Leslie H. Gelb [LG]: Thank you, Nancy. Welcome. You're in for a real treat this evening, because we have four people who have really thought hard about the most important problem facing U.S. foreign policy today. It's a formal debate. It will be on the record. We owe thanks this evening to HBO for sponsoring the event. Many of you will remember that for the last four years now HBO has sponsored a debate series here at the Council. Really two of our members involved with HBO, Jeff Bewkes who has also now just joined the Board of Directors of the Council, and Richard Plepler have been driving forces behind trying to get our colleagues and Americans who know these important subjects best to come and put their ideas to the ultimate test of debate. And it won't surprise you to know that there aren't a lot of people willing to do that, and particularly on a subject as important as this one. I'm eternally grateful to my friends and colleagues here on this panel.
Let me tell you what the drill will be. As I said, it's a formal debate. We will have an initial ten minute presentation by Steve Walt, a Professor at the Kennedy School at Harvard, and lots of other things, you can look at his bio. And then a ten minute presentation by Bill Kristol, the man at The Weekly Standard. Then five minute rebuttal statements, first by John Mearsheimer, Professor at the University of Chicago. And then by my colleague here at the Council, Max Boot, who has consented to join us in between writing op-ed pieces. (Laughter) He has set a record for Senior Fellow op-ed pieces, 1,327 op-ed pieces in just three months. (Laughter) All good. Don't be disturbed by the lights, which will tell the speaker ... the yellow one ... that he has a minute left, the red one, to get ready to stop. Gentlemen, thank you very much. Steve, would you begin.
Stephen Walt [SW]: The question before us tonight is a simple one, is a preventive war against Iraq in the American national interest. There are at least three good reasons why it is not. First, the threat from Iraq has been greatly exaggerated. Second, the alleged benefits from preventive war will be modest at best. Third, this war entails substantial economic and political costs, costs that outweigh the alleged benefits. The bottom line is that containment has worked in the past, and will work in the future, and is preferable to preventive war. Advocates of war claim Saddam must be toppled because he is a reckless serial aggressor like Adolph Hitler, because he's used chemical weapons in the past, because he will use weapons of mass destruction to blackmail us, and because he might give WMD to terrorists. None of these arguments can withstand careful scrutiny.
First, is he a reckless aggressor who can't be deterred? He's dominated Iraq for about 30 years. In that time he's initiated two wars. He did attack Iran in 1980, but revolutionary Iran was the real aggressor, and we supported his efforts to combat Iranian expansionism. He also invaded Kuwait in 1990, but only after we had signaled that we wouldn't oppose this. Containment didn't fail, it wasn't tried. Moreover, he has never gone to war in the face of a clear deterrent threat. He's a cruel tyrant, but not a serial aggressor. Similarly, Saddam has never used WMD against anyone who could retaliate. He didn't use them against us in 1991, and he hasn't used them since, even though we have bombed his country repeatedly since then. Why? Because he's deterred. Third, Saddam cannot blackmail us with nuclear weapons or other WMD. Why? Because he knows we could destroy him if he tried to carry out the threat. And of course we know it too. As Condi Rice wrote in Foreign Affairs, "Iraq's WMD would be unusable, because any attempt to use them would bring national obliteration." You might also remember that the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear weapons pointed right at us, was governed by tyrants and mass murderers, yet they couldn't use them for blackmail or regional expansion. So why does the Bush administration think Saddam can blackmail us if he got his hands on a few?
We should also not forget that Iraq's nuclear infrastructure has been verifiably destroyed by UNSCOM, and has not been rebuilt. Iraq is farther from a nuclear capability now than at any time in recent memory, which makes it hard to understand why the administration is so eager for war today. Lastly, Saddam will not give WMD to al Qaeda. There is still no credible evidence, even after this afternoon, of cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda, even though the Bush administration has worked overtime trying to find it, and put great pressure on American intelligence agencies to come up with the correct answer. Even Ken Pollack has termed this evidence, quote, "Tenuous and inconsequential." More importantly, Saddam would have nothing to gain from doing this, and everything to lose. He could accomplish no positive purpose by giving WMD away, and he knows we would retaliate decisively if we caught him trying to do it. Giving WMD to terrorists in literally the last thing he would ever do. The bottom line is that the threat from Iraq is too small to justify preventive war.
So what about the alleged benefits? Advocates of war say that this will liberate the Iraqi people and spark reforms across the Middle East. Liberating the Iraqi people is a worthy goal. But if that were the only reason people were offering, we wouldn't be having this debate today. Remember, the Bush administration has said it's willing to leave Saddam Hussein a tyrant in power if he disarms, which means liberation is in fact a red herring being used to cover up the fact that there's such a weak strategic rationale. We should also remember that we support plenty of other governments with brutal human rights records, which further suggest that this is not the real reason for war. Moreover, being democracy to Iraq will take years, if not decades. As the Carnegie Endowment recently concluded, quote, "The idea of a quick and easy democratic transformation is a fantasy. Or as another noted foreign policy expert puts it, "Once you've got Baghdad, it's not clear what you do with it. Is it going to be a Shiite regime, a Sunni regime, or a Kurdish regime? How much credibility is that government going to have if it's set up by the US military when it's there? How long does the military have to stay, and what happens once we leave?" The far sighted individual asking all those good questions was Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney in 1991. Those questions are just as relevant today.
Advocates of war claim that invading Iraq will trigger a process like the Velvet Revolutions in Eastern Europe, and bring a lot of Arab Lech Wolensas and Vacliv Havels to power. This is a dream world. The populations in most of these countries are more anti-American than their governments. Radical change is as likely to open the door to Islamic extremists as to bring liberals to power. We are playing with fire in doing this. Our invasion will resurrect images of colonialism, and fuel even greater anger at the United States. And just remember, we didn't liberate Eastern Europe by invading it, we did it by patient containment.
Finally, this war will entail significant economic costs and political costs. If it goes perfectly, it will cost $100 billion. If it goes badly, it will cost much more. Given the current state of our economy and the fact that preventive war isn't necessary, this doesn't make much sense. Second, it's likely to spur proliferation. Because what message are we really sending? Our policy says we negotiate with nuclear regimes like North Korea if they already have them, but we invade states that are trying to get them and don't have them yet. This will make more states want to have them, not fewer. Most important of all, the war will undermine our campaign against al Qaeda. There is no evidence that Iraq seeks to attack us ... none ... but there's no doubt that al Qaeda does. So why are we obsessed with Iraq in allowing ourselves to be distracted from the more serious threat? War is likely to increase anti-Americanism in the Arab and Islamic world, make it easier for a bin Laden to recruit new followers. It will divert time, money and attention from the effort against al Qaeda. It's doing that already. Look at the amount of time, effort and political capital we are putting into this, while the majority of al Qaeda leaders are still at large, still planning new attacks.
And finally, it will jeopardize international support for the broader war on terrorism. The image of the United States in the world has declined steadily as we get closer to war, especially in those countries whose arms we have been twisting to get them to go along. This is not a coalition of the willing, it's a coalition of the coerced, the cowed, and the co-opted. Launching an unprovoked war will reinforce the growing perception that the United States is a bully, make it harder for us to get the cooperation we need. On the day we go to war, Osama bin Laden will be smiling.
So if we stick to logic and evidence, the case for war is empty. It rests on a combination of bad history, inconsistent logic, wishful thinking, and old news. Instead of being an imminent threat, today Saddam is weak, his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction has been frustrated. Any regional ambitions he may once have cherished have been thwarted. He is already in a box, and he's not going to get out before he dies. Now, advocates of preventive war portray this as a noble Wilsonian crusade to spread liberal ideals and liberated people. We should not be seduced by this kind of crude emotional appeal when we're dealing with the fate of our country. After all, it was Woodrow Wilson himself who warned us to, quote, "Exercise the self restraint of a truly great nation which realizes its own strength, and scorns to misuse it." War with an Iraq is a misuse of American power. Instead of using our strength to prevent war when forced to, to win them, we're going to be using our strength to start a war. The rest of the world will be watching, and the rest of the world is not with us. The costs of preventive war will outweigh the alleged benefits, even if we assume the best rather than the worst. The bottom line is quite clear if we look at logic and evidence. Preventive war is not in our national interest. Our policy should remain one of vigilant containment. Thank you. (Applause)
LG: Thank you very much, Steve Walt, and you didn't even use your full ten minutes, a record for any professor. (Laughter)
SW: Can I have the extra minute later? (Laughter)
LG: You deserve it. Our next speaker, Bill Kristol.
William Kristol [WK]: Thanks, Les, it's a pleasure to be here at the Council, and with Max and Steve and John. Steve did a particularly good job, because he was a last minute substitute for Domnique Debethepath(?), (Laughter) the French Foreign Minister who couldn't be here today. He was rattled by the Secretary of State's presentation and is rethinking his position. I do feel a little bit as if I'm now going to repeat arguments made extremely able, I would say, by the President a week ago in the State of the Union address, and by the Secretary of State today. And so I'm tempted to actually yield back the remaining nine and a half minutes of my time, and simply ...
LG: But you won't.
WK: But I won't, exactly. Right. (Laughter)
LG: A former professor.
WK: Exactly. Right. The case for war, you know, is very much like the case for democracy. As Churchill describes it, "It's the worst of all options, except all the others." And the great advantage I think of Steve and John's argument, or Steve's argument so far tonight, is that all the other options really turn out be one other option. Because the in between option of peaceful disarmament of Saddam, that the UN inspections process could work, the international community could put pressure on him, that turns out to be a mirage. It was not an unreasonable thing to hope for, certainly in 1991, perhaps even in 1998, perhaps even to take one more shot in 2002, but it is clearly not working. And Steve doesn't claim that it's working. So we need to be serious about what the choice is. The choice is preventive war or Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction, with biological and chemical weapons, which no one seriously doubts that he has, and with a very strong attempt to develop or redevelop his nuclear weapon program, which he was quite close to unfortunately ... well, scarily close to succeeding with, it turns out, before 1990.
So the question then is are the risks of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction worth taking? Are they greater than the risks of war today? To govern is to choose, and I think it is quite clear that the risks of inaction are greater than the risks of action. Some people are confident that Saddam with weapons of mass destruction isn't that scary, he's not a risk taker. I'm not sure I would agree with that. Read on his history. Certainly the international community doesn't agree with that. Why else were the sanctions imposed on him? Why else was he required to disarm in 1991? Why else did the Security Council pass 16 resolutions to try to enforce that judgment that he could not be trusted to have weapons of mass destruction? His record does not let's say, it seems to me, entitle him to get the benefit of the doubt as to how he would use weapons of mass destruction if he had them. If he had them increasingly unconstrained as the sanctions regime falls apart, which it has been doing and was doing, if he has them after what will have been a failure now by the US and the international community to force him to stop his weapons of mass destruction programs, in other words, if we suddenly pivot and follow Steve and John's policy, does one seriously have confidence that he won't use these weapons? So no nation on the Security Council seems to have that confidence, otherwise we wouldn't have made such a big deal over the last 11 years, and Republican and Democratic administrations here, various governments around the world, of the necessity of his disarming.
Some people are confident that he doesn't have links with terrorist groups. I thought the Secretary of State was quite persuasive on that today. Certainly one can't be confident that he won't establish such links to the degree that ... I mean, he has had some, and that he won't deepen those links. And I certainly wouldn't want to run the risk of handing off such a weapon to a group which I think everyone would agree there's no good reason to think would be deterred. al Qaeda had a state, Afghanistan, and even that didn't deter them from 9/11. Presumably if they could do that with weapons of mass destruction, they would be happy to run whatever risk it took to deliver those weapons against us.
And third, on deterrence, you know, in retrospect, the deterrence with the Soviet Union looks wonderful and stable and reliable. Leaving aside the question of whether Saddam is like the Soviet leadership, it doesn't seem to me that one wants to live in a kind of constant state of Cuban Missile Crisis with Saddam Hussein. The deterrence with the Soviet Union almost broke down. Some say that the Soviet Union never really used the nuclear weapons, never even used them to blackmail us, to stop America from doing them things. I don't think that's the case. What about the people of Hungary, the people of Czechoslovakia who rose up against their Soviet masters? Why exactly were we so reluctant to intervene there? It's a high price to pay. We paid a very high price for the fact that the Soviets were able to deter us. We of course were able to deter them finally, as Europe was liberated, it doesn't seem to me that we would want to have to pay such a price to voluntarily and with full foresight enter into a relationship with mutual assured destruction with Saddam Hussein, which is what's being proposed.
And, incidentally, what's the great threat that then deters Saddam? The threat, as Steve quoted Condi Rice, as saying is one of national obliteration. Is that really what our position is going to be? If some nuclear or chemical or biological device is loosed in the United States, and we probably think it's from Saddam, maybe we can prove it's from Saddam, what do we do, kill a million Iraqis, 5 million Iraqis, the entire population of Iraq? Is that a sound and moral US foreign policy? Is it even a credible, incidentally, US foreign policy? Our enemy, as the President said, is the Iraqi government, not the Iraqi people. And it seems to me that accepting a mutual sort of destruction is something we had to accept because we had no choice. It was never desirable, it was never morally where one would want to be as a nation. And, God knows, one shouldn't get into such a position, especially with a regime like Saddam's, unless one absolutely has to. And here we have a chance to act to prevent it. I think we should so act.
Of course the ramifications of what we do with Saddam go beyond Iraq, they go to the rest of the Middle East. Basically if we adopt Steve's view, I don't see what grounds we have for denying anyone else in the Middle East weapons of mass destruction. We can contain and deter them too. Iran, no problem. Syria, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, you know, what's the deal, they'll all be deterred. We can obliterate all their people. So let's just have a nuclear Middle East. And, incidentally, what about East Asia? You know, let's not be serious about North Korea. I would argue North Korea, although a very undesirable situation right now, shows even more vividly the need to act now against Iraq before we get to another North Korean situation. But do we want an East Asia also where there's a nuclear arms race, and we cheerfully tell ourselves, well, it's not a problem of ours, we can obliterate all those people over there too. And if they get into some fights with each other, it's not, I suppose, in the vital US national interest to intervene. I suppose that soft hearted Wilsonionism, to care about the fact that millions and tens of millions and hundreds of millions of people might die in such a world, it's Wilsonionism to now talk about liberation. One should realize that the Arab ... the countries aren't capable of democracy, that somehow they don't deserve the same rights or even the same chance that other peoples do.
I would argue in fact, incidentally, that it was the stupid cynicism of 1991, a cynicism of which the first Bush administration was deeply complicit, that led to the current situation in the Middle East. What led to Osama bin Laden? Our efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East, or our propping up of dictators in the Middle East? What led to anti-Americanism in the Middle East? Our going in and helping Arab people, or standing by and watching Arabs get slaughtered by Saddam, with US troops right there, us having encouraged them to rise up. It seems to me we paid a very high price, to the degree that things in the Middle East have gotten worse over the last decade by adopting precisely the kind of cynical, pseudo, realpolitik policies which say that any talk of democracy or liberation or acting for any reason beyond vital national interests, is a Wilsonian fantasy.
In any case, the world we would live in if we let Saddam get away with what he is doing is a world I don't think we would want to live in, a world of almost unimaginable, I would say, of nuclear proliferation. Every dictator would see that you need to get nuclear weapons to be immune from a US attack, and we're not going to do anything to stop you to get weapons. And maybe we could have UN inspectors in five countries three years from now, and in 15 countries eight years from now, frantically looking to try to stop pretty bad dictators from developing these weapons of mass destruction. It's not a world I think we would want to live in. I think we do have a choice. I don't think we should just mistake realism for fatalism. I think we can act to remove Saddam, I think we should, and I think we will.
LG: Thank you very much, Bill Kristol. (Applause) Now we move to the rebuttals. First, John Mearsheimer.
John Mearsheimer [JM]: I think Bill's comments point up that clearly the issue here is not chemical or biological weapons. The key issue is nuclear weapons, and the question is can we contain Saddam Hussein if he acquires nuclear weapons. And I would say to you that if you think about the Cold War, for 45 years the United States contained the Soviet Union, which had at its peak 40,000+ nuclear weapons, was run by ruthless dictators like Joe Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev. And the fact of the matter is, we successfully contained them. How is it that we can't contain Saddam Hussein? When people like Condi Rice and George Bush talk about him blackmailing us with nuclear weapons, I sort of scratch my head and say how is that none of those Soviet leaders with those 40,000+ nuclear weapons could blackmail us, but he can blackmail us? Right? What's the logic? It just doesn't make any sense.
Now, Bill makes a number of points, one of which is, he says, "It's not clear that the United States would retaliate with nuclear weapons or with weapons of mass destruction against Baghdad if it misbehaved." I will remind you folks that there's only one country in the history of the world that ever used nuclear weapons against another country, and it was the United States of America. And those nuclear weapons were tacked on to one of the most vicious bombing campaigns in the history of the world. We were basically burning Japanese civilians to death. We killed 900,000 Japanese civilians in fire bombing raids, and with two nuclear weapons between the middle of March 1945 and the middle of August 1945. When the United States gets good and angry and it goes to war, you never want to underestimate how mean and nasty we can be. And most people outside the borders of the United States understand that full well. And I would think, looking at what we've done to Saddam Hussein over the past decade, he's got that message loudly and clearly.
Now, talking a little bit about the Cold War. Bill said the Cold War was really no day at the beach, it was pretty horrible, and we had the Cuban Missile Crisis and so forth and so on. I don't want to glorify the Cold War, there's no question about it. As I often tell students, international politics is all about choose among lousy options, right? And the two options we have on the table here are, number one, we invade Iraq ... right? ... we conquer it, and we occupy it for a really long period of time, or we try to contain Saddam. And I think the better alternative here is containment rather than conquest and occupation. It is possible we will have a Cuban Missile Crisis. I think it's unlikely. The Cold War was not an endless series of Cuban Missile Crises, and this certainly will not be an endless series of Cuban Missile Crises. So containment will be difficult for sure, right? It's not going to be a day at the beach, and you don't want to make light of it. But I think invasion is a considerably worse alternative.
And just to turn to North Korea for a second, the administration often says that containment is unacceptable. George Bush said the other day, "After 9/11, containment is unacceptable." But then he turns around and tells us, or at least his spokesmen tell us, that "We're going to pursue a containment policy vis a vis North Korea." Well, if we're going to pursue a containment policy vis a vis North Korea, please explain to me why we can't pursue a containment policy versus Iraq as well. And the fact of the matter is we can.
Now, Bill's point is that if we don't stop Iraq from acquiring nuclear weapons, there's going to be a domino effect. I think there's no question that there are powerful forces at play in the international system, independent of the Iraq situation, to push states to want nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are a wonderful deterrent, that's why states love them. We love our nuclear weapons. As you've noticed, we have no intention of getting rid of our nuclear weapons. The Israelis, the Indians, the Pakistanis, the Russians, the Chinese, the French, the British, they have no intention of getting rid of their nuclear weapons ... right? ... because they understand that they're an excellent deterrent.
Now, the question you have to ask yourself is, after the United States goes into Iraq and conquers it and occupies it, what is going to be the thought process that goes through the minds of decision makers in other countries regarding nuclear weapons? What they're going to say to themselves is that "We'd better get nuclear weapons so that we're not number two or number three on the hit list." And furthermore what's going to happen is that countries like Russia and China, which worry about the United States building an empire in a place like the Middle East, are going to cooperate with those potential proliferators to help them. And I believe, by the way, this is exactly what's happening with regard to Iran. I believe that the Russians have no real problem with the Iranians acquiring nuclear weapons, in large part because they want to prevent the United States from establishing an empire in the Middle East.
LG: Thank you very much, John Mearsheimer. (Applause) And the final rebuttal statement from Max Boot.
Max Boot [MB]: Thank you very much, Les. This is an important to be having, but I can't help feeling that it's a little late to be having this debate. And I think we need to understand where we are in the policy process to understand what the repercussions are of the course of action that Professors Mearsheimer and Walt urge upon us today. What they propose is that we should stop the build up of forces in the Middle East, and basically just sit there indefinitely containing Saddam in a, quote, unquote, "box." Now, first the question arises, how would this be perceived around the world. Now, in the United States and in Western Europe this would be perceived as a victory for multilateralism, as a victory for the United Nations, as a victory for peace, love and harmony and all good things.
How would it be perceived in the Middle East, however, is the question that I think is worth asking today. For the last several months Saddam Hussein and his henchmen have been making an escalating series of threats against the allied forces that are amassing on their borders. They are threatening to send out suicide bombers, they are threatening to kill the invaders in a sea of fire, they are threatening essentially that they will use these weapons of mass destruction, which they claim they don't possess. All these things are now going on. So therefore how would it look if, in the face of this threat, we were to back down now and say, "We're not going to tackle Saddam Hussein, we're going to leave this (Inaudible) dictator in power." It's pretty obvious how it would look. It would look that the West was scared of Saddam Hussein, it would appear that Saddam Hussein had faced down the great powers of the world. He has done this before, he has spun his defeat in 1991 into a great victory. He has a built a mosque called the Mother of All Battles Mosque on the outskirts of Baghdad to celebrate the serious victory over allied coalitions. And if we were to back down now, it would be another joyous victory for Saddam Hussein, or so it would appear. And then only our friends, our allies in the Arab world who have gone and put their necks on the line to help us would be brutally exposed.
Our friends and allies in the Muslim would be brutally exposed for having helped us. Saddam would claim a victory. And what would be the impact of this upon the war on terrorism? It's an interesting question to think about, because if you read the writings of Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, what emboldened al Qaeda to act? Was it American strength? No, it was American weakness. It was the fact that we were chased out of Vietnam, we were chased out of Beirut, we were chased out of Somalia. Read the writings of Osama bin Laden. He said in a 2000 recruitment video for al Qaeda, "We believe that America is much weaker than Russia. And our brothers who fought in Somalia told us they were astonished to observe how weak, impotent and cowardly the American soldier is." This is what drove al Qaeda to attack us, because they felt they could get away with it. And what would be the impact of Saddam Hussein ... the ally, at least for the time, being of al Qaeda ... were to face down the United States and our allies in the Middle East? I suggest that it would embolden the terrorist enemies that we face in the world.
Now, Professor Walt raises the suggestion that American action in Iraq would somehow inflame the Arab street and lead to a setback in the war on terrorism. This is exactly the argument that people made when we went into Afghanistan, if you will recall. I don't remember the Arab street being inflamed. I remember a deathly silence after our great victory over the Taliban. There was only one time when the Arab street was truly inflamed, and that was on 9/11 when they saw America brought low, when they saw America's weakness exposed. That was when there was dancing and jubilation on the street. When America showed strength, when we overthrew the Taliban, there was no dancing in the street. And similarly I suggest to you, whatever the direct links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, and I believe that Secretary Powell's presentation today was pretty convincing on that point ... but whatever the links, I think the indirect moral effect of backing down now after we have gone so far would be disastrous, because it would send a message of American weakness and irresolution that would simply reinforce the moral that al Qaeda took from the 1990s, which is that America is, in Osama bin Laden's words, "A paper tiger." I don't think that's the message we want to send, and I think it would be a very dangerous message to send for our future security and our interests in the region. (Applause)
LG: Thank you very much, Max Boot. Just a couple of points from me, and then we'll talk for a bit at the table for opening it up to you. One thing I would note about this panel, in addition to they're being very smart and very knowledgeable, very thoughtful about this difficult subject, is the irony that they're all really from the same foreign policy school. For those of you who don't know their backgrounds, I would class them all in the what we call the realist/conservative tradition in thinking about American foreign policy. Just to show you how difficult this Iraq question has become, these are people who have the same philosophical underpinning about interest and power, arguing about this issue from very different points of view.
The second thing I would point out is that this event is being Webcast with our members around the country, and increasingly a lot of them get a sandwich and Foreign Affairs for Kids and sit by their computers listening to these events, either in real time or later, and they send in questions. I'm going to ask a few questions from our national members. John Mearsheimer is a national member.
Let me start with a question for you folks over here, and I invite Bill and Max to jump in on their answers. You don't have to wait to be called on or anything. Let me pick up with Max Boot's point, because I think it's the strongest argument for those who feel we really have to act now. And it's this, in a nutshell. What do you think would be the ... ? We can't replay history, we are where we are now. We could have gotten here in a much between way, we all could have been smarter, but we are where we are, we're on the verge of having 150,000 troops in the area. What would be the consequences if the United States on March 15th were to say, "Gee, we did a great job (Applauds) of inspections in Iraq, and everything is copasthetic, and we're pulling out." What do you think would be the diplomatic and political consequences for this?
JM: This is the credibility argument that Max raised, which is that it would be a tremendous loss of American credibility if we didn't act now, if we pulled back. When I hear the credibility argument, what I think is going on is people are saying, "We don't have good strategic reasons for doing this. We can't make the strategic case." But the fact of the matter is we've walked ourselves so far out on the plank ... right? ... that we can't turn around now. So what we ought to do is jump into those shark-infested waters, right? I think this is a fundamentally flawed way of doing things, right? Jumping into shark-infested waters is worse than walking yourself back and losing some credibility. If it was 1965 ... right? ... and the Vietnam War decision making process were in play, and as you know, many people were making credibility arguments at the time, and somebody said to you, "Les, you have a choice here. We can jump into those shark-infested waters and go into Vietnam and stay there until 1972 and get whip-slugged like nobody's business, or we can walk ourselves back off the plank. Lose some credibility for sure, but work over the long term to solve the problem," what would you do?
LG: I would plead nolo contendre. (Laughter) Case closed.
MB: John, I'll make a deal with you. I won't invoke Uniq(?) if you don't invoke Vietnam. (Laughter)
SW: Let me add one point in there also. I mean, at what point has the United States done enough to prove that it has capability and will? All right, we smashed him in 1991, we've been patrolling his country for ten or 12 years, we've been bombing it on frequent intervals, we have yet to lose a single airplane doing it. We are garrisoning the rest of the world. We have been hearing this argument now for about 50 years, that if the United States doesn't continually demonstrate to people that it's willing to do a variety of imperial adventures, somehow the rest of the world is going to conclude that we are weak. A country that, what, has military power equal to the next 20 countries combined? The Arab world is going to somehow conclude we are weak, not worth taking seriously if we don't now go to Baghdad? And I won't use the shark-infested analogy that John used, but I think, you know, when you've made a series of blunders, you usually don't correct them by making additional blunders.
WK: I don't what the ... I'm curious what the variety of imperial adventures that the United States has embarked on over the last 50 years. I wasn't aware that you all had such a fundamental Chomskyite critique of American foreign policy. (Laughter) I rather thought America had been a force for good in the world, that we had not really conquered many countries in order to exploit them. That Vietnam, which was a horrible selfless mistake, and not an imperial adventure, is incidentally the opposite. Vietnam we stumbled into, gradual escalation. Whatever else one can say about the President, there's no stumbling here, he's going in with his eyes open, with the country's eyes open, with a clear plan to fight and win a decisive war and effectuate regime change. So the Vietnam analogy I think is silly.
Look, the credibility argument is a real argument. No one said it was the fundamental argument. We tried to lay out a strategic argument. However, Max's point I think is very important. If we're being grown up here and not engaging in sort of amusing you know, foreign policy IR theory disputations ... and if I can have a parenthesis on that. I'm really not ... I don't think Max or I are members of the realist/conservative school. I think Steve and John are. I mean, Kissinger is the ...
LG: Okay, then you're from the unrealist/conservative ... (Laughter) ...
WK: We are. Right. Because in fact realpolitik is not realistic, it turned out, you know. It was the unrealistic Reagan who won the Cold War. Detente maybe wasn't the most realistic policy, it turned out, to deter the Soviet Union. But, look, they're as sincere ... the credibility argument is real and important for this reason, it supplements the strategic arguments, because right now there are 80,000 troops there. It is therefore perfectly appropriate to say are you advocating the policy you are advocating as some sort of it would have been nice if the administration adopted this a year ago? Or are you saying that right now there would be no damage done to US interests and prestige in the Middle East, that we would pay no price, and no (Inaudible) price at all from giving Saddam Hussein this victory, leaving him not just the practical ability to develop weapons of mass destruction, but with all the signals that it would send throughout the Middle East as to our utter unwillingness to basically stop anyone, even someone who's been under sanctions, repeatedly disciplined, under United Nations resolutions where we have the international community with us, even in that case were unwilling to stop them from developing weapons of mass destruction.
MB: If I could just jump in quickly, I think the point that Professors Mearsheimer and Walt really have to address is the cost of their containment strategy. Because they accused us of being unrealistic, but I think they ought to spell out what the cost of their strategy is. How many tens of thousands of troops are we going to leave around the borders of Iraq, and who is going to host them? Because I suspect the Saudis are not interested in having a long term American troop presence on their soil. How well is containment going to work? Because as I seem to recall from the 1990s, it was failing rather badly. Saddam was violating the terms of the Oil for Food program, the French were pressing for sanctions to be lifted even more. And the only people who were suffering under this sanctions regime were the people of Iraq who were being denied basic necessities of life, whereas Saddam Hussein was being able to get his hands on all the weapons of mass destruction that he wanted, and he was developing them with the UN inspectors not being able to find them right under their very noses. So that is the strategy that Professors Mearsheimer and Walt suggest we should return to. And I wonder if we can really afford to pay the cost of that strategy, as opposed to the cost of overthrowing Saddam Hussein.
JM: I want to make a couple of points, one with regard to Bill, and then with regard to Max. First of all, Bill's point is that if we don't do this, everybody in the Middle East and around the world is going to think we've lost our nerve, and we're not reliable, and we're foolish, and so forth and so on. I think exactly the opposite is going to happen. Most states in the world, I mean, most people in the world, except for Tony Blair and the Israelis, think we've lost our mind. Every time I talk to people from Europe and Asia they sort of say, "What is going on in the United States? What's happening here?" Right? There's no support in Turkey or in Jordan or in Saudi Arabia for this operation. We're breaking arms, we're giving people compound fractures on all four limbs to get them on board for this operation, right? (Laughter) They'll be relieved if we don't do this, right? So the idea that this is going to be a great disaster for American foreign policy I find hard to understand.
LG: Well, John, let me press you a bit further, if I may. And I do this on behalf of one of our national members watching, Jan Kalicki who is a counselor for International Strategy at Chevron-Texaco Corporation in San Francisco. But let me push you a step further. And since we're on the record and I'm referring to events that may have occurred here or about the Council on Foreign Relations, and by Council rules we can't refer to the Council ... let me simply say ... (Laughter) ... that there have been ...
SW: I think I follow that. (Laughter)
LG: It's not meant to be wholly intelligible. (Laughter)
SW: You've succeeded. (Laughter)
LG: There have been many diplomats who passed through here, many from the Arab world, many from some of the countries you name, and a number of European leaders as well. And as we talked privately, they find themselves in more of a quandary than you guys will let on. And on the one hand they make arguments similar to what you made. And on the other when I put the question I put to you and Jan Kalicki wants put to you, they say, and this is not my usual hyperbole, they say that the single worse thing the United States could do at this point is to back out of it. That they would like the inspections to go on further in the hope it would build up international support, either through finding evidence or through showing our commitment to a process. But they say they fear the fact that our withdrawal would lead to a capitulation by most of the Middle East states or European states to the terrorists. Because they understand in the end the United States is their ultimate protector. And if we wouldn't go through with something like this, they would doubt we would come to their defense when they really needed us. Now, I'm repeating to your their arguments.
JM: I'll defer to you, Steve, because I've already spoken.
SW: Yes, I'll take ... a couple of things that ... First of all, I'm not sure what this means, that they'll capitulate to terrorists. I mean, if the United States decides to not wage a preventive war here, that doesn't mean we're not committed to our other allies in the region, it doesn't mean we're not interested in pursuing al Qaeda, it doesn't mean we're not willing to support various efforts to control money flows, engage in intelligence cooperation with other regimes. It doesn't change anything, and it seems to me those countries will be well aware of that. The other thing, I mean, Max made it the question, the cost of our operations there. Until this campaign for preventive war got started, which goes back well before 9/11, until that got started, in fact containment was a bearable cost…had not acquired nuclear weapons. The inspections and embargo has made it extremely difficult for him to reconstitute any of his WMD programs. He is largely de-fanged at very acceptable cost to the United States. It is only this self manufactured crisis that the United States government has created that has put us in this position today. The cost of the policy was easily bearable until it was derailed by an administration.
LG: Thank you, Steve. Let me turn to my colleagues on the right and pass on a question a number of our national members have asked as well. They say even if they would concede the point that we should go after Saddam militarily rather than contain him, that we're far from being in a position to do that. That the Bush administration is on the verge of taking military action without doing two critical things, fully prepared on two critical fronts. One, to deal with Iraq the day after. Plans are just being put into place now. And in today's world, you can win on the battlefield and lose the war. We're dangerously behind in planning for postwar Iraq. And secondly, and as least as important, we've hardly prepared ourselves at all at home. That if you go to the cities and seaports, we're not in a much better position today than we were ten years ago to deal with weapons of mass destruction, attacks by terrorists, and yet we're on the verge of going to war.
WK: Well, on the first, I think actually the administration has given a fair amount of thought to the day after. Of course if they gave any more thought to it and really had plans for the reconstruction of postwar Iraq and were talking much about them, they would be accused of an imperial adventure. So on this one they're utterly down(?). I've talked to them. And I'm not here to defend the administration ... I think I might have been a little more forward leaning on this than I certainly would have been in Afghanistan. But I think the administration is committed to staying in Iraq, to leaving troops there for a quite a while. We have to do it to find all the weapons of mass destruction in any case. To helping the Iraqis set up a civilian administration working towards a federally democratic system. And I think we will be serious about nation building. I never agreed ... this is why I'm not a, well, politique kind of guy ... I never agreed with the Bush-Condi Rice criticism of nation building back in 1999 and 2000. And I'm pleased that since 9/11 I think actually the administration has moved away from what was a kind of silly criticism of nation building. We are going to engage in nation building, and there are worse things to do, and we have done it actually reasonably successfully at different times in our history. And it won't be, you know, a picnic, but I think we can do it adequately, and I think we will. So I think that commitment will be there. The administration is not going to be feckless after winning this war. They know how important this is, and they're going to do their best to make sure things go as smoothly as they can afterwards in Iraq. They know what its implications are throughout the Middle East and even beyond. Look, I might personally believe that we should do more at home. But, I mean, maybe John Ashcroft hasn't been tough enough (Chuckles) in booting out al Qaeda cells and terrorist sympathizers here in the United States. But, you know, what does that question mean otherwise?
LG: No, I'm talking about preparing first responders, police, fire departments, emergency, you know.
WK: Well, I think the administration ...
LG: We haven't even gotten to the first responder part of the Homeland Sector legislation from last year out of Congress.
WK: Well, the administration actually has done a fair amount on that. And I think the idea that you don't try to take care ... well, that really is saying ... I mean, you'll never have the first responders well enough prepared, in truth. But if you're going to be deterred from taking care of Saddam Hussein because there is a possibility that the biological weapons could be used here, and I think there is ...
LG: That we shouldn't bother at all?
WK: No, I'm very much of a hawk on this, and I wish we do a lot more. The truth is, the way to deter terrorism is not first responders. The way to deter terrorism is to do the kind of stuff that John Ashcroft is doing, which is of course wildly unpopular with all these people who say "We shouldn't go to war against Iraq, because, God knows, we can't abridge or even begin to nip at the edges of single civil liberties."
LG: Max, what have you got to say about all this?
MB: Well, I'd like to address a related point, Les, which was one that was also raised by Professors Walt and Mearsheimer, which is that going after Saddam Hussein is incompatible with fighting the war on terrorism, which to me seems a very odd argument to make, not only for the obvious reasons laid out by Secretary Powell today, which is that Saddam Hussein is somebody who trains and funds terrorists, and it certainly involved working with al Qaeda. You could debate all that. Those of you who are interested in learning more can certainly pick up The New Yorker this week and read a very interesting article by Jeff Goldberg that lays it all out.
But the larger point I want to make is that it's just odd to me that this is a nation that fought Hitler and Tojo at the same time, and now we're being told that we're incapable of fighting Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden at the same time. I'm just not sure why that's true. What would be doing differently in the battle against al Qaeda if we didn't go into Iraq, as opposed to now? In fact if you look at the past year, we've had increasing success against al Qaeda even as our preparations for war in Iraq have ramped up, because we've actually been able to capture more and more leaders of al Qaeda in the past year, really decapitating their leadership. And I think that may be part of the reason why we have not suffered another attack since 9/11, because we've been playing good offense against al Qaeda, and that will certainly continue. But that's really a job for special operations forces, for the CIA, for the FBI, for those kind of folks, whereas the war in Iraq is a major military operation for the Pentagon. And I certainly think our resources are quite capable of carrying out both of those at the same time, and I think both are really necessary in order to increase American security.
LG: Come on, John.
JM: I think there is no question we're fully capable of fighting Saddam Hussein, there's no question about that. The military conquest part of the story is the easy part of the story. I mean, there could be some glitches along the way, but I don't think too many people doubt that we can conquer Iraq. The problem comes once you occupy the place, once you own it and once you try and turn it into a giant gas station. And I would say that there are really sort of three big problems associated with occupation. The first is we're going to be deeply absorbed in occupying and running Iraq, which is going to take away from the attention that we can focus on other problems like terrorism, like North Korea. I mean, if there's any state in the system it seems to me that is a threat with WMD, and might give WMD to terrorists, it's North Korea. Why we're not worried more about North Korea than Iraq escapes me. But the fact of the matter is they have to put North Korea on the back burner and they have to keep it on the back burner, because they're obsessed with Iraq. All of this tells you that if we get into Iraq and we're there for a long time, we're going to be concentrating a lot of resources there.
The second point I would make about occupation is we have a massive public relations problem in the Arab and Muslim world. People there really hate us. The idea that we're going to come in, conquer that place, bring in a pro council ... right? ... turn it into a giant gas station, and that's not going to further enrage people in the Arab and Muslim world against us, escapes me. I just don't see how that's going to happen. So I think it's going to make our terrorism problem worse, not better.
And finally on the subject of nation building, nation building is a really tricky process. Germany and Japan, which folks like Bill and Max often point to as an analogy, is really just not a good case. All the ingredients for democracy were there in those two cases. I mean, just take Germany, remember Weimar Germany before Nazi Germany? It was reasonably easy to spin that country into a democracy. Furthermore, in the German case you had a foreign threat, the Soviet Union, to force the Germans to rely on us, push us and the Germans together. You don't have that in this case. In fact what you're going to have in this case is we're going to be seen as the foreign invader, and we're going to be seen as the threat, and this is going to fuel the hatred towards us, it's going to drive recruits to Osama bin Laden, and we're never going to shut down this process.
LG: The last word for Bill Kristol.
WK: Well, yes, I suppose it's amusing at the University of Chicago to talk about turning Iraq into a gas station, but I actually find it offensive. Are you implying that the reason we're going to war in Iraq is not misguided Wilsonian idealism, but actually because we want their oil?
WK: Okay, so ...
JM: But you're going to turn it into a giant gas station anyway.
WK: No, we're not. We're going to liberate ... (Laughter) ... yeah, ha-ha.
JM: Your people have said you're going to pay for the war ...
WK: Oh, they have.
JM: ... you're going to pay for the war with Iraqi gas.
WK: It's really unbelievable. I mean, you know, you have a horrible dictator who's killed tens, hundreds of thousands actually, of his own people, gassed people. And I suppose it's more sophisticated to simply say that we're going to go in and turn it into a giant gas station. There are legitimate arguments perhaps that the risks of going against Saddam Hussein are greater than the risks of not going. But this kind of demagogic notion that, you know, those who are in favor of the war are somehow in favor of it because of oil or ...
JM: I didn't say that.
WK: Or that we think the key things we're going to get out of this is oil ...
JM: I didn't say that.
WK: ... or stable oil supplies.
JM: I didn't say that. I said that what's going to happen is that we're going to use Iraqi oil to pay for the occupation.
WK: We may use some of the Iraqi oil to pay for helping them liberate themselves. What's wrong with that? Is that the motive for us? Is that the reason for it? I would be for it if we don't use that oil to pay for liberation.
WK: I won't appropriate that tens of billions of dollars. Does that change your mind? No, of course not. So it's just an illegitimate argument, it's just a demagogic argument, picking up on ...
JM: Bill ... Bill ...
WK: ... really irresponsible, left wing rhetoric about war for ...
JM: No, no, no.
WK: ... about war for oil.
JM: I've never been called a left winger before.
SW: You've got the wrong guy. (Laughter) You've got the wrong guy. (Laughter)
WK: The irresponsibility of the right and left tend to go together.
SW: No. Again, it is revealing when people start name calling, because it's another sign that they don't have good arguments. (Laughter) In this case ... right? ... the point was not about whether or not we were going to war for that reason, it's how our occupation will be perceived in the region, and what its regional consequences will be. And it is I think very, very likely that after we occupy Iraq and after we are there for five or ten years, we will be seen as a quasi colonial power. We will be pumping oil out of it ... not immediately, but after a number of years ... and this will be seen as exploitation, perhaps illegitimately. The point is it's going to make our political and public relations problem in that part of the world more difficult, not easier. Just one final point on Max's point, yes, we beat Germany and Japan in World War II. That was a wonderful thing. We spent 45 percent of our GDP on defense at the height of the war effort. We didn't have a tax cut when we were doing it. (Laughter) And I would also point out that over 50 percent of al Qaeda's top leadership is still at large.
SW: Including Osama bin Laden.
JM: Including Osama bin Laden.
MB: Can I make a couple of points here? The points of Professors Mearsheimer and Walt basically argue that we have a huge public relations problem in the Islamic world, and that our occupation of Iraq will exacerbate that problem. I agree with the first part of that statement, we do have a huge public relations in the Islamic world. Now, ask yourselves why do we have a use PR problem. The reason most commonly cited by people in the Middle East is that we support brutal and oppressive regimes. If we were to leave Saddam Hussein in power, what impression would that leave? That we support brutal and oppressive regimes. If we were to bring democracy to the people of Iraq, if American troops were to be greeted as liberators ... (Laughter in Background) ... you may scoff, but this is exactly what happened when American troops went not only into Paris and Rome in 1944, but more recently into Pristina into Kabul, and this is what most Iraqis one talks to says will happen. If we are in fact seen as bringing a better life to the people of Iraq ... and frankly, there's no way that we could not bring a better life considering the abysmal conditions under which they live ... that is one thing that might actually improve America's standing and reputation in the Middle East. And certainly the amoral policy of backing sanctions, which hurt the people of Iraq while leaving Saddam Hussein in power, is not something that is likely to win us many friends in the region.
LG: Well, I hate to interrupt this dissent into name calling, (Laughter) but now we turn to the next portion of the evening, which is you. The usual drill here, wait to be recognized, wait for the microphone, please tell your name and your affiliation, and with celerity and acuity (Laughter) state your point or question. Down here, please.
SH: Steve Holmes from NYU.
SH: Iraq's biological and chemical weapons are now in the hands of Saddam Hussein. Between the time Saddam Hussein's regime is destroyed and American military gains control over the territory of Iraq, there will be an interim, how long we don't know. What will happen to those biological and chemical weapons, particularly the ones that Secretary Powell described as being on mobile units, during that interim, and how will that affect American security?
SW: I think there are at least two obvious problems. One is we would be creating the one set of conditions under which it might be credible for a dictator like Saddam Hussein to actually use them, right? I see no positive gains for him to ever use them to initiate their use, but if our stated purpose is to remove him from power and probably kill him, why wouldn't he if he could use them in some way? The second thing of course is in taking apart the regime, we are going to be taking apart whatever controls he has over that arsenal. Perhaps we'll be able to round it up perfectly, and know where everything is and find all of them. But the other danger is that various renegade elements of the Iraqi military start wandering off with whatever chunks of weaponry he might have. What they chose to do with them, who they might choose to give them to, I don't know, neither does anybody else. So why you would want to dismantle this regime when you know there are people floating around in the world who love to get their hands on some of the things he's got, again I don't know. As much as I dislike the Iraqi regime, I would rather keep those things bottled up to the extent that they exist, than break the thermos bottle and start scattering them around, or give him the only reasonable incentive for using them.
MB: I'm glad that somebody is very confident in having biological weapons in the hands of a regime that routinely tortures, kills, rapes in the name of politics. This is the regime that we deal with. If you read the reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, it is absolutely revolting what the Iraqi regime does. And yet Professor Walt feels comfortable with them having their hands on biological weapons. He does not go along with the charade of the Iraqi that, "Oh, we don't have these weapons." He says forthrightly, "Yes, they have them, and we're better off with them having them, because the alternative would be worse." Well, actually the alternative in this case would be for the US Army to get its hands on those weapons and destroy them. To me that seems like a much safer alternative than leaving them in the hands of a madman like Saddam Hussein who has already committed genocide against the Kurds, and who has used chemical weapons on two major occasions.
LG: Steve, you deserve a response.
SW: Well, first on the human rights thing, if you read carefully through the Amnesty International Report, it does confirm lots of gruesome things about the crushing of limbs and electric shock, various forms of torture to various prisoners. And then you read and you suddenly discover that they're actually talking about Pakistan, and they're talking about the Philippines, countries we support on the war on terrorism. Again, I'm not a defender of the Iraqi regime or any of its internal policies, but this is the kind of emotional appeal that's designed to mislead us.
Secondly, the point is we're not going to know exactly where any weapons he might have are when we go in, and we can't be confident we're going to be able to find them. If he has as many tons as the administration would have us believe, and I don't know exactly how much he does, and neither does Max, but if he has as many tons, are we really confident we're going to be able to find them all that quickly? We still haven't found the ... Or adequately documented the thousands of tons of fissionable material that's in the former Soviet Union? Unfortunately, we're spending about a billion dollars a year trying to work on that. This war will cost about 100 billion. Of course, the wake-up(?) of the Soviet regime has made the world safer, and there are problems with loose nukes, and it's a heck of a lot better problem to have than the problem of the Soviet dictatorship with nuclear weapons, where, obviously, there's a very hard tactical military problem of getting our hands on the weapons as soon as possible, of deterring any subordinates for using those weapons, if ordered to do so by Saddam. We've already started that. The notion that renegade elements of the Iraqi Army want to be using these weapons, if they're not ordered to do so by Saddam and picking a fight with the U.S., which has said they're going to be war criminals, if they use these weapons, is very unlikely.
So, one can't be sure. It's dangerous, obviously, as Secretary of State Powell said today. But I think we have a, you know, reasonable shot at getting our hands very quickly on those weapons and deterring and encouraging those who have their actual hands on not to obey Saddam but to hand them over to us.
LG: I'm going to ask my colleagues at the table to forgive me but there are more then 20 hands in the air. So, our answers also have to proceed with celerity. All the way in the back.
SK: Thank you. Stephen Kass, Carter Ledger Momer. I want to congratulate you, Les, on having God knows how many of these terrific programs here. I've been to probably eight or nine or ten, and I've heard my smart colleagues who think about (Noise Overlap) Well, it's not only these panelists. But I mean Congressman Lantos and Glicks and Pollock and all the others and the Joint Chiefs and the former Joint Chiefs. Everyone. And the more I listen ... and the discussions have been important, and I take very seriously the problem. I'm on the board of Human Rights Watch. I take very seriously the fact that this man has committed genocide. Nevertheless ...
SK: Point. I have increasingly, and, I suspect that there are many.
LG: I got distracted by your praising me.
SK: Please, don't. I'm increasingly struck by the fact that virtually none of the speakers are actually talking about the problem of war. War for people. And I find the political and the strategic discussions interesting. But how many times has the United States engaged in preventive war which will kill a lot of people, jeopardize the lives of many, many others, because of a tactical discussion ...
LG: I think they got the point.
SK: Policy for the future.
WK: We've almost never engaged in preventive war, and I would say we should have engaged in preventive war at times when we haven't. We tend to be too slow to act. We never acted in Rwanda, and 800,000 people were killed. There are many other times we've waited to be attacked first, and, I think, in this case, there's no need to wait to attack first. And we shouldn't. We will save lives, I believe, by invading Iraq, which is not to say that war does not have horrors, and this war will have its horrors, too. But compared to the alternative, I think it's a compelling case.
LG: Over here.
JS: James Sitrick. In your piece in the New York Times on Sunday, and I think you repeated it today, you stated that, probably the Professors Walt and Mearsheimer, you stated that the United Nations inspectors destroyed the Iraqi nuclear program between 1991 and 1998, and Iraq has not rebuilt it. I wonder how you can be quite so categorical about that. It's my recollection that during the first Gulf War, our best CIA intelligence indicated that Iraq was three to five years away from producing a nuclear weapon, when, in fact, we got in there and found they were six months to a year away.
SW: Very quickly. If you go look at the reports from UNSCOM inspectors, remember, the Iraqis actually did a lot of cooperation, particularly on the nuclear front. The problems were much more in the chemical and biological realm. They exposed a lot. The inspectors found a lot, and they blew up a lot, and we have videotape of them blowing up the Iraqi nuclear facilities, and the UNSCOM inspectors were quite confident that they had found and eliminated Iraq's nuclear infrastructure. There has been no reliable evidence to date to suggest they've reconstituted it. There's been this dispute over these aluminum tubes. The IAEA and UNMOVIC inspectors concluded that these were not centrifuge parts, and, in fact, if you look carefully at Mohammed Elbaradei’s statement a couple of weeks ago, he was much more confident about continued inspections being able to verify, that is to say, positively verify that Iraq had no nuclear capability. So, that was the basis of our claim, that they have no capability now and are not reconstituting it.
RP: Roland Paul. There are good arguments on both sides. I've listened carefully. The one phenomenon, though, that neither side has addressed, and I'd welcome comments from both sides, is when we go to war in Iraq, there could you, or you can deny that it is, a big push by the terrorists to perform a very dramatic event in the United States that would make the casualties in 9/11 look like a picnic. What will that effect have on both sides of the argument?
MB: Well, I think you need to keep in mind cause and effect and remember that 9/11 happened while we were practicing this great strategy of containment in the Gulf and, in fact, Osama bin Laden's main complaint against us in many of the statements he released was that we had troops in Saudi Arabia, because we had to have them there for containment of Iraq. 9/11 did not happen because we had toppled Saddam Hussein. I think that the risk of a major terrorist attack actually goes down if we topple Saddam Hussein, not goes up. There is certainly a risk. You can't rule it out. But the fact is that al Qaeda and their networks are trying to kill us all the time, anyway, and going into Iraq is not going to give them any more incentive to do what they're trying to do, anyway.
In fact, it might shut down some of their networks, because we know from the statement that Secretary Powell made today, that Al Qaeda has established itself in Northern Iraq. The Ansar Al Islam group working with Saddam Hussein's secret service, they've moved some of their folks there from Afghanistan. They're working on chemical and biological weapons there. So, even that striking Saddam Hussein and eliminating his regime could actually have a positive impact in uprooting even more Al Qaeda networks.
JM: Two very quick points. I don't think it's likely there's going to be a major attack if we go into Iraq. That's not a concern of mine. I think the fact of the matter is that Al Qaeda will strike us big time whenever it has the capability and the opportunity to do that, and it doesn't need us to go into Iraq to provide that opportunity. The second point I would make is that it's very clear that Steve and I do not believe that Al Qaeda can be contained. Al Qaeda cannot be contained. It cannot be deterred. We have got to destroy Al Qaeda. We have to kill Al Qaeda.
We have a fundamentally different set of policy prescription vis a vis al Qaeda and Iraq. Our argument is that Iraq is a sovereign state, much like the former Soviet Union was. It's relatively easy to keep in its box. That's not true of Al Qaeda, and that's why we're so interested in not getting obsessed with Iraq at the expense of Al Qaeda. We've got to concentrate all our resources on Al Qaeda, number one, and number two, we have got to do everything we can not to further enrage the Arab and Islamic world by attacking Iraq and driving up their hatred for us and driving up the number of recruits for Osama bin Laden.
LG: Thank you. Before we go over there, another question from our member watching the board on the Website. Elizabeth Pond, the editor of "Transatlantic International Politic in Berlin." Is Tony Blair right in arguing that any attack on Iraq should be coupled with U.S. pressure on Ariel Sharon in the Palestinian issue in order to avoid boosting Islamic recruitment of Al Qaeda terrorists? But more broadly: Do we have to move on the Arab-Israeli front as part of going to war, or not?
SW: I suspect we could do another debate with exactly this same cast of characters on this particular issue but let me just say that there's little question, once you get outside the continental United States, that our position in the Middle East has greatly compromised our ability to go after Al Qaeda and has greatly compromised our relations in much of the Islamic and Muslim world. It is not the sole source, and Max referred to some other things that are a source of friction between the United States and the Arab and Islamic world.
But it is Impossible to go to any of these countries without getting a litany of concerns that at the same time we are worried about various problems around the world. We have turned largely a blind eye and fully endorsed Israel's policy of occupation. That's how we look there. I don't think we will crack the terrorism problem until there is a fair, equitable and just solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and I think almost everybody else outside the United States and Israel agrees with that.
WK: Most people outside the United States say that to avoid facing up to dealing with the terrorism problem, because no one expects a full solution to the Israel-Palestinian issue in the next year or two, and, therefore, it's a way ... what you say, that has to be dealt with before you can deal with X,Y, or Z, then you can't deal with anything.
Look, this has been empirically tested. We know when Osama bin Laden was most successful in recruiting terrorists. It was during the 90s. What happened during the 90s? We had a containment policy against Iraq. We, as Max correctly said, were engineer of what we had stood by and let Saddam slaughter people in 1991 out of a very sophisticated realpolitik understanding of the importance of stability in the region and not changing machines. And we were deeply, deeply invested, and I don't criticize this, in a peace process under the leadership of President Clinton and Israeli Prime Ministers like Ehud Barak.
So, I mean, if peace process and containment of Saddam is the recipe, it seems, like, in the 90s, that unfortunately was the environment in which Osama thrived. And, therefore, the notion that, somehow, "Hey! If we can get that peace process going again, things will be, the Arab-Islamic world will be happy and won't attack the U.S.," I think is just not the case.
LG: Question all the way back there.
MC: Monica Crowley from the Fox News Channel. I've noticed in this discussion that there is very little talk about the U.N. process and how it relates to all of this. Resolution 1441 was the 17th resolution to be passed with regard to Iraq since the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Saddam Hussein has cavalierly disregarded each and everyone of them. I was wondering if the professors might address the idea that the time has come for this series of resolutions to be backed up with the use of force, which, realistically, means the application of American power. Thank you.
JM: I think that's an excellent question. I'm really glad you raised it. I respect the United Nations and the fact that this whole process is playing itself out in the United States is, I think, all for the good. I do not believe that under any circumstances should the United States go to war for the purposes of protecting the United Nations or simply making sure that United Nations' resolutions are carried out. The United States should go to war under one set of circumstances, because you want to remember here, we're talking about sending Americans to die. Right? We go to war when it's in the American national interest. Right? When there are good, strategic reasons to put American lives on the line. We don't go to war to save the United Nations. We go to war to save the United States. So, the $64,000 question here is whether or not this war is in America's national interest. Now, honest people can disagree about this issue, and Max and Bill have a different view than Steve and I do. But I think the key issue here on the table is whether it's in America's national interest.
LG: Last question, John Brademas.
JB: John Brademas, New York University. I address this to Bill and Max. In view of your call for preventive war against Saddam Hussein and Iraq, as Mr. Booth said, brutal and repressive dictatorship, following the logic of pre-emptive attack, why have you failed to call for an attack on another brutal, repressive dictatorship in North Korea? Why do you favor attacking Saddam Hussein but appeasing the leader of North Korea? Don't you put yourself in a highly contradictory situation?
MB: I don't favor appeasing the leader of North Korea. I think the policy of the United States should be to seek regime change and to work much more aggressively than we are now, and I'm critical of the Bush administration on this, for regime change in North Korea. Both are strategic, and human rights, humanitarian grounds.
I think there are ways to do extraordinary military action, because, practically speaking, the risks there, I do think, to South Korea, because of the conventional capabilities of North Korea and now, because, unfortunately, they do have a nuclear capability, the risks are probably too great. But I wouldn't take it off the table, and I do not preclude the notion that a year or two from now, we'll be sitting here debating whether we don't need to take military action against North Korea, as difficult and as risky as that would be. Now, I would much prefer to take a combination of diplomatic and economic action. I think the Bush administration has been really remiss in giving the Russians and Chinese especially a pass.
We should really pressure the Chinese to open the borders and let the refugees flee, which a) is right, on humanitarian grounds. They're obliged to do that under international human right covenants and also, I think, we could destabilize the regime in North Korea. We should offer to pay for the refugee camps and to help resettle them, et cetera, et cetera, and I'd be for a much more active, though short of military, one hopes, policy of regime change in North Korea.
LG: Thank you. We go to the closing statements part of this, and I want you to pay very close attention to the closing statements, because I'm going to ask for something unusual at the conclusion of their remarks. I'm going to ask you all to vote. We did this some years ago in a debate between Dick Holbrooke and Mike Mandelbaum on NATO expansion. And Holbrooke was for. Mandelbaum, against. Mandelbaum won the vote by about 3-1, and Holbrooke won the policy (Laughter). We'll proceed in reverse order starting with John Mearsheimer, then Max, no, Max Boot, John Mearsheimer, Bill Kristol, finishing with Steve Walt.
MB: Well, I have an iron-clad argument to offer all of you here to get you to vote for our side, 100 bucks (Laughter) Right here.
LG: Only my assistant will vote for (Laughter)
MB: Just very briefly, I want to focus on what I think are a few of the points that the other side did not address adequately in our debate and that you should all keep in mind as you weigh the costs and consequences of action in Iraq. The first point is, the cost of containment. What is the cost of keeping tens of thousands of American troops in the region indefinitely.
Can we really sustain that, and are we really willing to let the Iraqi people continue to suffer because of a policy of sanctions that we are enforcing? The second point I think you should keep in mind is the catastrophic loss of credibility that not only the United States but also, as Monica Crowley pointed out, the U.N. would suffer if we were to back down at this point and let Saddam Hussein remain in power. Anybody here who thinks that the United Nations can be a force for enforcing international law will have to give up that dream, because it will be as irrelevant as the League of Nations, if it does not now enforce its 15-0 vote on Resolution 1441, which everyone, I think, here would acknowledge Iraq had violated.
The third point I want to very briefly make, because they haven't really addressed this, how well does deterrence really work? Now, they claim that this will work well. But there are plenty of instances where deterrence has not worked well. In 1941, we thought we were deterring the Japanese. It turned out we weren't. In 1950, we thought we were deterring the North Koreans. It turned out we weren't. In 2001, we thought we were deterring Al Qaeda. It turns out we weren't. The problem with deterrence is the only time you know it's not working is when you're attacked, and in the case of Iraq, we cannot wait for a chemical, biological or, God forbid, a nuclear attack to find out that deterrence is not working. The cost is too high. I think we have to take decisive action before that happens.
LG: John Mearsheimer.
JM: In Tom Friedman's column in the "New York Times" this morning, he says that he's traveled all over the United States since this past September, and that he can say without hesitation that he's not met a single audience where a majority of the people in that audience favored going to war. I've had similar experiences, and I could detail them if I had the time. I think what's going on here is that the administration (Noise Overlap) war. There's no good case on the table for why we should go to war. And if you listen to Max talk: Why are we going to war? We're going to war to uphold the United Nations? We're going to war for credibility reasons? We're going to war for human right reasons? Where are the good, old strategic reasons up front that should explain why we're doing this. The fact of the matter is, they're not there. More importantly, the fact of the matter is that the United States can contain Saddam Hussein. I would point out to you again, and you do not want to lose sight of this fact, that for 45 years, the United States contained the mighty Soviet Union.
How is it that we cannot contain Saddam Hussein? The argument that this guy is a serial aggressor in the category of Napoleon and Adolph Hitler bears no resemblance to reality. I know a great deal about both Napoleon and Adolph Hitler, and Saddam Hussein does not even fit in that category. He's not that aggressive. He's been defanged, and eve when he was fanged, he didn't have very big fangs. The fact of the matter is, we would have deterred him in 1991, if they had sent me to talk to him, instead of April Galaspee(?). (Laughter) Right?
If we have a crisis down the road, President Bush or his successor should not send April Galaspee. They ought to send some tough-minded realist who will tell Saddam the basic facts of life. There's no question we can contain him. And let me leave you with a final point, which is that if the United States does this, and we get deeply involved in occupying Iraq, we are going to be seen as a colonial power by people in the Arab and Islamic world. Right? This is going to make our public relations problem much worse. Right? And the end result of that, as I've said on numerous occasions, and I keep saying it, because it bears mentioning, is it's going to be increasingly difficult to deal with Osama Bin Laden as a consequence, because more and more people are going to become recruits for him, and, furthermore, the sea in which he swims, right, is going to get bigger and bigger, not smaller and smaller.
LG: Thank you. Bill, would you send John to deter April Galaspee?
WK: I certainly would, actually. I'd send (Inaudible) right now (Laughter). I suspect Max and I are going to, as with Dick Holbrooke, lose this vote and win the policy. But I'm proud to actually go down. Dick Holbrooke, who was right about NATO enlargement, incidentally, who was right about Bosnia, who was right about Kosovo, and who was right against the so-called tough-minded realists who made fun of us for going in, who thought it could never work, we could never restore a modicum of decency in that part of the world, don't we know that those ethnic hatreds in the Balkans go back centuries, and we're going to get bogged down, our American soldiers are going to get killed there, and there's huge resentment against us elsewhere in the Balkans. It hasn't been perfect. It hasn't been easy. But do people really now think that was ... was the mistake going into Bosnia or Kosovo or was the mistake not going into Rwanda?
That is one question one has to ask, and I think the second question one has to ask is this: Basically, I think the position for containment or deterrence of Iraq says: Things are going okay in the Middle East. And the current trends are at least acceptable. The status quo was acceptable. Things aren't getting worse. That's my view, and it's not the view, I think of President Bush, after September 11th. I t does seem that our policy of either containing or propping up dictators throughout the Middle East has not exactly led to good will throughout the Arab world or in the Islamic world.
I, myself, would do much more than the Bush administration wants to do in dealing with other countries in the Middle East, putting more pressure on them, trying to get the Saudis to stop exporting Mahavi(?) Islam, et cetera, et cetera. We have paid a big price, I think, for a policy of, as I say, of accepting a status quo in the Middle East that has turned out to be increasingly dangerous to us and to (Inaudible) almost everyone else in the world.
LG: Thank you, Bill. Steve, final word.
SW: I agree. Things aren't going well in the Middle East. But things are never going to badly that you can't make them worse. I also want to call attention to that most of the arguments on the other side ultimately take the form of scare tactics, that Middle East states will conclude we're weak, that weapons will spread all over, and if you remember Bill's opening remarks, eventually, they'll need to a nuclear war some place. So, if we don't go into Iraq, we're consigning some East Asians or South Asians to a nuclear war. We'll have, I think he said at one point, a constant state of Cuban missile crisis.
Again, if you don't have good arguments, you use scare tactics. And then finally, we have the odd disingenuousness of going to war to defend a U.N. resolution when we've already declared that even if we don't get the vote in the Security Council, we're going to go to war, anyway. So, are we really defending the sanctity? Just two more points. Preventive war as laid out by the administration is not a robust strategy. It might all work. The war might be quick. The weapons might not get used, lost or sold. Stability might come quickly. Governments throughout the Middle East might fall over like dominoes and become pro-Western. All of those things might happen. But if anyone of them doesn't happen, all right, then this looks like a real mess on our hands. It's not robust. One of the nicer things about containment, both as it's been practiced in the Middle East, but as it was practiced previously, is it's actually a pretty robust strategy.
We are so much stronger than Saddam Hussein, and he has so little incentive to come after us, if we don't go after him, it's likely to succeed for a long time. One just quick and final point. We should remember that our track record building democracy is a decidedly mixed one, and it is rarely built at the point of a gun. Democracy grows up from within a society. It is not imposed from outside. We shouldn't be, again, under any illusions about that as well. Thank you.
LG: Thank you, Steve. Before we take the vote, because there will be hubbub after that, please join me in thanking these terrific debaters (Applause). I would ask my colleagues from the Meetings Department to stand behind each section. I'm going to ask people to stand for the vote. I need my colleagues to count. You don't have to stand at all, if you don't want to. Just stand, if you want. You can abstain. Like our allies (Laughter). The choice is this, and it's not exactly fair but it's roughly this. In favor of containment, case for going to war now not made, essentially where Steve and John are. Or, we really have to move militarily now, containment, just too dangerous, position of Bill and Max. So, first, case for containment, military action now, case for that not made Continue containment. Please rise. You got my counters back there?
LG: Okay. Voting is an inexact science, as we saw at the last presidential election. Okay. Thank you. Those for military action now.
JM: Good thing this wasn't the vote in Congress.
LG: Thank you very much. What's the count over there?
JM: Eighteen to 16.
LG: Eighteen for containment. Sixteen for military action now. In this section? (Inaudible Portion) Okay. And over here?
SW: We have 26 for containment, 11 (Inaudible Portion)
LG: I proclaim it a draw. Thank you very much.