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interviews: richard haass
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Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, was, until recently, the director of policy planning at the State Department. A former Rhodes Scholar, he also served as the U.S. coordinator for policy toward the future of Afghanistan and was senior director of Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council. Haass was instrumental in persuading the U.S. government to support the founding of the Iraqi National Congress in the early 1990s. "It's clear that the U.S. did not do all that it could have and should have done to set up the aftermath [of the Iraq war]," he tells FRONTLINE. This interview was conducted on Sept. 15, 2003.

Why did we go to war?

I think the first thing to say about this war is that it was an elective war. It was a war of choice. We didn't have to go to war against Iraq; certainly not when we did, certainly not how we did it. I think the principal reason we did, from my point of view, was weapons of mass destruction. We knew that the Iraqis had chemical and biological weapons. They had a history of using chemical weapons. We obviously also knew their history of trying to acquire nuclear weapons. For many of us, a powerful argument was simply that we did not want to live with that uncertainty about what the Iraqis might do with it, whether they'd use them directly, whether they'd hand them off to terrorists.

The war against Iraq was inherently controversial. It was not something we had to fight when we fought it. It's something we chose to fight.

So war, if you will, was a policy choice to essentially interrupt the possibility that the Iraqis would either use or hand off weapons of mass destruction.

Was it necessary to go to war when we did?

When we did, no. That was a question of choice. Obviously, you could have delayed it a day, a week, a month, a year. There was no necessity then. It wasn't as though the Iraqis were poised to suddenly do something or break out. So the decision to go to war -- which obviously was the president's decision -- like everything else about this war, was an elective decision.

Your view on that puts you out of line with the administration in some regard in that they were claiming it was a growing, gathering danger, an imminent threat. There was urgency, in other words.

The question, I think, for lots of people was whether time would improve your position. For those who felt that going to war at that time was a wise thing to do, from their point of view, nothing was going to get improved with the passage of time. That's a legitimate argument. I thought the argument to go to war when we did was a respectable argument.

On the other hand, I also thought the arguments on the other side were quite strong as well. You know, often in government, you're faced with situations where it's totally one-sided, totally black or white. This was not one of those situations. This was one, at least from my point of view. I'll speak for myself here only. I thought that this was one of those that there were pretty good arguments on both sides.

So as a result, for me the real question was not so much whether we went to war. To me, at least as important was how we did it. Did we put in place all the diplomatic dimensions of the policy? Did we essentially have this set up, teed up in the optimal way? Because that was at least as important as the question of whether to go to war because, again, there were arguments on both sides.

Did we have it set up?

Not as well as we might have. One could have argued that a bit more time would have helped perhaps to persuade more of the international community that war was, in fact, essential. Also, if we'd wanted to, we could have used the time to have better addressed the situation between Israelis and Palestinians. So I don't think as much as could have been done was done beforehand.

Did we do enough to plan for the postwar?

Did we do enough to plan for the postwar? No. But any planning is only as good as the assumptions you plug into it. I think the fair criticism to make of the postwar planning is that certain assumptions were plugged into it about how the Iraqis would react and so forth, and those assumptions were clearly questionable. It's one of the reasons that the aftermath has proved to be as difficult as it has.

You're talking about rosy assumptions that were being made by the Pentagon war planners?

In part, they were rosy assumptions, and that clearly affected us. Also, though, there were assumptions about how the situation was likely to unfold.

To give you an example, a real preoccupation of a lot of the postwar planning was on the need to avoid a humanitarian disaster, and for good reason. Imagine how bad it would have been had an elective war to help Iraqis in part ended up with many Iraqis suffering because they were homeless, refugees, hungry, what have you.

So an awful lot of planning went in to avoid just that. Indeed, I would think one of the reasons that General Garner was chosen is he was an individual who had a track record at dealing with large-scale humanitarian contingencies. That was the role he played a decade before in the first Iraq war.

That never came about. So what it meant was that a lot of our planning was based on a scenario that didn't come to pass. Now, was that a mistake? Fair enough. You could argue that it was. It was based upon a bad assumption. But that, to me, was smart preparations, and that was something that I think we had to pay the premium of preparing for that.

Well, we got some of it right is what you're saying, but we didn't get the whole picture right.

Clearly, we did not get the whole picture right.

Why not?

Again, you're dealing with tremendous uncertainty. Any time you go to war, any time you transition from war to something else, you've got a whole range of unknowns. So to expect anyone to get it exactly right, it seems to me is an unrealistic standard. You're setting the bar too high.

Could we have done better, though?

Yes. I would argue that we could and should have done better.

You were inside government. You saw the arguments being made. You saw the preparations being made. Did you see things that were being ignored that shouldn't have been?

I don't think anything's ignored in that situation. What's so difficult about planning for a complex contingency like Iraq is the weighting of the situations, how much emphasis you put on one or another piece of information. What are your expectations, for example, about how the Iraqis are going to react?

Another example. Normally, wars, the way it leaves the population on the defeated side, in this case on the battlefield, depleted, exhausted. What was interesting about this war was because of the way it was fought, given how discreet it was fought, given how cleanly -- I use that word advisedly, but in the history of war, this war was fought with remarkable precision.

What it meant was that the Iraqi people did not have the psychology of a defeated population. After all, we were not going to war with the people of Iraq. As a result, it meant that the Iraqi people afterwards were far more active politically than many people had perhaps thought. Again, it was something unexpected.

There were reports issued prior to the war by the USIP, the CFR, the CSIS, all of which talked about the need for police on the ground, a constabulary. All of those recommendations from Garner's team, as far as I can tell, were ignored. [They thought] that they should wait until they got there and see what the situation was. There was no plan to put together a police force beforehand.

I would simply say that Iraq is not the first of these type situations the United States has confronted, and we had to make a choice. Either we would depend almost entirely upon Iraqi military and police forces that we would inherit, so to speak, and put the lion's share of the burden on them, or you needed to have a situation where you would have ready somewhere outside the country but ready to parachute in, literally and figuratively, external police, be it from the United States or from some other country or set of countries or from some organization. Those to me were the only two serious options.

To simply hope that the situation would be largely benign and calm was hoping for too much. That's where - again, arguably -- perhaps more could and should have been done, either to work with the Iraqi forces that we inherited rather than dismantling as many as we did initially, or to ready a much greater international effort. …

Is it fair to say that the Pentagon were too optimistic about the postwar situation?

Ill let you make the judgment and characterizations. I would just simply say that the aftermath has proven to be far more expensive in every sense of the word, in terms of human expense, in terms of the financial expense. I think in part, it was based upon some planning assumptions. I think part also, what made it a lot more difficult was in the immediate aftermath of the war, the degree of looting that took place. Looting doesn't really capture the degree of physical destruction that took place. [It] meant that the job suddenly grew in magnitude and some precious time was lost. So the entire undertaking became far more demanding because of what happened in the initial days and weeks afterwards. …

The question that I think is legitimate to ask is, should we have had more forces ready to deal with the so-called peace stabilization side of things? Should we perhaps have been more sober in our expectations of how the Iraqis would react once the thumb of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen was lifted? So one can argue that the coalition forces at that point, there simply weren't enough of them and they weren't involved enough to deal with it. Or to put it another way, there was too long of a lag between war fighting and then dealing with the war's aftermath.

Your view on that would be that we didn't have enough troops on the ground.

In part number, in part mission; we were slow to transition from war fighting to dealing with the afterward. That either would have argued for additional forces or a more rapid transition from one mission to another. Though to be fair, it was a difficult call to make -- how fast to make that transition -- because you still had the reality or the possibility of residual resistance from the Iraqis.

You were making recommendations about the postwar period while you were in the State Department. You made recommendations to Secretary Powell. What were your recommendations as to what that situation was going to look at and what it was going to require?

I'm not going to go into every detail of what sort of advice or recommendations I made. What I simply did was look at the history of these situations, really going back to Germany and Japan and looking back over the more than one dozen experiences the United States had had since the German and Japanese occupations after World War II and ask questions. What it was we could likely expect? What is it we needed to be prepared for?

My view was that we should be thinking very large; that we were talking about a situation that would be very demanding; that we should try to use local forces as much as possible; that while we should dismantle the upper level of those, say, who had been involved in the Ba'ath Party, we should try to take advantage of the lion's share of the army and police.

Interestingly enough, after World War II, the initial thinking about de-Nazification was to get rid of lots of people. But very quickly on, the United States and others realized that we really needed to work with the existing German forces and only get rid of the top level. So that was a lesson that I thought we should apply here.

But essentially, also I was arguing that we should make this as international as possible. There was no reason to hoard this to ourselves in some "victor gets the spoils" mentality, but rather that we should see this as something to be shared with others -- for two reasons.

One, to help repair some of the breaches that are opened up diplomatically in the run-up to the war. Second of all, I thought this would likely turn out to be an extremely demanding mission based upon looking at these parallel situations, and we did not want this to distort American foreign policy. We did not want this to drain the human and financial resources of the United States.

So you make these recommendations based on your study of Germany, Japan. How were they received?

Again, I was an adviser to the secretary of state. I gave my advice to the secretary of state. These things then go into the inter-agency process. At the end of the day, others have to decide. I was in a kind of position where I would be recommending, rather than deciding, in this administration.

You had influence, but not power?

At most, I had some influence; clearly had no power. I think also in this situation, whenever war is fought, it's important to keep in mind that the bulk of the responsibility falls to the occupation forces. So in this case, the Department of Defense had the lion's share of the say about the specific policies of the occupation.

So they look at these recommendations and draw different conclusions as to what the postwar situation is going to be like?

Again, I'll let them speak for themselves, and you're welcome to interview them on this show. But I would think that the policy speaks for itself.

If they choose to talk. There was a lot of discussion about what role the United States should play in supporting the political process, postwar.

My view on that is that we should play a very modest role. I didn't come into this having favorites. I thought the entire idea that we would try to tilt the playing field to install this or that person or this or that group-- If people had that idea, I thought it was misguided or a non-starter.

They did have that idea.

Some had that idea. My view was that we should simply try to do two things. One is get Iraqis in responsible positions as soon as possible, but, two … we should not have favorites among the Iraqis.

Like Ahmed Chalabi?

Like anybody. It's simply up to the Iraqis themselves to decide who has legitimacy, who they want to give political authority to. My feeling was, let's just be neutral about that. But what we want to do is gradually bring about a situation where Iraqis would have ever-increasing amounts of authority over their own lives. …

So my feeling was, whether you're pro or against Ahmed Chalabi or anything else, the smartest thing to do was simply level the playing field, and let the Iraqis shape their own future. Indeed, I think that's one of the reasons we arguably did this -- to give them the chance to shape their own futures. So I just thought it was unwise, and probably impossible for the United States to play too large a role in that.

When did you hear Chalabi being flown into Nasiriyah?

Pretty much when everybody else heard about it. When it became public. …

Was that appropriate, in your view?

You're asking me to pass judgment. I just thought it was unwise. I think it was simply unwise for the United States to be in the business of favoring one or another party. And it's interesting that, essentially, as things have since played out, that hasn't stopped.

I can't predict the future of Iraq anymore than you or anybody else can. But what's clearly obvious is that you have powerful dynamics that have been unleashed -- far stronger than anything the United States could do or control. So whatever happens, whatever individual or individuals are going to ultimately come to rule Iraq, the specific or precise nature of the political order, this is not something we're going to be able to micro-manage.

But flying an opposition leader into liberated territory is something that the State Department, presumably, should have been clued in about.

I can't tell you that there might not have been people at State who knew about it. I didn't, from my point of view.

But you're in charge of policy, I mean, you're at a high level. Presumably, you would have known.

I learn never to use the word "presumably" when it comes to government. All I can tell you is, I didn't know about it in advance, and I don't know who of my colleagues might have known about it. … I don't know that anyone knew about it in advance. All I can say is, in my own view, such initiatives were and are unwise, because they're an attempt to get too involved in the internal politics of Iraq. I just don't think that's the sort of thing that's wise or sustainable.

As a mission, did it succeed or fail?

I don't think it succeeded. There's no sign, for example, that Mr. Chalabi or his associates have gained the upper hand. I don't think that's the case. I think what you see in Iraq is a tremendous energy of political participation, a lot of which is centered not necessarily on those who are outside the country. But a lot of it's centered on those who are inside the country. I think some of the most interesting dynamics are not simply those dynamics, say, between Shi'a and others, but are those within the majority Shi'ite population, those who hold to various points of view. What we're seeing on a daily basis, this is being fought out; sometimes politically, the way it ought to be fought out; sometimes physically, with terrorism and other tools, which are obviously undesirable, and worse.

But again, I think it's going to be Iraqis who are ultimately going to fill in the dots as to what does post-Saddam Iraq look like.

I want to take you back to a meeting that you had with Ahmed Chalabi, in 1991, when you were on the National Security Council staff.

That was when I was working for the previous President Bush. … You're going to have to fill me in on the details some of the details of the meeting.

Well, what do you remember?

Very little, other than that I met with Mr. Chalabi. We talked about the whole nature of the Iraqi opposition. My view was, the broader that opposition was, the better. If the opposition was going to be powerful, it had to speak for as many Iraqis as possible. It couldn't simply represent Kurds or Sunni or Shi'a. It should have connections between outsiders and insiders, and it should be as open and as broad-based as possible. I thought that the extent he and others could do that would be extremely valuable.

My own view at the time -- going back more than a decade now -- was that we're not likely to have an outside opposition that was going to somehow fight a guerrilla-type conflict. We weren't talking about that. We were talking about an exclusively political opposition.

I thought that the more that they could articulate a vision of Iraq that would demonstrate that life after Saddam would be much better for all Iraqis, that that would be probably the most important thing they could do. Secondly, what I thought was valuable -- and I suggested at that meeting, and other meetings -- is that Iraqis prepare for the future. That they start thinking about how they would govern their country, and put together experts on constitutions, on the economy, and so forth. Again, not only would they be ready to run their country if and when the opportunity came, but also messages they would send by saying, "This is the kind of Iraq we're thinking about, this is the kind of Iraq we want to bring about," I thought would be something of a magnet for Iraqis within the country.

But what you had to do at that time, a decade ago, was persuade Iraqis that there was a better future without Saddam Hussein. It was particularly important to persuade those who in some ways were protected by Saddam. By that, I meant the Sunni core. You had to persuade this powerful minority that change was potentially in their interests.

I'll just read you what Chalabi said. He said, "I went to Haass. He told me, 'I'm seeing you only because you impress some congressmen.' I was supposed to meet him, I don't know, for half an hour. We stayed for 90 minutes. I explained to him the strategy. And he said, 'We will support an Iraqi political movement that will come out endorsing democracy in Iraq, democratic government, pluralistic government in Iraq, renunciation of weapons of mass destruction.' I said, "'If you do these things, we will support you?' Is that what Haass said?" He says, "Yes." and, he says, "That was the genesis of the INC."

Well, yes, that's consistent with everything we've been talking about. The idea that it was his opportunity, I thought, but it really was the only political way, that he forge a broad-based opposition to Saddam. That meant standing for something different and better -- standing for democracy. Calling for an Iraq where, regardless of your religion, regardless of your tribe, there was a place for you in this Iraq.

I thought that the more he could make it an inclusive movement of outsiders across the board as well as insiders, it would become much more significant. To the extent it was seen as something much more narrower, favoring this or that group, then I thought it was a non-starter.

What he implies is that the INC would not have been formed had it not been for the United States government.

Possibly. But I think that is something good that the United States government did over the years. That we stood for the idea of a broad-based Iraqi opposition, that [we] stood for something better, which was quite open in its politics. If that's the suggestion, I'm more than willing to accept it. But again, it's something ultimately that Iraqis had to do. I think the INC did make some progress over the years, though not as much as people like me would have liked to have seen.

One thing that I would like explained is that the INC was initially to be an umbrella organization. But it at various stages, [it] devolved into something much more like a narrow political party.

The whole idea of the INC was to bring together Iraqis who shared one goal, which was the ouster of Saddam Hussein. What obviously happened -- and it's not unique to Iraq, by the way, when one looks at other opposition movements in other contexts, similar things happen -- is there's always a lot of suspicion. Underneath that veneer of common opposition to the ruler, what you often begin to see is the jockeying for the future. People held very different ideas about what should take Saddam's place. Obviously, people also have personal ambitions, or ambitions for their own particular organization. So the idea that there were some problems doesn't come as a great surprise. …

What was the Future of Iraq Project?

The project, as I understood it, was you have multiple groups that, essentially, were planning, down to considerable detail, various aspects of what would come afterwards. You had people off working about the economy, and people off working about security questions, and people off working about political questions and so forth.

And the idea behind it?

Again, was to have Iraqis ready to essentially take over their own country as soon as possible. … There were a lot of people at State working on it, largely working out of the Middle East bureau. They had set up these working groups, or sub-groups, on virtually every technical question that was likely to arise in running this society called Iraq, once Saddam Hussein was gone. … Policing. Justice. Macro-economic policy. Constitutions. Elections.

Again, if you were going to set down on a piece of paper what were likely to be the 10, or 14, or 20, or 25 things Iraqis would have to get right, virtually each one of them was the subject of a sub-group or working group.

I spoke to General Garner. He told me that he was instructed by Secretary Rumsfeld to shelve the Future of Iraq Project.

I can't speak to that. I don't know what sort of instructions or communications went on within the Pentagon. I would just simply hope it's not true, because I thought a lot of good work went into that project.

That's what he said. He said that he looked at the papers. He talked to the some of the people in the State Department. He thought it was good work. He wanted to use the work. But then he was instructed not to. Does that surprise you?

Yes. I can't speak to it, I simply don't know about it. …

Well, there was this, as Tim Carney told me, "ideological food fight" going on through this whole period between State and Defense. How can we best understand what was going on?

Obviously there were differences between the State Department, Defense Department, other aspects of the U.S. government. This is a controversial question. The war against Iraq was inherently controversial. It was not something we had to fight when we fought it. It's something we chose to fight.

Questions about how to fight it not so much in the military sense, but in the diplomatic sense, were obviously controversial. Hence all the to-ing and fro-ing about resolutions and so forth beforehand. Hence the debates about how important it was to bring in others.

Obviously it was controversial in the aftermath. What number of American troops? How much to bring in others? What should be the role of the United Nations? What should be the pace of Iraqi-ization? So all these questions were controversial. Underneath it all, there were some real differences in expectations. What would be the Iraqi reaction? How difficult would this likely be? What kind of resistance could we expect? You name it, there were differences in view about it. That's not exceptional. That's not surprising.

So as I was a participant -- or now, as I look on it all as an observer -- the fact that there was this kind of range of views to me is not, in and of itself, something that's shocking or even surprising.

Perhaps not that there was a range of views, but in fact that the Pentagon inherited the planning, and sidelined the State Department's efforts seems more significant.

If that is indeed true, it is more significant. I would simply say that the aftermath has not gone well, even if it ultimately works out; even if you ultimately, at the end of the day, have an Iraq that's pretty functional; that's more democratic than not; that's stable; that doesn't harbor terrorists and so forth. Essentially, if we succeed, with using a reasonable definition of a success, it's still quite possible we could have gotten to that point sooner with less expense, certainly financial expense. So to the extent that good planning was done and may not have been used, that's unfortunate, to say the least.

Some people say that Ahmed Chalabi played a role beyond what he should have in suckering the Americans into this war. At the time that we did it, rushing us to war based on intelligence that he was paid to deliver to the Pentagon. … [Was there] inappropriate reliance on intelligence that was coming out of the INC?

I don't think so. I obviously can't talk in any detail about intelligence, even now, even though I'm out of government. But I would simply say that, for example, when one looked at the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, and when one looked at the intelligence about chemical and biological weapons, it was not based upon one single source. It was not some narrow information. Rather, it was something that had been put together over the course of months and years from a number of different sources. So, to me, that wasn't an issue. The idea that we were somehow -- to use your word, suckered -- into going into the war, or unduly influenced by any one individual, I don't think that's the case.

The arguments for going to war, whether you approve of them, whether you agreed with them or not, were sufficiently out there, were sufficiently broad. It wasn't because of any one individual. It was really based upon a calculation of, "Could we live with this situation, with an Iraq in possession of chemical and biological weapons, given its history? Could we live with that for months or years to come?"

Some people felt yes, we could. Others clearly felt no. Those who felt no decided -- ultimately the president decided -- to go to war. I think that was the most telling argument. Particularly coming after 9/11, when people's tolerance, shall we say, of this kind of potential -- of the idea that Iraq might become a source for terrorists -- when people's tolerance for this had essentially gone away.

The reason I say that is because, especially on links with Al Qaeda and an ongoing nuclear program, a major source of intelligence on this came from defectors. Those defectors often came out of from the INC. Richard Perle himself has been quoted as saying that Ahmed Chalabi was the best single source of intelligence the United States government had on Iraq under Saddam. That's now looking like perhaps a mistake.

I would simply say this. The intelligence on the terrorist links and on the nuclear program was never that great, in terms of volume, or in terms of how much it impressed. The key intelligence, about which there was virtually no debate, because I think everybody pretty much bought into it, and agreed, was on the chemical and biological.

We didn't need intelligence to persuade us ourselves of what a monster Saddam Hussein had been. So that wasn't an issue. Where there was controversy was over the issue of how significant were any terrorist links, particularly links between Al Qaeda and Iraq, and secondly, how far along was Iraq on its nuclear program.

From where I sat, the links on the terrorism side were pretty thin. Second of all, while Iraq certainly had ambitions on the nuclear program from what I could see, [it] was not very far along at all on the nuclear side. So for someone like me, the intelligence that was most significant, again, was almost all centered on the chemical and biological program. That really was what I thought motivated the policy, what really drove the policy. For others, they may have seen the nuclear or terrorism as supportive intelligence. But, at least in the meetings I was in, and if you look at the public debate, the intelligence and the nuclear angles were really quite modest.

But they were mentioned early and often. Beginning in the fall of 2002, the vice president's talking about meetings in Prague.

People mentioned it, in part because one, you never know what you don't know. Second of all, people viewed them differently. Intelligence is something to be perceived. You and I could look at the same piece of intelligence, and read into it differently. So it's not as though there's a right and wrong way to read intelligence. … But that's the nature of intelligence. That's why this is more of an art than a science.

There were also caveats that were made by the Defense Intelligence Agency, at least on chemical and biological, that the capability wasn't such to comprise an imminent threat.

Again, "imminent" would mean that you had tactical intelligence that the Iraqis were about to use it--

Could launch in 45 minutes, as the British told us.

But there you get into questions not simply of capabilities, but intentions. Could the Iraqis have done something in very short order? Of course they could have. They have used chemical weapons on several occasions before. Could they have started another war if they'd wanted to against somebody? Of course they could have.

What I didn't see was the tactical intelligence that they were about to do that. Again, it's a question of, what sort of uncertainty are you prepared to live with? This is almost like an insurance premium. By that, I mean for those who felt we had to fight the war then, they were simply unwilling to live with this degree of uncertainty about Iraqi capabilities and Iraqi intentions.

For those who were willing to put the war off, they were basically saying, "Look, we don't like Iraq, we'd love to see Saddam Hussein go. But right now, at least, we're prepared to live with this threat. We think we have it under control, and we're worried about the costs of going to war." That's essentially what the debate was about, both inside the government and outside the government. …

Did I think there was a respectable case for going to war? Yes, I thought there were strong arguments for doing it. But I also thought there were pretty strong arguments for not going to war, which is why, again, I came out in the position that this was very much a war of choice. This was a war of discretion. Once the decision was made by the administration to go to war, I really focused most of my efforts, and most of my hours, on the question of, "How do we go about this in a way that, at the end of the day, we do as best we can?"

Where do you come out now? Do you think we should have gone to war?

It's too soon. I think this is one of those things that has to play out. Until you see the costs of the aftermath, until you see the benefits of the aftermath, until you see what is it we turn Iraq into, until you see what consequences it has for the region, I think it's a little bit soon to be toting up balance sheets. …

There's another a rationale that's often given for the war, and that is to reshape the Middle East. It's a grander plan to plant a democracy, and to -- it's called sometimes -- "reverse domino."

I've heard that; indeed, I've spoken out a lot about the desirability of bringing greater democratization to the Middle East, bringing greater economic openness, and so forth. I don't really see this as necessarily a way to do that. It's not clear to me that this will necessarily lead to that sort of a situation. That said, if an Iraq does end up looking like a functioning democracy, it will contribute to the momentum in this part of the world. I think that momentum is beginning to be seen. …

But you have some doubts about whether or not democracy can flower in Iraq?

You make it sound as though democracy were all or nothing. I could think of democracy as a spectrum. I think Iraq is already far more open than it was. At the end of the day, how open it will be, how stable it will be, how peaceful it will be, I don't know the answer to those. It's quite possible we'll end up with something that's maybe a partial democracy, that's not a perfect democracy by, say, American or British standards, but something that that is in pretty good shape.

There are those especially among the conservative supporters of the war, who criticize the State Department for believing that somehow Arabs weren't quite up to democracy.

I never heard that point of view stated at the State Department.

But you've heard that criticism.

I've heard lots of criticisms. I would just simply say that I think Arabs can handle democracy. Indeed, I've given speeches about how Arabs and Muslims can handle democracy, and there's examples in the Muslim world where they handle democracy just fine, thank you very much. I think that we as outsiders have to go about promoting this reform in a fairly careful way. To observe the Hippocratic oath of first doing no harm. So I think we ought to do it smart. We can't jam it down people's throats, we can't do it overnight, we can't insist on any one model, or any one form of it.

But do I think the Arab world can be much more open? For sure. Do I think Iraq can be a far more open, quasi-democratic place? For sure. If that happens, will it help? Yes. I think to the extent Iraq is seen in the Arab world as a success, to the extent it's seen as a place that is largely democratic, I think it'll reinforce those trends.

I think there's a debate beginning to go on in the Arab world, and I think a lot of Arabs are asking themselves, "Why is it we don't have the freedom that virtually every other part of the world does?" I think there's a sense almost of a degree of shame there, in parts of the Arab world, when they look at themselves and they say, "Why is it we're still ruled by these top-heavy governments, where individuals don't have freedoms?"

I think there's something there. I think if Iraq goes well, I think it can reinforce those trends. That said, I'm not sure yet exactly how complete will be the democratic transformation in Iraq. Secondly, even if it is fairly complete, we shouldn't think that it automatically leads to these trends elsewhere. I think each society is likely to have its own debate.

So even if things go fairly well in Iraq, say, I think Egyptians are going to have to have their debate. Saudis are going to have to have their debate. Iraq will simply be one more piece of evidence, one more argument that'll be used in their debates. I don't think it will be defining. I don't think it will determine the outcome, but I think it will have an influence. …

But what is this argument, what am I hearing? Help me understand. When you hear constantly in some circles in Washington, "The State Department doesn't believe in democracy." They're talking about diplomats with wide experience in that region who have a kind of realpolitik about what can happen and what can't happen. Can you explain that school of thought?

… I think the argument that there's people in the State Department or elsewhere in the U.S. government who somehow oppose democracy is nonsense. It simply doesn't exist. What you do have, though, are different ideas of how to go about encouraging it. We can't simply do elsewhere in the Middle East what we've done in Iraq. We're not going to occupy this entire part of world. That's obviously nonsense and a non-starter.

Also, we've learned historically that you've got to be careful with how you go about promoting political change in other countries. You have to be careful you don't put in too much soon that you destabilize a situation, because you can make a bad situation worse. So it wouldn't surprise me that there are people in the State Department who are saying, "Sure we want to see democracy, but let's do it gradually, let's do it carefully, let's be a bit modest here. Let's not make it somehow something we try to accomplish overnight in some Made-in-America way and we foist it upon others."

If that's the reaction, I think that's a smart reaction. This is a difficult thing. There's probably no harder foreign policy task then to get inside another society and try to help shape its politics and its economics. That's an intrusive ambitious foreign policy undertaking, and we had better be careful about how we go about it. …

Democracy is not some widget or some automobile that you can put on your port, put it on a ship and bring it into another country and export it. Doesn't work that way. Democracy has to largely be homegrown. I think what we can do as an outsider is help make sure certain ideas are put in circulation. We can help certain institutions be launched. We can help ensure that democracy has a chance to take root. But ultimately, it's going to really depend upon the society in question, the political leadership of that society, the business leadership of that society. …

Just some final thoughts here. This is a war now that some senators are saying we should not have fought, but yet everyone agrees that we can't pull out. What's at stake here?

Stakes are enormous. You have both local stakes, the future Iraq, a country with the world's second largest oil reserves, 25 million people. Baghdad is historically one of the three or four centers of the Arab world. So what happens in Iraq will matter for the Middle East, if terrorists have a home. Obviously it makes a tremendous difference as opposed to Iraq becoming a member of the coalition against terrorism. If Iraq does or does not have weapons or mass destruction, if Iraq does or does not support compromise between Israelis and Palestinians-- There's tremendous local differences.

But also there's a larger issue here. The United States has now made a tremendous investment in Iraq -- investment in every sense. Policy investment, person investment, financial investment. So how this plays out will also have a big impact on how [the] world perceives the United States and it will probably also have a big, big impact on how Americans perceive their own foreign policy.

At the end of the day, this was a choice. Whenever you make choices in foreign policy, it has tremendous consequences; ironically enough, more than when you have to do things. If we had had to fight the war against Iraq no matter how it turned out, people would have accepted it. Even if it hadn't turned out that well, they simply would have shrugged and said, "Well, it was something we had to do." But in the case of Iraq simply because it wasn't something we had to do -- it was something we chose to do -- the stakes are bigger. …

If Americans see this as too costly, if that's the ultimate conclusion, that somehow it wasn't worth it, then you'll probably see gradually growing resistance to this sort of activism abroad. On the other hand, if this is seen as something that was successful and the costs were in line, it would then give this administration or future administrations, not a blank check, but much more running room in the conduct of an ambitious foreign policy. …

Americans would like to be guaranteed that this will be successful.

Going into a country is not like buying a toaster. There's no guarantees here. This is an extraordinarily ambitious undertaking, an extraordinarily difficult undertaking. At the end of the day, no matter how well it turns out, different people are going to disagree on whether it is a success. Success itself is in the eyes of the beholder. Even if there was a consensus that it was a success, different people will disagree on whether it was worth it. Because this will be an expensive success, even if, as I hope it does, turn out to be a success. So it's not clear how individuals, or even historians will come to judge it. …

Given that it was a choice, why go to war when we did? Why not wait? Why not give inspectors more of a chance to uncover weapons?

I think there was a point of view that time would not work in our favor. By that, I mean that inspectors could simply drag out the process, that, because Iraq had not given an accurate accounting of what its possessions were, what it had destroyed, what it still had, what it imported, no amount of inspections could ever give you satisfaction.

There was a concern that, as the months and years went by, not only would international attention begin to flag, but that Iraq could use that time potentially to develop weapons of mass destruction. So many people thought [it] was not like wine; it wasn't going to be better with age. There wasn't a sense that the situation would improve.

That said, there was obviously a contrary point of view: that there was no rush, there was no imminent threat, that we needed to do more to line up international support -- and there was a concern, frankly, one I held -- that this would potentially dominate American foreign policy; that to implement an Iraq policy would be an extremely expensive, demanding undertaking.

From where I saw it, that was the biggest question mark. Was it really worth it, given all else we needed to do on the war on terrorism, do in North Korea, do in the Middle East, do to develop positive relations, say, with China and other countries?

So what I was worried about was not simply the cost of Iraq, but also what economists call the opportunity cost. What price would the United States potentially be paying for what we were doing in Iraq? All the other things we couldn't necessarily do as well. Again, I think the jury's out on that. I simply think it's one of the reasons that it's quite possible that the historical debate about this war could prove to be as controversial as about as a contemporary debate about this war.

You know, people tend to think that history sorts things out. It's quite possible that history won't sort this one out neatly, and in five or 10 or 15 years from now, people will still be debating whether this was the right war fought at this time and this place.

Did you counsel the secretary to go to war, to not go to war? I'm trying to pin you down.

I know. I think I still ought to be allowed a little bit of privacy about the nature of my advice to the secretary of state. What became clear to me, though, was very early on that we were set on a course in which we would potentially go to war. Once we laid down certain demands against Iraq, there was an "or else" quality. …

I used to have regular meetings with Condoleezza Rice, the national security advisor. On one of them I brought my pad and one of the questions was Iraq, essentially to discuss the question of whether we needed to go to war. Whether it was wise for us to set ourselves on a trajectory in which if the Iraqis didn't fulfill certain conditions in the U.N., whether essentially we'd find ourselves at war. It was obvious after a few minutes of talking that essentially the administration, the president, had made that decision that, "Yes, indeed, we were going to do this."

So to me, as early as July 2002, the debate within the government shifted away from whether it is smart to bring this to a head now, which would mean potentially going to war. The question became, "OK, if we are heading in this direction, how do we do it intelligently, how do we do it wisely? How do we prepare for the run-up to war so that diplomatically we will have maximum support if indeed we go to war? How do we prepare for the aftermath, so if indeed we have fought a war, we can we can carry out the postwar activities as smoothly, as efficiently as possible?"

What did Dr. Rice tell you?

Her reaction at that point was essentially, "The decisions were made," that we are already heading on a trajectory where the Iraqis will be sent certain demands. If they don't meet those demands, then we would have no alternative but to go to war. My view at that point was, "Fair enough. If that's the decision, that's the decision."

I thought there were strong arguments on both sides of this problem of this question. But then it also seemed to me, "That's fine, so long as we're also prepared to take yes for an answer." It's OK to be demanding to drive things to a head with the Iraqis, but then if the Iraqis were willing to fulfill everything that we demanded of them, we had to be willing essentially to take yes.

As it turns out, the Iraqis didn't provide everything we needed. They never gave, above all, a full and accurate accounting of all their activities in the realm of weapons of mass destruction. But I felt that, as early as the summer of 2002, we had lit a fuse. Either we would end up in a war, or the Iraqis would fundamentally change their policy on weapons of mass destruction, and finally, after more than a decade, completely cooperate with the United Nations and the international community.

But it was also clear that the days and months and years of fudging that, of somehow finessing that question of Iraq in this area, had come to an end.

 

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posted october 9, 2003

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