DAVID J. REMNICK: Can you hear me in the cheap seats? Yes? Hi, I'm David Remnick from The New Yorker. This is a wonderful occasion. Welcome to a discussion of a fascinating new book by Richard Haass. I know it's fascinating because I've read it. The council's own Richard Haass. It's called "War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars."
Before I give you the introductory spiel, I just want to thank Richard for his leadership of the council, which has been remarkable, and for the corresponding indulgence of his kids, Sam and Francesca, and his wife, Susan Mercandetti, who is here today. So thank you, Richard.
The publisher is Simon & Schuster. You may buy this retail at any outlet of your choice. I promised I'd say it. You made me say it. (Laughter.)
This week's Newsweek has a very good section on it, including an excerpt and a separate piece by the author. After a career in various universities and think tanks, Mr. Haass, Richard, has had a very, very serious diplomatic career. From 1989, Mr. Haass was senior director of the staff of the National Security Council and special assistant to President George H.W. Bush, under quite another Bush. After the Clinton interregnum, he was director of Policy Planning for the Department of State and principal adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell. In those capacities, he had a bird's eye view of the decision-making process as well as a sense of engagement with two American wars in Iraq, the first of necessity, as he puts it, the second of choice.
The book ends with a significant appendix, a lengthy memorandum written in September 2002 from Mr. Haass to Secretary Powell in which he sets out the difficulties, to put it mildly, of what he called the days after, that is the challenges and dangers of a post-war, post-Saddam Iraq under American occupation. Mr. Haass' supporters will certainly cite this as a tragically prescient memo, one that foresaw so many of the disasters that came to befall the American invasion and post-war occupation in Iraq. His critics will ask why he did not make his reservations more forcefully and more publicly in a manner of, say, Cyrus Vance who resigned his post because of Iran policy in the Carter administration, or Foreign Service officers who resigned in protest for lack of forceful action in Bosnia. And we'll get to that in a second.
Our discussion is completely and very much on the record. And I want to begin, Richard, with getting to the core of the book. You've set out in the title and very forcefully throughout the book that these two wars were entirely different experiences, and their motivations were entirely different. Why in fact was the first war in Iraq a war of necessity?
RICHARD N. HAASS: Give me 30 seconds just to say two things. One is I want to thank David for doing this. To be interviewed by David is a real treat, other than the fact that he's a combination writer-editor and decent person, a trifecta that's hard to compete with. And the fact that The New Yorker just got was it three more National Book Awards was it last week, a real testament to his --
REMNICK: Thank you.
HAASS: I also want to apologize for him for describing any seat in a room named after Pete Peterson as a cheap seat. (Laughter.) I hope that comment will not cost us all millions of dollars, David.
REMNICK: I'm here to serve, here to serve.
HAASS: (Laughs.) But moving right along. And thank you, all, for being here.
War of necessity? A war of necessity is essentially just that. It's a war where the interests are great and, more important, the alternative policies other than the use of force have either been tried and found wanting or simply are not available. And that was how I thought the first Gulf War was, where if you recall the United States had tried other policies, including diplomacy, including months of sanctions, and nothing was working. And we can talk about it in greater detail if you want, but there was a consensus that the interests at stake were truly vital. Another word that is overused but in this case truly were vital. So we believed at that point the United States had no choice.
REMNICK: Well, tell me about the decision-making process the first time around. We've obsessed over and we have, all-too-late perhaps, gone over the decision-making process in Gulf War II or the second Iraq war and found all kinds of alarming factors. What do we not know that we're going to find out in this book about the decision-making process -- (inaudible) -- in the first Gulf War?
HAASS: The decision-making process was quite systematic which you would not have known from the first NFC meeting, in part because just going back to August, at the time, in 1990, this pretty much came out of the blue. It was a build-up of Iraqi forces for about two weeks from mid July through early August. And very few people, including me, thought that the Iraqis were actually going to do something, anything remotely like what they did, the feeling that this was a kind of modern-day gunboat diplomacy and they were going to try to intimidate the Kuwaitis into reducing their oil -- (inaudible) -- which in turn would raise the price of oil because Saddam was hungry for cash at the time, having been depleted because of the eight years of the Iran-Iraq War.
And at the beginning of when the crisis first happened, the first NFC was all over the place. And I think it takes people in government or anywhere else trying to find their ceilings, to get their bearings. And this was no exception. And then when the meeting ended, I remember talking to Brent Scowcroft who was the national security adviser, and I was fairly unhappy with the way it had gone. As it turned out, so was Brent and, more importantly, so was the president.
And the feeling was that people were not looking at this in terms of the stakes. And the feeling was that, if you remember, Iraq itself was about 10 percent of the world's oil, Kuwait was another 10 percent. They controlled them both, that gave them one-fifth of the world's oil. Plus, had they been able to get away with it, they would have been in a position to totally dominate Saudi Arabia and essentially call the shots in that part of the world.
Plus, remember, this is August 1990, and the Berlin Wall had come down, what, seven or eight months before. So there was a tangible or palpable sense that what was going on then, what was done and not done, how it was done was going to, in some ways, go a long ways towards determining the personality of this next period of history.
So before we had the second NSC meeting, I wrote a memo for Brent and the president, laying a lot of this out. There was among us collective agreement. And there was an interesting moment before the second NSC meeting where we're standing there, and the president said, I want to go in there and make it really clear just why this is unacceptable and what we're going to do about it. And Brent said, Mr. President, I don't think you ought to do that. This is all happening literally in the little hallway off the Cabinet room.
And the president said, why not? And Brent said, because once you speak, no one else is going to be comfortable disagreeing with you. So the president said, fair enough, I'll hold back. So Brent said, let me speak. And then Larry Eagleburger, who was the acting secretary at the time because Jim Baker was off in Mongolia or one of those places with Shevardnadze, he said he would second it. And then Dick Cheney, in the course of the meeting, actually volunteered -- Dick Cheney was then secretary of Defense -- to reinforce it.
And it was very clear and basically everyone was given a chance to dissent at that point. There was nothing. And then systematically, diplomatically thinking about the economics, thinking about the military options up at Camp David that weekend, thinking about how we were going to get paid for it, thinking about the congressional role, the U.N. role, people went through it. And in every case, it was carefully staffed, and the options were vetted.
REMNICK: What was the underlying principles of the legitimacy of invasion? The hoarding of a valuable world's resource, or the invasion of one U.N. member state of another?
HAASS: The honest answer is both. It was --
REMNICK: (Were you ?) honest about it in real time to the American public?
HAASS: I think the emphasis was more on the world order argument because that was seen as the more dramatic, principled argument.
REMNICK: Then why aren't we intervening all around the world when there's invasions of Rwanda, Congo, pick your incursion.
HAASS: Well, what I think was unique about this was the combination of the world-order argument, the principle that states are not to use force with others, and a critical resource in a critical part of the world and the moment of timing.
REMNICK: Are you confident that any administration in recent history would have done the same thing?
REMNICK: Who would not have?
HAASS: Let me take a step back. (Laughter.) It's hard to say who would not have but counterhistoricals are tough. But then, I've worked now for four presidents, and you can't help but be impressed all the time about how little is inevitable. People matter and ideas matter. And had there been another president -- indeed, coming back to the first NSC meeting, not everybody at that point was totally onboard, it seemed to me, in the first conversation, that this was truly unacceptable and had to be -- just because people were talking about defending Saudi Arabia, which was a good and necessary thing, but it wasn't clear to me that when they were saying that, was that simply as a temporary weigh station until you were prepared to liberate Kuwait? Or was that potentially all you were really going to do?
REMNICK: Who was not onboard, Richard?
HAASS: I'm not going to answer this for one reason which is -- two reasons, really. One is I kind of feel that in the first 24 hours of a crisis, people ought to be allowed a little bit of slack to get their bearings. And second of all, I do think it tends to be a little bit poisonous for government if everything people say was then revealed. And I think, in a sense, they ought to be allowed a degree of privacy rather than to have it revealed.
But what was so interesting, again, is that conceivably a different president -- I don't think you can say -- (inaudible) -- because you don't know how they would have liked it -- but it wasn't -- (inaudible). You had a lot of people, I thought, prepared to live with that. And this is jumping ahead to where we're going to be in a few minutes. The second Gulf War, it's very clear to me that other presidents would not have done it, that the ideas in many ways propelled the second Bush administration to do what it did. I don't think the father would have done what the son did in terms of Iraq.
REMNICK: Now, in the book and in our conversation that we had earlier today, you said that reference to diplomatic history influenced your thinking and the thinking of other people in the administration vis-a-vis the first Gulf War in terms of its rationale for doing so. Could you talk about that a bit?
HAASS: Besides the obvious ones when the crisis began about the '30s and all that, which is essentially one of the more overused historical analogies, it was much more when things were going well. And there was pressure out there, not so much in the administration, interestingly enough, but after the battlefield phase of the war went very quickly and went very well, there was talk about finishing the job, going to Ba'ath, going to Baghdad.
And what I did was I wrote a memo about Korea. And after MacArthur essentially -- with Truman's decision, by the way -- went north of the 38th Parallel -- as you recall, in the Korean War, originally the international coalition was pushed way back. MacArthur then had his dramatic landing at Inchon, pushed forward, restored the status quo ante at the 38th Parallel. And rather than stopping there in the flush of tactical success, the Truman administration, encouraged clearly by MacArthur, went north, and went north and north and north and finally got close to the Yalu River and the Chinese border. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese, quote-unquote, "volunteers" came across the border. And more than 30,000 Americans died after that point. And at the end of the day several years later, we were back to the 38th Parallel.
And the argument I made is we had to be very clear about doing our equivalent of changing our war range because the war range were very explicit and very limited, which were to liberate Kuwait, restore the legitimate government of Kuwait. We had also written some other war range, including, to some extent, weakening Iraq but not to decimate Iraq because we wanted Iraq to remain strong enough to continue to be able to balance Iran which we still saw as at least a co-equal if not greater strategic threat to that part of the world.
Plus, I was extremely worried, having spent some time in Iraq throughout my life, about what it would be like if the United States went to Baghdad. Because I said, then do you know what you're in store for? And you didn't have to be a disciple of Gertrude Bell to know something about Iraq and the complexity of that society. And I was just one of those who, I think, early on argued against expanding war range. And the president, President George H.W. Bush, felt totally committed to not expanding the range. He almost felt it would have been something of a bait and switch, that he had gone to Congress and gone to the U.N. with a limited set of aims, and he was very worried about changing them midway through. He thought that he would sacrifice an awful lot of good will, particularly also in the Arab world. And he thought he could translate that good will into tremendous progress on Arab-Israeli peace.
REMNICK: Amidst that, there was essentially a slaughter of Shi'ite in Iraq. And what signal did our allowing that send to Saddam? And did not repercussions come forward?
HAASS: The United States, as you will recall, after the end of the battlefield phase of the war, the end of February '91, if I have my dates right, then in March, April, give or take, you have the twin uprisings, both in the south, the Shi'a uprising as well as the Kurdish uprising. And in neither cases did the United States intervene. In some ways, the toughest decision of the entire crisis. Often, things you don't do are tougher than the things you do. And in some ways, this was a tougher decision than actually resisting what Saddam did in the first place, the previous August.
But the feeling was -- and I remember the briefing by Colin Powell in the Oval Office. He was up there with the easel and the pointer and was explaining how difficult it would be on the ground to try to coordinate an American military operation in the midst of this situation where we had no planning, no common equipment, no communications and no understandings with either side tactically what they do, plus also no agreements about what the aims would be.
And the feeling was just this would get us in the midst of a sort of messy situation where we weren't sure we could extricate ourselves from it. And we knew, though, or we were confident that far more Americans would lose their lives in that type of a messy situation. And it was a difficult decision, obviously, because it meant that a lot of innocent people were going to be slaughtered. And our assumption that Saddam Hussein was going to be essentially cast aside by the Iraqi military leadership, we realized at that point there was a good chance he could then survive by transforming these two uprisings into his appearing as the guy who would somehow keep the country glued together.
REMNICK: Did we make the wrong choice?
HAASS: No. Difficult choice, but no. And I think, in some ways, what's happened in the more recent Iraq conflict is evidence that it wasn't the wrong choice. To have done something like this, to have put American forces, who were only prepared for one sort of scenario, one sort of equipment, one sort of strategic planning, into the other, I think would have turned out as bad or worse as the second Iraqi war turned out.
REMNICK: Richard, let's get to the -- (inaudible). I'm afraid that we have to compress this enormously in order to get the arc of the book. And then we want to get to your questions, so forgive us, or at least forgive me, for crunching this so severely.
But you earlier said that personalities matter enormously. I couldn't agree more. And the great riddle, the kind of Tolstoyan riddle of this war, second Iraq war, is the motivation of George Bush. We have heard every explanation under the sun, an (edictal ?) explanation --
HAASS: No pun intended.
REMNICK: -- a 9/11 explanation, a radical rethinking of the notion of spreading democracy through the Middle East, oil, revenge, the staging of a demonstration war in order to -- well, you understand what I mean. What is the answer to this? You write in your book that you will essentially go to your grave, not any time soon I hope, not knowing what this motivation was and could it ever have been reversed.
HAASS: Motivations -- what leads people to make these decisions is not necessarily just one thing, as you know. So lots of historians often look for the reason that World War I happened or World War II happened or whatever. In my experience, it tends to be multiple things and they're weighted.
Two, you may never know just because the only person who will really know that is one individual. And even if he writes his memoirs, shockingly enough -- it's good you're all sitting down -- people often write their memoirs in ways -- other than me, by the way -- (laughter) -- that improve the chances that history will see them the way they want to be seen. So like I said, it's good that you're sitting down.
In my sense from having watched it all and, more important, I got to participate in it all, I think the principal reason was not the official reason, was not because of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that they were suspected of having.
REMNICK: You think? (Laughter.)
HAASS: I will state that with great confidence. I believe it was a combination of two things more than anything. One was after 9/11 the achievement in Afghanistan didn't do it for people. I think the expression I used in the book, it didn't scratch the itch. After 9/11, to go back to a different American president, Richard Nixon, there was a desire to show that the United States was not a pitiful, helpless child, that this was not, what the Taliban and al Qaeda had done was not somehow the defining moment of history of this era. And what was done in Afghanistan didn't satisfy people. And I think that's because Afghanistan -- I was put in charge of Afghanistan after 9/11 to coordinate U.S. policy towards the future of it. It was impossible to get much enthusiasm going in the government for being ambitious in Afghanistan. We had very little connection there. People thought it was a hopeless place that we could never really build a society or get much done.
And as you recall, we didn't do much in Afghanistan, not, by the way, because of the charge that people were hoarding all their stuff for Iraq. That's not true, at that point, simply because, though, Afghanistan wasn't something that resonated with a lot of the administration.
The other half of it, I think, besides that people wanted a bigger post-9/11 message to send the world, was people really believed that Iraq was going to be a transforming event. They thought that the change in Iraq was going to happen, it was going to be big, dramatic and relatively inexpensive. This was going to become a democratic-model society. And this, in turn, would set in motion a cascade of copycat revolutions throughout the region. So if you're the president and you're already feeling frustrated with what you've done or what you've accomplished after 9/11 and you're told you're going to be able to achieve great things at a low price, it's very hard to resist.
REMNICK: But he made this decision extraordinarily early. You and others were told very, very early in the process that this was an irrevocable decision and that all the angst and arguments and furor and protests played out in the streets and in the press and elsewhere was really an irrelevancy in the end of the day. Why? What was the core of his conviction, as you witnessed it, as Powell witnessed it? What was at the center of it for him?
HAASS: David, I don't know if there's much I can add to what I just said, I mean, except to say it's clear this decision was reached early. Usually in the U.S. government --
REMNICK: But how?
HAASS: Oh, well, how. I mean, well, how, I think it was largely reached in informal conversations and in people's own thought processes. There wasn't a meeting of a National Security Council in which the decision of whether to go to war was teed up. In government, you never know what you don't know, but I would have known about that. And that never happened, that meeting. There was never this sort of formal decision-making where people thought through in a systematic way, to my knowledge, all the pros and cons of not going to war with all the policy avenues you could have taken as well as the pros and cons of going to war and the likely costs and benefits.
And the president was later asked about this and actually said he didn't need such a formal meeting. He obviously knew where he stood. He obviously, he thought, knew where everybody else was, and essentially everybody else was comfortable with it except my boss, Powell, who did think not --
REMNICK: Forgive me for interrupting, but would you describe Powell as -- you describe yourself in this book at 60-40 against the war. Would you describe Powell as the same?
HAASS: I would think he was somewhere between 60-40 on both sides. And by that I mean I don't know if he was slightly in favor or slightly against. He was also working under the assumption that the Iraqis had chemical and biological weapons. And what he was most worried about in his well-known or fateful August 2002 dinner with the president and Condi at the White House in the residence was what he thought was going to be the opportunity cost of this war. And we had talked about it beforehand. And the phrase that came up was this is going to take all the oxygen out of the room of American foreign policy.
So Powell said, you know, he was the sort of person who would say, okay, this is really what you want to do, here's the way to do it, you know, with forces and all that, get the U.N. onboard, get the Congress onboard, but you should know there's a tremendous opportunity cost to it. But we never quite used the Pottery Barn rule, that was the essence of what he said, that the battlefield phase of this was going to be the least of your and our concerns. But if you're going --
REMNICK: How was that received?
HAASS: Based on what I could tell, the president was underestimating how difficult this was going to be because this was flying in the face of the rest of the advice he was given.
REMNICK: From the Pentagon and from the vice president.
HAASS: From everybody. Again, I mean, if -- (inaudible) -- and you get advice that says you're going to accomplish great things at relatively modest cost sounds pretty good. And again, that's what was so lacking, I believe, about the decision-making process. Presidents get to the NSC, they get the national security processes they want, it's not always the ones they need. And I would think that presidents, whether it's this president or any other president, needs to think very hard about what his own strengths and weaknesses are, what his own propensities are, look very carefully at the people around him. And ask the question, how do I handicap the system to offset my and our collective weaknesses? And I don't believe that was ever done.
REMNICK: Why didn't Colin Powell, sensing that lack, step up more strongly instead of being a kind of servant of this war and saying, well, if that's what you want, as if he were in fact in Pottery Barn, why didn't he step up more forcefully, even to the point of resignation or protest?
HAASS: Again, without putting numbers on his feelings about the war, imagine he felt like I did for a second, which is I said 60-40 against the war. You don't go to the mat when you feel 60-40 against something. When you feel 60-40 against something, you say, here's where I come out on one side, a little bit on the other side, a little bit like the two-handed economists at that point in saying, here's the pros and cons, here's the considerations. And if you feel, however, 90-10 that you're going to do one course of action --
REMNICK: But it's not the estate tax. It is a matter of going to war, not going to war. (Laughter.) No, I mean this very seriously, and you take this on very seriously in your article today in Newsweek. If in fact you feel on balance that this has potentially disastrous consequences, it seems that in the American system we view resignation one way and perhaps in the British context maybe another, maybe it's too much of a cartoon. But you know what I'm driving at.
HAASS: But then again, David, if you feel 60-40 on something -- I'll get to the resignation in 30 seconds -- if you feel 60-40 about something, then, again, you don't fall on your sword on that. You're almost acknowledging that you could be wrong. And what you then say -- look, if you are going to do one path of action, which even if it's one that I'm somewhat against, okay, but then here's all the considerations on how to do it. If you feel 90-10 about something, then it's a different conversation. Then you say, I don't see how you can do it, I can't be a part of it, whatever. Then you may resign. But if you're 60-40 against something, no organization can function, even if it's an important thing, as important as this.
I don't believe you resign over 60-40s. What you do is you stay inside. And if you can't turn it around -- and Powell on his own, indirect sort of way, I believe, tried to get the president to reconsider and even got him to think about, well, what happens if Saddam does accept or exceed to all the things that we want? But then you put most of your calories into how to do it right. So if you're going to do something, fine. Your decision. In this case, you were elected, I wasn't. But then do it these ways so you do it smart.
I don't believe you resign over that. I believe you save your resignations -- putting aside the British idea of you resign if something goes wrong on your watch, which I never understood because you may be more important than ever, it may not have been your fault. But putting that aside, you resign either when it's a 90-10 and it's a good thing or when maybe it's a series of 60-40s or 70-30s and you're constantly on the wrong side. And after enough of these happen, you say, hold it, why am I participating in something where my failure rate is so high and so consistently high but it just doesn't make sense? And my case, adding injury to it, was then the fact that often I was being called upon to represent the policy I had argued against, be it on television or with the allies or whatever.
REMNICK: That said, doesn't it surprise you -- and this obviously comes after you left the administration -- that no one resigned over torture? I mean, where was the 60-40 in that? To this day, it's very hard to find major administration officials admitting the obvious, by any standard, much less apologizing for it, regretting it, et cetera. Is there something morally wrong t the center of the highest levels of the Bush administration?
HAASS: Yeah, I was not involved in the --
REMNICK: I'm not suggesting that.
HAASS: I know, I know. And my knowledge of it, to some extent, is limited. But some of the stuff I've learned recently, reading the four memos that were declassified, the 2002 and the 2005 memos that were declassified -- to make a long story short -- I could see how someone would have resigned over that issue, but I can also see how people would not have for two reasons. One is in the post-9/11 context. I could see how men and women of good will would say, these are extreme circumstances, and almost using the situation where if this methodology, as immoral as it may be or questionable as it may be, could be relied upon to get us useful information in a critical amount of time, that sometimes the ends to justify the means. I can see how men and women of good will would come to that conclusion.
And adding to it was the question about how reliable and useful this information was. And if you thought it was useful, again, it would lean you in that direction. And then the whole legal question about whether it was technically not illegal because of the way the lawyers went about arguing the case. So I can see why people would resign over that. But I can also see why they would not, even if they disagree.
REMNICK: If in, say, Saudi or (somewhere else ?), current trends continue in Iraq, in the best sense things settle down, a kind of rough peace was figured out, a democracy, maybe not recognizable here but in the context of the Middle East, takes hold, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, considering the number of dead on the American side, on the Iraqi side, the chaos and destruction in institutions, all the losses on that side of the ledger, would you change your mind on whether it was worth it or not? Or do you still feel that all things considered, no matter how roughly okay in five years Iraq looks, that it still was a deeply wrong decision to go in?
HAASS: Well, regardless of how it turns out, it still would have been a war of choice. We had other options. And secondly, I believe, even if it goes toward the optimistic end of your potential future, I still believe it would have turned out to have been -- (inaudible) -- that Iraq, even if it turns out to be kind of good messy, what Dave Petraeus sometimes called "Iraq, good enough," it still won't be objectively that good, and it certainly won't be something that will be a model that will transform this part of the world in the ways that the advocates of the policy argued. And I don't think we can lose sight of either the direct costs -- human, military and so forth -- or the indirect costs of this war in terms of the strategic consequences for the region or the reputational and strategic or economic consequences for the United States.
REMNICK: I have one more question and then we'll take questions from all of you. And this is a question that's forward looking. What is the war in Afghanistan that we're engaged in now or, more broadly, Afghanistan and Pakistan since we have predator claims over western Pakistan, is it a war of choice? How do you feel about this one?
HAASS: I believe we are entering into a war of choice, certainly in Afghanistan, to some extent Pakistan. And let me just hasten there, I'm not against all wars. War is a choice and not, per se, bad, but they are just that, they are choices. You have other policy options. And as a result, the standards, to me, are higher before embarking on them. What the United States has now done by sending 17,000 extra combat soldiers to Afghanistan has certainly increased the investment in the making. And our goals in Afghanistan, if you read the president's speech from several weeks ago now, talk about taking the fight to the Taliban. Essentially, what the United States is doing in Afghanistan is trying to create some time and space for the government there so it can build up capacity, so it can better handle the challenges it faces coming from the Taliban and al Qaeda.
So the president is being careful not to raise American goals. In fact, he's not talking like his predecessor did about bringing democracy to Afghanistan. It's very clear that the goal is to create a largely self-reliant government that will not allow the Taliban or al Qaeda to reestablish roots. But this is a war of choice in terms of slightly greater goals and certainly greater means.
And I think it's probably a risk worth taking at the moment. But I would say two things. If it doesn't succeed, I don't see the case for doubling down on it. And if it does work pretty well, I don't see the case for raising our goals just because a limited set of goals works well in Afghanistan. But this is all war as a choice.
Where I think there's a potential war of necessity is not Afghanistan but potentially Pakistan. And I can imagine a scenario particularly with nuclear weapons, the security of nuclear weapons came into question. We're not talking about a full-fledged war or occupation, but I can imagine a military operation, if you're talking about 5, 6, 7 dozen nuclear weapons in the context of complete political collapse. That could get to a point, even though, again, we technically might have some alternative policies, that might be as close to a war of necessity as we would get.
REMNICK: Questions? Lesley.
Please -- I should have said this at the top. BlackBerrys and so on, please turn them off. And tell us who you are and your affiliation.
QUESTIONER: Lesley Stahl, CBS. Richard, will you talk to us about the connection that was made within all these high-level meetings between Iraq and 9/11? Did you all know that there was no connection? In other words, was this a deliberate lie to the American people? And did people ever challenge Cheney? (Laughter.)
HAASS: The amount of evidence ever linking the Iraqis to 9/11 was tiny. There were reports, as you know, of one or two possible meetings and so forth, but no one had any evidence that what happened at those meetings had anything to do with 9/11. In my view, people wanted to find the link between the Iraqis and 9/11 because they wanted further rationale for what they wanted to do. They looked very hard for links between the Iraqis and 9/11, but the links just weren't there. There were one or two contacts that we couldn't disprove in the sense that we knew Iraqis met one or two members of al Qaeda. And because it's, at times, very hard to prove a negative, we couldn't prove at those meetings certain things weren't said. But from where I sat, there was no persuasive way to -- (inaudible). There wasn't even a semi-persuasive set of intelligence or, quote-unquote, "facts" or pieces of evidence that would have suggested a link between the Iraqis and 9/11. It also made no sense to me.
When I first encountered the question, my reaction was one of incredulity that Saddam Hussein, not only did he essentially run a secular regime, but this was a guy whose, shall we say, toleration for independent actors was finite. And al Qaeda and the rest, they had their own agendas. They were non-state actors with access to cash and weaponry. So it just didn't make sense to me that this would be the sort of thing. I'll admit, I was skeptical to begin with, but I never saw anything that in any way challenged the skepticism.
People would challenge Dick Cheney in meetings. It was actually, at times, not that difficult to do it if he was at remote location. (Laughter.) You just had your conversation around the table. But again, often the most important meetings in the administration were the meetings after the meetings. You'd have the formal meeting, and then you'd have the meeting would break up, and people would hang around, and you had a slightly informal quality to it all. So you had the group meeting and then the follow ons were often the president with one or several others, and things often got worked out there. Plus with the vice president, you also had one-on-ones which, obviously, nobody else was privy to.
I will say one thing which is when the administration became a lot more formal in its meeting structure was towards the end of the administration. And whatever else you think of it, the decisions that led to the so-called surge was probably the moment at which Bush 43 got closest to Bush 41, and the formality of the decision-making process. It was the most staffed and rigorous policymaking experience of the eight years.
REMNICK: When you look back on it, are you convinced that Cheney did or did not choose intelligence?
HAASS: Did not what?
REMNICK: Sorry. (Laughter.) I come from a low world. (Who's sitting around ?) with the intelligence?
HAASS: That's not how it works with policymakers. What policymakers have the ability to do is two things. One is be selective in what it is they read and run with. And there was a real pattern towards policymakers --
HAASS: (Inaudible) -- but again, it's cherry-picking. What people would do was find the pieces of intelligence, particularly raw intelligence, that seemed to or in fact did support their preferred analyses or policy positions. So there was a lot --
REMNICK: Which is innately intellectually dishonest, right?
HAASS: It's also human nature. You can argue what the motives of the people -- and what Dick Cheney and his staff would often do, I thought, was construct a plausible but worst-possible case. And one anecdote. In the run-up to Colin Powell's famous U.N. address, the original draft of his talk came from the vice president's office, bizarrely enough. That is not an intelligence-gathering -- except for the case of (me ?), I guess it turned out to be -- but it was not an intelligence-gathering organization.
And a draft came over, which was very selective, shall we say, in its use of intelligence and was very aggressive in its interpretation of some of the intelligence. And very quickly, Powell said, well, I'm not going to work from this. This doesn't pass the seriousness test. Plus a lot of the sources came from -- (inaudible) -- things like that. And again, Powell would have no part of it.
So he went back to the National Intelligence Estimate that had come out the previous fall from the National Intelligence Council and worked with that and painstakingly built what we thought was an intellectually legitimate, rigorous, totally intellectually honest case. We thought -- we, I mean my staff and I and a few other people involved in putting together Powell's presentation -- thought we had done a tremendous 96-hour's work in beating back what we saw as a loaded, non-rigorous document put forward by the vice president's office and putting together out own presentation which we thought was intellectually rigorous and had been vetted. And it's the great irony of it all that obviously now in retrospect what Secretary Powell went forward with still didn't meet the test of accuracy.
QUESTIONER: Mine's really just a weird follow on.
REMNICK: Your name, sir?
QUESTIONER: I'm Ted Shell (ph). Mine's just a brief follow on to your last question. How do you view the intelligence apparatus that we had? Was it as deeply flawed as people have characterized it? Or did it really -- did the CIA and the substantive intelligence community just become a scapegoat, given the fact that WMD in the end, as you were saying, wasn't really the reason why we went into this to being with?
HAASS: Well, the CIA can't be or the intelligence community can't be held responsible for why policymakers do things. And they made a good-faith, as I see it, analysis. They were just dead wrong on the presence of weapons of mass destruction. And that's a fascinating case study in itself about how many people who actually believe, in most cases -- I don't know any exception to this -- were intellectually honest, got it so wrong. And there's powerful lessons to be learned about the dangers of group think, about the corrosive effect of assumptions.
I mean, a perfect example was Saddam Hussein is not complying fully with everything he's being asked to do, he's not providing a full informational base which the inspectors had long demanded; ergo, he must hiding things; ergo, the things he must be hiding must be weapons of mass destruction. And it's hard to exaggerate how powerful that logic train was. I never heard once somebody say, oh, he's got nothing, and he just doesn't want to admit he's got nothing because he'll look weak to his own people or his neighbors. Never once in all my years in government did somebody suggest that, either in writing or in a meeting.
And to me, it shows not an ideological agenda of the intelligence community. Simply, people had it wrong, and the system wasn't set up well enough, and subsequently it was.
REMNICK: But nothing came up through the CIA, no analysts, no --
HAASS: All I can say is I was known as someone in the government who was skeptical, shall we say, of the whole (enterprise ?). Never once did somebody take me aside and say, hey, by the way, I think I've got a pretty argument for you, Saddam Hussein has no weapons of mass destruction.
REMNICK: What about the CIA analysts who have been on this stage and came out later and said, well, we just failed to convince?
HAASS: All I can say is I read hundreds if not thousands of intelligence documents. I attended more meetings than anyone outside of the European Union has ever attended. (Laughter.) And no intelligence official ever made that argument. People made the argument that Saddam Hussein does not have nuclear, and I was totally convinced of that. But the arguments on the chemical and biological were, I thought, fairly not as pervasive but persuasive. And there were a few areas where there were debates.
REMNICK: How do things like mushroom clouds and yellow cake and all that stuff get into speeches that were extremely convincing to the American people?
HAASS: Well, again, that was people on the policy side who were either cherry-picking intelligence or providing the most (lawyered possible ?) portrayal of the information that they could in order to strengthen their policy case or, they would say, to break through to the American people given that the stakes were so great. It also is what comes, I think, of a slightly careless national security process. Obviously, the yellow cake episode comes to mind.
QUESTIONER: (Off mike.) I'm Bob Scott of Delphi University.
REMNICK: Could you use the microphone?
QUESTIONER: I'm Bob Scott of Delphi University. Thank you, Richard. I look forward to reading your book. I'm glad that you said or I'm interested that you said "group think" because my question really is based on the fact you talk about choice. That means there's a decider. And yet, there are other parties in the system. And many of us think there was a great failure in the media and too much group think and too easy acceptance of what the administration was saying and, therefore, influenced the larger public as well as members of Congress. What do you think?
HAASS: One of the things that historians need to do is to remind people the context in which history takes place. And a lot of this can only be understood in a post-9/11 context. So you had Congress, I thought bizarrely, far more in favor of this war of choice than it was in favor of the previous was of necessity. Here I was, a Republican in this administration, and I was being outflanked by all these people in the Democratic Party on the left in terms of their desire to go to war. I thought it was odd.
And I never get into the business of ascribing motives to people simply because I think you do have to take into account context. And I think it affected the media. I believe it affected Congress. I believe it affected the intellectual class, so to speak, that after 9/11 it was hard to make certain arguments. And there were pressures and just also assumptions out there. And if people were going to err, they wanted to err on certain sides. And part of me thinks that was understandable.
But that's also a situation in which your decision-making processes need to become, if anything, more rigorous. You've got to push back against it, and I didn't see that happening.
REMNICK: On the aisle here and then there.
QUESTIONER: Richard, Rick (Solomon ?). Just a question. It strikes me, as you think about Vietnam and the Iraq war, there were a couple of things that were similar. One is you had a president who had a strong ideological view, anticommunism on one hand and, secondly, the export of democracy on the other. And they both (appeared ?) after huge national tragedies in which the country was angry and upset and maybe our national good judgment as a country was somewhat in abeyance. Could you talk a little bit about that in the context of these two events?
HAASS: Look, I've long had a conversation with myself, which is, would the second Iraq war have happened absent 9/11? And I've come to the working hypothesis that probably not, absent another intervening event. But there were people in the administration who were anxious to do something Iraq from the get go. It was Paul O'Neill's memoir talks about one of the first Cabinet meetings. I wasn't at the meeting, but already Iraq was raised. And then it was interesting, right after 9/11, already from the get go, people were talking about Iraq must have been behind it. That was the working hypothesis of senior people at the Pentagon. The military was instructed right after 9/11 to begin planning for a large effort against Iraq.
Now, if 9/11 had never happened, we don't know history would have played out. So there may have been some other dramatic event which might have opened up a so-called policy window. Or people may have simply tried to have been, shall we call it, entrepreneurial and move the administration incrementally in that direction. And I don't know whether they would have prevailed, you know, given this lineup of people. They may well have, so I don't assume that absent 9/11 it would not have happened. But it certainly would have been a far more difficult case for people to make and to have won over the Congress. And needless to say, efforts to win international support would have come to virtually nil.
REMNICK: There was somebody here and then --
QUESTIONER: Evans Revere from The Korea Society. Great presentation, Richard. I wonder if we could go back prior to September 11th and go back to this issue of Secretary Powell's mind-set that you were talking about at the outset. And this may be unfair to ask this question, but if you can speculate to what extent what many of us regarded was his humiliation in the opening weeks of the administration on North Korea policy, to what extent that may have played into his willingness to take on some of the powers that be in the administration. And also in that period, there were already some, what I regarded as, disturbing indications that there might have been this parallel foreign policy process in the administration, whether that had something to do with this thinking as well.
HAASS: I'd say two things, Evans. One is Colin Powell is the ultimate optimist. And his sense was that put inside the administration he could work things and somehow things would turn out better than they would have otherwise. So yeah, he had the bad thing over Korea. But if I have my sequencing right, a few weeks later he had what he and others saw as a very impressive policy, quote-unquote, "victory" over China in the aftermath of the EP-3 incident. And so these were seen as early skirmishes.
But by the summer of the first year of the Bush presidency, so this is the summer of, what, 2001, people in the State Department were feeling pretty good. I wasn't. I'm a born pessimist. But also, I looked at the lineup around the administration and how some of the early policymaking battles were going, and I was filled with unease. And I remember talking to Powell about it and saying, every time we walk into a meeting, it's two and a half to one against us. There's us and then there's the vice president's office which essentially emerged as a de facto department. For the previous Bush administration, the vice president's foreign policy staff was two people -- two people. Now they had enough people to send to every meeting. So they'd sit at the table and have a vote, essentially like everybody else, and it changed fundamentally.
You had the Pentagon which had really now been reduced to just the civilian side. In the old days, as you know, the uniformed, the military, would often have an equal voice and would often be much more moderate than the civilian side because they were the ones who were going to have to do the wars. But under this administration, the military voice had essentially been placed on mute.
REMNICK: What did they want in these early meetings? What did they want?
HAASS: What you were beginning to see was a question -- let me finish. And then the NSC tilted in that direction. So it was two and a half to one. And I argued, among other things, I felt we needed to strengthen our staff. And Colin Powell, one of the areas we disagreed, Colin was much more optimistic than I was about how it was all likely to fail.
What you saw, David, from the beginning was a suspicion of the diplomacy, a suspicion of international arrangements, a certain suspicion that allies tended to be more restraining and confining than contributing. It was a fairly stark view of the world. And 9/11 then pushed this administration, I believe, into a different place.
REMNICK: Right here.
QUESTIONER: Gail Furman, NYU. Given the cost internally to the country and internationally in regard to the opportunity costs that this war really has created, Richard, I wonder how you feel and what the pros and cons are according to the way you think about some kind of inquiry, a truth commission, the Justice Department or the Congress.
HAASS: I just read an article in The Wall Street Journal on Friday about the whole question of an interrogation (committee ?), arguing against them. I think the idea that there's this objective truth out there we're going to uncover doesn't exist. In my experience, inquiries tend to take away from reconciliation rather than necessarily aid them. I think it would be a big distraction. I think the pressures for criminalization would be incredibly destructive for morale and recruiting and all that, in general.
But this is what history is for. This is what my book is for and everybody else's books, whether they're insiders or outsiders. History is a debate. And I don't think what would settle this is some core doctrine or core piece of information or evidence that we'd all then have a collective aha moment. I don't think that's the way it works.
REMNICK: So really, Richard, you're not agreeing then with the Peggy Noonan notion we should just all, I forget how she put it, kind of look away and move on down the road? I mean, there's something a little bit --
HAASS: No, I think we should look at this. I think we should try to learn from it. I think we should argue it. But I don't think we should put it necessarily in a legal framework. I guess I would be open to the idea of leaving it to the marketplace of history, let people -- (inaudible).
REMNICK: (Inaudible) -- and Nuremberg is even --
HAASS: Well, I don't see this as in any way like that, David. This, to me, is not that sort of a situation. You may think there were errors in judgment. I do. I disagree with this. I think it was a bad choice, the second Iraq war. But this doesn't rise to the level of --
REMNICK: (Inaudible) -- on torture, though.
HAASS: Well, again, on torture, no. I do not believe -- people say, again as I said before, I think there's legitimate questions about what was illegal. I think there's legitimate questions about what was effective. So I think men and women of good will could come to very different positions on this. I simply do not see the utility or even I don't believe it's warranted in this case.
REMNICK: I think we have time for two more, there and in the back.
QUESTIONER: (Name inaudible.)
REMNICK: Say again?
QUESTIONER: My name is Andrew Dunlop (ph). Just before the U.N. vote, just before the war, Rumsfeld went to Munich and gave a speech, and then then Joschka Fischer responded in German, but then interrupted his German speech and in English said, Mr. Rumsfeld, we are not convinced, meaning as Europeans. And many have interpreted that to mean that the Europeans could have been convinced had it been sold as a different kind of war to the (six theaters ?) that were running. My question is whether or not you think you could have done something differently to get the allies onboard and perhaps, more importantly, whether or not you think in the next war of necessity, i.e., Pakistan, we're going to need our allies and need the Europeans.
HAASS: Do I think anything could have been done to have gotten the allies onboard? If the United States hadn't moved as quickly as it did in early 2003, it's possible but unlikely. If we had let that play out, my hunch is that if more time had passed, the Europeans and others would have said, we still don't think the case is strong enough, Saddam continues to improve his compliance, there's no reason to go to war. So my own view is that probably you would not have had a meeting of the minds that was in fact was even necessary or a good choice. I just don't think that they -- and the behavior, in particular, of several of the allies at the U.N. when they had that special conversation about terrorism and essentially really weakened Colin Powell by their behavior leads me to think that there never would have come a time when there would have been consensus.
REMNICK: In the back, sir.
HAASS: Also on Pakistan. Give me 30 more seconds. I think there's already a consensus that Pakistan is terribly important, all the arrows are going just about in the wrong direction, more needs to be done. I think there it's a very different situation. People can't think of really good policy responses. So it's not so much reluctance to join a collective effort, people can't think of a good collective effort to join that would have a decisive effect. If Pakistan begins to collapse, I don't think you necessarily need a large-scale, external response. I think any external response would need to be quite discrete.
But I think Pakistan is a better example of something very different in the world where there actually is quite a lot of consensus, but it's the difficulty of translating power and influence, the ability of outsiders, be it the United States, NATO, the rest of the world combined, to influence events inside countries is limited. I think, by the way, that's one of the other lessons of the second Iraq war. To me, it raises fundamental questions about how much the United States should design its foreign policy about trying to influence the internal trajectories of other societies. It is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do.
REMNICK: Are you sanguine about the condition of nuclear weapons in Pakistan?
HAASS: I don't see how you can be sanguine about it given the number and given the state of play. And it doesn't take a lot of margin for error to create a crisis. I don't think we're at that point now. We're in a pre-crisis situation, we're not in the crisis.
REMNICK: We're 60 miles away. I mean, it seems pretty dire, no?
HAASS: It is --
QUESTIONER: Do I still get a question? (Laughs.)
HAASS: It is the single-most-difficult --
REMNICK: We're not serving snacks until you do. (Laughter.)
HAASS: -- dangerous foreign policy challenge facing this country and the world.
QUESTIONER: James Sitrick, Baker & McKenzie. Richard, the concepts or the phrases "war of necessity, war of choice" seem to imply that the decision-making as to which it is comes at the beginning of the war. If I read correctly Dr. Brzezinski's review of your book, he seemed to imply that if the first Gulf War had gone badly, it could have been characterized as a war of choice, and if the second Iraq war had gone well, it might well have been characterized as a war of necessity. Do you agree?
HAASS: I don't but it's hard to disagree with someone who writes a generous review of your book, for which I will always be grateful to Dr. Brzezinski. (Laughter.) No, if the first Iraq war had gone badly, it would not have become a war of choice, it just would have been an expensive war of necessity. And if the second Iraq war had gone much better, it just would have been a less expensive war of choice. How things turn out, the costs and the results, don't affect whether a war is a war of necessity or choice. That depends upon the nature of the interests and, above all, the nature or the existence rather of alternatives to the use of force. So that is a decision you make up front or at any point during a conflict in which you would contemplate a major, mid-course correction in policy. So those, if you will, are front-loaded decisions.
The consequences of whether and how to fight wars of necessity and wars of choice, that will determine the ratio of benefits to costs and will likely determine how history judges what it is you did or didn't do.
REMNICK: Richard, thank you. This is the book. I highly recommend it. (Applause.) Thank you very much.
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