What was the feeling inside the Bush Administration at the end of the Gulf
When the war ended at the end of February, 1991, there was a tremendous feeling
of satisfaction. We had gone in and done what we said we were going to do. We
had liberated Kuwait. American casualties were far, far less than all of us
predicted and feared. So there was a tremendous sense that, yes, this was
going extremely well. And we were all very comfortable with what we had done.
Clearly, in the aftermath, over the last eight or nine years, not everything's
worked out the way we had hoped. And that was also part of it. It was our
expectation at that point that in the aftermath of the war, Saddam Hussein
would not be able to survive politically, that more than anything else, the
returning Iraqi forces would overwhelm him and overthrow him, and that one way
or another, he was going to be made to pay a price for this strategic
So, there was that hope, and then as the years went by, a feeling of
Oh yeah. Let me put it another way. You never really solve problems in
international affairs. But we thought we would basically put this problem in a
box with the Gulf War. And then in March 1991, when you had the revolts,
clearly things got very messy. A lot of good people lost their lives. It then
became clear a few months later that Saddam Hussein was going to stay--we
didn't know how long--but clearly he was not going to be swept aside in
defeat, as many of us had expected.
Was there some fear on the Administration's part [that]..., if Saddam goes,
who replaces him?
There was always some concern that if Saddam went you could have Saddamism
without Saddam. You could have somebody 98 percent as bad, but the world would
breathe this collective sigh of relief, and that would have been dangerous.
Another worrisome scenario was the idea that Iraq would come apart, and you'd
have a civil war in Iraq. You'd have all the neighbors coming in. It could
look like Beirut looked a decade before, and it could be really awful. But
I've got to tell you, when I was sitting at the White House, that was the sort
of problem I looked forward to, the idea that one day that would come into my
in-box. While I didn't underestimate the problem, it's still a hell of a lot
better than having to deal with Saddam Hussein.
So, Saddam is in power still. Weakened, in his box. This organization is
then created called UNSCOM. What was the Bush Administration's feeling about
I think at the beginning, there was a certain degree of skepticism. The idea
that some U.N.-like organization was going to actually accomplish a great
deal-- A lot of us had watched things like the International Atomic Energy
Agency for decades, and it had always worked on a voluntarily or consensual
basis. And quite honestly, I didn't have a lot of faith in the I.A.E.A. It
was only allowed to look where government said it could look. So the idea that
UNSCOM, the U.N. Special Commission, was going to come along and do something
very different--possible, but quite honestly, I admit to being skeptical at
the time. Glad I was proved wrong.
...What was the evolution of your feeling about them at that point?
Well, two things were happening. On one hand, the Iraqis were clearly hanging
tough. And the idea that Saddam would go or the Iraqis would be supine, was
not happening. They were resisting every inch of the way. So very clearly,
they still had stuff they wanted to hide. That became obvious.
The good news though, is that UNSCOM was not rolling over and playing dead,
that UNSCOM was proving to be extraordinarily tough, and Rolf Ekeus, the person
who was running it, turned out to be a hero. Here was somebody who was
actually opposite what most Americans would say is an international civil
servant. Here's a guy who spoke the truth, who was tough, was direct, and
said, "Look, I've got a job to do. I'm going to do it." He was so
unexpectedly direct, and you almost might say, politically incorrect for
someone out of an international organization that we were just as pleased as
could be. And also, the team members were hanging tough, people like David Kay
and others. What they did was heroic. ... |
So is it fair to say then that you had some hope that maybe this group,
UNSCOM, however strange its origin, and however low the expectations at the
start, might actually be able to accomplish something?
We had some hope because of them, and also we were determined to back them up.
We understood that, you know, UNSCOM doesn't have an Army. UNSCOM doesn't have
an Air Force. UNSCOM is a bunch of people with binoculars and test tubes and
the rest. So UNSCOM could be determined, but then all they could do was really
tee the ball up. If the Iraqis then didn't give them the access, UNSCOM had to
appeal to the international community to basically say, "Back us up. Help us
force the Iraqis to open the door." We were prepared to do that, so we felt
pretty good about the whole situation.
Now, early on, there were a couple of very famous confrontations. ... One of
them, [David Kay] is a hostage in a parking lot for four days.
... Well, we were concerned on lots of levels. We were concerned on a human
level. We knew some of these people. By then we had gotten to know Ekeus and
David Kay and others.
We were also concerned for two other reasons. One was simply the stakes. We
were dealing with Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, but we were also dealing
with the whole integrity of the post-Gulf War regime. And the whole idea was
to basically say, no one like Iraq or Saddam Hussein, could get away with this
sort of thing. So there was a lot at stake, given the investment of the
international community up to that point. So we were determined to make this
Had that hostage situation or any similar situation gone on longer, is that
the kind of situation where the United States would have been prepared to bomb
Iraq, intervene militarily?
We stepped right up to the plate. It was the summer of 1992, and it was the
eve of the Republican convention. And this was one of the several parking lot
incidents, between the UNSCOM people and the Iraqis. And we were essentially
as close as you get to launching a military operation over Iraqi defiance, when
the story leaked here. And it was really unfortunate, because the fact that it
leaked beforehand created questions about UNSCOM's independence, about what was
going on here.
People then questioned our motives, questioned President Bush's motives--which
was outrageous. People actually said that what he was doing was trying to
create a diversion and look tough before the Republican Convention, when in
fact the truth was just the opposite. He wanted to bomb Iraq over UNSCOM
because it was the right thing, but he actually feared doing so simply because
he thought there might be people who were going to question his motive. But
all the same, he was determined to go ahead if need be.
And so, more than once, we were ready to bomb Iraq in order to force them--to
coerce them--to allow UNSCOM to do its job properly.
Rolf Ekeus and David Kay have told us that at the time ... they were able
to be effective when there was always the threat in the mind of the Iraqi
government, that if they did something to harm the UNSCOM people or violated
the accords of the U.N., that there would be U.S. military retaliation.
There was clear coordination between the U.S. and UNSCOM, not at a tactical
level. It wasn't as though we were the steering wheel and they were the
wheels. But there was coordination at a strategic level, that we knew that if
the Iraqis complied with UNSCOM it wasn't because Saddam Hussein suddenly had a
change of heart and began to believe in international law. The only reason
Saddam Hussein was going to comply with UNSCOM was because he feared the
American-led military reaction. And UNSCOM knew this as well. They knew that
we would not leave them in the lurch.
So I think there was quite a lot of confidence between ourselves and UNSCOM.
We knew that they had integrity and they would not whitewash the Iraqis, so we
were prepared to back them up. And they were willing to be tough, in part,
because they knew we would back them up. So it was actually a very close
relationship in a strategic sense, and the Iraqis knew this. And to the extent
we got any Iraqi cooperation, it was because of that.
... When did you begin to sense that U.S. policy [and] U.N. policy, were
going to begin to diverge on this?
It wasn't any particular event. Time takes its toll. I think a degree of
fatigue entered into this entire relationship: fatigue, in part, because of
sanctions, economic burdens. Also some sympathy for the Iraqi people. I think
it was misplaced, because the sanctions weren't at fault. It was Saddam's
manipulation of supplies that was at fault. But all the same, the
international community got tired of this sense of confrontation.
... I think, also, the French and the Russians began to worry about the long
term economic and commercial consequences of this process going on. And you've
got to remember, when Resolution 687, which was the father of UNSCOM or the
mother of all resolutions, if you prefer, was written after the Gulf War, in
the back of people's minds, this was not a ten year resolution, in the sense of
something that was going to play out over a decade or longer. People were
thinking in terms of months. It was very telescoped. And I think the
willingness, almost the psychological preparation of the international
community, was fairly short term. People did not realize they were being asked
to sign on to a decade or longer policy. So, the erosion that we've seen, the
fatigue that set in, was predictable. It's just that none of us at the time
realized that this was going to be such a drawn out operation.
The Clinton Administration has not had that kind of ... clear resolve, to
use military response when something happens to UNSCOM. Are they at fault for
that or are they just a victim of this erosion and fatigue that you've
I think the passage of time made the challenge to Mr. Clinton somewhat more
difficult, but I think the Clinton Administration has made it far, far worse
than it ever needed to be. In part, they simply didn't invest in the
maintenance of international opposition to Saddam. It's not enough to pick up
the phone when Saddam does something and the crisis is at hand. You've got to
invest in these relationships so if and when Saddam does something, people are
prepared to push back. The Clinton Administration tended not to do that.
They've also either been unwilling to use force in a serious way-- It's been
often feckless. At times they've threatened to use force, then haven't
followed through. So we've had the worst of all worlds--a lot of pin pricks.
But every time you use military force, you draw down on your political capital.
You draw down on the resolve of this international consensus to confront
Saddam. But we weren't getting enough for it.
So it seems to me the Administration has often gotten it exactly wrong. They
did some things--enough to anger or at least alienate a lot of the
international community--but not really enough to either help UNSCOM or to
really change what Saddam could and could not do. So I think we've paid a
price for our policy.
Do you think that at this point UNSCOM is dead?
I think UNSCOM in its current form is just about dead. I think that the
revelations that have come out, true or not, about the so-called espionage
angle, about its relationship with U.S. intelligence services, have really hurt
UNSCOM. And I think it's given Saddam Hussein something to grab onto when he
tells the world, "I'm not going to let UNSCOM in. They're simply a pawn of the
Americans. They're simply spies." It's given this just enough of the flavor
or appearance of truth that it's discredited UNSCOM. So I think at the end of
the day, probably something called UNSCOM, headed by Richard Butler, is
probably dead. Something called UNSCOM, headed by somebody else, may be
Probably there is something else other than UNSCOM. But what matters to me is
less those six initials. You know, I don't care if you call it The Good Humor
Man. What matters to me is that whatever goes in there has the same tenacity
and the same integrity and the same capability as UNSCOM. The worst thing in
the world is to have UNSCOM lite. The worst thing in the world is to have a
bunch of inspectors who go in there, the Iraqis show them a couple of places--
baby milk factories--and they say, "Great. Clean bill of health. Time to
lift sanctions, Security Council." That's the thing we've got to avoid. So I
don't much care if you call it UNSCOM or not, but it's really got to be the
kind of organization that Ekeus created, which has that kind of determination
and that kind of courage.
Do you think there's the political will within the U.N. to do that?
It will be tough. And again, we're seeing not simply the consequences of time
here, but we're seeing a fracturing of the coalition. The French clearly have
some different ideas. The Russians and the Chinese are way off the reservation
on this one. I think there is some fatigue in the Arab world. It will be
tough. But we have a piece of leverage here. There's no way you can lift
sanctions under Resolution 687, without UNSCOM or its equivalent one day,
basically giving the Iraqis a clean bill of health. That's the leverage we
have. So if Saddam Hussein ever wants to get out from under the bulk of the
sanctions, he has got to meet our requirements on weapons of mass
So, eight years after the end of the Gulf War, we want to maintain some kind
of tough inspection program. We want to maintain the economic sanctions. What
other elements of U.S. policy?
Well, I think those are the keys to what you might call containment. The idea
is to prevent Saddam Hussein from regenerating weapons of mass destruction:
chemical, biological, nuclear, and missiles; to prevent him from importing even
conventional military arms. We want to make sure that any money that goes to
Saddam Hussein does not go to him directly, but goes into some sort of an
international escrow account so we make sure he can't start spreading it around
for his purposes, and that also we force him to pay compensation for the many
victims of Iraqi aggression. That's half the policy.
The other half of the policy is obviously to put greater weight on getting rid
of Saddam Hussein; to try to promote a coup in Iraq; to basically get some
Colonel or General to lead his division and take Saddam out; or conceivably, to
strengthen the Iraqi opposition, politically, as well as one day, militarily,
if it comes to that. So I think you've really got a two-dimensional policy now
to try to recreate the box. At the same time, within that, to try to find a
way to get rid of Saddam.
You mentioned the fact that UNSCOM's become controversial lately with these
spy charges--"infiltrated and undermined by the west." What do you think of
those charges? ...
Well, I'm not going to question anyone's motives, but all I can say is these
charges have done-- UNSCOM and the United States, and indeed, I would think
most of the civilized world--a great disservice. They have made a difficult
job infinitely more difficult. The result is that right now, we do not have
inspectors in Iraq, and there's very little international support for getting
anything like an muscular inspection effort back in Iraq.
For Mr. Ritter and other critics of this process who have come out with all
these charges have clearly contributed to the discrediting of UNSCOM. I think
that's tragic, because it has left Saddam Hussein with a freer hand to go ahead
and conceal weapons or develop new ones. So whatever the motives of people, it
has clearly come at a great price to us all.
... No one could have the slightest objection to any intelligence agency
anywhere in the world funneling information to UNSCOM to help UNSCOM do its
job. There's no UNSCOM satellites; there's no UNSCOM U2 planes. UNSCOM is not
an intelligence agency. It's an inspection agency. So the United States and
every other country in the world was invited to provide information to UNSCOM
to help them do their job. And we would have been derelict had we not done
that. We then clearly went about it fairly aggressively. And I think so long
as the information that was then gathered by UNSCOM or by Americans for the
purpose of helping UNSCOM do its job, I think that was 100 percent legitimate.
... A much more questionable thing, which I haven't seen supported, would be
that we used UNSCOM to get people into Iraq to collect intelligence for other
purposes. If that was indeed what it was that we did, then I would say that
was an unwise risk, because we would have risked discrediting UNSCOM for other
purposes, and I would say probably not worth it. But I have not seen evidence
that we've done that.
... Were you surprised by everything that [Hussein Kamel when he defected]
was revealing to you about the extent of what they were up to?
I wasn't surprised by the fact that Hussein Kamel came out and gave us a lot of
information of the sort he did. The dimensions of it, though, yeah. That was
surprising. Just like early on after the Gulf War we were shocked at the
dimensions of the nuclear program--we just had no idea of how many different
avenues the Iraqis were pursuing to enrich uranium and the like. So when
Hussein Kamel came out with his information, again, it was on a scale that was,
quite honestly, larger than people like me thought. But the idea that the
Iraqis were up to something? Oh no, that we knew. Clearly, Saddam was hiding
something. It was the only explanation for why Saddam Hussein was paying the
enormous price he was of sanctions. Clearly he decided there was something
worth guarding here, and he was willing to pay, as it turned out, over a
hundred billion dollars for the privilege of hiding or concealing something.
So that didn't surprise me.
It also gave UNSCOM a real lease on life. See, before this defection, there
were those who were saying, "There's no reason to do this. You're looking in
dry holes," and the rest. And when this came out, people who supported UNSCOM
could go, "Look, we told you. More than ever, we now need an intrusive
inspection regime. These guys will not fess up voluntarily." So it actually
became a very important legitimizing development for UNSCOM.
... One of the main charges that Ritter has made recently is that the
targeting for Desert Fox--a lot of that, he says, came from places that only
he and UNSCOM could have identified.
Let's distinguish between some important types of information. Imagine UNSCOM
picked up some information about where the Iraqis were doing something for
weapons of mass destruction--say, biological weapons--and they couldn't get
in there? The fact that we would then pass that information to a pilot--an
American or a British pilot--for taking it out, seems to me to be perfectly
legitimate. Because, essentially, what we were doing was telling the Iraqis,
"Look, you either let us inspect these things and reassure ourselves, or we're
going to take them out and reassure ourselves." So to me that's not an
Also, intelligence works a little bit like your vacuum cleaner. When you
collect intelligence, you collect a lot of information. Now I'm not going to
tell you that UNSCOM, in the process of picking up information for its
purposes, didn't perhaps hand over to U.S. intelligence--who had to in any
case analyze everything, because they were the recipients--some extra
information. And perhaps, indeed, probably, some of that information was going
to be used for other purposes. But that wasn't the expressed purpose they were
sent in there for. I would actually see that as something of a byproduct, or,
to be blunt, a dividend. But we were not using UNSCOM for unrelated purposes.
If it turned out in a few cases we got some byproducts or dividends, so be it.
We would have been insane not to have taken advantage of it. But that was not
what this was about.
And what you're saying is, unless I misunderstand, earlier, is that if there
were very specific examples in which the CIA intelligence agency did
piggy-back, did take advantage of UNSCOM, that that was probably politically
not worth the liability of exposure?
Right. If we were using UNSCOM, say, to collect information so we could target
certain types of Iraqi military units for political leadership, for other
purposes, I would have said, "You had better be real sure that that information
is extremely critical and is going to lead to some extremely valuable
operations. Because otherwise, you are jeopardizing an awfully valuable
enterprise--UNSCOM--for some high risk venture.
And it's not clear to me that that cost/benefit ratio would have been worth it.
So if that was the case, I only hope that some people high up in the American
intelligence community made their calculations carefully and are comfortable
with their decision even if it didn't turn out well.
There was talk of an Iraqi plot to kill President Bush. Remind me of what
that was about. ...
Not that long after President Bush became a private citizen, he was invited
back to Kuwait to receive a medal and to be generally honored for his role in
Desert Shield and Desert Storm. During that time you had an Iraqi suicide
bomber, essentially strapped with explosives, who went out, who tried to kill
President Bush. Fortunately, he was stopped, and failed. In response, the
United States launched some cruise missiles against the Iraqi intelligence
headquarters at a time of day when we thought that there was virtually nobody
there. That was simply one of many examples where I would say that our
response was too modest. If you're going to use military force against the
Iraqis, you can't be proportionate. You've got to be disproportionate.
There's got to be a degree of menace in it. Your purpose has to be to coerce
them, to basically press them. Ultimately, we want to use enough military
force so some Iraqi Colonel is going to say, "Look, if I'm going to get killed,
I would rather get killed trying to topple Saddam Hussein than get killed from
an American cruise missile or bomber."
And that was the whole problem with Operation Desert Fox, more recently. By
putting an arbitrary time limit on it, by putting a ceiling on it, we removed
any menace from it. We removed any need for that Iraqi soldier to calculate
that he had better take the risk of taking on his own regime.
So as a result, all of our military force has been punitive, but it's been so
modest it didn't drive anything in Iraq. And the American use of military
force has never been, now, allowed to be an engine of political change. And
it's simply because we've been too modest, and in the case of Mr. Clinton, too
careful and too unwilling to take risks.
... The pattern for years has essentially been "cheat and retreat." The Iraqis
cheat. UNSCOM gets frustrated. We ratchet up the pressure. The Iraqis
retreat, and they don't pay a price. And that's okay up to that last point.
The Iraqis should be made to pay a price for non-compliance, and that's where
we've missed the boat. We've been too willing to basically declare victory and
simply return to the status quo ante. That should never be good enough. Every
time Saddam Hussein steps over a line, he should be made to pay an enormous
Just as important, the people he depends upon--his security and military
services--they ought to be made to pay an enormous price. That's the way I
think we have the best chance of triggering a coup against Saddam Hussein.
What about the argument you hear a lot now--the Iraqis certainly make
this--but that the sanctions are hurting because of what Saddam is doing, to
The lie about the sanctions is not simply a lie. It's a big lie. It's the
kind of lie the Nazis actually would have understood, because this is big
stuff. From the get go, from day one, there's been a humanitarian exception
that any amount of food and medicine could go in through Iraq for humanitarian
purposes. We then added the extra thing that if the Iraqis needed to export
any oil, to do that, we gave them increasing amounts of oil that they could
export to raise money to pay for food and medicine. Right now, Iraq can export
unlimited amounts of oil to pay for the importation of unlimited amounts of
food and medicine. In addition, we've now expanded the category of what it is
we mean by humanitarian goods, so even equipment to pump oil is now there.
Equipment to move water is now in there. So if there's any humanitarian
problem in Iraq, if there's any shortage of food and medicine, it has nothing
to do with the sanctions. It has nothing to do with the United States. It has
to do with Saddam Hussein's cynical manipulation. And the people who are
allowing themselves to be manipulated by this great lie, they ought to be
ashamed of themselves.
Why doesn't the United States make that argument more aggressively and more
To use a technical phrase, "beats me." We should be out there; we should be
making that argument. It's outrageous that Saddam should be able to win the
battle of public relations. He doesn't have anything but a big lie on his side.
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