate that trucks the U.S. claims are mobile bioweapons plants, may show Iraq had a just-in-time delivery policy and therefore, may not have kept large stocks of banned agents as the U.S. originally believed.

Rumsfeld's apparent backtracking has stirred criticism in Europe and put staunch U.S. ally Tony Blair on the defensive. Blair is accused of overstating British intelligence to sell the Iraq war to the British people.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The idea that we authorized or made our intelligence agencies invent some piece of evidence is completely absurd.

MCINTYRE: Adding fuel to the controversy, remarks attributed to Deputy U.S. Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a largely circulated "Vanity Fair" press release alleges Wolfowitz told the magazine that WMD was stressed for "bureaucratic reasons" and that, in effect, weapons of mass destruction had never been the most compelling justification for invading Iraq.

A Pentagon spokesman says "Vanity Fair" only used a portion of the deputy secretary's quote. Their omission completely misrepresents what he was saying according to the spokes spokesman.

(on camera) The Pentagon says the full interview of the transcript, posted on its web site, makes it clear that Wolfowitz said weapons of mass destruction was the, quote, "core reason the U.S. went to war with Iraq."

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: Well, let's talk more about this, more about Paul Wolfowitz's comments in "Vanity Fair." The author of the article joins us here now. Sam Tannenhoff is a contributing editor for "Vanity Fair." Thanks for joining us.

SAM TANNENHAUS, "VANITY FAIR:" Thanks for having me.

KAGAN: A lot of people are going to be buzzing about this. And especially, as you were pointing out as we were watching that piece, your piece kind of goes on and on, but this is the nugget that's getting people talking.

TANNENHAUS: Yes, it seems to happen with this sort of story.

KAGAN: Let's go ahead. I know we saw all of it. So let's go ahead and put it up on the screen, what we've taken out of -- There we go.

"For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on."

Now, the Pentagon, you just saw in Jamie's piece, is saying he is taking that out of context. Did he say that? Did he not say that and what was the nuance that you took it as, as you talked to Paul Wolfowitz?

TANNENHAUS: Well, what's important to know is that this comment of the deputy secretaries came out of a slightly earlier discussion we had in the same interview. It was a very long interview. In fact, I was told it may have been the longest uninterrupted interview he's given, about 90 minutes, the third of three sessions.

And in it the deputy secretary discussed how there were aspects of the war in Iraq that were being overlooked, that its benefits that had come from the war that no one was talking about.

One of them that was America could now remove its troops from Saudi Arabia because Saddam Hussein was no longer there as a threat.

KAGAN: Well, I want to get to that point in just a second. But to me, it sounds like when you say this came from an earlier part of the interview. Are you saying it was taken out of context?

TANNENHAUS: Oh, no. Actually, what I'm about to say is that the secretary's comments are as striking as the way the article presents them, if not more so because what he goes on to say is, after citing that as a very important attribute, a benefit of the war, he then goes on to say, when I asked him if that had been part of the strategic thinking all along, yes, the truth is for these questions of bureaucracy, we agreed on weapons of mass destruction, that was the one issue everyone could agree on, which means they didn't agree on the others.

KAGAN: You're standing by what is in Vanity Fair there and in your article?

TANNENHAUS: Absolutely.

KAGAN: We have that. We also have more. Jamie mentioned in his piece that the Pentagon posted the transcripts.

TANNENHAUS: Yes.

KAGAN: So we actually have that we can put up, too. This is how the Pentagon says. They say it was like this: "The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason" -- I think we have more up there -- "but there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism and the third is criminal treatment of the Iraqi people."

It doesn't show up like that in Vanity Fair.

TANNENHAUS: No, although what the piece says is that there are several reasons and the trouble is actually what this transcript says is that there were many reasons when, in fact, what we were told that many thought, particularly in Europe, the countries that signed onto this despite opposition from their own people was that there was compelling evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

Now, turn the clock back a few weeks ago, to when I spoke with the deputy secretaries, May 10 was when this long interview occurred. What was he trying to do? He was trying to explain how, even though no smoking gun had surfaced, this was a war still worth fighting. Why? Because other benefits accrued.

Hence, he says the truth is weapons of mass destruction were not the sole compelling reason.

KAGAN: So in your eyes he seemed comfortable with the idea, well, yes, we said that, but really, the greater good has taken place. You've seen the U.S. military moving. They're moving out of Saudi Arabia. The fall of Saddam Hussein. This is all taking place, it's all kind of happening like it was supposed to.

TANNENHAUS: Not only in my eyes. If you look also at the Defense Department's link, where transcripts are reproduced, you'll see an earlier interview he did with a "Washington Post" reporter who was picking up on my story.

There, the "Washington Post" reporter quoted precisely as I worded it the phrase about bureaucracy and the deputy has not backed down from it at all. It was only after this became a scandal, a concern in Europe that the Defense Department realized that the deputy secretary had been too candid and that's always a price to pay.

I'm an admirer of Mr. Wolfowitz and I think that he's to be applauded for having spoken in a direct way and told us what we kind of suspected all along, that there were many reasons for going to war. He had other reasons, which are described in the article.

This is another point that the Defense Department and the deputy himself are saying there were other reasons that were inside it. In fact, my article goes into great detail about those reasons and some of those are reasons now missing from the Defense Department's own transcript, because they seem to be embarrassing to the department.

KAGAN: Viewers can now check it out themselves. "Vanity Fair," the June issue comes out...

TANNENHAUS: It's the July issue. It comes out in early June.

KAGAN: June 10, I think I read that, and also they can go on the Pentagon web site if they want to compare the transcript.

TANNENHAUS: Absolutely.

KAGAN: Sam Tannenhaus, thank you for sharing.

TANNENHAUS: My pleasure.

KAGAN: Very interesting and definitely going to have people talking.

TANNENHAUS: Of course, great to be here. KAGAN: I appreciate that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: Welcome back. Want to make one note about that interview I just did with Sam Tannenhaus, who wrote that piece for "Vanity Fair" magazine on comments from Paul Wolfowitz, saying that going with the weapons of mass destruction argument was just the core reason, that the U.S. government did that for bureaucratic reasons. We do want you to know that we did invite Paul Wolfowitz to come on with us, they declined. His office declined and instead referred us to the Pentagon web site, which we showed you and you're more than welcome to check out for yourself at home.

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