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Benador Associates Public Relations

Transcript of Iraq Seminar with Richard Perle
Sponsored by Benador Associates

February 13, 2003

Regency Hotel
New York City
Thursday, 13 February 2003

RICHARD PERLE: Thank you for taking time out of busy schedules to be here.

I'm not going to try to make the argument for military action to enforce UN resolutions; let me just state that if we fail to do so, if we go from a 17th to an 18th resolution and then a 19th resolution, the UN will continue to dismantle itself, not brick-by-brick, but resolution-by-resolution. At some point, if resolutions are not enforced, they become meaningless, and I'm tempted to suggest that we're already past that point and what's needed now is an urgent rescue of the honor and integrity of the United Nations itself.

I want to comment on a couple of immediate issues. First, the question of inspections and whether more time for inspectors can achieve the purposes to which the members of the United Nations have committed themselves. Second, it might be useful to talk about the diplomatic turbulence that we're now experiencing as the French and the Germans and as a kind of caboose to that train, the Belgians express themselves in ways that are to say the least uncooperative. So let me start with those two topics.

Inspections

In my view -- by the way, forgive me, I should have said at the outset that everything I say here represents my own view. I have no official position that would entitle me to speak for the administration. My friends in the administration would be horrified if they thought I had such an entitlement. I don't clear anything I say with anyone so these are my views and they're not necessarily the same as the administration's views.

In my view, the right thing for Hans Blix to have said and done when, on December 7th, Saddam's regime handed over a false declaration about Iraqi holdings of weapons of mass destruction, was to proclaim that there was no appropriate mission for the inspectors and, therefore, the inspections would not begin until Saddam had done what he is obliged to do under UN resolution 1441, which is account for the differences between an inventory of weapons of mass destruction that had been compiled by the previous UN inspectors and what Saddam claimed to have on hand on December 7th. But, of course, Saddam didn't do that and rather than explain what happened to the Sarin gas and the VX gas and the botulinum and the variety of chemical and biological weapons that we know he possesses, rather than do that he simply said, "We have nothing that we are not entitled to have." Therefore, there was no sensible basis upon which inspections could proceed because inspections were never intended to ferret out hidden stocks of weapons of mass destruction in a country as large as Iraq where there are literally millions of structures that could house the toxins, the chemicals, the delivery means and the other prohibited instruments of war. So there was no mission for the inspectors.

Unfortunately, Hans Blix chose, rather than clarify this point at the outset, to send inspection teams on a fruitless goose chase, returning to sites that had been inspected previously before the expulsion of the inspectors and because they, understandably, returned without having found anything, this created the impression that perhaps there was nothing to be found. That, in turn, has led some people to suggest that because the inspectors have thus far not been able to find things, they should be given more time and possibly even more inspectors so that they can in fact find the things that have been hidden.

Let me suggest to you that the inspectors will find nothing of consequence, nothing that Saddam doesn't wish them to find because he controls the territory absolutely, because everything of interest has been hidden and some things of particular interest have even been made mobile so that even if we knew the location, that information would be valid only at the instant at which it was achieved and, therefore, inspections will not produce results, not now, not a month from now, not a year from now, not with the hundred inspectors he now has, not with a thousand inspectors, not I dare say with ten or twenty thousand inspectors. What's the size of the New York City Police Department? A hundred inspectors in a country the size of California and Massachusetts put together with a little bit left over? It's an impossible task.

The suggestion that the United Nations can acquit itself and act on its repeated resolutions by granting more time or increasing the number of inspectors -it is simply a dilatory tactic. It is a tactic for delay, it is a tactic for shirking the responsibilities that the United Nations itself previously accepted. It's nothing more than that, and no one should be under any illusion that the French proposal, I gather, endorsed by the Germans and maybe it will be endorsed by others, no one should be under any illusion that this is a serious proposal that contemplates a solution to the problem of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. It is not serious and it is certainly not a solution.

Diplomatic activity

This brings me to the second point, which is the current diplomatic activity. I think it's important to distinguish between German policy and French policy and important to note in both cases that we are talking about the policy of the Chancellor in the German case and the French President in the case of France. I can tell you -- and I can't name them, of course -- that I've had quite senior French and German officials say to me that they're appalled at the policies on which their countries have embarked, partly because they understand that there can be no happy outcome from the pursuit of those policies, partly because there is such an appalling lack of professionalism in the way these policies have been adopted and implemented, and partly because in some cases they simply believe the policy to be wrong.

In the German case, there is strong evidence that the Chancellor, in his bid for reelection, tried hard to improve his standing in a group within the German electorate where he was falling below the anticipated numbers. The group, as I understand it, was women in the 25 to 40 age category. The Germans, like us, now conduct their elections with extensive polling. That's the antithesis of leadership and I'm sorry to say we all do it. But they used scientific polling of the high quality and discovered that within this cohort, a certain percentage of which was necessary to achieve an electoral victory, they were falling behind and so several things were tried. I think there was a day care initiative that fell flat. There was a second program that was meant to appeal on the basis of polling data to women in that group and that kind of fell flat too. So they hit on appealing to the antiwar sentiment, the pacifist sentiment if you will, that was present in that group in the population and more broadly to be fair and there was a little surge in the polls and it was repeated and there was a further surge in the polls and it became the chancellor's policy to elicit the strongest possible constituency among people who were alarmed at the prospect of war, frightened at the prospect of war, opposed to military action to deal with Saddam Hussein, and he painted himself into a corner, a corner so extreme that it became the chancellor's policy that Germany would not participate in a military action against Saddam Hussein even if the United Nations mandated such a doctrine. It was precisely the sort of unilateralism of which the United States is frequently accused: separating himself completely from any possible international consensus. We should be under no illusion about it; this must have been a source of some comfort to Saddam Hussein, sitting in Baghdad and receiving reports from his ambassadors about a fracture in the Western alliance.

I was recently in Munich for the International Security Conference, and a number of Germans said to me: 'We understand that if we're going to maximize pressure on Saddam, if we're going to increase the prospect that there can be a non-military solution to the problem he poses, he has to believe that his removal is inevitable,' and when the German government or any other government appears to stand in the way of the momentum of that military action it makes it less likely that we will get a peaceful solution.

Now, the French motivations, I think, are different. Let's be candid about it. France has found a way of dealing with Saddam Hussein that simply wouldn't work for the United States because it entails a degree of cooperation that is not acceptable for us. The commercial relationship between France and Saddam's regime is on hold owing to the sanctions but I think it's clear that the moment the sanctions are removed there is a pipeline of contracts that would be promulgated and they're important for France. We shouldn't kid ourselves, they're important for France.

It's my understanding that the Total contract with Saddam is worth $40 billion to $60 billion. This is not your ordinary oil exploration contract, and I've been told by people who have analyzed it that it is extraordinarily lopsided in favor of the French company at the expense of the interests of the people of Iraq, whose oil that rightly is to be exploited. So there are commercial interests and for those people who accuse the United States in being interested in oil in this matter, I submit to you that our interest in oil is in purchasing it on the world market. That could best be accomplished by lifting the sanctions, hardly by going to war against Saddam Hussein. The French interest in the promulgation of contracts that will only go forward with this regime is perfectly obvious.

But there's a second French attitude that I think we have to come to grips with and understand and that is the desire on the part of France to build the European Union as a counterweight to the United States. Counterweight is the term most frequently employed by the French, by Chris Patten in Brussels and by others.

For a long time the United States and France have been allies. Good allies. Vital to each other's security at many times in our history and never in the period in which we were allies who supported one another did either of us think of describing the other as a counterweight. A relationship that can be described by the term counterweight is not a relationship of alliance.

France remains a formal ally of the United States within NATO. It is not integrated into the military structure of NATO. We frequently discuss sensitive security matters in NATO in the North Atlantic Council in which France is represented. France is not represented in the defense planning committee of NATO. That is made up of all the members of NATO except France - all the members who are part of the integrated military structure - and what we have seen in recent days, a French blocking of assistance to Turkey, an unsuccessful blocking, by the way, because Turkey will get the assistance it needs, unilaterally if necessary. What we have seen in that French behavior in blocking a normal action by NATO that expresses the very soul of the alliance which is that we come to the protection of one another when we're in danger, that may well drive the United States to pursue its principal dialogue within the defense planning committee rather than the knack and it is worth rethinking whether it is right or fair or reasonable to accord France all of the privileges of membership in the integrated military structure when they are in fact not part of the integrated military structure.

I say this sadly because I have enormous affection for France and for the French people. I think this is a policy -- this current policy -- that is President Chirac's policy and any number of French officials have taken me aside to say exactly that. It would be a tragedy if this policy were permitted to do the damage that it has the potential to do to the Western alliance and I have a feeling that the dismissive tone with which the French President and the German Chancellor reacted to a letter signed by Italy and Portugal and Spain and Denmark and others, that dismissive tone will cause the leaders of those countries, who knew exactly what they were doing, who wanted to associate themselves with a serious policy at the United Nations to deal with Saddam Hussein, I think the response of France and Germany will now cause them to consider how important NATO really is to them. Because the alternative is to have their policies shaped by a Franco-German alliance within the European Union, and that may simply not give full expression to the attitudes of those countries on a variety of issues. So it may well be the case that we are witnessing history in the making in the transatlantic relationship and that this epiphany, if I can call it that, will precipitate serious rethinking about whether the ambition of a common European policy is in the interest of Europeans beyond simply the French under Jacques Chirac and the Germans under Gerhardt Schroeder. That's probably inflammatory enough and I suppose I should stop and respond to questions.

Question: We were given the impression that the mood against the war in Iraq is sort of confined to German women of a certain age. However, if you look at the polls, even people in Italy and Great Britain are against the war more than 50%.

RICHARD PERLE: I recognize that there is very substantial sentiment against war and there always will be and we should be grateful for that. You know, if in any of our democracies we are ever eager to go to war, that would be a tragedy. The argument has to be made. The balancing of risks has to be sustainable and understandable. We should never go to war lightly, so I didn't mean to create the impression that we were talking only about the electoral target of the German Chancellor's campaign, but I do believe that at that moment, despite the broader antiwar sentiment, there was a focus on a certain group within the German population. So, yes, of course.

If the German government does not explain to the German people what is at issue, it's not unreasonable to assume that antiwar sentiment will prevail. In the absence of a serious debate, the default position is opposition to war, of course. But I don't believe that there has been a serious, balanced discussion in Germany about the risks posed by Saddam Hussein, and let me elaborate on that.

As I said, I was in Munich at the 39th International Security Conference and in the course of that conference for the first time, I think, [chairwoman of Germany's Christian Democratic Union] Angela Merkel made a pretty clear and pretty impressive statement in support of the American position and [Bavarian Prime Minister] Edmund Steuber, who had waffled, to be blunt about it, during the campaign, made a statement that evening that was a pretty firm and pretty clear statement and the Germans present at that meeting - a great many parliamentarians and others - all observed that we were seeing a change in the internal debate within Germany and we were beginning to see the emergence of statements of support for the American position within Germany. So I think now we may get the debate that we didn't have before.

Maybe I didn't make myself clear. You're having this debate everywhere, not only in Germany. I think in Britain the number of people who are against the war is rising, so don't you think you have more problems in Europe that you are willing to admit?

RICHARD PERLE: There is no question that there is a great deal of antiwar sentiment and it is to the credit of Prime Minister Blair that despite that antiwar sentiment, he is leading in the direction that he believes is right for his country, and this president is leading the United States in the direction that he believes is right for this country. The lesson of history is if leaders don't lead and if they simply follow sentiment, terrible mistakes can be made. The sentiment in the United Kingdom before the last war was so hostile to military action that it even became hostile to military preparations and we saw the result of that. So I make no apology for the fact that public opinion is not solidly behind the thinking of the American president or the British Prime Minister, or [Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio] Berlusconi or [Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Maria] Aznar and others. There is leadership in Europe and there is a failure of leadership in Europe, if I could put it that way.

Question: There seems to be a very strong sentiment against a war all over Europe, against war at any cost, more than it was in Kosovo and Afghanistan. How come? How has Europe come into this state of mind against war at any cost?

RICHARD PERLE: Well, I think you fairly describe a segment of opinion in Europe. This isn't the first time we've seen pacifist sentiment in Europe and as I said, I think the default attitude in democracies is opposition to war. The decision to go to war, the decision to use force, can only follow serious and informed debate and there's not a lot of serious and informed debate on this in Europe now.

I know, having spent a great deal of time in Europe in the last several weeks, talking to audiences, that again and again and again, people have said, "Well, why aren't we hearing this? Why haven't we heard this argument before?" I can't explain the failure to get our case across and I acknowledge that we've had enormous difficulty getting our case across.

There's one other element here and I think we need to recognize that Americans and American leaders feel threatened and recognize the threat we face in a way quite different from others who may not feel or judge the threat in quite the same way, and that's perfectly understandable. This country was attacked on September 11th. There is a steady flow of intelligence that confirms again and again and again the intention of some fanatics to destroy Americans whenever they get an opportunity to do so, and to do so in ever more ambitious ways. If they could deliver a nuclear weapon or a biological or a chemical weapon against those of us in this room and those around us in this city, they would do so and they would do it without hesitation.

I would be surprised if someone over coffee and apple cake in Oslo would feel similarly threatened. So we shouldn't expect our European friends and allies to share the sense of apprehension that we have as a result of September 11th.

September 11th did something of enormous importance for the sensibility of American policymakers and this President in particular. The lesson of September 11th in my view was that it is possible to wait too long to deal with a known threat. On September 10th we knew what was going on in Afghanistan. We may not have known that Mohammed Atta had already bought a ticket and arrived in this country for the purpose of flying an airplane into the World Trade Center, but we knew that there were thousands of people in camps in Afghanistan being trained for terrorist action against us. We knew that they had carried out terrorist acts in the past. We observed them from space. We heard their conversations. We knew there was a threat and we didn't act. Had we acted on September 10th, not only would September 11th have been averted, but because the Al-Qaida organization and its Taliban protectors were in one place, we might well have destroyed much, perhaps nearly all of that vicious network. But we didn't. The decision was made not to act and by the time we did after September 11th, what we could well have done before, they were dispersed and now we will be chasing them around the world for years to come and we'll live with a degree of jeopardy that would not have been the case otherwise. I promise you if we had gone to the world, to our European allies, to say, 'We want to carry out a preventive attack against the Taliban in Afghanistan,' the polls would have been as opposed to that as they are opposed to taking action against Iraq. We would have never had a political consensus in favor of it. So it wasn't even considered. We can no longer tolerate the risks involved in watching threats develop and failing to take action against them, and that's the lesson of September 11th.

Question: I'm intrigued by your sense of injury that anyone would suggest that the power of the US should be counterweighted in world affairs, and in that context, do you have a sense that, perhaps, we all missed a golden opportunity during the 1990's at the end of the Cold War to renovate, to reinvent the institutions, the treaties and forums of international diplomacy that might have made resolution of the various crisis that we face at the moment an easier, a more simple and more fair-minded task?

RICHARD PERLE: No, I think I don't agree with the underlying view and let me explain why.

My point about the counterweight is not that we expect our allies to agree with us on every issue and to follow us blindly. It's perfectly understandable that within a healthy alliance there will be differences. It is the idea of an institutional structure that makes Europe a counterweight. The idea that there's something fundamental about balancing and neutralizing one another, that's what's so troubling, because it doesn't say we may disagree and we reserve the right to disagree, it says, "We are going to position ourselves as a counterweight" and that's very different.

But I think what you're suggesting is that we had an opportunity in the 1990's to build an international structure that would have permitted us to deal more effectively and peacefully with the likes of Saddam Hussein and with others, perhaps the North Koreans or the Iranians or Qaddafi. It's a long list. I rather doubt that, and I doubt it because I think the model of international order that says, in effect, 'Let's get everyone to agree with some broad international treaties and conventions. We'll get everyone to sign up to the idea that no one should have chemical weapons,' for example, the idea that that is going to seriously mitigate the threat of chemical weapons I think is simply quite wrong and, indeed, there is a chemical weapons convention and when countries sign up for it, it eases international commerce in chemicals. So Iran signs up as a member of the convention on chemical weapons. Now, do you believe that's going to restrain the development of chemical weapons in Iran? I don't. Iraq was a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty. That's why Iraq got lots of help in building its so-called peaceful nuclear capability. It was on the strength of that justification that the French - Jacques Chirac to be precise - transferred a nuclear enrichment facility for plutonium to France.

So the idea that if we all get together and we sign these agreements, we can all operate quite freely and openly and cooperatively, has to be tested against the history, and the history is that these agreements have been exploited by North Korea, by Iraq, by Iran, not to forestall the acquisition of these terrible weapons but to facilitate it.

We could go through each of the other agreements that you have in mind. Let me just suggest that there is an alternative model. It's not the model that says get everyone, good guys and bad guys, to sign the same piece of paper and hope that that restrains the bad guys; it's to recognize that there are a number of states and sometimes organizations that are not states, but a number of states - we all know who they are - who don't mean us well, who would like to have weapons of mass destruction and maybe the rest of us should get together to restrain them, not ask them to join some international convention but act to prevent them. I call this the 'posse approach' for want of a better term. You know, let's get the guys together and go stop them one way or another including by diplomatic incentive. We don't always have to use force. So it's a different approach. It's a different model and the multinational model was the model of the last administration and they pushed it to a very large degree. I think that's part of our problem in Europe, frankly. Our European friends have become accustomed to the globalism of the previous administration, to the acceptance of this model that you get everybody together and get them to sign agreements and everything is going to be fine and we had eight years of that, and those agreements in the end did not and in my view will not restrain the Qaddafis and the Saddam Husseins or the Mullahs in Iran.

Question: Turkey was a prominent member of the coalition during the first war and the Gulf War, but that cost Turkey a lot politically, socially and financially, in the amount of $80 billion to $100 billion. Now Turkey again finds itself the partner of the probable Iraqi war. How could the probable losses to Turkey be taken care of and by whom?

My second question is all that Turkey has Patriot missiles from NATO partners to defend itself, yet Baghdad told the Turkish government yesterday that they have no intention of attacking Turkey. Do you think that they plan to attack Turkey when the war breaks out?

RICHARD PERLE: Well, to take the second question first, if I had to choose between Patriots that could intercept Saddam if he's lying or his word, I would go for the Patriots.

On the question of the burden that Turkey has borne as a result of the first Gulf War, President [Turgut] Ozal was immediate in his response when Saddam Hussein sent his military forces into Kuwait and conquered and occupied that country. It was clear. The international community could not tolerate an invasion of that type without exposing everyone else to grave danger, and so he did the right thing. I don't think there's any doubt about it, and I think he would have done it under any circumstances. He was a real leader and a marvelous man. He understood what needed to be done.

Now, what turned out to be so costly for Turkey was not the war itself, it was the relationship between Iraq and Turkey and, indeed, Iraq and the rest of the world that followed because of the sanctions and the embargo. That's what did the damage to Turkey. Do you want to continue the sanctions and the embargo? Continue a situation in which Iraq, which is a natural trading partner for Turkey, will be unable to be a trading partner, or do you want to end the regime that stands in the way of a normal relationship?

The Turkish interest is overwhelming in seeing Saddam out of there and participating in the reconstruction of Iraq, and Turkey is well-positioned to do that in terms of its industrial and other strengths and skills and proximity and all the rest. So Turks ought to look at the removal of Saddam not as a further burden but as an opportunity and an important opportunity to end this abnormal situation that has existed since 1991.

Question: My question is, Secretary Powell last week stated that the American window in Iraq could fundamentally reshape the Middle East in a positive way. What will happen in your mind the day after, and what will happen to the countries like Iran, Syria, and Lebanon after the war. And why the United States is not putting as much pressure on Israel as on Iraq to disarm?

RICHARD PERLE: Let me take the second question first. We are not concerned that the Israelis are going to use weapons of mass destruction against us or against anyone for that matter. Israel doesn't pose a threat to the United States and we are sympathetic to the Israeli plight in having to deal with daily acts of terror. So the situations are entirely different, although I understand that it's popular in some places in the world to suggest that there's a double standard here and if the Israelis ever behaved like Saddam Hussein, we might think differently about Israel.

On the first question, wars always produce change, sometimes significant change - internal and external - and let me tell you what I would hope would result from the successful removal of Saddam Hussein and his replacement by a decent regime. I would hope, first, that the Iranian people clearly would prefer a decent government, a government that doesn't dictate every aspect of their lives, would be inspired by the removal of Saddam Hussein, who is a symbol of longevity in the region. We've got to hand it to him, he's lasted a long time, longer than the president who defeated him. He's a symbol of defiance of the international community. I would think young Iranians would be inspired by seeing an icon like Saddam Hussein removed from office and maybe they will summon the means to remove the mullahs from office who are ruining their young lives.

I would hope that it would lead to the liberation of Lebanon from Syria - the heavy-handed Syrian presence in Lebanon cannot be welcome by the Lebanese people. I would hope that it would enable us to talk to Bashar Assad, for example, about terrorists in Damascus in the Bekaa Valley with greater authority.

I was talking to someone this morning and said, 'Imagine that you've got a diplomatic assignment which is go talk to the Syrians about their support for terrorism. Would you rather do it today or would you rather wait until Saddam has been removed and then go and talk to him? He said, well of course he'd rather wait after. The consequences of the removal of Saddam, I think, will be important for the region as a whole. It will do something else. It will show that the patronizing view of Muslims which deep down says they're not fit for democracy and we shouldn't take risks to try to encourage democratic development in the Arab world is wrong. I think we will see the Iraqis put together a decent government and move in the direction of democracy, and that has enormous implications for the Arab world in the region as a whole.

Finally, the peace process in the region has certainly not been aided by Saddam's writing checks for suicide bombers and exhorting all Muslims to resist any peace with Israel. So I would think that the whole climate in which diplomacy might move forward would be enormously improved by his removal.

Now, it could go wrong. I don't deny that and I've given you an optimistic view. In this optimistic view, I believe that the United States will be welcomed as a liberator of Iraq from Saddam Hussein and that will change the politics of the region and it may even change the politics in Germany. I mean the 60% who are now antiwar who have followed the chancellor in this regard, what will they think and what will they say if my optimistic view turns out to be right, Saddam is removed and the Iraqi people say, in effect, 'Why didn't you liberate us sooner?' We hear stories and we will hear the stories about what life has been like under Saddam Hussein. We will find the chemical and biological weapons and remove them from their hiding places and Iraq will be on a path to decent governance. Will the chancellor say we were right to oppose regime change under any circumstances? Will the French president say we were right to do everything we could to stop this war of liberation? I'm not so sure. I think the results will have profound political implications in the region and around the world.

Question: My question is, you make this case for war that seems very, very articulate and very, very clear. Why has the administration had such a difficult problem in articulating the war aims? Why has there not been this kind of effective and articulate diplomacy and why can't that take place without the invective against our European allies? I can understand the argument against the French and German positions but I can't understand the behavior of Donald Rumsfeld.

RICHARD PERLE: Well, I'm happy to defend my friend, Donald Rumsfeld. He has been trying to put these issues in front of not only Americans who are paying attention but in front of the Europeans themselves. He did that in Munich. He made, I thought, a compelling argument. After it was all over, Joschka Fischer said, 'I am not convinced.' You may have seen the television clips. By the way, it was the only thing he said in English in the entire presentation and you've got to hand it to Fischer, he's shrewd. I mean, he's giving a speech in German, he stops, he looks at the cameras and he gives the sound bite in English and, of course, everybody sees the sound bite in English. What they didn't see was a rambling, incoherent 25-minute diatribe that make Don Rumsfeld look like a paragon of diplomacy. Rumsfeld has been putting the argument forward in a straightforward way and we've become so accustomed to the artful language of diplomacy in which all the edges get rounded and the essential truth has to be adjusted to people's diplomatic expectations and you don't want to be offensive, and I think that stands in the way of serious debate and serious education. So I admire the way Rumsfeld has carried on this debate. I wouldn't use the term 'invective,' although I guess I made it clear that we have reason to complain about French and German policy and I think we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to the people of France and Germany to be clear about this. It's got to be debated in those countries and they have to hear how we are reacting to what their governments are doing.

Question: I'd like to ask you how you feel about the role of Russia as we move to a war in Iraq.

RICHARD PERLE: One of the benefits of the end of the Cold War is that President Putin will make a measured response to this situation. I think he'll look at the Russian interest and conclude that the Russian interest is not in propping up Saddam Hussein. There are long-standing relations. There are debts between Iraq and Russia. They're never going to collect that debt from Saddam Hussein so the immediate economic benefits, I think, are pretty clear that a new regime in Baghdad is far more likely to deal fairly and reasonably with Russia than Saddam Hussein. So I expect President Putin will not object to military action when it becomes clear that there is no other way to deal effectively with Saddam Hussein.

As for other countries, we're engaged in a war on terrorism that involves finding terrorists around the world and preventing them from doing tremendous damage, damage on a scale far greater than anything we've seen so far, and to do that we cannot seal our borders and abandon the quality of our society that's so fundamental to our way of life and our values. We can't become a police state in order to control the movement of would-be terrorists, so at the very least, we've got to make it more difficult for terrorists to arrive here and to organize themselves. An essential element of that is to prevent them from finding sanctuary as Al-Qaida found in Afghanistan - a base of operations, a place to train and recruit and organize with freedom of communication and support from the government.

We have to make the world an inhospitable place for terrorists and that's going to be a very difficult task. It's going to mean persuading governments that up until now have opened their borders to terrorists either because it was convenient or because the terrorists agreed not to be offensive to them if they were permitted to plan against us or because they didn't control their own territory. There are a variety of reasons and we know who those countries are. I mentioned Syria. There are offices of terrorist organizations in downtown Damascus. Now, can we persuade the Syrian government to shut them down? I hope so. I think it will be easier to persuade them after Saddam has gone. The best way to accomplish this is by persuasion but there may be times when the only way we can deny sanctuary to terrorists is by dealing directly with the states that are harboring them and that was the importance of the president's statement on September 11th, which was a break with all previous policy: that we will not distinguish between the terrorists who committed these acts and the states that harbor them.

So this war is now being taken to the terrorists themselves. If governments will cooperate then there won't be another country but if they don't, there will be others.

Question: Do you expect the eight European countries that signed an agreement to support the US to give troops for a military operation in the Gulf?

RICHARD PERLE: I don't know the answer to that and each country will make its own decision in that regard. Let me say that the concept of coalition of this administration is quite different from the concept of coalition in the past and Don Rumsfeld has been very clear on this. Our view is that every country has its own capacities and its own outlook and its own interests and we make no demands. We don't say that to be a member of this coalition you must supply troops, or to be a member of this coalition you must do something else that you would prefer not to do. Indeed, we never asked Germany to come to the party. They rejected an invitation they never received. So it is a gentle kind of alliance - it's like an American pot luck dinner - in which we say you bring what you can to the party. I think a number of those countries will in fact supply military forces, intelligence or other things that they're capable of supplying, and some of them have already indicated that they will.

Question: I still have problems with understanding the basics of the American thinking, because if you have an axis of Iraq, Al-Qaida and North Korea, I think that the clear and present danger is more North Korea, especially with its new cruise missiles and Osama bin Laden with his warnings and America is still going after Saddam. That's a problem.

RICHARD PERLE: Well, I don't think we have the luxury of changing priorities from one day to the next. There was a review of Iraq policy underway on September 11th and the administration hadn't decided at that point what to do, but one thing was very clear: the consensus behind the sanctions which had become the central element of western United Nations strategy for dealing with Saddam Hussein was crumbling. France and Russia had already indicated they were opposed to continuing the sanctions. The French wanted to weaken the sanctions regime. The so-called smart sanctions policy of the United States was really a response to the eroding support for those sanctions and it was very clear that if something wasn't done that Saddam was going to emerge the survivor who had outlasted the United Nations. The danger he posed would become even greater because he would be the political hero of the region with his biological and chemical weapons, with his work on nuclear weapons and with the sanctions fading away and probably disappearing altogether. They had become very porous by then anyway. So it was urgent to deal with Iraq, and we set on a course of dealing with Iraq.

Now, it's also important to deal with Iran and North Korea, and the president referred to the Axis of Evil and he was scorned and derided and people said what are the connections between these three. They're all different. We're seeing lots of connections, lots of connections. We're seeing collaboration between Iraq and Iran. We're seeing North Korea as a supplier to the world of weapons of mass destruction, possibly, and certainly delivery systems. So I think the president was right about that and I think we have to deal with all three.

Sometimes the question is put: Why now with Iraq? The Europeans in particular ask this question. Why now? I think the answer in part is that we're late and we should have done this a long time ago and the fact that we didn't do it a long time ago, the fact that we tolerated the expulsion of the inspectors was a tribute to weak leadership at the time that that took place, to be blunt about it. The Clinton administration chose not to respond or not to respond in a substantial way. That was a terrible mistake. It only got worse after that.

We have to deal with all three and we'll deal with each in its own way. In the case of Iran, I think that place is going to fall apart because the mullahs are so unpopular. It may take a little while but it's going to happen. In the case of North Korea, we've got an obviously very delicate situation because of the damage that the North Koreans could inflict instantaneously on South Koreans. So we have to be sensitive to South Korean concerns as we deal with it and we have to do things, sometimes, one at a time.

Question: You mentioned the feeling of being threatened. You mentioned September 11th. What is the reason behind the preemptive strike as a new form of war? And could you explain the miscalculation in the years when the United States pampered the Taliban, pampered Osama bin Laden, pampered Mr. Hussein?

RICHARD PERLE: Well, I think the pamperers were wrong. It's one of the glories of our system that mistakes get made but terms of office are limited and sometimes there's a chance to reverse them. I think what you're seeing is a reversal of policies that included a good deal of pampering, and a number of administrations got it wrong in my view but September 11th focused the mind and it clearly drove home to us the danger of waiting too long.

But let me say a word about what you call the new strategy of preemption. There's nothing new about preemption. If you know that you are about to be attacked, it is certainly sensible if you can act first and avoid that attack to do so. I don't think anybody would dispute that. So then the question is how imminent must the attack be to justify the preemptive response. Here, we need to think more carefully about the concept of imminence. In 1981, the Israelis, after a long and, I gather, a heated cabinet debate, decided to destroy the reactor that Chirac had sent to Osirak, not because it was about to produce nuclear weapons. It wasn't. It was about to produce plutonium and it was under IAEA safeguards so the Iraqis would have had to siphon off small, undetectable quantities of plutonium and it would have taken them time to build a nuclear weapon based on what they would get from the Osirak reactor. But, nevertheless, the Israelis decided to strike some years in advance of the production of the nuclear weapon that they were concerned about.

Now, why did they do that? They did it because the Iraqis were about to load fuel into the reactor and once they did so, they would not have had an opportunity to use an air strike without doing a lot of unintended damage around the facility, because radioactive material would have been released into the atmosphere. So from an Israeli point of view, what was imminent and what had to be acted against in a preemptive manner was not the ultimate emergence of the threat but an event that would lead inexorably to the ultimate emergence of the threat. They had to deal with a threshold that once crossed, they would no longer have the military option that could be effective at that moment. If we think of imminence in that sense, if we think of it as the thresholds that once crossed will so worsen our situation that we can't allow those thresholds to be crossed, then you start looking at how far are they from achieving the means to do the thing that everyone would recognize we were justified in stopping at the moment that action was taken. In the case of Iraq, we're talking about stopping the further development of nuclear weapons, we're talking about new systems of delivery for the chemical and biological weapons Saddam already has including systems with much longer range. What is imminent about Iraq and what may be imminent in some other situations requires you to look back and decide when a threat becomes unmanageable.

Question: How do you assess the likelihood that at the very last minute Saddam Hussein will accept exile and if that should occur, do you think we will be deterred from taking further action?

RICHARD PERLE: I rather doubt that Saddam will accept exile but we don't know him very well and he certainly doesn't know us very well. I think he's been outside the Arab world nine or ten days in his entire life and the way he rules, he's surrounded by yes men. You do not want to take bad news to Saddam Hussein. So who knows what he understands about the world around him. I think if he understood what's about to happen to him, he might well contemplate exile. I rather doubt that he'll choose exile but if he did, there would be further action required. It would be the unopposed entry into Iraq of sufficient forces to remove the weapons of mass destruction and to provide some element of security so a new government can be put in place.

We would be foolish in the extreme if Saddam chose exile and we said, 'Well, everything is fine. The next regime can go on doing what Saddam is doing.' Our objective is to stop that activity, it's not Saddam himself.

Question: Could you elaborate on your comments on "history in the making" with regard to the transatlantic relationship. Do you think there will be a shift in the alliance or a new alliance?

My second question concerns a concrete military option. Are there plans within the Pentagon to use of nuclear weapons against Iraq as retaliation should the Iraqis disperse biochemical weapons?

RICHARD PERLE: I don't know the answer to the second question. If I had to guess, I would guess that we would not rule out any option because when you rule out an option you say, in this case to Saddam, 'Go ahead and do whatever you like. We guarantee that among the responses we will not include something that would be most distasteful.' But I personally can't imagine that we would find it useful to use a nuclear weapon. What would be the target? Civilians in Baghdad?

Almost anything that we wish to do of a military nature we can do with non-nuclear weapons and in particular with the precise weapons we now have. So nobody is going to rule it out but I can't imagine a situation in which it would be useful to use those weapons.

When I referred to "history in the making," I think that the extremity of the German chancellor's position, the petulance and obstruction of the French position - and let me say the French are blocking a variety of things in NATO, it's not just sending Patriots to Turkey - I think that's going to cause a lot of people on both sides of the Atlantic to rethink the post-war alliance and I think we should have had this debate before there was a problem. We should have thought more deeply about the evolution of the alliance. After all, NATO was created to stop the Soviet Union in the center of Europe and the Soviet Union is no longer a threat. We needed to go further in reestablishing and reconstituting a common concept of transatlantic security. We needed to go further than we did but institutions change slowly so we made small incremental changes. But these recent events, I think, will cause us to think about bigger changes, and if I were Italian or Portuguese or Danish or Spanish, I would be deeply concerned about what is emerging as a Franco-German domination of the European Union to the exclusion of the interests and even the voice of those other countries. There's no doubt about it; the way in which the German chancellor and the French president scorned the view of eight countries should raise deep concern in those countries about whether they can expect to have their interests fully represented and respected within the European Union.

Question: In 1991, Mr. Powell didn't finish the job in Iraq. Today, Mr. Powell is making the case for a new war in Iraq. Why should Europe follow a man who didn't finish the job?

RICHARD PERLE: Well, if a mistake was made in 1991, why should Europe insist on a second mistake? I think it was a mistake not to finish it in 1991. I think most people involved in it think it was a mistake, but let me say to you that most of the people that I've talked to who were involved in 1991 - I think I've talked to all of them except former President Bush - have said that they fully expected that Saddam would be finished. How could you suffer a defeat like that and carry on? It couldn't happen in Italy. It couldn't happen in France. It couldn't happen in this country and we forgot that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was not like any of our countries. We did the thing we always do and that is we projected our own value and our own cultures and interpreted the probable behavior of people who thought differently and acted differently. Who could have imagined at that moment when Saddam had been crushed that he would be in power all these years. They thought he was finished and I think if they had known that he wasn't, we might well have done the obvious thing, which was force the disarmament of the Republican Guard which was encircled by allied forces, in which case you might have had a different history.

So let's not make the mistake the second time by listening to the Europeans this time.

Question: You mentioned before the increase of threats against the United States from around the world. Don't you think that maybe time has come for the United States to rethink its foreign policy and, secondly, don't you think that in going to war against Iraq it might increase the risk of terrorist acts against the United States?

RICHARD PERLE: I don't think so. I think the one thing that would encourage further acts of terror against the United States would be a withdrawal by the United States at this point. If we were to fail to carry forward on the things we've said, we would appear to be what Osama bin Laden says we are and what Saddam Hussein has said we are, which is weak and blustery, a bully. So we have to carry this forward. A collapse, a retreat at this point would have the terrorists dancing in the streets. If we go forward, I think Iraqis will be dancing in the streets. Weakness is fatal in these matters. We're dealing with people who understand strength and have only contempt for weakness.

Now, as for the unpopularity of the United States, it's a real problem and it undoubtedly diminishes our ability to do the things that we think are important. I think that's bad for the world because if the United States, as the leader it has always been, has its authority and standing diminished, that can't be good for the Swiss or the Italians or the Germans. But I don't know how you deal with that problem.

You suggest maybe we should rethink our foreign policy. Well, that's a pretty big generalization. Which policy and which circumstances? I'm not going to tell you that we get every policy right. We don't. We make lots of mistakes. But by and large I believe that this country expresses as well as you can expect the government in a democracy to express the interests and values of other free societies, and we're in this together.

If we're unpopular because we're powerful, I don't know how to avoid that except by becoming less powerful and I can't believe that that's going to help us in the long run.

I don't mean to sound arrogant about this. We will debate every position we take but we're bound, I think, to be unpopular simply by virtue of the strength of our position. We didn't ask for it that way, but that's the hand history has dealt us and we can't give the cards back.

Question: You mentioned that French commercial interest in Iraq would explain the present policy, but wouldn't deals and contracts be up for grabs for any market player if Iraq becomes a part of the global economy? I'm referring to US oil and oil services companies.

RICHARD PERLE: I would assume that a free Iraq would organize itself to extract the maximum value from the birthright of the Iraqis, which is, among other things, their oil fields, and they will negotiate the best commercial deals they can. What's distinctive about the Total contract is it's not favorable to Iraq, it's favorable to Total. One can suspect that there is something there in between the real value of that contract and the cash value of that contract is a certain amount of political support. I don't know. I shouldn't be making accusations like that but it's entirely possible that Saddam negotiated that deal because he thought that along with the revenues which are below what they should be, that he'd get something else.

You certainly can't exclude that the nature of the deal is such that according to the people who I've talked to who are oil industry experts, it needs to be explained. If the gentle suggestion in your question was that maybe there's a US commercial interest, that we want our oil companies to go in there, I think in a free Iraq the high bidder should win the concession and if we're the high bidder, that simply proves that others were getting paid in some other way. I don't know whether we'll be the high bidder or not.

Question: You were talking about the countries that are harboring terrorists. What kind of plans does the US have for Saudi Arabia? Is regime change, reorganization on the table? What will be the next step?

RICHARD PERLE: I hope that the Saudis have begun to understand that the billions they have poured into extremist institutions threaten Saudi Arabia itself and that they will refrain from that policy. They say that they've begun to do so. I think they've probably got a long way to go. I think a movement in the direction of democracy is in the interest of the Saudis, even in the interests of the royal family.

It's a country now with 28 million people, the fastest growing population in the world, I believe, and per capita income has gone from $20,000 a year to $5,000 a year and that cannot be a comfortable situation for the small number of people who share among themselves the vast wealth of that country.

I think that the Saudis are reexamining their situation. I hope they are. But if the suggestion is that because there are problems in the way that the Saudi's have parceled out money and because there were so many Saudi's involved in September 11th, if the suggestion is that maybe we ought to take military action against Saudi Arabia, you see how difficult it is to get the United Nations organized to deal with the defiance of its own resolutions after a war in which a ceasefire was agreed. So we're not about to suggest military actions against countries that have committed no offense. We want to see them change their policy. We think it's in their interest to change their policy but we're certainly not going to make war on Saudi Arabia.

Question: What if Russia, China, France and Germany draw their own line in the sand and say that you're not going to attack Iraq. What would happen?

RICHARD PERLE: Well, I assume they would say something slightly different. I assume they would say, 'We would be grateful if you chose not to,' because I don't see any one or all of them in combination actually trying to restrain us physically.

This country will have to make some tough decisions and the essence of that tough decision is how far are we prepared to allow threats to our citizens and the response to those threats to be decided by the Chinese, the Russians, the French, the Germans and others.

At the end of the day, the United Nations, in Article 51, recognizes the inherent right of self-defense. It doesn't confer that right. That's not the UN's to confer. It recognizes that we all have the right of self-defense and we may from time to time have to act without the approbation of the UN. I think the French went into the Ivory Coast without the United Nations. We and some our allies went into Kosovo without the United Nations so it's not without precedent to act without the United Nations. But if we ever get to the point where we can't defend ourselves because we can't get the other four members of the Security Council to agree, then I think the president will have relinquished his responsibility under the Constitution to provide for the common defense.

So we want support in the UN, we want the approbation of the UN, but no American government can allow the defense of this country to depend on a show of hands at the United Nations or anywhere else.

If that sounds unilateralist, so be it. I think at the end of the day that would be the attitude of France or German or China if they felt that they were threatened in the way that we now consider we are threatened. The fabric of the UN, of the international community, is just not strong enough now that we would be ready to abandon our sovereign right of self-defense in the hope that some other structure is going to protect us.

Thank you all very much.

 

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Benador Associates Speakers Bureau
Benador Associates Speakers Bureau