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The Threat from Iraq

July 31, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: To continue the discussion we get four views now; three from people who testified at today’s hearings: Khidhir Hamza, he’s the former director of the Iraqi nuclear weapons development program — he defected in 1994, authored an autobiography called Saddam’s Bomb Maker; Morton Halperin is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington – he served as the director of Policy Planning at the State Department during the Clinton Administration.

Charles Duelfer is a visiting resident scholar at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington – he was the deputy executive chairman of the original U.N. inspections regime of 1993 until its termination in the year 2000; and we hope to be joined in a moment Edmund Ghareeb, an adjunct professor of international service at American University — he’s written extensively about the Middle East.

Mr. Halperin, first, do you agree with what Mr. Hamza just said about containment that eventually Saddam Hussein will defeat it?

MORTON HALPERIN: No, I don’t think so. I think that we need to tighten the containment.

I talked in my testimony about containment plus, which is to implement the new Security Council resolution, which provides a basis for trying to cut off the illegal flow of material into Iraq and the illegal oil sales from Iraq, so that we deny that regime materials that would contribute to weapons of mass destruction and money to buy such things by a more effective embargo of the country. And I think that is possible if we focus on that rather than on an invasion.

JIM LEHRER: What makes you think that’s possible?

MORTON HALPERIN: Well, the Administration worked very hard under the leadership of Secretary Powell to change the U.N. embargo, so as to let in a great many more materials to allow the Iraqis to repair their oil fields and to sell oil.

And the exchange for that was that there would be tighter controls over things that actually directly contributed to weapons of mass destructions or conventional military power.

The problem is that countries surrounding Iraq get a great deal of economic benefit from this illegal trade. And what I think we need to do and can do is to offer them financial compensation for foregoing that trade, which would be a lot cheaper than mounting a military operation and pressuring them to agree to that in exchange for delaying any attempt to launch a military operation. I think if we put our energy into that proposal, that there’s a real chance that we could get cooperation in the region, precisely because people do not want us to start military operations.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Duelfer, what’s your view of this, of containment?

CHARLES DUELFER: I think there’s a distinction you have to make between the things which are smuggled into Iraq that have to do with weapons of mass destruction, and other things. What Mr. Halperin is describing is some way of creating a hermetically sealed environment around Iraq.

Unfortunately, inspectors, all the border people in the world, cannot stop the limited number of things related to weapons of mass destruction, which could go into Iraq. They can get whatever they need. And what’s worse, with respect to chemical and biological weapons, they can make the materials, they can make the production equipment indigenously. They don’t need anything from outside.

So with respect to containing the WMD, the weapons of mass destruction problem, containment doesn’t really help you.

JIM LEHRER: Why not? What about his points that it would help the coalition, it would help the other countries in the neighborhood support what we were doing, in other words as a first step, to take that, take it further than we’ve taken it thus far?

CHARLES DUELFER: The issue Mr. Halperin is raising is it costs the border states to cut down their trade with Iraq.

Most of the trade with a Iraq, even if it’s illegal, is illegal in the sense that Iraq is getting things not permitted by the U.N. That is a much larger amount of trade, the specific items, which may be related to chemical weapons, biological weapons, nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

So containing Iraq for those purposes is a limited set of problems. And it’s much harder.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Halperin, your response?

MORTON HALPERIN: Well, I think that clearly some things they can do indigenously, but for nuclear weapon asks missiles, I think an embargo can be effective. It would also serve to prevent the Iraqis from increasing their conventional capability and therefore, will put greater pressure on them if we at the same time press them very hard on the resumption of the inspections, which are called for by the U.N. Security Council resolutions, and also to press further on this no-fly zone within Iraq, so that we begin to put increased pressure on the regime and build up support for military operations if they become necessary.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Hamza, do you believe, you’ve already said you don’t believe containment is going to work, that Saddam Hussein will defeat that?

So what are the options then? Military action, that’s the only thing left on the table?

KHIDHIR HAMZA: Well, that was the diagnosis of this administration. And they made that diagnosis long ago in the Iraq Liberation Act, that the only way to get around all this hassle, you have to police the world effectively to really restrict Saddam from what he’s doing. Saddam is supported through Indian corporations, through Malaysia, through Singapore, through all the over the world, through Germany previously, most of Europe.

So what do you do, police the whole word to contain Saddam? Police his neighbors?

Not all of his neighbors can be enticed by money.

I mean, in Syria, obviously cannot be enticed easily by money from the U.S.; you have Jordan, which has inter links with Iraq on many levels and it is impossible for Jordan with a little bit of money to drop Iraq. Iraq is vital to Jordan.

So it is really very simplistic to say that if we do this and that Saddam can be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons, Saddam already has most of the components he needs for nuclear weapons. He needs a few things here and there and he can get them. So he is acting now as a conduit for other types of weapons as mentioned today in the hearings, mortars for tanks and other equipment, and airplane parts. So what you have, you have to embark on a massive operation of running and chasing just about everybody around the globe to stop Saddam from getting what he wants.

And it’s impossible in the long range. How long can you keep this up, ten years? Already it’s been eleven years. How long can the U.S. keep this up and not getting on everybody’s nerves with it?

JIM LEHRER: More difficult than a military action?

KHIDHIR HAMZA: I think military action is surgical, is sooner, and it addresses the basic problem, which is this is a regime that has to be — remember South Africa.

South Africa was embargoed by the world, and they got nuclear weapons. The only way they gave them up was when there was a regime change. These types of regime when they made a decision to go in that direction, they know it is vital for their survival and they are not going to back down.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Halperin, it’s two against one because Mr. Ghareeb is caught in traffic here in Washington. So I’m going back to you. How do you respond to Mr. Hamza’s point?

MORTON HALPERIN: One has to ask the question what the alternative is. First of all, I am extremely dubious at the notion that there can be a surgical military operation. And I think it would be extraordinarily irresponsible to count on that.

And that is to start an operation, to ask people in Iraq to cooperate with us as they did after the Gulf War, and then to have them destroyed again because there is not sufficient American military power.

If we are going to go into Iraq, we need to put sufficient forces in the region to win a ground combat operation, and we have to assume that it will take a long period of time, that there will be extensive casualties not only of American troops but of civilians in the region. And I think anything short of that is simply irresponsible and is counting on a collapse, which conceivably could happen but would be irresponsible to rely on.

Second, I think we have to ask the question, as was asked at the hearing, what would be the new regime? Will the new regime give up nuclear weapons?

I would argue that almost any Iraqi regime confronted with the Iranian nuclear program, the Israeli nuclear program, with the Pakistani nuclear program, the Russian nuclear program, will not give up the option to get nuclear weapons. This is not something that is in the mind of the single diabolical person.

JIM LEHRER: We’ll come back to the new regime question in a moment. Mr. Duelfer, how do you respond to Mr. Halperin, what is your position on the question of military action?

Do you agree with him that it would take a massive action for forget it?

CHARLES DUELFER: I think we have to be thoroughly prepared to deploy a large number of American forces. But bear I mind ultimately what we’re talking about is a political action, not a military one. Changing a regime is fundamentally a political act. It may require the willingness and indeed the act of the military forces.

But what we’re seeking to do is create the conditions in Iraq where the Iraqi people can change their own government. To do that, they need to be convinced that the present manager in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein, is going to be gone. But if we can create that sense, in audiences in Iraq, in regional countries, in Europe, in U.N., when they start to think about their relationship with the next government, I think they’ll see there’s an advantage. Saddam will see himself very lonely. And Iraqi people may be convinced that now is the time to act, and it’s in their interest and the interest of their institutions and everyone else to do something. But again, it’s uncertain, a lot of uncertainty.

But one thing which is certain, all other things being equal, Saddam at some point will get a nuclear weapon and then everything changes.

JIM LEHRER: You agree with that Mr. Hamza, but that’s not an issue that Saddam Hussein will get a nuclear weapon at some time?

KHIDHIR HAMZA: Look at the size of his programs, you have something like four or 500 people working in the biological program, there’s another thousand in the chemical, including delivery people. And you have by now 12,000 working in the nuclear.

So, the sizes tell you where the money is and what’s the most important.

JIM LEHRER: What’s your best guess as to what he will do with these weapons? Why does he want them, how will he use them? What’s the threat from these weapons?

KHIDHIR HAMZA: Nuclear weapons are not going to be used, they ever never were used except in World War II context.

The idea of nuclear weapons is to provide his regime with the security he needs to have a free hand in the region. He could go into terrorism with impunity if he has nuclear weapons, nobody is going to go seriously after a regime change when he has it.

This is the security here he needs. Saddam is a very insecure person, if you remember, the attack on Iran was out of insecurity against the Khomeini regime. Kuwait the same, with security and economically — Saddam was accusing Kuwait of trying to destroy his regime by selling oil too cheaply.

So what you have is a man who needs this, to at least safeguard whatever he got and then go after the region. You see after he gets it, is a much harder and much less manageable Middle East.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Halperin, how would you describe the three?

MORTON HALPERIN: Even if he got nuclear weapons, as I say I continue to be skeptical that we know and that he can get them quickly, but we contained the Soviet Union; the same things were said about the Soviet Union. There are other countries in the world that have developed nuclear weapons.

The North Koreans have two nuclear weapons. We are quite capable of containing the Iraqis, and the important point is that Saddam is not going to initiate the use of those weapons. He will use them to try to gain a freer hand in the region. But as we’ve demonstrated with the North Koreans, as we’ve demonstrated with the Soviet Union, we can contain a country, prevent it from pressuring its neighbors, whether or not it has nuclear weapons.

And I don’t think the problem of containing Saddam Hussein is appreciably different whether or not he has a few nuclear weapons.

JIM LEHRER: What about chemical and biological weapons, Mr. Halperin?

MORTON HALPERIN: Well, those weapons he has, and he had chemical weapons at the time of the Gulf War and made a decision not to use them, presumably because he concluded that our retaliation would be greater.

But his primary motive is to survive. And he is not going to use nuclear weapons or use chemical or biological weapons unless he believes his existence is threatened. The most likely situation in which he will use those weapons is if we launch an attack, which is clearly designed to remove him from power. He knows he cannot win a conventional war, and therefore his only hope at that point would be to use chemical weapons or biological weapons and hope that the western public and the American public would be so concerned about this that it would demand that the war stop and that we sue for peace.

So if our goal is to prevent him from using those weapons, then a strategy of containment is much more likely to succeed than launching the very attack, which gives him the greatest incentive to use these weapons.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Duelfer, how do you see that?

CHARLES DUELFER: I think it’s sort of a backwards view on deterrence. In essence we find ourselves being deterred by Saddam Hussein.

And if it starts at that point, what other steps will he take against our interests, against our friends in the region, and then we will subsequently be deterred from backing up our friends and interests in the region. So I think to turn this argument around and say that the best way of causing Saddam to not use the weapons which he has is to not bother him, don’t disturb him, don’t threaten his regime, I think that’s turning it on its head, –

MORTON HALPERIN: That isn’t what I said.

CHARLES DUELFER: — because then you will have achieved his objective, he will have contained the United States and we will be limited in what we’re able to do to protect our interests in the region.

JIM LEHRER: All right. We have to leave it there. As Senator Biden said, he hoped the national debate is beginning. We will see. We started it here tonight and we will continue. Thank you all very much.