TOPICS > Nation

Issues of War

March 20, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: And, now some overview thoughts from Brzezinski and Mead. Zbigniew Brzezinski is a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He was the national security adviser during the Carter administration. Walter Russell Mead is a senior fellow for U.S. Foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. His recent book, Special Providence, is an historical look at the United States and the world.

The war has begun. How would you characterize the beginning, Dr. Brzezinski?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I would characterize it as a beginning. In other words, there are a lot of things we don’t know that could be quite critical to what happens.

First of all, we don’t know if Saddam is alive because I assume we were trying to get him. If we did get him, it would be my judgment that those immediately around him would try to hide the fact that he’s dead. So we don’t know if he’s alive. Perhaps he is. Probably he is. But he could be dead.

Secondly, we don’t know that they have weapons of mass destruction and if they’ll use them in the next few days. That will have some bearing on how the war is assessed by the world.

JIM LEHRER: Col. Gardiner said we’ll know in a couple of days as the troops move toward Baghdad, –

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Exactly.

JIM LEHRER: — we’ll find out.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Exactly. Thirdly we don’t know to what extent some key commanders are quietly negotiating with us about an arrangement.

Remember when Nazi Germany was falling, already six months before the end of the war, some key Nazi commanders started negotiating quietly with us about disengaging, capitulating. I suspect something like this may be happening but it’s very hard to assess its scale. So there are certain very basic things which could define what happens next week that we literally don’t know anything about.

JIM LEHRER: How do you feel?

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Well, I share some of the sense of optimism. I think there are some interesting signs that it’s possible that the Iraqi government is sort of losing control of the street, of the territory of Iraq.

You had in the last couple of days Iraqis beginning to speak frankly to foreign reporters and saying, we hope the Americans come soon. That’s the kind of thing you just never heard.

And when you’ve had a region, a country that’s been under this totalitarian control and the control begins to crack, things can change sometimes suddenly. At the same time, if you look internationally, we’re seeing –again this is still very much the beginning — but I think some of the themes that we’ll see during the war are already beginning to emerge.

There’s the question, are the Turks going to move in to northern Iraq? There’s been some talk about that, some concern expressed. It’s not clear where that’s going, but that’s definitely something to watch.

At the European Union summit, Europe remains very divided, which means that Europe can’t really speak with one voice for or against the American position in the war. I think one reason why France and Russia have been so vocal and even sometimes so bitter in their commentary is this sense that there has not… they have not succeeded in building a kind of an airtight, broad anti-war coalition.

JIM LEHRER: I was struck… speaking of that, I was struck today by Russian President Putin, the French, the people who were… the Pakistanis, the people who were pro… I mean, anti-war or kind of very, very much ambivalent continued the criticism today after it began. Is that normal? Is that par for the course?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Oh, I think so. After all there was a basic disagreement between them and us as to whether the war should be initiated now or whether the U.N. process ought to continue.

So I think it would be totally unrealistic to expect them to change their minds in 24 hours.

However, if the war ends very quickly, if there is a massive breakdown of the Iraqi regime, prompt capitulation perhaps in a piecemeal fashion, then obviously a lot of the antiwar sentiment around the world will decline.

Even though subsequently people will be asking, what about these weapons of mass destruction? You said you had to go to war because they existed. Why weren’t they there? So that could be a problem. But basically it seems to me what happens on the battlefield will affect a great deal what is being thought by the world public opinion.

JIM LEHRER: Going after Saddam Hussein in such a direct way as clearly the U.S. did last night, does that make sense to you?

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Absolutely. I mean, you know, people often ask, if you had been able to have killed Hitler, would you have killed Hitler? The answer is usually yes I would have.

Saddam Hussein has exercised totalitarian control. If you can kill him or if you can so shake him that he’s unable to make decisions or he sort of is in a panic, in a fog, that weakens resistance, it weakens their ability to control the defensive operations. And I think again it begins to separate the regime from the people.

JIM LEHRER: Explain the rationale of this. It’s against U.S. government policy to assassinate a foreign leader — that is, to go in there with a with somebody with a pistol and kill Saddam Hussein. But it’s okay to go in there with Cruise missiles and bombs and all of that to try to do the same thing?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, it may be a very formalistic distinction, but I would say that it is wise to have a policy prohibiting the deliberate assassination of foreign leaders, even if they are totalitarian despots.

But if you are in a state of war with another state and if that leadership is, in fact, in charge of the war effort, then I think you’re perfectly justified in attacking it as you would be in attacking, let’s say, the command headquarters of a division that you are combating in the field. It is an act of war to try to destroy the enemy. So that distinction I think is valid.

However, there’s no doubt that given the international opposition to the initiation of the war by the United States and the feeling that that was quite unilateral — if that attack had succeeded in killing Saddam and this became known immediately — there probably would be some feeling that we assassinated him and there would be some people who would argue that the United States is becoming a global gangster.

So there is perhaps a political price that could have been paid here, but still I think the fact that there’s a war makes it altogether a different game.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see it similarly?

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Yeah, but I would add that some of the same countries who would say, oh you Americans, you’re terrible — you’ve assassinated Saddam Hussein if we don’t succeed, and we have to fight a conventional war, they’ll say, oh, you terrible Americans, you’re inflicting damage on the Iraqi infrastructure.

I think there are a lot of people out there that have just decided that President Bush is wrong, the United States is wrong, and no matter what we do they will find a reason to protest against it or to oppose it. But I do think it is the merciful, it is the humane, it’s the right thing to do to try to decapitate the regime and spare the people as much of the horrors of war as you possibly can.

JIM LEHRER: But what would you say to somebody who would say, yeah, but we could have maybe done it with six assassins rather than 250,000 troops six months ago?

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Possibly. Might not have succeeded but also I think there is a difference between war and peace.

JIM LEHRER: It’s a moral issue?

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: I suppose it is a moral issue. It’s a practical issue as well. I think the United States of America is not actually the Soprano crime family. And we don’t generally engage in hits against our enemies. And I think it’s probably just as well that we keep it that way.

But in war, I think it’s absolutely the right thing to do to look for the least costly, least risky, most effective way of disabling the enemy.

JIM LEHRER: Back to the big picture before we go.

Do you agree with the earlier analysis that essentially what may be happening here, that the original battle plan of the United States-led forces was to go in there with a big, you know, big “shock-and-awe” thing and then when they had the target of opportunity, they did that last night and resistance seemed to be crumbling. And they’ve kind of backed off and hope they don’t have to do that. Does that make sense to you?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, not quite because I don’t think we have evidence that resistance is crumbling because we haven’t really challenged it.

I think what is far more likely in my view is this. There’s been an enormous amount of information put out on how we’re going to pulverize them and all of the different tactics and strategies and the weapons we’re going to use were outlined in great detail with occasional allegations that there are leaks and they shouldn’t have leaked.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I think all of that was designed to really convince the Iraqi military that war is suicide. And then quietly at the same time probably efforts were being made to approach individual commanders. And I think at this stage, we are giving them the option of choosing whether they wish to fight or, in fact, quit. And probably if they don’t start quitting in large numbers, the real war will start fairly soon. And then we’ll see some of the things that were predicted.

JIM LEHRER: How do you see this?

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: I would agree and I would also add that everybody says that the Bush administration is so famously closed mouth and they never tell the press anything — except for the secret war plans that somehow keep appearing on the front pages of the newspaper.

So I think, you know, you basically lay out all the options as your secret war plan now being leaked and the Iraqis are sitting there first of all just impressed with how strong you are but at the same time they have no more idea about what you’re actually going to do than they did at the beginning.

JIM LEHRER: So if you scare them enough, you don’t even have to exercise this leaked war plan is what you’re saying.

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Well, the hope is it would be just like the battle of Jericho. You walk around the wall seven times blowing the trumpets and the walls fall down.

JIM LEHRER: Or put a gun to somebody and say put your hands up and you don’t have to fire it.

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Exactly right.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you both very much.