And what were they asking for?
... President Clinton whacked Iraq, but it wasn't as robust as everyone
expected. ... There was a perception that the United States was going to go for
it now, and actually oust Saddam Hussein. It didn't happen. There was a lot of
criticism of the Clinton administration, that it had used its political
capital, used its goodwill with the allies, but hadn't gone all the way. So
this prompted a number of people, national security experts in the country, to
say, "Why did we do this, and shouldn't we be doing more?"
In the last couple of years, people- -- real defense intellectuals, like Paul
Wolfowitz, when he was at Johns Hopkins and Richard Perle -- have articulated
an even more robust policy, which is a scenario by which the United States
would actually use robust air strikes, seize the southern part of Iraq, put in
American ground troops, and install an opposition government in the south.
Squeeze the center, because we have a lot of control over the north. And that
eventually Saddam would fall. ...
In your point of view, and what you had known from folks in the
administration that, before September 11, there was a rethinking about what to
do about Iraq, and trying to figure out how to deal more forcefully with
Yes. Even before September 11, there was a debate in the administration about
whether or not military force should be used to oust Saddam Hussein. You're not
going to find one person in the top echelons of the foreign policy and national
security establishment in the U.S. government who's going to say that Saddam
Hussein should not be out of power. There's consensus that Saddam should go,
and Iraq would be a lot better off, and the region would be a lot better off
with a different leadership. The question is how to do it. And that's where
there is not agreement. ...
How does September 11 change the debate?
September 11 changes the debates because the president says, "We are fighting
terrorism. We are going to eradicate terrorism. This is a war. And Al Qaeda is
only the first step." So the logical question after that is, who's next? And
who's next? Iraq is next. Iraq may or may not be next because of September 11,
but it provides an opportunity to use September 11 to finish the business that
wasn't finished ten years ago.
What's the argument that Colin Powell makes against targeting Iraq as number
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
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? I don't know; I don't think so.
There's universal agreement now that Al Qaeda is the target for now. The
president resolved the immediate debate in taking Iraq off the table and
basically saying, we are working on Al Qaeda now, and everything else comes
next. One of the most visible signs that Iraq is not on the table now, in my
estimation, was when Vice President Cheney got on television and when he was
asked, "Is there any evidence of Iraqi complicity in September 11?" he said
very clearly, "No." He didn't say, "We're looking at all angles." He didn't
say, "There will be other targets down the road." He didn't say, "We are
leaving our options open." He said, "No." And that was a clear signal.
It doesn't mean that other people in the administration aren't still trying to
keep this debate alive -- they are. And that's part of the problem. ...
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
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
So in the end, they're worried about the fact 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
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?
There's another point of view. The Iraqi National Congress (INC) sort of
states the problem is that the Saudis and others don't want to see a democratic
Iraq because then that example is set up and they don't look too good, and it
could give them a problem. What's your take on sort of that message being put
I don't think Iraq could be transformed overnight into a democracy. How can you
take a country that doesn't have any kind of tradition of democracy, where its
people have been brutalized and repressed for decades, and suddenly impose
Jeffersonian ideals? I just think it's more than wishful thinking to think that
suddenly if Saddam Hussein were gone, that the Iraqi National Congress could
take over the leadership and turn this country around. ... Democracy takes a
long, long time. So I would argue that Iraq is a long way off from getting to
that point, no matter who is in power.
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 Iraq 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 Iraq National Congress and its
leadership is a viable alternative.
In fact, the Iraqi National Congress was invited to the Defense Policy Board
meetings. What is the significance of that?
... There are people in the State Department on Capitol Hill that referred to
what is going on in the Pentagon as "the cabal," that there is a group in the
Pentagon aligned with some people outside of government that is absolutely
determined to lay the groundwork for a strategy to get Saddam out with the use
of American military troops.
And so how does the INC fit into that scheme?
According to the scenario -- and I'm not the person making this policy or
laying out the strategy, but the way it has been explained to me -- the United
States would use airstrikes and ground troops to take over the south. It would
take over the oilfields. The money from the oil would be used to fund the
government in the south, which would be run by the Iraqi National Congress.
It would largely be the same area that the United States occupied during the
1991 war. The autonomous region in the north, where the Kurds are, would be on
the side of the south. The middle of the country, the Sunni middle, would be
squeezed. And that with this pressure from both sides, eventually Saddam would
be weakened and be overthrown, or would fall one way or another.
But I think what is illustrated by the two days of the Defense Policy Board
meetings is that an advisory board was doing its job, it was debating a lot of
policies, including Iraq policy. But if the Defense Policy Board met with all
of its luminaries, from Henry Kissinger to James Schlesinger, to former
Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, and if the Iraqi National Congress was
invited to those meetings, and the State Department wasn't informed, or the
White House wasn't informed, then it's not a well-functioning policy, because
all arms of government should be coordinating. This is war.
How influential is the Defense Policy Board?
The Defense Policy Board is only an advisory board, and it has no power. Even
if it gives advice, the advice doesn't have to be taken. I can't point to any
policy decision that was ever made in the Pentagon that came from the Defense
Policy Board, although there may have been some.
But the Defense Policy Board is a group of luminaries. These are the leading
figures in national security and defense in the country. It's also bipartisan.
So if this group agreed on a strategy to use military force against Saddam
Hussein, it would not just be a group of conservative Republicans in the
Defense Department saying this should be the policy; it's leading figures from
both the Democratic and Republican side of the fence agreeing.
If the Defense Policy Board came up with a strategy to oust Saddam Hussein, it
gives extraordinary weight to that point of view, because of the people who are
on that board. They're the leading lights of the national security
establishment in the country, and the bipartisan... If the Defense Policy Board
agreed to oust Saddam Hussein by this policy of seizing southern Iraq, it would
give extraordinary weight to so-called Wolfowitz argument.
You keep saying "if." What did happen?
They didn't agree. One person who's very senior in the administration told me
that there was full agreement and the Defense Policy Board signed on to this
plan, to occupy the south with American ground troops use fighter jets in a
robust air campaign.
And then I went up and down the Defense Policy Board and called as many of them
as I could. And they said, "We didn't agree. We talked, but we made no
recommendation. We don't really make recommendations for policy. We didn't
agree." Some people said, "We won't talk about it all."
And that was interesting, because when people say... When you go to people and
you say, "I understand you agreed on x, y and z," and they say, "I'm not going
to talk about it," and they don't say to you, "I wouldn't go that far, you
know. I would steer you away from it," you start thinking maybe they did
In fact, there were even a couple of stories in the press that suggested that
there had been agreement on this plan. But I couldn't find that they agreed on
it. In fact, I had one member of the Defense Policy Board saying, "We think
we're being used."
So then what's the relevance of the entire event if, in fact, this great
group of luminaries never really agreed at all?
You're laying the groundwork. This might not be the last meeting of the Defense
Policy Board. And also, if these people, such as Henry Kissinger or Harold
Brown, or James Schlesinger have been exposed to the leaders of the Iraqi
National Congress, and if they're impressed, then even though there's no formal
recommendation to the secretary of defense, the Iraqi National Congress has
been elevated and has more credibility.
What's happening here? Sure, there's a debate. People have different points
of view. But how does this lead towards policy eventually?
OK, let me say it this way. If things are going well, it's kind of like "Swan
Lake," when all the swans come out and they're all dancing the exact same
thing, and they're all moving beautifully together. Everything works together.
And everybody thinks we're on the same team. ... And I have been told that the
State Department people who work this part of the world weren't even informed
that the Defense Policy Board met for this long a time to discuss Iraq, and
certainly not that members of the Iraqi National Congress were there.
Now, is that a betrayal? No, it's not a betrayal. There's no requirement that
the Pentagon tells the State Department, "This is what we're doing." But in
this climate, in which the United States is at war, I would argue that -- I
wouldn't even argue, the State Department people would argue -- that every bit
of information you have should be shared, and that there shouldn't be
inter-agency rivalries over something that's so important.
Are there Machiavellian sort of maneuvers being made at this point? I mean,
is that what this is all about -- who wins out in the end?
I don't know how much this is personal; I really don't. All I can do is talk to
as many people as I can, and try to figure out who knows what and what it
means. And is it important or not?
And when I have senior people in the administration saying that they have not
seen this kind of dissension and backhandedness, and backroom kind of
maneuvering since the end of the Reagan administration, when you had those
terrible debates between Schultz and Weinberger, it's just not good. It's not
good for the American people. ...
If there was going to be one piece of evidence, or one part of this debate
that was going to be laid on George Bush's desk so that he would make the
definitive decision to go at Iraq, what would it be? From the debate that's
going on, what seems to be the piece of the pie that people are [going to] say,
"This is it?"
If there were some sort of intercept that linked Iraq directly to the operation
on September 11, that changes everything. And the president might make the
determination that there had to be military action now against Iraq. If there
were evidence that Iraq was involved in these anthrax attacks, there might a
military operation against Iraq. But in the absence of hard evidence of current
Iraqi involvement in September 11 and post-September 11 terrorism, the debate
is whether or not Saddam Hussein has to be dealt with, or should be dealt with
How has the anthrax attacks changed this debate?
Saddam Hussein is believed to have a supply of chemical and biological weapons.
Iraq has prevented United Nations weapons inspectors from going into the
country for several years. So that there has been no independent kind of check
on what Saddam Hussein is doing with weapons of mass destruction. ... The
anthrax attacks obviously came from somewhere. Some person, or some government,
or some group had access to anthrax. And Iraq has access to biological weapons.
So one can say that perhaps Iraq was behind the anthrax attacks. I don't know
if there's any evidence of that, but that is an argument that is being made.
Why would Saddam Hussein be so crazy to do this? I mean, things are working
in his direction. The French and the Russians are sort of singing his praises
in the United Nations. The embargo seems to be sort of near the end. Why does
this make any sense at all? Why do the people in the Pentagon sort of even
assume this? Shouldn't Saddam Hussein be basically at home knitting and trying
to be a good boy at this point? Why do we think not?
The difficulty with Iraq, and the difficulty with Saddam Hussein, is that even
after all these years, the United States has limited intelligence on Saddam
Hussein and his motives, even on the state of his health. And we ask the same
question -- why did Saddam Hussein invade Iran in 1980? Why did Saddam Hussein
invade Kuwait in 1990? It didn't seem to make sense. Why did he occupy all of
Kuwait, when maybe he could have gotten away with just taking a little bit of
the oilfield, the main oilfield near Iraq? Why didn't he pull out of Kuwait
before the United States led a military coalition against him?
And it's because we couldn't answer those questions, or we answered them wrong,
that we have to ask the same question now -- why would Saddam Hussein be so
stupid to, at this moment in time, send anthrax-laced letters throughout the
United States? He's got the French on his side. He's got the Russians on his
side. Sanctions are degraded or unraveling. And he's sitting in Baghdad, still
in power. It doesn't make sense. But Saddam Hussein often doesn't make sense.
What's Jim Woolsey's role in all this? ...
Jim Woolsey, the former director of Central Intelligence, has taken an
extremely active role in the anti-Saddam strategy. He was one of the
signatories of the letter from the late 1990s that promoted a much more
vigorous campaign against Saddam Hussein. And he's also a brilliant lawyer. And
he sort of has put together a case against Saddam Hussein, regardless of
Saddam Hussein probably tried to assassinate former President George Bush.
Saddam Hussein does have weapons of mass destruction. One doesn't even have to
make a legal argument about why he might be overthrown. ...
insert question about evidence link of Iraq to terroristm
You can find terrorist links to just about anyone. For heaven sakes, you've got
Iranians in Lebanon, you've got the Syrians helping Iran send weapons to
Hezbollah in Lebanon, you've got Hezbollah in Lebanon maybe having contacts
with Al Qaeda. Does this mean the United States is going to bomb Syria and
Iran? I don't think so.
So then why the focus on Iraq?
The focus on Iraq is larger. The focus on Iraq is that Iraq is a bad player.
Saddam Hussein is the United States' enemy. Saddam Hussein should be
overthrown. Even if there's not a link to September 11, there is other ample
evidence that Saddam Hussein is a terrorist -- that he terrorizes his own
people; that he potentially terrorizes his neighbors; and that he should be
part of the war on terror.
This isn't my view. This is as best as I can define it the view of the
But this debate is depending upon quote, unquote, "evidence" linking Saddam
Hussein to terrorism. What is the real evidence? What holds water here?
I don't know what holds water; I really don't. ... In the camp that says you
should whack Saddam militarily, there are two points of view. One point of view
is that there is enough evidence against Saddam Hussein, regardless of what
happened on September 11, to get him.
The other point of view is September 11 gives you the vehicle, or the way, or
the justification to get Saddam Hussein, because this is a war against all
The problem is, is the evidence any good? Is the evidence against Iraq and the
World Trade Center bombing in 1993 good enough? Is the evidence that Iraq was
behind the assassination attempt against George Bush, the father, good enough?
Is there enough other evidence that Iraq has training camps in its territory?
That's something that's going to have to be judged by the administration as it
moves from phase one to phase two.
Is there another side that sort of says, "The evidence isn't good enough and
we haven't gotten there, folks. And what we really need to do at this point is
research the past so that we have a better understanding of the directions we
From what I'm told, the Colin Powell point of view, and the president of the
United States' point of view, is, "Wow, we're dealing with Osama bin Laden and
Al Qaeda now. When we're finished there, we will look at the evidence and see
whether there is enough evidence. But there is not enough evidence now to
prosecute this war against Iraq. This is not a war on two fronts right now.
It's a war on one front, and one step at a time."
Is there anything that might change that immediately so that tomorrow
morning, your front-page article in the New York Times is, "We are now
at war with Iraq?"
If Saddam Hussein's fingerprints are on one of those letters filled with
anthrax, then all bets are off. And I wouldn't be surprised if the United
States started bombing Baghdad tomorrow.
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