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Overviews of 9/11 World

April 14, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And now, a discussion of the post-9/11 intelligence world, and the U.S. course in Iraq by two former national security advisors: Brent Scowcroft, who held the position in the Ford and in the first Bush administrations; and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Carter’s national security advisor.

Gentlemen, welcome.

Mr. Scowcroft, how do you feel about the 9/11 commission and the job it’s doing, first off?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Well, I thought they had been doing really a good job. What I’m afraid is, it’s in danger of being derailed a little bit by some of the sensationalism and the hearings here, they give you the impression that the only thing the government had in front of it was terrorism. And it wasn’t doing that very well. And it’s not in the context of what actually was going on in the years since 1982 and so on; they have been pretty busy years. If we could operate by hindsight we’d have a wonderful government.

But I think we ought to be looking for the kinds of things, the kinds of systems we have and the structures and how they operated. And if there are things that we missed, and there were, then we ought to fix those kinds of things instead of saying well, did President Clinton spend more time on terrorism than President Bush or vice versa and was it enough and so on? It seems to me, there are no real answers to those questions that will help us in what I think is the job of the 9/11 commission.

JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about it, Dr. Brzezinski?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: First of all, I agree with what Brent said so I won’t repeat that. I feel a little uneasy about some of the aspect pertaining to the proceedings. For example, in the evening, I you put on any one of the talk shows, you are bound to see one of the commissioners talking about the hearings, getting his opinions and so forth. I find that troubling.


ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I would prefer to wait until the proceedings are finished, until all the documents have been examined. I think it’s a little premature for the commissioners to be going around opining in their views, exchanging accusations and so forth. So that bothers me.

Secondly, some of them spend most of their time talking. They each have ten minutes. I listened to one this morning. He posed a question for ten minutes; he wasn’t finished when his time expired. There is too much of a show quality to it.

Now on the substance, I think what we have to be, I think clear about, and that follows from Brent said, is that intelligence and the advice that the president is given and the associates are given regarding key policy issues, including national policy, has to be related to the large strategic challenges of the given moment. And they cannot be reduced to one issue, which is another way of saying what Brent was saying.

Terror — terrorism is one problem we face today. I think the administration is beating the drums trying to define the entire global context in which we operate with one word: terror. And I think if we are going to refocus all of our intelligence activities, in effect, on terrorism and on terrorists, we’re going to miss some of the other major problems that we confront in the world some of which in the long run loom longer than sporadic terrorism that we have faced and that others are facing.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Yes. I do agree with that, yeah. I think terrorism is very important, but that’s what I was trying to say. The president always has a number of very important issues, and he has to set priorities for dealing with those issues. And there all these priorities are set in a climate of great uncertainty. If we knew how they were all going to come out, we’d be much better than we are. And so — and things like these hearings, a future president looks at them and, he better concentrate on the right thing, because if he doesn’t…

JIM LEHRER: The commission hearing. Tom Kean, the chairman of the commission, talked to the press after today’s — we had it in the news summary. He said that he was concerned that presidents were not getting accurate information. That was the main message that concerned him the most from the hearings. He is talking specifically about terrorism, but what is your view of that?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: That’s another thing. There are a certain number of documents and information and they all get up and they don’t all get up. The analyst, ordinary analyst has a desk full of reports of varying kinds, varying quality and so on. And you can find one report that will give you almost anything you want to hear or see.

So the analyst has to make those judgments. And it goes up to the line and the national security adviser decides what is more important for the president — what the president needs to see in a day that is jam packed with business. And so do you always get it right? No, you don’t always get it right. But it’s not as if people are failing in their job. This is judgment all the way through the process.

JIM LEHRER: But the talk today was not so much of personal failures but of system failures and there is talk of well, we just heard some of it, of maybe separating the domestic intelligence function away from the FBI or putting it with the CIA. Do you think there is a system fix for this particular problem?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: There may be. I think there were problems: Lack of communication between the CIA and the FBI is something that has been talked about for years. And I think that can be overcome.

JIM LEHRER: Was this true in your tenure?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Probably, yes. There were some cases I remember dealing with Soviet espionage and so forth where one felt the connection between the agencies wasn’t adequate. I think the bigger problem is how to develop a system whereby the president and his immediate associates are well advised, strategically informed about what is happening in the world. What I’m concerned about is that in the atmosphere that is now being generated, starting with the president himself, who talks mostly about terror in these totally generalized but vague semi-theological terms, most of the information he is not going to be getting in the daily presidential briefings and so forth will be just about terrorism.

But many other things are happening in the world that will have enormous consequences for our security and our future. And I’m afraid the strategic balance is going to be distorted by atmosphere and the focus in part generated by these hearings.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: May I make a comment on the structural part. I think one of the things that’s not entirely clear to the American people is that we have a barrier running right down the middle of the intelligence community. On the one side is foreign intelligence. On the other side is domestic intelligence or domestic — foreign intelligence domestically collected. And you cannot cross that barrier. The CIA does foreign intelligence. The FBI does the domestic intelligence. During the Cold War, it didn’t matter very much because most of our problem was overseas.

But now with terrorism, they go back and forth across the border. And that’s where you get this information. So you have to pass this data between two different bureaucracies which is always complicated in the government. But these two bureaucracies have antithetical views about how to do their work. One is law enforcement intelligence; the other is intelligence analysis and they come at problems from the absolute opposite points of view and so it’s not surprising that there are all the mismatches that we’ve seen.

JIM LEHRER: To follow up on something you said Zbigniew Brzezinski and move this on to Iraq. The president said last night that our action against Iraq was an action against terror, it’s part of the war on terror. Do you agree with him?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: No. No, I don’t. It seems to me that we have increased the probability of terrorist attacks in the United States by taking a war into Iraq, a war which is unrelated to what happened on 9/11 and without any serious evidence — any serious evidence at all of any connection between terrorism directed at us and Saddam’s regime which is obviously a malignant regime. It’s gone — but that’s not that it is not sufficient for invading a foreign country. I think the excuses we are using are obviously motivated by an effort to justify what has transpired, especially since what has transpired is becoming more and more difficult for us.

But in the meantime, the number of enemies against the United States has maximized and I’m afraid in the Middle East, the United States is increasing of the focal point of generalized hatred. We are being seen as an extension of what the Arabs have been experiencing over the past 40 years. Our occupation is being viewed now a mirror image of the West Bank. The two have conflated in the eyes of the people in the region and what is worse, most of the world views it that way. I think that collectively increases the threat of the United States.

JIM LEHRER: Quite an indictment. Do you agree with that?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: I would not have made the same choices the administration did on the priorities, and I expressed them.

JIM LEHRER: You did say that.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: I did express them. But it seems to me the relevant issue right now is Iraq. It’s our responsibility. It is the U.S. responsibility. And what we need to focus on is how we discharge that responsibility now and whether it was right to go in, it wasn’t right to go in. We’re there and we can’t just wring our hands about how we got there. We need to figure out how to put it right so that we can lead and leave in that area a prosperous stable state and not leave a running sore that will inflame the entire region.

JIM LEHRER: Do you have confidence based on what is happening now, what the president said last night, that the course he wants to stay is the right course to accomplish exactly what you just said?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: I think what the president did last night was something I think was vital to do, and that is he presented the picture of a president confident in his policy and determined to make Iraq work. And I think that is vital because I think one of the things people will start saying, it’s Vietnam. It’s Vietnam. We’re going to pull out. We’re going to pull out. Well, if we get that impression abroad, especially in Iraq, then we’ll never be able to succeed. So I think the president, by showing that kind of determination, has put us on a major step forward.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see it the same way?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Not quite. I don’t think determination is enough. It is good enough to be determined but if you are determined to pursue on a wrongheaded course, it is not going to get you anywhere.

JIM LEHRER: What is the alternative?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: The issue is can we do it well on our own? I doubt it very much. I think to handle Iraq effectively so that these good outcomes that Brent was talking about actually transpire, we have to engage others. We have to engage the U.N. much more actively. And we’ve delayed this for far too long. We have to make some effort to get our allies engaged. We have in a sense said you can be engaged by sending money and men but we’ll do what we want, which is not the way you engage allies. Eventually you have to get the moderate Muslim countries engaged. We were hoping for Pakistani troops and Moroccan troops. We didn’t get them.

And last but not least we have to recognize there is no disengagement in Iraq with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict going on because if it is still going on when we disengage, the next Iraqi government will anti-American and anti-Israeli. So determination is not enough. It is a question of the right strategy. And I’m afraid our strategy right now in Iraq is essentially very one sided and rather extremist.

JIM LEHRER: One sided and extremist.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: As I said I the president made the first step. Determination is certainly not enough. We saw Brahimi…

JIM LEHRER: The U.N. special envoy.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: The U.N. special envoy — talk. We have got him involved, we have got him working with the Iraqis to be able to be able to form an interim government. I think we are turning to the U.N. — we are not turning to our allies. Did we do it soon enough? Probably not. But I think we’re there. And the important thing is that we have got to show to give the U.N., to give our allies confidence that we are not going to turn around and run whatever we do, they will not join us.

JIM LEHRER: You are not suggesting that we pull out, are you?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: No, I’m not. I’m suggesting that we ought to have a different strategy. I know your next segment is going to be on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. I think that issue is now conflated with Iraq. I think we will not be able to disengage unless we have progress on that issue and unless the U.N. and our allies are engaged in both issues, and they’re not going to be engaged unless they have a share in the decision make. Look at the difference in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan we have allies who are as numerous as we. We have Afghanis on our side who are really on our side because we helped them 20 years ago so and they feel grateful and committed. So we have Afghan allies, and we have a principal American there who is conciliatory and knows how to work with others. None of these three conditions apply to Iraq.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that it is possible to separate Iraq from the Middle East?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: I think it is; I think it is impossible. I probably don’t think they’re as closely conflated as Zbig does. The Arab attitude — and in the end we need Arab help for Iraq — there’s no question about that — the Arab attitude toward United States, toward what we are doing and so on is deeply influenced by the Israeli-Palestinian issue. And they see it every night on Al-Jazeera and other television. So their attitude to what we’re doing in Iraq, and what our goals are, are inevitably influenced by the course of the peace process.

JIM LEHRER: And as Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski said, we are going to talk about that in a moment with two other folks. Thank you all very much.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Thank you, Jim.