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War and Diplomacy in Iraq

February 4, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: For more on the man behind tomorrow’s big speech, we turn to four Powell watchers. Bob Woodward is assistant managing editor of investigative news for the Washington Post, and the author of “Bush at War.” Raymond Tanter was a senior NSC staffer focusing on the Middle East during the Reagan administration. He now teaches at the University of Michigan, and is a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Harlan Ullman spent 20 years in the Navy, and was professor of military strategy at the National War College. He is now a senior policy analyst at the center for strategic and international studies. And Gen. Johnnie Wilson, retired in 1999 after 38 years in the army. He was second in command of the army’s largest logistical unit during the 1991 Gulf War. Gentlemen, welcome.

Gen. Wilson you’re a military man. Colin Powell is a military man. Does being a military man make you more of a dove?

GEN. JOHNNIE WILSON: I don’t think so, Gwen. What you see in General Powell is the fact that here is a very distinguished American who has served for many years in the military and has seen firsthand the horrors of war. And because of that, he just wants to make sure that when we make a decision to go forward, we have exercised all of the available options and alternatives.

GWEN IFILL: But does it make him at least does it make people see him as more reluctant than in fact he really is to go to war.

GEN. JOHNNIE WILSON: For those of us serving in military I would say not. Those of us that serve are very excited about he is in that position at this particular time.

GWEN IFILL: Secretary Powell wrote again yesterday in the, Harlan Ullman, in the Wall Street Journal “We will not shrink from war is that the only way to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.” Is the master of diplomacy now through with diplomacy?

HARLAN ULLMAN: Absolutely not. But I think to characterize somebody like Powell is a huge mistake. I think that Powell has done a great service in several ways. You have to go back to 1990 and the Gulf War when he as chairman of the joint chiefs and was characterized as a reluctant warrior. In October at a major meeting at the White House he made his demands saying if we are going to throw the Iraqis out of Kuwait it will take half a million troops. Everybody gulped but President 41 Bush decided to go ahead with that. Powell knew he had done his duty and knew we would win with overwhelming force.

In this particular case he has persuaded the administration that they had to go through Congress and the U.N. and having done that he’s a loyal duty who has done his duty and will do his utmost tomorrow. Let me make one other point. Tomorrow is only the starting gun. No matter how brilliant his case’s argument is, we’re at the beginning of a long haul and it’s going to take a long time. We will win the war if there is a war but the peace will be very difficult in that regard we need to rally the international community if we are to win the peace.

GWEN IFILL: Bob Woodward you have written about and followed and covered Colin Powell over the years even when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until now. Has there been an evolution in his thinking or is he the same Colin Powell now that he was then?

BOB WOODWARD: If you talk to the people who deal with him every day, they say he has gotten tougher. When he was labeled the reluctant warrior during the Gulf War in his own autobiography which was a very big best seller he talked about that. Then he answered it in one word by saying guilty. War is a deadly game.

Then he goes on to talk about the role he played as chairman, as a military person. It’s his job to look out for the troops. That’s absolutely true. And then he says– and he has said this repeatedly– it’s a president’s job to decide whether to go to war. Now he has the diplomatic account. Indeed, I mean, we’ve had five or six months of diplomacy. President Bush, this President Bush, went with Powell’s argument of let’s give the U.N. a chance. As I understand it, Powell has… as I understand it, Powell has made it clear to President Bush and to the war cabinet that he will go with the president’s decision if that includes war.

GWEN IFILL: Where does he fit on the continuum in this administration from hawk to dove if there is a continuum like that?

BOB WOODWARD: Well, he’s go slow and at the same time he realizes that too much diplomacy, like too much of anything, can backfire. You need to negotiate from a position of ultimate strength. That’s why he was so furious at the French when they kind of tossed in their hand and said, “well, we really don’t want war. This isn’t going to lead to war.” He was running around saying, how stupid when you’re negotiating with Saddam Hussein, when you have the world together for one member or two members to say, well, now wait a minute, we want to negotiate, we want to back off. That was just sheer idiocy.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Tanter given what happened with the French and what’s happened with Colin Powell trying to find his place in this administration as a diplomat and a warrior, is he the credible figure he needs to be to make this case to the United Nations tomorrow.

RAYMOND TANTER: I think so, Gwen. What Colin Powell has done is set up a road map, if you will, to Baghdad. There are several exit ramps. This is one of the last exit ramps off of this road to Baghdad. It’s not as if Colin Powell were Saul, a Jew on the way… on the road to Damascus where he had an epiphany and he became a Christian. Powell hasn’t changed. He set up a course of diplomacy process — the end of which could be either peace if Saddam complies or the legitimate use of force if he fails to comply — he, Saddam Hussein.

GWEN IFILL: How many exits off that road to Damascus can you take before you finally let the hammer drop?

RAYMOND TANTER: Gwen, it’s the road to Baghdad.

GWEN IFILL: I know, the road to Baghdad. We’re mixing our metaphors but you get where I’m going.

RAYMOND TANTER: This is almost the end of the series of exits that Secretary Powell has set up. The president will determine, as Bob Woodward mentioned, when that last exit ramp has occurred.

GWEN IFILL: Gen. Wilson, does the president… does Secretary Powell become the pivotal person in this administration even after tomorrow? Or is tomorrow the key moment for the diplomat to speak?

GEN. JOHNNIE WILSON: I do believe, Gwen, that there will continue to be further consultations with our allies and coalition partners so I don’t think tomorrow is the last day. He will continue to be out front working with our partners.

GWEN IFILL: How does he work with Secretary Rumsfeld, for instance, if this becomes a military enterprise?

GEN. JOHNNIE WILSON: Sure, he can… they work together as you know in the past. I think Secretary Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney, who respects what Secretary Powell brings to the table in terms of advice. On the other hand, I think Secretary Powell is very careful not to interfere in terms of how they will orchestrate such an event.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Ullman, the Powell doctrine which is that you only use force when it is decisive and when it is in the defense of American interests, how does this situation comport with that doctrine?

HARLAN ULLMAN: Well, I think you’re going to see a very, very decisive use of force. According to what Ray just said we’re going 90 miles an hour. If we’re going to find an exit ramp we better put the brakes on real quick. I think we’re moving to war very quickly.

As I said earlier my concern is very much that winning the war is probably not going to be the main event. It’s what happens in the years and decades that follow. Here Powell has a huge role. I hope we’ll see an alternative to the Powell doctrine in war, something akin to the Marshall plan. After World War II George Marshall when he became secretary of state, the great warrior who helped to win World War II came up with a plan to rebuild Japan. I hope Powell will turn his energies to the reconstruction of that part of the world and try to improve stability because as I said we can win the war and not do very well in the peace.

GWEN IFILL: What about that, the Powell doctrine in this case?

BOB WOODWARD: Well, I think you see it in a practical sense being applied. We are sending enough force to make sure… and if you talk to the military people and the people who are in touch with this issue, we are certainly– and I’ve heard no one say that we’re sending insufficient force.

What’s interesting about Powell in terms of after tomorrow, after the… absolutely critical speech for him and the president is how useful Powell is at the table in the situation room when the National Security Council meets on war issues because of all of his military experience. And he likes to tell people and say, “well, I stay in my lane. I only talk about diplomacy.” This is a man who never stays in his lane. He knows a lot about it.

And if you look at the accounts of what happened in the war on Afghanistan, he’s always asking the questions. Rumsfeld will get up and say, “well, we’ve got Osama bin Laden bottled up.” Powell chimes in, “come on. You’ve got to be kidding. You can get out of Afghanistan in a jeep.”

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Tanter, we just saw that USA Today-Gallup Poll showing how popular Mr. Powell remains. Why is this? Not only domestically but also why is it that foreign governments look at him and say we can deal with him even when they say they can’t deal with the president?

RAYMOND TANTER: The French diplomats said to me we have to give Powell some concessions in order to keep him in the administration. A very useful position for Secretary Powell to be in.

GWEN IFILL: They think he might actually leave.

RAYMOND TANTER: They think he might actually leave and the president, as Bob Woodward has pointed out, wanted Colin Powell to use some of his enormous prestige. I think that the more prestige Powell uses up, it’s more like an investment because the French and others can’t let him fail. So I think that you’re going to have a successful outcome of the diplomatic process that Secretary Powell has set up.

GWEN IFILL: Gen. Wilson, Colin Powell doesn’t win every fight he takes on. He was the advocate for containment in this administration, in keeping Saddam Hussein in place — not necessarily regime change. That’s something you don’t hear him talk about anymore.

GEN. JOHNNIE WILSON: Again I think, Gwen, he has worked his way through all of the various roads to Baghdad. By doing to, in my opinion, he has allowed the military to deploy the appropriate force. So if the president now decides to pull the trigger, your military is prepared to do just that. So as I’ve watched this unfold, I think in a way it’s been very good that he has been the person in place. If not, we may have moved much earlier without the appropriate force.

HARLAN ULLMAN: Let’s not delude ourselves if I may, Gwen. I’ve just come back from a couple weeks in Europe. Our allies are extremely reluctant if you look at all the particular polls. Very few of them see the urgency. Nobody thinks that Saddam is a guy who doesn’t deserve to go. Lots of people don’t think we’ve given inspections sufficient amount of time.

I don’t think the evidence that Powell will present tomorrow or the president will present later will make the case for urgency even though Saddam is a villain, and so what’s going to have to happen overtime is we’ll have to continue to make the strongest possible case. There’s going to be an awful lot of work cut out not only for Powell but for the entire administration.

GWEN IFILL: Bob, when he hear Powell say what he just said in that taped piece “you can hang any label on me and I don’t care.” Does he not care?

BOB WOODWARD: I’m sure he doesn’t care at all. (Laughing) Of course he cares immensely but not about the label. I mean he’s practical. This is an ultimately practical man who will say, what will work? What’s the president’s goal? He’s keenly aware that the decision-maker is President Bush here, not him. And President Bush has made it clear that he will lead. He feels that the Europeans and the other reluctant warriors and nations in this, once we lead and accomplish something, everyone will fall in what he called the slip stream and get in line and applaud.

GWEN IFILL: How important is it that he bring new evidence to the table tomorrow in order to get people to fall into that slip stream?

BOB WOODWARD: I think it’s critical. My sense is it’s going to be quite a day tomorrow. I think there will be some surprises.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Tanter, Bob Woodward has suggested that in the end Colin Powell is a loyal soldier and even if he fights and disagrees that the disagreements will happen behind closed doors and he’ll salute when he has to. Is that your view?

RAYMOND TANTER: I fully agree. Secretary Powell is the reluctant warrior but he’s also the president’s man. I don’t see what the press sometimes plays up in this town, this internecine warfare between Secretary Powell and Secretary Rumsfeld.

BOB WOODWARD: Because it’s real. That’s why it gets played up. (Laughing) It’s not somebody’s imagination. I assure you.

RAYMOND TANTER: We’ll have to have another program, Bob, to get this thing straight.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s allow Bob to defend his reporting.

BOB WOODWARD: Well, I mean it’s a matter of record. I have the notes of the National Security Council meetings where you see them at each other all of the time. They’ve made it very clear. There are pictures of them. There’s even one in the new Time Magazine where it looks like Powell is being not the reluctant warrior when he’s trying to make a point to Rumsfeld.

HARLAN ULLMAN: That’s not unhealthy. I mean the fact of the matter is you’re going to have divergent views because nobody knows what the right answer is. I can make a strong case that urgency is not really needed. If I were in a senior position I would like to have different guidance, different positions argue them out and then come to a conclusion.

The interesting thing about this administration, despite the friction- – and Bob is quite right. There’s enormous friction going on also with other agencies — is that once they get the message they seem to get the message. Right now they’re operating on the same song sheet which is a good thing for American policy. That doesn’t always happen.

GWEN IFILL: We’ll all be watching that speech tomorrow. Thank you, gentlemen, for joining us.