RICH ATKINSON: Good evening. Welcome to tonight's meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations. I'm Rick Atkinson. I'm an author and former correspondent and editor at The Washington Post, and I'll be the presider or the moderator for tonight's topic, which is "The Gulf War: Twenty Years Later."
Although the Gulf War time seems as remote as the Peloponnesian War, in fact, it began in the early hours of January 17th, 1991, five months after the Iraqi forces of Saddam Hussein invaded and occupied Kuwait. The war lasted for six weeks, mostly in the form of a strategic air campaign followed by a four-day ground assault that expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
A diverse coalition of several dozen nations joined the United States in waging the war, including some unlikely allies. A cease-fire took effect at 8:00 a.m. on February 28th, 1991, effectively bringing combat operations to a close. Coalition casualties included 390 American dead, among them 148 killed in action, plus 458 American wounded in action and 510 other allied casualties.
To sort through the events of that time and perhaps some of the consequences, we've assembled five men who each played a large policy role in the Gulf War. I'll introduce them alphabetically and give the position they held 20 years ago. More biographical material, including their current activities, can be found in the handouts you've been given.
Richard Haass was senior director for Near East and South Asian Affairs on the National Security Council staff. Admiral David E. Jeremiah was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Richard J. Kerr was deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft was the national security adviser. And Paul D. Wolfowitz was the undersecretary of Defense for Policy.
The format for this evening will be as follows. For the next 25 minutes or so, the six of us will have a conversation with questions posed by me, and we will then have a 45-minute question-and-answer period with questions posed by you.
A couple of brief reminders. I'd like to welcome the New York members, first of all, who are participating in this meeting via video conference, as well as national members participating via teleconference.
Please completely turn off, not just put on vibrate, your cell phones, BlackBerrys and all the rest of it to avoid interference with the sound system.
As a reminder, this meeting is on the record.
And before we begin with today's program, the council is pleased to announce an upcoming meeting with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on March 17th. For more information on upcoming events, please refer to the insert in the back of tonight's program.
So I'd like to ask General Scowcroft to start us off, since, among this group, you were the senior policymaker in 1991 and you're personally close to President George H.W. Bush. And the question that I have for you initially is, to what extent did unfinished business in the Gulf War engender the second war against Iraq in 2003? What, if anything, would you do differently, especially regarding the way the war ended?
GENERAL BRENT SCOWCROFT: Well, I wouldn't do much differently. It is true that after the end of the war and so on, there was a lot of talk about "Why didn't you finish the job?" And that continued until the second Gulf war. But we don't hear it anymore.
And I think one of the things it's important to remember is we were trying to put this in the context of a world emerging from the Cold War. And one of the things we wanted to do was establish a sort of framework for how this world ought to operate.
And therefore, we saw ourselves not just as the United States flexing its muscles in dealing with a bad guy, but as a representative of the world community dealing with a case of unprovoked aggression, or naked aggression, I should say. And so a lot of what we did was with that in mind.
Strategically, however, we were very much aware that U.S. policy since the British essentially turned over security interests in the region to us had been, since the fall of the shah, to balance the two largest military forces, Iran and Iraq, off against each other.
And so when the war ended and insurrection started, we were criticized for not doing enough. We did not want Iraq split into its constituent parts. And to go on to Baghdad, take down the regime and so on, would also have destroyed that balance.
So I think, in the end, what I would say is that Saddam Hussein was still a nasty guy, hadn't changed his goals. He was quite contained, in my mind. His military, as demonstrated in the second Gulf war, was very weak. He didn't have income enough to do his depredations in the region that way. And he was not a menace to the region or to the world community at large. So I'm quite content with how we stopped, when we stopped.
ATKINSON: Other thoughts? Everyone very happy with the way it ended? No regrets? Paul?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Well, I'm going to respectfully disagree, but with enormous respect -- you can't but have respect for Brent. And I would -- you've sort of started at the end of the story, which I think was messy. But let's be clear at the outset. I think the diplomacy that put together the coalition was amazing. I think the execution of the military operation was impressive.
And I would say, most of all -- and I think this is really important, because, in fact, I did a review of your book where I titled the review "Victory Came Too Easily." I mean, it looked so easy after the fact that people forget how difficult it looked before the fact.
It took enormous courage by President Bush to decide he was going to do this. And even though he squeaked through with a slight majority in the Congress, I'm sure he expected he'd be impeached if the war had gone badly. But he believed it was the right thing to do. I think it was the right thing to do.
But I do think that it was a tragic mistake with real strategic consequences that we failed to support those uprisings when they started. I would have -- I agreed with the view that we should not risk American lives now on something that goes beyond our basic objectives. But we had pilots flying overhead watching helicopters slaughter Iraqis. We had our divisions on the south side of the Euphrates watching the Republican Guards go south to slaughter Iraqis. That was a second highway of death, and I think it should not have been permitted.
The concern that these rebellions might have succeeded partway and Saddam would have survived, my main feeling is if his army had realized that his continuing in power was what was going to lead to losing control of two thirds of the country and pretty much all of its oil, I think they would have turned their guns on him instead of on the rebels.
So I think we had a long period of tragic turmoil. I don't think containment was working. I think it would have collapsed. That's a separate long argument. But the Shia in Iraq to this day remember what happened, and very unfairly they blame the Saudis. They think the Saudis were the people who told us to stop, and that's not the case.
I was in Saudi Arabia with Secretary Baker on his first trip after the war, and it was remarkable to hear Prince Bandar and Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister, saying, "Saddam is like a wounded snake. Leaving him in power is very dangerous. You need to support these rebellions." And then they said, with a straight face, "We're not afraid of the Shia of Iraq. For one thing, they're Arabs and not Persians." It wasn't the Saudis that led us to stop. It was our own decision. And, look, these are hard decisions. They're not 80-20. They're more like 55-45. But I think it was a mistake.
ATKINSON: President Bush very explicitly called on the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands. That was in the middle of February, a couple of weeks before the war ended. Was there not a moral obligation to support the Iraqi people if they decided to take things into their own hands?
RICHARD HAASS: Now you've put three questions on the table.
ATKINSON: You can handle it.
HAASS: The first was whether the first war led inevitably or inexorably to the second. I would say absolutely not. The second war, whether you thought it was a great idea or a terrible idea, was a separate set of decisions. There was nothing inevitable about the second war. We chose to fight it. I think it was a bad choice. Paul and others would probably argue it was a good choice. But it was a choice. So there were two separate sets of decisions leading to the two conflicts.
Second, by the end of the war, sure, there were some things we might have done differently in terms of when we ended the war, perhaps an extra day or two of fighting; hard to know exactly what that would have accomplished, but it probably would have destroyed slightly more of the Iraqi capabilities. But if you recall, one of the considerations was not to decimate Iraq, because we did want to maintain some sort of balance in the region. All along we had been more concerned at that point about revolutionary Iran than about Saddam's Iraq.
The question of getting involved in the uprisings and so forth, the feeling was "Where does it end?" And the concern -- I won't speak for Brent, but the concern that people like me were arguing at the time was "Once we start going down that path, where does it end?"
And what if taking care of the helicopters wasn't enough? What then would we do militarily? What would be the -- we were concerned that more Americans would die going forward than had died up to that point. We were concerned about the consequences for the coalition, about whether it would hold together at that point. We were concerned about going on to Baghdad and taking ownership of that and all that that would entail.
So it did end somewhat messily or raggedly or with some outcomes that I don't think anybody felt totally comfortable with, but it doesn't inexorably, again, to me make the case that we should have done more. And as you yourself said in your last question, the president of the United States talked about people to take things into their own hands. But that was in February. And the whole idea at that point was "If you do certain things, we will not have to initiate a ground war."
It is unfair to say that essentially President Bush 41 issued a kind of blank check. It was very specifically targeted. "If you can get the -- move against the regime, against the Saddam Hussein regime, it won't be necessary for the air war to morph into a ground war. You'll save yourselves all sorts of misery." That didn't happen. And then, as a result, we initiated the ground war.
RICHARD KERR: I think, as an intelligence officer, of course, what we were trying to do, what my organization was trying to do, was provide information on the situation, although I wasn't bashful about expressing views that might be called policy.
I was particularly concerned, I think, about the issue that Paul mentioned, and that is, what really ended up being the slaughter in the south of Shia by helicopters, armed helicopters. And we essentially had aircraft in the air that could have stopped that. And I found that -- I found that whole situation a very sad situation, and I think an important issue that we did not follow up on.
It did not mean you had to go all the way; you had to go well beyond that. But we could have protected a significant number of Shia. And I think the attitude of some of the Shias in the south would have been quite different than it was.
One of the questions that was asked of the intelligence organization is could Saddam survive the defeat. And there was a very mixed answer in the intelligence community. A lot of the analysts -- I give them credit -- a lot of them believed that he was going to survive, that he had the mechanism, the military and enough people around him that he could survive.
Personally, I didn't think so. I thought they would -- and that's essentially what I said at deputies' meetings. I said I thought that the defeat was so significant that the military would turn against him and some would walk in and try to put a bullet in his head.
The problem is, he beat them to the punch. He was better than they were. He was a better -- he was more ruthless than they were. And that was, I think -- but I do give the credit to the intelligence analysts who followed it, because they felt that he was much more ruthless and he was a survivor.
WOLFOWITZ: I would say, though, the fact that he was able to crush those rebellions certainly enhanced his prestige of his military. And I remember when then-Crown Prince Abdullah was visiting here. I think it was late '90s. I was invited to bring some SAIS students -- I was the dean at SAIS at the time -- to entertain one of his closest friends -- not a royal -- Abdul Aziz al-Tuejri (ph). And we discussed this conversation that Baker had had with Prince Bandar and Saud al-Faisal. And the comment from this Saudi was, "Why is it you Americans don't listen to your friends in the Gulf? Is it you think we don't understand the region that we live in?"
I mean, we do have to confront the fact that the Saudis thought that supporting the rebellions would bring down Saddam. And I do think, on a related point, the notion that Saddam Hussein was a useful counterbalance to Iran, I think, is just completely wrong.
Well, nothing is completely wrong, but think about it. He starts a war of aggression against Iran in 1980. When it fails, we're dragged into supporting him. We're basically complicit by silence in his terror bombing of Iranian cities and his massive use of chemical weapons. It goes on for eight bloody years with a million Arabs and Iranians killed. And when all that is done, he turns around and invades Kuwait.
I'm sorry, he was not a useful counterbalance to Iran. And we would be much worse off today, I think, if we had not only a hostile Iran but a hostile Iraq to deal with.
There are many others besides this argument, but I think it's just wrong to say that Saddam was a helpful balance against Iran. I think we probably are paying a big price today among a lot of widows and parents whose kids were killed because of our role in that war.
ATKINSON: Does anyone disagree with that?
SCOWCROFT: Yes. Yes.
ATKINSON: Did we not empower Iran?
SCOWCROFT: The point I was making is that we had used -- our strategy had been to balance off Iraq and Iran. And a subsequent secretary of State went to Iraq in the mid 1980s as a part of bolstering it, because we thought Iraq was the weaker side. As far as Saddam crushing the demonstrators and enhancing his prestige with the army, who do you think crushed the demonstrators? It wasn't Saddam. It was his army. And they proved --
WOLFOWITZ: And we could have prevented --
SCOWCROFT: And they proved to be loyal to him.
WOLFOWITZ: When you let them win --
SCOWCROFT: They didn't have to be. And, you know, history doesn't reveal its alternatives, but it seems to me that we could easily have had, at the end of the first Gulf War, what happened after the end of the second Gulf war. And who knows what Iraq is going to look like in the future?
So to say one is clear and one isn't -- what I was trying to explain is the mindset and the framework with which we went in, and it was fundamentally to punish and rectify an aggression. It was not to remake the map of the Middle East. We didn't -- we didn't like the Iranians any more than we did Saddam. That was not the point. It was how can we maintain a balance in the region without massive U.S. forces there. And that was easiest to be done by Iran and Iraq offsetting each other.
HAASS: You can always assume away the potential costs and difficulties. People assumed away the potential costs and difficulties of the second Iraq war, and more than 4,000 Americans lost their lives and we spent more than a trillion dollars. We totally misread what was going to be the reaction to what happened.
You could then, therefore, go back in history and assume away what might have been the costs and difficulties of American intervention at the time of the two rebellions and what would have ensued from there. And if you say to yourself, sure, we could have intervened very cheaply and gotten enormous returns from it, why didn't we do it? Okay, yeah. If I could have known for sure we could have intervened very cheaply and gotten enormous lasting dividends for it, sounds pretty good.
The problem is, at the time you never know that, and you've got to make your bets. And what we were saying was, "Here's all the things also that could go wrong militarily, economically, physically on the ground, diplomatically, domestically in the United States." And we made the decision, in part because we were thinking that there was a pretty decent chance that Saddam would fall, but even despite that, that the costs of going ahead were too risky.
If you assume, though, that it would have been cheap and wonderful things would have flowed from it, sure. But you can't -- Paul, you can't make policy that way. That was, I think, one of the things we got right the first time around. And quite honestly, even though this is a retrospective on the first war, not the second, it's one of the things we got wrong the second time around. Assumptions were loaded on assumptions were loaded on assumptions. People assumed away the difficulties, and life turned out to be a lot more difficult than the assumptions that were piled up.
WOLFOWITZ: Richard, I'm not assuming away the difficulties. There were difficulties, and we've talked about them a lot. But, I mean, let's take this as a real-world example. I mean, Brent is right; history doesn't reveal alternatives. But we do have a rather significant demonstration in northern Iraq of how basically relatively simple it was to create a protective zone for the Kurds. It didn't destabilize the region, as some people feared, including the Turks. And it was rather successful.
And I'm not saying there were no risks involved. And I want to be absolutely clear. We discussed at great length before, and I think correctly, "Let's not make the mistake that Douglas MacArthur made after a brilliant victory at Incheon" and then goes -- he went steaming up to the Yalu, and the war went on for another two years with terrible consequences.
I never argued -- I don't know of anyone inside our group who ever argued that we should continue on and occupy Baghdad. The question is, when you have people, whether or not we -- you want to parse exactly what we asked them to rise up, that's an issue. But I think the more important issue is they were more or less on our side. They were against a man whom our allies said would continue to be dangerous.
There were things we could have done at really very low risk. The risk was -- okay, the risk, what happens if Iraq breaks up? I think the risk of 10 more years of this man in power defying 19 U.N. resolutions and ultimately leading to the result we had was worse. And I think, if it had been successful in getting his army to turn on him, then we would have avoided a lot of harm later.
KERR: I would follow up one point that Paul -- there was a consensus, I believe, within the deputies' committee about the continuation of the war; I mean, of not continuing.
HAASS: Not continuing.
KERR: There was a consensus. We talked about it many times in the deputies' committee. And there was a consensus --
WOLFOWITZ: Beforehand. We never debated the helicopter issue.
KERR: No. No, we never debated that. But we debated the other issue.
KERR: And there was consensus about what to do with that.
WOLFOWITZ: And I think it was correct, by the way, to be clear.
KERR: And I think that's an important point to make. And the point I would make at some later point is the deputies' committee, I think, during this process was an enormously effective instrument, I believe. I mean, I had been involved in a previous group in the previous administration and the previous one to that that was a policy group at a lower level, which never worked very well, quite honestly.
But the deputies' committee, with Bob Gates and the group, I thought was extraordinarily effective in dealing with the issues. It wasn't effective when we brought in kind of peripheral issues to national security -- or not peripheral, but kind of a subset of them. Whenever we talked about drugs, it all kind of went to hell, quite simply. (Laughter.) But whenever we talked about core national-security issues, you know, when you had only, what, six people there -- when you had 20 people there, it didn't work.
WOLFOWITZ: And if I could say something --
ATKINSON: Go ahead.
WOLFOWITZ: -- because it worked well. And one of the reasons it worked well was because of the group that Brent ran. I don't know -- was it the gang of seven or the gang of eight? Whatever --
SCOWCROFT: Whatever. (Laughs.)
WOLFOWITZ: Whatever. Well, more importantly, the president ran it --
WOLFOWITZ: -- and met regularly with the president. So when the deputies' committee, which I think we did a good job of debating options and showing alternatives, and then they went up to that group. And I think -- (laughs) -- to be honest, I think Colin debriefed Jeremiah a little better than Cheney debriefed me. I never found out anything about what went on in that meeting except what the decision was.
And you were meeting, it seemed to me, almost daily. And it was crisp, and things moved along. And I really -- I do think that was a -- maybe masterpiece is too strong a word, but I think it's the way one ought to run a crisis. And you might want to say more about how it actually happened. But from our perch on the deputies' committee, it was just really terrific that you'd work on these issues and then you'd get a decision, and then you'd move on from that decision.
ATKINSON: General Powell was very determined, at least in his telling after the fact, that the carnage that was beginning to occur on the so-called mile of death out of Kuwait City not taint the victory that the coalition had won.
Was there a misreading, do you think, Admiral Jeremiah, about the extent to which the country was willing -- that the blood was in the gorge for the country, that the country was willing, in fact, to press the case further, if required?
ADMIRAL DAVID JEREMIAH: I would say that my personal opinion was that you could almost feel it in the atmosphere that the highway of death, that whole piece, was about to flip from support of the war and support of what was going on to "Why are we perpetuating this with a beaten enemy?"
And it would have been a slaughter. I mean, there was no question about it. They were blocked at the top, blocked at the bottom, and it was just like a reaper going through a wheat field. So I think that -- I thought then and I think now that that could not continue.
And to the larger question of what goes on, I think there are three things that had to happen if you're going to have a successful conclusion to a war, and that is, you have to establish in the survivors the political structure -- a political structure, an economic structure and a security structure. And that certainly didn't occur in the second group, and it really didn't occur in the first war. I don't think that we -- Safwan was kind of a surprise, in a way. From that point on, there's a question --
ATKINSON: Safwan, where the negotiations took place with General Schwarzkopf and the Iraqi representatives.
JEREMIAH: It seemed to me that we were not thinking about going anywhere from there. We were thinking about leaving there. Remember that this all occurred in the midst of a massive drawdown in the United States military. We had to keep several hundred thousand people who were stop-lossed, for all practical purposes, for the war. So there was a movement in that direction. And I think the country saw a quick end to a war, and our families and friends are going to be coming home. That was my impression.
ATKINSON: General Scowcroft.
SCOWCROFT: I don't think the highway of death was a determining factor. It was an important factor.
ATKINSON: It wasn't public yet when the decision was made.
SCOWCROFT: No, but we --
ATKINSON: People had not seen those pictures.
SCOWCROFT: We were aware of it. And what really had happened is the day before we met on the decisive date, Schwarzkopf was giving a press conference in which he said, "We've achieved our objectives." And so the next morning we met and we said, "Well, there's the highway of death. You know, we're tainting our image here. Do we need to do more?"
Now, my inclination, as I think Richard was, maybe a day or two more we could have destroyed a lot of the Republican Guard, which did not come down to be enveloped the way we thought. So we called Schwarzkopf and asked him. And he says, "Let me pull my troops." And so we delayed for several hours, and he came back and he says, "There's no objection to a cease-fire now."
And, you know, there's been a lot of talk about the helicopters afterwards. That was probably a wrong decision, but it was a tactical, not a major decision. Saddam had come to Schwarzkopf and said, "I can't communicate with my people. I need helicopters as a communication." And Schwarzkopf said, "Fine." Then he started using them against the resisters. And we actually had a debate. "Should we tell him?" And from your department, the answer was, "No, let's not countermand Schwarzkopf."
WOLFOWITZ: Not from me, but from my boss.
SCOWCROFT: Yeah. So we did not --
WOLFOWITZ: (Laughs.) We argued about that quite a bit.
SCOWCROFT: And that's what it was. I think the more important thing was what happened at Safwan and so on. And I think if we made some mistakes, it was in there. Maybe we should have made Saddam come to Safwan. Now, could we have made him? No.
HAASS: I remember writing a memo about Safwan. It kept getting kicked back by the president. And Brent said, "He doesn't like this one." I'd write it again. "Sorry." And people were looking for what we called the Battleship Missouri outcome.
HAASS: They wanted something really clean and neat. And I was afraid we couldn't get it. And I didn't think we were in a position to insist on it. And the idea of saying, "Well, what, we're going to continue the war until Saddam shows up?" I didn't know if we could sustain that, given the coalition, given the domestic politics and all that. It's always dangerous to insist on things that you can't guarantee you can make good on the threat.
But I'd say the one thing, in retrospect, about Safwan that strikes me is less doubt and more just, in general, the lack of some of the specific guidance that could have been given. I think, in a funny sort of way, where we failed -- we as policymakers in Washington failed people in the field, is we didn't give enough guidance. We left way too much discretion. And I don't think that was their job. We should have been looking at it more from a political-military and the whole. And I think that's one of the areas where I wouldn't give us a terribly high grade.
ATKINSON: Well, isn't it true that Schwarzkopf had virtually no guidance?
HAASS: Yeah. That's another --
WOLFOWITZ: Well, but he resisted guidance.
KERR: And that was unusual, because we went through the debate.
SCOWCROFT: Yeah, yeah. He wasn't seeking guidance. (Laughter.)
ATKINSON: What field general ever is?
WOLFOWITZ: We did, at the deputies' level, have a consensus on a proposal that actually came from our U.N. ambassador, Tom Pinkerton, who said, "We can get a giant demilitarized zone actually all the way up to the Jordanian border." And this would be a certain guarantee against Saddam repeating, which he did try to do in 1994. And we got to Saudi Arabia, and Baker was ready to do it and Schwarzkopf talked him out of it. So don't exaggerate the extent to which he was sitting there waiting for guidance from Washington. He wasn't.
ATKINSON: All right, we're going to take questions from the audience now. We'll start here in Washington with a question, and then we'll go to New York for a couple, and then we'll come back here to Washington.
Yes, sir. Right there.
QUESTIONER: Larry Korb.
ATKINSON: If you'll -- excuse me, I forgot --
QUESTIONER: After the war --
ATKINSON: Hang on just a second, Larry. Please wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. State your name and your affiliation, if you would. And I'm asked to ask you to keep your questions and comments concise. Thank you.
QUESTIONER: I will do all of it.
QUESTIONER: Larry Korb from the Center for American Progress.
After the war, we kept troops in Saudi Arabia, which turned out to be a cause celebre for Osama bin Laden. Can you go into any discussion about the pros and cons of that before you made that decision?
SCOWCROFT: Yeah, I could, but I'd be making it up. (Laughter.) No, we did have a discussion about troops in Saudi Arabia. That was a -- we recognized that was a warning sign. But I think temporarily we thought it was useful. Saddam was still around. We thought that if we just disbanded the whole operation, it might give him a false sense of what his freedom of action was. That's my recollection.
HAASS: But we had -- we had been planning for all sorts of contingencies. I remember we had the small group, which was the subset of the deputies' committee that the four of us and Bob Gates and Bob Kimmitt were on. Brent was not part of that. Brent was the next level up. But we had meeting after meeting about scenarios where Saddam would throw out half a loaf. He would say, "I'm going to withdraw from part of Kuwait," or "I will promise to withdraw from part of it." And we looked at all sorts of ways about how we would test him and so forth.
But implicit in a lot of that, even up to the last moment, was we would have to take yes for an answer. And if, say, the Baker-Tariq Aziz meeting -- which was, what, January 8th or so, roughly the end of the first week, a week before Desert Shield morphed into Desert Storm -- if the Iraqis had essentially given us everything we demanded in the letter that Secretary Baker had tabled, we knew we would have had to take yes for an answer.
And some of us may have felt, you know -- we might have had different reactions to it. But the fact was we would have to. And that -- implicit in that is we were going to have to keep large amounts of force in the area, because even if -- there had been zones that Saddam would have to pull back. He wasn't going to have to dismantle his capabilities. He would simply have to pull them back.
So we knew all along that there was going to be a long-term requirement for U.S. forces. And that to me was regardless of how this unfolded. The fact that the war went as well as it did actually reduced the force requirements that would have been required had Saddam Hussein met the requirements of Resolution 660 and pulled out of Kuwait fully and unconditionally.
It would have actually been a much more demanding scenario, which actually many of us worried about. The ability to have dealt with a Saddam who had all of his forces intact, parked within a couple of days' or less distance of the Kuwaiti border was to me strategically, in some ways, the most demanding outcome that was imaginable. But we couldn't rule it out.
So what actually did ensue was, in some ways, far less demanding, even though it did continue to require a -- forces -- and, 30 more seconds. I wouldn't -- this idea that somehow if we hadn't had forces there, al Qaeda would not have been or done what it did, I don't take very seriously. Any group that has an agenda to return the world to the seventh century is going to find motives beyond the level of presence of U.S. forces in the region. We shouldn't kid ourselves.
ATKINSON: We'll go to New York for a couple of questions, if there are questions in New York. If anybody in New York has a question, if you would go to the microphone. Thanks. Tell us who you are.
MS. : It looks like New York is going to yield the balance of its time back to Washington -- (laughter) -- and to the national members listening on the phone.
ATKINSON: Thank you. Accepted.
HAASS: (Laughs.) The great state of New York speaks. (Laughter.)
ATKINSON: Go ahead.
QUESTIONER: John Nagl from the Center for a New American Security.
At the time I had a tank platoon in the First Cavalry Division. I spent the war in a chem-bio suit, and a number of times went to full MOPP` IV, as we called it then. I'd be interested in your thoughts about what you were thinking about the prospect of use of weapons of mass destruction at the time and how that influenced your decision-making, especially in light of what came later in the second war.
SCOWCROFT: Well, we were certainly cognizant of the fact that Saddam had chemical weapons and had used chemical weapons against his own people. And so we were prepared for his using chemical weapons.
Does your question deal with our use? (No audible response.) No. Well, that's my answer. That's why you had your suit on.
KERR: Well, the president made a very strong statement about the use of weapons of mass destruction and the implications of that use.
HAASS: Secretary Baker did, particularly with --
ATKINSON: That was -- yeah.
SCOWCROFT: Baker did. The president did not.
ATKINSON: And what was the betting within the agency about whether he would or wouldn't?
KERR: Well, I think those are one of those things -- it's uncertain. You know, we knew they had some capability. It had been demonstrated, as Brent said. It had been demonstrated against their own population. They certainly had the chemicals. We knew that. So the question of use was how seriously he took the threat and the retaliation against if he used them. And those are kind of unknowables from an intelligence point of view. We did not have that kind of knowledge of the specifics of the tactical use of chemical weapons.
JEREMIAH: The commanders on the ground, there was no question in their mind that they had to be prepared for chemical warfare, that it was likely to happen based on the experience we saw there, and it would have been terribly imprudent if we had failed to do so.
The real interesting question was when you take that potential for chemical warfare and say, "Oh, okay. Now, what about the U.S. civilians that are there?" if something -- if that had started. And there was a fairly lively discussion, which really never came to a very good end on that issue.
WOLFOWITZ: I -- sorry. If I remember correctly, though, I think our declaratory policy was the right one, which was if weapons of mass destruction are used, then our war objective -- our war aims change. And, in fact, his removal would become an American war aim. And who knows how he thinks or whether he's rational. But I think it was the right message.
The other thing is I think actually we were -- as has already been said, we -- our troops, like John, were as ready as it's possible to be for a chemical attack. And I think we thought that, given the way we operate and deploy, we could probably make it through one without -- we weren't going to do human wave attacks like the Iranians.
The great danger that, thank heavens, we avoided was a chemical attack on Israel. And there was a debate at the time whether Saddam had the capability to deliver chemical weapons with ballistic missiles. I think, after the fact, we learned he definitely did. Why he didn't, who knows? But I think it would have completely transformed Iraqi -- I don't think we could have kept Israel out of the war if chemical weapons had been used.
SCOWCROFT: One of the interesting things is what went on in Saddam's mind through all this. Sometimes he behaved in a very canny fashion. Otherwise -- other times he seemed to do things which were against his own interests. And I regret that before we executed him -- or before he was executed, you didn't go and interview him. (Laughter.)
ATKINSON: I regret that too. (Laughter.)
SCOWCROFT: Seriously, because what was he thinking during all this? What were his red lines? What were his opportunities and so on? It's clear that he shammed the position of nuclear weapons and so on to strengthen his role in the region. But what went on in his mind? What did he think we were going to do? What wouldn't we do? It's a fascinating, never-to-be-told story.
ATKINSON: Maybe we'll find he kept a diary. (Chuckles.)
HAASS: He probably did. We just haven't found it yet.
QUESTIONER: Bill Drozdiak, American Council on Germany.
For Brent. I wanted to return to the questions about Safwan and the highway of death. Wasn't the overriding factor the need to keep the international coalition intact, that the president wanted to keep this unanimity, and that was what drove the decisions?
Then for Richard, I was struck by your comment that there was -- you saw no direct connection between the first and the second war. I mean, what about George H.W. Bush, the son, George W. Bush, in any number of published accounts saying, "We're going to take care of the unfinished business"?
SCOWCROFT: Well, on the first point, the answer is yes, it was an objective. But there were a lot. And one of the other objectives was that we had fulfilled the mandate of the U.N., and that's all, because that's all we were authorized to do. And as I said at the outset, one of the things we were thinking about is establishing a modus operandi for a world at the end of the Cold War. And if we had said to the U.N. resolution, yeah, well, that's fine, but now we want to carry it further, we would be violating what we were trying to set up as a way to operate.
HAASS: In terms of the two wars being separate, all I'm saying is that, when the -- there was nothing in the outcome of the first war that I think made the second war inevitable. People may have decided they wanted to, quote-unquote, "finish business," whatever. But what made the second war a war of choice, I would argue, is that the United States did have alternative policies. We could have practiced containment. We could have done more to make sanctions more robust and so forth.
And second of all, I don't believe that Saddam, at that point, posed anything like a threat to our vital interests. Nuisance, yes. Problems, yes. But that's -- you know, we have those all over the world. There was nothing that I think that forced us to take action when we did, how we did. And, again, I think history will largely support that contention that it was something of a strategic distraction that did not warrant the human, military and economic costs.
But, again, a different president or a different administration, I think, you know, could have come up with different policies. And it's not even clear to me that this administration and this president, i.e., the one that did choose to go to war in 2003, would have done so absent 9/11. I mean, again, it's hard to play out history's alternatives.
But it's just not clear to me that there was -- there was no inevidentability. But aside questions of desirability and the rest, there simply wasn't inevidentability that the Gulf War led to, if you will, the Iraq War.
WOLFOWITZ: But I do think if Saddam had been removed in 1991, we wouldn't have had a second war. That's the point. (Laughter.) And on the highway-of-death point, which I mean, I certainly don't think we should have gone -- whatever metaphor you like -- shooting fish in a barrel -- it's not the American way of war to shoot people when they're retreating and running away when you've won.
But I don't think that means that we had to completely stand down. It didn't mean we had to go rushing to Safwan. And as far as objectives go, I don't memorize U.N. resolutions, and I can't get it at this distance. But that was one very broad piece in there about establishing conditions for peace and security in the region. That was the basis for disarming Saddam after the war; that is disarming him of weapons of mass destruction, and we arguably -- more than arguably -- we hadn't achieved that yet.
And there was no reason to slaughter people on the highway of death, but there was no reason to allow the Republican Guard to come back down the Euphrates Valley and, basically, another highway of death to slaughter the Shia. That's my contention.
ATKINSON: Yes, ma'am? Right here.
QUESTIONER: Lisa Gans with the International Medical Corps.
It seems that you faced a question in one context that our administration is looking at now in a different one, which is once the decision was made that the war was going to end, you decided not to remove Saddam for stability. You chose that someone that you knew was a ruthless dictator and decided to let him stay in place because that was in the interest of regional stability.
Now the Obama administration is trying to figure out how to deal with uprisings in the Middle East and whether we should be backing people that we know aren't necessarily the friendliest guys.
Do you have any insights on how we should be approaching that based on your experience?
HAASS: Can I say one thing to correct your historical statement because I think it's incorrect in two ways?
One, as Dick Kerr mentioned, the working assumption, clearly proven wrong, among I would say most policies makers was that Saddam Hussein would not survive the debacle of the Gulf War 20 years ago. It was not our desire to keep him in place. It was our assumption he would not be able to survive. And it's quite possible, as Paul suggested, that it was his intervention in putting down the two uprisings that gave him a new lease on life. So I would say that, you know, first of all.
And second of all, the reason the United States did not act against him was not because we wanted him in power for reasons of stability. We did not act against him because we were concerned about the costs of doing so; about once we began to go down that path, all the costs militarily, economically, diplomatically, what have you that we would have to pay, all the uncertainties of going down that path.
So it was not, if you will, "a positive vote," quote-unquote, associating Saddam Hussein with any version of stability. It was, again, the assumption he probably wouldn't survive and concerns about the potential costs of what it would take to get rid of him and to put something demonstrably better in his place because, again, regime change -- the ouster part is often the less difficult part.
Regime installation or encouragement to come up with something that's much stronger, enduring and demonstrably better, that's when things get difficult in many cases. And people, you know, in the administration were very aware of that.
Just to kind of correct the historical record there.
QUESTIONER: Okay. I guess I was just responding to his assertion that it was Iran and Iraq that were being balanced off of each other as regional powers that were -- neither one was desirable, but each one kept the balance in the region.
HAASS: Well, again, that was a reason for not decimating Iraq's military capabilities. And I remember we had those conversations in the deputy's committee that the goal was not, if you will, to demilitarize Iraq because, again, come back to 20 years ago. I think one of the reasons the United States did certain, quote-unquote, "tilting" towards Iraq in the years before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was concern about the Iranian revolution posed a greater threat to U.S. security interests at that time than anything Iraq did.
And it's one of the reasons we tried the various forms of so-called constructive engagement with Iraq which, in the end, didn't turn out, shall we say, the way that it was intended. It didn't bring about any sort of improvement in its behavior, to the contrary. But, again, I think it was made on a pretty hard-headed calculation that Iran, at that point, probably -- in its revolutionary phase, posed a greater objective threat to our interests --
MR.WOLFOWITZ: Richard, you're leaving something out which is it was because, in 1980, Saddam invaded Iran in a war of aggression that he failed at, and then we began to worry the Iranians will win this war, and they'll do to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia what Saddam was doing.
So it hardly is a case for Saddam as a force for stability. The defeat of Iraq would have been a bad thing, but he's the one who took us down that road initially.
HAASS: Again, I don't think anyone here is saying Saddam was a source of stability; just that the evisceration of Iraq's military was not, to me, a smart path to go down.
ATKINSON: Yes, sir? Right here.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Ken Pollack from Brookings.
I was one of Dick Kerr's military analysts back at the time. And I'd like to ask you the question that was most fearful to us at the time. And I never got a chance to ask any of you what you were thinking at the time, which is the early days of August 1990, after Saddam invaded, we were terrified that he was going to continue on into Saudi Arabia, in part, because we had just wargamed that at the Naval War College six months before, found him in the Saudi oil fields in about two days after he cleared Kuwait. And the U.S. basically sitting there with a choice between he destroys Saudi and Kuwaiti oil production, or we give in to what he's doing.
So we were terrified of that moment. And I'd love to know if you guys considered that and what you were thinking at the time because I remember we said we can't give you any more warning when he showed up in Kuwait.
KERR: Yeah. I don't think there's any question that we were -- we were also -- we weren't terrified, but we were very seriously worried about would he stop, how far would he go, what capabilities did he have. And after all, it's a little -- he overran Kuwait in hours, and he had a lot of forces sitting inside Kuwait. The Gulf States had no capability to do anything about it despite a small military force. And the Saudis on the border couldn't either.
So it was a very serious question as to how far. And the question was not that he did not have the capability to do something. Could he sustain it? I think that was one of the questions. Could he -- if he did go in, how far could he go in? What could he do? He could do damage, but he -- the ability to hold ground would have been very tough. And that's kind of what you were saying in the analysis.
So we were paying attention to the kind of analysis that you were presenting at that time and raising that as serious issues within the deputy's committee.
HAASS: I had two other concerns. I was really worried about those initial days when we started up the airlift. And I knew it would take time to get any U.S. forces in place. And my great fear was Saddam was going to use that window when he had all the forces parked in the area. He could see the beginning of this enormous wave of U.S. forces getting there, but it was awfully slow.
And there was about a couple of weeks of, I thought, extreme force inequality. And that was the period -- and my fear was it's one thing to set U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia which would be there, if you will, to deter or defend again an Iraqi attack. The idea that we were going to have to liberate Saudi Arabia was, to me, a scary thing.
Particularly, I was thinking -- coming back to John Nagl's question before -- if he had used chemicals. The idea of trying to insert a large amount of -- flow U.S. forces into Saudi Arabia in the midst of a chemical environment that, to me, was nightmare on nightmare.
The other nightmare was actually much more diplomatic, and it was actually a little bit around the table at the first NSC meeting which was the concern that some people might breathe a sigh of relief if only he didn't invade Saudi Arabia. And it was making sure that there was a consensus that everybody understood that he didn't need to invade Saudi Arabia in order to dominate Saudi Arabia.
And it wasn't really until the second NSC meeting the consensus on that point, shall we say, jelled. That, to me, was just as worrying in terms of our own decision making.
SCOWCROFT: That's right. But what our first concern was that he would move south. And, yeah, it was going to take us months, as it did, to get forces down there. But what we wanted to do initially and went to the Saudis early on about it, was could we put a few troops in Saudi Arabia that he'd have to run over in order to get down there as an deterrent. And we moved in the very early days to do that.
ATKINSON: The speed bumps of the 101st Airborne Division.
WOLFOWITZ: I remember two things from that time. One was when Secretary Cheney went to Jeddah to meet with the Saudis, we had a CIA briefer along with aerial photographs. And you looked at them and he could tell you they were tanks. They could have told you these were scorpions fighting in the desert. (Chuckles.)
And Cheney decided, look, I'm not going to say we can predict what can happen, but he precisely told King Fahd and the others we have no more warning. If Iraqis move, you'll be living in hotels like the Kuwaitis.
But the day before we went over -- I think it was the day before -- Richard, I think you were with me. They had Prince Bandar come over to be briefed by Cheney and Powell about -- the real concern was, if we impose serious sanctions on Iran -- on Iraq to force it to withdraw, then the risk of an attack increases substantially.
So the chiefs had put together a plan which was fairly substantial. And Powell briefed it thinking that it would be so big it would scare the Saudis -- sort of briefed it a little bit vaguely -- so and so many divisions, so and so many air wings.
And my memory is Bandar then said, well, about how many troops is that. And Powell, sort of fudging a little bit more, said, oh, 100,000, 200,000 or maybe around 200,000. And now maybe my memory is wrong, but my recollection is that Prince Bandar who, you know is fairly dark complexioned, almost turned white -- (chuckles) -- and then immediately said with a big smile, well, at least we know you're serious.
And I think that was extremely important, and the issue of seriousness and whether the Americans would start down the road and then back off was very much in the Saudis mind and throughout, I think.
SCOWCROFT: Well very much so. When we first thought about getting U.S. troops into Saudi Arabia, I called Bandar in. And I said we wanted to do something like this. And he says, why do we want to be helped by you. And he said, when the Shah fell, you announced you were sending F-15s over to Saudi Arabia. When they were in the air, you said they're unarmed. And you had troops in Beirut. They attacked the barracks, and you silently put the troops on the boats and sailed away. We don't like that kind of support. (Laughter.)
But we convinced him that whatever had happened before, we were serious.
ATKINSON: I'm going to have to rewrite that book. (Laughter.)
WOLFOWITZ: You mean the Saddam interview? (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: Neil Desai (ph), U.S. Marine Corps.
Based on what did happen in 2003 when Saddam fell and in the subsequent eight years, was there any discussion about what would have happened if we decided or we had to go in and take out Saddam in the Gulf War or if the insurgency then had succeeded -- what do you think would have happened in he had fallen for whatever reason? And how well prepared were we at that time to deal the consequences?
HAASS: I'm not quite sure what you're asking. It might be more for you. But I remember having endless conversations about Saddamism without Saddam and different scenarios about what would power look like, whether it would be sort of another Sunni general who would become was we used to call another autocratic, authoritarian state in the Middle East. That was sort of one set of -- I don't remember --
SCOWCROFT: That was the most likely, too, that he would be followed by another general or one of the sons.
JEREMIAH: Who you really wouldn't like.
SCOWCROFT: Which would not necessarily have been an improvement. That's right.
QUESTIONER: There was no discussion that we would have to own the country like we did subsequently and how many troops we would need?
HAASS: Yes, that was. And that was, again, one of the arguments about getting overly ambitious in the war or subsequently just because of, again, all the uncertainties and costs that that would likely entail.
There was not a lot of appetite to go down that -- I mean, I think most of the emphasis in the last bits this administration -- I mean, others worked in the Clinton administration -- was about various ways of implementing -- what was it? -- Resolution 687 -- the ceasefire resolution and dealing with all the details of that and dealing with the various Iraqi -- (inaudible).
But I don't think -- and one was always looking for different things in the covert area that could maybe bring about a change of events that would get rid of Saddam. But I don't think that was a lot of appetite, if you will, for what ultimately became, you know, U.S. policy in 2003. I don't think there was a lot of contemplation of something on that scale.
WOLFOWITZ: I think the general view was that the replacement of Saddam by another military dictator would be a huge step forward.
MR. : Yeah. It would be better.
WOLFOWITZ: That Saddam was uniquely aggressive and brutal to his own people --
SCOWCROFT: Clearly, a survivor.
WOLFOWITZ: And a survivor and his defeat also would be a salutary lesson for whoever came after him.
HAASS: Actually, I didn't share that. I was actually quite worried about Saddamism without Saddam because I thought the entire structure or super-structure of sanctions and the rest would collapse, and you could have somebody 75 percent as bad, and the world would breathe a sigh of relief and our ability to deal with an aggressive Iraq, I thought, would be dramatically diminished.
So that wasn't a scenario that filled me with comfort.
SCOWCROFT: You know, one of the things -- just as a -- I'm not sure in answer to that specific question. But one of the things I think sometimes we forget -- and I think it's true based on just my experience with the Gulf. It is an intervading process. We spent how long doing this? I mean, it was a short war, but the energy committed to doing this whole process of the buildup, of the policy. The idea of continuing it at, you know, when you're at an approximate end saying, well, let's do a lot more, let's just go do something else, is really kind of crazy.
You forget how demanding it is on the people and how wearing it is on the decision makers and on the military and on the -- and, as the admiral was saying, they were pushing forces -- really pushing them to the point where they needed -- they needed some relief.
So I think it's important to keep that in the back of our mind. These are not casual things that you do and somehow get out of real easy. They are very demanding.
ATKINSON: Sir, right there?
QUESTIONER: Jim Gilmore, Gilmore Global Group and Free Congress Foundation.
So far, all the discussion has almost been about America talking to itself about this and maybe some consultation with the Saudis about this.
What about the other great powers in the world? You didn't get a veto with the U.N. What were the attitudes at this point of the Russians, the Chinese, French, the English, the Germans about this? And did it have an influence on your policy making?
SCOWCROFT: Well, we had pretty broad support. The most difficult ones where the Chinese. And in Baker's trip around to consult all the members of the Security Council on a resolution, the Chinese were very complicated because the Chinese don't like intervention in anybody's affairs because that's an example to them.
And we finally got the Chinese to agree on abstention rather than veto. But the community -- we had, what? -- 31, 32 members of the -- military members of the coalition, some of them with just a hospital squad or something. But there was a great outpouring of support both in the U.N., NATO and military alliance.
There was some tactical scratchiness among some of the forces in the region but nothing strategically.
JEREMIAH: But you could hardly find a country that was more thoroughly disliked than Iraq in the Middle East and elsewhere. I mean, it was -- it did not have friends. It was common referred to as the thugs by most of the Middle East. So, you know, it is not a country that's beloved and people are going to stand up for.
WOLFOWITZ: The Saudis were very active, too, which I assume had to be check-book diplomacy. But Bandar was running all over the world and, I think, with some real effect.
HAASS: Also, what was at issue here was, perhaps, to the extent there's any consensus in international relations, it's over the right of the self-defense and the idea that states ought not to simply invade and acquire other states. And it's one of the reasons that made assembling this coalition possible. And it's also one of the reasons this really wasn't much of a precedent for international relations because most other cases in international relations in history tend to be grayer and muddier. And this was such a stark case and, actually, I think it brought with it, therefore, the potential to build a coalition, though I also think the secretary of State and the president and a few others deserve an awful lot of credit.
MR. : Trying to keep the Russians from mucking things up was --
SCOWCROFT: The Russians were a special case, you know. Iraq was a kind of a client state of the Russians. And Shevardnadze, very early, stepped up to the plate and stood in a joint press conference with the secretary of State and said, you know, this is aggression.
And then the Soviets supported -- but Gorbachev -- we had a summit meeting in Helsinki in September, and Gorbachev was back peddling and Shevardnadze pushed him on and so on. They were pretty good until Shevardnadze left in December. And then they started putting out all kinds of --
HAASS: Primakov then got into the --
SCOWCROFT: Primakov, who was the agent of support for Iraq. So they were pretty fractious. But that was a very different reason.
WOLFOWITZ: And Saddam was terrifically helpful. Remember how he took that little British boy -- I think he was British -- and patted him on the cheek? That was not good diplomacy.
And toward the end, my recollection is that the ground campaign was about to begin. Meteron (ph) was trying to stall it off and get more time. And my memory is that Bob Gates walked in the deputy's committee is said, well, Saddam has done it again; he's torched the oil fields in Kuwait. And that's the end of the discussion with Meteron (ph).
QUESTIONER: Steve Sestanovich at the Council.
I'd like to get the group to talk about domestic politics because, as important as the deputy's committee was -- (laughter) -- there were other factors.
From the beginning, did you assume this would be domestically controversial which, of course, it was? Close vote in the Senate. And what was the strategy for overcoming opposition, and what were the turning points? How did it -- how did this play out? We sometimes forget how much opposition there was.
HAASS: Part of the strategy --
SCOWCROFT: There's no short answer to that one.
HAASS: Well, part of the strategy was going to the international community first. The sequence was important. And we actually -- it's an interesting comment on the domestic politics is we thought we had a better chance of getting support in the U.N. for going to war than we thought we did in the U.S. Congress.
And we thought our chances in the U.S. Congress would go up if we came with not just a U.S. position but an international position. And it worked but barely. It's interesting, in retrospect, to go back and read a lot of the accounts which I did when I wrote my own book. And you sort of -- you know, the predictions were wildly off the mark on how expensive this was going to be in every sense of the word expensive.
The predictions, you know, that we were sending to tens of thousands of young men and women to their deaths and all that. And a lot of fairly, you know, hawkish people even in the Senate were not prepared to -- I remember most of the testimony was extraordinarily critical. I think it was in front of the Armed Services Committee that the witnesses that had been called.
One of the questions, you know, that we've talked about a lot is what would have happened had the administration lost the vote in the Senate. And at the time -- and I don't think it's making up history again, you know, but my hunch is the president would have gone ahead anyhow because the administration made it very clear it was never asking for authorization.
If you read the resolution -- from the administration's point of view, it was looking for approval. The administration felt it had all the authority it needed implicit in Article 51 of the U.N. Charter and all that. It was never asking Congress for authority. And so I will believe -- you know, I'll take it to my grave that this president would have gone ahead regardless, and he would have risked impeachment. And my hunch is he would have survived. Of course, things had come out well.
And if things had come out badly and he'd gone ahead without congressional support, he could have faced an extraordinarily difficult impeachment. But I really do think he would have done it regardless.
ATKINSON: In order to build consensus, he couched the potential war in moral terms, and he said nothing of this importance has occurred since World War II. Those were his words.
Was that overstating it? Did that come back to haunt him in some way?
SCOWCROFT: I'm not aware it came back to haunt him, but this was a very important issue all the way through. And, first, you know, our first strategy was to get troops into Saudi Arabia to prevent an incursion into the Saudi oil fields. Then, as we had enough troops to do that, we kept the buildup going, and that caused an outcry in the Congress. And then that was also the debate is, well, what does it take to drive Saddam out. Do we have to have another action? Would action by the United States be aggression rather than not?
There were all of these kinds of things which occupied us during the entire fall. Does the president have authority? I think we all agreed the president did have authority, as Richard said.
But Senator Nunn called special hearings which roundly denounced what it was we were doing. But I think -- my sense is that the opposition was centered in the Congress and that we had pretty broad support in the country at large.
KERR: One of the major issues was -- actually came to CIA which, of course, tries to stay out of the domestic -- but the issue was would sanctions work. And that was an issue -- a very contentious issue because that was the kind of core issue that the Congress was dealing with.
Will they work? Can't you just hang onto sanctions -- more sanctions? So we spent an enormous amount of time looking at the whole sanctions issue broadly. Had it ever worked? When did it work? Under what circumstances? And was it working then?
And that was a major effort on the part of the agency.
WOLFOWITZ: My memory could be wrong -- is that Senator Lugar was arguing strongly for a resolution and saying it's going to be a close vote, but you can win it, and it's much better to go to war with essentially a declaration of war than without the Congress with you.
SCOWCROFT: I think that's true. And President Bush himself recalls that he read Lyndon Johnson --
SCOWCROFT: -- on Vietnam in determining -- and he decided that he wanted to go for a resolution.
HAASS: And your boss, at the time if I recall correctly, argued against going for a resolution.
WOLFOWITZ: I think that's right. (Laughter.)
MR. : Yeah.
ATKINSON: We've got time for a couple of more questions. Right here, sir? Right there with the -- there you go.
QUESTIONER: Jim Mann at Johns Hopkins SAIS. Well, let me ask a different domestic political question.
In retrospect, it's sometimes said that the 1992 election went to the Democrats because the country now felt no longer threatened on national security grounds. Did you all -- when you look back now, did the war succeed too well? Was it too early? (Laughter.) When you look back, how -- I'll stipulate you weren't thinking about politics then. But think back 20 years.
SCOWCROFT: It's quite possible. I don't know. We did not think of that. President Bush was immensely popular right after the war -- immensely. I think his popularity rating went up in the 80s, almost 90 percent.
ATKINSON: It was comparable to Truman's at the end of World War II.
SCOWCROFT: Yeah. But it didn't last because America's attention turned to domestic issues. And, you know, when his opposition, Governor Clinton, said it's the economy, stupid, it worked.
WOLFOWITZ: Democracies aren't big on gratitude. They want to know what you're doing for me tomorrow. (Laughter.)
ATKINSON: Sir, you've got the last word. And this is a reminder that everything you've said is on the record.
SCOWCROFT: Now you say it. (Laughter.)
WOLFOWITZ: Too late. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: Don Cook, I'm with the State Department.
And I have two things I want to put out for comment. First off, you talk about how low the Iraqis were. And I really got the impression that the Kuwaitis hadn't made a lot of friends in the world either.
The second one is that I find it interesting that we're talking about all of public support, private support, et cetera, and no one has really talked about this in the context of the Vietnam War and the hangover from the Vietnam War and how this was really -- outside of Grenada, perhaps -- the first serious conflict that we were going to get into in the post-Vietnam War period and how that affected people's decision-making process and the consideration for support in the U.S. public.
SCOWCROFT: Well, the Korean War and the Vietnam War came into it in one way. The president asked me to look at our experience of other conflicts in -- during the Cold War and what conclusions we could come to.
From Korea, we came to the conclusion that just because you're doing well doesn't mean you should change your objectives. And in Vietnam, what seemed to become clear is set your objectives, understand what they are, understand what the costs are, understand how achievable they are rather than incrementalize each decision as a unique decision.
And so I think all of those -- all of those we had in mind. And it's hard to say exactly how they place, but they did influence the debate.
KERR: You know, one thing I wanted to mention this because I think the Desert Storm -- this war fundamentally changed the Central Intelligence Agency, its role, its mission, its involvement in a way that is rather remarkable because it ended up -- this is the first time that the military -- where the military -- not the first time because you have Vietnam and you have Korea and you have Libya and you have some other instances.
But prior to, you know, the 1980s, the first Reagan administration, CIA was kind of the point of the spear. It carried out a lot of the wars through surrogates, through covert action and through supporting Afghanistan, you know, and Angola and all over the world.
This war changed that, and this war put CIA much more as a support element for the military. I think it changed it fundamentally. The National Photographic Interpretation Center was moved to the military. The office of development and engineering which developed satellites for CIA during the Cold War moved to the NRO or NPIC to the new --
So from a CIA perspective, it was a fundamental change, I think very interesting change, one that I don't think people have really recognized because CIA then became just one of several intelligence organizations, primarily analytic and covert and clandestine operations.
But it didn't run all that rest of the mechanism. That kind of went to the military. And Desert Storm was a major cause of that.
HAASS: I'm interested in David's reaction to the question because I remember President Bush at the time publicly talked about kicking the Vietnam syndrome. He used a phrase along those lines.
And on one level, I thought he was right because the administration decided to go to war each though we didn't know the costs would be as low as turned out to be. And the popularity of the troops and all that was fundamentally different than the experience in Vietnam.
But it seems to me, subsequently, with the experiences in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I think it's fairer to ask the question was this war typical or atypical, and did it really end the Vietnam syndrome once and for all. And I don't think it's that clear, and I actually think because of its relative brevity and clarity and success, in some ways, it was almost uncharacteristic as a war, certainly compared to Iraq and Afghanistan which are much more akin in certain ways to Vietnam and duration and cost and so forth.
So I think it's a more nuanced answer as to what were, if you will, the domestic political effects of the Gulf War.
WOLFOWITZ: I think it's important to say, because we forget, this was the first major war we had fought with an all-volunteer force at least since World War I and probably since the American Revolution. And if you remember what the U.S. military was like at the end of Vietnam, it was thoroughly broken. And it's amazing what was done over those 16 years, but there was really no way to know in advance that it was going to perform that well, and the jointness, which was a product of Goldwater-Nichols would work as well as it did.
So it's really, I think, a tribute to the people who stayed with the military during that difficult period and rebuilt it.
JEREMIAH: Just to put a little scale on it, we went into Sicily in World War II with 150,000 people. We went into Iraq with 700,000. We kind of didn't want to lose this one. (Laughter.) But the military has changed enormously over this period of time in 20 years that we've been in one kind of war or another, but it started with Desert Storm.
In Desert Storm, we were still talking about corps and division. Today, we talk about battalion and brigade. We had F-22s that have been in six or seven incarnations since they were first planned to accommodate the changes and the characteristics of the wars that we are fighting. Carrier battle groups are a thing that you use as shorthand today. They have no relationship to the reality of the range and scope of the weapons that are inherent, and the surface combatants of a battle group was a concentric circle with a bull's eye on it when I was a youngster. Today, the same kind of ships would be able to control the airspace over the Mediterranean without any particular difficulty.
A tremendous change in technology, but really a change with the volunteer force. And the scary thing, I think, is what we see over the horizon; what your folks have written about, and that's where we're going with cyber because it attacks all of the strengths that we have. It is not only in the military but in the civilian side, and it is a serious, serious threat to the United States. It absolutely goes against the symmetry -- or is an asymmetrical attack against the strengths of the United States.
ATKINSON: Paul, last word.
WOLFOWITZ: Well, okay. Brent said something, I think, very important earlier that history doesn't reveal its alternatives. And we don't know what this war prevented.
In the case of Munich and the disasters in the 1930s, we know what the allies failed to prevent, and it was a horrible war. I think that, if Saddam had been allowed to keep Kuwait and then intimidate the rest of the Arabian Peninsula and lord knows what else, I think we would have had a much bigger war on much less favorable terms.
But we'll never know that, but I do think the president's courage in saying I don't care about the Vietnam syndrome, I know I might be impeached, this is very important, we're moving ahead -- I just think he deserves even more credit than he tends to get.
ATKINSON: Thank you for your attentiveness and your very fine questions. And please join me in thanking the five speakers. (Applause.)
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