Dialogue: America’s Role in Iraq
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TERENCE SMITH: Our dialogue tonight brings together William Raspberry, a columnist for the Washington Post, whose recent columns have raised some fundamental questions about a possible war with Iraq, and James Woolsey, a former director of central intelligence during the first Clinton administration, who has made the case for action against Saddam Hussein on this broadcast and elsewhere.
Gentlemen, welcome to you both. Bill Raspberry, in a recent column, you raised a question about the very purpose of any military action against Iraq. What did you have in mind?
WILLIAM RASPBERRY: Look, I’ve first got to thank you for the opportunity to ask this of somebody who is both smart and experienced in Washington — who is not with the administration.
What’s happening now has very much the look, to me, of a determination by this administration to kill Saddam Hussein no matter what. We’ve created a kind of Catch-22 situation, so it seems to me, that says if he denies having weapons of mass destruction — and we know he has them — then he’s in material breach of the agreement he’s entered into and we should go get him. If he admits he has weapons of mass destruction, he’s convicted himself out of his own mouth and we should go and get him. What possible turn of events could keep us from going after him?
JAMES WOOLSEY: I think on the second case, if he actually did admit that he had, for example, still these hundreds of tons of nerve gas and thousands of gallons of botulism toxins and anthrax and so forth, that the Iraqis admitted they had in 1998, at the end of the first round of inspections. If he said “yes, I know that I can’t demonstrate that I’ve destroyed these and I’ve been lying up until now, here they are,” I think the United States would have a very hard time invading and attacking. That would be a sea change. That would be the leopard changing his spots.
WILLIAM RASPBERRY: Or something like North Korea.
JAMES WOOLSEY: I… say again?
WILLIAM RASPBERRY: Sort of like North Korea. They admitted it.
JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, in a sense, that’s right. In a sense that’s right.
The North Koreans have admitted that they had a program that was clearly in violation of the 1994 agreement to enrich uranium. They started it probably just a few months after they signed that agreement with the Clinton administration. I think that if Saddam, though, did make an admission like that, and said, “here they are; you can come destroy them; we’ve decided to come clean,” I think it would be very hard for the administration to come in and change the regime. But I think the chances of that are so far below one percent…
WILLIAM RASPBERRY: Well, it does seem to me that we set up a thing that… a situation that makes it impossible for them to do that.
TERENCE SMITH: In effect, heads, I win, tails, you lose.
WILLIAM RASPBERRY: So it seems to me. There is another thing about this that I hope you can help me with as well. And that is, even supposing he has these things, supposing he has, for heaven’s sakes, the nuclear bomb, why are we the ones up in the tree about this one while his neighbors seem to be taking it with some equanimity?
JAMES WOOLSEY: I think the short answer is that the president is, and Tony Blair, are about the only people who are really acting like grownups here. Saddam’s neighbors are relatively weak. Iran has an army. Turkey certainly is not weak. But he… not only has he used weapons of mass destruction twice — against the Kurds and against Iran, chemical weapons — he started two wars since 1980. And he has ties to terrorist groups, and he… well, for example, when he stopped at the Kuwaiti-Saudi border in 1990, he was about 100 miles away from controlling over half the world’s oil.
So it’s a combination of strategic situation in weak neighbors and history, I think, that puts it in a special situation.
WILLIAM RASPBERRY: I want to tighten the point I was hoping to make. That if he is a threat to do something with these weapons we believe he has, isn’t he more of a threat to his immediate neighbors and to the countries between Iraq and Tony Blair’s England?
There are a few other countries that also don’t seem to be particularly upset about this. What is the direct threat to us?
JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, the countries that are near him, and many of our European allies, are sort of trying to play it both ways, and see if they could avoid drawing his attention if we should back down. And they’re behaving very much like Britain and France did in the 1930s, vis-à-vis Hitler. It’s essentially appeasement.
What we are doing, I think, is trying to save the situation in the Middle East from Saddam’s behavior and the follies, in a sense, of some of his neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia. I think what we have to do is keep him from becoming essentially a Hitler of the Middle East. It would have been a lot easier to have stopped Hitler in 1935-36 than it was once he started the war in ’39. And I think it would be a lot easier to stop Saddam now than it would be two or three years from now when he would be almost certain to have nuclear weapons.
WILLIAM RASPBERRY: It was fairly clear early on that Hitler had aspirations of something pretty big in terms of world domination. That doesn’t seem to have been demonstrated at all in the case of Saddam Hussein.
JAMES WOOLSEY: I disagree. Hitler’s ideology, to have the thousand-year Reich and to dominate Europe as a fascist, essentially, is almost exactly parallel to the rationale of the Ba’athist parties in Iraq and Syria, especially Iraq now. Saddam sees himself as the dominant presence of the Arab world.
And he sounds very much, with respect to the 250 million people or so in the Arab world, as Hitler sounded before war world ii, with respect to Europe. The Ba’athist parties really are fascist parties. They act like them, they’re organized like them, they’re anti-Semitic like them; they’re fascist.
TERENCE SMITH: You know, Bill Raspberry, you also mentioned in your column questions about the purpose and objective of the war: Democracy versus oil, et cetera.
WILLIAM RASPBERRY: Well, I think it’s kind of interesting that a man who is not a member of the administration but who supports the plans, apparent plans for the war, did not mention the democratization of the region as one of the objectives.
JAMES WOOLSEY: Oh, I think it is a big objective. I mean, I don’t think we are going to be safe from this war that the terrorists have started, or from the Ba’athist in Iraq, or from the Islamist Shiite in Iran until essentially we change the face of the Middle East. Now, that’s going to take a long time, and it’s a big order, but we’ve done something harder.
We’ve changed the world from 1917, 85 years ago, 86 years ago, until today from one in which there were about a dozen democracies to one in which there are 120. And all of Europe really now, except Belarus and Ukraine, are democracies of one kind or another — some partly free, Freedom House calls them, and some free. And I don’t think we are going to be able to deal with the situation in the Middle East until we begin a process to make those kinds of changes.
Now, it’s not going to be easy. In some countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and I think it’ll take a long time. But, you know, Bernard Louis, the great expert on the Middle East at Princeton, says that there are only two countries in the Middle East outside Israel and Turkey where the United States is really popular among the common people: Iran and Ira. And it’s a good bon mot, because I think there is a better chance that we can bring democracy to Iraq, and indirectly — certainly not by attack — to Iran, than to most other places in the middle east and sooner because the people are so fed up with these terrible dictatorial regimes they’ve had and they’re educated, smart people.
WILLIAM RASPBERRY: Look, I don’t want to seem squeamish about doing the necessaries, including the military necessaries to protect our interests. Let me put it this way. I have no qualms about personally shooting down the sniper on the roof who’s menacing the people below and who is doing a beat on them and is about to do terrible damage. I would take him out. But it seems to me in this case, we’re drawing a beat on a guy because he has a gun and a roof.
WILLIAM RASPBERRY: If he has any intention of doing these terrible things with this gun and this roof, as our administration tells, I’d like to know what they are. And particularly, I’d like to know what new menace he represents since roughly ten years ago, because he became this guy we have to get after 9/11.
JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, I think he’s been the regime we have to get all along. I think the first Bush administration made a bad mistake in not at least helping the Kurds and Shia that were rebelling against him at the end of the war. They were succeeding in 15 of the 18 provinces in Iraq.
But I think he’s gotten more dangerous all along because he’s been working on nuclear weapons and improving his chemical and bacteriological weapons and working on longer-range ballistic missiles.
WILLIAM RASPBERRY: You’d know that. You used to be with the CIA. You’re now with Vallon. I don’t know that. My administration says it knows.
The inspectors who have been looking left and right can’t find the evidence for what you’ve just asserted. And you and I, aren’t we old enough to be a little suspicious of governments that tell us, “we know this stuff but we can’t tell you”?
JAMES WOOLSEY: I have no trouble being suspicious of government. ( Laughter )
You’re on a program with the founder and chairman of the Yale Citizens for Eugene McCarthy in 1967-68, all right? But I think the situation today in Iraq is as follows: First of all, they admitted after defectors showed that they were lying, having bacteriological weapons and they admitted chemical weapons to some extent all along. And they admitted to making thousands of tons of… thousands of gallons of bacteriological weapons and hundreds of tons of chemical weapons that they said, “oh, I know we don’t have any records for having destroyed those, but we did. Just take our word for it.”
They also say that they’re not working on nuclear weapons, but they’ve been importing things like tubes of the right design and so forth for enriching uranium. And the British and we and a lot of people are pretty well convinced they have at least a couple of dozen long-range ballistic missiles, many fewer than they had in 1990. So in order to believe that they don’t have at least the chemical and bacteriological anymore, one has to believe that Saddam actually is not lying when he says, “we destroyed all that and take our word for it.”
But the inspectors — let me just… one quick word on the inspectors. The reason they’re not going to find anything, unless they take these Iraqi scientists and their families out– they have to take the families out because Saddam rapes and murders the women and videotapes it and sends it to the man who is the defector, if that’s what happens– so you have to take the families out, too. The reason the inspectors are not going to find anything unless they get dozens, maybe hundreds, of these scientists and their families out, is because you have a country the size of California. It’s a totalitarian dictatorship, and the inspecting force is the size of the police force of Chico, California: eighty people. I mean, wandering around going from one place to another to find things that can be moved easily is just… they’re not going to find it, because these things can be moved easily. These are vials and containers and even gas centrifuges for nuclear enrichment are about the size of a washing machine.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. Gentlemen, this is obviously a dialogue that’s going to continue. So thank you both very much for getting it started.
WILLIAM RASPBERRY: Thanks for the opportunity.
JAMES WOOLSEY: Honored to be on the program with Bill. I’ve enjoyed his columns for many years.
TERENCE SMITH: Thank you both.