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interview: brent scowcroft

You've heard all the talk here in Washington about "We have to deal with Saddam Hussein now." Will that destroy the coalition?

Yes, virtually instantly.

Anything we do?

Well, not anything we do. It depends. If there's some smoking gun that turns up that he's absolutely culpable for this or that or the other... But right now, the area is filled with suspicion of the United States.

You're talking about the Islamic world?

The Islamic world. And one of the sources of those suspicions is Iraq. Saddam has managed to get the view out that the Iraqi people are suffering because of the sanctions. In fact, they're suffering because Saddam Hussein doesn't use the income from the oil he sells to provide for his people. But that's the fact. So if we turn on Iraq now, it will look like we're just using September 11 as an excuse to go after our favorite enemy.

Saddam has, in a sense, won the propaganda war by convincing people in the region that his people are suffering because of us, not because he's skimming the money?

Exactly. So we need to sort of reestablish the kind of confidence that the United States enjoyed a decade ago around the time of the Gulf War. And to do that, we need to prosecute the Afghan/Osama bin Laden part of this whole thing in a way which will demonstrate that we know what we're doing, that we do it carefully, not wildly and so on. Then we can look at other kinds of things. But right now it would be, yes, a disaster.

Would you need more evidence to justify attacking Saddam than exists already?

Well, to me right now, Saddam is a problem, but he is a separate problem ... It is not at all clear that he is a part of a global terrorist network, which is what we're focusing on.

Brent Scowcroft served as national security adviser in the George H. W. Bush administration. In this interview he discusses why Saddam Hussein is a separate problem from going after bin Laden's terrorist network, explains why the coalition against terrorism is even more important than the coalition built during the Gulf War, and defends the decision in the earlier Bush administration not to go after Saddam at the end of the Gulf War and not to support uprisings in the northern and southern parts of Iraq. He was interviewed in October 2001.

I thought President Bush said in his speech that, "Either you're for us or against us....anyone who harbors terrorists, or fosters their activity," and he meant terrorists in general. Doesn't Saddam qualify?

We've got to be looking at priorities here. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden have one thing in common, and that is they both hate the United States. Otherwise, they have very little in common.

As a matter of fact, my guess is, if it weren't for the United States, Osama bin Laden would turn on Saddam Hussein. Why? Because Saddam Hussein is the head of a Ba'athist party -- a secular, socialist party. He is anathema to the kind of world that Osama bin Laden wants to reinstall So he's part of the problem; he's not part of the solution. That doesn't mean they can't cooperate, and might not cooperate. But what I'm saying is we need to get our priorities straight, and we've got them straight right now. We're going after number one target.

Iraq could turn out to be number two, but there are a lot of other candidates. Hezbollah, for example, is a global terrorist network, which has attacked the United States and U.S. interests before. How about that? ...We need to be skillful about this. We need to use scalpels, not sledgehammers.

In your op-ed piece that you wrote on October 16, you said that coalition this time is more important than the coalition in the Gulf War. Why is that?

Well, the Gulf War was primarily a military operation. We had to have certain members of the coalition -- the Saudis, for example, because we could not have mounted the effort without bases in Saudi Arabia. So it was important. But it was not vital.

We cannot win this war without the coalition. Why? Because fundamentally, for our side, this is a war of intelligence. We have to get inside the terrorist organizations. We need friendly intelligence services who have assets in that region that we don't have, and can't develop, other than over years. We need to get inside their communications. We need help doing that. The Germans, for example, have shown how important that is.

In what sense?

They revealed the background of a whole lot of the September 11 terrorists who were holed up in Germany -- some of them for years. ...

We need to get after their money. There are thousands of avenues for the laundering of money into the terrorist organization. It takes cooperation to do it.

And lastly, we have to penetrate the terrorist networks. We're not very good at that, especially in that part of the world. Therefore, we need help. And if we don't get that help, if we try to act, or are forced to act unilaterally, we're not going to win.

Is the Iraqi National Congress a viable alternative to Saddam?

I don't know whether it's a viable alternative. But it's certainly not a viable means to get there.

To overthrow him?

Yes. It is weak, disparate, riven with disputes -- probably unattractive to almost anyone inside or out.

You know that they have been developing information, defectors and others, who say that Saddam may, in fact, have been involved in the events of September 11, or imply that. Do you think it's credible?

I don't know whether it's credible or not. I have not seen any such evidence. I doubt it. Osama bin Laden, first of all, has not had to rely on other organizations up to now, as far as we know. I don't know what the evidence is. It would be interesting to see it. But to me, we ought to look at where our interests lie, and prioritize those interests.

Jim Woolsey says that his attempted assassination of George Bush was enough to justify going after Saddam.

Then we should have gone after him in 1994.

We sent a cruise missile there and it blew up a building.

It blew up an empty building at two o'clock in the morning. Right. Is that what we want to do now? We can blow up another building. Nobody has said what "going after Saddam" really means. What does it mean? Five hundred thousand troops again, based in a Saudi Arabia that would not accept them now? What does "going after Saddam" mean?

We are told, however, by a Mr. Hamza -- who used to be a nuclear scientist in Iraq -- that if we don't do something very quickly, in a couple of years, we're going to wind up having to deal with somebody who has weapons of mass destruction, who has had no inspections now for three years, and [who] has motivation and the means to come after us.

That's quite possible.

So how long do we wait?

But that ought to be distinguished from global terrorism. That is something we can deal with, because that is a state actor. That is not state-supported terrorism. That is a state actor. He's already working on missiles. If he develops nuclear weapons to go with them, and then uses them to blackmail, I'd take him out, clearly. But that's a different war, in a sense, than what we're fighting now.

But if it's shown that if Mr. Atta, for instance, who went to Prague met with this Iraqi agent...

He probably did, yes.

And let's say they did give him some anthrax spores...

That's a reach. Maybe, it's possible. But that's the assumption that the spores came from Iraq, or it came from bin Laden or whatever. Yes, if that can be demonstrated, that's an entirely different thing.

Back to Iraq, though, 10 years ago. You wrote in your book that it was an impulsive ad-lib that George Bush, Sr. called on the people of Iraq to rise up against Saddam. And that's why we had to deal with the question of rebellion, and whether or not to help in that regard.

It wasn't why we had to deal with rebellion. But look, President Bush, Sr., is accused of inciting the people to revolt. The question he got is, is Saddam Hussein is the target? And what he really said is, "Who governs Iraq is a problem for the Iraqi people, not a problem for the Untied States to determine. Our problem is Iraqi aggression in Kuwait."

You don't regret not having, in a sense, gone after Saddam...

Well, we did go after Saddam, in the sense of bombing...

We were looking for him.

Oh, and it would have been delightful if we had gotten him. ... It would have been delightful if his army had overthrown him, yes. It was a wish that wasn't fulfilled.

But during the period of the war, we targeted command and control headquarters. We used our best intelligence to find their commander in chief, right?

I don't know about finding their commander in chief. We certainly targeted every command and control headquarters.

We even wound up killing people by accident, because we thought there was a military facility, and there were civilians in it. Remember the bunker under the ground.

There was a military facility underneath the people.

Underneath where the people were?


So, inadvertently, we killed them.

Inadvertently. We didn't know that he had put people in there. And he put people in there just for that reason.

If I'm sitting out there listening, watching this, why was it OK to go after him at a certain point, and then not after another?

Because that was a part of a conflict which we were fighting, which we were commissioned to fight by the U.N. -- in a sense, which we knew how to fight. We knew exactly what we needed. We knew how to do it. And we knew how to get out afterwards. That would be exchanging that conflict for an entirely new conflict, the outcome of which we had no concept.

We go in... We could have gone to Baghdad. We could have occupied Iraq. There we are, in control of a hostile country. What do we do with it?

Yes, but there's a different question. ...

No, it isn't.

Wasn't there an uprising in the north? Wasn't there an uprising in the south?

Of course.

Didn't we see their military killing people?


And we didn't intervene.

Of course not.

Not from the air.

Of course not.

We didn't cut off their gasoline supplies.

First of all, one of our objectives was not to have Iraq split up into constituent ... parts. It's a fundamental interest of the United States to keep a balance in that area, in Iraq. ...

So part of the reason to not go after his army at that point was to make sure there was a unified country, whether or not it was ruled by Saddam?

Well, partly. But suppose we went in and intervened, and the Kurds declare independence, and the Shiites declare independence. Then do we go to war against them to keep a unified Iraq?

But why would we care at that point?

We could care a lot.

I thought we had two interests. One was to evict the Iraqi Army from Kuwait. But the other really was to get Saddam out of power.

No, it wasn't.

Well, either covertly or overtly.

No. No, it wasn't. That was never... You can't find that anywhere as an objective, either in the U.N. mandate for what we did, or in our declarations, that our goal was to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

I guess the question that's been raised to us by exiled Iraqis, is that America had the opportunity and didn't take it. And not that it's our responsibility, they say, to do that, but we were clearly in charge.

Let me pursue that a little. First of all, their view of the situation at the end of the war is ... well, it's not mine. Secondly, had we gone in and occupied Iraq, first of all, the coalition would have split up immediately. As it was, our Arab allies with troops on the ground did not let those troops go into Iraq. They stopped at the border.

Of Kuwait...

Of Kuwait, yes. The coalition would have collapsed. We would have been in occupation of an Arab land, hostile Arab land. Look at the mood in that part of the world about the United States now.

We have troops in Saudi Arabia. Why are they there?

They're there defensively. They're there to ensure that Saddam does not, once again, become a threat to the region. Right now, he's not. Right now, he has not been able to rebuild his forces to the level that he had them in 1990. Maybe he will. We are severely handicapped because we can no longer inspect, absolutely. And that's a problem. But what I'm saying is, it is not a problem of the same character. It's a problem which right now should be differentiated from the Osama bin Laden problem.

But one of the grievances that Osama bin Laden raises is the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, and that that has resonance in parts of the Islamic world; and that that is creating, if you will, anti-American feeling. So why do we keep them there, if we could put them all in Kuwait, and we can put them someplace else?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had them all in Iraq holding down Iraq? What would the mood be then?

But you know what I'm saying. Why keep them in Saudi Arabia, if that is an irritant to the Islamic world in general?

Because it is important to have them there to control Iraq. What you're assuming that Iraq would not be a problem, and that we would escape unscathed from the attitudes in the Middle East had we done something entirely different. You may be right, because history never reveals its alternatives. But I am comfortable with the decisions we made at that time, and the reasons that we made them. And I can suggest that we would be much worse off right now had we taken a different course.

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