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The Road Ahead in Iraq

January 27, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: And finally, a non-administration voice to look at the options and prospects ahead, it’s that of Zbigniew Brzezinski, a professor of American foreign policy at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He was the national security adviser in the Carter administration. Dr. Brzezinski, welcome.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Nice to be with you, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: First help us understand your reading at least on this issue of giving the inspectors more time. How do you read the difference, how strong the difference is between the U.S. position that we just heard from Secretary Powell and our main European allies and others?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: My sense is that some of our allies and the others would prefer to prolong this process into the summer and the fall. I think within the administration there are probably some serious divisions between those who would like to go to war fairly soon, no matter what, and perhaps those I suspect Secretary Powell included who would be willing to wait until about mid-March to give this process a little more time, to gain more support from the international community, to convince the international community that there is a serious problem to which there has to be a response.

In a way, in a kind of contradictory fashion, the Blix report actually on the one hand proves that inspections are useful — that they do show something. On the other hand, the report by pointing to certain shortcomings on the part of Iraq actually helps to develop consensus that hopefully with deliberation, but also determination may even convince Saddam six weeks from now to do what he needs to do to avoid a military conflict.

JIM LEHRER: That was going to be my next question. Are there some peaceful scenarios in all of this from what happened today?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Yes, I do. First of all, I happen to think that a peaceful outcome is still the best one for us and for everyone, and I hope that it is possible. Will he be willing to recognize it as a success, as a genuine victory for the U.S., for the president, for the administration. And that would entail the Iraqis coming forth and admitting to what they may have, providing answers that they have failed so far to provide, and engaging the inspectors in a process in which whatever is left – or whatever has been secretly produced – is then publicly destroyed.

I think to accomplish that, they probably will seek, if they go that way, some quiet reassurance, maybe the other U. N. from us, that once they disarm, complete and genuinely, we will then not use some excuse to go to war. Because I suspect many of them are convinced that our ultimate objective is not disarmament. It still is regime change for reasons which in some cases are openly stated and for reasons which many around the world suspect we deliberately refrain from stating.

JIM LEHRER: So if they did, literally, what Hans Blix asked them to do today in front of the whole world, they would also want, okay, if we did that, you’re not going to blow us away, right?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: That’s right. That’s right. And in a way, given their paranoia, given their condition, but also in all fairness given some of the saber rattling and name calling that has come from us, may well be convinced that if they disarm, if they get rid of whatever they may still have, and Blix makes a strong case for suspicion, that they will be more vulnerable to military action by us. And therefore they’ll be depriving themselves of some deterrent if can you call it that.

JIM LEHRER: The peace option. What do you say to those who say wait a minute, we’ve got 150,000 troops, either there, in the area or on the way there, we have a huge armada of planes and ships. Can we afford not to go to war now? Can the president afford not to use them?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: That’s a tough one. But ultimately there is so much at stake in this that I do not see us acting simply because of deployment dynamics. The Pakistanis and the Indians last year deployed close to a million men, and they were about to go to war. They haven’t withdrawn most of them, but they haven’t gone to war.

If we have to go to war, I think we have to be very conscious of the fact that at stake is not only the issue of disarming Iraq, which is important in itself, but at stake is also the legitimacy of our global leadership, the relationship with our allies, particularly in that context, our ability to establish precedence for dealing with other issues that are similar in nature, proliferation, North Korea, and so forth, and last but not least even the world being a viable economy. So we have to have a strong compelling case, hopefully a strong international consensus on behalf of military action if it comes to that.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read the attitudes of the French and Germans and others who are our traditional allies in this?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, that’s hard to say. But I have the feeling, following the press closely, going to Europe regularly, that some of it is, as the critics of the French and the Germans say, envy, resentment of American power, feeling that we are impatient, overly assertive.

JIM LEHRER: Throwing our weight around.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Exactly. Some of it, however, I think is the product of some of the rather demagogic, almost warmongering statements that were coming out of the administration periodically. The president made a very good speech to the U.N. on September 12. But some of his off-the-cuff remarks may go over well in the United States, but they seem to convince the Europeans that he’s really eager for war and that he doesn’t give a damn about anybody else.

And I think that fed into the equation and created a sense of resentment and maybe even conviction that the whole U.N. business is a charade, that we are seeking an excuse, almost at all costs, to go to war. Now this may not be justified on their part, but we have to take it into account.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see them as a lost cause, do you think it’s conceivable that France and Germany could ever be on board for the use of force against Iraq?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Yes, I do. I think if we persist in the inspections for a while at least, it would keep making a more compelling case, and I think recently Powell has done quite well in doing so. If the inspections begin to surface, which Blix articulated today, the case actually gets stronger, and the pressure on Saddam to comply increases. And if he doesn’t comply, I think the chances of consensus are greater than if we keep saying to the Europeans we’re going to go to war, we’re going to go very soon and we don’t care what the U.N. says in effect, we have the right to go to war. Because ultimately people ask what is so imminently dangerous to us if we don’t go to war?

We ourselves are not saying that Iraq is an imminent threat. The president, very correctly, the president very correctly said on September 12th, Iraq is a grave and gathering threat: Grave and gathering. He didn’t say imminent. And he’s right. The problem is left untouched, unresolved, it will become worse and worse. But it is not an imminent threat. But I think the whole issue will come to a head, as I said earlier, somewhere around mid-March.

JIM LEHRER: And if Iraq does not seize the opportunity to cooperate, then that helps the United States make its case with France and Germany and the rest of the world?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Absolutely. I think it increases the chances of abstention on the part of some of the veto-wielding Security Council states, and increases the prospect that others may be on board in some fashion, either in terms of the military action itself, or equally important, in helping us absorb the costs and the difficulties of the aftermath of the war. And we need our allies — in the first instance, even on a legitimate military action, and in the second instance to bear the burdens of what could be a prolonged and very costly occupation.

JIM LEHRER: All the details aside that we have just talked about, what most Americans want to know tonight, after a momentous day like this, did we move closer to war or did we move further away from war, in your opinion?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I can’t prove it, and you’re asking me for essentially the kind of an intuitive judgment.

JIM LEHRER: Exactly. Exactly.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I think maybe a step or two away, rather than closer to, in part because it strengthens, today strengthens the case against Iraq and increases the pressure on Iraq to comply. And I think there’s still a chance that at the last minute, when faced with the prospect of military disruption and eventually personal death, Saddam will comply. And therefore we have to always balance deliberation, not be saber rattling too much, with determination. Do things that do convince people that we’re ready to act and let Blix develop the case that Iraq in effect is not fully complying.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think of Blix’s job that he did today?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I think he did a very good job, I think he did a very good job. For one thing, I think, maybe that was not his intention. He provided some of the arguments to the effect that there is a serious problem with Iraq, that the administration for a variety of reasons has not been willing to provide, nor for that matter share the evidence that it claims it has.

JIM LEHRER: Dr. Brzezinski, thank you very much.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Thank you.