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Former US Ambassador to Iraq Calls US War Plan “Dumb”
America Strikes Back: Should the U.S. Target Iraq?
Aired October 8, 2001 – 19:30 ET
Guests, the former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Edward Peck, and retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Robert Maginnis.
BILL PRESS: AmbassadorWe know Osama bin Laden has been supporting the terrorists, financing them and arming them. He’s not alone, and perhaps not the most dangerous. There’s Hussein that we know is supporting terrorist groups like the Hezbollah the Hamas, and probably bin Laden. We know he has got biological weapons. Probably has nuclear weapons. Wouldn’t this war against terrorism be a mistake if we stop at Osama bin Laden and don’t take out Saddam Hussein as well?
EDWARD PECK, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Let me answer your question. I think it’s not a mistake for the following reasons. No. 1 is that nobody in this world — with the possible exception of Tony Blair — gives us the right to decide who rules Iraq. That is not part of our charter. It is not part of our mandate. Now, they can’t stop us, because we are who we are. But when you take out Saddam Hussein, the key question you have to ask then is, what happens after that? And we don’t have a clue. Nobody knows, but it’s probably going to be bad. And a lot of people are going to be very upset about that, because that really is not written into our role in this world is to decide who rules Iraq.
PRESS: We don’t know what is coming next, but it’s hard to believe it could be any worse than Saddam Hussein. But you know, Ambassador, looking at this today — Bill Kristol at “The Weekly Standard,” he got a passel of conservatives to sign this letter to President Bush.
PRESS: Saying, we’ve got 41 conservatives. We have to put Saddam Hussein in the target. But he’s not alone. There are even some liberals who are speaking like this, and talking about the evidence that we do have that there was a link here in the September 11 bombings. I would like you to listen to one of my favorite liberals and hear what he had to say. Senator Joe Lieberman.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, CONNECTICUT: We have heard reports of contact between the individuals who were on those planes that committed those atrocities against America on September 11; contact between them and various members of Iraqi intelligence. The obvious fact is that Saddam Hussein has the motive to have wanted to strike us. I think if the trail leads in this case to Iraq and contact with the attacks of September 11 or with terrorism generally, we have to go at them.
PRESS: If the trail leads, are you saying we look the other way?
PECK: No, but the trail hasn’t led there yet.
PRESS: Pretty clear.
PECK: You have to understand now. Just like the colonel here, I’m a veteran of the armed forces. I have had two tours of active duty in the Army. And I don’t take a back seat to anybody in terms of patriotism. This is the greatest nation that ever was and may be the greatest nation that ever will be. But that’s my view, and it is not universally shared. So we have come out with 21 pages of proof that Osama bin Laden was involved. I have read that material. That’s allegations. That’s not proof. It’s an entirely different thing. Proof of what it means to us. So, yes, he’s not a nice guy, Saddam Hussein. But I think that the costs to our nation and its interests of taking him out are probably vastly exceeding anything we would gain by doing it.
NOVAK: I want to read you a CNN/”USA Today”/Gallup poll taken just over the weekend. “Action against other countries that are just harboring terrorists”: 78 percent approved, 16 percent disapprove. Now, I don’t want to criticize the Gallup organization, but I would like a definition of terrorist. You know, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. They don’t say terrorist connected with September 11. They don’t say terrorist connected with anything. Were the Israeli Haganah or Stern Gang terrorists when they blew up the King David Hotel? What is a terrorist?
MAGINNIS: Taking innocent lives unnecessarily, whether it be 9- 11 or it being Hamas or Hezbollah going into pizza parlors, blowing up innocent civilians. That’s terrorism to me.
NOVAK: What about Israeli F-16s shooting down Palestinian civilians?
MAGINNIS: If they shoot down Palestinian civilians and they’re not collateral damage in going after a known Hamas or Hezbollah person that happens to be at the wrong place at the right time. And those sorts of circumstances do take place. But unfortunately, when we are dealing with terrorism and they are targeting civilians — in many cases, primarily civilians, quite frankly — they are not targeting the military
PRESS: Ambassador, as former ambassador to Iraq I know you have affection for the country and for its people, and you are disgusted with what Saddam Hussein has done with that country. When you look at this guy, it’s not just the events of September 11, as horrific as they were. We had a couple weeks ago on CROSSFIRE Laurie Mylroie, an author who has written a book where she puts out what I think is pretty convincing evidence that it was Saddam Hussein and his intelligence that were the masterminds behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. If we don’t get him now, aren’t we letting him get away with two attacks on the United States in a row? Don’t you believe her evidence?
PECK: No, I do not. I think Dr. Mylroie has got a real phobia about this, and if she possibly could, she would accuse him of being responsible for male pattern baldness in the United States. Saddam Hussein is not all that powerful. And we have been — I have no — I have an affection for that country because I lived there, but my job has been all these years to learn to understand these other countries so I could tell my country about them. Do not confuse, please, the message with the messenger. And the message is that we have been bombing Iraq whenever we feel like it for the last 10 years. Nobody likes that, least of all the Iraqis, and but lot of other people besides.
We have been responsible — pardon, I’ll take it back. We have accepted responsibility for the death of 500,000 Iraqi children on American television, a position taken by the then-ambassador to the United Nations. A lot of people don’t want to excuse you for that. So if Saddam Hussein believes, in the words of Dr. Mylroie that he’s still at war with the United States, could it be the daily bombings? Could it be the $94 million that Congress appropriated to finance his overthrow. Sir, that’s an act of war. Whether you want to accept it as such, we are going to finance people to overthrow his government? That is — that is called a hostile act, you see? So if he’s upset with us, there may be a reason for it PRESS: U.S. ground forces [may be] going to go in. Do you agree and don’t you agree that’s a necessary next step?
PECK: I always feel, you know, as a former military man, yeah, that’s it. Because you have to have an objective. You have to know what it is you are going to accomplish, and how you are going to accomplish it and what the end game is. I think that going into Afghanistan — where in addition to fighting the Taliban forces, who are armed with slingshots and large rocks, as far as I know — you’re going to look for individuals. That’s hard to do in a country like that.
PRESS: So that’s a no?
PECK: I would say it’s not a smart thing to do. I would say it would be a very dumb thing to do you. You have got a surrogate that you can use and arm and equip and so forth: the northern forces. Go that way. Don’t put U.S. forces on the ground.
PRESS: Let me follow up on that. Isn’t that in fact the best role for– we are not talking perhaps about an expeditionary force, but we’re talking about special forces that could go in and help the Taliban prepare them, train them, equip them, maybe give them transportation to the front, protect the refugees; the job for U.S. special forces has to be there.
PECK: I guess so. But that’s kind of how we started out in Vietnam. That didn’t work out to our advantage. Because you start out and they are not doing well, so we have to do more and then we try this and then we try that.One of the things you have to understand — try — is that a lot of people, an awful lot of people are going to resent seriously the fact that we believe that if we don’t like that government, we have the right to throw it out, overthrow it and put somebody else in place.
I sat at this very table a couple of years ago when the United States was debating the Iraq Liberation Act. And my opponent — pardon me, my partner at the time — was, we were going to go in and put this group in power and bring democracy to Iraq. You cannot enforce democracy. You don’t stuff it down people’s throat. It comes this way. Not that way. So that an awful lot of folks around the world are going to say, “Hey, that is not your job.”
PRESS: I know we’ve been focusing on what comes next. I want to come back, if I can, to what we are doing today.
PECK: Yes, sir.
PRESS: Day two of this war against terrorism in Afghanistan. 94 percent of the American people support it. Do you? Are you among the 94?
PECK: Oh, yes, sure. Except that you ask the American people the question one way and they will say, “yes we are for it.” And then you watch the body bags to come home and then they are against it. Polling is a very tricky business, sir. I don’t need to tell you that. When you tell me that 86.2 percent of the people want lower taxes and 94 percent more services, I recognize that there’s a conflict there. What the American people want is something that’s very hard to understand because A) they don’t know where Afghanistan is; B) they know nothing about it; and c) they have no idea whatsoever as to what the potential gains and costs are from getting involved The difficulty that we face is that I support — because I understand how democracy works — we have to go out and do the sorts of things we are doing. So we will mercilessly, viciously, effectively attack and destroy all kinds of symptoms. When the rubble has settled and the dust is gone, the disease is still going to be out there untouched. Because we don’t want to look at why, why it is that all of these people hate us. It’s not because of freedom. It’s not because Brittney Spears has a belly button or because we export hamburgers. They hate us because of things they see us doing to their part of the world that they definitely do not like.