Dialogue: Why War?
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GWEN IFILL: Tonight’s dialogue brings together two people with extensive government experience in U.S. foreign policies. Jessica Tuchman Matthews is the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. She served on the national Security Council during the Carter administration, and at the State Department during the Clinton administration. And Richard Perle is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise institute in Washington. He is also the chairman of the Defense Policy Board which advises the secretary of defense, and he’s served as assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration. Jessica Matthews, I want to start with you and then turn the same question to Richard Perle. Is war the only option here?
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: No, I think there’s a middle ground that’s available between doing nothing and going to war, which is the selective use of military force, married to the international inspection regime, and that option, which a lot of people have looked at over time and which the Carnegie group proposed in some detail last summer, but with the American forces there now in the region, we have the nucleus to make a very quick transition from the current ineffective inspections to one that might be.
RICHARD PERLE: Nothing is inevitable until it finally happens. The desire to avert war is very great, and there is still some faint hope that Saddam Hussein will, contrary to all previous experience, decide that time is up and he has to turn over the weapons of mass destruction. But unless he does that, unless he leads us to where these things are hidden, the prospect that they can be ferreted out by any system of inspection, including the very ambitious one that Jessica has endorsed, is very small indeed.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: I think that depends on how much time you give it, and what you assess the threat, the imminence of the threat to be. I felt one of the things that was most interesting about Sec. Powell’s U.N. speech was that he went to great lengths to lay out a very compelling case about how Iraq is thwarting and deceiving and evading inspectors, and about the dangers of the weapons of mass destruction, but he didn’t make, and didn’t even try to make, a case for the imminence of the threat. And so, you know, I think a lot of people, I know a lot of people are asking the question, why can’t we give this time to see if it can be done with a tougher regime?
RICHARD PERLE: You know, the issue of imminence deserves some serious attention. What is imminent in this case? I rather suspect that if Colin Powell had laid out the intelligence we had available about al-Qaida on the 10th of September last year, if he had talked about what we knew about the camps, about the training, about the previous actions, if he’d relayed some of the communications intercepts and all the rest, you would have said, “well, he’s made a case that there’s a threat there, that they’re plotting against us in Afghanistan, but it’s not imminent.”
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Yeah, but I think you’re confusing…
RICHARD PERLE: How do you know when it’s imminent?
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: You’re confusing a state threat and a network, a terrorist threat. And in this case, the question is, which threat are we going after and which one are we making worse? I don’t think there’s any question, and I don’t know of anybody from the intelligence field who doubts that a war in Iraq is going to increase the terrorist threat against us. In fact, we’re seeing it in the newspaper now. We’re supposed to go into the basement and get some duct tape and some plastic. So the question is, if the threat from Iraq is such that it offsets… that it’s greater than what we know to be an increased threat from al-Qaida as a result of invading Iraq?
RICHARD PERLE: What we know is that al-Qaida, if it is given an opportunity to do so, will inflict great damage on Americans. They would, without compunction, kill millions. They don’t have the means, or at least as of now we think they don’t have the means.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Right.
RICHARD PERLE: Iraq has the means. And the marriage… well, there’s no doubt about that. We know from the previous inspections prior to 1998 that large quantities of chemical and biological weapons were produced.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Right.
RICHARD PERLE: They’ve never been accounted for. Saddam has refused to tell the inspectors where they are. He wants us to believe that they disappeared.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Let’s take that as a given, right.
RICHARD PERLE: But let’s just agree that Saddam has had those weapons and he is perfectly capable of transferring them to al-Qaida.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: But I think that’s the key word, is he “capable” or likely? My own judgment is, and I think most people’s, is that the only conditions under which he is likely to make that transfer is if he’s facing Armageddon in a war, and it’s about to be… as an act of the ultimate pointless revenge. But as a calculated act, to give his crown jewels to people he doesn’t control and to people indeed that we know are his enemies, seems extremely unlikely when set against the near certainty that the war will provide additional motivation; be a recruiting tool for al-Qaida.
RICHARD PERLE: You know, crown jewels were the jewels in the crown, and you don’t give them away because you’re giving the crown away, but Saddam has lots of crown jewels, plenty for himself and to distribute to others if he chooses to do so. And the only point I want to make is that as long as Saddam is there, with everything we know about Saddam, as long as he possesses the weapons that we know he possesses, there is a threat, and I believe it’s imminent because he could choose at any time to take an action we all very much hope he won’t take.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: But why, why?
RICHARD PERLE: Why?
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Why.
RICHARD PERLE: Why does he hold onto these weapons despite the fact that it has brought him to the brink of war?
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Because they give him power. But to give them away doesn’t give him power.
GWEN IFILL: You wrote in the Washington Post this week, Ms. Matthews, about your idea of coercive inspections. Explain what that is, and I’m curious what Mr. Perle has to say about that.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Well, I was laying out what you suggested before: Is there a middle ground between all-out war and a continuation of a inspection regime that we all agree isn’t strong enough. The first points that have to be made is the inspectors have to exercise the powers they were given fully in Resolutions 1441. They haven’t — Mr. Blix hasn’t hired the right people, the qualified experienced people with prior experience in Iraq. They’re sitting in television studios telling television audiences what’s going on. They should be out in the field in Baghdad.
And then, secondly, he should never have been allowed to enter negotiations with Saddam Hussein about the U-2 surveillance planes flying, and now that appears to be moving. I also suggested that there were additional powers that they could be given, starting with the ability to impose what are called no-fly, no-drive zones, where no Iraqi plane, helicopter or plane, could fly, and no military vehicle could drive. And these zones would be broad zones over a good part of Iraq, and we would start with the British and American forces that are currently patrolling northern and southern Iraq, and have been for years, and broaden those forces with forces from states that support the efforts to disarm him, but not to remove him; not a war. That could… I mean, that doesn’t bring additional force that we need, we have plenty of air power to do it. But it brings enormous political strengths to the effort. And that strengths will have effort in…. an impact in weakening Saddam.
RICHARD PERLE: Let me suggest where we agree and where I think we probably don’t agree. We agree that Hans Blix has hired the wrong people.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Right.
RICHARD PERLE: We agree that by entering into negotiations with Saddam, he has given Saddam some significant control over the way in which the inspection regime operates — mistakes in both cases.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Right.
RICHARD PERLE: But why, why would he do that, why would he not hire the right people, why would he invite Saddam to limit his freedom of action? The answer is, because Saddam controls the territory, and Hans Blix, who would describe himself as a realist, believes that he cannot operate except in cooperation with Saddam Hussein. That doesn’t change, Jessica, if you increase the number of inspectors, it doesn’t change if you send some troops along with the inspectors, unless you anticipate military engagements, shooting between the four to five inspectors and Saddam Hussein’s army.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Yeah, I don’t think it’s going to happen though. You know, when we first proposed these ideas last summer and suggested there would be no so- called “sensitive sites” off limits, people thought we were crazy. They said, “What, you’re going to go inspect presidential palaces?” You’re going to inspect Iraqi military bases? They’ll never allow it. Never, never, never. And, of course, it’s happened.
RICHARD PERLE: No, of course they allowed it. They allowed it because they…
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Because he’s a bully and he will back down once the determination and force.
RICHARD PERLE: He allows the inspection of sensitive sites because he knows they’re empty, because he knows everything in them has been moved to other sites, the location of which have we don’t know. And ultimately, the flaw in your proposal, which would be a better way of inspecting, if inspections could work, I grant you that. The flaw is that you cannot find things without very precise intelligence directing you to them. Iraq is a large country…
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: But Richard, we know that’s not true…
RICHARD PERLE: …It’s bigger than California and Massachusetts put together.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: …We know that’s not true. It’s not a matter of opinion.
RICHARD PERLE: There have been no random discoveries…
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: UNSCOM made not random discoveries, but…
RICHARD PERLE: Somebody has to tell them.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: No, wrong. They discovered, for example, Iraq’s biological weapons program without anybody telling them. It took four years, and it took a lot of work in tracking stuff down, but nobody… and Powell finally made that clear at the U.N., they stopped talking about having the defector first because the facts are, the key defector happened four months after they first reported this to the Security Council. So, it can be done, we know it from the experience of UNSCOM.
RICHARD PERLE: Jessica, we know how easy it is to hide biological weapons.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: But it’s very hard to lie.
RICHARD PERLE: Hang on a second.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Okay.
RICHARD PERLE: We know how easy it is to make biological weapons facilities mobile, because the Iraqis have done it. And somewhere on the highways of Iraq, as we speak, are mobile vehicles capable of producing biological weapons, there’s not a chance we’re going to find this.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: I think…
RICHARD PERLE: It’s too big a country, and what we’re looking for is too small.
GWEN IFILL: Well, on that note, we’re going to have to leave it. Jessica Matthews, Richard Perle, thank you very much for joining us with this dialogue.
JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Thank you.
RICHARD PERLE: Thank you.