JIM LEHRER: How where we are tonight looks to former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former Nixon-Ford Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger.
Secretary Albright, was backing off on the U.N. vote a good thing to do?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think they probably didn't have a choice but to back off because I think to get a veto would have been even more destructive.
The sad part is, is when you hear the chief diplomat of the United States just admit that basically diplomacy is finished, and it's a very hard and difficult day because from -- all the indications are we're going to war, and that is a very hard decision for any policy makers to come to.
And it is sad that we have come to this moment, because I think there were opportunities along the way to make diplomacy more effective.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see it as a sad moment, Mr. Secretary?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: It's an inevitable moment. It's a fateful moment.
JIM LEHRER: How long has this been inevitable?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: I think that the president was faced with a choice after 9/11: What would be phase two of the war on terrorism?
He indicated at the time there would be a phase two. It might be Iraq, it might be Yemen, it might be someplace else, but given the rhetoric that we were going to go after those countries that harbored terrorists, as well as the terrorists themselves, it was plain that there was going to be a sequential act after Afghanistan.
JIM LEHRER: The line of questioning we just heard with Secretary Powell -- speaking of inevitability -- that the suggestion was that France and the United States have been on a collision course or going aside each other here from the very beginning -- the United States was determined to have military action, the French were determined never to have military action -- and this result was inevitable in its own small way.
Do you agree with that?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: No, I don't. I think that clearly, as Sec. Powell said, there were times in the past where we made arrangements with the French, and it's very different to have the French abstain on a resolution versus threaten veto on a resolution.
And for me, however, there was a certain sense of inevitability that came from a different angle.
Today's Wall Street Journal has a very interesting article about the role of Vice President Cheney, who seems to have wanted this action against Iraq from the very beginning, and that there have been around him a group of people who wanted to go to war against Iraq in the worst way.
And my sense now is we are doing it in the worst way. Not in fact that there is any reason to defend Saddam Hussein - I agree completely and have for a long time with the why of what President Bush has said. But the timing of it, kind of an elective war, preemptive action, a serious attack on the United Nations, generally questions about where the institutional structure of the post World War II world is coming to, are all questions that I think need to be considered -- and that are issues that show the inevitable, the avoidable consequences, inevitable consequences that will come from this.
JIM LEHRER: What's your view of that, Mr. Secretary, that this has been pretty much a military, to follow up on your point and now on Sec. Albright's additional point that military action has been inevitable just because of Vice President Cheney and others in the Bush administration had in their mind.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: I think that the president has clearly had this possibility in mind from the first and that it is ill advised to blame this on Cheney or Rumsfeld or some of the others. No doubt the president has a strong feeling, given the outcome in 1991, given the harboring of terrorists by Saddam Hussein, given the attempted assassination of his father. This is not a man who stands back when terrorism is a useful weapon.
The big victim of this will be the United Nations, as Madeleine suggests, because it has lost credibility I think in terms of its own processes, and it has lost substantial credibility in the eyes of the American public. If the United Nations does not support the post-military actions in Iraq, it will lose additional credibility.
JIM LEHRER: I want to pick up on that in a moment. But if I want to come back - if I hear correctly what the two of you are saying, this whole diplomatic thing at the U.N. has been a charade; we've been headed toward war from the very beginning. Is that what you're suggesting?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: I think that it was not a charade. The president was urged to go to the United Nations, he decided to do so over the objections of, I think, the vice president and the secretary of defense, he did that last September in good faith, he managed to achieve a resolution, 1441, that we thought at the time bound the members of the Security Council to take action since there would be further material breach and that there would be serious consequences as the resolution suggested.
The failure of diplomacy was the reality that the French, modern French diplomacy, seems like nothing better than to trip up the Americans when the opportunity arises and indeed trip up the British - the Anglo-Saxons together.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see it the same way?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I don't think it was a charade. I mean, I do think --
JIM LEHRER: A serious diplomatic effort to avoid war -- to what we're doing tonight?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think there was a serious diplomatic effort. However, it is kind of derailed when in fact the president of the United States says that he, as he did in his press conference, that he didn't care what the United Nations said, that he was going forward anyway.
That I think was a painting into the corner and when President Chirac says he'll veto anything that comes down the pike, that is painting himself into the corner. So these two presidents I think with their great certitude put an end to the diplomacy. But I don't think the diplomacy itself was a charade.
Now one of the ironies of all this is that France's main position in the world basically comes from being a permanent member of the Security Council and having that veto. By in effect, as Jim has said, making it very difficult for the credibility of the Council, they have put themselves in a rather weird position, they have lost their major tool. I hope that this is not an end to the United Nations. We need the U.N.; it is not a gift for us to be there. I think many, many times the support of the United Nations has been very important to us. Having been U.N. ambassador as well as secretary, I saw this, and I do think that, I hope very much that a resolution is as quickly put on the table about having U.N. support for the post-war part of Iraq because we need the U.N. for that.
JIM LEHRER: What's your view on the U.N.?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: I did not agree with what Madeleine just said.
The first point is that the president was referring only to the need for a second resolution, after 1441. He cares about the United Nations, and he went to the United Nations to get a unanimous resolution of the Security Council. I don't think that's right. Now, as for the French problem, I think that the French in their eagerness to stab us in the back managed to stab themselves.
JIM LEHRER: What about the French position, the French as we just said in our news summary, the French say, hey, wait a minute, we didn't veto anything, there weren't nine votes there to even get it to a point where we could have vetoed it. It's not our problem the United States and Britain and Spain couldn't sell their own resolution.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Some of the marginal members of the Council were not going to vote for a resolution which the French had promised to veto. If the French had promised not to veto it, there would have been a majority.
JIM LEHRER: You think so, do you agree with that?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think that on the other side when the United States says it doesn't matter whether they're going to -- that their vote counts, I think either way that the two presidents through their statements, and I don't disagree with Jim that it had to do with the last resolution that the president spoke about, it makes a vote, which is very difficult for them - I wouldn't call them marginal countries - they are the nonpermanent members of the Security Council, it makes it very hard for them to take that vote with all the consequences to them for doing it.
So why should they take the risk? And by those two statements, I actually have felt that both these men have had such black and white positions that it made a very difficult job for diplomats who wanted to try to figure out how to make this work.
JIM LEHRER: Let's assume that the president tonight essentially says, gives his ultimatum and within two or three days, whatever, military action begins. What is the down side of doing it the way we're going to have to do it now, from a standpoint of diplomacy and the rest of the world?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think the down side is the question about the support of the others, especially in the postwar as respect because there's no question that our military is the best in the world.
JIM LEHRER: So we don't need them to fight the war?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I don't think we really do. I think we need them afterwards.
And let me say that as soon as we go to war, I think all of us that have had arguments against this will make very clear that we support our troops. And the thing that has bothered me mostly is that there has been such certitude in the administration that there really wasn't hasn't been a lot of people who disagreed whether in this country or abroad.
But I think our military is incredible and it would be good to have support in a variety of areas, and we certainly do need the British with us. But I think the main role for the rest of the international community is in the rebuilding of Iraq, and the necessity for creating some legitimacy for what has happened.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: I certainly agree that the main role for those -- for the part of the international community that has not been supporting us to this point will be in that postwar period.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think they will support us, do you think they have to support us?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: I think it would be to their advantage to support us.
JIM LEHRER: Why, what do they have to lose?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Well, I think there has already been an indication of great interest in contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq on the part of European firms, as well as American firms.
JIM LEHRER: But just in lay terms, we're not going in there with this final vote, a majority vote. Why should say a country like Chile or Mexico or Pakistan or one of the countries that didn't come aboard, why should they come aboard after to help the rebuilding?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Well, I don't think that some of them may send in a constabulary force that will help, this country will need a substantial constabulary force to recreate stability, and others can help by sending in civil police; that's one thing that can be done. Some will have to contribute money.
If they fail to contribute money, then the burden will fall, a greater burden will fall on the American taxpayer.
JIM LEHRER: If that happens, if the world does come together after this military thing and to help rebuild the country diplomatically as well as physically, can this all be washed away, all this disagreement?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I don't think so, because one of the problems that we have is that this is basically a war, first war in the history that the United States has taken on without a direct threat. And there is a whole question about the legitimacy of it.
And while I believe actually that there is enough legal authority for the United Nations to go forward, it is kind of a question about how the rest of the international community feels about it. Now, the reason that I think that the other countries should help is that I think it is going to be very painful for everybody to have the United States be the military occupying power.
It is something that in the long run I don't think is very, in our character as Americans, and that we will want some kind of help, some international authority akin to the kind of things that happened in Bosnia and Kosovo that would help in an intermediary way before this is turned over to the Iraqis who are unclear about who should run it.
So I believe that for the good of the whole operation, ultimately another diplomatic effort will have to be put on in order to get support from the Security Council for assistance after the war.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Without a direct threat? Mrs. Albright herself participated in the Kosovo operation. I don't think that Serbia was a direct threat to the United States. Serbia was engaged in an internal suppression of a minority, but it was not a direct threat to the United States.
I don't think Panama was a direct threat to the United States. I don't think Grenada was a direct threat to the United States. The notion that this is the first war in which we have acted without a direct threat but for other reasons is, I think, not accurate.
JIM LEHRER: So it's not that big a deal?
JAMES SCHLESINGER: It is a very big deal in terms of the potential consequences. But it's not because this is the first war without a direct threat.
And there's more direct threat from Saddam. We have been engaged for the last 12 years in ongoing conflict with Saddam. Saddam is firing at our aircraft over the northern and southern no-fly zones; he has shot down three of our Predators. He has moved armaments into the south, opposite Kuwait…
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think this is a different situation where I believe that we did have Saddam Hussein contained, that he is a threat in a variety of ways to the region, but that it is not an issue that we had to take upon ourselves right now, and the bigger threat to our national security is what's going on in North Korea.
And this has been kind of an elective issue, and I hope very much that it works out well, because we all have to now pray for our troops.
JIM LEHRER: We now have to go. Thank you both very much.