Powell and the U.N.
With Lee Feinstein
Director for Strategic Policy,
Council on Foreign Relations
Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2003; 1 p.m. ET
Secretary of State Colin Powell makes his case against Iraq when he meets Wednesday with the U.N. Security Council to try to convince the 15-nation body that Iraq is concealing weapons of mass destruction and deliberately thwarting U.N. weapons inspectors. The international response to his "demonstration" will largely determine whether the administration decides to seek a second Security Council resolution authorizing an invasion of Iraq, or whether it decides to bypass the United Nations.
"Powell's tone on Iraq will be very important, especially to what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has described as "old Europe" because Powell has been perceived as the administration's voice of moderation," said Lee Feinstein in an interview with washingtonpost.com. Feinstein is Director for Strategic Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and former senior advisor to Madeleine Albright, secretary of state in the Clinton administration.
Feinstein was online Wednesday, Feb. 5 at 1 p.m. ET, to discuss the Powell presentation.
A transcript follows.
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.
washingtonpost.com: Was Secretary of State Powell's presentation of the case against Iraq convincing to the UN Security Council? What will be the outcome of today's speech?
Lee Feinstein: Secretary Powell provided the most comprehensive account to date of Iraq's failure to meet its UN obligations.
Mr. Powell methodically traced the full range of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, including biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, as well as Saddam's efforts to produce banned medium-range ballistic missiles.
The Secretary also addressed the issue of the link between Saddam and al Qaeda, a link he asserted for the first time only last week.
Secretary Powell's hour-plus presentation did not provide the "smoking gun" some were looking for. Instead it underlined the administration's point that Saddam continues to defy the UN and that even a unanimous Security Council resolution, backed by the threat of force, has not been enough to persuade him to cooperate with inspectors. The bottom line, as the Secretary said, is that there's no reason to believe that given more time Saddam will disarm.
Santa Barbara, Calif.: It appears that France still very strongly favors the continuance of the inspection process over using military intervention. For the foreseeable future, would France veto any UN resolution to use military force to enforce disarmament in Iraq?
Lee Feinstein: I doubt France would veto a resolution. It would serve only to highlight the Security Council's weakness in the face of a determined Anglo-American effort to go to war, if necessary, to disarm Saddam.
Arlington, Va.: I think everyone agrees that Saddam Hussein is a pretty bad dude. But do we not have some real worries about what happens after we remove him from power? Could the democracy we impose on Iraq not lead to an even more radicalized theocratic government a la Iran after the Shah? Do we need to be careful what we wish for here? Seems to me the volatility is likely to get much much worse before it ever gets any better in the region.
Lee Feinstein: Good question, and one the administration has yet to address. A conference of states in the region that would reaffirm each nation's commitment to a united Iraq and pledge also not to interfere would be helpful.
Berlin, Germany: Hi, I think Powell has made the case that, from a legalistic standpoint, Saddam has anything but complied with the resolutions. However, I do not see after Powell's presentation that the inspection process is completely hopeless, that there is absolutely no hope in disarming Iraq peacefully and that war is the only solution. What is your opinion?
Lee Feinstein: Secretary Powell, I believe, made a strong case that no matter how many inspectors the United Nations sends to Iraq -- 200 or 2000 -- no number would be enough to be confident Iraq isn't hiding weapons of mass destruction. The only way that inspections can work effectively at this point is if Saddam actively cooperates with inspectors.
New Brunswick, N.J.: Why can not the UN inspectors find a single proof of WMD in Iraq?
What is wrong with the suggestion of Russia, France and other 98 percent of the world community to double or triple the number of inspectors and give them more time, say 3-6 months, to find real evidence of WMD in Iraq rather than believing few photographs and audio conversation (in 99 percent of the world the wire-tapped audio conversation and photographs are not accepted as a final proof of any guilt)?
I am sure if all the evidence given by Mr. Powell is true then we will see "Smoking Gun" in 3-6 months?
Why to be impatient for six months or so when we are risking so many noble human lives?
Lee Feinstein: This is an excellent question, and it is very similar to the line the British had been shopping around until a few weeks ago. The British position was, sooner or later, the inspectors will turn up clear evidence of a violation. Wait until that happens, at which point it will be much easier to win international support.
The administration, however, sees time as the enemy. If inspections continued, Saddam would likely string out the process, in an effort to blur the focus of the international community.
Columbia, Md.: How likely will any type of coalition fall apart when Israel responds to a direct attack from Iraq?
That is my main concern. Israel will not stand by, this time, if missles are launched against them. How will the other gulf-states react?
Lee Feinstein: Saddam may not have the capability to strike Israel this time. His Scud missiles have been on ice for a decade, and like a car that hasn't been started for a long time, may not work. The most likely way for Saddam to widen the war to Israel would be through sponsorship of terrorism.
The administration has basically given an amber light to an Israeli retaliation if it is attacked. The administration will press Israel to limit the scope of its attack to minimize the political fallout but, as you say, any Israeli involvement will stoke opposition in the Arab world.
Wheaton, Md.: After the war ends, do you think there will be any effort to create an independent state for the Kurds? The UN seems to think creating a Palestinian state for the Arabs in Israel is a just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict but what about Arab-occupied Kurdistan?
Lee Feinstein: The most likely future for the Kurds is autonomy within a federalized Iraqi state.
Glenmont, Md.: Why do you think there is so much opposition to the war within the UN? Do most nations defend and support the brutality, terror and genocide commited by the current Iraqi regime?
Lee Feinstein: There are a lot of different reasons for the opposition. First, though, recall that the original security council resolution passed 15-0, including Syria. So, there is a lot of frustration with Saddam. A lot of the opposition goes to discomfort about the predominant position the United States now holds in the world. It's a paradox that the underlying principles and values of the UN rely so heavily on the power of one state to promote them.
Lyme, Conn.: Why do we seem to be militarily prepared to go to war with Iraq, who is unable to use its weapons without being devastated, when there is North Korea which we know has weapons and a desire to someday overrun South Korea? I know different situations require different responses. Please explain why we need these different responses.
Lee Feinstein: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright used to answer these kinds of questions by saying, "we don't have a cookie cutter foreign policy." And she was right. Different circumstances require different approaches, as Secretary Powell has said in this instance.
In the case of North Korea, however, the administration seems to be betting that time is on its side and that this crisis can wait until after the showdown with Iraq. But the odds on that bet are getting longer each day, however, as the North edges closer to restarting its nuclear capability.
San Francisco Calif.: In your opinion, will the U.S. submit another resolution to the UN Security Council seeking authorization for military action against Iraq? What is the timeline and, alternatively, what is the impact if the U.S., with some international support, "goes it alone"
Lee Feinstein: Good question. There are a lot of possibilities.
The United States could seek a resolution that would simply "accept" the report of the inspectors. That would be hard for anyone to vote against.
Alternatively, there could be a resolution that focused solely on the question of Iraq's noncompliance, without a specific authorization of force.
Finally, there might be a decision to agree to disagree with no resolution beyond the existing one, which Washington has said, and I agree, provides sufficient authority to go to war.
Kensington, Md.: Lee, it seems to me that one of the most important issues here is the credibility of the UN as an institution. Time after time it has resolved as a body that Iraq must comply. Just a couple of months ago, the Security Council did so again, in the most forceful terms yet, by a 15-0 vote. What kind of signal will it send to proliferators and outlaws everywhere if -- led by the likes of France and Russia -- the UN again slinks away, unwilling to enforce its will even in such a visible, high-stakes, case of defiance and continuing refusal to disarm? Wouldn't the UN as an institution become a laughingstock?
Lee Feinstein: Excellent point, and one I think Secretary Powell made very effectively. The Council has issued mandatory resolutions requiring Iraqi disarmament since 1991. Last November it warned of "serious consequences" if Iraq did not meet its obligations. If the Security Council backs down now, its credibility suffers. So do efforts to use the UN to prevent the spread of dangerous weapons.
Washington, D.C.: Given today's events, and everything we've heard so far, when do you think we would begin such a war?
Lee Feinstein: Who knows is the honest answer. Speculation focuses on the end of February, at which time many believe the United States will have the forces in place it believes necessary to go to war. Others believe early March, by which time Germany would have rotated out of the Security Council presidency.
Spartanburg, S.C.: Secretary Powell's presentation was certainly not a "Stevenson moment". His arguments were inductive -- the connection between his premises and his conclusions were not very strong. Adlai Stevenson fared much better, as his "case" was much, much stronger.
Lee Feinstein: Not Stevenson, more like Perry Mason. He made out the elements of a case. No single point was dispositive, but the sum total of the argument -- no amount of time will convince Saddam to disarm -- was, I thought, compelling.
Bethesda, Md.: Pakistan has nuclear weapons and links to terrorists. What is the position of the Pakistani government on war with Iraq, and will the war (if it comes) likely pose a threat to the current government?
Lee Feinstein: Had Pakistan not sided with the United States after 9/11, it would have certainly found itself on a list of rogue nations or, possibly, a fourth Axis of Evil country. Instability in Pakistan, the influence of radical Islam on its government, not to mention its ties to North Korea are cause for worry.
Dallas, Tex.: It is axiomatic that nations will serve their own self-interests first? France and Russia have a huge financial stake, probably larger than any other country, in preserving the status quo in Iraq. My question is, can they afford to be left behind by America and the coalition of the willing when, not if, we attack Iraq?
Lee Feinstein: Right. France and Russia have a huge economic state in a post-Saddam Iraq. Both would like a piece of the oil industry. Russia is owed billions in debt that predated the first Gulf War.
Brookline, Mass.: To me, the argument has been skewed and framed to the point of absurdity. No one disputes that Hussein's regime is atrocious. No one disputes that we can easily win a war against Iraq. But how will we win the peace? How many innocent lives will we take? And anyway, what happened to bin Laden? Why is diplomacy good enough for North Korea and Pakistan, but war the only alternative in Iraq? I have no doubt that Iraq has all kinds of banned weapons. But with the current state of affairs, they are hardly free to roll them out and use them.
Lee Feinstein: My main concern is that the nation is not doing enough to protect itself against terrorism in the likely event that a war in the Gulf increases the dangers to our homeland, as the CIA recently predicted.
Chicago, Ill.: What was most surprising to you about Powell's speech? What parts did you find most convincing, which elements were week in your analysis?
Lee Feinstein: The telephone conversations were vivid and, I think, compelling. The satellite photos were less effective. The link to terrorists, especially al Qaeda were, I think, still unpersuasive.
Copper City, Mich.: If the information Secretary Powell presents today is convincing and compelling, it leads one to wonder why the Administration has waited this long to present it publicly (or otherwise) to the UN. What does this months-long delay suggest to you and other international relations observers?
Lee Feinstein: I think the administration has been slow to make its case. I think the administration has come to realize, however, that it has a responsibility to be as open as possible to the public in order to win its strong backing for a war.
Lee Feinstein: Thanks to all for an excellent series of questions.
That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.
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