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Glasser: This is Susan Glasser for The Global POLITICO. Delighted to be back here with Paul Wolfowitz, our guest for this week. Paul, you’ve jumped back into the fray as it were with what appears in hindsight to be an extremely well-timed intervention in the Wall Street Journal, saying Donald Trump should go ahead and do something in Syria, should intervene militarily in some way to respond to the chemical weapons strike. Miraculously enough, perhaps, he surprised much of the world by going ahead and taking your advice and doing so. ...
Glasser: Do you know [Secretary of State] Tillerson?
Wolfowitz: I don’t know him at all. I know some people who—it’s interesting. The people I know who know him best, and they wouldn’t say they know him well, had him as a client for an investment bank many years ago. And they said he asked very penetrating, very good questions without any arrogance at all, which is an interesting set of qualities to have.
Glasser: Well, it might be an asset in dealing with Donald Trump. We’ll see, I guess. You know, it’s interesting how low profile he’s been and this seeming downgrading of the State Department. A lot of people, in particular at the Defense Department, your old haunt, have been speaking up and saying that’s a mistake. Do you have a viewpoint on these proposed cuts, very deep cuts, in the State Department?
Wolfowitz: Well, my hero, George Shultz, said it was a mistake too. And it is a mistake to think that the secretary of state’s role is just an internal role or just a negotiating role. It is very much a public diplomacy role. And when I wrote about what the U.S. needs to do next with respect to this opportunity that I think has been created through the Syrian action, I put a lot of emphasis on public diplomacy.
And let me put in a little plug here. I think public diplomacy also can support a healing of Iraqi-Saudi relations, which got very bad and should not have gotten so bad, partly because of a myth that the Saudis were opposed to the rebellions that took place in 1991 when, in fact, I think, tragically, the United States ignored their advice to support the rebels. But there’s a lot to be done publicly by a secretary of state and by the department.
And I think part of what we’re seeing though is a man who is relatively new to these issues and may therefore realize there’s more room for mistakes than for constructive action, plus with very, very little in the way of his own people. I think one of the urgent priorities—and this is a cliché by now—is both Defense and State need to staff up with people who have some of the trust and confidence of the White House and professional skill and capability, whether that means they’re career people or they’re what George Shultz called “non-career professionals”—that is what I was happy to hear him call me [JB emphasis]. ...