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Iraq Next Move: Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger

August 22, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: President Bush has called it a frenzy, but for weeks newspapers and television have been full of commentary about Iraq, including columns from several former high-ranking government officials, among them former Secretaries of State Kissinger and Eagleburger, and former National Security Advisers Scowcroft, Berger, and Brzezinski, some supportive, others cautious or critical of a military move on Iraq by the United States.

Tonight for our Iraq discussion we bring together former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger. And welcome to you both.

Before we talk about response, why don’t we define the nature of the threat. Henry Kissinger, how does Iraq threaten the United States, and does it threaten its neighbors?

HENRY KISSINGER: The issue can’t be defined in terms of a direct threat of Iraq to the United States. Iraq threatens the United States by its capacity to threaten its neighbors, as it already has for about 30 years, and particularly when it develops weapons of mass destruction, and it threatens the area symbolically by its continuing to build these weapons in spite of U.N. resolutions to which it adhered, and in spite of the cease-fire by which the Gulf War was ended, and by having evicted the U.N. inspectors.

So in an area in the region from which much of the terrorism emanated, the presence of such a country with such a government and with such weapons is a geopolitical danger.

RAY SUAREZ: Madeleine Albright, does Iraq threaten the United States or its neighbors?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think we would all agree that it is a threat within the region, which is one reason that the sanctions regime that was put in after the war has been held fairly tightly and something that we supported all along.

I think that Dr. Kissinger answered very well. It is not a direct threat to the United States, which is why, I think, we need to have a discussion about whether we are – will be or would be better off with an attack or a preemptive attack on Iraq from where we are now, where, in fact, I believe that Iraq and Saddam Hussein are contained pretty well within this sanctions box.

RAY SUAREZ: So what do you do, just keep on doing what we’ve been doing until now, for the past 10 years?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that it would be very good if we could get the inspectors back in — not just ordinary inspectors and not according to the rules that Saddam Hussein lays down, but that would be sanctioned properly by the United Nations with a very strong and effective inspections team.

But I think we have to know what we’re getting into before we have some kinds of action in terms of invasion or the various other options that are being discussed. I think it’s very important that we are having a discussion about it. I don’t think it’s a frenzy; I think that this is what happens in democratic societies — that we have to have a discussion about what is the threat, as you have properly asked, and what is the best way to counter with it without making things worse.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Ms. Albright suggested the inspectors go back in, would that do it for you Mr. Kissinger and what you would prescribe as a response given the threat that you defined?

HENRY KISSINGER: I pointed out that in order to plan a military operation, one needs a diplomacy that gets us into it and that diplomacy, in my view, should focus on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in violation of the U.N. resolutions and of the agreement that ended the Gulf War.

I have not… if it were possible to devise an inspection system that Saddam would accept and if it were possible to implement it and to enforce it on him, I think that would bring about such a significant regime change. But I do not believe that that is possible without the threat of war.

So that the question of whether one is willing to go to war or whether one prefers an inspection system cannot be separated, because the sort of inspection system that would work, which is… has to be a much better system than existed before will have to be a system of inspection on demand, which cannot be delayed by the local authorities and a number of other issues, if one had an inspection system that made Iraq substantially transparent but that is a theoretical argument now because that is not achievable in my view without the threat of war, and, therefore – and maybe not without war — and, therefore, those two things have to be closely linked.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, if the United States is going to move forward with either an intervention or kind of external pressure on Iraq has it created the necessary coalitions in the region, built any support for this policy until now, Dr. Kissinger?

HENRY KISSINGER: Well, in the region the issue is really very complex because there are several nations that would be quite relieved if Saddam Hussein disappeared, or at a minimum Saddam was really constrained, that are not willing to say this publicly.

And that situation is particularly acute as long as the administration says… states what its objectives is but says it hasn’t yet made up its mind to act so those who might support us could be left out in the open, if the decision is in the negative.

So I think in the region on the whole probably the countries would be unfriendly at first — relieved in many of them afterwards. In Europe, the situation is equally complex. Several of these countries are having elections in Europe. Several of these countries have center-left governments in which the debate to how to deal with the United States has been endemic.

And at the end of the day once there is a clear American decision I believe most Europeans will ask themselves whether they can really afford to separate on a matter of vital security interests of the United States from the country that has been assuring their vital security interests for 50 years.

And, therefore, I think one cannot judge it entirely by media reaction in even public opinion polls today and I also believe that were we to go to war and there is a decision as former secretary of state one should not urge, this is a decision the president ought to make, although I would sympathize with it — were we to go to war we have to do it in a manner where even if we don’t have support at the beginning, other nations can participate in the process of reconstruction and governance that has to take place afterwards as we have so successfully done in terms of organization in the Balkans.

RAY SUAREZ: Same question.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that it is very important to understand exactly, as Henry has said, that often countries in the Middle East say one thing publicly and another privately.

We both have had to deal with it. On the other hand, certain countries in the Middle East have very publicly said they wouldn’t support this, King Abdullah of Jordan, for instance, who is obviously very important to this.

And I do agree that at a certain point if we were to go forward and we’re very serious, these countries might come along, but we have to listen to what they’re saying, because they are the ones that are in the region. As far as our allies in Europe are concerned, they are making it very clear that they are opposed to this including even now the British government that has been the staunchest of our supporters on this.

I think the main problem here is whether this is our number one priority or whether our number one priority is fighting terrorism, which is what President Bush and his people have been saying to us up until now. And it would seem to me that we would be sacrificing a lot of the cooperation that we’re getting in the fight against terrorism for what is unclear as a goal in Iraq.

Now, that is not to say that we should not be planning and looking at things. I agree with Henry that it is important actually to see if there is a military plan, whether there are a variety of ways to change things in Iraq. We certainly looked at a variety of options in terms of working with the opposition or trying to find somebody inside.

And it would be irresponsible, the Bush administration not to be looking at a variety of plans. But for me, the truly important thing is to try to figure out what our top priorities are. Are they not fighting terrorism, are they not also trying to develop some kind of a peace process or to get back to a peace process in the Middle East? So there are a lot of things on the table.

There is no question that this is a difficult time — that we have to look at what Saddam Hussein means, whether this is a time to look also at the possibility of pushing for a variety of changes in the Middle East. I think one thing I wish we had done more of as an administration would have been to focus more on pushing for change, reforms, for some type of democracy.

Maybe we should talk about a free Iraq, rather than regime change. So I think there is a lot to think about and what we have to focus on is: what are our priorities? I have within led to believe or would feel that way from listening to President Bush, is we need to fight terrorism.

I’m willing to agree with that. Is it worth sacrificing the huge alliance that we have for pursuing the fight against terrorism for this? The Russians disagree; they have now been helpful, the allies disagree and I think that that is my big question.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Kissinger, is there any track record for this kind of thing working in the several decades leading up to this one? Has the United States been party to a policy of forcing or precipitating regime change where we can point to a country that’s been affected for the good by that?

HENRY KISSINGER: May I make a comment on what Madeleine said before –


HENRY KISSINGER: I would argue that to deal with the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — it’s a very good way to fight terrorism, because it would demonstrate to the countries in the region from which after all terrorism has come, that to threaten the interests and the security of what America cares about is extremely dangerous. So these are not alternatives to each other.

And I would make the same point with respect to the Arab-Israeli dispute. Now is there a precedent for regime change? Well, I personally would talk somewhat less about regime change and somewhat more about weapons of mass destruction though it comes to very similar things, since you cannot do the inspection system that’s needed with its regime.

But there is no precedent for the kind of danger where a government can acquire weapons that can wipe out civilized life in certain parts of the world — a government that has no restraints on itself, that has a demonstrated record of using these weapons of mass destruction — so that on the whole I would say that this is an unprecedented situation — in an unprecedented challenge.

One has to remember on September 11 last year most Americans did not know that they had enemies that were willing to kill thousands of Americans, that we didn’t even know these enemies existed, and to permit in the sender of such a region weapons of mass destruction to be developed in violation of solemn undertakings of that country and U.N. resolutions seems to me an unprecedented situation justifying unprecedented measures.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: But it’s hard to disagree that we are threatened by weapons of mass destruction. We have now seen that possibility. The question that I would have is the same one that I asked at the beginning: will we be better off, do we have enough answers as to what happens if in fact, we take preemptive action against Iraq?

Obviously I do not have inside intelligence information anymore and it is possible that there is more intelligence information than is available to the public. One would hope so. But we do not have an awful lot of facts on this. I think it is essential for us to ask the right questions, to make the plans, but to also be clear about the precedent created and the dangers that are possible from kind of pushing at a hornet’s nest.

Everybody knows that Saddam Hussein is a dangerous person and that he has done terrible things in the past. And we should try to figure out various plans. But just to decide that we have all the facts now for talking about an invasion or preemption or various parts of this, I don’t think we have. And I think President Bush owes it to the American people to have this kind of a public discussion so that we can air the views and understand what we’re getting into.

We haven’t also talked about the day after or the week after and the fact that Iraq is going to be basically owned by the United States after this is over. And we are not exactly showing a lot of staying power in Afghanistan. We haven’t finished that particular job. And so before opening up another front and relying on various internal forces that we don’t know enough about, I think we need to examine this and our responsibility is to examine it.

I have no problem with discussion about this and trying to figure out what the right method is. It shouldn’t be ideological; it should be pragmatic and it should be based on what the threat to the United States really is.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, what does happen after… Iraq is a country a little bit larger than California, about 30 million people, after Saddam Hussein is no longer president of that country, if that’s been achieved by force of arms or coup or something like that, Mr. Kissinger, what happens then?

HENRY KISSINGER: I have written in an article that before undertaking this operation the administration will want to think through what the political objective is, how the governance of these various ethnic groups can be accomplished and how the reconstruction can be carried out.

This is something about some general ideas must be formed so that there isn’t a huge domestic debate in the middle, in the middle of a crisis. It cannot delay us indefinitely. It is something that can be done within a reasonable, within a reasonable period of time.

I myself would think that it cannot be American owned after a military operation, that this is something to which we would want to invite our European allies and the moderate regional countries; and I’m quite convinced they would want to join partly because of the resources of the region and partly because of the impact of what emerges there on international stability, so I would be fairly optimistic about being able to answer these questions, and if I may tell my friend Madeleine one point.

RAY SUAREZ: Quickly.

HENRY KISSINGER: She faced all these questions with respect to the Balkans on Kosovo and other issues and she managed to get them answered and managed to find, find a solution to them. So I think they are soluble problems.

RAY SUAREZ: Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, secretaries, thank you both for joining us.