Deadly Attack in Iraq
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GWEN IFILL: So, what comes next for the United Nations and United States in Iraq? For that, we turn now to James Woolsey, a member of the Defense Policy Board, which advises the secretary of defense. He was director of the Central Intelligence Agency during the Clinton administration. Johanna Mendelson-Forman was a senior official at the U.S. Agency for International Development focusing on post-conflict situations. Now at the United Nations Foundation, she was recently in Iraq as part of a Pentagon-commissioned team assessing the reconstruction there. Feisal Istrabadi is vice president of the U.S.-based Iraqi forum for democracy, a nonprofit organization which promotes a pluralistic democracy for Iraq. He’s an advisor to a member of the Iraqi Governing Council. And Fouad Ajami is director of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
James Woolsey, we heard Dexter Filkins. I asked him whether this was an attack against the U.N. or an attack against the U.S. or against the coalition in general. What is your take on that?
JAMES WOOLSEY: All three. It is an attack on civilization. It’s an attack against the Iraqi people to try to perpetrate a system which would either be Baathist or Islamist or some combination of the two. It is people who hate life. And I think that we have to realize that this fight we’re in is like the fight against the Nazis. It’s a war to the death.
There’s not — this is not going to end with some ex-Baathist or Islamist Gorbachev working out a compromise with us. We’re in a big fight here and we have to win it. And we have to commit the forces in order to do it, and simultaneously to rebuild Iraq and bring it toward democracy and the rule of law. We can’t neglect either the soft power side of this in a sense or the hard power fight against the Islamists and Baathists.
GWEN IFILL: Ms. Mendelson-Forman, you were just in Iraq with this committee that the Pentagon commissioned to go and study the reconstruction. Not only were you on the ground but you also were with the United Nations Foundation. Do you have a sense that the challenges that James Woolsey just outlined are ones that can be met?
JOHANNA MENDELSON-FORMAN: Well, I think we can’t fail. But in particular for the United Nations, we’ve not given them as much opportunity as we believe they should have. In so many of these post conflict environments the United Nations has often worked under the most dangerous situations with little resource, with little support and all that happens is that many of their individuals are killed. In the last ten years, they’ve lost almost a thousand people in peacekeeping operations. These are the heroes for most people on the ground so making this a target is tremendously important to think of because it really deteriorates the situation for all Iraqis.
GWEN IFILL: Even though Kofi Annan tried to lean away from it, there is a little bit of finger pointing going on about who was supposed to be providing the security at this compound. When you were there did you have any sense of what the security situation was?
JOHANNA MENDELSON-FORMAN: Well frankly the compound from my point of view was completely open and I think that’s important flying the U.N. flag to have that but I was concerned as I was walking through the compound how little presence of any type of security except local hires there were especially since it was a very desolate and deserted neighborhood.
GWEN IFILL: Feisal Istrabadi, what is your sense of this? What was the attack intended to do and did it accomplish that?
FEISAL ISTRABADI: Well, I think that Mr. Woolsey hit the nail on the head when he said that this was an attack on the Iraqi people. And I think earlier when you were showing the news clips from Iraq one of the Iraqis who was interviewed and was speaking in Arabic said precisely that, that this was an attack against Iraq. Clearly when you attack the building out of which the oil-for-food program is going to continue to be administered through November of this year, then clearly the target would appear to be Iraq. If the — it may very well be that an attempt is being made here to drive the United States and the coalition forces and the United Nations out of Iraq. This appears to have the hallmark of militant Islamic work rather than Baathists who generally don’t commit suicide.
As to whether or not it will have its intended consequences, that answer comes when we know what the response is going to be and whether or not we have the ability to stay there and work with the Iraqis to engender peace and security in that country as we rebuild it.
GWEN IFILL: Excuse me, when you say “response,” whose response are you talking about, the United States’ response, the response of the Iraqi people?
FEISAL ISTRABADI: Well, in the first instance the United States and the coalition — the provisional authority as the occupying power — under international law has a legal duty to maintain peace and order. I might add that is a duty which we have failed to carry forth in the last four months. So how we respond, what we do will indeed– we the United States– will indeed have the first effect or influence on what eventually unfolds.
Certainly the people of Iraq, I think, almost unanimously would condemn this kind of an action but what the Iraqis want– and I was there in June for a number of weeks– what the Iraqis want more than anything else is a sense of peace and security in their cities and in their towns, something they have not had since we entered Baghdad.
GWEN IFILL: Fouad Ajami, I’m curious first of all whether you agree that there is no sense of peace and security — that that has been a failure so far in the post war, the occupation and also what yesterday’s events do to feed that.
FOUAD AJAMI: Well, I think it was never going to be an easy mission and we’ll never know the name of that man who drove that cement mixer into the U.N. compound in the same way we will never know the name of that boy who drove the Mercedes truck loaded with TNT into the Marine barracks on the morning of October 23, 1983 and drove America out of Lebanon. This clearly is a bid for the media attention. And this clearly is a bid to dramatize the insecurity of Iraq, and this clearly is a bid to drive us out of Iraq because, in fact, we have come to this zone now.
And this is the last throw of the dice by our enemies in Iraq. They can’t win a regular war. They can aim for a war in the shadows. So that really is the narrow focus. In the larger setting of the region, we now have to begin to worry about Iran and Syria. Indeed, as Ambassador Bremer in a remarkable interview with the London-based Arabic paper daily al-Hayat pointed to Iran and Syria and pointed to their attempt to unsettle and to destabilize the American presence in Iraq.
We’ve come to Iraq bearing the promise of Iraq’s deliverance and liberation, and many, many of Iraq’s neighbors are worried that we may succeed. And they will do everything they can for us to fail.
GWEN IFILL: Well, James Woolsey, let me pose that to you. Do you think that because of the infiltration of al-Qaida or whatever elements from other countries that Fouad Ajami was just alluding to that in fact there is a wider war that needs to be fought here, and if that’s so, does the United States need to provide more troops to fight it?
JAMES WOOLSEY: I think this really always has been a wider war. It’s always been about dictatorship, Islamism, and weapons of mass destruction and terrorism coming out of the Middle East. They mix together in different ways, in different circumstances. But this is really all one big fight.
It’s going to be a long war. I think it’s going to take us many years, perhaps almost as long as the Cold War did, to succeed here. And, yes, I think we should increase the size of our defense budget. I think we should add forces to our military forces, and I think we should do this decisively.
If you looked back at the level of defense spending, we were undertaking in the Kennedy administration, 8-9 percent of GDP, that would be the functional equivalent of an $800-900 billion defense budget today. The Marshall Plan was 2 percent of GDP In the late 1940s. That would be the equivalent of about $200 billion a year in today’s terms in our $10 trillion economy. We’re not even close to the level of commitment that the Kennedy administration population of the United States and the Truman administration people made, much less the commitment levels of World War II. So we’re in a big fight.
GWEN IFILL: But Mr. Woolsey, traveling today in Honduras Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who you advise, said he doesn’t think there’s a need for additional troops.
JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, I’m — I have a high regard for Don Rumsfeld and have for many years. On this point I disagree. I think we should move particularly to increase the size of the army and I think we need to make the commitments that are going to be necessary to prevail here. We have to succeed in both Afghanistan and in Iraq. We have to bring order to both countries and we have to move both toward democracy and the rule of law and functioning economies. And those are big jobs. If we succeed, we will, I think, have a positive resonance in many other parts of the Middle East. Young Egyptians, young Saudis, young Iranians are going to say, look, these countries can operate decently, we don’t have to live in autocracies and dictatorships but if we fail, we fail with a lot of chaos and disaster for not only our position in the Middle East but the world generally.
GWEN IFILL: Ms. Mendelson-Forman, Kofi Annan said today that the U.N. will continue its mission in Iraq. Do you wonder at all or fear, I suppose, that the blue flag flying over the U.N. compound or the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad is kind of a red flag to anyone who wants to take a dig, wants to make a point, wants to humiliate the coalition?
JOHANNA MENDELSON-FORMAN: On the contrary, I think to get back to a point that Mr. Woolsey talked about, the difference that we’re dealing with here is that unlike Afghanistan and other operations, this is the first peace building operation where the U.N. has not played a vital and major role despite the pronouncements prior to the war by the president and Mr. Blair that the U.N. would play that role.
So when we talk about expanding troop levels, we have to talk about the internationalization of troop levels. And if this tragedy brings anything, I hope it comes to some of the recommendations that we had made to the Pentagon with the team I was on to talk about how do we bring other people to this? This is a problem. If we support a problem, that we are trying to combat terrorism, then we can’t do it alone.
GWEN IFILL: But as you know the United States has resisted this idea of beefing up the U.N. presence as a way of pulling in Germany or France or India or Pakistan.
JOHANNA MENDELSON-FORMAN: But to go back to the tragedy, one of the important things that Sergio de Mello did was he was incrementally bringing the U.N. back in — and the resolution passed last week while not tremendously strong certainly made that next step and it was going to create an official mission. But with this tremendous, dramatic event, I can’t imagine how the world would ignore it. The United States has to recognize that to succeed and not to fail in this area is to make it an international operation.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Istrabadi, is this something that someone should have seen coming whether it was the United States, whether it was helpful Iraqis on the ground? Should this have been something that we– speaking in terms of the entire coalition, the whole effort to bring democracy to Iraq– should they have seen it coming?
FEISAL ISTRABADI: I’d like to make two points in respect to that. First of all, it seems to me that if I were to fault our postwar planning, it appears to me that the Defense Department chose to take the advice of individuals, whether the United States citizens or Iraqi expatriates or others who had an ideological bent or rather who were ideologically acceptable to the Defense Department. And that was a mistake of fundamental proportions.
Therefore, the contingency, it seems to me as the Pentagon planned the postwar period, the contingency was that the Iraqi people would rise in one mass and greet us as an army of liberation. They failed to take into account the very really resentments that have built up against the United States within Iraq over the previous 12 years including the fact that we allowed Saddam Hussein to survive in 1991, the fact that we allowed him to butcher at least 200,000 rebels when they rose after they were exhorted to do so by the first President Bush and the fact that we maintained sanctions which were aimed directly at the people of Iraq for 12 years. That’s the past. That’s the past.
GWEN IFILL: Let me just ask you exactly what should they have done in order to prevent that?
FEISAL ISTRABADI: One of the things that they should not have done when they got in, for instance, was a dissolution of the Iraqi army. Now, if the American plan was that we were not going to have a half million men on the ground as we did in 1991, then they should have used the 400-man Iraqi army as a national defense force to help to maintain peace and order. You had 400,000 men, the overwhelming majority of whom were not connected to the Baath Party. You are able to vet the Iraqi army unit by unit, division by division to ascertain where they served, when they served, whether, for instance, they were, you know, guarding the border between Iraq and Jordan or committing crimes in the Iraqi Kurdistan or in the South or other places.
And you can and still can right now call them up unit by unit after going through a vetting process of this sort, Ambassador Bremer has made it clear, correctly I agree with him, that those who held colonelcies on up will not be allowed to serve in any future Iraqi army. I agree with that decision. If the decision were mine I would have gone down to the rank of major. Nevertheless I support what Ambassador Bremer did there. It is not too late. The people of Iraq are far more likely to accept a national emergency defense force consisting of Iraqi citizens than they are going to be of foreigners coming into Iraq. This is something that is fundamental in the psyche of the Iraqi people that we need to understand.
GWEN IFILL: Let me ask Fouad Ajami a version of that question, which is if it is true that Iraqis need to be brought to the forefront and that is part of the goal, what effect will that have internally in Iraq in trying to settle this down and what effect will that have internationally in the Arab world?
FOUAD AJAMI: Mr. Istrabadi ranges far over a number of issues which are not very coherent. As far as I’m concerned expecting the U.S. to come and really master the details of Iraqi society, master who was a collaborator, who was not a collaborator, that’s a bit much. We have to understand that we came into Iraq and overthrew not only a man but a sect, the Sunni Arabs who control the means of power in Iraq. And it was natural that they would wage this guerilla warfare against the coalition. So there is nothing really surprising or unexpected about the turn of events in Iraq. There was the glory of the spring when we overthrew Saddam and the statue fell on April 9. And now there has been this hot summer where our enemies have struck back. That really is what has played out in Iraq. As far as the Arab world is concerned, watching the spectacle, for them Iraq is a kind of spectator sport.
Remember, the Arab never saw the mass graves in Iraq. Remember that even a mere year before the statue of Saddam fell in Firdos Square in Baghdad, one of the big killers of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Ashmed Brahim, was a man who figures highly on that deck of cards we have for the most wanted men in Iraq went to Beirut and there was a kiss between him and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in an attempt to bring Iraq back into the fold. So the people who liberated Iraq were the Americans.
GWEN IFILL: Thank you.
FOUAD AJAMI: And they are due gratitude and they are due gratitude and the good wishes and good faith of the Iraqi people.
GWEN IFILL: I’m sorry. We’re out of time. Thank you all very much for joining us.