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Before the war, Perle was the chairman of the Defense Policy Board, a quasi-governmental civilian group that advises the Pentagon. A former assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, his conservative views have allowed him access to President Bush's top foreign policy advisors and cabinet members. "What Sept. 11 taught us is that we can wait too long in the presence of a known and visible threat," he tells FRONTLINE. "Saddam was a known and a visible threat." This interview was conducted on July 10, 2003.

After Sept. 11, a rationale emerges for why we should not only look at Afghanistan, but we should look at Iraq. What was going on at that period?

exclusive video

In this excerpt from his interview with FRONTLINE producer Martin Smith, the Defense Policy Board's Richard Perle denies that the Pentagon "second-guessed" intelligence from the CIA about Saddam's ties to terrorism. "[The intelligence establishment] have tried to suggest that there was somehow a politicization of intelligence because people who didn't subscribe to their blinkered view of the world took a fresh look at old intelligence," he says. "I think that's absurd." (8:30)

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I believe there was a strong argument for looking at Iraq before Sept. 11. What Sept. 11 taught us is that we can wait too long in the presence of a known and visible threat. Saddam was a known and a visible threat, and we kept deferring dealing with him. The previous administration had, and even the incoming Bush administration was conducting a rather leisurely review of Iraq. Sept. 11 said, "Be careful. You don't have unlimited time to deal with these threats."

So naturally attention focused on a threat that we had known and understood, but hadn't acted on.

Some important meetings took place just after Sept. 11. Can you can you give us some sense of the time, who was talking and who was articulating the positions that became United States policy?

I was not involved in official government discussions at that time, so I really don't know firsthand. … The only meeting that I have any personal knowledge of was a meeting of the Defense Policy Board in that period.

What was that like?

We don't talk about what's discussed in the policy board. There were news accounts later that indicated Iraq had been discussed, so I have no problem confirming that.

Chalabi also came to address the Defense Policy Board at one time.

That's correct, he did.

Was that unusual, or did other members of the Iraqi opposition also come to address your board?

The whinging, the complaints from the intelligence establishment who had overlooked this material, [is] really quite pathetic.

I believe we did have some other members. I'd have to go back and look at the list. But no, it would not be unusual to invite outsiders in with relevant knowledge. Over the last two years, the Defense Policy Board has invited a number of outsiders to come and make presentations.

But a rationale emerges for why we need to go to war, and weapons of mass destruction becomes the leading reason. There were other reasons, as well. Give me a sense of why it was that weapons of mass destructions was preeminent and what the other reasons were?

Weapons of mass destruction were, of course, an important part of the rationale. We knew that Saddam had them. The U.N. had determined that he had chemical and biological weapons, that he had a nuclear program that was discovered in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. He refused to account for those weapons.

The inspectors had been constructively dismissed from Iraq in 1998. We knew there was activity hiding things. We knew the organization responsible for hiding them. So the picture was reasonably clear, although incomplete. He had weapons, he was moving them around, he had an organization to hide them and he wouldn't account for them. So it was an obvious concern. Sept. 11 had focused everyone's attention on what terrorists could do if they were to employ weapons of mass destruction. …

But there was a larger, more ambitious plan, too, to remake the Middle East; that establishing a democracy in Iraq would be an important change in the world order.

There's no question that liberating Iraq from this vicious tyrannical regime was thought by many of us to be a good thing in itself. The added benefits -- if one could bring democratic political process to Iraq -- of shaping opinion in the Arab world, which is woefully devoid of democratic political institutions, would also be a good thing.

If you say would we have taken this action in Iraq, if the only purpose had been to try to bring democracy to Iraq, I think the answer is no. We didn't even consider using force to bring democracy to any other Arab country. But the combination of Saddam Hussein -- who had made war in the past, who had weapons of mass destruction, who was an avowed enemy of the United States-- When you put all of that together, that was a very powerful case for the action we took.

Not long after Sept. 11, Wolfowitz asked one of his deputies, Doug Feith, to set up a operation inside the Pentagon that's become known or was called then the Office of Special Plans. What was it?

I think the Office of Special Plans emerged some months later. It was in fact the organization within the policy side of the Defense Department that was responsible for planning with respect to the war. … You could have called it the Iraq war-planning group. But it made more sense under the circumstances to call it by an anodyne name.

It was set up to plan the war from the OSD side. Similarly, there would have been an office on the military side.

That's correct.

But it was also to build a rationale for the war, to explore the intelligence; as some people have put it, to second-guess some of the intelligence.

No, this was not true. It was not set up to second-guess intelligence. Not at all. It had no responsibilities of that sort, to the best of my knowledge.

It had no intelligence function? It wasn't there to look at the intelligence that was coming out and to see if links could be found between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda?

No. It was a different effort, a separate effort to reexamine previously collected intelligence to see whether we had explored sufficiently the involvement of Iraqi intelligence with terrorist organizations, because there had been a theory that dominated the collection and analysis of intelligence prior to Sept. 11.

That theory was that secular and religious terrorists were hostile to one another and would not work with each other. That theory, like all such theories, needed to be reexamined. So a very small effort was made to review previously collected intelligence to see whether there were links that had been overlooked in the period in which the theory acted as a filter. Indeed, once that effort got underway, links were found almost immediately.

Meetings between individuals in various terrorist organizations including members of Al Qaeda and including Iraqis and other intelligence organizations. The conclusion one came to was that there was a network of terrorist organizations that was-- You could call it "loose," if you like, not centrally directed, but working together, because they all had a common enemy. That enemy, unhappily, was the United States.

Who led that effort? Who led that group?

It was started originally with a couple of people. Dave Wurmser was one of them. Mike Maloof was another. A young academic who was doing reserve duty was brought in to work on this. It was never more than four people, and I think it was never more than two people at one time.

But was this the group that was led by Abram Schulsky ?

I think in the beginning it wasn't led by Abe Schulsky. When Abe started his activities, that was the Office of Special Plans.

So you're saying that this intelligence effort to look through the intelligence, it was coming out of wherever -- the CIA, NSA, DIA -- was not the Office of Special Plans.

That's correct.

Was it attached to it, or it was an adjunct or it was separate?

It was very simple. It was clear that no one had been looking for links of a kind that it was reasonable to consider might exist. We didn't know whether they existed. The evidence might have been that they didn't exist. So some people were brought in to take a look -- a very modest effort, tiny, minuscule, microscopic -- compared to the whole vast intelligence establishment.

Within a very short period of time, they began to find links that nobody else had previously understood or recorded in a useful way.

How can you explain that they were able to do that when the CIA and the DIA couldn't do it?

Because the CIA and the DIA were not looking. They had filtered out the whole set of possibilities, because it was inconsistent with their model. If you're walking down the street, [if] you're not looking for hidden treasure, you won't find it. If you're looking for it, you may find something. In this case, they hadn't been looking.

Conversely, one criticism made of these efforts is that if you look for something, you will find it, simply because you are looking. The nature of intelligence is very often vague, and things can be interpreted one way or another.

Of course. There's no absolute truth to this. There's no absolute truth. But what Chris Carney and Mike Maloof and Dave Wurmser were doing, is going over previously collected intelligence with a fresh eye -- something that ought naturally to be done.

The whinging, the complaints from the intelligence establishment who had overlooked this material, [is] really quite pathetic. They have tried to suggest that there was somehow a politicization of intelligence, because people who didn't subscribe to their blinkered view of the world took a fresh look at old intelligence. I think it's absurd.

What did they find that has stood up?

They found a number of links that I reviewed at one point, was briefed on at one point and found extremely interesting.

Can you say what it was?

No, I can't say.

So none of it made it to Powell's speech to the U.N. or any of the president's speeches, or any of the appearances of--

I don't know, because I saw some of the results at a point in time. I don't know what was reviewed by Powell or went into Powell's speech. I don't know the origin of every point in Powell's presentation.

But none of the intelligence that you saw that was coming out of this group in the Pentagon was recognizable in the speeches?

I don't think so. But remember, this group was not developing intelligence; it was examining previously collected intelligence.

But you say they found things that nobody else had found?

They [noticed] things that nobody else had noticed. It was there all along; it simply hadn't been noticed.

Critics have said that this is a prosecutorial approach to intelligence -- that one is culling, being selective, and finding what one wants to find.

I'm sorry. The culling was done by people who ignored whole areas because it wasn't consistent with their theory. Let me be blunt about this. The level of competence on past performance of the Central Intelligence Agency, in this area, is appalling. They are defensive -- and I think quite destructive -- in suggesting that anybody who didn't stand up and salute and accept that the CIA was the source of all wisdom on this is somehow engaged in nefarious activity. [That's] really outrageous. …

But is the scandal that our intelligence agencies are woefully inadequate to do the job that they need to do? Or that people were cherry picking intelligence inappropriately and presenting only half the case?

I think that our intelligence agencies have been woefully inadequate, first. Second, the charge of cherry picking implies that information that was not representative of what was known to us, was somehow accentuated to a degree that would lead one to a misleading conclusion. I haven't seen a shred of evidence to suggest that. It's an accusation by an intelligence community that is defensive about its own appalling performance. What exactly are they talking about when they talk about cherry picking?

The secretary of state reviewed a lot of material that had come through the intelligence agencies, and threw out an enormous amount of it. More than half of it he threw out before he made a speech before the U.N.. He certainly didn't feel that what he had laid before him was adequate.

Forgive me. Anyone could take a series of intelligence reports, examine them, decide how much was incontrovertible, how much was uncertain, how much was questionable-- If you're making a presentation to the United Nations, you want the most ironclad information you can get.

But to return to the accusations made against my friends in the Defense Department, I haven't seen anyone suggest that the Defense Department was responsible for the intelligence that Colin Powell reviewed. I believe he reviewed it at the CIA and with CIA. As I recall, George Tenet was present when he made those remarks.

That's correct.

It's very important to be precise about who did what and when and who knew what and when and who said what and when. I think the record of the Defense department in this is impeccable.

It's hard to know, because I don't know what intelligence actually came out of the effort in the Defense department that made a case for going to war.

I don't believe that anything originated in the Department of Defense that was used by Colin Powell or that motivated the administration.

So that effort was useful, or not?

I think it was useful, because it established some links that it was important for us to know about. But it wasn't the basis upon which we took the action that we took.

But it was influential

No one had suggested that. …

One of the criticisms … is that so much time has been wasted in the run-up to the war over infighting between the State Department and the Defense Department particularly -- much of it over who to support. Chalabi or not Chalabi.

That's quite right. There's been a debilitating, and I think, wasteful and damaging quarrel over Ahmad Chalabi.

So why have you clung to Ahmad Chalabi? Why not just find somebody else that's acceptable to both sides?

No one else has been proposed who's acceptable to both sides. The arguments against Chalabi have been without substance. He is far and away the most effective individual that we could have hoped would emerge in Iraq. No one was proposing that he be anointed in some sense, but simply that his advice and counsel would be valuable to us, and if he emerged in a leadership position, that would be highly desirable, from the point of view of the future of Iraq. He's a very capable guy.

Describe him for me.

He's quite brilliant. He is a Ph.D. in mathematics, with a background at the University of Chicago and MIT. He's a Shi'a, committed to secular democracy. He led the Iraqi National Congress, continues to lead the Iraqi National Congress, which was an umbrella group of organizations opposed to Saddam Hussein. He worked tirelessly to achieve Saddam's removal, and is the kind of modern liberal leader that we would hope to see; not only in Iraq, but throughout the Arab world.

What's the controversy?

The CIA doesn't like him, because they don't control him, and they only like people they control. Their view has always been that we should propagate a coup against Saddam; that we needed to find another strongman like Saddam, that the problem was Saddam and not the Ba'ath structure. So they were quite happy to find some other Ba'athists to replace Saddam. They went to extraordinary lengths attempting to do so. They organized coups that failed. People were killed.

Chalabi organized coups that failed, as well.

No.

He organized an uprising that failed.

He attempted to build on what he thought was American support, which was not forthcoming.

There are, of course, two versions of that story. One is that, and the other is that he didn't produce the support inside Iraq that he promised.

I'm sorry -- the operation was called off before it could even be tested.

Because the people in the State Department--

Ask [Clinton's National Security Advisor] Tony Lake.

But the people in the State Department thought it was a Bay of Pigs.

No, it was Tony Lake who picked up the telephone and called it off.

Why did he do that?

You'll have to ask him.

But wasn't it because they feared that he wasn't going to have the support that--

I don't know what they feared. I just know what they did.

You certainly asked them why.

I never got a convincing answer from Tony Lake.

What did he tell you?

He said he didn't think it would work, and he was a long way away.

And you said, "Why the hell not?

The plan was sufficiently modest, so that it wasn't a high-risk enterprise. The Clinton administration was totally risk-averse on this. They allowed Saddam over eight years to grow in strength. He was far stronger at the end of Clinton's tenure than at the beginning. The inspectors were out; he had openly defied us in the United Nations -- all those resolutions, to which there was no serious response. There had been one act of terror after another by Al Qaeda.

That's the situation this administration inherited. One of the reasons why it went from bad to worse is that the Clinton administration was not prepared to take any risks to protect us against the rising terrorist threat, or against Saddam's increasing victory over us. The sanctions were falling apart. The coalition that had been organized to deal with Saddam in the first place was falling apart.

That was the situation when President Bush took office.

You say that the feuding over Chalabi was extremely debilitating. How so?

It means that no decisions were taken, and we didn't align ourselves with any Iraqi opposition. So a strategy that might have entailed building up the opposition -- so that if and when we went into Iraq, we would go in with some thousands of Iraqis ready to go, trained and organized -- never happened. The reason why it didn't happen was a stubborn refusal to embrace an opposition-oriented strategy. We never had such a strategy.

By the White House? By the State Department?

The State Department was against it. The CIA, as I've explained, preferred a coup d'etat. The White House was essentially unable to reconcile differences among departments. So it chose not to take the steps that might well have meant that when we went into Iraq, we went in with a significant number of Iraqis to help us.

What happened when Ahmad Chalabi and the 700 Iraqi fighters were flown in from the north to the south? What was that about?

It was about a desperate call from CENTCOM for some help. CENTCOM originated the request for help. [General Tommy] Franks asked for some Iraqis. They were put together hastily, and actually did a very good job.

But why wasn't that planned ahead of time?

Should have been planned ahead of time.

But it wasn't planned ahead of time, because we couldn't decide on who to support?

Because we couldn't get the administration as a whole to adopt a policy.

That's a big question here. What went wrong with our postwar planning? When does that begin to go wrong?

I think if one were to examine the ideas that were discussed about postwar planning, you would find that the argument for readying a capability from the beginning was pressed consistently by the Department of Defense and resisted elsewhere in the government, with the result that when the war was concluded -- rapidly, effectively, as it was -- we really were not ready.

We were not ready with the Iraqis who should have been formed into the organization that we're now working on forming. That could all have been done in advance. It wasn't done in advance, and it was largely the resistance of the State Department and the CIA that prevented it. If it had been up to the Defense Department, we would have had such a structure in place.

Somebody's supposed to knock heads together and get results here, namely the NSC, and if not the NSC, the president. Was there a failure on their part?

I think there's been a degree of tolerance for diverse opinions that has gone on too long in the NSC.

You put that very mildly. I mean, tempers run very hot about this.

It's very hard to put yourself in the position of somebody who's got to reconcile these disputes. So I am reluctant to criticize people who have to balance a lot of considerations that I don't have to think about. I just know the Defense Department was insistent in proposing a progressive program of organizing before the war, and it met resistance. That resistance was hopelessly parochial -- and I think misguided -- on the part of the Department of State. The result of the dispute was a semi-paralysis. ....

So the Office of Special Plans was responsible, at the Defense Department, for overall postwar planning and war planning?

It was responsible for war planning. They made recommendations on postwar planning. They were responsible insofar as they could gain broader approval for what they were doing. They were coming up with ideas. They were drafting policy proposals. Some of them got approved through the inter-agency process; others didn't.

What's the cabal?

There is no cabal.

You're a charter member of the cabal.

OK. But what does it mean to say there's a cabal?

I'm asking you.

Generally speaking, it connotes the secret furtive activity with regard to some hidden purpose. There's nothing hidden about my view on Iraq or the view of any of the other people who are said to be part of the cabal. It's [a] most extraordinary cabal that is published in a weekly magazine called the The Standard. Or those of us who were testifying, writing holding seminars-- I mean, there is no cabal.

How much was Ahmad contributing to the effort to find weapons of mass destruction or links with terrorist organizations?

You should talk to Ahmad about this. He, the INC, produced three defectors who were made available to the CIA. They were interviewed. One of them was a physicist. The CIA didn't think he was credible, so they didn't pursue it. One of them provided very important information about facilities that had been built--

Salman Pak?

I don't know whether Salman Pak is--

I think this is Khodada you're talking about.

… Right. That was considered very valuable intelligence and highly reliable, as I understand it; I never saw the material. He had blueprints, details. I don't know that anyone has suggested that information was, in any way, wrong. And … I don't recall the third.

The third, I don't know what evidence he put forth. And that's the extent of what Ahmad produced?

That's the extent that was accepted. I think they would have proposed others. They would have had a larger program. The program was seriously handicapped for a long time by opposition from State and the CIA.

Because State didn't want to pay their bills?

No, State didn't want the INC functioning at all.

So [State] didn't give them money.

They withheld money that Congress, in fact, had allocated.

In your description of Ahmad Chalabi , to be fair -- and I'll ask Ahmad about these things -- he has a checkered past as a banker. He was convicted.

He was convicted in a military tribunal on a banking charge. It was absolutely a political prosecution. When was the last time a military tribunal heard a banking case?

…There were people in Iraq that had deposits in Petra Bank and some of the other institutions who lost money.

Yes, of course. But that I've lost money in the stock market. That doesn't mean I was the victim of fraud or wrongdoing, just poor judgment.

But when he was flown in from the north into Nasiriyah, was he received warmly?

I think he's been received very warmly in Iraq. Yes. I've seen accounts from people with him that indicate exactly that.

There's been contrary reports; that he's been protested against, that he's been unpopular, that people are bitter that they lost money in his banks.. I don't know what to what to believe

This is preposterous. Now what, they're saying that Iraqis lost money in his bank?

Yes. Because he his bank was one of the few places that Iraqis could put money outside the country.

It is entirely possible that somebody who lost money in the Petra Bank would hold Ahmad Chalabi responsible. But that this isn't what we're talking about. We're talking about whether there's a constituency for Ahmad in Iraq, and the reports I've seen from people with Ahmad, U.S. personnel with Ahmad, suggest that he has been received extremely well in Iraq.

If you had your choice, he would still be the person that we should be backing?

I think he's the person whose advice we should be taking. I think he understands that situation better than anyone else. If you go to Iraq under these circumstances, as an American, who do you listen to? You've got to make a decision about whose judgment you can trust, about who understands the situation. In my view, the person most likely to give us reliable advice is Ahmad Chalabi.

People say that we should listen to people who actually lived in Iraq during the regime.

Oh, this is complete rubbish. It would be hard to imagine a sillier argument. Iraq was a place where, if you were an opponent, you were dead. Now how are we supposed to find people in Iraq that we can talk to, and whose judgment we can repose any confidence in? People who kept secret and managed to survive their opposition to Saddam all those years? What are we talking about?

What's confusing to me is, how come reasonable people can't come to grips with this question?

It confuses me, too.

People in the State Department-- Deputy Secretary Armitage, Undersecretary of Political Affairs Marc Grossman. How can he have such a completely different view than Doug Feith, Bill Luti, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld?

I don't know. Sometimes views have an institutional character to them. I don't know what Marc Grossman's view is.

On the one hand, it's a naive question. Obviously, people have different views. But on this question of Chalabi, it seems like it's way out of line with the reality. It seems like he symbolizes something greater.

Yes. There has been an effort by the CIA -- and, to a lesser degree, but nevertheless, by this State Department -- as to impugn his capabilities and his character and integrity. It comes largely from people who don't know him. The interesting thing is that Chalabi's supporters are people who know him have known him for years, have spent many hours, days, weeks, with him. The detractors are people who, in some cases, have never met him. …

Were you surprised that we didn't find weapons of mass destruction after the statues fell?

No, I wasn't surprised. I was surprised at how ineptly we searched for them.

You're on the Defense Policy Board. Why did we not do a better job of looking for weapons?

You'll have to ask the people who made the decisions about how to search for them. But going to known sites was the least promising way of finding these weapons, the least promising. It's what Blix was doing, who was a complete failure, and was bound to be a failure. Saddam is not stupid, and he didn't leave things in sites that he knew were on our lists.

That would be Stephen Cambone in the Defense Department's responsibility.

No, I think Steve has only recently moved into that position.

So who's responsible for designing that search?

I don't know. … I think the military had responsibility for that, but I don't know.

The uniformed military?

I think so. It was very clear that the only way we were going to find things that had been well hidden is if people who knew where they were hidden told us. So the emphasis should have been, and I think now, may rightly be on interrogating people with knowledge.

But we've taken over 20 people in the deck of 55, and we still don't have any weapons of mass destruction to show for it.

We've got a lot of people in Guantanamo. Most of them are not talking, either. It's not easy to get information of the kind that we need. But we will.

Wasn't the American public told, or given the impression, that this would be a lot easier than it's been?

Not by me.

By this administration?

I don't know. I'd have to look at the statements. If anyone suggested it would be easy to find these things, they were they were quite wrong to suggest that. It was clear it was going to be hard.

There's been a couple of very embarrassing revelations. The Niger evidence among them.

That it was a fabrication?

Yes.

Talk to the people who wrote the reports.

Some of it was out of the Italian intelligence, and it proved to be forgeries.

But somebody evaluated those forgeries, and I think it's called the Central Intelligence Agency.

Right. But they advised that this stuff was no good well before it showed up in the president's speech.

I'm not sure of that.

You read Wilson's op-ed the other day.

Yes, I read Wilson's op-ed. Wilson has a point of view on this, has a point of view on the war. … I kept running into Wilson on television broadcasts. This is not a neutral observer, by any means. Nowhere does he say that that senior administration officials were informed that there were forgeries. … They certainly weren't informed. He himself says he never looked at the documents.

How much weight would you attach to a report by someone who's supposed to be investigating this -- who doesn't even look at the documents?

Because he didn't have to look at the documents to assess that it was not credible.

Normally one would start by looking at the documents. If it's open and shut because the signatures on the documents were the wrong names, that would have settled it then and there. If I were asked to go do that mission, I would say, "I'd like to see all the material." …

[Ed. Note: Read Wilson's explanation of why he did not see the document in question.]

You were on the record saying that, on this question of troops, that we didn't need so many troops to go in.

We didn't. That war was over in three weeks with very few casualties, with a force much smaller than people some people were advocating.

But people were saying that we were going to need more troops in the aftermath.

No, no, let's go back and find the statements. The big dispute was over the size of the force that it would take to win the war. People who were arguing for a very large force failed to notice how much our capabilities had improved technologically. If it matters at all, you can go back and look at what I said on that subject. I always put the emphasis on technology.

On an air campaign, and very few people on the ground.

That's relatively few people on the ground.

Right. Twenty thousand to 30,000 to 40,000 at most.

No, that was in a completely different context. That was years earlier, talking about a different strategy in which we were working with the opposition. If the U.S. forces were going to go in, I never said 40,000 for U.S. forces alone.

I'll have to check it.

I've seen it distorted in various places.

The question, though, is now, do we have enough troops in there now to control Iraq?

I think the key to controlling Iraq is putting Iraq in the hands of the Iraqis. You can't have enough Americans to control it if there are no Iraqis involved.

But is that a criticism of Bremer's--

He's only been there, what, three weeks?

Right. But he has slowed the process of handing over that power.

[I'm] not going to criticize Bremer after three weeks.

Fair enough.

I think he's doing a very good job. I think we should have gone in on day one with an Iraqi governing council ready to go on an interim basis, without prejudice to their future election prospects in Iraq. That was the view of people who did not prevail in the inter-agency process.

Why not?

Because there were arguments on the other side that were evidently sufficiently convincing, or sufficiently passionately held, so that no decision was made to go forward on the basis of an interim administrative authority.

In other words, the State Department blocked efforts to set up a interim authority early on.

I think State was against it. I don't know where the CIA was on that.

But here we stand in a very sensitive point, where our troops are being killed. People are losing their sons, daughters. This seems to be dragging on and on. And all due to a feud that took place--

No, it's not all due to a feud. It's a difficult situation, under any circumstances.

Much of it is due to the fact that we haven't been able to turn over Iraq to Iraqis. I mean that--

That's my view. But that wouldn't be the view of everyone involved. Some people believe that the key is not turning it over to Iraqis, it's having another 200,000 troops on the ground. Some people argue that we need Frenchmen on the ground, as if that would solve the problem. So there are a variety of views. My own view is that, the sooner Iraqis are in charge, the better.

Sometimes the best is the enemy of the good. We should put together an administrative structure run by Iraqis. We can change it later, and ultimately, it will be subjected to a test at the ballot box. So it's an interim arrangement. That's how I would do it. I think that's probably the direction we're moving in. …

I'm going all the way back to 9/11. Did you help, as [reporter Bob] Woodward has [written], draft a speech with David Frum that the President--

Did Woodward say I drafted a speech?

That you were on the phone to Frum on Sept. 12, going over language that would be included in the president's speech.

I talked to David. But I think it may been even on Sept. 11.

On Sept. 11? About including [to the effect] that we should be going after any countries that harbor terrorists?

It seemed to me that, at the time -- and it has seemed to me for years now --that the failure to impose a penalty on states harboring terrorists meant that states were harboring terrorists, and they were able to operate far more effectively as a result of that. So it if we were going to take terrorism seriously, we had to consider action against the states harboring them. I argued that publicly.

But is it is it an accurate account that--

It is accurate that I had a conversation with David Frum either on Sept. 11 or Sept. 12.

What was the content of that conversation?

Essentially what I've just said -- that we are not going to deal effectively with global terrorism if states can support and sponsor and harbor terrorists without penalty.

Why were you talking to him? I mean, he was putting together a speech for the president, correct?

I don't know whether he was at that point, working on a speech, or—

But he's the president's speechwriter.

He was one of one of a number of [people] I was calling, actually. I was out of the country at the time, so I called people to express my view on things.

It's not something that any citizen can do.

If people will take your call, you can do it.

It's generally been the case that the Pentagon has taken care of war plans, and the State Department has had USAID involve themselves in reconstruction projects. But in this case, even though they were running a Future of Iraq Project, the State Department did not inherit the piece. It's unusual in this case that ORHA was set up under Garner, under military command, reporting to Franks. Why did this happen?

I think there was a strong desire to have some unity of command in a situation that as it turns out was neither war nor peace. For some considerable time, it required military discipline, military organization, military institutions, because our troops there were in harm's way, continued to be in harm's way. I think that was the principle concern. But ORHA was staffed overwhelmingly by Foreign Service officers.

But in the context of all the in-fighting that's gone on between State and Defense, and State's reluctance to get involved in the war in the first place, I'm asking you whether or not that didn't close them out of the peace process.

No, I think State had a significant influence, continues to have a significant influence, on the current situation. Many of the people who were in Iraq today are State Department people. Foreign Service officers, and--

Sure. But they report through Bremer to Rumsfeld.

Former Ambassador [Bremer].

Right. But he reports to Rumsfeld.

Well, if your image is that Bremer salutes and asks for instructions from the Secretary of Defense-- In fact, Jerry Bremer makes a lot of decisions entirely on his own, and that's as it should be.

So you don't think we're seeing a hangover of this feud?

I don't think so. I mean, clearly, the disparagement of Chalabi hangs over, because there are people in Iraq today who share that view. This silly debate about inside/outside, in which it is believed, I think quite wrongly, that people who lived in Iraq all these years and may well have been Ba'athists, somehow should be resurrected to participate in the new government. That dispute continues. But I think by and large, it's subsided now.

So you're optimistic?

I'm optimistic. I think things are better than they appear to be in the daily press. There's been a tendency, which is not surprising, to report every incident, to report all the things that go wrong. Nobody writes a piece about how a power station that was down until yesterday is now up and running. It's in the nature of reporting that the disasters, the failures, are getting reported. The successes, which are sometimes modest or obscure, don't get reported.

 

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posted october 9, 2003

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