America rampant or a world made safe? Galina J Michkovitch talks to Clinton's CIA directorby Galina J Michkovitch / September 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2003 issue of Prospect Magazine
Galina J Michkovitch: Can you explain the gulf between US and European views of the world? James Woolsey: Well, it is not a US-European split. In the weeks before the Iraq war, 18 European countries backed the US and Britain while two backed France and Germany. (It is true that the public opinion polls in Europe were much more critical of the US.) Interestingly, many European states with recent experience of totalitarianism were favourable to the British/US view. Poland and Spain are good examples. Both experienced totalitarianism far more recently than France and Germany. The Franco-German view discounted the importance of Iraq being a totalitarian dictatorship and thus posing certain dangers to its neighbours and to the world. GJM: Many Europeans do not like the idea that it is the US which judges whether a regime has the right to exist. Is there no room for international law? JW: The Bush administration listed three criteria in its strategy statement last September on the possible need to take pre-emptive action against a government. First, that it should be a dictatorship which oppresses its people; second, it should have close ties to terrorist groups; third, it should possess, or be working towards possessing, weapons of mass destruction. A number of countries meet one or two of these criteria, but not all three. The ones that do meet all three are the four remaining dictatorships of the Muslim world-Iran, Syria, Sudan and Libya-plus North Korea. The list of states that might be considered for pre-emptive action is a limited one. GJM: But pre-emption contradicts international law. JW: I do not believe that is true. Before the formation of the UN, and in over 100 cases since, states have decided when a country posed a threat to them and whether they should take action. The UN security council itself has authorised military force only twice: first in Korea, because the Soviet Union had walked out and could not use its veto; second in the Gulf war of 1991. None of the other wars was authorised. The French government spends a lot of time in west Africa setting up and knocking down governments. Apparently the thought of going to the security council for authorisation has never crossed its mind. GJM: What, then, is the point of the UN? JW: There will always be a need for a general assembly in which all nations of the world can come together, talk and deliberate. A number of UN agencies are very useful on humanitarian relief, food aid, the World Health Organisation and so on. The security council, however, has always disappointed the hopes of those who in 1945 thought that it would become the agent of collective security. As I have said, that has only happened twice. Any system that requires members of the security council to act together is doomed. The security council passed 17 resolutions condemning Iraq for violations of the ceasefire agreement signed in 1991. But it could not agree on action because of French and Russian vetoes. The League of Nations looks decisive by comparison. One also needs to note that some UN commissions have done things, such as appointing Gaddafi chairman of the human rights commission, which open the UN to ridicule. It is important to try to save the UN, to help it fulfil those functions it can fulfil. My hunch is that in the future the US will pursue a path similar to that of the Clinton administration in Kosovo: it talked, informally, to the security council, was told of a prospective Russian veto, so it proceeded to move against Milosevic with its allies. GJM: The world has changed with the end of the cold war and 9/11-how would you describe it now? JW: The world we knew during the cold war and particularly just afterwards, throughout the 1990s, was far easier to deal with. The Soviets were a stodgy and bureaucratic enemy, even though they certainly had their lethal side. In the 1990s, the US went off on a national beach party the way we did in the roaring twenties. We have a history of thinking after a war is won that the world is fixed and ought to stay fixed, so now we’ll go party. We were living in a fool’s paradise. What woke us up on 11th September is the world that will exist for a long time to come. It was not an isolated incident. Al Qaeda will be around for decades. Other democratic countries are seriously at risk from international terrorism, including terrorism using weapons of mass destruction, and will be for many years. We must all wake up to this fact and not pretend that we can wait for a regular army to invade with banners flying before we take action. GJM: Threat perceptions differ in Europe and the US. JW: If you look at governments the differences are not that great-it was mainly France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg that saw the Iraqi threat differently. If one looks at public opinion, it is clear there are big differences between the US and Europe on the degree to which terrorism poses a threat. Unfortunately, our European friends are likely to be woken relatively soon. If they are not woken by the French engineers being killed in Pakistan or German tourists being killed in Tunisia, they will be woken by other terrorist attacks closer to home. GJM: European public opinion was against the Iraq war and feels itself vindicated by the apparent absence of weapons of mass destruction. JW: There is a great deal of confusion here because of the nature of chemical and bacteriological weapons. We are not talking about big, easily identifiable things like nuclear reactors producing fissile material, we are talking-in the case of chemical and bacteriological weapons-of dual-use facilities. Bacteriological weapons can be made in facilities that would normally produce pharmaceuticals, with one or two modest changes. The same is true of chemical weapons which can be made in factories that would normally manufacture fertilisers. Moreover, it is not really necessary, particularly in the case of biological weapons, to produce large volumes of material. Biological weapons are produced by living organisms which can grow rapidly in the right environment. All you need to store genetically-modified anthrax is a laboratory petri dish. Based on past production and the lack of evidence provided by the Iraqis of destruction, it was clear as the Iraq war began that they had biological and chemical weapons programmes. The main concern was always that they would use those weapons on Scud warheads against Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Israel the way they had used conventional warhead Scuds in the 1991 war. They were prevented from doing so by allied special forces who, several days before the war started, attacked all sites in the western and southern deserts from which such weapons might have been launched. This meant only aircraft could have launched biological or chemical weapons. But during the war Iraq’s air force could not get one aircraft off the ground. And on the battlefield the Iraqis had very little use for chemical or biological weapons. Biological weapons take at least two weeks to have effect so they are not really useful there; they are mainly terror weapons. In late April, the New York Times carried a frontpage piece by Judith Miller. It quoted a captured senior Iraqi scientist who indicated that he had been ordered to destroy important parts of the Iraqi chemical weapons stockpile two or three days before the war began. He was also ordered to hide very securely any equipment and samples that might be of use in future production. If that was the pattern, one would have to surmise that the Ba’athists expected a long air attack from the allied forces-stopping before ground troops reached Baghdad-and then some sort of proposed deal, as in 1991. If this theory is right, then it seems they were very carefully hiding manufacturing components and samples in order to reconstitute them after the war. GJM: How much information should the intelligence services be offering to the public without damaging national security? JW: Both the British and American intelligence services cleared for public consumption about as much as one could possibly clear before the war. In the postwar assessment of how accurate the intelligence was, they will be asked again to clear as much as they can. But there is always a great deal that cannot be made public without disclosing intelligence sources and methods. For example, if we revealed every intercepted electronic signal that might be relevant to understanding what we knew about Iraq, it would help Iran, Syria, Libya or Sudan to understand how to mask those signals. In the US, the congressional committees are a proxy for congress and the public in understanding the classified details of what intelligence services know. There are four committees that have jurisdiction over intelligence. Their members and staff comprise several hundred individuals who have security clearance. These committees oversee vigorously the collection and analysis of data and every other aspect of intelligence. In my first year as director of Central Intelligence , congress was in session 195 days. I had 205 appointments on Capitol Hill. The committees have a thorough insight into the intelligence, including the most classified kind, and they vigorously go about their job of overseeing how it is collected, analysed and used. GJM: Is a power battle being fought out in Washington over the future of US foreign policy? JW: One of my friends, Michael Novak, says that the US system of government is: in God we trust and for everybody else, there are checks and balances. We have vigorous disputation all the time between various parts of congress and the executive branch on foreign and defence policy and intelligence matters. Within the executive branch, the president has the flexibility to have different points of view expressed. President Bush, to his credit, has a reasonably high tolerance for disagreement between different parts of the national security establishment. He is able to make better decisions because he has these issues argued out in front of him. There is nothing exceptional about the level and degree of disagreement between cabinet departments in this government compared with previous administrations. GJM: The occupation of Iraq is accompanied by a lot of disorder. Should this not have been foreseen? JW: There are a few reasons why the looting was not more quickly contained. The US forces were one division short. The Turks declined to permit the 4th division to move through Turkey into northern Iraq, due to lobbying by some European countries. Therefore we moved with the British 1st division, the American 1st marine division and the 3rd infantry division-a full division short of what was planned. That left far fewer troops available in the immediate aftermath of the war to serve on duties such as anti-looting. The second reason is that it was decided by the American commander at the time-and rightly-to move on to Baghdad quickly. It was a blitzkrieg type offensive-moving quickly and devastatingly without protecting one’s flanks. As a result, the Iraqi information minister was giving a public briefing, saying there were no allied troops nearby, while on the split screen one could see the US troops at the airport heading towards downtown Baghdad. The city fell before there were as many forces as there might have been with either a slower campaign or a campaign in which the 4th division was able to move through southern Turkey. There was more looting than anybody wanted to see. As the war ended the American and British commanders had to choose what to protect and how best to protect it. They did the best they could with the resources they had. This does not indicate a long-term inability to bring law and order and, in time, democracy and the rule of law to Iraq. However, there are two main barriers. One is the remaining Ba’athists in towns like Fallujah. Part of the Iraqi army melted away to fight another day, so there are officers and former Ba’athists trying hard to undermine the occupation. The other group is those Shi’i who are responsive to the mullahs in Tehran. They are not the majority of the Shi’i in Iraq or in Iran. Khomeini’s invention of the velayat-e faqih (rule of the clerics) is a departure from traditional Shi’i practice. Except for the 10th century in the Fatimid dynasty in Egypt, the Shi’i have generally separated mosque from state, partly because they have often been the poor and dispossessed, and partly because many of them are Twelver Shi’i (waiting for the 12th imam to return as the Mahdi). This is why it is not just the students, the women and the reformers, but also increasing numbers of Iranian clerics, including some conservative grand Ayatollahs, who are critical of Khomeini and other mullahs operating the instruments of state. There is an opportunity today in Iraq, working with the substantial majority of the Shi’i and their clerics, to help build a state that does not dictate religion, does not oppress religious minorities. There will be a substantial role for Iraqis and Iraqi institutions. Some departments, for example transport, are likely to be handed over to Iraqis before, let’s say, the interior ministry, where one has to make sure there aren’t any hardcore Ba’athists left. And this will take time, but we are not writing on an empty slate. Iraq, in ancient times as Babylon, invented one aspect of the rule of law with Hammurabi’s code. The Iraqi population is well educated compared to some other Arab countries. The country also has a tradition, dating from the 1950s, of sound criminal and civil codes drafted by distinguished jurists. This country also has the second largest oil reserves in the world, so once it is pumping oil it should be able to support a government, the development of sound institutions and a middle class. It needs some help getting started. My hunch is it will take a few years-not decades, but not a few months either. GJM: What are the implications for the rest of the middle east, for countries like Syria and Iran? JW: Eliot Cohen wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal two months after 11th September in which he said we were engaged in the fourth world war. His explicit parallel was to the cold war, which he called the third world war. The most important aspect of the parallel was that in the long run, much of the battle would be ideological. Although we used our military forces to deter and contain the Soviets in the cold war and to fight on the periphery, our victory in the long run came about through convincing millions of people behind the iron curtain that this was not the clash of civilisations, nor even the clash of countries, but a war for freedom against tyranny. In time, the principal reason we won was that we convinced Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Andrei Sakharov and millions like them that we in the west were on their side and they on ours. We now have to focus on doing the same in this war against terrorism and against those who support it and drive it. We have to focus on making common cause with hundreds of millions of Muslims who do not want to be terrorists and do not want to live under dictatorships. The substantial majority of Muslims now live in democracies. Freedom House, the oldest American human rights organisation, which I chair, says that there are 121 democracies in the world: 89 of these are free, meaning they have regular elections and enjoy the basic elements of the rule of law; another 55 such as Russia and Indonesia are partly free. That is an incredible leap from 11 democracies in August 1914 (and those only for the male halves of the populations). The fact that the majority of the world’s Muslims live in democracies suggests that there is no fundamental incompatibility between Islam and democracy. But there is a special problem in the middle east. Outside Israel and Turkey the governments of the middle east consist of two types: vulnerable autocracies and pathological predators. This is not a good mix. In the Arab world there are 22 states but no democracies. This is partly the result of the influence of the Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia and partly a result of the carving up of the middle east after the first world war by the British and the French. It is also a problem that the US has given the people of the middle east the impression that we regard the region as our filling station. The first example of this was in 1991 when, with half a million troops inside Iraq, we had Saddam on the ropes and we signed a ceasefire agreement which permitted him to move the Republican Guard around at will. Then we watched them massacre Kurds and Shi’i whom we had encouraged to rebel. One of the most important things for us to do is to change the image the people of the middle east have of America. It doesn’t mean that we can or should change all of the governments of the middle east. But as we replace, or see replaced, some of these regimes, and as we help the Afghans and the Iraqis and others to work towards constitutions that protect individual rights and the rule of law and provide for regular elections-as we treat the middle east the way we have treated Europe-the perceptions will evolve. We did not assume that Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians could not operate a democracy because they had not experienced one in recent history. We should not make assumptions of that sort about Arabs. No one is exempt from wanting a decent life for his family and representative institutions for his country. It takes time and effort. We need to help the governments of the Arab world to move towards democracy in the interest of their happiness and freedom and in the interest of peace. GJM: Can the European-American rift be healed? JW: The heart of the view that “whatever the Americans are doing must be wrong” comes from the government of France. We and the French have had a long and sometimes unhappy marriage for 225 years, since before the battle of Saratoga. Usually, when there is a big crisis or a war-the Cuban missile crisis or the Gulf war of 1991-the family pulls together. It didn’t happen this time. The French government not only tried to intimidate those European countries that said they would support the American and British position, but for a number of weeks vetoed assistance to Turkey. This was the first time a Nato member government had ever asked for assistance. Eventually we moved the discussion to the defence committee of Nato, where France has no presence. It was a remarkable series of events. I cannot assess why French unilateralism has gone so far beyond understandable inter-familial fussing and now assumes that one cannot be a good European and a good Atlanticist. I do not know why President Chirac and his government, supported by most French intellectuals, have come to this view. It is wrong and dangerous. The US and Europe-including France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg-need to work closely together. In time, most Europeans will see this and see that the threat posed by rogue states, international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is real and global, and that we all need to work together to provide for a better, safer, more democratic world.