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Former U.S. National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, both of whom dealt with Saddam during the Gulf War, say targeting him should be a separate issue from the current war on terrorism. Along with New York Times reporter Elaine Sciolino, they point to the political and military challenges in launching an offensive against Iraq.

James Baker

Former U.S. secretary of state in former President George H. W. Bush's administration
read the full interview
Now if you ask me should we attack Iraq, my answer to that would be, well first of all, let's see what the evidence shows, for instance, with respect to anthrax. We don't know yet. We don't have the evidence yet that's a direct link. We may get to the point where we need to do that in the war on terrorism.

In an interview, Jim Woolsey, former head of the CIA, said--

Jim Woolsey is not a policymaker.

No. But he said that there was incontrovertible evidence in 1993 that Saddam tried to kill your former boss, President Bush.

There's no doubt about that.

[And that] that's enough justification right there. He's a terrorist. He's an assassin. "Let's go in and get him."

... There may be enough evidence. But we need to approach these things in a way that will permit us to accomplish the goals we seek. What do you mean when you say attack Iraq? Throw some more bombs down on them? We've been doing that consistently since the end of the Gulf War. Fire some Tomahawk missiles in? Or really go in there with ground forces and everything else, and get the job done? That's a major undertaking that we need to think about.

Even though we know that Iraq is on our list of states that sponsor terrorism, we need to think it through carefully. We need to first conclude the action we've undertaken in Afghanistan, with respect to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, and then take the war on terrorism to its next stage. If that means going to Iraq, then maybe we do that. ...

Has there ever been a discussion about keeping Saddam in power, allowing him to stay in power, weakened, hobbled, but at least we wouldn't have to put up with chaos in Iraq, or danger of the Iranians intervening and any further danger to the Gulf? You know, we like it this way. He can't do very much.

Well, I don't recall a specific discussion to that effect. But I do know that we were not anxious to see a "Lebanization" of Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War. I think that was one policy consideration we had.

The Iraqi opposition people tell us that the United States has not backed, if you will, the imposition of democracy in Iraq because Saudi Arabia and other allies don't want to see a democratic secular regime.

I wouldn't buy that for a minute. There's never been democracy in Iraq. Are they talking about restoring democracy in Iraq? They've never had democracy.

They reflect back to 1957.

The Iraqi opposition has been totally fragmented for a long, long time. They fight as much with each other, unfortunately, as they do with Saddam. There was never any Iraqi opposition strong enough to have a reasonable chance of overthrowing that government.

Or of controlling the country after he was overthrown?

Absolutely of controlling the country after he was overthrown. If Saddam had been overthrown in the uprisings that followed the Gulf War, I think you would probably have ended up -- it's just my own personal view -- you probably would've ended up with a Kurdish north and a Shiite south, and a Sunni center.

The way it was under the Ottoman empire -- as separate provinces?

That's probably what would happen. ...

Brent Scowcroft

Former national security adviser in former President George H. W. Bush's administration
read the full interview
You've heard all the talk here in Washington about "We have to deal with Saddam Hussein now." Will that destroy the coalition?

Yes, virtually instantly.

Anything we do?

Well, not anything we do. It depends. If there's some smoking gun that turns up that he's absolutely culpable for this or that or the other ... But right now, the area is filled with suspicion of the United States.

You're talking about the Islamic world?

The Islamic world. And one of the sources of those suspicions is Iraq. Saddam has managed to get the view out that the Iraqi people are suffering because of the sanctions. In fact, they're suffering because Saddam Hussein doesn't use the income from the oil he sells to provide for his people. But that's the fact. So if we turn on Iraq now, it will look like we're just using Sept. 11 as an excuse to go after our favorite enemy.

Saddam has, in a sense, won the propaganda war by convincing people in the region that his people are suffering because of us, not because he's skimming the money?

Exactly. So we need to sort of reestablish the kind of confidence that the United States enjoyed a decade ago around the time of the Gulf War. And to do that, we need to prosecute the Afghan/Osama bin Laden part of this whole thing in a way which will demonstrate that we know what we're doing, that we do it carefully, not wildly and so on. Then we can look at other kinds of things. But right now it would be, yes, a disaster.

Would you need more evidence to justify attacking Saddam than exists already?

Well, to me right now, Saddam is a problem, but he is a separate problem. ... It is not at all clear that he is a part of a global terrorist network, which is what we're focusing on.

I thought President Bush said in his speech that, "Either you're for us or against us. ... Anyone who harbors terrorists, or fosters their activity," and he meant terrorists in general. Doesn't Saddam qualify?

We've got to be looking at priorities here. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden have one thing in common, and that is they both hate the United States. Otherwise, they have very little in common.

As a matter of fact, my guess is, if it weren't for the United States, Osama bin Laden would turn on Saddam Hussein. Why? Because Saddam Hussein is the head of a Ba'athist party -- a secular, socialist party. He is anathema to the kind of world that Osama bin Laden wants to reinstall. So he's part of the problem; he's not part of the solution. That doesn't mean they can't cooperate, and might not cooperate. But what I'm saying is we need to get our priorities straight, and we've got to them straight right now. We're going after number one target.

Iraq could turn out to be number two, but there are a lot of other candidates. Hezbollah, for example, is a global terrorist network, which has attacked the United States and U.S. interests before. How about that? ... We need to be skillful about this. We need to use scalpels, not sledgehammers.

Jim Woolsey says that Saddam's attempted assassination of [former President] George Bush was enough to justify going after Saddam.

Then we should have gone after him in 1994.

We sent a cruise missile there and it blew up a building.

It blew up an empty building at two o'clock in the morning. Right. Is that what we want to do now? We can blow up another building. Nobody has said what going after Saddam really means. What does it mean? Five-hundred-thousand troops again based in a Saudi Arabia that would not accept them now? What does going after Saddam mean?

We are told, however, by a Mr. Hamza -- who used to be a nuclear scientist in Iraq -- that if we don't do something very quickly, in a couple of years we're going to wind up having to deal with somebody who has weapons of mass destruction, who has had no inspections now for three years, and [who] has motivation and the means to come after us.

That's quite possible.

So how long do we wait?

But that ought to be distinguished from global terrorism. That is something we can deal with, because that is a state actor. That is not state-supported terrorism. That is a state actor. He's already working on missiles. If he develops nuclear weapons to go with them, and then uses them to blackmail, I'd take him out, clearly. But that's a different war, in a sense, than what we're fighting now.

...

Is the Iraqi National Congress a viable alternative to Saddam?

I don't know whether it's a viable alternative. But it's certainly not a viable means to get there. ... It is weak, disparate, riven with disputes -- probably unattractive to almost anyone inside or out.

Elaine Sciolino

Reporter for The New York Times and author of a book on Saddam Hussein and the Gulf crisis
read the full interview
What's the argument that Colin Powell makes against targeting Iraq?

Colin Powell is now secretary of state. And what do you do as secretary of state? You try to build coalitions; you try to make friends. And it's not in Colin Powell's interest to make an enemy of the Saudis or the other Gulf Arab states.

The question is, can any kind of coalition be sustained if the United States makes a unilateral decision to use military force to oust Saddam Hussein? Would the French be on the United States' side? Would the Russians be on the United States' side? Both the French and Russians have opposed the U.S. sanction policy vis-à-vis Iraq. Would the Saudis?

There are some that say that there could be large problems from the Arab nations if we go to attack Iraq, that it would blow apart the coalition. Why? They've wanted us to go after him before; we didn't succeed to the level that people expected. Now here's another opportunity. Why do we worry? Why do the Saudis and others seem to have a problem now with taking that direction up again?

The Saudis still have a problem, because I don't think they know that the United States can actually get Saddam Hussein. And what happens if you don't? What happens if you go in and use American military power and even occupy southern Iraq with ground troops, and Saddam Hussein is still sitting in his palace? ...

So they're worried that the United States does not have the capability of ever finishing the job?

And also, what's next? I remember an op-ed piece that Al Gore wrote years ago that was based on a speech, in which he said that it wasn't enough to just get rid of Saddam Hussein; you had to get rid of the whole Ba'ath Party structure. Saddam Hussein is one person; but there is a whole extraordinary power structure and intelligence structure that has endured in that country for decades.

What happens to that structure? Does the United States overturn that entire structure? Does the United States plan to stay as an occupying power in southern Iraq? Is there an alternative to Saddam Hussein? And is it an alternative that the United States can live with?

...

And there's also the other question of, can the Iraqi National Congress govern Iraq? There is a lively debate in the administration about whether that is possible. There are many people in the State Department, the White House, even the Pentagon, and increasingly in Congress that have become disillusioned with the Iraqi National Congress as a viable alternative. Other people would disagree. People in the Pentagon, the civilians such as Mr. Wolfowitz and some of his aides, believe very strongly that the Iraqi National Congress and its leadership is a viable alternative. ...

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