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Transcript for:

Is Iraq Next?

Think Tank With Ben Wattenberg:
“Is Iraq Next?”
Show #1003 PBS air date January 10, 2002
Guests: Ken Allard, Ivo Daalder, W. Scott Ritter

BW/ on camera: Hello, I’m Ben Wattenberg. As the response to 9-11 continues a looming question hangs over Washington: Is Iraq Next? The hawks say take out Saddam Hussein now, or take him out later at much greater cost. The doves say, contain Saddam Hussein, but don’t risk an American strike that might antagonize the Arab street and some of our allies. Think Tank asks, is Iraq worth the political risk? Would it be like Afghanistan or much harder? Or maybe easier? Are there other options?

BW/voice over: To consider those options, Think Tank is joined by:

Col. Ken Allard, senior associate with the Center for Strategic & International Studies, former special assistant to the US Army Chief of Staff, and author of Somalia Operations: Lessons Learned.

Ivo Daalder, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, former National Security Director for European Affairs, and author of Winning Ugly: NATO’s War to Save Kosovo.

And W. Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector for Iraq and author of Endgame: Solving the Iraqi Problem Once and For All.

The topic before the house: Is Iraq Next? This week on Think Tank.

(opening animation)

BW/voice over: Some experts say Saddam Hussein is still looking for revenge for his defeat in the Gulf War, but direct evidence of a connection to the September 11th attacks or the anthrax events that followed is inconclusive—for now. Afghanistan’s vaunted Taliban collapsed under an assault by American air power, special operations units, and US-backed Afghan insurgents. But some military analysts warn against overconfidence. Iraq, they say, will be no cake walk. Iraq has an army of half a million men and 10 times as many tanks as the Taliban. Success may require a major deployment of US ground forces. Saddam’s government is organized to protect Saddam—from external and internal threats. Since 1991 a half a dozen insurrections and a Shi’ite uprising have been ruthlessly crushed. A key question remains, does Iraq still have chemical or biological weapons that could be used against its neighbors or, perhaps through groups like al Qa’eda, on the United States. UN inspectors were barred from Iraq in 1998 and no one on the outside knows the true state of Saddam’s weapons program. Some analysts fear Saddam is on the way to building a nuclear bomb. The future of the Middle East, and much more, may depend on what happens in Iraq.
BW/ on camera: Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. Let’s go around the room starting with you, Ken Allard. Should we go into Iraq?
Ken Allard: Well, Ben, if it made sense to go into Iraq during Desert Storm, it potentially makes at least as much sense if the problem that we’re concerned about in the twenty-first century is the propensity of Iraq to support international terrorism. Now if it makes sense to do it, it makes sense to do it right. And, unfortunately, over the last ten or eleven years and despite the pronouncements of the last two administrations we have not effectively used the full instrumentation of American military, diplomatic, and economic power to go against Saddam Hussein. So if we go, if it makes sense to do it, it makes sense to do it right.
BW: That’s almost an answer. Ivo Daalder, {aside to Allard] you didn’t tell us whether we should or not. [back to Daalder] Should we?
Ivo Daalder: I think the risk that Iraq today poses after September 11th is simply unacceptable. And unless we can find a way short of a major military intervention to get Saddam out in order to take his weapons of mass destruction down, we will have to go in.
BW: Okay. Scott Ritter.
Scott Ritter: Absolutely not. Iraq doesn’t pose a threat to the United States. Iraq’s a defanged tiger. Someone has yet to define Iraq, an Iraqi threat, to the level which would justify the United States taking the kind of concerted military action which would be required to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
BW: Okay. Now you were one of the UN weapons inspectors until the end of nineteen ninety-eight; is that correct?
Scott Ritter: Correct.
BW: And at that time, and I’ll read a quote or so, but you took the position that when we got out in late nineteen ninety-eight that the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was major. Now, three years have gone by, and now you’re saying, “No problem.” Can you explain that apparent inconsistency?
Scott Ritter: Oh, when I first resigned from my position as a weapons instructor I spoke out in defense of the weapons inspection process, which was being grossly manipulated not only by Iraq but by the United States, by the Security Council, and by the Secretary General of the United Nations. I stated clearly that Security Council resolutions call for one hundred percent of Iraq’s disarmament in the terms of its weapons of mass destruction. Clearly Iraq had not been disarmed to one hundred percent. We had achieved a significant level of disarmament, but it’s not up to the weapons inspectors to determine whether or not ninety percent is acceptable. That’s up to the Security Council. That level had not been achieved and I was merely pointing that fact out.
BW: Let me just read you one quote and we’ll probably somewhat edit it and you can complain about it if you’d like. This is what you wrote in December of 1998: “Even today Iraq is not nearly disarmed. Based on highly credible intelligence, UNSCOM suspects that Iraq still has biological agents like anthrax, botulinum toxin, the clostridium perfinogens”--which I surely know what that means—“in sufficient quantity to fill several bombs and ballistic missile warheads, as well as the means to continue manufacturing these deadly agents stored in artillery shells, bombs, and ballistic missile warheads”--and it goes on and on. Now, that’s pretty damning, particularly if they had that then and they’ve had three more years with no inspection. I don’t get it why you can now say that it’s no problem; there’s no credible threat to the United States. Don’t they still have that?
Scott Ritter: Well first of all, I never said they had them. I said there was credible intelligence information that suggested that Iraq might be maintaining this. And as a weapons inspector, remember I headed the team that investigated all of this intelligence information. It was our job so long as the Security Council would not accept the technical findings of the special commission, which had ninety to ninety-five percent of Iraq’s known capability accounted for and insisted that we continue to investigate to account for the remaining five to ten percent. That as long as such intelligence information existed, it was our job to go into Iraq and investigate this. And that was all I was trying to do, and that’s what I was prevented from doing.
BW: By the United States?
Scott Ritter: By the United States of America.
BW: So that would have been a direct order from President Clinton to pull the inspectors out?
Scott Ritter: I assume the Ambassador to the United Nations of the United States of America works for the President of the United States, so yes.
Ken Allard: Look, if I can, Ben, let me step back for a second. The world changed on September the 11th because what happened, as bad as it was in New York City and here in Washington, it could have been a lot worse. It could have been a lot worse had it had been accompanied with the use of a nuclear, biological, or chemical weapon. So the paradigm that shifted very, very sharply on September the 11th was the fact that everybody in a position to understand about national security said, my God what would happen if, the next time, the terrorists have access to a weapon of mass destruction.
Scott Ritter: If we’re talking about going to war against Iraq, we need to have a reason to go to war. We can’t reach back ten years and say, “Oh, gosh. Saddam Hussein had a weapons of mass destruction program.” What does he have today? What is the justification for going to war against Iraq today?
Ken Allard: Ben, let me just jump in here; okay. I think that there is in fact a justification for going back to him because the terms and conditions under which he agreed to end the Gulf War and we agreed to stop slaughtering his military was very, very much to the point that guys like Scott Ritter representing the United Nations and the international community would be allowed to come in to Iraq and do a completely unfettered inspection of the Iraqi capability to manufacture these weapons of mass destruction. Now it is precisely because three years ago the international community and possibly the United States as well lacked the political will to go ahead and make sure that that inspection regime was as strong as it needed to be. I think very much…
BW: [to Scott Ritter] You agree with that? Scott, right?
Scott Ritter: I agree that the United States failed to back the weapons inspection...
Ken Allard: And, Ben, I think very much that what has happened here is that the United States in light of what has happened on the eleventh of September is perfectly justified in saying through the United Nations and, hopefully with their consent, that it is time for Saddam Hussein either to admit the UN inspectors back in with free and unfettered access or we go right back to the situation that obtained at the end of the Gulf War.
Ivo Daalder: We should make very clear to our friends and our allies in the region, in Europe, Russia, that they have a choice: The status quo is no longer acceptable. We need to get unfettered access into Iraq anywhere, anytime, any place for international inspectors. If Scott Ritter would like to be part of that team, great. If he doesn’t, that’s okay, too. Inspectors into Iraq. And if they don’t support us, we will have to do it through military force. We will have to take out the risk through military force.
BW: In other words, we put on the table the UN resolution that gives us that kind of power.
Ivo Daalder: We need to put the choice of whether or not the United States go to war in the hands of our allies, in the first instance and Saddam Hussein in the second instance
BW: Did the Iraqi security agency try to kill President Bush in Kuwait--the first President Bush--after his term was over? Have we established that?
Ivo Daalder: We don’t know the evidence publicly. Our President at that time, Bill Clinton, went on national television. When he had ordered the launching of cruise missiles against the intelligence and other capabilities, on the basis…whether that was the right response or not is a different issue, Ken. By declaring that we had the evidence that, beyond a reasonable doubt, Iraq had tried to…
Scott Ritter: That evidence would never withstand scrutiny in American court of law. Confessions extracted by torture are not something I’d want to go war on. When they pull out the detonators and it’s stuff that the Iraqi government left in Kuwait City, the same batch of material, clearly we cannot prove that the Iraqi government tried to assassinate President Bush and we backed away from it. We fired a few cruise missiles, but we haven’t made a case.
BW: But this is not a game we’re playing with the American Civil Liberties Union. Do we have…I mean this is life or death…
Scott Ritter: We’re talking of going to war, when we should invoke the UN charter, which is the rule of law. If you think that we could have achieved what we’ve achieved in Afghanistan without a coalition, no matter how fragile or weak this coalition is, you’re wrong. And if you think we could have built this coalition without a finding in the Security Council that the attack of September eleventh constituted an attack against the United States and allowed us to have the legitimate use of self defense, do you think Russia would have signed on? My point is, there is no such finding about Iraq right now.
BW: Answer me a question. Where is the court of public opinion located? The court of world public opinion? I’ve wondered that. It’s sort a pretty ephemeral notion. I mean, I’m in that media business and people saying, oh the court of world public opinion. Now who’s going to do anything about it if we…I don’t think that’s the way we would do it… but if we didn’t get….
Scott Ritter : No one’s going to do anything about it. Who can stand toe to toe with the United States? Who? No one.
BW: So here…so…so…that’s right. So why don’t…
Scott Ritter: But there are consequences to taking this kind of action.
BW: Name one.
Scott Ritter: You want some other US… Iraq does not pose a threat to the United States of America. Iraq does not possess a nuclear weapon. Iran does pose a threat to the United States of America. Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. Iran has active chemical and biological weapons program. Iran also represents sort of a core of Islamic fundamentalism, anti-American Islamic fundamentalism. If you go after Iraq, you may empower these people to actually come against us.
BW: [to Daalder] Go ahead.
Ivo Daalder: I think Scott is right, that you need assistance from other countries.
Ken Allard: Yep.
Ivo Daalder: It would—you can’t do it without…
BW: Need? Or it’s desirable?
Ivo Daalder: Well, no to…to… Iraq is—what?--seven plus thousand miles away from the United States. For the United States to fight a war against a country that has, we stipulate, a strong military, an active chemical and biological weapons program, and to have the guarantee of victory, we want to be prepared. We don’t want to just do a little B-52 over flights and a bunch of special operation forces.
Ken Allard: All the elements of state power.
Ivo Daalder: We would—we really need to be prepared, which means we need ground forces in the area. Not just tens of thousands but probably hundreds of thousands. Hopefully, we’ll never have to use them. Hopefully, the combination that we saw work very well in Afghanistan may in fact turn the Iraqi Republican Guards and the other army against Saddam Hussein. But if it doesn’t, we need to be prepared to go all the way. We need to be prepared if we go to war…
BW: Oh, of course...I…I…I’m not…
Ivo Daalder: …to suffer casualties from chemical and biological attacks against our armed forces, against Israel, against the United States. We need to be prepared to do this. This is a big decision that ought to be debated in those terms.
BW: Nobody is talking about…say, let’s go do it. We’ve already been arguing about it since 9-11. It’s not going to happen over night. Scott, I want to ask you a question. I’m trying to get something that we can agree on. Is…
Scott Ritter: Saddam Hussein’s a brutal dictator. We can agree on that.
BW: Okay, that’s fine. Well. That’s a step in the right direction. Prior to nine eleven the word is, and Osama has said, it that America is a paper tiger. Do you buy that. Was that the view of, certainly of the radical Arab states, at that time?
Scott Ritter: No, not the radical Arab states. I think that’s the view of Osama bin Laden and his circle of advisors that surrounded him. But anybody who knows the United States knows we’re not a paper tiger. Anybody who’s felt the wrath of our American military power knows we’re not a …
BW: Yes, but we went through this thing…we pulled our troops out of Somalia…
Ken Allard: Yep.
BW: [to Ivo Daalder]…well, why don’t you…why don’t you give us the list.
Ivo Daalder: It started in Lebanon.
BW: Excuse me. Lebanon.
Ivo Daalder: We started in Lebanon in nineteen eighty-three.
BW: Kobar Towers. USS Cole.
Ivo Daalder: We pulled them out of Somalia. We didn’t respond to the Cole. We went into Haiti the first time and got a bunch of thugs to wave us off. Desert Fox: we bombed for four days and quit. In Kosovo the first six or seven weeks of the bombing campaign—first four weeks of the bombing campaign--we dropped bombs without any, any real determination to win. Even in Afghanistan, even in Afghanistan, we relied on proxy forces to try to do our job; one of the reasons, maybe, that we didn’t get Osama bin Laden. So, there is a history here that suggests that if the United States is challenged, it may not go all the way. It’s that history that needs to be…
BW: If we’re going into Afghanistan--I agree with everything you said until Afghanistan. I mean we now have a defense department led by a man who gets on television and says we’re doing, you know, our job is to kill the enemy. And he uses the “K” word again and again and again…
Ivo Daalder: Absolutely. But our…
BW: … which has been…and followed up by actions.
Ivo Daalder: Absolutely. No, there’s a huge distinction between Afghanistan and what went before.
BW: Right.
Ivo Daalder: But I would argue that, even in Afghanistan, we did not send the marines in to Tora Bora. We didn’t into it. We let other people do it. We let proxies handle the Taliban. Would we have handled the handover of Kandahar if we...
BW: We had special ops troops in there, in theory.
Ivo Daalder: Yes. But in small numbers. Not enough in order to cut off the bases in order to make the escape out of there impossible.
Ken Allard: Well I agree with Ivo about the corrosive effects on the American military culture of the last ten years, simply because of the fact that when you emphasize force protection to the extent that we did, when you do not respond to these terrorist outrages, like Kobar Towers and like the USS Cole, or like the two embassies in Africa, then you create the presumption among whoever it is that you’re trying to influence that you’re not really serious. And what’s I think beyond argument, with respect to Iraq, was that we were not as serious about getting rid of Saddam as he was about staying in power because he understands the ultimate stakes. What’s very, very clear to me is that as we look at the potential to take on Iraq, if we are not serious enough to contemplate the prospect that this may well require major U.S. ground forces, it will almost certainly involve U.S. casualties. And if we are not serious about that, if we’re not serious enough about our intent to want to weld together diplomacy, economics, information warfare into one coherent strategy, then you probably don’t want to go. But I really don’t think that we have that option any longer.
BW: I happen to agree with all of that. On the other hand, our primary interest is to--as it was in Afghanistan--is to rid us of the threat, and the world of the threat, of a particular man who is brandishing a particularly irresponsible sort of weapons program and, from our national interest, that’s all we must be interested in; everything else is icing on the cake.
Ivo Daalder: But just let’s remember that getting rid of him is not going to be easy and it’s not going to be cost-free. When we go after him…
BW: Well, it might be…it might be easy. We don’t know.
Ivo Daalder: It may be easy, but we have to be prepared for the fact that it won’t.
BW: Absolutely.
Ivo Daalder: Most importantly, I believe that Saddam Hussein, the record shows, is eminently deterable. He was deterable during the Gulf War and afterwards. But once we go for his head, once we go for his power position, he has no reason not to use weapons of mass destruction against us.
Scott Ritter: Look, the United States has clouded the Iraq issue with ten years of incompetency, not just in terms of how the Clinton Administration dealt with Saddam Hussein but how it dealt with the international community. We’re sitting here talking about decapitating Saddam Hussein. But the international community has come to agreement on one thing and one thing only and that’s getting rid of his weapons of mass destruction. We have never focused fully on getting rid of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Had we done so, we might have actually succeeded. But since nineteen ninety-one we’ve been talking about containing and removing Saddam Hussein and using weapons inspections as a vehicle for achieving this end. This is one of the reasons why we don’t have weapons inspectors in Iraq today. We discredited the program every bit as much as Iraq discredited the program. And right now the international community is saying, what do you want? Because if you want to get rid of Saddam Hussein, say it. Don’t talk about putting weapons inspectors back in, going after his weapons of mass destruction because clearly we’ve never had that as our objective. Madeleine Albright, in the mid nineteen nineties, stated it doesn’t matter if Iraq complies with its obligation to disarm, economic sanctions will remain in place until which time Saddam is removed from power. What are we trying to achieve here?
BW: We’re trying to get rid of Saddam Hussein (inaudible)
Scott Ritter: The world won’t buy into that.
BW: Listen, as…as…let me just quote you. You said we can do it alone.
Ivo Daalder:. You can’t on the one hand say that we don’t exactly know a hundred percent what he had, what he has done in the last three years and then bluntly state that he has no capability, he has no threat. We don’t know. We don’t…
Scott Ritter: I agree that we don’t know. But you can’t state it as though it’s fact.
BW: But you can act as though it’s fact.
Ivo Daalder: And after September eleventh, after September eleventh, the risk that he does have this capability, the risk that he can use it, is unacceptable.
Scott Ritter: But there’s no link between what happened on September eleventh and Iraq. There is none whatsoever.
BW: But there is—as Ivo said before, I think--there is a changed consciousness about the dangers…
Scott Ritter: There’s a changed paranoia.
Ivo Daalder: Fine. If you want to…
BW: You talk to the families of the nine eleven people who got killed and tell me about paranoia.
Scott Ritter: Look, I don’t need to bring in their suffering. Their suffering comes out of a bunch of terrorists highjacking aircraft. Their suffering does not come out of Baghdad. So don’t link the two.
BW: We are talking about we’ve learned something as to how dangerous it is to the United States to have a world with state-sponsored terrorism. You—even you don’t disagree with that.
Scott Ritter: No wait, al Qa’eda is not state-sponsored terror.
Ken Allard: Oh yes it was. Oh yes it was.
Scott Ritter: It was a state recognized by who?
BW: Well it was sitting in Afghanistan, which was a state.
Ken Allard: One of the points that I would raise here is the fact that whether you call it a state or a failed state or a geographical expression, let me use classic counter insurgency doctrine, Scott, it was a privileged sanctuary. Okay. And it requires state support to engineer the logistics of terrorism that will allow passports, money, explosives, all this other equipment to get moved across state borders. That is exactly what is required.
Scott Ritter: So you’d better bomb Pakistan. You’d better bomb Saudi Arabia while you’re at it because they better fit the sponsor of al Qa’eda than Afghanistan.
Ken Allard: No, you don’t have to, Scott. One of the things that you can also do is you can allow your example, okay, in the international community to do some of your work for you. We are beginning to see that right now in places like Yemen and Somalia, okay. Now, I come right back and say that the one place where we know that that will not work is with respect to Iraq. Because very, very clearly Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction, that program, okay, those are two parts of the same whole in very much the same way that the Taliban and al Qa’eda were parts of each other. There is no way that Saddam Hussein is going to surrender anything like that, and the reason for it is that if he learned nothing else from the Gulf War, it is you don’t take on the United States without those weapons.
Scott Ritter: He already surrendered it, and I welcome anybody to study in detail the history of the weapons inspection program before you talk about weapons of mass destruction.
BW: Hold on one second. Hold on one second. We have to get out. I’m going to ask you each the same question. I need a brief answer. We’re taping this at about the time of the New Year of two thousand and two. Turn your clock forward by six months. It’s now June one, two thousand and two. What in your judgment, not what you want to happen, but what in your judgment will have happened in the next six months? In Iraq.
Scott Ritter: The United States will step up the diplomatic pressure in terms of so-called smart sanctions diplomacy in the United Nations. They’ll increase an aggressive patrolling in the no-fly zones. And they’ll attempt to use the issue of weapons inspectors as justification, and Iraq’s refusal to allow weapons inspectors back in as justification, to strike targets in and around Baghdad—a ratcheting up of military pressure against Saddam Hussein.
BW: Ivo?
Ivo Daalder: I think we will have a broad-based international coalition that will put the choice to Mr. Saddam Hussein to open up his country to international inspectors or face the full wrath of the international community, including military force.
Ken Allard: I actually agree with both of my colleagues. I think that those two things are part and parcel of what I think is essential, which is a very, very broadly based and broadly conceived American strategy that uses all of the elements of state power, not one as opposed to the other.
BW: Okay. Let me give you my answer to my question. By June first, two thousand and two, Saddam Hussein will not be in power in Iraq thanks to the use of American power. Thank you, Ken Allard, Ivo Daalder, and Scott Ritter. And thank you. Please, remember to send your comments via e-mail. For “Think Tank,” I’m Ben Wattenberg.


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