Former Secretaries Discuss the Differences in Candidates’ Approach in Iraq
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JIM LEHRER: And to our debate. Henry Kissinger was secretary of State in the Nixon and Ford administrations. Madeleine Albright was secretary of State in President Clinton’s second term. Welcome secretaries both.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Good to be here.
JIM LEHRER: First, Secretary Albright, on this future issue of Iraq specifically: What now, what next? How would you describe the major difference between the approaches of President Bush and Senator Kerry?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think the major difference is that Senator Kerry has made it clear that we don’t want to have bases in the area, we are not occupiers there; we want to be able to make sure that the Iraqis can run their own lives.
And the other major difference is that the things that are now in some way being done in Iraq are things that Senator Kerry suggested a year and a half ago: Making sure that we have– are actually training some of this military, trying to get ready for elections.
But I think the thing that has to be pointed out here is Senator Kerry is not conflating Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a different war, and we cannot and should not be persuaded that what we’re doing in Iraq is fighting the same kind of terrorism that caused our Twin Towers to be destroyed.
JIM LEHRER: Well, that’s a huge difference and we’ll come back to that in a moment. But in specific terms if somebody’s sitting out there tonight and says “okay, I want to cast a vote between these two men based on what they’re going to do specifically in Iraq,” what would you tell them the difference is?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I do think it’s important to say that things would not be in quite this big a mess had we had a different president. And I think it’s important to make that case because Senator Kerry has to work with what is there now. But I think that is what is very clear is that he would be in a position to get a wider group of people to help us, not just the NATO allies, but go into other countries to help so that the coalition would be greater.
He has also said that he would let those in the region or invite those in the region to be part of the discussion, to have them at the table, a contact group so to speak, or try to bring them in; then also, to make clear that we are not there to stay; and to try to figure out what the benchmarks are for being able to bring our troops home.
Everybody wants to bring our troops home, but the main difference here is that he would get much more international involvement in it so that the American taxpayers are not the ones bearing the greatest burden and that we don’t have one deadly month after another. You do know that August has been deadlier in the number of people that have been killed and the number of casualties. And I think that is what would be different.
JIM LEHRER: Secretary Kissinger, how would you draw the differences? First of all, do you agree with the list of Secretary Albright and what would you add or subtract from that in terms of the differences specifically, what now, what next on Iraq?
HENRY KISSINGER: I have difficulty when Secretary Albright says that that Secretary Kerry — Senator Kerry recommended particular forms of weapons 18 months ago that were not adequately supplied.
If one looks at the record over the last period, in general it must be said that the Bush administration has been for a substantial increase in the military budget and Senator Kerry’s record on the whole has been to oppose many of the new weapons systems that have been– that have been approved in the last decade.
My major point, though, is this: I think President Bush has a– the current administration has a strategy that is difficult because it is a very difficult country that has the components of security, a component of bringing about democracy, and a component of bringing in an international participation as this Democratic government becomes established.
I absolutely do not believe that it is possible to increase the number of foreign forces in Iraq, especially not from Europe, in any substantial– in any substantial manner. And I don’t think that that’s the current problem. This is yesterday’s problem.
Tomorrow’s problem will be how to create a political framework for the government that we are now creating there and that we are encouraging to emerge so that other nations give technical and political support. And as the forces of Iraq grow, the balance of forces between them and ours will automatically change.
JIM LEHRER: What about Secretary Albright’s point that Senator Kerry’s in a better position to internationalize it, not only troops but in a more general way than President Bush is?
HENRY KISSINGER: I am. — first of all, the comments about difficulties abroad usually apply primarily to France and Germany. Our relations with Russia, India China, Japan are solid and our relations with Europe are going to be in– as the situation in Iraq evolves and as we create the political framework for the new government, I think we will get — President Bush is in a very strong position to obtain support even from France and Germany.
JIM LEHRER: On the political point, you’re saying that really– the main factor of the future has to do with what’s happening on the ground within the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government. Why do you believe President Bush and his approach would be better than Senator Kerry’s, Secretary Kissinger?
HENRY KISSINGER: I believe– I’m not here really to make partisan comments so much.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
HENRY KISSINGER: I believe that President Bush’s approach is good, it is solid, it creates a vision of the future, and I don’t see that Senator Kerry has offered any alternative that would justify the change of administration.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let’s go back to another point — Secretary Albright — that you made, and also Senator Kerry has made more than once, and again today. He says this is the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. Why?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think that, you know, you have two former secretaries of state here who have spent a lot of time analyzing the international situation at our various times when we were in office. And we obviously will see things a little bit differently.
But I believe that, in fact, this was a war of choice, not of necessity and that we should have been paying much more attention to what happened in Afghanistan, because, after all, those who attacked us, did not come from Iraq, they came from Afghanistan. And we took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan.
We don’t have Osama bin Laden, and there are people, Americans and others, still dying in Afghanistan and democracy is very fragile there. That’s why I think the war of necessity was the one that was in Afghanistan.
And what Senator Kerry’s been saying is that the way this war has been pursued has made it all wrong because of the miscalculations which, by the way, President Bush admitted, and it was a war of choice in many ways, not the one of necessity. And therefore, we have squandered a lot of our resources and, I would say, as a former secretary of state, that we have squandered our credibility abroad.
And we don’t have to be popular abroad, I think none of us believes that anymore. But the United States’ credibility is at stake with the way that it was described why we went into this war over the weapons of mass destruction which have not been found and the whole story changes every time. And so I just think that’s our problem.
Now, I think we have to work this backwards. I agree with Henry about the fact that there has to be a political framework. There is no military solution, even though our military is the most brilliant in the world. But work backwards here. The U.N. has been mandated now to set up the elections. They said that it would probably take them about eight months and President Bush has now said that we’ll have them in January. That doesn’t make for eight months.
The U.N. in order to do its job needs to have security. In order to have security, some forces other than the Americans have to be there to protect the U.N. — and so it is vitally important that we get some international help for this. And I don’t see that really happening, though I fully agree with Secretary Kissinger that we have to get the political framework right.
JIM LEHRER: Secretary Kissinger, several issues there. Let’s go back to her first point that this was a war of choice not of necessity. We– the war of necessity was against Afghanistan and al-Qaida not against Saddam Hussein and Iraq. How do you feel about that?
HENRY KISSINGER: The first thing to understand is what we call terrorism as the 9/11 commission has very correctly pointed out, it’s not — terrorism is a method; it is an attack by radical fundamentalist Islam against the values that we believe in and that our allies believe in and that moderate Muslims believe in. So it is a war that affects the attitudes of the whole region.
In Iraq, we were dealing with a country with which we had made a cease-fire in 1991 in which there were 17 violations certified by the United Nations that had the largest military force in the region, that was working on weapons of mass destruction and, as we believed and as President Clinton publicly stated in a television address in 1998, had weapons of mass destruction.
Under those circumstances, it was important to– not to permit that country that was run by a dictator and whose successors were two crazy sons to be in a position where they could use all these resources at their choice against us as they had already done in some terrorist situations by paying suicide bombers in the Middle East.
So I think it was a war that needed to be fought and it now presents us with the problem of how to build a peace. When you fight these wars, you get into situations that my friend Madeleine experienced herself, when the United States went into Bosnia, President Clinton said it would take a year and we’re still there. So Iraq is also– and I don’t criticize him for that. I think it was the right decision.
Here we are in a situation in which the internal complexities of the country were greater than we had fully recognized so we are in a difficult situation which we are, however, in the process of working out and in which the various stages that I have described are in the process of being undertaken.
Now, with respect to credibility around the world, you know, this is a statement Madeleine says — as secretary of State she says we don’t have it; I’m a former secretary of State, I think we have what we need to pursue the policy that I have outlined. But that will be tested by how this policy works out and I have confidence that the Bush administration is on the way to working it out under difficult circumstances.
JIM LEHRER: Secretary Kissinger, when the president says that the world is safer now because of the military action in Iraq, do you agree with him?
HENRY KISSINGER: If we succeed in creating a government there that is moderate, that looks after the interests of the people, it will be safer. And in any event it is safer than it would be if Saddam Hussein were in power there with the income, with the working on weapons of mass destruction, and with the choice up to him when he would throw his resources against us fully as he already had done in a number of situations and as he was already doing partially.
JIM LEHRER: How do you answer the safer question, Secretary Albright?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I personally do not feel safer. I think that the people of Iraq are probably– I’m glad that Saddam Hussein is gone, but when the president says that we have destroyed three quarters of the known al-Qaida leadership or terrorists, how many more have been created? Those are the questions, and the extent to which Iraq in many ways is a training ground or a magnet for everybody who hates us.
And I would very much like to agree with Henry about a lot of these issues. But I do think– to use a diplomatic term of art– Iraq is a mess. And, in fact, it is not getting better. And every month is deadlier than the month before and we look at– they blow up in front of– in Baghdad suburbs or what’s happened in Fallujah and so I– you know, we’ve got to tell it like it is. It just ain’t so.
It does not look better to me and there’s a big “if” in what Secretary Kissinger said, that we will be safer if they could have a moderate government and all those things. I wish it, but I am very concerned about what is happening in Iraq and how it spreads out into the rest of the region.
And I do think that Saddam Hussein was awful and I personally did believe he had weapons of mass destruction programs. But I did not think it was an imminent threat and I do think that we had other things that we should have been working on, which was Afghanistan. And I think taking our eye off the ball there was a major mistake.
JIM LEHRER: Secretary Kissinger, what about her response to the safer issue?
HENRY KISSINGER: To which issue?
JIM LEHRER: To the idea that this is– this has created as many terrorists as it may have destroyed, by going into Iraq?
HENRY KISSINGER: Going into Iraq has certainly brought enough– a number of the terrorists out of the places where they were, and it has forced the battle to some point. I do not think it has made terrorists out of people who would not have been or who were not already terrorists.
And I have great difficulty conceiving how we would have conducted the war against terror leaving Saddam Hussein in that position and concentrating on Afghanistan where we had substantially destroyed the terrorist network and were to create– if we had tried to occupy all of Afghanistan before we did anything else, that was an enterprise that was a– that many other nations have attempted and that was hugely extremely, extremely difficult. Yes the situation in Iraq is complex. Yes, it has difficulties and I don’t like the– I don’t like casualties when they are reported.
The question is whether in fighting radical fundamentalist Islam we did the right thing, whether this is a place where the battle can be brought to a head and where the outcome is in the fundamental interest of the American people and of the world.
JIM LEHRER: What about Secretary Albright’s use of the word “mess”?
HENRY KISSINGER: It is– you have– in Iraq you have three different ethnic groups,– not ethnic groups but religious groups: You have the Kurds, you have the Shiites, you have the Sunnis; you have a country that has been under– that has never been a democracy, that has been under one of the most ruthless dictatorships in the world, and that the world has seen for 30 years, suddenly that government is removed.
All these forces now are maneuvering against each other, against us, and they have to learn to cooperate, and we have to restore– we have to help restore some of the infrastructure that was destroyed. This is– on any one day, this can look like a mess. But one also has to ask oneself what was the alternative? And where would we be if Saddam were still in place and if we were to revert to a policy of just waiting for them to strike us?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think there were alternatives, Jim, and some of it had to do with letting the inspectors do their jobs, which is something that Senator Kerry had advocated. The interesting part is that President Bush won a big victory when he got the inspectors back in. And then they didn’t take advantage of it in terms of letting them do their work while they built up an international coalition. And both Henry and I believe in diplomacy. I don’t think that they used it properly here and that is one of the reasons that we are in the mess.
And the other part here is I fully believe in democracy and in the fact that everybody in the world would prefer to make choices about the way they live. But you can’t impose democracy. Imposing democracy is an oxymoron. You have to offer it. And some of what’s happening in Iraq is that we have to stand behind the people, not in front of them, and block things that they want to do.
There is a lot of activity going on and I– in my various lives, I’m chairman of the National Democratic Institute. We have people on the ground there, Henry has had affiliation with the International Republican Institute; they’re on the ground, too. I think that there are — is a lot of political activity. But we look like the heavy footprint at the moment and are making it more difficult, I think in many ways, to get what I think both of us would like to see is a way to moderate what is going on in Iraq because even though Henry used more elegant terms, it’s a mess.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Speaking of the word “moderate,” I’m going to — yes, sir, you wanted to respond to that, Mr. Secretary?
HENRY KISSINGER: I don’t agree that it’s a mess. I agree that it is an extremely difficult situation that was inherent in the problem that – I think the administration deserves a lot of credit for the willingness to face the issue, and I believe that with –within some reasonable period of time we’re going to see larger Iraqi forces -
JIM LEHRER: All right.
HENRY KISSINGER: — and that — and a political structure emerging there that will gain international support. That, in any event, has to be our objective and the consequences of having a radical fundamentalist government in Baghdad for the whole region and for the whole world would be absolutely catastrophic, so we have to be willing to face what Madeleine calls a “mess,” but which is a challenge that we simply have to overcome.
JIM LEHRER: All right. And we’re going to leave it there. Secretaries both, thank you both very much.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Thank you.