The Road Ahead in Iraq
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MARGARET WARNER: For that assessment, we turn to Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, former chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser during the Carter administration, he’s now a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Walter Russell Mead, senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He recently authored “Special Providence,” an historical look at the U.S. and the world.
Welcome to you all. Let’s start, Zbigniew Brzezinski, with this very broad question: What new opportunities does the capture of Saddam Hussein present in Iraq?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, there have been two words used even on this program, which give us a clue. Our Iraqi friend talked about the opportunity for reconciliation. The president, I think very rightly, said that this is a moment to be seized. And in my view, in fact, there is now an opportunity to move more rapidly in transferring authority to the Iraqis. The Saddam era is now clearly over. There may be a little more resistance briefly, but by and large, those who favored Saddam have to recognize that this is now the past. It’s important for us not to let the occupation become the focal point of opposition. And the sooner we create what I would call a provisional, nominal Iraqi government, the better, the sooner the government I think would begin to gain legitimacy, the faster it might be able to mobilize some social support, and thereby transform the occupation into some form of a post-Saddam regime that acquires a life of its own.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you see it?
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Well, I agree that this is a real opportunity here. I’ve always thought, in spite of the resistance and the conflict that we’ve been having, that the majority of Iraqis never wanted to go back either to the Saddam Hussein regime or even to the Baath Party regime before that, that the large majority of Shia Arabs have always been alienated from this regime, and the Kurds in the north also had little in common with it. Now that Saddam has killed [sic], it’s really possible for Sunni Arabs, more of the Sunni minority who have historically been very important in Iraq, to play an important role in reconciliation and moving forward. Saddam’s power, I think, inhibited some of the Sunni from participating. There were loyalties, personal loyalties and so on. The sense, well, maybe he’ll come back, maybe the cause isn’t lost. That’s passed now, so let’s hope a new era can begin.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Roberts, do you think there’s an opportunity for a new era of the sort that Mr. Brzezinski and Mr. Mead described?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: I think it’s already started. When I was in Iraq, you could not help but notice that when anyone mentioned the name of Saddam Hussein, I don’t care whether it was a school teacher or somebody helping with an oil refinery trying to get it back from sabotage, or whether it was somebody in a local police station. Any time you mentioned the name Saddam Hussein, and we tried not to, you got a frozen-face response and palpable fear in the eyes of the people that you were talking to.
If you’re going to make progress in Iraq, and I think we will, and you’re going to have stability, and I’ll take stability first and then we’ll try for democracy, and make this provisional government work, the absence of fear I think is exceedingly important. And I would hope that the Baath Party loyalists and the Sunni extremists and even the Fedayeen, who are a bunch of thugs and murderers, would know that that is a dead end street and that hopefully their future would be under a unified Iraq and a stable Iraq. I don’t know what to think about the foreign Jihadists who are there, in that I think they are fighting for different reasons, even though they probably shouted Saddam’s name at the end of whatever attack that they did conduct.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Graham, do you agree that this offers an opportunity for accelerating this transitional process?
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: Yes, I agree with most of what’s been said. But I’d add a couple of other things. One, it’s an opportunity for the United States to achieve its objective in Iraq, which is to leave Iraq as expeditiously as possible, with honor, having achieved our objectives. This is an opportunity to do that thing which is the most contributory towards that objective and that is to reach out to countries that have real military and financial capability to be of assistance in Iraq.
The second thing is we have essentially abandoned the war on terror since the spring of 2002. Our attention was shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq. Now we have the opportunity to restart the war on terror and eliminate the threat that is the greatest to the people of the United States, the international terrorist organizations.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Roberts, we heard President Bush say, when he was asked about, does this accelerate the process, say, “look, we’re going to stay till the job is done, and first we have to have security.” And I know you’ve been briefed. What is the best thinking in the U.S. government about to what degree Saddam Hussein was tied to this insurgency and to what degree having him captured or removed will enable the United States to really pierce through to that leadership and wrap him up?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Well, first I’d like to respond about Graham’s comments. Number one, I’m very envious of being in Miami and we’re being in Washington where it’s a little colder. And Bob was a great chairman and is a great senator on the Intelligence Committee. But I do take issue that I don’t think we have abandoned the fight against terrorism. I just don’t think that’s right. I think we have ample funds in the intelligence budget, helped by Bob Graham by the way, who did a good job and I want to thank him on the USS Cole investigation. Now, I’ve made a speech and I got to get back to your question.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, get back to the question about the insurgency. And you know, we heard the Time reporter say that among the documents that were found were the minutes of a meeting of some resistance leaders. What does that say to you, and what have your briefings told you?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Well, I won’t know until we get through the document exploitation. There are considerable documents — none to the degree that, say, Dr. Kay is going through…
MARGARET WARNER: On weapons of mass destruction?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: But that’s going to be important. And I know at the head of the newscast, it’s been indicated they have arrested some individuals. I think if we … I am very proud of the intelligence effort in Iraq. Now, I know the intelligence community has got a lot of brick bats lately and some of them are deserved and some of them not. But this has been an expanded adjustment with a lot more analysts, a lot more transparency, a lot better joint effort in regards to the analysts, to the neighbor, to the military in the field, real-time analysis. And we did one heck of a job with a stunning result, and we got lucky. You know, that always helps.
I don’t think Saddam Hussein was in any position of command and control with the kind of insurgent attacks that we’re seeing now against mosques and the Iraqis who are really cooperating with us. I mean this man moved two or three times a day even when he was in power, he moved about once a day or, you know, two or three times a week. How on earth, in farmhouses not even in his hometown of Tikrit, could a man like that in a spider hole be of any real significance in regards to command and control?
MARGARET WARNER: So what’s your sense, Zbigniew Brzezinski, as a former consumer of the most kind of classified intelligence about what the U.S. ability is here now, vis-a-vis the insurgency?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, it certainly is enhanced to some degree. But my feeling is that the Saddamite resistance, so to speak, whether he was in control or not is of secondary importance — is mostly a residual phenomenon of the past. And it was going to wane one way or another.
My concern is that there not be a new form of resistance galvanized by our presence, galvanized by our individual desire for revenge in case some Iraqis are killed by us. And that could become a serious problem if it’s somehow or other joined by a sense of Iraqi nationalism directed against us. This is why I do feel very strongly that we have a very unique opportunity right now to try to transform the governing council into something which begins to look like a provisional government and put the burden of responsibility on them, increasingly, for policing the country.
MARGARET WARNER: Are you saying even more rapidly than the timetable, the sort of June, July timetable?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: That’s right. I think we now have an opportunity to move more rapidly. And there is a secondary issue, which further complicates the problem, but I feel I should mention it; namely, that if we, at the same time, can begin to move a little more energetically on the Israeli Palestinian front, we’ll reduce the danger that, if we leave and the Palestinian Israeli conflict is still alive, then any new subsequent Iraqi government will again become anti-American and anti-Israeli. So we have a wider responsibility, but also a bigger opportunity.
MARGARET WARNER: Walter Mead, do you think that’s a wise course, to try to accelerate the political transformation?
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: As much as you can. But what you have to watch out for in this is you don’t want to get the wrong government to entrench itself too fast or people to take undue advantage of their kinds of access to money and funds that a government gives you. You want to make sure, at the end of the day, that you have a representative government. But I think Dr. Brzezinski is absolutely right, that what we have to avoid is this being seen as some kind of a new version of the old colonial wars, and we being seen as the latest of these European imperialist powers who used to dominate the Middle East.
MARGARET WARNER: So you talked earlier about the different groups in Iraq, and the president today said, and he said yesterday, he seemed to be really appealing to all the factions that now’s the time, it’s a new day and so on. How do you make the Sunnis, who held total power under Saddam Hussein, now feel invested in a different kind of process where they will share power?
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Well, I think it’s a mix of carrots and sticks in a sense that, if we leave Iraq and there is no constitution, there is no democratic process, that protects the rights of minorities, the Shia are now … the Sunni are now a minority, and they will be left to the mercies to some degree of the Shia and Kurds who they’ve persecuted.
So the Sunni in Iraq need to understand that now, particularly with Saddam Hussein out of the way, their interests and those of real national reconstruction under U.S. protection and building some form of at least rule of law, if not, you know, Swiss-style perfect democracy, is very, very much in their interests. We have got to get that message out to the moderate Sunni leadership.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Graham, you spoke earlier about the international community. Do you see this as an opportunity to heal some of these … some of the diplomatic rift between the U.S. and particularly France and Germany? And if so, I mean how important is that, and what should the Bush administration be prepared to do to bring that about?
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: The chance is real, and it’s very important. We’ve missed a chance before the war and immediately after the war to bring in the international community. Let’s don’t miss it a third time. It is very important because, if our objective is to be able to honorably leave Iraq as expeditiously as possible and bring our soldiers back to their families, we need to be able to get some other people who have got serious capabilities involved, and that means a half dozen or so countries in the world who meet that standard. I believe that at this point in time, we have a chance to reach out again for troops and for financial support. It also gives us a chance to unravel some of the things that we’ve done, which will make it more difficult, such as the recent announcement that we would not allow any country that had not participated in the war to participate as a prime contractor in the restoration.
MARGARET WARNER: So briefly, are you saying, that for instance, Jim Baker left today on this mission to try to get some of these other countries that forgive Iraqi debt. Are you saying he hope he has in his back pocket that kind of an offer, that France and Germany could get in on the action with contracts if they were willing to help forgive the debt?
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: I certainly do, because if he doesn’t have something like that in his back pocket, I’m afraid that he is going to receive a very chilly reception from those countries.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Roberts, on that point, on what it will take to … one, whether you see this as an opportunity to heal the diplomatic rift, whether you think the Bush administration should try to seize it in that way.
SEN. PAT ROBERTS: I think both will happen. I don’t think there’s any better person to do the job than our former Secretary Baker, our special envoy. And I don’t know if he has a deal in his back pocket, but I think the stance that the president took was pretty hard and fast stance, but certainly it is a card on the table that Secretary Baker could play. And I think with the capture of Saddam and some of the comments, more especially coming from the French that they are certainly more amenable to something like that, and there may be a real breakthrough and start a dialogue where we will end this, you know, business of us and them, or the allies and the critics.
There’s one other thing that I would say. I hear an awful lot of comments saying we need more international help. We failed to get it at the first and we failed to get it at the end, and we must have the U.N. involved. What part of “no” didn’t these people understand? I mean every time we made an overture to see if we could not increase the number of 60 countries, they said no. And there was a very strong difference of opinion. Now’s a good time to go back in and try to alleviate that, start a dialogue, and I’m glad the president made that statement because maybe Secretary Baker can pull that out of his hip pocket and say, “Okay, if you can forgive a debt, let us consider what can happen in regards to the reconstruction.”
MARGARET WARNER: How do you read the Europeans?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I think the Europeans are ambivalent. They resent what we did, but they know that, in the long run, if there is to be a solution in the Middle East, they have to be part of it. And that means being involved in Iraq, being more actively involved in dealing with the Palestinian Israeli peace process. And there is a third thing which we should really mention; namely, how should Saddam be tried? I think there’s going to be a strong international consensus that it would be better to have an international court.
There is an international war crimes court dealing with Milosevic, there is an international court dealing with the crimes in Rwanda and so forth in Africa, and I personally think that the Europeans would support an international court and would have more credibility worldwide, including among the Arabs, than a court composed purely of Iraqis who inevitably will be viewed as our agents and engaged essentially in vengeance. And I think our interest is not in whether Saddam hangs, but whether he’s condemned historically and politically. And an international court will be a far more effective mechanism for achieving that.
MARGARET WARNER: Very briefly, how important do you think, Walter Mead, that the trial and the handling of the trial is?
WALTER RUSSEL MEAD: The trial, as the president said this morning, has got to be seen to be transparent, has got to meet international standards. There may be more than one trial, by the way, because there are crimes that Saddam Hussein committed against Iraqis in Iraq. There are crimes that he committed in the war of aggression against Iran and the war aggression against Kuwait.
There are other crimes, so it may well be that more than one court, more than one tribunal will be trying him under different sets of laws. The United States, at some point is going to give up control of some of this process. The faster we take Dr. Brzezinski’s advice and move toward a government in Iraq that is sovereign and in control of itself, the less Saddam Hussein becomes our business and the more he becomes the business of this government. So I think we’re going to have to be open about where it goes, but don’t be surprised if there are a variety of solutions moving forward.
MARGARET WARNER: On that note, we’ll end it. Thank you all very much.