RAY SUAREZ: What does Secretary Rice's testimony tell us about where the U.S. is headed in Iraq, and where does the current situation in Iraq fit in the broader pursuit of U.S. foreign policy goals?
For an assessment of these issues we're joined by: Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to President Carter. He's now a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Well, the secretary of state laid out three basic points both in her opening statement and in response to all of the questions from the senators, that there is progress being made in Iraq, that there is a plan for moving forward from where we are now, and there's very little choice about leaving because this is an enemy that must be defeated. What did you think as the statement of principles?
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Well, I happen to agree with all three of those things and I would add a fourth, which is I think some progress is being made in Washington in the sense that this is by far the most comprehensive and in a sense serious strategic statement that the administration, any senior administration official, has made about the war.
But I think at the beginning we had some sort of, you know, incredible optimism, a lot of misjudgments were made. I think they've been coming up a steep and painful learning curve. But this statement is the most hopeful sign I've seen so far that the Bush administration has some sense of what it's grappling with and has some view of a way forward here.
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Brzezinski, what do you think of what the secretary had to say?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, there were several things about it which I did like. But there were also some things regarding which I am still somewhat dubious or critical. First of all, I like the fact that the secretary of state in effect outlined a general approach and thereby demonstrated that the Department of State is now defining our policy towards Iraq -- that it isn't being done surreptitiously in the Defense Department or by speech writers in the White House. And that's a good step forward.
Secondly, I like the redefinition, the gradual redefinition of goals. They were more realistic. They weren't being defined in slogans as often in the past. For example, one of her goals which she emphasized was the existence of national institutions that would work well and then she described what these national institutions ought to be able to do without even once using the slogan democracy but talking more about performance -- their ability to operate. That is a step forward.
Thirdly, I like the fact that in talking about terrorism, she invoked some of the themes of President Bush's speech to the UN but not of his recent speech of Oct. 7, which was somewhat Islamophobic. She talked about the root causes of terrorism, about hopelessness in the Middle East, about the need for progress including for peace, movement towards peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. All of that I thought were positive developments but I do have still some reservations that at some point perhaps you will ask me what they were.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, it's interesting that both of you bring up that this is the most thorough and make the point that it's kind of an evolved administration presentation of what the United States is in Iraq to do. That very point that it's different from earlier rationales drove some senators around the bend during the hearings today, that they were moving the goal post, that the administration had changed why we are there.
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: You know, there's a certain kind of a sentiment here. Actually I think the administration shared at the beginning that fighting a war is a little bit like having a contractor coming in and redecorate your kitchen, redo your kitchen, and you want to know the deadline and you want to know the cost and you want everything to be done on time and if things go over budget you're very irate.
And I think the administration originally kind of saw this as a very simple operation and it had a contractor mentality. And now I think some of the critics who want to talk about deadline, you know, when are we going to get the troops out, please tell me the date, are saying, you know, when are you going to be finished with the sink? When are you going to be finished with the windows?
And the thing that you have to understand about any kind of war where people are testing their strength and trying strategies and looking for the weak points in the opposition is it's not one of these simple controllable processes. And the administration-- and I would agree with Dr. Brzezinski that it's very heartening to see in a sense the full resources of the government and led by the State Department working on this now that to a - and I think to some degree, too, you can even say that as Condoleezza Rice's power over the Iraq issue and ability to lead there has grown, you've seen a developing, more sophisticated and I think more viable approach to the war taking hold.
I would agree there are still some problems in the administration in a sense by starting off with, I think, very inadequate both public presentation of the case and thinking through - inadequately thinking through what post war Iraq was going to look like, dug itself into a deep hole and generated a lot of skepticism.
And there are going to be people out there who say, well, you know, they're moving the goal post. They are just wiggling now. You know, but I think actually what's happened is that now they are becoming much more serious about what they need to do.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, just in the past several days, you talked of the "stay the course" argument or wrote of the "stay the course" argument. You called it flaying away with a stick at a hornet's net while loudly proclaiming I will stay the course is an exercise in catastrophic leadership.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: That's right. I was talking about the president's speech of Oct. 7. But let me go back to Secretary Rice's testimony and what bothers me about it. First of all, implicit in her notion of what we're going to be doing in Iraq is a prolonged engagement.
And I think the questions posed by Sen. Sarbanes were very apropos. There is also implicit in it a kind of a notion of tutelage that almost smacks of colonialism. We are going to be creating in effect an Iraq. I believe that this really not only in effect intensifies the resentment of many Iraqis against us, because the conflict in Iraq operates on two levels -- it is a sectarian conflict between Shiites and Sunnis, but it is also a nationalist conflict of many Iraqis against us.
And the effect of that is, in fact, in my judgment, to prolong the conflict and to make the emergence a viable Iraqi institution less likely. I am of the view actually that we underestimate the capacity of the Shiites and of the Kurds on their own to stand on their feet and either negotiate with the Sunnis or impose some formula of their own.
But the longer we stay and the longer we in effect assume the role of creating an Iraqi state, the less likely they are to stand up and the more radical they will become. And then beyond that, I was concerned about some of her responses regarding the possibility of enlarging the conflict to Syria and to Iran.
I noticed the senators were quite pointed in their comments to the effect that they do not feel that prior congressional resolutions gave the administration a free hand to escalate and to widen the conflict.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, just to be clear --
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: She was very evasive on that.
RAY SUAREZ: Since we didn't make any reference to it in the earlier excerpts, the secretary was asked if under the current resolution the conflict could be widened to Syria and Iran and she refused to rule it out.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: That's right.
RAY SUAREZ: Did not endorse military action in those places.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: That's right. But refused to rule it out in a fashion which certainly is going to be disquieting to a lot of people. And that raises the larger issue of the relationship of our prolonged engagement as I am afraid she was implying and our overall global posture.
I think we have to take a critical look at the overall cost of this war for America's legitimacy in the world, for our moral standing and indeed even for our resources both military and economic. And they are being drained.
And I sense in her testimony a kind of commitment to the notion of victory which she didn't define very precisely but nonetheless a commitment to victory which implied to me very prolonged engagement, which in my judgment underestimates, in fact, the Iraqi capacity to stand on their own feet.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, let me get Walter Mead to respond to a couple of things. The idea of tutelage, that we'd be there a long time teaching the Iraqis how to have a country that Dr. Brzezinski posits and the idea that the door has been left open for a very long engagement.
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Well, I'd say first of all, you know, I think both on this and on the Syria question, she's doing what any American official would do in office which is refusing to rule things out. And she's not going to sit there and say, okay, in five years, ten years, if you had asked one hundred years I don't think she would give an answer but that doesn't mean she thinks that it's going to necessarily be five years, ten years or one hundred years.
My sense from the overall tone of what she is saying, a lot of the specifics, is both that the -- that she is hopeful, the administration is hopeful that things are in fact getting better and also they are now setting the stage for when they feel the time is right some of the policy terms that Dr. Brzezinski is talking about in the sense that they lay out more metrics of victory and more conditions of victory that are more systematic, you know, that we can talk now about what they mean specifically, we're no longer seeing Iraqi forces standing up. We're talking about handing over security responsibilities in key areas and all.
The stage I think is being set for partial withdrawals beginning without attaching deadlines out of a belief that that would be counterproductive.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, just a few moments ago Dr. Brzezinski suggested that there's already a lot of capacity in Iraq, that this administration is not recognizing, and they would work it out if we left sooner rather than later.
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Well, I need to go to Iraq myself before I could really give an answer to that and it's something I want to do and plan to do fairly soon but --
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I don't need to go to Iraq to notice the fact that the Kurds are quite capable of managing the Kurdish area and do so quite effectively. And the Shiites have militias. They have organizations. They even have a legitimate leadership. That is to say Sistani.
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: I'm not sure that a war of all the militias against the militias would necessarily end up if something better. It might look more like Lebanon. But also I think to some degree with the Kurds the fear is not lack of capacity but overcapacity and without us they might be pressing harder for independence. That could be -
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: It wouldn't be because they're very aware of their vulnerability to Turkey and to Iran.
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: They are --
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: But in fact they need the illusion of an Iraqi state.
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Well these are some of the reasons that I think I need to go there.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I agree with that. I would like to go there too at some point but my concern is that what she was saying in effect was implying that we're going to be there a very long time, and that has massive international consequences in addition, in my view, to making it less likely that the Iraqis will stand on their own feet.
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: And here I guess I would say that actually I think implying that if need be we will sit here forever is more likely to discourage the insurgents. And if they think that we are -- that they are succeeding in pushing us towards a withdrawal, I think they'll be encouraged.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I don't think it's not a question of discouragement or encouragement. We're dealing with fanatics. They're going to do their thing anyway.
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: But ---
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: The question is when will they be more effective and I think they'll be more effective when the Iraqi begin fighting on their own --
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: The question is, how much popular support do they have?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: They're more likely to fight on their own when they have the system in their hands.
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: But also I think the costs are or the calculus of cost is changing a little bit. If you look carefully at recent polls in Middle Eastern opinion, the Pew Research Survey and some others, what you see is actually declining support in the Arab world and in the Muslim world generally for terrorism against civilian targets in general and for attacks, terrorist attacks against U.S. forces and their allies in Iraq.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: That's true. And that's precisely why we should let the Iraqis stand on their own feet and not assume the responsibilities as broad as the ones she defined which in fact leave them in a situation of being under our tutelage.
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Well, look, I couldn't agree more that ultimately we don't want to get sucked into maybe some of the things we got involved with, with people like Chang Kai-shek in the '40s in China who weren't fighting because they were counting on us to do it.
But I don't think we're there in Iraq now. But I think the point may well come next year, although again it's not a kitchen remodeling job. But I think it's likely that next year and possibly in the first half rather than in the last we may see a turn to the --
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Oh, if you're talking about next year and early in the first half then we're not that far apart because I believe that after the referendum and the elections we can begin to disengage on a significant basis.
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: I wouldn't be surprised if that's true but also think that as a secretary of state and particularly in an administration that has such a bad record on prognostication in Iraq she is doing the only responsible thing in refusing to give deadlines or timetables. She can't do it.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: It's not a question of deadlines. It's a question of indicating a greater degree of confidence in the Iraqi capacity to stand on their own feet. This is a --
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Her testimony today is full of that. It's full of they're doing better this city; they're doing better in this province.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Only to the sense that they're doing what we want them to do. This is a very serious nation with a sense of pride. This is not a colony anymore.
RAY SUAREZ: This is a debate that, of course, is to be continued. But gentlemen, thank you both for being here.