SEPTEMBER 4, 1996
U.S. armed forces continued to launch cruise missiles at military targets in Southern Iraq today in response to Iraqi attacks on Kurds in Northern Iraq. After a background report, a panel of journalists and Middle East experts debate the effectiveness of attacks and whether Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has paid too little for his gains in Kurdish areas.
JIM LEHRER: We get four additional views now. Jim Hoagland is a Washington Post columnist who won the Pulitzer Prize for his commentary on the Gulf War, Richard Haass was the National Security Council staff assistant for the Middle East during the Gulf War. He's now director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. Judith Miller is a New York Times correspondent, author of two books on the Middle East, and Daniel Yergin won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1992 book on oil; he's president of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a consulting firm. Jim Hoagland, do you dispute the President's claim--mission accomplished?
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Join our forum on the plight of the Kurds in the Middle East.
Defense Sec. William Perry explains why the U.S. launched cruise missile attacks on Iraq
Two experts discuss the ramifications of Iraq's invasion of the Kurdish "Safe Haven."
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The state of Iraq five years after the imposition of sanctions.
Three experts discuss why Saddam Hussein has agreed negotiate the lifting of sanctions on his country.
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JIM HOAGLAND, Washington Post: Well, I think the limited mission that he set out was accomplished, but I think we have to question whether it was enough. The price that has been extracted from Saddam Hussein is not commensurate with the gains that he's made on this. It's a strategic plus for him. Saddam has been able to wipe out the Iraqi opposition that was beginning to take form in the North, he split the Kurds. His troops have gone in, rounded up any Arabs that they could find, any people who would have defected from the Iraqi army. He's made a major gain here. And if we stop now, if we stop with these rather limited military strikes, I think Saddam is a winner out of this. At the same time, you have to sympathize with the problems that President Clinton faced with suddenly uncertain allies. Turkey, unwilling to really let us use their bases to strike against the Iraqi army in the North, and the Saudis reluctant, but I think a major error has been made here in the sense of separating the Kurdish fate from that of the rest of Iraq.
JIM LEHRER: In the North and then from the South, where our attacks were.
MR. HOAGLAND: Our attacks were designed to reassure the Saudis, to reassure the Kuwaitis, to make it harder for Saddam to move his forces to the South, and to let him have pretty much a free hand in the North, and I think in the long run that's a serious mistake.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Haass, how do you see this?
RICHARD HAASS, Brookings Institution: I tend to agree with that. On the other hand, I don't think, Jim, he has that much to worry about because Saddam Hussein being Saddam Hussein, he's unlikely to stop here. The idea that he would be given a strategic opening, as he was by the Kurds inviting him in, and he's going to somehow--
JIM LEHRER: Let's explain that. One of the Kurd factions invited him in to help them against the other Kurd faction. That was in the North, and Saddam Hussein accepted the invitation. We did our little thing in the South to send him a message, okay.
MR. HAASS: Exactly right. However, like a guest that won't leave the dinner party even long after the dessert, it's very unlikely that Saddam Hussein will leave it at that. My hunch is that he will press ahead, and the administration which so far has been extraordinarily realist for them. They've suddenly become practical practicers of realpolitik. Don't go in and get involved in this messy humanitarian situation, a very narrow, punitive strike against these sites in the South. They are going to have to decide what to do if and when Saddam Hussein begins to ratchet up the pressure even more in the North of Iraq.
JIM LEHRER: The basic point that the President made today and Sec. Perry, everybody has made, is that this was designed--in other words, the U.S. missile shots were -- designed to send Saddam Hussein the message that we're watching and if you keep--I guess--if you keep this up, we're going to keep ratcheting up. Is that--do you think that message was delivered?
MR. HAASS: I don't think so. I think from Saddam Hussein's point of view, he has essentially been allowed to realize a gain in the North. He has been forced to pay a price for it. But it is not an overwhelming price. If you will, it was a proportionate response. I would have thought that one of the things we've learned from history with Saddam is proportionate responses don't tend to get received by him. His message receiver doesn't take that. It takes something disproportionate. My guess is he'll press on, and the administration will then have to question or answer the question how do we escalate? Do we now start attacking more important targets in Baghdad, which are much more difficult, do we start to go after the North, itself?
JIM LEHRER: We'll get to that in a minute. You clearly don't think this is over. Judith Miller, uh, what about--what's your reading of why the--our Arab friends, the friends of the United States, Egypt, Jordan, everybody, did not come to the support of the U.S. in this attack, in this action?
JUDITH MILLER, New York Times: (New York) Well, I think one has to distinguish here between a public posture and a private posture. You have to look at each of the countries separately. Jordan has a long border with Iraq and substantial trade relations, and geography doesn't change. So even though King Hussein was more up front, he was more aggressive in criticizing Saddam Hussein recently, this was a risk he couldn't take of openly backing the United States in a military attack. Saudi Arabia, I think, is privately very pleased that the United States did what it did, particularly because the focus was on the South, which is closest to its own border. But, once again, Saudi Arabia, since the Gulf War, has faced mounting internal pressure, internal opposition. It doesn't want to be seen as a pawn of the Americans or a staging base for attacks on fellow Arab leaders. So each of the countries has a really different reason for taking the posture that it did.
JIM LEHRER: Explain to lay Americans why the United States risks the lives of its young people to go in, it says, to protect the interests of people who don't even support the attack. That's the question that I'm trying to get at. You're saying that, well, privately they say that but publicly they say another. How does that--how do you explain--how should we explain that to the American people?
MS. MILLER: Well, this is the world of the Middle East. There are things that one can say publicly, and there are private realities. You know, part of what's happened in the region is that the anti-American rhetoric, the Arab nationalists, and the militant Islamist rhetoric of the past 10 years has really come home to roost for these regimes. And they now face people, the masses, as they call them, who are very skeptical of American involvement in the region. This has been a result, in part, of their own propaganda, and I think that the moment of courage that all of these countries had after the Gulf War has kind of faded. It was a line in the sand, and the winds have blown, and those lines are now blurred, to say the least.
JIM LEHRER: Daniel Yergin, one of the justifications for this, not justifications--one of the reasons given for this attack was the oil problem, that it was to protect Saudi Arabia's oil supply and the rest of the Middle East oil supply for the world. Is that--does that make sense to you?
DANIEL YERGIN, Historian: Sure. It's true. I mean, the Middle East is the bread basket of world oil production. It's where 2/3 of the reserves are, and so it's a very critical element--
JIM LEHRER: 2/3--repeat--2/3 of the oil--
MR. YERGIN: 2/3 of all the world's oil is in the Middle East.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
MR. YERGIN: So what--
JIM LEHRER: Nobody's making that up when they say oil is an issue?
MR. YERGIN: Yeah. Oil is an issue and a critical issue in the global balance of power.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. All right. So why did--what's your explanation? You know these countries very well. If it's their oil that's being protected theoretically by, by U.S. air strikes, why do they remain silent?
MR. YERGIN: It's partly what Judy says and counting on the U.S.--clearly, all those countries would be terrified is Saddam was in a position to come charging across the border again, and you can't look at what he's done, as colleagues here pointed out, without saying that he's now reasserted his influence in the North. He's gained something he wanted. He's paid a price in the way they describe but also he's lost $2 billion every six months in oil revenues, but for him, his calculation is to get his hands on the Kurdish areas is worth it.
JIM LEHRER: We ought to explain that on the oil revenues. The United Nations had just agreed with the Security Council, just agreed to let Saddam Hussein or let Iraq sell some oil for humanitarian reasons. Now that thing has been put back on the back burner.
MR. YERGIN: It's quite remarkable because this happened just on the eve after, what is it now, six years of not selling oil. Saddam has--in economic terms--has made a colossal economic blunder. He has lost $85 billion of revenue because he has not been selling oil these last six years. He was about to start selling it, as you say, under this new deal with the U.N., and it's suspended indefinitely.
JIM LEHRER: How do you explain that, Jim Hoagland?
MR. HOAGLAND: You have to begin to wonder if Saddam doesn't have an angle in trying to keep sanctions on. I'm not sure--as nefarious as I think he is, I'm not quite sure I subscribe to--
JIM LEHRER: What could that angle be?
MR. HOAGLAND: Well he's not really hurt by the sanctions. The clique around him, the military officers around him are not really hurt; they have access to all the food and whiskey they need. They can make money as long as sanctions are on. There's a lot of reports of the black market being run by Saddam, his family, and his cronies.
MR. YERGIN: Jim, of course, he has money still outside the country.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
MR. HOAGLAND: And his money is still outside the country, but there's also--the point that Dan made about $70 to $80 billion Saddam has given up in sanctions over the past five to six years makes you wonder what it is that he's hiding there that opening up his system to complete U.N. inspection, complete U.N. control of distribution would discover, and I think it's arms. I think he's hidden away enough missiles and chemical warheads to still have a military threat, and I think the Clinton administration should focus on trying to damage or remove that threat in their responses to this crisis.
JIM LEHRER: Judith Miller, does that make sense to you?
MS. MILLER: It certainly does. I mean, I think that on one hand, we constantly underestimate the extent to which Saddam is going to push the envelope and test the limits. I mean, I'm sure he thought this was a great moment to strike because the alliance was weak. On the other hand, he didn't calculate an American election, a time in which no American president or someone running against him could afford to look weak. So military action was just inevitable once he did what he did, but the man has not traveled outside of Baghdad, outside of his own country recently. He doesn't know the world. He doesn't listen to anyone. He thinks he's a lot smarter than he is, but he has survived. We have to give him that.
JIM LEHRER: Well, Richard Haass, picking up on your point earlier that this thing is a long way from being over, play out some scenarios for us here. What happens next? The President said--the President said, well, we're going to watch this thing for a while and see what happens. What do you think is going to happen?
MR. HAASS: To begin with, you're exactly right. I think the administration is prepared to live, if you will, with the new status quo, the idea that Saddam has picked up a bit in the North. We've done what we did in the center. I think if nothing happened more, the administration would turn to other things. I think it's unlikely, though, because Saddam is likely to press his gains in the North. I think he will want to further consolidate his position and--
JIM LEHRER: In what ways, specifically?
MR. HAASS: I think he will want to move more troops. I think he will want to eliminate any--
JIM LEHRER: He has 40,000 in there, more than 40,000, right?
MR. HAASS: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: And as far as we know, they're still there or close, right?
MR. HAASS: They're still there. He's moved them a few miles out of the center of Arbil, which has been the political capital of the Kurds. On the other hand, I think he's also going to want to continue to favor one of the Kurdish factions, the one that invited him in against the other, which has recently become associated with arch-enemy Iran, and I think he's just going to simply try to reassert central government authority, get rid of the deserters, and essentially clean out any opposition in the North. But that is then going to present to us--all of this by the way is a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 688, which prohibits Saddam from doing anything which violates the welfare and well-being of his own people.
JIM LEHRER: But also, Jim Hoagland, it's also within the boundaries of Iraq. The U.N. Security Council--this--unlike the Gulf war, as people point out, Saddam Hussein was sending people into his own country, maybe in a violation of U.N.--that does change the equation, does it not?
MR. HOAGLAND: Well, it certainly does in the eyes of the Arab countries that we depend on for military support, and that's the real answer to your earlier question, why have the Saudis taken this position. These are not Arabs that Saddam has sent his army against this time, and the other Arab countries are making a great mistake, I think, a great distinction in allowing him to--
JIM LEHRER: In other words, the Kurds don't matter. The Kurds don't matter.
MR. HOAGLAND: Kurds don't matter--practice whatever evil he wants to.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
MR. HOAGLAND: I think it's wrong also to, to see him as upholding Iraqi territorial integrity by this action. That's not what Saddam is about. He is--
JIM LEHRER: It was just a technical point I was trying to make.
MR. HOAGLAND: He's a special case already outside of international law, and I think it's very important not only for Iraq but the future of the international system that we show that we will respond to the kind of criminality that he's practiced against the Kurds.
JIM LEHRER: Dan Yergin, when you look ahead, what do you see?
MR. YERGIN: I see, first of all in terms of oil, you see prices higher, not only because of the Iraqi oil not coming to the market, but because--
JIM LEHRER: But that was already--that was already not happening, was it not?
MR. YERGIN: Right. But it was about to start in September--we would have seen prices going down, but I think there's now a kind of psychological anxiety in the oil market that reflects this uncertainty not only involving Iraq, Iran, the new big question about Turkey, of course the recent bombings in Saudi Arabia, so there's this unease. I think as has been suggested, that Saddam is the one who's calling the shots in the game, and he's now in a position to at least re-extend his influence.
JIM LEHRER: And the folks in the business of oil, one way or another, and there are millions of them not--from the very top to the very bottom--are worried to death about this. Is that--
MR. YERGIN: I think that there's a higher degree of anxiety. The Middle East does not look as stable as it did a few years ago. A lot of forces are at work, a lot of forces that don't like the western world and don't like involvement with the western world.
JIM LEHRER: Judy Miller, do you have a prediction? Is this over, or is this going to run on a while?
MS. MILLER: I never make predictions in the Middle East but I do worry about the message that has been implicitly sent with the American administration focusing so heavily on Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich sheikdoms, I do worry about the fact that Saddam, even if he does not move further, if Richard Haass's scenario does not come to pass, may already have effective control of the Kurdish area, and it's a message that basically says we care about Saudi Arabia and Saudi oil, and the Kurds, well, they're quarrelsome and they're trouble, and until they stop fighting, we're not going to do anything. As long as the Kurds do not stop fighting, I think Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and who knows else will have a pretext for meddling in that enclave.
JIM LEHRER: But hasn't--
MS. MILLER: To which we're now committed.
JIM LEHRER: Hasn't the U.S. said--well, Sec. Perry said specifically on this program last night in an interview with Elizabeth Farnsworth that the U.S. does not want to get involved in that, in other words, the problem among the Kurds in the North, and we're not going to, he said.
MS. MILLER: Well, that is a message, but as long as he takes that position, it does seem that it would give Saddam a kind of open invitation to continue through covert or subterranean means to control the situation.
JIM LEHRER: Jim Hoagland, every--I'm sure--I don't speak for you--I'll let you speak for yourself--but I don't know personally of very many Americans who don't remain absolutely stunned at Saddam Hussein What, him again?
MR. HOAGLAND: Still there.
JIM LEHRER: Still there.
MR. HOAGLAND: The stake has not been driven through the heart--
JIM LEHRER: Doing this.
MR. HOAGLAND: --yet.
JIM LEHRER: And the people in Iraq not only, not only is the rest of the world tolerating him, but so are his own people. What is there about this man?
MR. HOAGLAND: Well, this is a major factor, of course, in the fact that he has been able to make some gains here. Intimidation is a central part of Arab politics at least in many Arab countries, and the fact that he can use his military force, that he is still there to use his military force, is an intimidating factor for the other Arab rulers and for his own population. He survives through a system of terror, through a system of bribing the population particularly around Baghdad. When we talk about territorial integrity and holding Iraq together, we have to remember it's a country that's held together purely by terror. He's a very effective user of terror and a very effective survivor.
JIM LEHRER: To put it mildly.
MR. HOAGLAND: One more thing, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
MR. HOAGLAND: This is pure Clinton in terms of the options that he's chosen because what he's done with this is to not foreclose any future options. He could still act, he could still do something to change this situation.
JIM LEHRER: Very dramatic you mean?
MR. HOAGLAND: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Thank you, Judith, gentlemen.