GWEN IFILL: Waging the war has been difficult, but waging peace is shaping up to be the next great challenge — but whose challenge? That debate has already begun. Here to lay out the choices are James Schlesinger, he was CIA director during the Nixon administration, and secretary of defense during the Nixon and Ford administrations; he is also cochairman of the Council on Foreign Relation's task force on post conflict Iraq. And Harold Myerson, he's editor-at-large of the American Prospect Magazine. He has written extensively about American foreign policy.
James Schlesinger, when the president says, as we just heard him say, a vital role for the United Nations is what he envisions and vital role means a vital role, what does that mean to you?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: It means that they will be encouraged to give humanitarian assistance, that there will be a further use of the oil for food program and, as the president indicated, we would welcome suggestions with regard to personnel for the interim government.
GWEN IFILL: That's it as far as you....
JAMES SCHLESINGER: That is a... we are not going to turn the government over to the United Nations. That, I think, is clear.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Myerson, what's your interpretation?
HAROLD MEYERSON: About the same as the secretary's. I mean, it seems to be that the United Nations will come in and will do a lot of work under the U.S. aegis. We don't have to give them a tip. The thought that what they can do is suggest people, but that's suggesting people to us who can be in the interim authority -- I mean that's not a great power. I can suggest people in the interim authority too, but the ultimate authority of who is in the interim authority obviously resides with the U.S. government.
GWEN IFILL: Do you think the U.S. government should be leading the charge here?
HAROLD MEYERSON: I don't. I don't see any particular benefit to this unless you were one of the people in the U.S. government who has particular favorite among the possible candidates to -- Iraqi candidates to lead Iraq that you want to give a boost to. Other than that, I think there is virtually zero support for the idea of an American-led interim authority almost anywhere in the world.
GWEN IFILL: Virtually zero support from... are you talking about the United Nations, the European Union?
HAROLD MEYERSON: All of the above. There was a poll in the London Daily Telegraph a couple days ago and increasing support for the war among the British. But they were asked would you support American authority being in control of post war Iraq -- two percent -- two percent answered yes. And that's with our closest ally. I have to assume in the world as a whole the level of support fluctuates between two and zero.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Schlesinger, if what he says is correct, is that something that should be of concern to the administration?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: What he said was, of course, that certain people in the administration and particularly in the Pentagon may have their favorite candidates. It's not clear that those favorite candidates will move forward. What I think is clear is that given the test to which the United Nations was subjected during particularly the second -- so-called second resolution -- that the United Nations failed that test, we would, if we went back, we would fall into the endless diplomatic wrangles that the prime minister referred to and that would be ill advised. It would be an exercise in frustration. The United States, the coalition forces will retain the lead with regard to post military government in Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: So should countries like France and Germany and Russia basically be on the sidelines here? I think it was Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser on Friday who said that it's the United States which has given life and blood to liberate Iraq and by implication it should be the United States that now takes over the next stage.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: I think it's clear that the United States did indeed wage the war with the help of the British, that the United States is going to run the government with the assistance of other coalition partners, that we would be foolish if we went back to the French. Just remember what the French have done to attempt to thwart American policy. It would be the endless diplomatic wrangles to which the prime minister referred. We are not going to follow that route.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Meyerson.
HAROLD MEYERSON: Well, the United Nations is very experienced. Up until now has been the consensus choice for nation building after a war. And the fact that it's our blood that has been shed among allied forces in the war does not necessarily mean that we are therefore the best qualified, the most experienced or the most politically legitimate force to be in charge of post war Iraq. It's not at all clear that the British who have also given their share of blood here, think that either.
There's all kinds of particular down sides that are created by American control. This could, you know, cause great resentment in the Arab world and among many of our long-standing allies. It looks at that juncture many would see it more as an occupation than as nation building, that there are... that our force legitimates our being there. I don't know why we would need to inflict upon ourselves that level of burden. It strikes me as by no means obvious why we would want to do that.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Schlesinger, today Mr. Meyerson wrote in the Washington Post that... that in a way this administration had undertaken a pre-emptive war and was now trying to undertake a pre-emptive peace. I'm curious about your response to that.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Well, I think his argument was a bit tendentious if I may say so. It presumed that a handful of people who have made a choice of a particular candidate will ultimately win even though the president of the United States has said that the government will come from the Iraqi people.
He is right. He was right in that article in saying that exiles do not necessarily have support from within the country and as a consequence we must be sure that the government that is established is one that includes people from within the country and who have the firm support of the bulk of the Iraqi people.
We are being tested by the post war experience. It was a fateful decision to go in. There are lots of uncertainties, but one of them is that we must be responsive to what is going on within the country.
GWEN IFILL: It sounds like you believe that one of the uncertainties is deciding which of these Iraqis who are living in Iraq or Iraqi exiles who are favored by one department or another in the United States government -- that that's an open question whether they should be the ones that take over.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: As the president said and as the prime minister said, we cannot impose a regime on the Iraqi people and if the exiles do not have resonance with the Iraqi people, there must be people within the country as Adenaur was in Germany in 1945 that we can turn to and bring into the government. We are there to create a regime that is representative of the Iraqi people.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Meyerson, is Germany in 1945 a reasonable comparison to what we're going through now?
HAROLD MEYERSON: I don't think so but the analogy would be if people in the War Department in 1940 had picked out Adenaur and Adenaur wannabes and say you're the guy we want to go with in 1945. The people around Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz and others in the Defense Department have their designated Iraqis. These are often people they've known for decades -- Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress first and foremost -- who they have been planning -- it's clear from what the Defense Department has been endeavoring to do, they have been planning to give a leg up in the post war regime.
But I think there are all kinds of complexities about post war Iraq having much less experience with democracy if indeed any than Germany had that is going to make this a very vexed and difficult occupation.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Bear in mind that the Adenaur was not an exile. Adenaur had a splendid record. And we can find people who have suitable records within Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: So as you go about... as the United States or the United Nations or whomever goes about constructing this interim authority, how do they draw the line between liberation and occupation?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: How do they draw the line?
GWEN IFILL: How do you make it... go ahead.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: That will be a matter of evolution. For the next six months more or less, we are going to be attempting to stabilize the country, to establish security, to recreate a police force that has been de-Ba'athized. We are going to have to begin the recreation of a military force through Iraq that can protect Iraq against its neighbors. All of this is prelude. Down the road, as we find people to bring into the government who are not exiles, they will no doubt join with some people who are exiles.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Meyerson, how do you draw that line?
HAROLD MEYERSON: Well, the problem between liberation and occupation is that it's in the eye of the beholder. It just seems to me so obvious that it's going to be viewed more as an occupation if we are the ones calling the shots, if we are the ones selecting even a broad array of Iraqi candidates, that this is something that an international authority such as the United Nations is equally capable of doing as we are without the particular onus. I don't think we'd also be doing any great favor to our future Iraqi political leader to give any sign that, hey, you're our guy. I don't think that’s necessarily going to be endearing to the Iraqi people.
GWEN IFILL: If the United States takes the lead role for the immediate future in this rebuilding, reconstruction effort, how much investment of time and money should the U.S.... should U.S. taxpayers even be prepared to make?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: They are going to have to be prepared to underwrite costs of at least $20 billion a year in the early years. Down the road as oil production builds up, that burden will fall off. It is also dependent upon the degree of instability within the country. The size of the force that we will have to retain, which may be 75,000, but it could be considerably larger, will determine those costs.
GWEN IFILL: You said years?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: I think that we will be there at least 18 months and probably two years or longer.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Meyerson.
HAROLD MEYERSON: I think we're obliged to fund the reconstruction of Iraq. I don't think that there's any doubt we have a moral obligation at this juncture to do that. Again, I just come back to the question of control and whether it's prudent for us to be the force that's calling the shots there since I just see far more down sides to that than I see up sides.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: It would be imprudent of us to turn this back to the United Nations, which provides the French with a veto, which they have used to blackmail us in the past. That would be sheer folly.
HAROLD MEYERSON: But I don't think the French would veto the reconstruction of Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: We're going to have to leave that argument exactly there. Harold Meyerson, James Schlesinger, thank you very much for joining us.
HAROLD MEYERSON: Thank you.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Thank you.