Stanford Review: During your time at Stanford, what helped prepare you the most for your work as CIA Director and Undersecretary of the Navy?
James Woolsey: Well, I had some great teachers, Gordon Craig, Gordon Wright, Richard Lyman, in the history department, but I guess I’d say in some ways most important was Stanford in Germany and particularly the summer which several of us worked, …this is the year before the Berlin Wall came up, …in a German Red Cross refugee camp right along the sector line very near what later became Checkpoint Charlie. We could literally watch East Germans …trying to cross. There were patrols by the Volkspolizei, the VoPos, East German Police. If the East Germans were clever enough to just come one at a time and just kind of wander across, usually, they left them alone. But if a family of several came across with luggage, the VoPos would grab them and run them off to prison. As I sat in my room where I was working, I could watch a pretty direct manifestation of Soviet-East German Totalitarianism all summer. It had a rather substantial effect on my views on totalitarian governments and probably my interest in national security matters.
SR: Do you see tapping into our own fossil fuels as a secure resource for the future or do you feel that green and clean energies are our best options for the future?
JW: Well, it’s complicated. You need to take these energy sources one at a time. Natural gas does not seem to me to be something we need to get away from in the near future. It does put carbon out but only about half as much as coal …and it’s otherwise quite clean. …[T]he real problem with coal is that it emits so much carbon. [B]y using it to produce electricity, we’re adding substantially to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. I think that that is a problem. It’s part of the problem, not all of the problem, from the point of view of climate change. I think it’s sort of ridiculous for people to say that, “it’s probably the case that not all climate change comes from anthropogenic sources. So cearly, it must be the case that none of it does.” That’s nuts. The earth, for example, goes through a regular oscillation of tilting on its axis and we may be in the middle of a multi-thousand year warming period but that doesn’t mean we’re doing no damage by doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. …So, I think coal …really not only needs to have its CO2 captured which we already know how to do …but also sequestered. Sequestering is a lot harder because probably you need to drill down into very deep saline aquifers and other geological formations and have a very large system moving CO2 around the country in order to get it down into those wells. So, I’m not sure that we’re going to be effective, at least anytime very soon and affordably, in moving to what colloquially some people call “clean coal”… That being said, coal is a climate and CO2 problem and it’s something we need to deal with. But oil is a double problem. Oil not only, like coal, is the source of something in the ballpark of 40% of our global warming gasses that we emit from our power systems but it also is a huge problem regarding national security. So, frankly, I don’t care whether you want to move away from oil because of the carbon or you want to move away from oil because of the national security or both. …To me, it doesn’t matter, I think both arguments are sound. …We can’t successfully build a fence essentially around the United States or the U.S. and Canada and produce extremely expensive oil from oil sands from Canada [and] oil shale in the western United States… There’s going to be effectively one worldwide oil market and the price is going to be set by the low cost producers like Saudi Arabia and the rest of OPEC. We can’t secede from oil that way. So, what we need to do, I think, is take steps to destroy oil as a strategic commodity, to destroy its monopoly, 96% or so, over transportation. …There’s a pretty good analogy here that has been invented by my friend and sometime co-author, Anne Korin. She and I wrote it up in an op-ed a couple of years ago called, “Turning oil into salt.” Anne’s observation is that until a little over a hundred years ago, for millennia, salt was a strategic commodity. It was the only way to preserve meat… It had been true for centuries that if your country or region had a salt mine, it was a big deal. [T]hen, 110 years or so ago, as the electric grid came into the US and Europe, refrigeration and freezing turned out to be superior to salt and a more affordable way to preserve meat. [With]in relatively few years, salt was destroyed as a strategic commodity. …Now, we still have salt [but], do we know where it comes from? …Are we salt independent? Nobody really gives a damn unless they’re in the salt business. Salt is actually kind of boring. It’s just a reasonable commodity that is bought and sold in international commerce. We need to do that to oil. We need to make it boring.
SR: Recently, Iran was able to test a solid fuel, medium-range rocket, how do you feel that it is a game-changer as far as U.S. foreign policy and also the relationship with Israel and Iran and the strategic threat that’s there?
JW: It’s one more sign post along a road that Iran has been on for some time. Just because they’ve been firing mainly single stage liquid fuel missiles, like SCUDs or “SCUDs on steroids”, but recently they’ve now moved to solid fuel and what looks like 2 stage, doesn’t mean that they haven’t been all along focused on regional dominance. Part of it is their ballistic missile programs that they work on together with the North Koreans and part of it is their nuclear weapons program which the enriched uranium will of course be used for. You’d have to be a total ostrich not to believe that Iran is resolutely developing nuclear weapons and highly enriched uranium, which is the long pole in the tent for those weapons, to try to dominate the Middle East.
SR: To tie into that, obviously the Iraq War has been a hot button topic but you have been a supporter as early as 1998 for the removal of Saddam Hussein from Iraq. What are your thoughts on that?
JW: I testified back in late ‘97 or early ’98 for the Iraq Liberation Act. [T]he reason I was in favor of moving against Iraq was not just the reports of chemical and biological weapons and the much sketchier reports of nuclear weapons but… Saddam …was responsible directly, and through the wars he started, for the deaths of approaching 2 million people… I served with the Clinton administration and we went to war twice against Serbia …on behalf of the Bosnians and the Kosovars. …Milosevic was probably responsible for only about a tenth of the deaths that Saddam was responsible for. Yes, I supported the Iraq Liberation Act and, indeed, [it] passed with very substantial majorities in both houses of congress in ’98. It’s just that some people who supported it have kind of forgotten that they did. …I’ve supported the administration’s move into Iraq. [Although] I thought they handled the 3 years from late ’03 to late ’06, early ’07, very badly. They made many of the same mistakes the United States made in Vietnam, trying to fight against guerrillas with a search and destroy approach… We tried that for three and a half years in Vietnam and that search and destroy strategy was the reason [why] in ’67-’68, I was the founder and president of Yale Citizens for Eugene McCarthy for President. I was fed up with search and destroy then and I was fed up with it when the Bush Administration did exactly the same thing. Finally, however, blessedly, George W. bush woke up in ’07, put Petraeus in command, changed the strategy to an effective counterinsurgency, counterterrorism strategy, and turned the Iraq war around. …So, I give George W. Bush a lot of credit for changing his mind and a lot blame for taking three and a half years to figure out how to fight the war.
SR: What are your thoughts on the Obama Administration thus far and what do you see as his most beneficial or detrimental actions so far?
JW: …I was sorry to see him decide to release the memoranda about enhanced interrogation, or torture related-issues. I think that the reviews of that material should be done by the House and Senate Oversight Committees of the Congress. Once he did release that material, I was then sorry that he didn’t also release the material that is a result of the interrogations. There are two memos, apparently 40-50 pages each that explain matters that are now past. Those matters will probably go along way to explain why people felt, in the aftermath of 9/11 under rumors of further attacks, …that they would use some of those kind of techniques and …how we know what we know about the avoidance of attacks back in ’02 and ’03. To carry on with those issues, I’m glad he didn’t turn loose the photographs. I think except for the initial release of the memos, he has made some compromises with what he was saying in the campaign [and] pulled back from his total departure from Bush administration approaches. …[Another] thing I am worried about is that in pushing for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, it will push Israel toward recognizing a Palestinian state before that state has done what President Bush said was necessary. That is, Palestinians needed to root out terrorism and take on and undermine, effectively, the terrorist movement within the Palestinian groups. …If you try to establish a two-state solution before the Palestinians eliminate the terrorism, …you’ll just go back to Palestinians blowing themselves up in Tel Aviv during Passover Seders… So far, it’s a little hard to tell but it sounds as if it’s a possibility that the Obama Administration might push Israel to make concessions before we see Palestinians actually do something effective against Hamas and Hezbollah. I think that would be a big mistake if the administration does that.
SR: What countries concern you the most with our national security and also which countries that have the greatest possibility of becoming failed states?
JW: …I think the most urgent problem is helping Pakistan hold together so that we don’t end up with a failed state there with a hundred or so nuclear warheads on the loose… That would be an absolutely, totally hideous result and we should do anything we can to help the Pakistanis avoid that. …We need to help the Afghans with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. They need military assistance [and] humanitarian assistance… We have had something of a surge of troops, we’re in the midst of it, but it’s not so much the numbers as it is the strategy. …[F]or Petraeus to do what he did in Iraq, the change in strategy was probably the heart of the matter and the only way any insurgency has been defeated, as far as I know …is by the so called “clear, hold, and protect” approach. …You’ve got to show up, live in the villages, take care of people, protect them, get to know them, help them with their farming, help them with their lives, and then go on and do it at the next village while you’re protecting the one that you started with. …So, I think that we have to stay on both the Afghan issue and the Pakistani issue. …[W]e need to move quickly to do more than just talk to Iran. [A]mong the things we need to do is to cut off their gasoline imports. They import about 40% or so of …their refined petroleum products. We need to cut those off in order to, if possible, break this regime economically. It is a group at the top of theocratic, totalitarian, genocidal maniacs. Ahmadinejad should be listened to when he talks about wiping Israel off the map. He and his colleagues at the top of the Revolutionary Guard are part of a cult called the Hojjatieh that is responsive to an Ayatollah in the holy city of Qum named Mesbah Yazdi. …Yazdi was exiled to Qum in ’79 because Khomeini thought he was too radical. This cult is an end of the world cult …one ought to pay attention to them. A lot of the things that are being said now along the lines of, “well, we don’t really need to bother with Iran’s statements or its nuclear weapons program,” are carbon copies of what people were saying in the mid 1930s about the Nazis in Germany. …I think Ahmadinejad is entirely capable of trying to bring about a second Holocaust.