Marty Moss-Coane, interviewer: One of the descriptions that I ran across of you, and I want to find out how comfortable you are with this description, either calling you a "liberal hawk" or a "liberal interventionist." As it relates to Iraq. Are you comfortable with that?
George Packer: It was never a phrase I used for myself. And in fact before the war I never took a public position on the war because I was divided enough and unsure enough about its likely consequences that I didn't want to push it in a certain direction. I saw my role as being journalistic and going to Iraq after the invasion essentially to find out what was going on and to hold the Administration to its own promises and rhetoric. But because in my "private heart" I decided that the war deserved my support, others have said that I'm part of a group that includes people like Christopher Hitchens, who are vocal supporters of the war and who are "liberal hawks." So one has to live with these labels even though one doesn't dream them up for oneself!
MMC: Well, I wonder. Because you also write that the Administration's war "was not my war" -- it's one of the things that you say in your new book, "The Assassins' Gate." What would your war have looked like?
GP: Actually I sketch it out at the end of the book, in the second the last chapter, because I dearly wanted to see the world unite against the regime of Saddam Hussein. That was, for me, an extremely important thing, not just for strategic reasons but for moral reasons. I would like to have seen an American administration that was capable of bringing our democratic allies on board over time by showing that Saddam Hussein could never be relied on either to live up to UN resolutions or to essentially tell the world the truth about what was going on inside his borders. And at the same time to unite the country behind the war policy instead of dividing the country and polarizing the country as this administration did, which was a really fatal thing to do on the eve of a major land war. But it was the policy that they pursued. And I also would have made it clear that the reasons for overthrowing this regime were as much humanitarian as strategic. And I would not have focused on WMD narrowly because once the inspectors found out that there were no WMD, you're still left with Saddam Hussein in power and it's quite likely that sanctions would have been lifted and he would have been free to start flexing his muscles again. That was much too narrow a rationale for me, and I also wouldn't have trumped up claims of connections to Al Qaeda that didn't exist. So all of that is for my own private benefit. It has nothing to do with how the Administration did things. As I said in the book, we don't get to say, Well, if it's this and this and this, then I'm for it. We have to say, Well, on March 19th 2003, if I have to vote, which way do I vote on this?
MMC: I do want to get to your critique on the Bush administration which is largely what your book is about, but I just want to quote something you say about the Left and the protesters. You wrote: "The protesters saw themselves as defending the Iraqis from the terrible fate that the US was prepared to inflict on them -- why would Iraqis want war? The movement's assumption was based on moral innocence, an inability to imagine the horror in which Iraqis lived and a desire for all good things to go together for total vindiction. War is evil, therefore the prevention of war must be good."
GP: That's what I heard coming from the forms of antiwar rallies that I attended and in private conversations with people who were against the war -- of whom I knew many. There were people making arguments against the war that I respected. And that argument said, We understand that we're leaving a monster in power and that's a bad thing; but war with unknown consequences is also a bad thing and potentially worse. I can respect that argument. The argument I couldn't respect which I heard all too often was that no Iraqi could possibly want this. We were inflicting a terrible fate on them against their will which was simply a violation of their rights. When in fact, once I got to Iraq in the summer of 2003, the overwhelming response I got from Iraqis was: while we're not sure what you're doing here, and we don't particularly like the early days of this occupation, we are glad you got rid of him because he was a nightmare that we were living year after year after year, and we didn't seem able to do it ourselves. And so if the antiwar movement had been able essentially make a complex moral statement, then it would have had more of my respect. But to say that war is simply bad and therefore there is nothing left to be said about Iraq and Iraqis struck me as naive.
MMC: One of the things you also say, that the invasion of Iraq actually began under the Clinton administration with the Iraq Liberation Act. This was signed by President Clinton and approved by Congress back in 1998 and where "regime change became the official policy of the US." Why do you think the Clinton administration signed on to this?
GP: I think Clinton was weakened. It was the year of the Monica Lewinsky affair and he was faced with a Republican Congress that was determined to embarrass him because his Iraq policy seemed to be failing. Saddam had kicked out the inspectors that year and seemed to be defying the world and getting away with it. A hard core of Republicans both in Congress and outside who came to be known as the neo-conservatives signed letters and made statements that pushed Clinton and Congress toward a policy of regime change. But that policy did not require 160,000 American troops. It basically said we should support the exiles' opposition to Saddam and their efforts to overthrow him. It was not a call for full-scale land war. And so it's a bit disingenuous when supporters of the Administration claim that Bill Clinton, in 1998, was calling for the same thing that George Bush eventually did. It was a different policy and it was essentially, for Clinton at least, a moment of weakness in which he signed on to something he had no intention of carrying out.
MMC: Why do you think the neocons -- I'm not sure "obsession" is the right word -- but the neocons have been so focused on Iraq. Is it something to do with the first Gulf War?
GP: I think that we have to disintinguish among them. Paul Wolfowitz had Iraq in his sights since the late '70's when he was a mid-level official in the Carter Pentagon and wrote a paper called "The Limited Contingency Study" that imagined an Iraqi invasion of Kuwaiti and Saudi oilfields and an Iraqi oil grab, and how should the US respond. It was a rather far-sighted document in 1979. After the Gulf War, he was once again in the Pentagon, this time under President George H.W. Bush and as #3 official. He was appalled by the way the Gulf War ended and by the slaughter of Kurds and Shi'a who had rised up against Saddam Hussein whom we had left in power. Throughout the '90's, Wolfowitz sort of struggled with the fact that the war had ended so badly and perhaps prematurely. By 1997-8 he'd come around to the position that we should not have left Saddam in power and take him out. For others, Iraq kind of came and went throughout the '90's. It was only in '98, when he kicked out the inspectors and seemed almost to have gotten away with it and to be heading back to the threatening position that he'd achieved by 1990, that he became the single biggest concern of the neo-cons. As I say in the book, I think he was the foreign policy jackpot for them. He represented so many things: WMD, terrorism, Arab tyranny, destabilizing influence in the region and in the Arab-Israeli conflict. And also the weakness of the Democrats and Clinton. It was as much to show that Clinton had done it wrong as it was to show that it could be done right.
MMC: The neocons, as we know, relied on a number of Iraqi exiles, Chalabi being the most public one. In fact he was in -- he probably still is in Washington visiting with members of the Bush administration, being feted, essentially, by the Bush administration. In your book you also say that you relied a lot on an Iraqi exile, a man named Kanan Makiya, who wrote a book called "Republic of Fear." Looking at yourself and looking at the Bush administration, do you think there was a danger in relying on exiles who had been out of the country for many years, and who probably have a mix of nostalgia for their country that may create a very different view of what their country actually is.
GP: Absolutely! You put it well. The exiles had not been in Iraq for several decades. In Chalabi's case, not since 1958. They remembered an Iraq that no longer exists, that was more secular, more middle class, more open to the world. In 35 years in power, Saddam had destroyed the middle class and had snuffed out every ember of civil society. So to allow the hopefulness of a Kanan Makiya to be the end of the story was and is a mistake. But on the other hand, without Kanan Makiya and "Republic of Fear" and his other books, Iraq would have simply disappeared, I think, from the mental world of liberals who had a lot to say about intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo -- in other words, when it was closer to home, when it was in Europe. But they might have decided that Iraq was just a separate case, sort of off the end of the known world and not worth worrying about. Kanan Makiya forced human rights workers and others who cared about those principles to keep Iraq in mind. In that sense, he was and is an important moral figure. The problem is, once it became a war with politics attached, the weaknesses in his position started to come out because he did not know Iraq well and imagined it could be transformed in a way that it turned out it could not be transformed. In that sense, people who did rely on Kanan's and Chalabi's scenario were let down.
MMC: And for yourself, you think you over-relied on Kanan Makiya's scenario?
GP: You know, I didn't have a whole lot else to go on. I knew some other Iraqi exiles. They also dearly wanted Saddam to be overthrown. There aren't too many Iraq exiles who did not. But as far as getting deep knowledge of what Iraq was like under Saddam? It was difficult. It was difficult even for journalists who were in Baghdad for the months before the war, and that's because the Saddam Hussein regime made sure that there was no information flowing back and forth between Iraqis and the world.
MMC: I want to talk about the State Department and the Defense Department. You go into great detail about the bad blood literally between these two departments under the Bush administration. I ask this in the light of all the accusations about bad intelligence and what did the Senate know and what did the White House know about intelligence. In the State Department there was a project run by a man named Tom Warrick -- the "Future of Iraq Project." Who was Tom Warrick and what was his job?
GP: He was an official in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in the State Department, an obscure official who, a good year ahead of the invasion decided that the State Department had better start preparing its role for Iraq after the fall of the regime -- if this war was indeed to come. He assembled different groups of Iraqi exiles, including Kanan Makiya, into about 16 or 17 committees to cover different post-war issues, such as policing, electricity, transitional justice, and democratic rule. These commitees met and wrote reports over the course of 2002. They were not blueprints for the running of postwar Iraq. They were not a postwar plan. But they were a body of information of varying degrees of useful that anyone whose job it was going to be to administer postwar Iraq should take very seriously.
MMC: Did these reports talk about the need for postwar planning?
GP: That wasn't really their job. In the sense that a postwar plan, a political-military plan for how to make the transition from the fall of the regime to an interim government -- that was going to have to happen at a very high level, much higher than a mid-level official in the State Department. It never happened. Not through any fault of Tom Warrick's but because the people who mattered more than he did -- people who were at the Pentagon and especially the Vice President's office -- prevented a plan from being written because they didn't want a postwar plan to be written that was going to force the US ahead of time to commit itself to the kind of deep engagement that it would have to have in order to rebuilt Iraq after the fall of the regime. The plan, which was never written, was to get in and out relatively quickly, to have 30,000 troops left by September 2003, and to have an interim government made up of exiles led by Ahmad Chalabi in power fairly quickly. To me it was not a plan, it was a fantasy. But because this was the thinking, the theology of those who really held the key positions over Iraq, no planning really took place. No serious planning was done. And the Future of Iraq Project was left behind. Tom Warrick was kept out of Iraq by Vice President Cheney. So the knowledge that he and his committees could have brought to bear was omitted. These are the ways in which, as you say, the bad blood between different agencies of the government, which was somewhat more intense than what they seemed to feel for the Iraqi enemy, terribly undermined success in Iraq.
MMC: Let me ask you about the Office of Special Plans. This was set up allegedly to provide information to the Vice President, to Rumsfeld, and to whom?
GP: The Office of Special Plans was created under Douglas Feith, who was the #3 at the Pentagon. It incorporated work done by a predecessor unit on WMD and terrorism, a unit that tried to find and analyze intelligence that it felt the mainstream intelligence agencies had not properly analyzed, that showed Saddam's intent to develop a bomb and his connections to Al Qaeda. The work of that unit was incorporated into the Office of Special Plans which in turn was responsible for planning for postwar Iraq. But because of the thinking that I outlined just a moment ago, the Office of Special Plans never planned for postwar Iraq. Instead, it prevented other agencies, including the National Security Council, from planning for postwar Iraq. So when we invaded Iraq, President Bush had just signed off on a series of briefings about postwar issues a week before we went to war. One week before. Which never really took effect in Iraq because the government was in such disarray. Jay Garner, who was sent to Iraq to be the first postwar administrator, had his ideas, the National Security Council had its, and the Pentagon and the Vice President's office had their ideas. President Bush didn't coordinate these. Condoleezza Rice, his National Security Advisor, did not oblige these agreements to be resolved. And so when we got to Baghdad, no one was in charge and chaos followed.
MMC: When you talk about the Office of Special Plans and people involved with planning for the Defense Department or even the Vice President's office, where did they get their intelligence to tell them that there were WMD's in Iraq?
GP: Well, they had different sources. Some of them were available to the other agencies. They simply read them differently or took equivocal or ambiguous evidence and made it absolute and positive. Or they had exiles provided by the Iraqi National Congress like Ahmad Chalabi who were assuring them that there were terrorist training camps and mobile weapons labs in Iraq that turned out not to exist. So they either believed the testimony of their own sources among the Iraqi exiles, or they looked at evidence that the other agencies had and sort of created a coherent narrative out of what was a much cloudier picture. I should say that most European intelligence agencies, UN agency responsible, in Baghdad, under Hans Blix, and the Democrats who voted for the war resolution -- all believed that Saddam Hussein had some weapons, probably chemical stockpiles, and that he was trying to reconstitute his nuclear program. Problem is, there were widely different views of how far along he was, how much of a threat he was in 2003, and the chances of his actually working operationally with Al Qaeda. And so now we're engaged in this eternal argument over those debates. Seems to me we're going to be locked in that for a long time, while meanwhile the war continues to burn away in Iraq and it doesn't seem to have our focus. But that's because we didn't have an honest debate in 2003. And it seems the public is going to be reliving those months until we have that honest debate in this country.
MMC: One of the things you say about Donald Rumsfeld was that no one was less interested in the future of Iraq than Rumsfeld. Meaning he didn't think beyond the fall of Baghdad? or actually believed that we would be greeted as liberators, and we could be out of the country in a couple of months?
GP: For Rumsfeld Iraq was, I think, chiefly a way to show that the military could be used in a new way, without heavy numbers of ground troops. That the combination of a light ground force and air power and technology. And local assets could do what, in the first Gulf War, 500,000 troops had to do. So for him I think Iraq was about military transformation above all. Afghanistan had raised his stock because it seemed that combination had worked very well and Iraq was going to be the next case. I don't think Rumsfeld had all that much interest one way or the other in whether democracy took hold in Iraq. He certainly didn't want to see his army used as a nation-building instrument. He didn't believe in nation building, he gave a speech a month before the war in New York called "Beyond Nation Building." He thought it was a form of welfare dependency for foreign countries. So the fact that he fought a bureaucratic battle to control the postwar is deeply ironic because he really had no interest in it. He wanted to be out of the in a few months.
MMC: I do remember when the looting broke out shortly after the fall of Baghdad, he made some comments about how messy democracy can be. "Stuff happens"!
GP: I remember the quote very well! He said "Stuff happens. Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things." It was both a very cynical remark -- because he was essentially washing his hands of responsibility for the city and the country which his military had just taken over. And he was also expressing a philosophical view that was shared by others including President Bush. Which is that freedom and democracy spring up almost spontaneously in the absence of a tyranny. You remove the tyranny and you get freedom. It's not a matter of man-made rules and laws that have to be very carefully hammered out through negotiation and compromise and a social contract. It's in every human heart. And if we can only remove the dictatorships that are the obstacles, freedom is what will follow. And instead in Iraq, as common sense should have told them, what followed was chaos. We're still paying the price for that.
MMC: One of the things you write -- and I knew that the extent of the looting had been pretty enormous in Baghdad and around the country -- you say the cost of that looting was something like something like [incredulous] Twelve Billion Dollars?
GP: Yes. The occupation authority, the CPA, did a very rough estimate in the summer of 2003 -- partly because they were trying to figure out how much of their budget in the months after the fall of the regime was going to be sucked up by the need to rebuild Ministries, etc. etc. It was rough. But what they came up with was 12 billion -- just about the projected oil revenues of Iraq in the first year after the fall of the regime. In other words, a net zero because of those weeks of looting that we allowed to happen because the Administration did not think the security in postwar Iraq was its responsibility.
MMC: I do want to get to our callers, but I just want to finish some of the bits and pieces of this chapter, because you also write about it, and this is planning for postwar Iraq that the Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Rand Corporation, the Army War College, the US Institute of Peace, the National Defense Universities... and on and one. There were many reputable and well-connected think tanks that were all predicting that there could be chaos in Iraq and it was important to plan for all these various contingencies. Why do you think all that was ignored?
GP: A lot of them said to me, this is not rocket science, this is common sense. And they sensed that the Administration wasn't ready for what it was getting into. I think they were ignored because they were telling the Administration what it didn't want to hear. They were painting a picture of difficulties, of the need for troops and money and above all international help that the Administration didn't want to commit to Iraq. And so rather than stopping and recalibrating its own assumptions the people at the top of the Administration -- and I don't want to speak about the whole Administration because there were many people within it that were warning about the same things -- but at the top, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Rice, they actively suppressed these more pessimistic views. I think they felt that a) it would have made it harder for them to bring the country along to a war that was going to be such a difficult thing, and b) they convinced themselves that their critics were wrong, that they understood better than the critics what Iraq was going to be like. Douglas Feith used to say, "We're planning for success. You're planning for failure." They actually behaved a bit like insurgents who had come to power, as the neoconservatives had, with unity and discipline and by essentially defeating their opponents within the government. That kind of arrival in power is often followed by arrogance and a distrust of anyone who has a different view -- and the sense that loyalty and being part of the team are the most important things. And that was atmosphere in the months before the war. I call it "groupthink" and powerful people in a closed room could convince themselves apparently of almost anything.
MMC: Let me ask you about President Bush. Much of your writing is about Cheney and Rice and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and others. What role do you see the President playing? Just looking at your book from the outside, it almost appears as if he's a minor player in this Iraq policy. I'm curious how you see him as the architect of the policy in Iraq today.
GP: I think that he led the drive for the war. I don't think he was dragged into it or hoodwinked or manipulated. I think after 9/11 he became a neo-conservative and Iraq was on his agenda immediately. But I don't think he paid any attention, to speak of, to these more difficult detailed questions of how postwar Iraq should be run. I think he was pretty detached. Vice President Cheney was doing a lot of the thinking for him and was keeping out some of the negative views I talked about earlier. I don't think President Bush was interested in them. He had a couple of opportunities. There's one I describe in my book. When Jay Garner, the first administrator for the post war, came back to Washington, was recalled because things were going badlly, he was brought into the Oval Office for a farewell conversation. And rather than saying, "Jay, tell me what it's really like there. What are the problems? What do we need to think about?" Instead, there was a 45 minute backslapping session in which everyone assured everyone else that it had gone brilliantly. And that shows the degree to which the President was incurious about the consequences of the policy which he himself had implemented.
MMC: You also describe after Colin Powell stopped down as Secretary of State, a meeting that he had with President Bush which was perhaps different from other meetings they'd had, a more critical one.
GP: Yes. This was at the end of Powell's tenure as Secretary of State and he was finally telling President Bush things that he seems not to have told him and that President Bush still didn't want to hear. But this time Powell pressed through to the end and told him his Iraq policy was in trouble. His whole foreign policy was in trouble. I want to add that there's a great deal of the book that's set in Iraq and is about Iraqis. We might be giving your listeners a slightly misleading view that it's all about Washington battles. The bulk of the book is about the reality on the ground. I hope we'll have a chance to talk about that.
MMC: Me too! But I wanted to focus on this only because it's still such an issue. It was brought up by the President when he spoke on Veteran's Day. So that's why I had focused so much on...
GP: Right. Well, I think the President has made it such that the country will be reliving those arguments forever because he himself has not levelled with us. The only way we're going to get past this kind of historical neurosis about 2002-2003 is by having an honest conversation. Because we are at war, and the President needs to bring the country into this. He can't do it himself. In fact, he himself has failed. He needs the country behind him. And he's lost the country because he hasn't levelled with us.
MMC: George, let's take a couple of phone calls and then I want to shift the conversation to Iraq and to some other issues as well.
Chris, caller from Newark, Delaware: I feel like Mr. Packer's characterization of the antiwar movement as completely antiwar regardless of the situation is a little simplistic and a little unfair. I feel that most of the antiwar movement, even though there are some wack-jobs in it, are not against all war but against wars that are clearly unjust. The Administration just didn't make the case. I feel like Mr. Packer is among this group of liberal apologists for the Administration saying, "The war was just. They just sold it the wrong way." The fact of the matter is, the American people would not have bought this war if it wasn't sold this way. The American people are generally isolationist. They've always had to be prodded into war. This war was sold as a war on terror and it wasn't a war on terror until we got there!
MMC: Does George Packer sound like an apologist for the Bush administration?
Chris: Well, I've heard other people -- he said people would classify him with... Christopher Hitchens.. He has an understanding of what's going on, and I feel like I have an understanding -- the neocons and stuff like that -- but the American people don't know that.
MMC: ... I'm assuming you've heard things like that before.
GP: Yes. He makes some fair points. Especially in emphasizing that there are people who were against this war who are not against all wars. I know many of them. That's obviously true. I was speaking more about the antiwar movement in its sort of public form and what one heard from the platforms and the manifestos of the movement. I stand by the way I characterize them. But he's actually right that there are a lot of individuals who looked at this war and said, This is not going to work, or It's unjust, or It's unwise. As I said earlier, I had respect for those arguments. But I'm afraid he might be confusing me with people he's heard before. That is one of the occupational hazards of speaking about Iraq. People have a strong mental picture of who they're talking to based on the arguments that have gone on for two and a half or three years. But I would urge him to read my book and then decide whether he thinks I'm an apologist for the Bush administration.
MMC: And I guess putting people into ideological or political boxes...
GP: Yes. In a way this war has been crippled all along by the polarization in this country in which half the country seems to think that to criticize it is to criticize the President and the troops, and the other half seem to think it's the President's war and it would almost be a good thing if the President got a black eye on Iraq. That's obviously gross simplification. But we have not, as a country had a grown-up conversation in which we all acknowledge that whatever happened in 2002-2003, we're now in it together. It's our problem. And that is the problem right now. The President has so divided the country about Iraq, using Karl Rove's political strategy on a massive land war, that he has lost the country. That is what's holding him back now from being able to make the case for Iraq.
MMC: You've been to Iraq four times. What would you say is the most dramatic difference between the first time you went there and the last time?
GP: The violence. No question about it. The first time I went, in the summer of 2003, it was already a dangerous place. It's always been a dangerous place. But you could move around. Iraqis felt free to talk to foreigners and vice versa. One could hear people's stories as I did and as I wrote at great length in my book. I discovered just what a complex situation it is. How neither strictly a liberation nor strictly an unwanted occupation could describe Iraqis under American occupation. It was both, and it was morally and psychologically a real challenge to take in the full reality. Because of the relative stability, or lack of terribly violence, one could. But now it's impossible because you simply can't move around and talk to people at length, have spontaneous conversations because you put both of you at risk. And that means journalists now really don't know what is going on with Iraqis. It's too dangerous to find out. That's also a great barrier in trying to understand the war.
MMC: You also write about the two realities, the one inside the Green Zone and the one outside the Green Zone. How would you characterize those two different realities?
GP: Well, the Green Zone was the headquarters of the American occupation athority and is now the headquarters of the Iraqi government and the US Embassy. Inside the many layers of fortification and security officials of the occupation went about their business of rewriting Iraq's investment code and traffic code and drafting an interim constitution along with Iraqi leaders. It's as if they could just get those documents right and just get the 25 Iraqis on the Governing Council to sign off, then Iraq would be a success. But outside the walls in what was called the Red Zone -- that is to say, Iraq -- the country was slipping out of American control and Iraqi government control. I think there was sort of a sense of unreality inside the Green Zone because they didn't travel back and forth between the Green Zone and Iraq often enough. They didn't talk to enough Iraqis to find out exactly what was happening in the street. But the street let them know, because it began to rise up and the insurgency took off. All the best-laid plans of the Occupation kept being undermined by the fact that Iraq had a mind of its own and wasn't going to follow the blueprint being drafted inside the Green Zone.
MMC: You talked to a number of soldiers, and one get the sense that with the increased violence in Iraq, and the daily chaos and insecurity, that that has created a wedge between soldiers, who might be patrolling an area, and the Iraq people.
GP: It was the strategy from the beginning of the insurgents who were way ahead of the American military in understanding the stragetic reality In other words, if they could create so much fear in the Iraq public -- fear of cooperating with the Americans, fear of giving their support to the budding institutions of government and security, then they could undermine the whole project. And at the same time, if they could create enough hostility between the Americans and the Iraqis, they could do the same thing. And if the attacks on Americans could draw reprisals and over-reactions, the Americans would begin to lose support of the population. So the insurgents were extremely clever at fostering these divisions and a climate of fear. They also drove out the international community by blowing up the UN and the Red Cross. It was a very successful strategic plan, something that the US never had proposed for Iraq. The insurgents have been ahead of us at every step.
MMC: You write that the Iraq war was always winnable. And you add that it still is. That's something you wrote in your book which I assume was published a couple of months ago. Do you still stand by that?
GP: Well, I wrote it in April. I suppose it depends on what one means by "winnable." My expectation has dropped a good deal since April when we were still in the afterglow of the January elections. The violence had actually subsided quite a bit for a couple of months But that was a false dawn. And now my great fear is that Iraq is going to descend into a civil war and that if we don't become very serious about forcing Iraqis to compromise with one another as much as we can force them to do anything at this stage -- and committing ourselves to the long haul -- then I think Iraq will fall into civil war and regional war could quite likely follow. So, I think the standard of success is very low now. It's basically to avoid the worst. That's one line in the book that I would have rewritten. It was premature and the present tense is always dangerous. Because you're always in the present tense and you're stuck with it no matter what's happening!
MMC: Do you see this, looking again at the planning or lack of planning for the post war, that this is a self-inflicted wound?
GP: Yes, I do. I think history is going to judge the Administration extremely harshly for having brought the country into such a high-risk war, for having rolled the dice so dramatically and not taken its own role seriously. That is the really staggering thing that it's really difficult for me to account for -- that they didn't do everything possible to make sure this was a success. They were so arrogant and so hostile to any dissenting opinions that they wounded the country, they wounded Iraq. They let down the hopes of millions of Americans and Iraqis alike, and if we do have any kind of a decent outcome in Iraq, it's going to be years in the making and far bloodier than I think it needed to be. For that I place most of the blame at the feet of the Administration.
MMC: Are you talking criminal negligence?
GP: Yeah. That's a phrase I use in the book. Legally it means negligence so gross that it can't be considered simply carelessness. It's negligence that an ordinary responsible person would not have been able to countenance. Instead what we had was just gross irresponsibility over and over again. And again, it's hard to understand when you consider that their reputations, not to mention their own country, were dependent on the outcome. Paul Wolfowitz -- you know his whole career will be regarded in the light of the Iraq war. I think it's going to be regarded rather harshly because Wolfowitz was part of that team making those decisions.
MMC: And now he heads up the World Bank.
GP: Yes, the place that Robert McNamara sought refuge after the Vietnam War. I don't know that we'll ever get a memoir out of Paul Wolfowitz like McNamara's in which he looks back and says, "We were wrong." I don't think that's in the DNA of the neo-conservatives. I think more likely we'll get a lot of memoirs starting with Paul Bremer's, Douglas Feith's, and others, that say "We were stabbed in the back." That's going to be the difference between this group and the architects of the Vietnam War.
Stanley, caller from Elkins Park: I have a two-part question. Earlier you said we should have used a moral imperative in going to war. Would the country have gone to war on just the moral imperative? And second, wouldn't that open up a Pandora's box considering all the places in the world where people are being slaughtered?
GP: What I said was moral as well as strategic. Obviously one doesn't go to war simply because we don't like a regime's behavior and we want to try to transform it. That would be pretty utopian. But because of Iraq's strategic importance, and the fact that if inspections succeeded, Iraq would begin to slip out of sanctions and quite likely -- because this was a regime that required violence and terror simply in order to stay in power -- Iraq would not have quietly gone away. It would have remained our problem. So I think the strategic arguments, although they're not easy to make, can be made. But I think the Administration made a mistake by not emphasizing the moral arguments more. And now it's sort of stuck with them. Because it turns out the WMD's didn't exist. And now people are accusing it of a bait-and-switch. If it had made those arguments central along with the strategic ones at the start -- which I think Tony Blair was doing -- I don't think we would appear to be the hypocrites that we now seem in the eyes of the world .
MMC: You said that when the neo-cons begin to write their memoirs, they're going to talk about someone stabbing them in the back. Who stabbed the neo-cons in the back? I'm a little dense here!
GP: (laughs) It's hard to see because they did have completely control in this case. They won every policy fight. They mastered their opponents. Colin Powell did not get his war. But they've already begun to let us know who stabbed them in the back. For some of them, Paul Bremer is the fall guy -- because he didn't do exactly what Wolfowitz, Feith, and Richard Perle would have had him do in Iraq. For others, we may find that it's the press, the Democratic Party. We may find that it's the CIA and the State Department. We may find that it's some other member of the Administration -- such as Donald Rumsfeld, who let down the team because he didn't make the right decisions. They'll turn on each other as well. But I don't think they'll look at themselves. I don't think that's the way they think.
MMC: And just another follow-up -- we're almost out of time here. When you talk about Colin Powell, after stepping down as head of the State Department, talking to President Bush, why didn't he raise these concerns and criticisms that he had while he was Secretary of State?
GP: I think he did a few times. Bob Woodward's "Plan of Attack" has him going in and saying, "If you break it, you own it." But I think it was Colin Powell's sense of honor and of his role that he did not challenge what he knew to be the President's will. He was the good soldier who either was going to carry out his president's will or leave. And he decided to carry it out. And I think he should have left. Now he's in the position of having essentially signed onto a war that he didn't want, and carried it out in a way that obviously has led to disaster. He couldn't disentangle himself from the Administration. I think he just thought that a good soldier salutes and goes on.
MMC: You say Saddam Hussein's legacy is Iraqis' obsession with ethnic identity, it's the diabolical revenge on his countrymen.
GP: Yeah. It's what he left Iraq with. He used it so brutally to divide, to conquer, to keep his people subject to his violence. Now Iraqis don't trust one another. They identify more strongly with their group -- Shi'ites, Sunni, Kurd -- than they do with Iraqi identity. They have no concept yet of citizenship and responsibility to the civic good. These are things that are beginning to be built in Iraq. Very slowly. And with the violence, with great difficulty. But they are the hope and it takes a long time. We have a responsibility because we are there. We did break it. And for us, I think, to walk away now when Iraqis have essentially bet their lives on us, would turn criminal negligence into something worse.