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The Iraq Debate

September 12, 2002 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: Some reaction now to what the President said from two former Defense Secretaries, James Schlesinger and Harold Brown; a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Donald McHenry; and a former member of the House Armed Services Committee, Patricia Schroeder. Secretary Brown, how you would describe the bottom-line message of what the president was saying today?

HAROLD BROWN: Essentially in what I thought was a strong and well presented speech, the president was saying, Saddam Hussein has proven he is very dangerous by his past actions — that nonmilitary reactions have failed to contain him; and that therefore, failing an effective way of ending his program of weapons of mass destruction, military action will have to be taken. He did that in the context of invoking Saddam Hussein’s failure to comply with past U.N. Resolutions.

And he implied very strongly that it was up to the U.N. Security Council to take action and if it didn’t for one reason or another that the U.S. would.

JIM LEHRER: Ambassador McHenry, did you hear the same thing, U.N. you do it because if you don’t we will?

DONALD McHENRY: Well, I heard some of that. I think the president did a very good job of telling us what we know. And that is, that Saddam Hussein is a pretty unsavory character, has been in the past, is now — likely to be in the future. What he doesn’t… and that approach has a great deal of appeal in terms particularly of the public. What he doesn’t tell us is how he’s going to grapple with the situation. He doesn’t give us the kind of Cuban Missile Crisis type ammunition to tell us what he so knew that we must act now.

Nor, frankly, does he deal with what I think are the differences between the United States as the President articulates our policy, and the rest of the international community. We want regime change. The rest of the international community wants enforcement of the resolutions.

Now, if you enforce the resolution and in the process you get regime change, that’s quite different from the objective of regime change. And what we have done by taking a regime change approach in this administration and the last one, has given Saddam Hussein an opportunity to say, why should I cooperate? They’re not going to lift the sanctions no matter what I do. And it’s those kinds of issues, it seems to me, which he has got to grapple with.

JIM LEHRER: Did you hear, though, the president saying specifically in his speech that the U.N., it’s up to you to enforce — to take step number one before we take step number two?

DONALD McHENRY: I thought the president fudged these issues at the end of his speech.

JIM LEHRER: What did you hear, Secretary Schlesinger? Did you hear a step, a challenge to the U.N.?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: It certainly was a challenge.

JIM LEHRER: What was it?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: The challenge was quite simple: Is this going to be a talkfest? Are we going to just talk? We have had 12 years now of defiance of U.N. Resolutions by Saddam Hussein. Do you want to wind up like the League of Nations? If you do want to wind up like the League of Nations, that is one course that can be followed. We are going to take a different course.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think the President said to the U.N. Security Council in terms of specifically, here’s what I want you to do, U.N. Security Council? Did you hear that or what did you read into what he was saying?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: Well, I think the… he laid down a challenge to the U.N. Security Council to see to it those resolutions that have come serially for the last 12 years are enforced and not defied. I think that Senator Biden put it very well, that this was a very grave indictment of Saddam Hussein by the U.N.’s own standard. And it is the responsibility of the U.N. to come up with a tough package that will result in Saddam Hussein giving up the weapons of mass destruction. Otherwise, I think, as Secretary Brown indicated, we are going to take action with support of a number of allies.

JIM LEHRER: What did you hear the president say, Congresswoman Schroeder?

PATRICIA SCHROEDER: First of all, I was impressed he went to the U.N. because it did say the president listened and this is s a very hard thing to do in a public debate. This debate has been raging for a couple of weeks.

And so many of our allies thought he would do this unilateral thing and not come to the U.N., so I think number one I really want to say how hard that is for any human being to do especially in that public an arena.

JIM LEHRER: Because you didn’t think he wanted to really do this, right?

PATRICIA SCHROEDER: There was really a lot of suspicion that he didn’t want to do this and there was certainly advice that he was getting that he didn’t need to do this. So I think we all are proud that he went and he laid the case out there. And the case is a very strong one, that Saddam Hussein has violated the different sanctions that the U.N. has put on him and I do think they were right, are you a paper tiger or aren’t you?

Now, I heard what the good ambassador heard in the last couple sentences, which was, okay, I’m here now. Let’s do this. You have a couple of weeks or you have a short period of time and then we’re going to move on with it. And I hope that’s not what he meant.

I think maybe hopefully it’s the end of the speech and you’re in a hurry because the administration appears to publicly have changed their position and evolved a long way. I just put two things together: Number one, we do need our allies. Number two, these are U.N. sanctions that everybody should be there trying to enforce or we should forget the U.N. and we do need to give them some time to work this through. The president and his administration have been working this through. We can’t say you have to have this by Friday.

JIM LEHRER: Well, did you — by fact of the president coming to the U.N. today and saying what he said has he accepted a U.N. timetable just whether implicitly if not explicitly?

PATRICIA SCHROEDER: I hope that that will be negotiated, that we won’t say unilaterally. I was in Congress during the Gulf War and if you remember, we decided to do the vote after the election on the basis we didn’t want to look political. My guess is there no one in the U.N. that thinks that the Congress wouldn’t support the President.

Why should we stampede and do that in front of the U.N., why wouldn’t we allow the Security Council to try and work out a good plan that they can put out there and say, this is how we’re going to enforce it and I end by saying this is very expensive and we started with Alan Greenspan saying beware of spending a whole lot of money; this is a way to spend a whole lot of money so all these pieces should come together I hope.

JIM LEHRER: What did you hear, Secretary Schlesinger? Did you hear a step, a challenge to the U.N.?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: It certainly was a challenge.

JIM LEHRER: What was it?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: The challenge was quite simple: Is this going to be a talkfest? Are we going to just talk? We have had 12 years now of defiance of U.N. Resolutions by Saddam Hussein. Do you want to wind up like the League of Nations? If you do want to wind up like the League of Nations, that is one course that can be followed. We are going to take a different course.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think the president said to the U.N. Security Council in terms of specifically, here’s what I want you to do, U.N. Security Council? Did you hear that or what did you read into what he was saying?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: Well, I think the… he laid down a challenge to the U.N. Security Council to see to it those resolutions that have come serially for the last 12 years are enforced and not defied. I think that Senator Biden put it very well, that this was a very grave indictment of Saddam Hussein by the U.N.’s own standard. And it is the responsibility of the U.N. to come up with a tough package that will result in Saddam Hussein giving up the weapons of mass destruction. Otherwise, I think, as Secretary Brown indicated, we are going to take action with support of a number of allies.

JIM LEHRER: What did you hear the president say, Congresswoman Schroeder?

PATRICIA SCHROEDER: First of all, I was impressed he went to the U.N. because it did say the president listened and this is s a very hard thing to do in a public debate. This debate has been raging for a couple of weeks. And so many of our allies thought he would do this unilateral thing and not come to the U.N., so I think number one I really want to say how hard that is for any human being to do especially in that public an arena.

JIM LEHRER: Because you didn’t think he wanted to really do this, right?

PATRICIA SCHROEDER: There was really a lot of suspicion that he didn’t want to do this and there was certainly advice that he was getting that he didn’t need to do this. So I think we all are proud that he went and he laid the case out there. And the case is a very strong one, that Saddam Hussein has violated the different sanctions that the U.N. has put on him and I do think they were right, are you a paper tiger or aren’t you?

Now, I heard what the good ambassador heard in the last couple sentences, which was, okay, I’m here now. Let’s do this. You have a couple of weeks or you have a short period of time and then we’re going to move on with it. And I hope that’s not what he meant.

I think maybe hopefully it’s the end of the speech and you’re in a hurry because the administration appears to publicly have changed their position and evolved a long way. I just put two things together: Number one, we do need our allies. Number two, these are U.N. sanctions that everybody should be there trying to enforce or we should forget the U.N. and we do need to give them some time to work this through. The president and his administration have been working this through. We can’t say you have to have this by Friday.

JIM LEHRER: Well, did you — by fact of the president coming to the U.N. today and saying what he said has he accepted a U.N. timetable just whether implicitly if not explicitly?

PATRICIA SCHROEDER: I hope that that will be negotiated, that we won’t say unilaterally. I was in Congress during the Gulf War and if you remember, we decided to do the vote after the election on the basis we didn’t want to look political. My guess is there no one in the U.N. that thinks that the Congress wouldn’t support the President.

Why should we stampede and do that in front of the U.N., why wouldn’t we allow the Security Council to try and work out a good plan that they can put out there and say, this is how we’re going to enforce it and I end by saying this is very expensive and we started with Alan Greenspan saying beware of spending a whole lot of money; this is a way to spend a whole lot of money so all these pieces should come together I hope.

JIM LEHRER: Secretary Brown, let’s go back to some specifics if we can. Let’s say for discussion purposes that the U.N. Security Council and all its members and all its whatever got the message today, yes, we want to enforce all of these resolutions against Iraq. We want to sake severe action to avoid military action, unilateral, possible unilateral action by the United States. What, in fact, could and should they do?

HAROLD BROWN: I think that we’re going to have to go through a process of crafting resolutions, which have to have some sort of deadline on them and which may involve an insistence on inspections at random without notice, no holds barred, and acceptance, full acceptance of that within a fixed time. I have no reason at all to believe that Saddam Hussein will accept that.

And then we’re going to get into lots of debates. He’s going to try a rope-a -dope strategy of the kind he did during 1998 finally throwing the inspectors out. And there is going to be a lot of negotiation with our allies and others on the permanent five of the Security Council. And either something will happen that empowers the United States under the U.N. to act, or the U.S. is likely to act alone. The President does have to get support from some of the countries in the region because that’s necessary to carry out a military operation effectively. And he’s going to have to get support from some of our allies in Europe, because if there is a military action, it’s going to leave a very messy aftermath of the same kind as in Afghanistan.

We’re going to need our allies to help there. So that this going to the U.N. — having started behind his own goal line as a result of adopting a unilateralist approach for 18 months — I think is a step forward even though it has its risks. But specifically I think we’re going to have to go down the last chance, no holds barred inspection route and I expect it to be rejected because after all, Saddam Hussein has foregone probably about 50 billion dollars of oil revenues in order to avoid inspectors for the past four years.

JIM LEHRER: Ambassador McHenry, what do you see, is that what this is a no holds barred behind the goal line approach that we are now committed to?

DONALD McHENRY: Well, I think they have made some progress in terms of consulting.

JIM LEHRER: There are seven metaphors we mixed there, Mr. Secretary, but go ahead.

HAROLD BROWN: That’s all right.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah, I know; it’s fine.

HAROLD BROWN: It is a complicated situation.

DONALD McHENRY: We made progress in terms of consulting allies and Congress and the U.N. that is a long way from where they were.

JIM LEHRER: Take us through a process, from your inside knowledge of how the U.N. operates and what the current situation is, how do you see this thing unfolding you heard what Secretary Brown just laid out.

DONALD McHENRY: I think they will need a resolution of the Security Council, which aims at enforcement.

JIM LEHRER: With deadlines?

DONALD McHENRY: There will be those who will try and do a two-step approach. I think it’s best if they do a single-step and make it very clear that action will be taken if you do not have prompt unconditional inspection.

JIM LEHRER: What kind of action?

DONALD McHENRY: It can be military action. The only question I think that the United States is going to have a difference with the international community on is what is your objective? Our objective is regime change. The international community wants enforcement of the resolutions. In which the international community is prepared to lift sanctions.

JIM LEHRER: No matter who is running Iraq… as long as they get rid of their weapons.

DONALD McHENRY: No matter who’s running Iraq. If you listen to the end of the President’s speech, he gave you two scenarios, one scenario was Saddam Hussein continuing to do what he’s doing and the second scenario, was a new Iraq with a different kind of government and different kind of regime. So it’s regime change, which is his objective.

HAROLD BROWN: If there is military action this time, there will be regime change.

DONALD McHENRY: Oh, if regime change comes out of enforcement of the resolution, you won’t get any objection from I think anyone. But if your objective is to simply change the regime, it is very difficult for the international community to agree that we are ought to introduce this new concept.

JIM LEHRER: Secretary Schlesinger, do you have a scenario that you would like to put on the table, what happens next and then take us down your route?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: I think that we are going to have to have enforcement by military forces. That means that Saddam Hussein will see that his palaces are, indeed, inspected on demand.

JIM LEHRER: Not necessarily a massive invasion but just an enforced kind of inspection?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: And unless he agrees to that, action will be taken. I think that the action will be taken by the United States and some of the others.

JIM LEHRER: Under… do you think process now means that eventually the U.N. will stamp it, yes, go?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: There is enough resolution on the part of the U.N. already to justify action. We have had 12 years of defiance of the U.N. The question once again is whether we’re going to have talk, talk, talk, with the old League of Nations outcome.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. But this new process, let’s forget what’s happened until now, we have a new process that began, let’s say it began today, what do you foresee happening, do you foresee any possibility that Saddam Hussein will, in fact, allow inspections in such a way that would clear this whole thing up and everybody goes home?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: I do not but I say there is a desire to delay in order to provide protection as it were for the regime. And I don’t think that the United States will tolerate that.

JIM LEHRER: You mean you don’t think the United States will play this whole thing out in terms of…

JAMES SCHLESINGER: Not if it’s an endless delay. I think that given the nature of the summer in Iraq, which gets to 115, 120 degrees, we are going to move by the winter.

JIM LEHRER: Do you believe Congresswoman Schroeder that in order for the United States to maintain a. coalition. to get and keep the U.N. Security Council with them, there is some kind of playing out that must be done no matter what the end result might appear to be ahead of time?

PATRICIA SCHROEDER: Well, the nice thing about the Security Council is it’s a small group, and I worry the most about Russia in that group, but I think since the President has such close ties with Putin, you know maybe that’s all doable. And if they stand together as a group, if they really stand up and say, we are… we really want the inspectors in there. We’re really angry that the sanctions have been brushed off by Saddam Hussein, then I think he has to take another whole look at this. He’s gambling on the fact that they’re all going to….

JIM LEHRER: You mean Saddam Hussein?

PATRICIA SCHROEDER: Yes. I think he’s gambling on the fact they’ll….

JIM LEHRER: This will never happen.

PATRICIA SCHROEDER: And what I think is so good about the President going there he really kind of laid the gauntlet down and I just think the French made some very encouraging statements today and so you know maybe we’ve made some progress by doing that. And to me that is so important, because as the superpower we have to be the adult and being an adult really isn’t a lot of fun but we have to be an adult and say to everybody else you have to be an adult too.

JIM LEHRER: What did you make of what Secretary-General Annan said right before the President, he essentially said that in a way, a wild paraphrase but said please don’t do it alone you must have us the United Nations?

PATRICIA SCHROEDER: That’s exactly right but he also went on to say and I think some people are surprised that Secretary-General Annan said he thought Saddam Hussein had really thumbed his nose at the U.N. Sanctions and if the U.N. to be meaningful had to do something. So the challenge to join us in the adult caucus, I think was very good.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of joining us in adult caucuses, thank you all four for doing so tonight.