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The Road Ahead in Iraq

February 14, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Now, how today’s events and the road ahead look to former Clinton administration secretary of state, and U.N. ambassador, Madeleine Albright, and Brent Scowcroft. He was national security adviser to the first President George Bush during the Gulf War.

Madam secretary, how would you summarize the importance of what happened today?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it was an important day and actually a very difficult one because it showed that there was a continuing split within the Security Council, and Sec. Powell I think gave an excellent presentation. But in the end, the reactions of the French, the Russians and the Chinese, all permanent members of the Security Council with veto power, was very negative. And Mr. Blix, I think, presented a mixed picture of some compliance but mostly kind of a sense that he wanted to continue. And that is the message that I think went out to the delegates who, if you noticed, actually applauded when the French foreign minister spoke and did not give that same reaction to Sec. Powell.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Mr. Scowcroft, at first that that was kind of the message from Blix, that he and ElBaradei are ready to proceed and would prefer to proceed further?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: I think that was clearly, clearly what the message is. But what I got out of today is that inspections are not going to solve the problem; that under enormous pressure from the United States, from 1441 and so on, Saddam has given a little bit here, given a little bit there, just lifted the lid off the kettle to let a little steam out. And his goal, I think, is to keep the Security Council split and to just drag things out figuring that we’re not going to keep all those troops there all this time. If he can just drag it out, we’ll get tired, we’ll go home and he’ll go back to the pattern of the ’90s where he would provoke us a little bit, then he’d back away. I think that is what his goal is and so far I think it’s been working.

JIM LEHRER: Madam Secretary, the general point that the French foreign minister raised is that, in fact, he said it– I wrote it down– “No claim that the path of war can be shorter than the path of inspections makes sense.” I paraphrased the last part. What do you think about that basic argument? Is that where the argument really is right now?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that clearly there are… all of us I think that would like to figure out how to avoid war. Therefore, there is a sense that perhaps the path to inspections is something that would avoid that and in the long run is shorter than the fallout from what would happen from a war. I think that is part of what everybody is considering is that we will certainly win a military victory.

I think there’s no question about that but the effect not only on Iraq but on the neighbors and on the alliance system and ultimately, Jim, on the entire international structure. There are many, many questions that are going on here, and I, not particularly agreeing with the French, but I think that there is a question here about where this is going and what the long-term costs of a quick military victory might be.

JIM LEHRER: What is the basic response to that, Mr. Scowcroft, the idea that inspections may not be going perfectly, the way everybody wanted, but at least people aren’t dying and at least something is happening and if we know… if there’s a war, we know people are going to die and it might take longer as the French said and as the secretary just said.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: I think that the one thing inspections can do is to keep his head down. There’s no question about that. But….

JIM LEHRER: Containing you mean.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Yes, yes. You know, it’s hard for him to do anything really remarkable while we have inspectors around the country and helicopters flying and so on. But in the long run, first of all, we can’t keep that up forever. And he will just play it along the way he has, fool the inspectors, my guess is that they’re bugged, all our conversations and so on and so forth, and we’ll get tired. We’re not going to keep this kind of pressure on.

And I think the French unfortunately are playing his game… if the French were with us and the whole Security Council was leaning forward, then we would find out under the absolute maximum pressure whether Saddam would open his doors. But this is his game right now with the Security Council split.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well I think it certainly would be better if the council were united and we managed to keep the coalition together for eight years. When I was in the Security Council we had any number of votes and we managed to keep the coalition together. I would just disagree with one thing that Brent said. And that is that there’s nothing so bad about containing him. That’s the whole issue here is that is Saddam Hussein an imminent threat or is our war on terrorism where our priority should be or shouldn’t we be dealing with a country that actually has a nuclear weapon, North Korea.

So I do think that we have a lot of issues on the table, and that the inspection regime, while certainly not perfect, did manage to destroy more weapons of mass destruction than the Gulf War. And if we have him contained and the no-fly zones are as wide as they are and we can take out more of his anti-aircraft locations and various things, that it’s not so bad to give this a little bit more time. That’s what I would be saying is that… it would be great to get our allies back together, get the Security Council functioning and not allow Saddam Hussein to do something that the Soviets were not able to do, which is to split the NATO alliance.

JIM LEHRER: What would be the harm in that?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: I think the real harm in that– and I don’t mind for some little period of time– but what we’re in danger of doing is to go back to the pattern of the ’90s where we finally got fatigued, he just kept at us and kept at us and kept at us ending up with throwing out the inspectors and proximately got us in the position we are now. Do we want to go through all that again?

JIM LEHRER: Is there no other alternative in between to what the two of you are saying? In other words, is there no way to continue to keep him from doing bad things short of going in there militarily, forever, I mean?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: I have been looking for it for a long time. I haven’t seen it because, you know, what is being accomplished right now is being accomplished by virtue of the fact that there is an enormous U.S. troop deployment, American, British on his borders now. We’re not going to keep them there indefinitely.

JIM LEHRER: If the troops leave, he goes back to doing his thing.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: He goes back to playing his games.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I do think that we need to give credit to the Bush administration for having achieved getting the inspectors back in. I think that was a big deal. I think… I have always believed in the threat of the use of force and to a great extent it has worked here. And I don’t think, as Brent does, that we’re going to get tired. We didn’t get tired in the ’90s. We worked this. We did manage to, as I say, keep him contained.

And there is such a greater force behind it now that– and leaving some troops there, I think is something that is possible. We can’t go on like this forever but I do think that we have already accomplished a lot. And to rush to judgment is not a good idea. You know, there were people in the Bush administration this time that wanted to have a war with Iraq in the worst way. They have managed to do that.

JIM LEHRER: What about the other point that the secretary made earlier, Mr. Scowcroft, which is there are down sides to war, and the French foreign minister made the same case, that there are down sides to war that could be much worse on the scale of one to ten than maybe possibly even keeping him contained in a very difficult way?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: War is always a very blunt instrument and, more often than not, produces very unexpected results. And I certainly agree with the secretary’s comments on that. There’s no question about that and the uncertain circumstances that would be produced in the aftermath of a war, absolutely. But look at what’s happening now in the state of tension — we are focused almost entirely on Iraq to the exclusion of a lot of other things. North Korea, for example — I think that’s a crisis much more serious than Iraq. The economy is sitting, waiting for what will happen. Everything is on hold. We’re not going to go on that way indefinitely.

JIM LEHRER: But would a war resolve those issues?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: It might not resolve them. It would certainly change the character of them.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think that the problem here is that, as I said, I think we’d have a very quick military victory. But we haven’t talked about the post conflict aspect of this. We don’t know what it’s going to cost. Nobody has really told us. And the only thing that the Iraqi National Congress, the opposition, can seem to agree on is that Saddam should go and so should we. And I think that….

JIM LEHRER: The people who would come in and take over —


JIM LEHRER: — presumably after a victory.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Exactly. And I think that the cost of it, the problem of the potential disintegration of Iraq as a country, all the internecine conflicts that would take place, we will be there for a long time. I have never believed that this war is over oil, but when we have to occupy the oil fields to protect them, the people in the Arab world and throughout the world will think this was for oil. When we’re sitting in Baghdad, which is the cultural capital of Islam, do you think that will help in terms of how the Islamic world feels about us? So it’s the post war aspect of this that worries me as much as anything.

JIM LEHRER: Let’s go back one step to what happens next. Should the United States and Great Britain move on its own without the full solidarity of the Security Council, because clearly it isn’t there as we just saw today. How do you feel about that?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: I think we ought to make another effort. I think we ought to get together with our friends and allies and talk quietly, seriously instead of playing games as has happened.

JIM LEHRER: Is that what you think is going on now?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Partly, partly. And figure out what kind of a course we can do. Can we get together, can we put enough pressure on Saddam that he in fact will say, you know, he now says he’ll let the U-2 fly — he could have said that months ago. So obviously he’s playing games. Can we threaten him in such a way that he knows he has no alternative? I don’t know. I think we ought to try that.

JIM LEHRER: But do you think, if that does not work… in other words, how serious… you heard what the secretary said. She thinks it’s really serious, these divisions, the French and the Germans.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: I think it is too.

JIM LEHRER: So where does that fit in on the scale?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Well, I think it fits in because we need to work on that too and we need to work on it not just in the case of Iraq. We need to work on it in the case of NATO as well. The split in NATO is really serious. It’s not just the United States and Britain. A majority of NATO is now with the United States.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think is going on there, Madam Secretary? What has caused this?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that, as we all know, there are periods of time when Americans are anti-European and times that Europeans are anti-American. I’ve always said the worst time would be is when those two moments, there was a confluence and that is what has happened. I do think that there has been kind of a sense by the Europeans that this administration has never taken them seriously.

They started off on the wrong foot with Kyoto and saying that the international criminal court wasn’t worth anything. And these things kind of accumulate. That is not to say that it’s easy to work with the Europeans. I can testify to that. But they require endless work, endless respect, and when we did the Kosovo War, I talked to them every day. And I invented something really brilliant, which was the conference call.

JIM LEHRER: You just did it with a telephone.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: And I think that it requires more. I agree with Gen. Scowcroft that there are games going on here. I think some of this is inter-European, intra-European activity where the French are trying to show that they are the masters of Europe, and this is very serious, but the sad part for me is we worked so hard during our administration building on what Gen. Scowcroft had done before to have a Europe that was whole and free. It is now being divided over this because the new countries that have come in, the central and eastern European are with this administration. And I think it’s a tragedy what’s going on. And I agree with Gen. Scowcroft that this requires a lot of work and hand holding and behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

JIM LEHRER: As a practical matter though, general, where do you see it happening? What did you hear said today that gave you hope that this could be… these bridges could be fixed?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Nothing that I heard today gives me much hope. But I think… you know, I look back to the days last summer, early fall when the administration seemed to be unilaterally heading toward a conflict. Indeed….

JIM LEHRER: You urged them to go to the U.N.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Exactly. And you know at one point the administration said going to the U.N. would be counterproductive. I think that the kind of unity which resulted in 1441 is proof that when the administration makes this kind of effort and they work very, very hard and they brought the alliance, they brought our friends and allies together, we can do it again.

JIM LEHRER: But they’re not blaming you for this?


JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much, Jim.