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“Axis of Evil”

January 30, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: For more on President Bush’s approach to fighting terrorism as laid out in his State of the Union address we get two perspectives.

James Woolsey was director of the CIA during the first Clinton Administration, and an arms control negotiator during the first Bush administration; and Charles William Maynes was an assistant secretary of state during the Carter administration, and is now president of the Eurasia Foundation, a nonprofit group promoting free markets and democracy in Central Asia.

James Woolsey, let me start with you — to follow on from Secretary Rumsfeld; he speculated about how this was being heard in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Is it a general statement of American attitudes or a real policy prescription?

JAMES WOOLSEY: It’s probably somewhere in between. It’s very definitely a clear statement of the president’s attitude and it leans — it seems to me — toward a policy of telling these governments that if they do not get out of business of terror and developing weapons of mass destruction, they stand at risk of their regimes being deposed forcefully by the United States.

And the president has been very careful. He didn’t precisely say that he’s going to launch military action in order to remove say Saddam’s regime, but he certainly gave Saddam –particularly I think and the other two leaders as well– great cause for concern. I very much hope he did any of anyway.

RAY SUAREZ: Bill Maynes, same question.

CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES: I think the White House put out a statement this afternoon saying that there was no prospect of immediate military action.

We were open to talks with Iran and North Korea and that the statement that we had an axis of evil was more rhetorical than historical, because I think that phrase immediately triggered in many people’s mind Nazi Germany.

So, already the White House I think has set the priorities clear for the United States. The main priority is going after the tens of thousands of people the president talked who were in between twelve and sixty countries and are possible terrorists who may do the kind of damage that we saw in New York.

And that is the first priority. I think the administration is quite clear on it, as was revealed, I think, by the Secretary of Defense statement and now this statement that has come out of the White House.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, apart from the axis of evil statement, the president went on and said America will do what is necessary and then brought that point home – time is not on our side.

He created the sense of urgency himself. Does this oblige the United States to begin moving against these countries?

CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES: The president said in his speech there are tens of thousands of people in place ready to carry out terrorist activities.

The White House has released a statement saying there may be 100,000 people around the world who are terrorists ready to carry out actions against the United States or its allies.

If that’s the reality, then time is not on our side in terms of getting every one of those.

And we have to engage in an absolutely vigorous effort with our allies and with friends and people who were formerly our enemies to try and find those people because they are like the pirates of two centuries ago. They are a menace to every civilized country and the president is right to say that that is the priority.

RAY SUAREZ: Jim Woolsey, give us an idea of when a president announces a policy like this or makes a statement of principle like this, what is going on behind the scenes?

Is the heat turned up in Central Intelligence where you worked, at the heads of services as they begin to look at the map of the world and figure out what is where and what can be do done?

JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, I think there’s no secret that there seems to have been a debate between the administration between those who would have delayed action against say Iraq for a long time and the argument being you need to clean up absolutely everything else first around various other arguments and those who believe as I think the president said time is not on our side with respect to weapons of mass destruction and terror sponsored by terror case at least two of three of these states and we may need to move more promptly.

I don’t see there’s only one problem here. It’s not just the tens of thousands or 100,000 or whatever they are al-Qaida members in dozens of countries. We need to move on those with our allies and others.

But that doesn’t mean that we can take life easy with respect to the threats that are continually posed by Saddam’s regime in particular. I think that it’s important for us to make preparations with countries in the area– particularly Turkey– with movement of US forces into the region, stockpiling smart weapons, doing those things that we would need to do if the president decides to move particularly against Iraq.

RAY SUAREZ: Bill Maynes, by lumping these three countries together as an axis of evil, rhetorical or otherwise, do you lose some of the daylight in between them?

Are they different from each other and would they respond to different approaches when you finally get down to moving against what the American government finds offensive about these regimes?

CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES: Already because Iran and Iraq feel that they might be in the cross hairs they are getting closer together.

There’s been a visit by the Iraqi foreign minister. Both sides have shut down the activities of the resistance groups inside each country that was acting against the other. They have exchanged — they have begun to exchange some prisoners of war. There’s a warming in the relationship. I suspect that if they feel they are in danger of imminent attack; that will be even greater.

I think one of the problems of waging a war against Iraq in the foreseeable future, it’s not an ethical question; it’s a prudential question. The chief of staff of Turkey has spoken out against it. The head of intelligence in Saudi Arabia has spoken out against it. The reason is that very few people in the region believe that this is a policy that would serve their interest.

And that is something that the United States, if it wants to do this, is going to have to turn around.

RAY SUAREZ: James Woolsey, America pushing Iran and Iran into each other’s arms?

JAMES WOOLSEY: I think those trends are relatively superficial.

I think the terrorist end of the spectrum — Iraq and Iran and Sudan and al-Qaida — a number of these countries have been cooperating off and on for some time. Now I think the important thing is it that there is a difference between these countries.

North Korea doesn’t really any longer — although it once did — pose a terrorist threat — possess weapons of mass destruction threat. Iran is a country where there is some hope, because of its constitution because of massive student demonstrations against the mullahs.

There’s a possibility that perhaps a shove here and there Iran might turn away what the mullahs that run of power instruments of the state.

The point is that with respect to Iraq there’s no hope. Iraq is like Nazi Germany. It is not going to throw up an Iraqi Gorbachev. The system is a system essentially of government by torture and murder and rape, and the poor Iraqi people have been governed this way for decades. I think we would be more popular anywhere in the world than we would be in the streets of Baghdad if we deposed the Iraqi regime just as we have become very popular in the streets of Kabul.

RAY SUAREZ: What about Bill Maynes’ other point, which is that very few people in the neighborhood seemed to be ready to stand behind the behind United States if it moves in that direction?

JAMES WOOLSEY: I think that Turkey would be able to be persuaded if we get it the right incentives, and it is the country I would admit that we need.

But most of other countries and after all –outside Israel and Turkey –that the Mideast is populated mainly by vulnerable autocrats and pathological predators — and the vulnerable autocrats express fear of the pathological predators and they say, “oh, please, don’t mess with Saddam and listen to us, Saddam, hear us say this? We’re telling the Americans not to mess with you.”

But if we succeed — and I think if we decided to do it we would succeed– in deposing the Iraqi regime and bring a far more decent regime and system of government to power in our Iraq throughout the Middle East and especially in Iraq itself we would be among the most popular people in the world.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, what happened with Iran? You heard Jim Woolsey allude to it a moment ago, that there was what was been seen both among our allies and American foreign policy circles a lot of forward movement, cooperation early on in the war of Afghanistan.

CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES: There have had several elections. There has been an evolution in public attitudes and, in fact, if you did not have a small group of mullahs who are basically dictating to the government at any key moment that they can’t move in the direction that I think the Iranian people want to move, we would have seen a real change.

But I think that Jim trivializes the problems involved in trying to deal with Iraq.

It’s divided into three groups. You have got Kurds in the North; you’ve got Shia in the South.

The Saudis are very worried that if you did attack Iraq that the Shia would join up with Iran. The oil section of Saudi Arabia is basically Shiite; they’re very worried about that section.

The Turks are worried about what kind of regime would emerge if the Kurds in northern Iraq did get some kind of independence because they have a large Kurdish population they have been repressing for a long time.

So, there are lots of problems here, and it seems to me many people are calling for this invasion are like throwing a rock up the mountain and seeing — hoping the avalanche hits the other side but the people in the area are worried the avalanche is going to hit them. Until we have got them on our side this is not a policy that is going to go anywhere.

RAY SUAREZ: James Woolsey.

JAMES WOOLSEY: The people in the area are sort of like small businessmen in Chicago in 1929 paying protection money to Al Capone. If Elliott Ness and his fellow G-men had showed up in Chicago and said, “Gee, we don’t know what we want to do, what do you think, should we do anything with Al Capone,” they would have heard, “oh, no, Al Capone, he’s a great guy, let’s not disturb things.”

But if it’s clear that the US government is going to take action and remove Saddam’s regime, you will find a lot of support pulling behind us and the support that we need will be there.

We don’t need lots and lots of allies on this. We don’t need the French, for example. If they want to criticize because they have business interests with Saddam, let them criticize.

But we do need the Turks and I think that with the Turks and the Kuwaitis who, I believe, would be with us and the kind of air power that we demonstrated in Afghanistan, with 80 percent smart weapons, and revolutionary change in air power, together with some indigenous forces on the ground, but perhaps several divisions of US troops.

This might well be something that would take more US Forces — substantially more than Afghanistan. But I don’t think it would take the 500,000 that we deployed in the Gulf War.

I think we have an excellent chance of changing the whole face of the MidEast and removing a major threat to the United States. I don’t say that this needs to happen right away or it shouldn’t be done without preparation. Of course, we should negotiate, prepare, work with the countries in the region as much as possible.

But decisiveness on America’s part brings support.

RAY SUAREZ: Are we preparing for a wider war?

CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES: I would just point out that after World War I when the British tried to reconquer many of their colonies which had become independent or semi-independent, the one place in the world they found it hardest to reconquer was Iraq, they found it actually impossible.

They finally imported back into the country 500 officers from the Ottoman army who had come from Bagdhad families and they carried out the bitter repression that united the country.

Basically, you have had the same system ever since. It is extremely unfortunately but if you want it — if we’re going to go down this road, then I think we have to redraw the map of the Middle East. And we are I think going be talking about an independent Kurdistan, and we’re going to be talking about big developments with Iran and the Shiite population.

JAMES WOOLSEY: I completely disagree with that. We do not want to have an independent Kurdistan. I think we can guarantee to the Turks that there would not be; that’s an important feature, and I think Bill is quite wrong about the Shia in southern Iraq wanting to join a Iran.

I don’t think that would occur and most of the scholars I know who are experts in the area, such as Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami do not believe that would happen either.

CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES: The head of intelligence of the Saudi government believe it’s would take place.

JAMES WOOLSEY: Special pleaders!

RAY SUAREZ: Charles William Maynes, James Woolsey, thank you both, gentlemen.