End Games

March 14, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: There was talk today of final, once-and-for-all endgames on the confrontation with Iraq.

We explore the situation and possibilities now with Edward Djerejian, who was assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs during the first Bush administration. He’s now the director of the James Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston. And Jessica Tuchman Mathews, who supervised global affairs at the State Department during the Clinton administration; she’s now president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

Dr. Tuchman, on this Friday night, how do you read the possibilities of military action against Iraq?

JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: I’d say it’s almost 100 percent at this point. I haven’t believed that for 15 months but I think that’s where we are. I think this meeting is less about substance than it is about visual process, a way to give some kind of concrete feeling to the end game as you call it. I don’t expect there to be any significant negotiations.

JIM LEHRER: You’re talking about the summit?


JIM LEHRER: The summit meeting. Yes. How do you feel about it, Mr. Ambassador?

EDWARD DJEREJIAN: I think it is an effort at the chief of state level to, and the head of government, in terms of the Spanish prime minister, for them to one attempt, and I believe there is still a slight chance of a substantive compromise on a U.N. resolution that would have some benchmarks and perhaps a deadline for serious consequences, which is the word for going to war. That’s a slim chance at this late stage. But there is always that possibility.

But beyond that, I think it is a show of solidarity with the three of the key leaders of what will become the coalition of the willing, if we do go to war without a United Nations Security Council resolution, a new resolution.

JIM LEHRER: Dr. Tuchman, what do you think the chances are now of getting those nine votes on the U.N. Security Council?

JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Very small. I think the key issue is the question of whether the countries outside of the U.S.-U.K. coalition are willing to give us an automatic trigger for war, which they are not. And the U.S. is really not willing to go back to the Security Council for any further deliberation. And that’s the killer line there that keeps people apart. The issue really has, in an awful way, become about the U.S. really more than almost anything else and what role the U.S. will play versus the Security Council and the other nations.

JIM LEHRER: What do you mean– by the way, I called you by your maiden name, Dr. Tuchman, you’re Dr. Mathews. But anyhow, in what way? Explain what you mean?

JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: A lot of countries are feeling as though this is a war at America’s bidding, and that they’re being asked to approve a new world order almost that allows the United States to call the shots, to decide on regime change, and to decide on war in lieu of the Security Council.

And that is– people have been saying for a long time, since the end of the Cold War, that every empire in history has met with a balancing coalition. Nations have ganged up against it to balance its power. And I think that’s what we’re seeing now. Nations can’t gang up against us in a military sense, but they can in a political sense. And one of them was quoted– one of the U.N. diplomats from one of the smaller Security Council countries was quoted today in the paper as saying a lot of us feel bad about doing Saddam’s bidding but that appears no worse than carrying out a war for the Americans. It captures a sense that that’s the choice that they have. And they don’t like it.

JIM LEHRER: Ambassador Djerejian, do you see the choices the same way?

EDWARD DJEREJIAN: Well, I think if we look back at what has happened here is that when the administration worked for and got — both the president and Colin Powell — a unanimous support within the Security Council, 15-0 for Resolution 1441, which mandated the proactive disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the whole world community is behind that mandate. It is clear. It was quite an achievement.

Where the differences are, Jim, is really in terms of what an inspection regime should be, what analysis different countries give to what inspection regimes can accomplish and what Saddam Hussein’s performance has to be and proactive cooperation should be. There are real differences on that. And so you have the French and the Russians and the Chinese and others who certainly bear veto authority in the Security Council arguing for more space and time for the inspections to perform their work. That’s a real difference.

The other substantive difference that, unfortunately we haven’t talked about enough, and it certainly doesn’t start with the Bush administration. It’s with the– it started with the Clinton administration, is when the goal posts were moved from weapons of mass destruction, disarmament to regime change. In 1998, the Clinton administration embarked and moved the goal post. Certainly regime change is an objective currently. So those are the substantive and the real differences that are being battled out in the United Nations and the international community.

JIM LEHRER: As a practical matter though, where we are now, is it better to go ahead and have the U.N. Security Council vote, even if the U.S. position is voted down, or just skip it, in other words just move on? Mr. Ambassador.

EDWARD DJEREJIAN: Well, I think that at this stage, when we have these divisions, that if there is this consensus along the lines I mentioned that perhaps can be reached at this late hour through a summit meeting and intensive diplomacy in the next few days, we may be able to get a U.N. resolution that can be agreed upon. There’s a slim chance for that at this late stage, and therefore the United States and this coalition of willing have to decide whether to go without a U.N. resolution, which would mandate serious consequences, without going for a vote; and then proceeding as was done obviously in Kosovo in other circumstances.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think about that? Vote or no vote?

JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: It’s easy. It is no vote unless we know for sure that we’ve got the votes, because to go over an explicit Security Council no vote would be a breach of the charter and they’re not going to do that despite — I think the president just made an error last week when he said we’re going to call for a vote even if we don’t think we can win.

JIM LEHRER: Why was that so important?

JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: You mean why was it when he said it or why is it now?

JIM LEHRER: No. No. Why is it important not to go… if the U.N. Security Council should say no, in other words, if the U.S. doesn’t get any more than six votes?

JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Well, you know, you can make a credible case in law that Resolution 1441 and its predecessors provides a legal basis for the United States to go to war without a subsequent resolution. But you can’t– I mean lawyers are unanimous, as far as I know, in the view that to go to war over an explicit Security Council negative vote, would be a breach of the U.N. Charter, and that’s new territory, that’s very dangerous territory. So I would be shocked if the administration is not absolutely certain that they have the votes that they would ever allow a vote to take place.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see it the same way, Mr. Ambassador?

EDWARD DJEREJIAN: I think so. I think basically what we’re going to see in the next few days is if this compromise cannot be reached, then there will be the coalition of the willing, which will be outside of the context of a new resolution and the administration will, and the other parties, Spain and Great Britain and others, will look at 1441 as providing the necessary mandate to go forward.

JIM LEHRER: And what would be the ramifications of that, Ms. Mathews, of going without a U.N. mandate?

JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Well, for us, I think very little additional cost beyond the enormous costs that we’ve already taken on board for this. For the British, a great deal more, and that’s why there has been this whole week of really marking time where the administration has decided to just put it on hold to see if there was any way that we could eke out these votes without changing their position. I mean that’s what’s really– I agree with Ed that, you know, you never say never. And there’s a tiny chance that something might come out.

But this hasn’t really been negotiating in the usual sense of I give this, you give that. It has been maybe if we can change it by a few days, can we, and can we twist arms? This has more been an exercise in what can we offer, what can we threaten to a bunch of countries who have this immense pressure on them. So there really hasn’t been negotiating in a serious sense and that’s why I don’t expect it either this weekend. What there has been an attempt to do is to give cover to Prime Minister Blair, who is under just awful opposition at home within his own party.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Mr. Ambassador; that what the United States has been holding off is to help Tony Blair get through this?

EDWARD DJEREJIAN: I think that’s one aspect of it. But again I would… I think every effort– I think the administration also wants to show that it is going the extra length, the last mile before military action is decided upon. That’s obviously important because of public opinion both nationally and internationally.

JIM LEHRER: And that’s what you think the meeting Sunday is all about?

EDWARD DJEREJIAN: Well, again, maybe this is a professional deformation, Jim, of mine, but as a former diplomat, you just don’t call it over until it is over. And as long as there is even a slimmest prospect of some sort of negotiated settlement in private talks and discussions, one must not discount that possibility. I’m the first to say it is very slim at this last stage, but some of these ideas that were put together had some inherent logic in terms of putting some milestones for performance and compliance by Saddam Hussein, and perhaps an end date that would mandate serious consequences. But if they can’t get to that, then it truly is over, the negotiating scenario, and then I think it’s pretty clear that there will be a military action.

JIM LEHRER: And under this scenario, Jessica Mathews, it would be that it’s get nine votes but there would still be a veto. In other words, it wouldn’t come out of the United Nations cleanly but at least the United States and the coalition would have the nine votes, correct?

JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Well, if you thought you could get nine votes, then I think they would take it even though the French would veto because it would be a moral victory, and it would be considered– it would be a majority of the Security Council. And there is great unhappiness among all countries about the existence of the veto power, which seems to sort of be obsolete in a sense anyway, be left over from an earlier era. So that would be one thing, and that would be a victory.

But in my understanding, they’re really not close to that. And I don’t see– you know, this is about a set of countries that believe inspections under certain conditions can work, and the U.S. , which has changed its mind on that. And because the U.S. is now saying our goal is regime change there is absolutely no reason, and every disincentive for Saddam to comply with the inspections because why would you give up your most important weapons right in advance of being invaded, right?

I would entirely agree that with what Ed said earlier, that the big problems began actually in 1995 when the Clinton administration first began to change its mind back and forth of whether the issue is regime change or disarmament. We have broad international support for the disarmament goal. We have almost none for the regime change goal. And every time we go back and forth, we lose more for the disarmament.

JIM LEHRER: In a word, this is the crucial weekend, right?

JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: I think it is. I think we’re days away from an announcement that will set the date for the beginning of the war.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Mr. Ambassador?

EDWARD DJEREJIAN: Yes, Jim, I agree. And I think the critical issue now will be the day after. And I am pretty confident that in terms of the military operation, we will succeed militarily. But the great challenge is to win the peace afterwards in Iraq and a great deal of consideration is being given to that as you well know.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Thank you both very much.