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Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS)
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Iraq: Analysis
With Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic & International Studies

Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2003; 11 a.m. ET

In a recent report, national security analyst Anthony Cordesman warns against getting muddled by incremental developments in U.N. weapons inspections of Iraq, lest Iraq's true goals get lost in the process. Cordesman asserts that short-term compliance to U.N. demands is no longer enough -- the human skill and knowledge to proliferate weapons of mass destruction would remain. The New Iraqi Shell Game (PDF File)

Cordesman, Arleigh Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, will be online Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 11 a.m. ET, to discuss his recent reports and the latest developments in the Iraq conflict.

Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.

Cordesman is also a national security analyst for ABC News. He directed the CSIS Middle East Net Assessment Program and acted as codirector of the CSIS Strategic Energy Initiative. Professor Cordesman has previously served as national security assistant to Senator John McCain of the Senate Armed Services Committee, as director of intelligence assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, as civilian assistant to the deputy secretary of defense, and as director of policy and planning for resource applications in the Department of Energy. He has also served in numerous other government positions, including in the State Department and on NATO International Staff, and he has had numerous foreign assignments, including posts in Lebanon, Egypt, and Iran, with extensive work in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.



Alexandria, Va.: Prof. Cordesman, I took an excellent course with you at Georgetown more than a decade ago. At that time you questioned whether continuing the first Gulf War past the liberation of Kuwait would have been wise.

In retrospect, do you think that continuing the Gulf War past the liberation of Kuwait would have been a good idea? Are we finishing unfinished business from the last war?

Anthony Cordesman: The fact is we weren't prepared to go into Iraq in 1991. We didn't have the logistic and combat support we needed. None of our Arab allies were prepared. The British did not have the capability and we had no mandate from the U.N.

Certainly, however, if we had known how dangerous Hussein would remain, we might've changed our original objectives and if we had prepared earlier to overthrow him, it might have prevented the problems we face today.



Potomac Falls, Va.: Any truth to reports that France and Germany have been major partners in building up Iraq's chemical and biological stockpiles?

And, are they afraid that the U.S. will report this once all the stockpiles are discovered after and assuming a U.S. coalition-led victory?

Anthony Cordesman: Germany was one of the countries which provided Iraq with the equipment it needed for chemical and biological weapons before the Gulf war, but most of the stockpiles come from a very diverse supplier. For example, India has supplied significant amounts. Though it is not impossible to think about France or Germany bearing special responsibility.


Chicago, Ill.: I recently heard that Iran fears Iraq is a stepping-stone for the US and that an invasion into Iran is inevitable. Are you aware of any high-level plans within the Bush circle to eventually carry out such a mission?

Anthony Cordesman: The Bush administration has made it clear that it does not intend to invade Iran. None of the logistic support exists for such an operation. There is a major humanitarian mission in Iraq that will put a strain on the forces. This does not prevent a strike against Iran facilities, but I know of no plans to carry out such strikes.


Marseille France: Do you still think France betrayed you? In this case, what about Germany, Russia and China? What about 80 percent of the people in Europe? What about 80 percent of the whole world?

Is it normal for the biggest democracy to treat your friends as traitor just because they don't fully share your point of view? Isn't easy and convenient?

Just imagine one minute that you are making a mistake. Who could say it to you if not your best friend?

So, is the debate still possible in your country? To insult people that don't agree with you is not a solution. It is just facism.

Anthony Cordesman: Overheated rhetoric on both sides is not going to help, either in dealing with Iraq or other issues. There is a great deal of debate within the U.S. over this and among the American people, just as there are debates in Europe.

The key issues we face here are not divisions between Europe and the U.S., but how to best deal with threat posed by Saddam Hussein. If this is to be resolved, either Iraq has to completely disarm immediately and unconditionally, which is set forth in resolution 1441, or some kind of action must be taken to compel Iraq to do this.

The debate should be over the best way to remove the threat, but not the type of rhetoric some Americans and some Europeans have used.


Glenmont, Md.: Do France, Germany and Belgium really believe Iraq is contained or are they just concerned about their current business dealings with Saddam Hussein? Have the political leaders of these three nations been bought off by Saddam?

Anthony Cordesman: Germany, France and Belgium do not have the same motivation. In all three countries a strong majority oppose war and they are democracies. Germany has taken a very strong stand because the present chancellor is weak politically and he has taken an unusually strong stand on foreign policy. The French do have economic ties with Iraq, but many French oppose strong action against Iraq. The Belgians are taking a political stance because of popular opposition to the war.

But to accuse them of being bought off is unrealistic. It's hard to explain to people who see Iraq as wealthy that the trade value of economic ties to the U.S. makes any kind of economic deal with Iraq minor compared to ties to the U.S. The idea that Iraq could buy off these countries is totally unrealistic.


San Diego, Calif.: Mr. Cordesman,
You apparently have the knack of reporting only one side of the story, such as Iraq's human rights violations. Yet you conveniently ignore the U.S's continuing support for the military oppression in Columbia against Columbian workers. Nor do you have the veracity to report the truth about President Bush's and Collin Powell's continued lack of truth to the American public. Do you really think that you can help support a rogue president in his desire for world domination without your readers being aware of it and worse for you not holding you and President Bush accountable for it?

Anthony Cordesman: You need a psychologist, not a social scientist.


Syracuse, N.Y.: In 1991 we had no UN mandate but had a much broader coalition than is assembled now. How can we expect the kind of short, clean outcome that the Bush administration has been predicting?

Anthony Cordesman: In 1991, its important to understand that none of our Arab allies were willing to invade Iraq and key allies like Syria did not advance, and Egypt lagged badly.

We did not have support for an invasion of Iraq. But the issue you raise about how long and costly the war will be...

We cannot forget the seriousness of war, or that Saddam will do some desperate act -- like attacking Israel or striking out at his own people. This war could be costly and long. But if we don't act. If Saddam goes on for years and has truly lethal weapons of mass destruction, the fact is, we don't have a good choice. We simply have to find the least bad alternative.


Harrisburg, Pa.: Let me begin by first stating that by no means do I think Saddam Hussein should be in power. Yet, have we overblown just how evil he really is? Over a week ago, it was reported yet little noted in the press that a CIA analyst stated it more likely was Iran, and not Saddam Hussein, who used chemical warfare to kill Iraqi Kurds. Plus, while it is very tragic that approximately 50,000 Iraqis have been killed by government action (be in Saddam Hussein or Iran), it was reported that approximately 100,000 Iraqis may have died from American military action. How can we win the support of the Iraqi people if we have a similar or worse violent response to what they receive from their government? In sum, what is the purpose of military intervention in Iraq if it is likely going to destroy so many lives?

Anthony Cordesman: Worst case estimates always indicate that military action should not take place and worst cases are possible. But the figures you cite are improbable. The CIA analyst you referred to in no way reflects the views of the U.S. intelligence community. It is quite clear that it was Iraq which used chemical weapons. In the case of the numbers you estimate, no one can ignore that there could be use of chemical and biological weapons.

But keep this in mind... waiting till Saddam has MORE lethal capabilities would result in more casualties. The Iraqi people have suffered for 30 years. There is still low level civil fighting going on in southern Iraq. The only reason the kurds are able to function is that they are protected by the U.S. So what we have again, is a series of bad choices. A quick and decisive war would get rid of this dictator, but no, we can't guarantee that we have the most desirable outcome.


Vienna, Va.: When the front page of the papers read "Saddam is Dead", do you think that the risk of terrorist activity in our country will increase?

Anthony Cordesman: We can't really predict the level of terrorist activity. Much of it is not tied to Iraq. Islamic extremism comes from other causes and other places. In much of the Islamic world is going through economic and social conversion that is likely to last for decades. We are on the fringe of this path. Despite what happens in Iraq, the threat of terrorism will still be there. Americans simply have to realize the world we live in will be a risk that lasts our lifetimes.


Helena, Mont.: I fail to see why Hussein is more dangerous now than he was 10 years or 5 years ago. What has changed that leads us to defy world opinion and continue on essentially alone?

Anthony Cordesman: WHat we have watched is a steady process. Since 1991, a country that has pursued WMD -- even at the cost of foregoing it's oil revenues. We don't face an immediate risk, but the problem is the cumulative risk. In a part of the world where this dictator can threaten countries that have 60 percent of the world's oil reserves. If UNSCOM and the IAEA are not ejected from Iraq, containment may work. Even today, while Hans Blix called for this on Feb. 14, it is important to note that the Iraqi ambassador's immediate response was to eject. Sooner or later we're going to have to deal with this problem.


New York, NY: Greetings,

I'm curious: in 1991 Iraq was clearly the aggressor. We had a legitimate reason to be there, overwhelming force, and the goodwill and aid of most of our allies. Yet even then it was decided not to finish the job.

Now, in 2003, Iraq has not invaded anyone. We have not beaten down their defenses (although I don't doubt we could in a minute.) Our diplomacy has been strikingly inept to the point of alienating many of our allies, and public opinion worldwide is at least in significant part against us.

How under these circumstances does it become feasible to topple Saddam now, if it wasn't feasible when we were so much closer to that goal in 1991?

Anthony Cordesman: In 1991, no one had discussed toppling Saddam. The issue was never raised. IT was never debated in the U.N. The question was could we liberate Kuwait. The fact is, we didn't do it at the time. It w as not a policy goal. The broader issue you raise of going ahead without international support is a different one.

As we look back, I think it will be clearly that the U.S. fared badly because of diplomacy. During the Clinton admin, it never tried to explain containment or the oil for food issue. It never made clear the threat of proliferation or that Iraq continued to build capability. The Bush admin was slow to build its case, waiting till the last moment. It acted in a climate where most of the Middle East was mad at the U.S. It came in a context where many felt the Americans had been arrogant in dealing with other issues -- The Kyoto treaty, etc. One thing we're going to have to learn, is that being the world's only superpower in no way means we are are free from the need to consult our allies.

American moral posturing will not be a substitute for those activities.


Reston, Va.: Do you see the outcome of the Iraq situation affecting the North Korea situation at all?

Anthony Cordesman: The fact is that what we do in Iraq, if quick and decisive, may act as a deterrent to Korea. But that operates by different regional dynamics and is not likely to change its policies.


Washington, D.C.: You mention that the biological and weapons have come "from a very diverse supplier" and that Germany bears some "special responsibility" for providing Iraq with chemical weapons. What about the US, who provided most of the chemical weapons, including anthrax, to Iraq, when Donald Rumsfeld was visiting Iraq on behalf of Ronald Reagan (as reported in the Washington Post)?

washingtonpost.com: There's a Reason Why There Hasn't Been Much of a Fight (Post, Feb. 16, 2003)

Anthony Cordesman: In all deference to the Post, both the article and the Oped piece were ridiculous and based on a singular lack of research into what had been learned about the Iran Iraq war. The U.S. did ship non-lethal cultures to Iraq and gave no advantages in developing weapons of mass destruction. Charges that we provided test equipment and computers, these were items available on the world market. You look at the history of where these imports came from and you find they came from a variety of countries. The principle suppliers during the Iran/Iraq war were a variety of European countries. They were shipped as dual use items, usually to other addresses in other countries. They were shipped to 27 different Iraqi front firms. Only a few equipment suppliers knew what was happening and these were later prosecuted.

Virtually all the chemical weapons came from Asian suppliers -- India -- though some were smuggled from European countries. Many have misidentified things like insecticide, and we know these are not part of the weapons effort.


New York, N.Y.: Good morning, Mr. Cordesman.

Wesley Clark told Tim Russert that he views war with Iraq as "elective surgery," by which I presume he means it is not a necessary operation. This is clearly not the Bush administration's view. Where do you come down on this issue? If closer to Clark, has this war become necessary only to preserve Bush's face, as some in his administration seem very close to saying?

Anthony Cordesman: I think we need to be very careful about over-simplifying the issues here. There is a choice to be made between disarmament and war. Disarmament may work and none of us can know that till we see this debate played out in the U.N.

But in my view it is elective surgery only in the sense that we either do it now or do something later.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: What about the recent CIA report that said that currently Iraq poses no threat to the US or it's immediate neighbors, and will only use weapons of mass destruction against them when attacked? Why is this being ignored? Because it will be a nice self-fulfilling prophecy when we do start a war against them and they return the favor, we can justify it in reverse?

Anthony Cordesman: I think you are referring to a letter by George Tenet which says we are talking about a country still building up its capability not yet strong enough to threaten its neighbors. The problem is not the IRaq we face today, but the IRaq in a few years if it continues the WMD build-up. But if we go to war, it could lash out and use them. Again, the problem is, how much worse will the situation be if we do not disarm Iraq.


New York, NY: Follow-up:

RE: "One thing we're going to have to learn, is that being the world's only superpower in no way means we are are free from the need to consult our allies.

American moral posturing will not be a substitute for those activities."

I agree with you 110% Do you think we're any closer to getting more realistic about our role in the world? Has the last few months taught our administration anything about the value of diplomacy?

Anthony Cordesman: I think has taught some administration officials, but I think it is surprising that the administration did not realize the level of opposition it faced at the UN, and hasn't come to grips with popular opposition. There are far too many in American politics who see opposition as appeasement, where the product is a failure of will.

That will not allow us to adapt and improve our diplomacy. I think all of us as Americans have to realize that however convinced we are of our own values, we still have a world to sway and that does not apply to Iraq.

If we come out of this war, we will still have the problems of the second Intifada. It will not change the situation in Asia, Latin America -- we will still have to redefine NATO and our relations with the EU. The whole issue of proliferation will extend beyond Iraq. India and Pakistan...

World development problems will be just as serious. We all need to understand, how do we deal with the future outside Iraq and we need to understand that we need to change several aspects of our diplomacy.


Ashburn, Va.: If a war begins, and Iraq uses WMD against our troops or against Israel, do you think it would change the minds of France, Germany, etc.?

Anthony Cordesman: It is certainly going to be very difficult for those who oppose the war today to argue they were right if Iraq uses WMD or if we find and prove that Iraq was carrying out all the operations Powell listed. There is a real problem here and there is on the part of many, a virtual denial about the problem of proliferation and regional threats that they did not face. Such Iraqi action may change world opinion, but we need to remember that we have to be just as successful in nation-building as we are in winning the war. So this will dependent on winning the peace as in whether Iraq uses WMD.


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