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WPA poster of Statue of Liberty
3.14.03
Politics and Economy:
Transcript: Bill Moyers Talks with Jessica Tuchman Mathews
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Jessica Tuchman Mathews Transcript

MOYERS: You have been through many a crisis in your long active political life. What's unique about this one?

MATHEWS: I've never seen the United States having invested so much of its political clout in attempting to bring the rest of the world to its view. I have never seen it fail in that respect to anything like this.

I don't think anybody has ever really seen something like what's happened at the UN the last three to four weeks where we have tried every carrot and every threat in the book, and so far we haven't moved a single vote. In fact, we've moved a couple against us.

MOYERS: How do you explain the fact that Turkey, one of the only two democracies in the Middle East, we can't even buy their vote, we the United States government can't even bribe them?

MATHEWS: Well, you just explained why when you said it's a democracy. Ninety-three percent of the Turkish people are against the war and against Turkish participation in it. Would we the United States imagine doing anything that 93 percent of our people were opposed to? It's unthinkable. It's unthinkable.

And then the part of the price of democracy is very often you get a result you don'tů that we, the U.S., may not like. It's much easier to deal with an autocratic government.

MOYERS: How would you have us deal with Saddam Hussein?

MATHEWS: Well, if you're asking how could it have been done versus what we can do today, those are two questions.

MOYERS: Would have been, should been. I mean...

MATHEWS: Should have been done is we should have first said explicitly and at the presidential level, limited our goal to getting rid of weapons of mass destruction, for two reasons.

One is, in order to create unity with the other major powers — but the other reason is that you don't stand a prayer of having inspections work unless you convince Saddam that your goal is disarmament and not regime change — because unless you do that he has every incentive to keep those weapons and every incentive...disincentive to comply, because if he knows he's going to face an invasion anyway, why would he...why would he submit to inspections?

MOYERS: You are nobody's fool, Jessica Tuchman Mathews. You've studied this issue and this problem more than anyone else I know who's not now in government, and maybe more than anybody who is in government. Do you think Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction?

MATHEWS: Well, we know he has chemical weapons, and we know he has some biological agent at least and probably some of it is weaponized. And I think we pretty well know that he does not have nuclear. I think we also know that he wants to have all three.

MOYERS: Is he a threat to us by the indirect means of providing instruments of destruction and financial support to terrorists, suicide bombers and others?

MATHEWS: I don't think so. First of all, to give weapons of mass destruction to people he can't control — which is the definition of a terrorist — is a really rash act and one that you are unlikely to do unless you have no other options.

I mean, these cases are if not unknown exceedingly rare. It's just, why would a man who is a control freak over every tiny thing in his kingdom hand over his crown jewels to a bunch of crazy guys he doesn't control? Our intelligence agency — and the CIA says this openly — doesn't believe he would do that, and I don't think he'd do that. And I think most people don't...most people who've studied him firmly...I mean, closely.

The other part of this of course is who those terrorists are. And this is the most, this is the weakest part of the US argument. There is no strong evidence of a connection between Saddam and Al-Qaida, as you really would not expect there to be — because this is a secular ruler who has persecuted Islamists in his own country.

MOYERS: You make a convincing case but the President of the United States keeps saying there is a link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida. I mean, you're putting yourself up against the President of the United States.

MATHEWS: He...well, I guess I am, but I'm certainly not alone. I mean, the overwhelming view of people that have tried to examine this evidence is that it's extremely flimsy and circumstantial.

MOYERS: What's at stake?

MATHEWS: Ultimately...I mean, I think it's gotten a lot bigger than Iraq. Now the nature of the...or, the depth of the breach in the transatlantic relationship is at stake. How are we going to repair relations with Germany and France?

The role of the Security Council is at stake. And we may want to turn to the Security Council almost immediately for help both in the region itself on the North Korean crisis, on the Iranian nuclear crisis which is just around the corner. And we may be left with a United Nations whose central body is in tatters.

And finally, it's about the role of the United States in the world and the question of whether we have abandoned a notion of how we ought to act and how we want to act that has been built over 50 years.

MOYERS: But there is a school of thought in this country that says the demise of the United Nations is a welcome benefit, side benefit to this, that there are a lot of people who just believe the United Nations has become the league of nations: impotent, ineffective, a burden to the United States in trying to defend freedom...

MATHEWS: Yeah.

MOYERS: ...and democracy.

MATHEWS: I think there are two things to say about that. First of all, we could see it's not the league because what we've seen here is that it is the body that confers legitimacy. Why did we go there? Because we felt we needed that legitimacy, and the American public wanted it.

And it is particularly in a world that has global media, that becomes enormously important. And in an funny way, this debate I think rather than...than revealing the weakness of the UN has revealed its strengths in the system — not its operational strengths, obviously, but its political and...strengths in conferring legitimacy and in being able to create a sense of international will.

The other thing that is, that you know I think a basic rule is you don't go around breaking things unless you know what you're going to put in their place. And what do we have to put in place of the system of rules and international institutions that we built up starting in 1945?

MOYERS: Isn't it what some people would like? I mean, look, this administration has, for reasons it has stated, withdrawn from one international agreement and understanding of multilateral cooperation after another from the Kyoto Treaty on global climate to the ABM treaty with the Soviet Union. I mean, this seems to be a government that is more interested in going it alone in the world.

MATHEWS: Yes, and I think they are seeing what the costs...some of the costs of doing that are.

MOYERS: Such as...?

MATHEWS: Well, such as the fact that there is such anti-Americanism around the world.

I mean, think of this. In the last year there have been elections in four countries on four continents where the major issue has been anti Americanism. And these are major countries, countries important to us: Brazil, Germany, South Korea and Pakistan.

Now, in any year that would be shocking, but in the year after 9/11 when the whole world kind of wrapped its arms around us and we were the recipient of such good feeling and empathy, to be where that outcome is tells us something is very wrong.

We also know that we've got a dozen goals in the world that can't be achieved except with broad international cooperation...

MOYERS: Such as...

MATHEWS: Well, such as environment, global climate is one. Such as controlling weapons of mass destruction. It cannot be done with military force.

Then all you can do is police the result, but you can't stop the spread unless all the potential experts are cooperating and are with you in a regime. Such as controlling corruption, money laundering, the drug trade.

MOYERS: Terrorism.

MATHEWS: Terrorism. Disease, HIV, AIDS. I mean, you can go on with this list almost...not forever, but for a very long time.

MOYERS: Still some people would say we've been dealing through the United Nations with that, and look, we have all these problems anyway.

MATHEWS: Well, but we have also had a great many triumphs and...through international cooperation and a lot of things that underlie global prosperity. The World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, things that do control disease, that do control... that give us the global weather service, that underlies our economic life, underlies our quality of living, underlies and makes possible economic development in poorer countries without which you are soon to be, you know, a tiny island of privilege in a mass of angry suffering.

So it is, in my view, shortsighted in the incredible extreme to think that our military power is enough to give us the kind of global order that we want and the kind of world we want to live in absent these international institutions and alliances which are, yes, occasionally constraining.

MOYERS: I believe the President would say given his record that the only way to promote democracy is for the United States to use its power, to use its might, to use the will that he has and others around him to bring dictators to heel, to impose order where there's only chaos. I think he actually believes that this is a step towards democracy potentially in the Middle East. Don't you?

MATHEWS: I find it...[SIGHS AUDIBLY] I find it hard to believe that because it seems to...it's so obvious that the result would be the opposite. Right? I mean, what do we know about the immediate consequence that this war is going to be a recruiting took for Al-Qaida. So right away we know that.

We know that it is going to fan the flames of the Arab sense of humiliation and anger and rage, and that a lot of people will be further disgusted with their governments who are unable they feel to hold off this sense of invasion of their space and their region.

So what will happen? Those governments will have to respond with increased repression. We've seen it already, right? Why have we not seen public protests in the Middle East of all places to this war as we've seen all over the rest of the world? Because those governments don't let them happen.

So you will get not increased democratization in the short term; you'll get increased repression. So then how...what is the nature of this magical leap that gets made from autocratic repressive governments faced with, let's say, best case, a peaceful take over in Iraq...in Iraq, Iraq becoming kind of a mo—...not a democracy, I don't even think you can...but, a representative government with economic renewal.

That the problem is not that Arabs don't recognize the end point that they want to get to; the problem is getting from here to there and you know, from a...from an autocratic retrograde repressive government and the only public opposition, organized opposition being Islamist.

So what are we offering as the model for how to get from here to there? A U.S. invasion. Well, if you're sitting in Cairo or Algiers or Damascus, that does not look like a particularly attractive model.

So I find it hard to believe that anyone seriously thinks or has thought through that there is a way that this war could lead to, no matter how successful in its military phase, could result in a democratic transformation of the Middle East. I think that the sort of facts on the ground tell you that it's likely to be the opposite.

MOYERS: Yes. But victory makes orphans of a lot of pessimists, and if Saddam Hussein's troops capitulate...

MATHEWS: Yes.

MOYERS: ...if the Americans walk in so to speak, what happens?

MATHEWS: Well, at least short term a lot of people are going to be saying, you see? I told you so. Right? That we should have done this, we shouldn't have fooled around for a year, we should have gone sooner.

It will confirm in a lot of people's view the notion that we should launch an active global crusade on behalf of what we think governments...which government should be in power where.

The question is when do you decide you've had a victory? Is it in the shooting phase or is it in the political reconstruction phase? And how long will it take for people...for us to see that there has been victory in the political restruction phase, which everybody has been saying for a long time is the harder task.

MOYERS: The building of democracy in a place like Iraq?

MATHEWS: Or even representative government. Or even national cohesion and an able and humane and somewhat representative government.

If you could do that then it would be a victory. I...right now the US plan is a plan for military occupation; it is not a plan for political reconstruction. It explicitly forbids, for example, the participation of political groups in Iraq, all of which need to be knitted together if you're going to get the result of a representative government.

Instead it simply allows the participation of a few hand-picked Iraqis that we allow to come serve on an Iraqi consultative council. We have no plan for political reconstruction now; we may be able to eventually produce one. But it's a huge challenge. And right now we're just looking at a plan for military occupation.

So the first question is how long...until when do you wait to declare victory? And will the coming apart of things politically if that happens be something that Americans can see to have connected to this.

If the Pakistani government falls, for example, and is replaced by a much more radical government that gives us...which is a nuclear armed one, remember, which could easily become Islamist, that would be a huge cost of this war, enormous. And an enormous cost to the war on terror.

MOYERS: It is your conviction tonight that the Bush administration does not want a compromise, they want the war.

MATHEWS: I think that's where we are now, yes.

MOYERS: Thank you very much.


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