Interview with National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft
Q: The middle of 1990 what was your view of Saddam Hussein?
Scowcroft: We were not preoccupied with Saddam Hussein. What we hoped was to continue the policy of the Reagan Administration, which was first of all a balance between Iran and Iraq and then hoping to perhaps make Saddam Hussein a minimally usefully member of the international community.
After the Iran/Iraq war, Iraq had enormous reconstruction, issues and it was our hope that American business would be able to participate in that since Iraq is fundamentally a wealthy nation.
We had no illusions about the character of this man, at all, but we did not see him necessarily as having serious unrequited aggressive aims.
Q: How would you sum up the policy?
Scowcroft: That we thought it was useful to try a modest carrot and show him we bore him no particular ill will and we were prepared to have normal kind of relations with him that would be at least commercially advantageous to both sides.
Q: Roundabout ... 20th, 23rd of July, the CIA, DIA start to see a military buildup ... what were you telling the President about this?
Scowcroft: Well, we were aware that there a buildup and, indeed, it looked like a part of a policy of bluster in connection with the border and other disputes that he was having with Kuwait. At that time we were being told by our friends like President Mubarak, like King Hussein,
"Oh, no, don't pay any attention to it! This is, this is the way, this is the way that these negotiations are going ..."
So,yes we remarked on it and were aware that, you know, that some were saying, you know, this is serious, but I'll be honest we tended to put more stock in Mubarak and Hussein's appraisal than our own.
To sum up, the position we took was that since we didn't know the internal situation in Iraq nor Saddam Hussein, that our best bet was to take counsel from the people who did know him and who did deal with him.
Mubarak had been there recently, I think King Hussein had been there not too long before. And that that was probably as close as we could get to reality, so we put great stock in that.
Q: And the day after Mubarak met Saddam Hussein the CIA and DIA actually stepped up their warnings because the buildup was just going on and on and that very same day April Glaspie was summoned in and she sent back a cable again saying "Back off! Back off! Don't say anything that would annoy him." Do you recall that day ... ?
Scowcroft: I'll be honest, I don't recall whether I ever saw April Glaspie's cable. I think perhaps, Jim Baker may have said something about it, but we wouldn't ordinarily see a reporting cable ... and I don't remember whether we did not. But we may have because it was a report of a meeting with Saddam Hussein, so we might have.
Q: Why ... do you think Saddam Hussein did it?
Scowcroft: That's a mystery.
It is really not clear, and in retrospect it's not clear whether he thought that it was a pushover and that in itself would establish him as a power in the region, because he was somewhat tarnished as a result of the Iran/Iraq war. He had not been able to take back the parts of Iran that he wanted.
Or whether this was a prelude to try to seize most of the oil resources of the Gulf ... and whether he had actually had intended to go straight down the Gulf to the Saudi oilfields.
But figuring out Saddam Hussein was one our greatest mysteries. He marched to his own drummer and frequently as this unfolded he made decisions which were sometimes inexplicable to us and sometimes didn't look very smart.
Q: Did you think the invasion of Kuwait mattered? If so, why?
Scowcroft: Yes, I thought it mattered, a lot.
Principally because there was a struggle and had been a struggle going on within OPEC over, if you will, control of OPEC and it was struggle basically between Saudi Arabia and the radicals, over keeping production flowing and keeping prices reasonable or trying to squeeze, if you will, the industrialised world.
And the notion of Iraq, which was an oil powerhouse in itself, acquiring the Kuwaiti resources and thus perhaps of being able to dominate, OPEC was a tremendous danger to the United States and to the industrialised world.
I thought it made a lot of difference, aside from the issue of flat naked aggression in and of itself.
Q: ... At the heart of this ... was oil ...
Scowcroft: No, at the heart was naked aggression against an unoffending country, that was the firm and legal position, but what gave enormous urgency to it was the issue of oil. Yes that transformed it.
Q: Do you remember that night, you were up all night sorting out ... UN resolutions ... do you remember talking to the President that night, what was his attitude to ... ?
Scowcroft: He was very, very calm about it, simply asked what was going on and, and to keep him posted and if there was anything happened, that he ought to know about not to worry about calling him during the night.
As it was I let him go to bed and I went up to his bedroom at 4.30 in the morning ...
Q: And that was to ...
Scowcroft: That was--. as we ended, in the Deputies' meeting, we looked at where our forces, just what the disposition was, and then what kinds of things might have to be done right away, and one of the things which was important, we thought, was to freeze all of the Kuwaiti assets, right away, so that the Iraqis could not draw those assets, out and make use of them.
So what I did at 4.30 the next morning was to go up and get the President to sign an Executive Order freezing the Kuwaiti assets.
Q: Tell me about that first meeting after the invasion.....
Scowcroft: It was a general meeting first of all, with an intelligence briefing about what we knew about where the Iraqi troops were and what was happening, in Kuwait.
And then there was a multi-briefing about the disposition of US forces in the area. Then there was a discussion about what the significance of all this was and it distressed me because it was sort of "Well, it's happened now, you know, do we have to change the way we do business or whatever" but it was a sort of a resigned approach to a fait accompli and I thought that was not appropriate.
But it was a meeting constrained in time because the President had to leave to go to Aspen, Colorado and give a speech.
Q: But as you left the meeting....
Scowcroft: I told the President I was very distressed by the meeting, that there seemed to be no appreciation of the significance of this event to the national interests of the United States, and that if he didn't mind at the next meeting we would have, which was right after we came back from Colorado, that I would do something that I usually didn't do and make introductory comments about the significance of what had had happened and, and how it affected vital US interests, and he said " I agree with you, I was, I was bothered by it too. Maybe I should do it" And I said "No, Mr. President, I don't think you should, you should sit back and listen, let let me make the presentation."
Q: So it was clear to you after the meeting...
Scowcroft: Oh, very much, the President felt very much the same as I did about it, about the sort of, well not lackadaisical, but resigned tone of the meeting and that there was no sense of outrage or no sense of the imperative that this affected vital US interests and had to be dealt with firmly.
Q: You get to Aspen...Thatcher is there...
Scowcroft: I wish I could remember the first words because it would, it was like two soulmates finding each other. They found from the very first words that they were exactly on the same wavelength, that this was a tremendously serious event, that it could not be tolerated and something had to be done.
And, then they just talked at each other with great rapidity about what had to be done.
I think it was a welcome mat for both of them because each one reassured the other that what they'd been thinking about it was right.
Q: He returned, you guys returned from Aspen...
Scowcroft: Well the President of course, always opens the meeting, and then he said he would like me to say a few words, and then I simply laid out the case for this action having effected our vital national interests, and that it was a matter that we could not avert our eyes from, that it had to be dealt with and it had to be dealt with directly and strongly.
And when I finished I believe Larry Eagleburger spoke up and pounded the table and said,
And then, then the tone of that meeting was entirely different from the meeting the previous day.
Q: What was the consensus...
Scowcroft: Well the decision was that we started to look at practical things, and one of the first questions was "Is he going to stop at the borders of Kuwait? Saddam, is he going to stop there, or is he likely to go on into Saudi Arabia and move down to the oilfields?"
That if we had to liberate Saudi Arabia we had a much bigger job. That led to discussions about getting in touch with the Saudis and, what practical steps could we take to help?
I think the significance was that everybody knew that the result of this meeting, this was the most important issue facing the United States and that we had to do something about it. The President summed up by saying that there was no question that this was an issue of great importance for the United States and I believe he said that he expected everybody to treat it as such and that he would I believe it was at this meeting and he said that he wanted to have his National Security Team go up to Camp David the next day for practical military discussions on next steps.
Q: You went up to Camp David ...
Scowcroft: It was just what are the practical next steps and General Schwarzkopf had given a brief summary of his forces at the meeting.
He went into it in greater detail and as I recall he outlined what forces he thought it would take in order to create a defensive line along the Saudi border...
Q: The primary worry at that time was...
Scowcroft: We were very worried. First of all we didn't know what he was going to do. Secondly, our intelligence was not great.
We had, of course we had satellite intelligence, but at that time the satellite intelligence was once every twelve hours and that's a long time when you're in a circumstance like this.
And of course, we didn't have our tactical air assets over there at that time to be able to fill in the gaps, but it soon became clear that the next step had to be consultations with Saudi Arabia.
Q: What happened then?
Scowcroft: I asked Prince Bandar, the Saudi Ambassador to come in and then we had a very frank talk and we said that we were prepared to send forces to support them, and he said that the Saudis weren't at all sure they wanted to be helped by the United States and he cited a couple of examples where the United States had offered help and then demonstrated enormous weakness and he said "Frankly we're afraid, you say you'll help and then the going'll get tough and you'll pull out and we'll be left."
It was a very, very dramatic conversation.
For example he said,
"At the time the Shah fell, the United States government offered to send an F15 squadron over to Saudi Arabia as a demonstration of resolve, and we said yes."
Then he said that "Planes got in the air and half way over there you're government announced that they were unarmed and he said that's an example of the kind of US behaviour that we fear". I said "That will not happen. We're serious, we're deadly serious, and we know, want to know if you are."
And then they turned around, they said "Well, you send a team over here and we'll talk about cooperation."
Q: Do you recall the moment and what you felt?
Scowcroft: Well it was a moment of great relief because, you know first he said we don't want to--don't think we want to be saved, and then it was "Why, we'll send some Lieutenant Colonels over here and we'll meet with the people in the Pentagon and we'll work out something" which you know, will go on and on and on and meanwhile you have this build up going on and they're sending more serious signals to the Iraqis.
The danger was that Saddam might think he had a green light and he'd better move before anything happened and we did get forces over there.
Q: At the Camp David meeting, can you relate its importance?
Scowcroft: The significance of Camp David meeting was that we decided or that General Schwarzkopf said he needed I think he said a hundred thousand, a hundred thousand troops to be able to confidently defend the Saudi border and, so the President said "You'll have them."
So this was the first clear military step in the conflict.
Q: Were you surprised when the President said...
Scowcroft: No. Not at all. I took it for granted that that's what he would say.
Q: The President after that meeting...
Scowcroft: Well, I didn't come back with the others, but I came back early and I talked with the President after I got back and so on, and I said
"You'll have an enormous stake out on the White House Lawn. I think it will look strange if you don't say something."
So he said "Alright" and so we prepared some remarks for him, got everything set up, and when he got off the helicopter he ad libbed and surprised everyone.
Q: What did you think of his ad lib?
Scowcroft: I liked it. I liked it very much. Others -- Colin Powell says "That'll teach us to leave you up at Camp David alone with him."
Q: Colin Powell said that that was policy making on the hoof.
Scowcroft: Yes I think he has said that. I don't think it was policy making on the hoof.
I think it was a clear realisation which we all had at least, he and I had made, and we spent about seventy two hours almost constantly together that US interests demanded this kind of a response and to me it was, it was fairly open and shut.
It didn't take a lot of finely honed analysis to see how relevant what happened was to US interests.
Q: Do you remember Dick Cheney calling back to the White House about the Saudis saying `yes'?
Scowcroft: Yes. Well we were waiting because even though the Saudis had accepted our conditions for Dick Cheney going over there we still weren't sure how it would come out and direct military to military conversations were still going on and, and from the Pentagon's point of view the Saudis were still planning to send a team of Lieutenant Colonels over here, so we were quite apprehensive.
And it was I don't know if we literally shouted with glee but it was great relief when, Dick called and said "It's a go" I was surprised however, because not only of unease about US seriousness of purpose, but also that this represented a major invasion of what in essence was a hermit kingdom in the sense of foreign presence and to have at this time a hundred thousand American troops there is pretty breathtaking.
Q: Not long after the invasion you were with President Bush at Kennebunkport. Do you remember any specific discussions...
Scowcroft: Well, the first thing that wasn't happening is the fish weren't biting and so we went out there for about four hours and it was a very calm hot day, and so we started talking very philosophically, and it's actually difficult to do.
Time is usually more precious than that and one's discussions are usually more action orientated, but we were talking about what had happened in Kuwait and, what was happening in the world as a result of the changed relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union.
And, it was shortly after the Soviets -- Schevardnadze and Jim Baker -- had stood together and denounced the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
And I said, I think that you know, that this could be the beginning of you will of a new world order that since the founding of the United Nations, the Security Council had always been paralysed in carrying out its job as foreseen by the founders, because of the veto in the Security Council, and if now the United States and the Soviet Union could cooperate there could be a world order really, that would be able to deal with cases of aggression in a way that it had never been known before.
Q: And the President, what was he saying?
Scowcroft: The PresidentI think as a matter of fact he was the first one to use the term New World Order, but he was as much the initiator of the conversation as I, but the prospect of the things that could be done in the world with a changed US/Soviet relationship, instead of every conflict in the world automatically becoming US/Soviet conflict, that the two could at least in some cases cooperate to deal with conflicts.
You opened up perspectives that none of us in our, in our lifetimes really had seen.
Q: When did you and the President first think about the issue of the use of force?
Scowcroft: I can't say when we first thought of it, but it was basically he and I talked about it quite a bit.
I think we both early came to the conclusion that sanctions were unlikely to be on our side, if you will, that we had this big ungainly coalition, if you will, a very desperate kind of forces unified only in one thing and that is to deal with Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
And it was going to be a very difficult thing to keep that coalition together and that it would very likely that our coalition would collapse before Saddam's ability would collapse.
So, I never had any faith in sanctions and I don't think the President did either. I think he made up his mind early on that if Saddam did not withdraw of his own accord that we would force him out.
Q: Is there a specific moment that you recall when force seemed the only option?
Scowcroft: No it didn't happen that way because he -- even after the final meeting between Jim Baker and Tariq Aziz, the French came in with a proposal for mediation. The Russians came in with a new proposal, so there was never, you know it was always something that was if you will, an alternative to the use of force, so there was never a point at which we said
"There's nothing else that can happen, we're going to use force" right up until except maybe about 48 hours ahead of time.
Q: Do you remember the Emir visiting and telling about what was happening in his country?
Scowcroft: Well, the President was very personally touched by the, by the stories he had heard of the atrocities that the Iraqis were perpetrating.
And I remember at this time he was reading a book about World War II, a massive book and he was right in the early part of it about the Nazi invasion of Poland, and that's where all the statements that the President made equating Saddam with Hitler, that's specifically where they came from--from this book that he was reading, and the parallels seemed so striking that the atrocities that the Nazis perpetrated in Poland and what he was hearing going on in Kuwait.
He was very personally touched by them, and as I say very early on he I think had determined to do whatever was necessary and about that time it was probably even earlier we told General Schwarzkopf to, you know he was building up to the hundred thousand and his estimate was that it might take two hundred and fifty thousand to reverse the invasion but we told him to, to start planning for all contingencies and the President told him specifically and said publicly "I want to keep my options open" The declared mission at that time was the defence of Saudi Arabia but the President said "I want to keep my military options open."
Q: You were pretty upset about the first military briefing given at the White House.
Scowcroft: I was not happy and it sounded to me like a briefing by people who didn't want to do it. Or didn't want to undertake the operation and that's why I was so upset. The preferred option that they presented was frankly a poor option and my first question is "Why don't you go round to the west" and the answer was "Well, we don't have enough gas trucks for it, running out of gas when we're up there on the shoulder, we can't do that, it's not feasible option." And maybe something--"We, don't know what kind of sand there is" --Or something, but I was pretty appalled and ....
Q: What did you think was going on?
Scowcroft: My interpretation, whether it was right or not was that that the Command didn't have the stomach for this operation.
Q: Norman Schwarzkopf?
Scowcroft: Well, just leave it at the Command. There was a Command briefing and I presume it had to have the General's blessing.
I mean he certainly wouldn't send somebody to the situation room in the White House to give a briefing on a major operation without having reviewed it.
But, I don't know. Paul and I went immediately to Cheney and said, you know "This, this can't happen. If, this is what we're going to get then we'll just have to find a different way to do the military planning" and I said, you know
"Why don't I talk to Colin Powell" and you know, I always wanted to be careful between Secretary Cheney and General Powell, so that I didn't get in between the military chain of command and it was so easy, it would have been easy for me to do, being military myself, so I said, you know "I'd be happy to talk with Colin about this."
He says "No, let me do it" So I did and, Cheyney subsequently developed a different kind of an option which was to put forces in the western sections of Iraq to try to draw his forces away,and I stuck with my sweep around the right flank.
But gradually we got the Command to change its view and whenever they asked for additional forces or would take more forces, the President said "Fine, you've got them" And I don't think he turned down a single request for additional forces.
Q: What did you think about all these requests from the military?
Scowcroft: Well, look you know, I'm a military man and military always want to have a padding, if you will, which ensures success and there's no question that overwhelming force helps to ensure success and we all wanted success, but this was a) a terribly expensive operation b) a terribly time consuming operation and c) the Saudis were straining to take care of all the forces we were pouring into the northern desert.
So, you know I agreed with the President saying "Look I don't want to be in a position where the military say they can't do the job because I won't provide the forces they say they need. If they say need them, they've got them."
And that was, I think, the appropriate answer.
Q: The President announced on November 8th that significant increase in forces - do you recall that time?
Scowcroft: Yes, I certainly do recall that time. Well we ran into a kind of firestorm because the President made the announcement and we had not really done briefings up on Capitol Hill and had not alerted the Congress probably sufficiently.
My position was that the President early on had said "I want to keep my options open."
Well, all the time that had gone on the Iraqis were reinforcing their forces in Kuwait so, just to keep the President's options open he had to put more forces in then we had said we needed for a defensive posture.
So I was relaxed, I was surprised at the congressional reaction which was sharply negative and the Congress took it almost as a Declaration of War. And, I think they made that point to the press and I think public support dropped as a result of it.
But the message that we were trying to put out to Congress is that this was of vital national interests to the United States and we kept reiterating that over and over and over and the press kept saying "You haven't explained why it is we're there and why this is a threat to US national interests" It was a very frustrating period.
Q: After the `all necessary means' motion was passed at the UN.....there came the idea to have a meeting with the Iraqis.
Scowcroft: It was basically the President. I was reluctant to do that.
It seemed to me that we had made it abundantly clear that if the Iraqis had anything to say we were prepared to listen to it. I believe it was the President, it may have been Jim Baker, but I believe it was the President who said "Look, I think we have to make clear to the American people that we have left no stone unturned to solve this peacefully and so what I want to do is to invite Saddam Hussein to send somebody here to talk with me and to talk eh, with the Congress and so on."
That was the original plan and eventually it turned out to be a meeting in Geneva. But it was basically the President who felt strongly about that.
Q: What were your concerns about that final meeting with Aziz?
Scowcroft: Well, what I was worried about is that it gave Saddam the opportunity to make a proposal which might sound superficially attractive maybe attractive enough to split the coalition but leave him still with many of the fruits of his gains, and I was fearful of that all the way through this period.
He never did it and I could never figure out why he didn't do it. He could have just given us fits and that was what I was worried about happening, as a result of a meeting like this.
Not that they would negotiate really seriously but that they would make an attempt to split up the coalition. And they did by demonising the Israelis during this whole thing,but why they didn't do it with proposals I don't know.
By that time we had pretty much assumed that he was likely to stay and fight, that maybe after all he was seeing now massive forces being poured in.
The one thing we did feel was that maybe he was counting on bodybags being shown on American television in the first few days and that we would give up that we couldn't stand that sort of pain being inflicted.
Q: Why did Saddam agree to free the hostages?
Scowcroft: I believe he was finally convinced that it was a public relations disaster for him, that he thought that it would help him having the hostages and it would reflect on the west. It didn't. It gave him a black eye and I think as a result he released them.
Q: Do you remember the meeting with Prime Minister John Major?
Scowcroft: Well, John Major was very new, this was his first meeting with the President, as Prime Minister, he knew the President, and the President said, "I just want to..., tell you our planning date is X".
You could sort of see the Prime Minister swallowing hard. It was big time stuff for a brand new Prime Minister.
Then the President said that he'd been reading Lyndon Johnson and one of the things that stuck in his mind from Lyndon Johnson was
"Don't undertake a major adventure without having the Congress behind you."
And we had had long discussions about this. And none of
us believed that the Constitution required him to have a Congressional vote and in respect of whether or not it was a good idea because of course,
well suppose you don't get past the vote, then what happens?
But we did.
The President did tell the Prime Minister that he acts on policy, not the Congress, and that what he wanted was a Congressional vote of support so that the country would go into the conflict united. But it was a very high risk operation.
Q: If he had lost the vote what, what do you think he would have done?
Scowcroft: I think he would have gone ahead, but as I say it would have been a bitterly divided country with some saying he had no authority to go ahead in the face of a Congressional negative vote. So he had no choice but to let sanctions work.
Q: The build up to that congressional vote...your recollections...
Scowcroft: My most vivid memory of it was calling Congressman after Congressman, and Senator after Senator, explaining to them how important it was, and we worked as hard as it's possible to work to get that vote.
Q: When did you know you were going to win?
Scowcroft: When it got up to fifty. The count was very close in the Senate,and we all worked very hard including the President.
Q: And your feelings then?
Scowcroft: The feeling then was one of enormous relief that we had dodged the bullet.
Q: The following night the first scuds landed on Israel ... you were in your office ... Jim Baker was there, Larry Eagleburger was there, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney and Colin Powell were over at the Pentagon ... what do you recall of what happened that night?
Scowcroft: I don't recall very much what happened that night. We were of course concerned a) at the fact of an attack, b) whether or not there might be some chemicals in the warheads.
And the third thing, what we could do to keep the Israelis out.
It was clear to us that the reason that the scuds were landing on Israel was to try to provoke Israel into the war in the hopes that it would break up the coalition and that our Arab allies could not abide having Israel in the war on our side. So that was our principal concern.
Q: So what happened that night that you do remember? What did you do about this? The scuds are landing ...
Scowcroft: My recollection is that ... we said, a) we have to keep the Israelis from going in, how can we do that? Ah, we can tell them that we will redouble our efforts to go after the scuds, and are there some more Patriot missiles that we can provide them.
And they would have to be Patriot missiles with US crews because there were no more trained Israelis to run them and we had, up that point, shied away from having American troops stationed in Israel but that's what we did ...
We did ask the President to call Shamir. The President was obviously reluctant to do so, he and Shamir did not have a friendly relationship, correct -- but not warm and friendly. But he agreed to do it.
Of course it was late at night, we got Shamir out of bed I believe and I don't recall the details of the conversation but the President tried to get Shamir to agree that he would not launch a strike and if he felt he had to, we would know beforehand.
But it was a very difficult conversation and Shamir was obviously incensed and said he was under tremendous political pressure and we had to appreciate what it was like to be exposed and to take an attack like this without responding.
Q: Did you think the Israelis were going to attack?
Scowcroft: Yes. I thought we would lose this argument. I thought that the Israelis would very likely attack but the President tried to explain to them that they were in fact being provoked and that they would be playing directly into Saddam Hussein's hands were they to respond.
Q: If the Israelis had attacked, what would have happened to the coalition?
Scowcroft: I can only guess what would have happened to the coalition. My guess is that under the provocation of a scud attack on Tel Aviv that the coalition would have held together.
Q: Skipping right ahead now ... I want to talk to you about how the war came to an end--the day of the 27th ...
Scowcroft: Colin Powell, as I recall, said we have in fact accomplished our objectives, and there was some discussion about not having closed off and actually prevented the escape and while that was true, I believe Colin said there were only two or three divisions inside who were still organised divisions, the rest had lost their coherence and were just a rabble.
There was a discussion about going another 24 hours to, to close the ring, I believe the estimate was it would take another day, it would lay us open to the charge that we were simply massacring troops trying to get away, not trying to fight but trying get away. So ... I cannot remember whether it was the President or not, somebody said, "Well, let's ask General Schwarzkopf."
Q: ... it was the President ...
Scowcroft: ... so Colin Powell picked up the phone and got General Schwarzkopf on the phone, the two of the talked and then he handed the phone to the President and General Schwarzkopf says, "Yes, we have accomplished our objectives .. but I'd like another ..." I can't remember "four or six hours."
And the President said, "You've got it!"
And then John Sununu said, "Well, if we stop at such and such a time it will be a hundred hours even!"
And, that turned out to be about what General Schwarzkopf wanted.
Q: What did you think? Why had you called Sir Charles Powell ? He remembers it vividly, why did you call him earlier in the day?
Scowcroft: I was concerned that we would stop too early and that we would not have destroyed the offensive capability of the Iraqi military forces.
It wasn't a matter of destroying the whole army, they had over 20 divisions up north that weren't involved at all, so that wasn't the issue. But, we really did want to destroy their most capable units.
I just wanted to make sure that we had completed the job and I would have been happy had we relieved them all of their artillery and armoured equipment, but when ... the report from the field and from the Chairman was that the army is destroyed, then I acquiesced with the decision.
Q: If I can put this to you straight, having spoken to a lot of those army commanders ... none of them thought the Iraqis were encircled ...
Scowcroft: Well, was the ring closed? No, absolutely not! And we were told that would take another day, but that that wasn't really necessary, that we had accomplished our objectives, and our objective was to destroy his offensive capability.
Q: But can I ask you honestly and frankly ... when that decision was being taken, what did you feel?
Scowcroft: ... Deep down ... I wondered if we really had done quite enough, but I did not dissent from the decision, and did not argue that we should go another day.
And in retrospect it would have made little if any difference. That was not a significant decision, whether we stopped then or whether we stopped in another 24 hours, I don't believe.
Q: In the end, he got about 50% of the Republican Guard armor out of there, there was much more stuff in there than anyone realised, and it meant that Saddam Hussein wasn't humiliated, that he was able to survive.
Scowcroft: Well ... he was thoroughly humiliated. His army had been wiped out as a fighting force at the time,in a matter of a hundred hours, with very few casualties on our side. It's about as much a military humiliation as is possible to have.
Q: And to just to sum up for me ... why was the war stopped when it was stopped?
Scowcroft: I think it was stopped when it was stopped because we believed that we had achieved our objectives and that to continue the war would have been an unnecessary slaughter of people who at that point really could not defend themselves.
Q: And you were already beginning to see that in the newspapers, on the television screens?
Scowcroft: Oh yes ... if you look, at the `highway of death', look at the television pictures it's just one mass of destroyed and burning, equipment, and that's pretty graphic.
Q: How much did those pictures affect your decision?
Scowcroft: I think it was a significant aspect of the decision that we did not want to look like butchers who were bent on revenge by slaughtering people.
Q: What was the President's mood at the end of the war?
Scowcroft: The President's mood was one of satisfaction, not jubilance because while we had achieved all of our objectives, Saddam Hussein was still there. We had high expectations that the military suffering the kind of defeat they had would turn on Saddam. They didn't, whether they didn't because of the Shi'a insurrection in the south and the Kurds in the north, I don't know, but they didn't.
Q: Should the Safwan ceremony have happened?
Scowcroft: In retrospect, I think what we should have insisted upon is Saddam Hussein come to Safwan, that was our mistake, because that allowed him to blame his generals for the defeat, and not he himself.
Q: How important ... a decision was it not to insist that he want to [come to] Safwan?
Scowcroft: I don't know because history doesn't reveal its alternatives but I think it enabled him, or enhanced his ability, to proclaim he was betrayed and that he didn't really, he was not responsible for this defeat.
Q: Why wasn't Saddam Hussein invited to go to Safwan?
Scowcroft: I can't answer that. Again in retrospect I think we probably left too much of the details of the armistice and those negotiations to the Field Commanders. In retrospect, it was probably a mistake.
Q: And why did that happen?
Scowcroft: There's not a very deep reason because it was basically a military armistice and what they were concerned with was the disposition of troops, of contacts, the kinds of things one has to do to unravel a military situation, the kinds of things tha crept through, if you will, which is not insisting on who would represent Iraq on a decision to let them fly their helicopters and so on, turned out to be mistakes.
Q: You wanted the helicopter decision reversed didn't you?
Q: Could you tell us why?
Scowcroft: Well,it was a decision that came to General Schwarzkopf and they said, "Whole roads have been destroyed. We have to administer the country and therefore we'd like to be able to fly helicopters" and he said "Okay." I thought it was a mistake because I didn't care whether the country was administered that way or not and it gave him a great loophole because we would never know what a particular helicopter was doing in the air.
But that decision was not reversed.
Q: Why not?
Scowcroft: I think it's probably supporting the commander in the field and his judgment.
Q: The President, on a number of occasions, he said
I mean this is a direct quote, he actually said
"The Iraqi people should put him aside"...
Scowcroft: Well that really wasn't the case. In the first place, there was no way that the Shi'ites could have put Saddam Hussein aside.
The Shi'ites were fighting for if you will, independence from Iraq and in part so were the Kurds in the North.
W had made quite clear that we were not interested in breaking Iraq up into groups and indeed what conceivably happened as a result of those insurrections is that the military commanders who had every reason to go after Saddam Hussein who had locked in this humiliation instead supported him because the integrity of Iraq was at stake.
Q: Wouldn't have aiding that Shi'ite rebellion, would it not have helped destabilise Saddam?
Scowcroft: I doubt it. If the defeat in Kuwait didn't destabilise him, then it's hard to see how an uprising with the marsh people would have.
Q: What was different about the Kurds?
Scowcroft: The difference ] about the Kurds was that a) we could get to them. The first problem the Kurds is that they tried to flee into Turkey and the Turks didn't want them in Turkey for obvious reasons, so we had a close ally involved and we had a terrible problem.
So we couldn't stop them on the border and visually watch them being starved to death or freeze to death or be slaughtered so that the situation was different, it was a purely humanitarian gesture.
Q: Looking back at this whole thing, what did the war achieve?
Scowcroft: I think the war achieved several things. First, it made it clear that we were prepared to support our friends and allies, and that went not only for the Arabs in the Middle East but also for the Israelis.
That we could and would use massive power, we knew how to do it, knew how to do it well. That when the war was over we left and that reassured all of the Arabs who were worried that once the United States got in the Middle East it would stay there.
It humiliated the PLO and led the way directly to the Madrid Conference which actually got the peace process that we're now seeing.
So, I think all of those things were a result of the conflict. And in the United States it completed the transformation of the American spirit from the days of Vietnam.
Q: Mrs. Thatcher, the final words to us, she leant across and she said "George Bush isn't President anymore, I'm not Prime Minister. Saddam Hussein is President."
Scowcroft: That's right.
Q: Who won?
Scowcroft: We did. We did. As long as we are alert and observant Saddam Hussein is not a threat to his neighbours. He's a nuisance, he's an annoyance but he's not a threat. That we achieved.
It was never our objective to get Saddam Hussein. Indeed, had we tried we still might be occupying Baghdad. That would have turned a great success into a very messy, probable defeat.
Q: Why is Saddam Hussein still there?
Scowcroft: He's still there because probably we underestimated his ability at survival. He's very, very good at it.
Q: In retrospect,what could have been done that wasn't done to get rid of him?
Scowcroft: Not much. As I say, we could have tried to humiliate him like forcing him to come to Safwan, forcing him to say, you know
"This was my war. I lost the war."
Beyond that-- I don't think other than even, trying to take a direct hand in it which were from doing, I don't think would have necessarily achieved it.
After all when we went into Panama we couldn't even find Noriega even though we knew Panama like the back of our hands and we knew every place that he usually stayed. We had no way of finding Saddam in Iraq.
Q: You had to sort out the row over bomb damage assessment.
Q: Do you recall that?
Scowcroft: Yes, I recall it. Vividly. It was a difficult issue.
We had bomb damage assessments both from the CIA and from the Field Command.
They sometimes differed markedly with the Field Command usually estimating higher than the CIA. The Field Command argued that photography didn't always show the whole picture. That instead they used other kinds of data to get a more complete picture of what the damage was.
It never was resolved. I brought, I think, minimal peace between the two contending agencies. One of the, problems was that with modern munitions, take a tank for example the actual penetration of the tank might be just a little tiny pin hole but the round, once it penetrated would rattle around inside and just devastate everything inside the tank. But you can't see it.
Q: But the issue was you were having to decide you know, the CIA were saying...
Scowcroft: Actually we went basically with the Field Command. But we tried to compromise. We set up a process by which they would compare notes and so on and that they would share the data, 'cos they weren't even doing that.
In fact, after the war, a retrospective indicated that the CIA was closer than the Field Command on actual damage.
Q: Finally, George Bush. Could you just sum up your impressions as you were approaching war..
Scowcroft: As the time for the conflict got closer, he more and more started to think about what it was he was doing.
That he, in fact, was ordering people into situations where they would lose their lives. And the kind of magnitude of that awful decision I think, haunted him, and he did-- He became subdued.
That's an awful responsibility, and you have to ask yourself, you know, how much is a life worth, how much is a hundred lives worth, a thousand, ten thousand, and of course some of the estimates we got were that the casualties would be worse than than Vietnam. Not from military, but from outside, so called experts.
So he became very conscious, and in part weighed down, by the awesomeness of the decision he was making.
Q: His contribution to making this whole thing happen?
Scowcroft: Absolutely essential. Absolutely essential. He was a pillar of strength. Confident, strong, not self doubting. He realized early on what was required and determined to do it and simply kept on course.
Q: You were talking earlier about reading about the Second
World War. Did he see this as a struggle between good and evil..?
Scowcroft: I think in part, yes. I think in part he did. I think he in his own mind demonized Saddam Hussein. And it's not hard to do.
This was not an attractive person and when the reports came in about the way Kuwait was being treated, or just the way Saddam treated his own people in different circumstances, it took on a good versus evil kind of quality to it.
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