The War Behind Closed Doors
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interview: john lewis gaddis
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Gaddis is the Robert A. Lovett professor of military and naval history at Yale University and the author, most recently, of The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past (Oxford, 2002). In this interview, he discusses how the Bush administration's National Security Strategy [released September 2002] represents a sweeping transformation in U.S. foreign policy. Gaddis also places some of NSS's key elements -- preemption, American hegemony, a willingness to act alone, if necessary -- in historical context and assesses the current U.S. drive toward regime change in Iraq and how this fits into a larger grand strategy. This interview was conducted on Jan. 16, 2003.

The National Security Strategy (NSS) that the Bush administration released in September 2002, you describe it as a "grand strategy." Why is it a grand strategy?

... First of all, it responds to a crisis. And it is crises that generally generate grand strategies. So, just as the grand strategy that won World War II came out of the Pearl Harbor surprise attack, so this one did as well. This is not surprising that there would be a rethinking of grand strategic assumptions in the wake of something like the 9/11 attack.

I don't think that the general public completely understands the magnitude...the sweep of the Bush strategy. I don't think anybody understands what the costs of it may be.

Secondly, I think it's a grand strategy in the sense that it is comprehensive. It does not simply break up the world into regions and say that we have an approach for this region and an approach for that region, but these don't necessarily interconnect. I think that was often the tendency in the Clinton administration, a bunch of parts that did not completely add to a whole. And I think that this strategy does, in that sense.

I think it's also a grand strategy in the sense that it has both short-term and long-term objectives. This grand strategy is actually looking toward the culmination of the Wilsonian project of a world safe for democracy, even in the Middle East. And this long-term dimension of it, it seems to me, goes beyond what we've seen in the thinking of more recent administrations. It is more characteristic of the kind of thinking, say, that the Truman administration was doing at the beginning of the Cold War -- thinking not only about, what do we have to do tomorrow and what do we have to do next week? But, where do we want to come out at the end of this process? So, that's why I think it qualifies as a grand strategy.

And how is it an historic shift?

The Bush strategy is an historic shift for American foreign policy because it really is the first serious American grand strategy since containment in the early days of the Cold War. We went through the Cold War, the Cold War ended, and we got into a new situation without a grand strategy. We didn't really devise a grand strategy in the early '90s in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. And that's not terribly surprising. We didn't do that either in the immediate aftermath of World War I. We went through the entire 1920s and even the 1930s without a coherent grand strategy. But the shock of Pearl Harbor forced us to devise one. And the shock of 9/11 did something like that as well.

And I would argue that the Bush grand strategy is the most fundamental reshaping of American grand strategy that we've seen since containment, which was articulated back in 1947.

Without an event like 9/11, could something this dramatic have been possible from any administration, or this administration specifically?

No. I think it took a shock like 9/11 to produce something that was this dramatic. Sooner or later, yes, we would have evolved policies to deal with a post-Cold War world. But I have to say that 10 years into the post-Cold War era, there was very little sign of a comprehensive grand strategy. There were strategies toward particular countries and with regard to particular issues, but very little effort to pull it altogether. 9/11 forced us basically to get our grand strategic act together. And that is the way it normally happens, it seems to me, in history.

How has the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction factored into the creation of this new National Security Strategy?

I think that proliferation of weapons of mass destruction changes the situation that we face in two different ways. There are two kinds of weapons of mass destruction. There is the kind that we have always worried about: nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. That concern surely was there at the time that the Soviet Union fell apart some 12 years ago with regards to their weapons, and it's been there ever since. Nothing particularly new about that.

The other kind of weapons of mass destruction -- and this was the great surprise -- is that they turned out also to be box cutters and [people] sitting in airliners. These were not the kinds of weapons of mass destruction that we had anticipated or had been thinking about in the past. And that confronted us with the fact that we simply cannot take for granted our own domestic security.

The Bush administration's NSS represents an evolution of thinking. Describe how we got this doctrine, where it came from.

I think the history of this particular doctrine does go back to one particular individual. This is Paul Wolfowitz in his service in the first Bush administration and the defense review that was taking place in the last years of the first Bush administration, which Wolfowitz basically authored -- a doctrine of American hegemony; a doctrine in which the United States would seek to maintain a position that it came out of the Cold War with, in which there were no obvious or plausible challengers to the United States.

That was considered quite shocking in 1992; so shocking, in fact, that the first Bush administration disavowed it. But I think that indeed it did become the basis of that administration's thinking. I think tacitly it was the basis of the Clinton administration's thinking. I think ever since then, there has been either explicitly or implicitly the sense that we have to hang on to this remarkable position of preeminence that we have in the world. So that's one strain that has given rise to the Bush strategy here.

I think that the second [strain] has to do with the thinking that has evolved both in academic circles and in official circles about the causes of terrorism in the first place. The more the experts have thought about this, the more they've come around to the view that the terrorism that we see is not the result necessarily of poverty or injustice. Poverty and injustice exist in a lot of different places in the rest of the world, but the citizens of those places don't all get into airplanes and fly them into buildings. There's something that has happened in the Middle East.

I think the sense is that the persistence of authoritarian regimes in that part of the world -- more than in any other single part of the world, this is the one part of the world that has not democratized -- has led to a sense of resentment on the part of young men, particularly, in that population. No doubt [it has led to] a sense of resentment on the part of everybody, but [it's] the young men who tend to act, who tend to be prone to being recruited into terrorist organizations, animated by religious radicalism. So the sense has come around -- and I think this was happening even before 9/11 -- to the argument that the real problem is the persistence of authoritarian regimes in that part of the world. And that ultimately, if you're going to solve a problem of terrorism, you have to solve the problem of authoritarianism.

So, paradoxically, we have come around in a Republican administration to the sense that the task of this country, the great task of the early 21st century, really has got to be to complete the task that Woodrow Wilson started at the beginning of the 20th century and that is democratization. Because only democratization leads to a system that can accommodate the different desires of different groups and prevent this kind of frustration from developing.

Why did the first Bush administration reject the Wolfowitz draft back in 1992? Why was it thought to be so dramatic, so surprising?

Well, in the context of the first Bush administration, we're talking about 1991, we're talking about the successful coalition in the Gulf War -- a remarkable coalition effort carried out with U.N. support.

We're also talking about a period at that point when there was closer cooperation among all the great powers than we had seen in a very long time indeed. And I think it was simply considered a little too sensitive for the United States to be saying in that context that it wanted to continue to be the greatest of great powers, far greater than any of the other powers. And in that context, still a very new idea and considered pretty shocking.

As we went through the 1990s, one of the things that we saw is that there were no other contenders out there who were likely to succeed in challenging the United States. The United States came out of the 1990s, if anything, in an even greater position of hegemony and preeminence than it was at the beginning of the 1990s. And after a while, it seems to me, people came around to the view that maybe the world is getting used to this, maybe we are getting used to this kind of relationship. By the end of the 1990s, I think, we had begun to get used to it. And more important, I think, the rest of the world, to some extent, had begun to get used to it.

Explain that. You write in your recent Foreign Policy article that the world, to some extent, approves of American hegemony. How so?

I think the world in part approves of American hegemony if you ask what the alternatives are. If you just say, "Do you approve of American hegemony?" probably people are going to say, "No." Then if you ask the next question, "Well, what would you put in its place? Would you put the old balance of power system in its place?" A lot of people would say, "No," because that would mean that the Europeans and the Chinese and the Russians would have to beef up their military budgets to a considerable extent at a time when they're interested in economic development. So maybe the balance of power system is not a very good alternative.

So, would you then go to the United Nations and say, "We rely on the United Nations to run the world?" Don't hold your breath on that. So that's a problem, you see. And you run through the various alternatives. Is anarchy an alternative? Well, not a very good one. So I think it's more the lesser of evils in the eyes of a lot of people than necessarily something that a lot of people would regard as a positive good.

But there is a historical basis for this. There had been other periods in which there has been a single dominant hegemony. The most famous example, of course, is Rome -- not necessarily an encouraging example, except the Roman Empire lasted for a very long time. But even in more recent history, in international economic policy or in international economic affairs there has been a dominant hegemony to keep the global economy going: Britain playing that role in the 19th century, and the United States playing that role through much of the 20th century. So, the idea of a single hegemony is not a totally new idea.

You said that aspects of the Wolfowitz 1992 report and the doctrine that was sort of enunciated in it were followed through by the Clinton administration. What do you mean by that? It's not normally seen that way.

I think the Clinton administration certainly tacitly accepted the premise that we did not want to see rivals to ourselves develop. Certainly the Clinton administration put very little emphasis on collaboration among the great powers. The second Bush administration has actually been more multilateral in that sense than the Clinton administration was.

The Clinton administration was very interested in pushing justice for small powers. This was often at the expense of great power relations. So our relationship with Russia, our relationship with China, suffered a lot in the Clinton administration. Was the Clinton administration's pursuit of justice for small powers part of a strategy of achieving hegemony? No, I don't think so. I don't think they were that sophisticated. But at the same time, I think in the way that they operated, they were reflecting that. ...

There's another side to this as well, and this was the realistic circumstance that they inherited. This is the way the world was when they came into office. And the world did not change by the time that they left office. So American hegemony was not just a doctrine; it was a reality at the end of the Cold War. The Clinton administration inherited that and did nothing to change it.

Can you talk about the debate out there between what's been called the "realists" -- the Scowcrofts, the Eagleburgers, I guess Colin Powell to some extent -- and the so-called Reaganites or neo-Reaganites, those who are moving towards the Bush doctrine?

There is an interesting debate, first of all, within the Republican Party and, secondly, within the conservative movement -- not necessarily the same thing -- about the future direction for American foreign policy. And the debate really is between those people who think that we should simply be wielding power without trying to achieve reform. This would be basically the realists' position that reform is implausible, impossible in some parts of the world, and the best you can do is to maintain your power, your position of superiority, and can install commerce.

And this is against another tradition, which is emerging within the Republican Party and within the conservative movement. It's actually been there for a long time; it goes back to Reagan, it seems to me. And that is an optimistic view of human nature, something that's quite astonishing for conservatives: the idea that American values are indeed transportable; that democratic values can be made to work elsewhere. This was certainly Reagan's position and I think it is definitely Bush's position.

So, by a kind of back-handed circuitous route, this swing of the conservative movement has come around to an old liberal position, which is that reform of other countries, reform in other cultures, is, in fact, possible -- not just possible, but is necessary.

But it disagrees to some extent with that old liberal position because it also says, "We'll batter you across the head if you don't agree."

Well, there is some element of "We'll batter you across the head if you don't agree." But part of the premise of the administration is that not a lot of battering is going to have to take place in order for this to work. And here is where, I think, they're drawing on the lessons of Afghanistan. Nobody knew what the response to American intervention in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 was going to be. But what actually happened was a great surprise: the fact that we used force, we did intervene in that most unpromising country, and we were welcomed, we were cheered.

And I think that experience has had a profound influence on the thinking of the administration about Iraq and about other issues. The expectation is that, in fact, we won't have to do a lot of battering; the Iraqis will actually be quite happy that we have invaded their country; and that this will be a low-cost operation. Now this may be totally unrealistic. But, nonetheless, I think it is the thinking of the administration that not a lot of battering actually has to take place.

And there's another part to this debate -- a multilateral approach versus a unilateral approach.

I don't think there is necessarily a contradiction between being a hegemonic power on the one hand and functioning multilaterally on the other. I think that's largely the history of the American experience in the Cold War. We were clearly hegemonic compared to our NATO allies. Nobody in NATO was in the same league with us. And yet NATO is held out as a superb model of multilateral cooperation.

Well, it worked in part because the other members of NATO knew that the United States had an enormous amount of power and was willing to use it. But it also worked because the United States respected the views of smaller members of NATO and, at times -- in fact, more often than many people realize -- changed its own views and approaches in deference to them. So there was a very fruitful interaction, it seems to me, between hegemonic authority on one hand and multilateralism on the other. In NATO that's really what made it work.

And I think that's what has to happen now if we are going to achieve the same kinds of things we achieved in the Cold War. We obviously cannot do it alone. We obviously need allies. It seems to me that is what happened in the United Nations in the fall of last year with President Bush going and making a compelling argument to the United Nations on the need for intrusive inspection in Iraq, and then an extended debate, both in front of public scrutiny and behind the scenes as well, producing a unanimous resolution.

This is a pretty good model of how it should work. And there are always going to be those who would say, "Well, is it multilateralism if the unilateral hegemony gets what it wants?" And that's a very good question. But then the question equally could be, is it unilateralism if the multilaterals go along with what the unilateral authority wants to do? That's a good question, too.

So in the real world I think these two things are not always contradictory, and I think we've got a pretty strong historical record to show how they can be handled in such a way that is not contradictory. And I hope our leaders are thinking about that historical record as they try to deal with this new situation. ...

You say that the policy of preemption, which is another part of the Bush doctrine, requires hegemony. What do you mean by that?

The doctrine of preemption really has emerged in response to this new kind of threat that was demonstrated to us on 9/11. And it does go back to the argument that terrorists are not deterrable because they have prepared themselves to commit suicide. So the logic of this situation is that you have to go beyond deterrence and you have to be serious about trying to preempt before they can act in the first place. So the preemption doctrine, I think, is coming straight out of this experience of 9/11.

In order for preemption to work, you do have to be in a lot of different places at the same time, with a lot of different capabilities. So preemption does, at least in the thinking of the administration, presume hegemony. The fact is the hegemony was there before they came up with the doctrine of preemption. But I think what they're arguing is that a condition for preemption is hegemonic authority. And indeed, I think they're even arguing that this is one of the other things that the rest of the world should come to accept: that everybody has an interest in preempting terrorist attacks before they happen, and so there should be cooperation to make that preemption possible.

How dramatic or new is this doctrine of preemption?

Well, the doctrine of preemption has a long and distinguished history in the history of American foreign policy. Our doctrine throughout most of the 19th century -- at the time that we were expanding along the frontier and confronted European colonies along the frontier, confronted Indians, confronted pirates, confronted hostile non-state actors along the frontier -- was very much one of preemption.

Preemption is how we took Florida. Preemption is, in some way, how we took Texas. Preemption is how we took the Philippines, basically, in 1898. So to say that preemption is an un-American doctrine is not right historically. However, preemption has not been the primary American doctrine for a very long time, and it certainly was not during the Cold War for pretty obvious reasons. Because preemption ran the risk, of course, of nuclear war, equally damaging to both sides during the Cold War. So, very little was heard about preemption, at least in public, during the Cold War.

But the idea is coming back, and it's coming back for some of the same reasons that it was there in the 19th century: because, again, we face a situation of domestic insecurity, of being insecure in our own homes and work places, which was the condition of frontier existence in the 19th century. So, in that sense, it's not totally surprising that preemption would come back.

How does the doctrine of preemption create a problem -- or not -- in the way the world views America?

Well, one of the great problems with preemption, obviously, is that it makes people nervous. If there is one great power and the great power has taken upon itself the right to preempt and is choosing for itself when and in what circumstances it's going to do that, obviously it leads people in the rest of the world to wonder how far this doctrine extends. And if you preempt one country or one terrorist gang today, what are you going to do tomorrow? And how far are you going to carry this strategy?

The only solution to this, it seems to me, is to use it cautiously and to use it wisely, and to use it only in situations where there is a clear and compelling case for doing so. So it's got to be used very carefully. Otherwise it will generate resistance and fear.

How unusual is it that this administration would be the one that would put this doctrine into force?

Well, it's not unusual for an administration, when it gets in power, to speak and act differently from the way it spoke in the campaign. ... Probably the majority of American administrations in the 20th century have done that. Don't forget that Woodrow Wilson said shortly after taking office that it would be the greatest irony if his administration had anything to do with European affairs. So these things happen. Nobody can foresee what's going to happen on an administration's watch; administrations have to respond to these things.

There's been a learning curve, there's no question about that, with regard to international responsibilities -- a big learning curve with this administration. They were very [heavy-handed] when they came into office and generated a lot of unnecessary friction for themselves. So it's taken some learning. Again, this is not unusual in the first year or year-and-a-half of a new administration. It would be characteristic of most administrations in the past.

What's different about this one is that within just a few months of taking office, they confronted a huge national calamity and so were forced to move more rapidly than they otherwise would have.

Let's focus on Iraq. How does a war with Iraq fit into the war against terrorism?

Well, the argument that the administration is making about Iraq behind the scenes -- because it seems to me, here you've got to read between the lines -- is basically this: that if, in fact, the United States can find the appropriate occasion for military intervention in Iraq and go in with United Nations' support and multilateral support -- perhaps, in the view of some people in the administration, even if the United States goes in without these things -- [it] is going to set off a reaction in Iraq very similar to what happened in Afghanistan. And that is that we will be cheered and not shot at; that there is a sufficient level of resentment and fear and frustration with the Saddam Hussein regime that the Iraqi people are just waiting for somebody to come in and topple it.

That then creates the possibility for a reconstruction of Iraq, the administration is saying, along democratic lines. And I think they are serious in what they are saying. I think that they are thinking about the reconstruction along the lines of what we did with Germany and Japan at the end of World War II. How realistic that prospect is in that country is something else. But I think that they are serious in thinking like that.

I think they are further serious -- and again this is not going to be said in public -- [that] what they have in mind as a long-term strategy is actually a kind of domino theory in the Middle East; that if, in fact, you could get a functioning democracy in a place like Iraq, that truly would have an effect next door in Iran. That's perfectly plausible; it might well have an effect elsewhere in the Middle East.

And in my own view -- definitely not something the administration is saying for publication -- this is a strategy that's ultimately targeted at the Saudis and at the Egyptians and at the Pakistanis; these authoritarian regimes that, in fact, have been the biggest breeders of terrorism in recent years. Iraq has not been; Saudi Arabia actually was. And I think the administration is thinking over the long term about that problem, too. And properly so; they should be thinking about that.

Why wouldn't they be able to talk about that in public?

Well, you can't talk about this in public as long as you want the Saudis as your allies and as long as you want to use Saudi bases for the war against Iraq and as long as you are relying on Saudi oil. But, of course, if they can pull off Iraq, if they can accomplish this as successfully as many people in the administration think they can, then they have less need for Saudi bases and they have less need for Saudi oil. And so the two parts of it fit together.

You write in your article that the strategies that won the Cold War, containment deterrence, they do not work fighting the war against terrorism. Explain that to me.

Well, the strategies that won the Cold War, deterrence and containment, of course were tailored to a particular kind of adversary. We knew who the adversary was. It was one big country, identifiable. So that in trying to deter there was somebody on whom you knew that you could make an impression, and you could target it in that way.

It seems to me the new situation with terrorism, particularly in the wake of 9/11, does present us with a different kind of situation because we're dealing with a much more elusive target than was the case in the Cold War. So, deterrence is difficult by way of targeting. Deterrence is also difficult in this current situation because the people who carried out the attacks on 9/11 were suicidal. And it's very difficult to deter somebody who is prepared to commit suicide. The Soviet Union definitely was not prepared to commit suicide in the Cold War, which is one reason why deterrence worked.

How does deterrence and containment relate to the situation with Iraq?

Iraq, as far as deterrence and containment, is a somewhat different situation, because here we are dealing with an identifiable state. My own view is that deterrence has worked with regard to Iraq. I think that the record would show that Saddam Hussein has been deterred quite a long period of time. And various reasons to think that this could continue to work, I think, in that particular situation.

But, I think the issue with Iraq goes into something beyond deterrence. This is an issue of United Nations resolutions that have been ignored. This is an issue of the world's collective security organization being able to enforce its mandates, which have been issued to Saddam Hussein. So, I think, this is another different situation than what we can find with Al Qaeda in that regard. So, I would say in this case, containment and deterrence have worked so far with regard to Iraq.

But, this still doesn't solve the problem of a state that brutalizes its own citizens, a state that has accumulated weapons of mass destruction in the past, and has actually used them in ways that other states have not done. But, most important, a state that has flouted the will of the United Nations. And to me that's the strongest argument for doing something about Iraq.

So, the situation in Iraq, containment does part of the job, but you end up with a more difficult problem -- the weapons of mass destruction?

Yes, with regard to Iraq it seems to me that containment can do a certain amount. But if, in fact, containment allows someone like Saddam Hussein to continue to accumulate, and build, and possibly disseminate weapons of mass destruction, then you do have to go beyond containment, it seems to me.

So, what's the next step?

I think that the next step with Iraq is the step that is being taken, even now. And this is the United Nations is enforcing an intrusive inspection regime with a certain amount of encouragement from the United States. It's not clear yet what the results of these intrusive inspections are going to be. There are two ways, obviously, to go if there is evidence of weapons of mass destruction still being present in that country. Presumably, there will be military action.

But, I can see another scenario, which is that the inspections don't really turn up anything that is significant. At that point, I think, the administration faces a difficult choice in determining what it wants to do with regard to Iraq.

Do you get to a certain point where you can't back out, when one is dealing with a country like Iraq the way that we've done so far?

Well, the problem of backing up is always awkward for a great power. But, it seems to me that a sophisticated grand strategist always builds in room for backing out. Because there are times when, in fact, you need to do this. We've seen the administration doing this just in the last couple of weeks with regard to North Korea. There always needs to be some wiggle room for backing up, or for reconsideration, or for backing down when the circumstances demand this.

Is there wiggle room in the Iraq doctrine?

I think there could be wiggle room in the Iraq doctrine. If the objective of the administration is regime change, as they've said, then there really are several different ways in which regime change could take place. One is through a war. One is through Saddam Hussein being assassinated. One is through Saddam Hussein going into exile. And significantly the administration has said that that would be an acceptable option under certain circumstances.

You can even argue that regime change has already taken place in Iraq as a result of the intrusive inspections, because this is a change for this regime -- to have U.N. inspectors with totally free access to any site within the country. So, in that sense, regime change has already taken place. So, there are a lot of ways you can get there, and military action, it seems to me, is only one.

And [returning to the larger Bush strategy] will dominoes continue to fall if we go in and are successful with Iraq? Where might this strategy end up?

It's getting very speculative as to where this strategy winds up. But the Bush National Security Strategy was very explicit in saying that our ultimate objective is to see that democratic governance spreads everywhere in the world. And they are careful to make the statement as well that we regard no culture as incapable of practicing democracy so that they do not buy into the clash of civilizations theory. In fact, they say very explicitly in the NSS that what's happening is a clash within a civilization, not a clash of civilizations.

And so the premise is that democracy could transplant to the Islamic world as well as it has to other parts of the world over the last 50, 100 years or so. So that is the ultimate end point that we're talking about. How long that takes, how successful that will be, what are the problems that could come up along the way; nobody can answer those questions. There is a long-term vision here, which is something that has not existed -- not in this form in serious American foreign policy leadership.

But does the world really work like that -- that there's a domino theory that could set off such historic changes?

Well, it sounds very ambitious to say that you could democratize the world. It sounds quite utopian when you put it in those terms. But if you were to get into a time machine and go back to the year 1900 and say to somebody back then that by the end of the 20th century we would be something like 120 functioning democracies in the world, that would have been considered extremely utopian and unrealistic given how many there were in 1900.

So it is true that the historic trend is toward the spread and diffusion of democratic governments, and that the 20th century is going to be remembered as the century in which democracy spread astonishingly widely. So who are we to say that this process has stopped now that we've gotten into the 21st century? Who are we to say that the 21st century necessarily is going to be different in this regard?

Now, some trends happen in the world not because the Americans necessarily caused them to happen, but they simply reflect long-term historical forces. And there is some reason to think that the movement toward democratization is one of these.

It's sort of an amazing thought: You get attacked by a group of terrorists, you get hit hard, and the way you combat that threat is by changing the world.

I don't think it's astonishing to say that, on one hand, you get hit hard by terrorists and you respond by reforming the world. That's what happened at Pearl Harbor. The United States had no interest whatever in even engaging with the rest of the world. ... Our strategy was very much one of isolationism, not entanglement. ... Pearl Harbor completely changed our framework, and very quickly we shifted to the idea that it was not going to be enough just to end the war. Well before World War II was over, we accepted the idea that we had to change the conditions that had caused the war in the first place. And that turned us into reformers and global reformers even at that point. So surprise attacks, shocks of this nature can have that effect and they can cause dramatic changes in a country's strategy.

Do you think the general public understands the magnitude of what we are about? And if they don't, do they need to?

I don't think that the general public completely understands the magnitude of or the scope or the sweep of the Bush strategy. I don't think anybody understands what the costs of it may be because nobody can estimate what those are. But I think the general public does understand very powerfully that something enormously important happened on Sept. 11. And we have in no way gotten over that shock. The psychological effect of that, the sense that we cannot go on business as usual in the aftermath of an event like that, I think, is extraordinarily powerful with the American public.

And so it seems to me that that sentiment, together with a reasonably plausible explanation to the American public -- and with always the proviso if things don't go badly wrong -- yes, I think this can be explained and sold.

Does the country have to be behind it? Do they have to fully understand the breadth of the doctrine?

Well, the country has to be behind the doctrine if the doctrine is going to work because the administration will come up for reelection in a couple of years. So, yes, public support is very important. Does Joe Six-Pack have to understand every nuance of the Bush National Security Strategy? No, no way. There are different levels of understanding. There are different levels of explanation that would be necessary. That was true of containment; that's been true of strategies in democracies of other [countries]. ...

This grand doctrine, these new directions. What could go wrong?

Well, a lot can go wrong. ... We go into Baghdad and Baghdad turns out to be Vietnam, ... or it turns out to be something like what Afghanistan was for the Soviet Union when they went in. A lot can go wrong, because the fact is we are not prepared for a long sustained war in Iraq. There certainly is not the commitment with Congress and with the public for that kind of [war] either.

So if things go wrong in Baghdad, a lot can go wrong with the strategy. If there is another or even a succession of 9/11s, who can say what the effect of that would be on what we can do in the world, what we can do with respect to our own economy? The economy could tank as a result of another such attack. It came close to doing it in the wake of 9/11.

There are a lot of things that could go wrong. But, again, what else is new? There are always a lot of things that can go wrong with any strategy, with any initiative, any new situation like this. So you have to live with that uncertainty. That's part of the game.

Should that give pause to the administration?

The possibility that things can go wrong obviously should give pause to the administration. The administration should be thinking long and hard about all of the possible things that could go wrong and it should have some scenarios for the more obvious things that could go wrong. But it also needs to recognize that there will be some things that will go wrong that we're not anticipating. You can never anticipate everything. So there has to be a sense of flexibility, of resilience, of being prepared for the unexpected, of redundancy to some extent in your capabilities for just this reason.

To say that you should not go ahead with a grand scheme like this because something could go wrong is to say that you should never go ahead with anything because that's always true in life: Things can go wrong. But obviously you should have people thinking about this.

If we do go ahead into a war on Iraq and we don't get the U.N.'s support, where are we?

Well, I think if we go into the war in Iraq without the support of the U.N. and without the support of allies, it's going to be very tough. If, in fact, we go in and we are overwhelmingly cheered and we get the response that the administration is expecting, then support from allies and support from the U.N. will be forthcoming. ...

But if we go in and we meet resistance on the ground, and at the same time we have gone in without the support of U.N. and allies, I think that's a very bad situation indeed. And I think it counsels reason for patience and reasons for making the effort to try to sustain the support that, so far, the administration has been able to obtain.

In the writing up of the National Security Strategy issued Sept. 17, 2002, how much do you think the Bush administration focused on the long term -- not just Iraq, not just terrorism, but where we would be 10 years down the line.

There are two or three things to say about the question of long-term focus on the part of the administration. I think the starting point is the sense that many members of the administration had: that a great deficiency of the Clinton administration is that it did not really have a long-term strategy. So I think with some members of the Bush administration, it was the presumption from the beginning that they wanted to have a more long-term, more serious strategy.

My own conversations with a couple of people who were involved in drafting the National Security Strategy statement have suggested that, in fact, they started work on this before 9/11 and, in fact, had made the decision that they were not just going to do a routine National Security Strategy statement, the kind that is mandated [every two years] by the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. ... They were going to take it as a serious opportunity to really rethink the post-Cold War strategy for the first time.

But the effort was underway even before 9/11. The context was that there was a sense in this administration that we were overdue for long-term reconsideration of a planned strategy of our place in the world. And then 9/11 came along and surely pushed that process along much more dramatically and much more rapidly perhaps than it would otherwise have happened.

If 9/11 hadn't occurred, would the 2002 National Security Strategy have been rejected like the Wolfowitz strategy of 1992?

I do think there was the presumption within the administration that it was time to rethink the planned strategy, that the Clinton administration had missed an opportunity to do that. But who can say in the absence of 9/11 how far and how fast and how substantial that effort would have been?

How do you read Colin Powell's role in this whole strategy?

It seems to me that Colin Powell has emerged as a very influential architect of this strategy. [His role] in the last six to eight months has been quite considerable in all of this. Colin Powell may not have been the most enthusiastic advocate of the Iraq strategy to begin with. But, I think, he's been enormously influential in determining how the Iraqi strategy was going to be carried out. If you'll remember back in the summer of 2002, an administration spokesman right up to the vice president seemed to be saying that there was no need to consult Congress or the United Nations. That seemed to be the high point of unilateralism, or at least unilateral pronouncements within the administration.

Since that time, the administration has gone in a completely different direction toward the consultation with Congress, toward the consultation with the U.N., and toward a remarkably successful outcome in that consultation with the U.N. And it seems to me this has to be Powell's influence. I think he works very well, very quietly, very persistently, often behind the scenes. But he's got a lot of staying power, it seems to me. And, I think, that this has been demonstrated in the last six months for sure.

 

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