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In 2002, Wilson, a retired ambassador and former director of Africa policy for the National Security Council, traveled to Africa to look into reports that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger. His report -- the accusations were bogus. But when President Bush stated in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had tried to purchase nuclear material from Africa, Wilson wrote an op-ed article in The New York Times accusing the Bush administration of twisting intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq. The article caused the administration to back away from its original claims. "The intelligence was manipulated and twisted to support a political goal that had already been established," he tells FRONTLINE. This interview was conducted on August 12, 2003.

You received a phone call in February 2002. What happened?

The phone call was, "Come out and talk to us about uranium, about Niger, about Iraq." So I went out to the CIA.

The CIA called you?

The CIA called me, and I met out there with a group of analysts from the broader intelligence community on uranium, on Niger and on Iraq. … I met with maybe 10 people from not just the CIA, but also the other parts of the intelligence community. The State Department Intelligence and Research Office was the group of people that were out there as I recall.

Far be it from me to call a very serious senior public official a liar. But I believe, in that case, she certainly misstated the facts.

I walked in, and some of them I knew casually. I mean, I didn't know their names, but they came up and reintroduced themselves to me, because I had frequently briefed various aspects of the intelligence community on issues that I had some familiarity with, some experience with. The intelligence community, the analytical community in particular, resides in Washington, so they welcome the opportunity to talk to somebody who actually has some field experience, whether it's in intelligence or in State Department type activities, diplomacy or policy. I had long been involved in diplomacy and in policy. So it was not unusual for me to go out and speak to people from the broader intelligence community, and this was one of those instances.

As soon as I got there, they said, they said, "We have got this report of a purported memorandum of agreement covering the sale of uranium, yellow cake, from Niger to Iraq. Tell us what you know about Niger. Tell us what you know about uranium." So I did.

It was not unusual for them to have called me or somebody like me, because I had experience, both in Niger, I had experience with the government officials who had been in office at the time that this purported memorandum of agreement was signed, and of course, I had some experience and some knowledge of the uranium business.

What did they ask you to do?

They asked me just to share with them my knowledge, first of all, which I did. Then they asked me if I would be willing and free to go out there to kind of update their information base. Then we gamed out what the utility of making such a trip would be, who I might see, the questions I might pose, the sort of information I might be seeking.

Did they show you the report?

No, no. They had a report, which of course was classified. They briefed me on the contents of it, and the report was based upon this memorandum of agreement.

Did they say where these concerns came from, what part of the government they came from?

They did, yes. They said that the office of the vice president had raised questions about this report, and they'd asked them to look into it.

But you had no contact with the vice president's office?

No.

So the vice president had made an inquiry to the CIA to investigate, and the CIA called you.

I think even "to investigate" is probably a little bit stronger than what the vice president probably said.

But he asked some questions.

What happens is the vice president and other senior officials of the White House are briefed on a regular basis by the CIA and by other intelligence agencies on information that comes across their desk and on analyses that they have done. It was during the course of this briefing, we later found out, that the vice president turned to the briefer and said, "Gee, this is an interesting report. Can you tell me any more about it?"

[The briefer] takes that question back to the agency. Had the information come through defense intelligence channels, it would have been the DIA briefer, Defense Intelligence Agency briefer. Had it come through State Department channels, it would have been the State Department briefer who would have been asked that question. But the question was, "Look, this is an interesting report. Is there anything more you can tell me about it?" Something like that.

The CIA briefer then goes back. That question goes down as a tasking, requiring a response to the operational level of the CIA. The CIA then decides, "How best are we going to answer this question?" Step one, in this case, to answer the question was to invite me, perhaps others -- I don't know -- in to talk to them about the business as we know it, the government as we know it, and the likelihood that such a thing could happen. …

Why didn't you request the document?

It wasn't necessary.

But if you're going to go investigate the charges that are made in the document, wouldn't it have been useful to show the document to officials?

There were no charges made in the document. The document was a purported memorandum of agreement between two governments. It was not necessary for the purposes of inquiring whether in the context of the uranium business or in the context of Niger government bureaucracy procedures, decision-making procedures, whether such a decision could have happened, whether such a sale could have taken place.

But isn't it evidence? It's evidence.

It's evidence. It might be useful if you're a prosecutor. It might be useful if you're a private investigator. It wasn't necessary for the purposes of going out and looking at how the uranium business does business, how they do it. It wasn't necessary in terms of going out and generally speaking, talking to the whole question of how a government makes these decisions. Clearly if they had had the memorandum of agreement itself and the signatures on it, then that might have been helpful. But they did not have the memorandum itself. There was just a report of this purported memorandum of agreement.

So you understood that the CIA didn't even have these documents?

That's correct.

They had heard about them from another intelligence service?

They had a report from their intelligence service, from their field operative, based upon either a viewing of these documents or a third party's having shared with them information relating to the document.

I see. So it's in some ways hearsay, or "We've seen something, but we want to investigate."

That's right. …

What did you find [when you went to Niger to investigate]?

What I found was that the structure of the consortium of the uranium business, as it's constituted in Niger, was such that it would have been impossible for any quantity of uranium to have gotten out without a sort of broad agreement on the part of the consortium members -- all of whom were respected members of the international community; all of whom were members of the International Atomic Energy Association; none of whom would likely have found it in their interest to aid and abet a conspiracy to sell yellow cake to a country that was barred from having it. That was the one side of it.

The other side was, through Niger government procedures, I learned that for such a decision to sell uranium to be made, it would have to be decided upon by the Council of Ministers. Any document purporting to be a memorandum of agreement would have to contain the signatures of, at a minimum, the supervisory ministry, the ministry of mines, the foreign minister, because it concerned the sale between two sovereign governments, and the prime minister as the head of government.

So there would have been decisions that would have had to have been taken, which would have been in the Federal Register. Even if they had been secret and therefore exempt from publication in the Federal Registrar, they would have had to have been signed off on by very senior officials of the government, up to and perhaps including the president. If those documents did not contain those signatures, then those documents could not be authentic.

Did you see any evidence that they, the Iraqis, had sought to purchase uranium from Niger?

No. The only thing that was explained to me in one conversation was of course there was this Nigerien delegation who came through in 1999 that had preliminary discussions related to the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Uranium was not discussed. There was another request for a meeting on the margins of an Islamic conference meeting that was turned down. …

You were aware that the Iraqis had purchased uranium from Niger in the past?

Sure, and that was raised with me. Now, I'm not to this day sure if that sale was consummated. I have not bothered to go back and take a look at my own notes and my own memory about it. But, yes, during the time of Seyni Kountche, who was the president of Niger during the 1970s when I was there the first time, and the 1980s, there was either the sale of 200 or 300 tons or the proposed sale of 300 tons of uranium from Niger to Iraq. I believe that was the figure that I was told. … That of course was done through the established procedures. In other words, Niger approached the other consortium members and said, "We want to take this additional tonnage out of these mines for our own sale to a third country, the country being Iraq, and you have IAEA documentation of that particular sale." So it was not illegal.

So you were looking at the possibility of some kind of clandestine movement of uranium as opposed to some upfront, IAEA-sanctioned--

It would have been clandestine in the sense that it would have been probably not authorized by the IAEA, given the U.N. Security Council prohibitions. I looked at it both sides. I looked at it as a decision between two sovereign governments, which either would or would not have passed through IAEA and U.N. Security Council channels, likely not, because of the prohibitions.

I looked at the possibility that a certain amount of uranium could be siphoned off of the production and sent to Iraq, thereby circumventing IAEA and U.N. Security Council regulations. In neither case did it appear to me that you would be able to do that without a broad conspiracy supporting it, principally because the other consortium members have to sign off on any production increases. Those consortium members include the French, the Germans, the Spanish and the Japanese, all of whom are respected members of the IAEA.

Why isn't it possible that a rogue within the French consortium--

It would have more than just the French consortium. It would have been the managing partners of the other consortium members [such] as the Germans, the Japanese and the Spanish, as well as the French. In addition, any production increases would have to have been documented because they would have been reflected in employment increases, transportation requirements, shipping requirements -- all the way through.

The one company that actually is the managing partner of this consortium is the French uranium company which supplies the uranium for the French nuclear industry. It's hard to imagine that the French, given the part that nuclear plays in their energy sector, would jeopardize their standing in that nuclear community for the purposes of selling some small tonnage of yellow cake to Iraq from Niger. …

That said, I certainly made the point when I debriefed that if there were further questions or further suspicions about this, the next step was to go and talk to the French uranium company, which would have had to have been part and parcel of any conspiracy. That is the caveat that I put into my report which allowed me to say, or which caused me to say in my New York Times op-ed that it was highly unlikely.

When you debriefed the CIA, did you get a sense from them as to what they thought?

No. The person I debriefed or I briefed was the reports officer, and his job really was to take the information I gave him, turn it into sort of CIA language or intelligence community language, give it a grade and then send it out to the broader community. I had no further official contact with the CIA after that debriefing until they opened their inquiry into this information, which was just a couple of months ago, in June.

So you debrief, you go back home, you go back to your job. When does this rear its head again?

The first time after my own particular trip out there that there was any talk that came to my attention about nuclear sales or sales of yellow cake to Iraq was in the British white paper, which made the statement that was later used by the president -- that Iraq had sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

What did you think when you heard that?

It was mildly curious, but since they talked about Africa and not Niger, there was not much for me to say or to do. It was only after the president's State of the Union address that I called the State Department Bureau of African Affairs and spoke with somebody over there, and just asked the questions. …

What do you say exactly?

I just basically said that if the president was speaking about Niger in the State of the Union address, then the State Department needed to be comfortable that he was accurately reflecting the facts, since my own trip out there, as well as the ambassador's own reports on the subject, as well as the senior military officer's report on the subject, said that there was nothing to that particular story.

The response I got was that perhaps the president was speaking about another African country, which is totally conceivable. There are three other countries in Africa that actually produce uranium: Namibia, South Africa and Gabon. So the president could have been speaking about one of those countries. That was the response I got. That was satisfactory to me. I had no reason to believe otherwise.

So you didn't make much of it at that point after the president's speech?

No. Now, there had been a State Department fact sheet published on Dec. 19 in response to the Iraqi declaration to the United Nations, and in that fact sheet, the State Department says that Iraq had failed to acknowledge its efforts to purchase uranium from Niger. I did not see that fact sheet until well after I had begun to speak out….

So when does this become a concern to you? When do you think the government has gone off the deep end on this?

It becomes a concern to me when the IAEA chief, Dr. el-Baradi, in response to their analysis of documents provided to them by the State Department, says that these documents, which are a memorandum of agreement from Niger to Iraq, are obvious forgeries, and anybody who had done a two-hour search on Google would have come to that same conclusion.

In response to that statement, the State Department spokesman says, "We were fooled by these documents." Now, when the State Department spokesman said that, I was moved to say on a news program that I thought that if the U.S. government looked into its files, it would find that it had far more information on this particular subject than the State Department spokesman was letting on.

The vice president says, in response to your criticism, that absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence.

I don't know what he's saying. I mean, my response to that would be that you have a multibillion-dollar intelligence service and diplomatic service that are designed to provide you the best information possible. You allow the president of the United States to use information that did not even pass the threshold for an Italian news magazine? You allow him to use that information in the most important speech that he makes in his tenure?

… Did you ever call back over to the CIA and say, "What's going on with this stuff?"

No.

Why not?

Didn't need to. Talked to the State Department. My trip out there, by the way, was not a CIA trip. My travel was reimbursed by the CIA, but I made it very clear before I went out there that I don't do clandestine. I can do discreet, but I don't do clandestine. As a consequence, before I went out, I also briefed the State Department.

The first person I met when I was out there was the U.S. ambassador. The last person I met before I left, for the purposes of debriefing on what I had found, was the U.S. ambassador. So it was perfectly acceptable for me to contact the Department of State. Plus, it was a lot easier, because that was the culture in which I had grown up, so I knew all those people.

You were criticized by some supporters of the president that you went out and debunked this whole thing, supposedly, without even looking at the documents. They criticized you for not looking at the documents.

As far as I know, nobody in the U.S. government had those documents. So it would have been difficult to make that trip of February 2002 having looked at the documents.

Remarkable that the government would not get these documents. That seems unusual to me. I don't understand.

I think you need to understand that the intelligence community receives thousands of bits of information every day, many of which are false leads. That's why we have a whole analytical section. … It does seem to me that if I came back and said that this cannot be accurate because the industry in and of itself, the structure, would not permit such a sale to take place without a broad conspiracy, and government procedures are such that if the documents did not contain signatures A, B and C, they could not be authentic. Then it seems to me there's very little interest or need to purchase documents which, on the face of it, are bogus.

So they would have had to pay for these documents? Somebody was offering these for pay?

Sure.

Do you know who it was?

I have no idea. But I don't think it was a question of their just having the documents in the hands of somebody without having to pay for them.

Now, to be fair to the president, he says, he quotes the British, saying that they have evidence that Iraq sought -- not purchased, but sought -- uranium.

Significant quantities for the purposes of reconstituting their nuclear weapons program.

But they don't say they got it. They just say they sought it.

That's correct. But there is nobody on either the Nigerien side or the Iraqi side who has said that the uranium was ever discussed in any meetings, much less that there was an active--

But technically, they had sought it? They had purchased it in the past, in the early 1980s?

That's correct, and that was a legal and legitimate purchase.

Why didn't you mention that in your piece?

That was not within my purview. The historical record on that was something that would have been well known to the U.S. government. If in fact they were referring to the 1980s purchase, a good amount of that yellow cake was still under IAEA seal at Tuweitha in Iraq. The purpose of this was to check into a memorandum of agreement that was executed in the late 1990s for a new uranium yellow cake sale from Niger to Iraq.

Correct. But why not just set the context straight?

Presumably the context was set by the intelligence community when they did their intelligence assessments. I was not charged with going in and reviewing the entire history of the Niger uranium business. I was charged with going in and talking about this particular sale. The reason it was me, and not our ambassador and not somebody else, is because the officials who were in government at the time that this supposed memorandum for agreement was executed were all people that I had done a lot of business with when I was at the White House, with whom I enjoyed a certain amount of credibility.

Specifically, I had been senior director for Africa at the National Security Council during a very difficult period in Niger's history. That period included a military coup, cutting off of development assistance by the United States; then, subsequent to that, in fact, after I left the White House, the assassination of a president. I was working with the Nigeriens throughout that period to try and assist them in moving their governance back from a military dictatorship to a representational government. So as a consequence of that, I knew those characters within the Niger government as well or better than anybody else in the U.S. government at the time, with the possible exception of the ambassador, who had been there at that time. He, unfortunately, did not have the same credibility with them, for the obvious reason that he had been essentially the instrument of our program and of our criticism of the Niger government.

The government says this is all a deflection, that this is all about 16 words in a speech the president made, and "OK, you know, we made a mistake here perhaps, but this is just 16 words. There's a huge case to be made that this was a grave and present danger."

Sure, and the president made that case. I think increasingly it is questionable as to whether or not the dangers posed by Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programs were either an imminent threat to the national security of the United States, or a grave and gathering danger to the security of the United States. We're seeing that as we go forward.

But I have never doubted that -- and I've said this repeatedly -- that the weapons of mass destruction issue was the legitimate national security issue that we needed to address in our relationship with the government of Iraq. The way to do that was to enhance the enforcement mechanism of the Resolution 687 of the United Nations Security Council, Resolution 687, which deals with disarmament.

Saddam Hussein was a thug. His regime was a thuggish regime. There was ample reason not to trust anything that they did. There was ample reason -- and there was the force of international law -- to ensure that disarmament was effective. I never doubted that.

But you favored containment?

What I favored was disarmament as a political objective to be underpinned and supported by the credible threat of force if necessary to attain that objective.

You didn't support the war?

I didn't support a invasion, conquest, occupation of Iraq. I didn't support it as the best way to get at the disarmament objective, and I was always very concerned. I've said this repeatedly, that however easy or however difficult it might be for us to get to Baghdad, that was just the beginning -- that the occupation and the disengagement from Iraq would be far more difficult and far more costly. …

Your decision to write an op-ed in The New York Times is a political decision, is it not?

I didn't really think of it as a political decision in the sense of a partisan decision. I thought of it much more as a response to what appeared to me to be a series of misstatements on the part of senior administration officials.

But you could have privately gone to the administration.

I gave the administration lots of opportunity, and this story had been kicking around for a couple of months. The administration had every opportunity to step out and say, "We were wrong on this. We should have corrected it."

You had made entreaties to the White House?

Not to the White House directly, but through the State Department, through friends of senior administration officials. I had made very clear my concerns that the statements that I was hearing out of the White House were just simply not accurate, did not reflect the facts as I knew them.

You were beginning to see a pattern at this point of trumped-up charges of weapons of mass destruction being an imminent threat?

More to the point, I was seeing a pattern of just denying certain things that I knew to be true. I have never claimed that this was the biggest part of the weapons of mass destruction argument. But what I have suggested is that what the administration was saying in response to the stories that were coming [in] was just simply not accurate, and essentially were misstatements.

The most egregious being when Dr. Rice said on "Meet the Press" that maybe somebody in the bowels of the agency knew about this Niger business, but nobody in her circle. That then prompted me to begin to speak out more stridently, and ultimately to write the article.

She was stonewalling, in your view?

She was misstating the facts.

She was lying?

She was misstating the facts. Far be it from me to call a very serious senior public official a liar. But I believe, in that case, she certainly misstated the facts. …

Didn't they decide that the U.S. couldn't make the case, that their own intelligence was not strong enough, so therefore, they laid it off intentionally on the British?

What they have said is that the statement in the State of the Union address was technically correct, because it referred to British intelligence, so it's a derivative statement. It's like it's OK for a journalist to print something because it's been printed in another newspaper. I find that difficult to accept as an excuse, because after all, the United States spends billions of dollars on intelligence.

The intelligence that the British had, they had not shared with us, as they have said because of third-party agreements that prohibited their sharing that intelligence with us. So we took on face value a statement in a British white paper that we had not verified. In fact, at least [regarding a] part of that statement, we had gone back to them and said, "We think you're wrong on this piece," the piece being the Niger uranium sales.

Now, the British have come back and said that they had a separate piece of intelligence that did not depend upon those documents. But for us to have used derivatively their statement, perhaps we could save ourselves a lot of money in the future by just simply subcontracting our intelligence function to the British, since we apparently give them … higher credibility than we give the reports, not just of me, but also of our ambassador and of a senior American general in the field.

What you're saying is that the administration ignored suspicions coming from its own intelligence sources about this alleged sale or whatever, and went with the British--

I believe that there were more than suspicions raised by the U.S. intelligence services. … I think it was general consensus that it was just untrue.

How do you explain that the administration did such a thing?

Either there's a breakdown in the system, or as I said in my opinion piece, that the intelligence was manipulated and twisted to support a political goal that had already been established. I frankly think that that's probably the case.

Should the United States have gone to war?

The United States was well within its rights, as was the international community, to enforce both U.N. Security Resolution 687 and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441. The national security objective for the United States was clear; it was disarmament of Saddam Hussein. We should have pursued that objective. We did not need to engage in an invasion, conquest and occupation of Iraq in order to achieve that objective.

In fact, when the president spoke at the State of the Union address and when Secretary Powell spoke at the United Nations, they spoke, essentially, in a fashion that was designed to denigrate the efforts of the inspection regime. But in fact, they spoke to many successes that we were having through the renewed international consensus on disarming Saddam Hussein.

What wasn't justified, in your opinion?

This particular military action -- the invasion, conquest and occupation of Iraq -- was not justified by the weapons of mass destruction threat objective, and was not justified by the so-called links to terrorism. [Resolution] 1441 was working perfectly. If in fact there were concerns about how rapidly it was progressing and whether there was a need to adjust it to be more effective, there were many steps that could have been taken short of sending Jessica Lynch driving off to Baghdad.

The links to terrorism was a very weak link to begin with; so weak, in fact, that the United States government could not bring itself to act unilaterally based upon its concerns about those links. United Nations charter, Article 47, the article itself-- Defense would have permitted the United States to act had there been links to terrorism. The Patriot Act gave the president full authority to act on behalf of the United States where he thought that there was an operational link between a foreign government and Al Qaeda, which had perpetrated this terrible attack against the United States. The U.S. government could not convince itself that those links were sufficient to justify a war on "links to terrorism" grounds.

That leaves only the third pillar, which was Saddam is a brute. We all knew Saddam was a brute. But if Saddam had committed genocidal killings -- which is a justification for international action -- there is a Genocide Convention at the United Nations. We could have had that debate. The president could have had that debate with the American people, with the U.S. Congress, on those terms, and he might have gotten full support.

But in actual fact, if you invade for the purposes of overthrowing a sovereign regime, liberating the country, there are a couple of things that happen. One, you expend a lot of political capital as well as military might in so doing, so you need to determine whether or not that's in your own national security interests. The United States does a review of military doctrine every four years. Wars of liberation are not generally accepted as the appropriate use of American military forces.

The president says there was a moral imperative.

The moral imperative is fine. We don't normally engage in moral wars. We generally structure our military forces, we pay our taxes to our defense establishment to defend the United States against enemies foreign. That's what we do. …

But that's the old thinking, they would say. The neo-cons would say, "Things must change. The Cold War's over. We're the lone superpower. We should act when we have a moral right to act."

Moral right or moral obligation-- Who determines what is a moral right? Is it going to be the neo-conservatives? Under what basis are they going to make those determinations?

You said Saddam is a brute. He was killing his people.

There are lots of brutes out there. Are we going to take them all down? When are we going to decide which brute is worthy of U.S. military forces? If you're going to engage in moral wars, we have, every four years, a requirement to produce a new doctrine for the use of military forces. One has been produced by this administration. Moral wars didn't meet the cut line in their conception of how we use the U.S. military forces, either.

Now, I'm perfectly willing to entertain that Saddam is a special case, that in fact, Saddam's use of chemical weapons against his neighbors, against his own population, his brutal murder of his citizens, constituted genocide. There's a convention that has been accepted by the world in the United Nations called the Genocide Convention. We could have acted. We could have gone to the United Nations and had the debate on those terms. That would have been the way we did it. …

It was not until late in the game that the so-called moral war came into being as a further justification. But the people, the neo-conservatives who brought this war upon us, who were the biggest supporters of this war, did not mention the moral case when they wrote the Project for the New American Century, when they wrote their 1998 letter to then-President Clinton, when Mr. Perle and company wrote their paper for Bibi Netanyahu, called "A Clean Break, a New Strategy for the Security of the Realm," or even when Mr. Wolfowitz drafted his security statement when he was undersecretary for policy in the Bush I White House, Bush I Defense Department. …

So you've mentioned that there was a larger argument, or another argument being made for why this war should be fought. What was that?

If you talk to the neo-conservatives -- and the argument I like the best is the one that's been put forward by Max Boot in an article that he wrote -- that the United States should not shy away from a jodhpurs and pith helmet imperial policy. So it is essentially illiberal imperialism. It's the idea that we can go in, and by virtue of our moral might and our moral right, we can reshape the Middle East so that it will in fact be flourishing pro-Western, pro-Israeli democracies. …

There is this argument, in a sense, that it is in an act of desperation; that we tried everything else, and if we're going to transform the Middle East and bring peace to the region, we need to bring a democracy to the region that works.

Yes. I've heard that argument, and that's all well and good. We are not a desperate country, first of all. And while the Arab world may in fact have been on a long-term losing streak, that doesn't necessarily give us the right to send Jessica Lynch off to square things through military action. The firebombing of Baghdad, the killing of Iraqi civilians, the occupation of Iraq, is not necessarily the best way to ensure that you have a democracy that sprouts out of the ruins.

In fact, I think that there are many, many examples where we have seen that out of the ruins of failed regimes come things other than democracy. In order for us to really effect the democratic reform that we want to effect, we're going to have to be there for a long time. It's going to cost us a lot of money, and we run the risk of being seen, as we are being seen right now, as occupiers as opposed to liberators.

We are occupiers.

We are occupiers. Indeed we are. … There was ample opportunity to help forces of freedom in Iraq. We had had the sanctions regime in place for 12 years, which, as we found out, had enfeebled the regime enormously. We were providing aid and succor to the Kurdish movement, to the tune of providing their defense umbrella that enabled them to be essentially autonomous for the past 12 years. There were all sorts of other steps that we could take, short of putting 150,000 troops in downtown Baghdad.

But why isn't this policy of transformation of the Middle East through establishment of a democracy a good idea?

It's not a bad idea to want to transform the Middle East into flourishing democracies. The question really is, how confident are you that you can do it at the point of a gun? Those of us who have done democracy for a long time will argue that democracy, in the best of circumstances, is difficult. It is made all the more difficult when the democratizing power is also seen to be an occupying power that doesn't necessarily have in mind the best for the citizens of the country that it's attempting to democratize.

Does it mean that we shouldn't try?

No, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't try. It does mean that the use of our military forces ought to be judicious at best, and ought to be reserved essentially to defending the United States. That's what we have our U.S. military for. We have all sorts of other services, including diplomacy, including tradecraft, and sort of commercial relations, including economic and other sorts of political tools in our belt to assist democratizing forces in the Middle East -- and elsewhere, for that matter. …

The war to expel Saddam from Kuwait, followed by this onerous sanctions regime --which I also felt needed to be reformed several years ago -- the isolation of Iraq, the enfeebling of the regime through the expanded inspection regime that was put into place after 1441-- All were very useful tools to get us where we wanted to go in this at a minimum amount of risk and with a high potential for reward.

The option of invasion, conquest and occupation, by contrast, was always the highest risk, lowest reward option. The use of military force is a very blunt instrument, and it always yields enormous unintended consequences. In the case of the Middle East, what I fear most is that the fear or really the resentment and the jealousy and the envy of American power and American relations with the region will now become a real loathing for the United States. That will manifest itself in relations and attitudes towards Americans for the foreseeable future.

Is your contention then that we were led to the invasion of Iraq by some ideas that just don't hold?

It's not really my contention. But I think if you go back and you take a look at the documentation that was produced by the strongest supporters of this war--

Perle, Wolfowitz--

That's correct. Throughout the 1990s, you will see that in fact that was their agenda.

But you think their ideas are incorrect.

I think they're flawed, to say the least. I think that we run the very real risk that they produce precisely the opposite results of what they intend to produce, if in fact that's what they intend to produce. …

You mentioned to this before as a failure of diplomacy. What did you mean?

I think any time that you're required to use military force, you have to ask yourself the question of whether or not you should have used other means prior to resorting to force. The use of military force is not necessarily the best option, and it is not necessary unless it's the very last option. So in using military force, did we circumvent other options that we had, other steps? My reading of the case is that, clearly, once we decided to short-circuit the U.N. process, that we essentially decided that we were going to have a war of choice, rather than use other instruments and other tools in our tool belt to achieve the result that we wanted to achieve.

Now, I think the national security and the international agreement was to try and achieve disarmament as a result, and that essentially called for other options before we did this invasion, conquest and occupation option. …

Saddam was 65, 66 years old. While dictators do have a tendency to live for a long time, we had seen through our own experience in the Cold War that you can have in place a policy of coercive containment, which allows for, with a little bit more patience, a much more peaceful transition; or at least a transition in which American troops are not put in harm's way as these societies work out their own problems.

You've spoken recently about efforts on the part of the administration to intimidate you and others from speaking your minds.

Not intimidated me.

To intimidate others.

By the time that the White House decided it was going to speak out and mount some half-assed attacks on me, I had already said my piece, so there was really nothing that they could do to me. What they could do is by attacking me is send a signal to others that "This will be your fate should you decide to step forward," and that's very clear.

And they attacked you -- how?

There were a number of articles written about me personally. Then of course there were some leaks to prominent American journalists concerning my wife.

Explain.

There were assertions made that she worked for the CIA, which[are] assertions I don't really respond to, other than make the point that hypothetically speaking, if these assertions are accurate, then the people who made the assertions violated U.S. law --

Because they've blown her cover.

Because they've blown her cover. If they're inaccurate, at a minimum, they force her to have to go around and tell all her friends and all her cousins and all her family members that these assertions are not true.

This was an attempt to intimidate others?

I think it was a signal to others, that should you decide to come forward, we will do this to your family as well. It was just very sloppy.

This caused a lot of pain in your family?

No, I wouldn't say that. What I would say, however, is that if these assertions are true, if it's a real violation, [it will] cause a lot of pain in our national security apparatus, because at a minimum-- The assertions were that she was a CIA operative working in the weapons of mass destruction programs. So if those assertions are true, what this administration has done is they've taken a national security asset involved in a program to which they give high priority, off the table, and to protect whose career? What political objective is so important--

To shut you up.

--that you take a national security asset off -- not to shut me up, but to keep others--

To shut others up.

To [shut] others up. That would be the only conclusion I could come to. If you read the story in which this assertion was made, the assertion adds absolutely nothing to the story, nothing. It is not germane, it is not relevant.

All's fair in love and war.

When you're an administration that comes to office on a platform of restoring dignity and honor to the White House, and you act in such a dishonorable and undignified way, then you really do descend to that "all's fair in love and war" status. I think in that case it's important to point out how duplicitous some in the White House are. …

The war was, in your view, a failure of diplomacy, then?

Look, at the end of the day, the question really comes, how best you use your assets and what assets do you use to achieve your objective? Do you send Jessica Lynch to invade, conquer and occupy, with all that that comports? [Do you have] 150,000 Jessica Lynches, 150,000 Americans doing this, working hard, braving the dangers, confronting hostile forces, confronting the elements every day? Do you do that as your best choice, as opposed to making the diplomats up in New York work a little bit harder to sustain the international commitment to achieve the national security objective that the president had laid out? …

Why make Jessica Lynch or Corporal Jones or Sergeant Smith go out and do what they had to do -- and what they're doing courageously every day -- when and if you could have had John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and others up there and their international colleagues working much harder to find another solution -- a solution that was less violent and less prone to these unintended consequences?

The administration would say we dallied around long enough, and that if you're going to have a credible threat of force, you have to use it once in a while.

But you know, you lose credibility as soon as you begin to use that force. Now, I agree that you needed to have that credible threat of force. I agree that there would be a time that you might have to use it. But the credible threat of force and the use of that force should have been clearly directed at the national security objectives that we had established. That national security objective was not redrawing the political map of the Middle East. It was terrorism, and it was weapons of mass destruction.

I don't know. Maybe it was redrawing the map of the Middle East, and maybe it was oil, and, you know, reverse dominoes.

If it was oil, or even if it was redrawing of the political map of the Middle East, we did not have that debate. That was not put forward to the U.S. Congress when the president asked for the blank check in October to do what he had to do. …

There is no more solemn decision that a society can make than sending its soldiers off to die and to kill for our country. It is the one time where you really have to get it right. People's lives, Americans' lives and foreigners' lives depend on your getting that decision right. It is worthy of having the facts, the best facts available upon which to make that decision. It is not worthy of a great democracy such as ours to go off and fight the right war for the wrong reasons. It is only worthy for the United States to fight the right war for the right reasons.

You think we got it wrong?

I know we got it wrong. There's no doubt in my mind, and I think you see that every day in Iraq. I think we're in for more of the same, only worse. I think that the occupation will become more and more difficult for the Iraqis to live with. They have been through this before. This is a country that remembers its history dating back millennia. They will outlive this occupation. They will make our lives difficult there. At the end of it, I think the chances are really very good that the consequences will be far graver to our own national security than they were going in.

At a minimum, we already have 150,000 targets for international terrorism as well as resistance forces there on the battlefield in Iraq. At a minimum, you run the very real risk that you unleash a two- or three-way civil war in Iraq between the Shi'a, the Sunni and the Kurds. At a minimum, everybody who does democratization knows that democracy is something that comes about as a consequence of evolution, not revolution. Revolutions breed as successor regimes the least exhausted in exhausted societies, hence, the most zealous. And that is really what we're looking at there.

 

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posted october 9, 2003

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