Did Powell Make the Case?
With Mel Goodman
Center for International Policy
Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2003; Noon ET
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell presented classified material to the U.N. Security Council to make the case that Iraq is concealing weapons of mass destruction. Powell provided audio and visual evidence of Iraq's chemical war plants and efforts to conceal the making of biological and chemical weapons. How accurate was the data? Did Powell make the case?
Mel Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and former CIA analyst, will be online Tuesday, Feb. 11 at Noon ET, to discuss the uses of intelligence in Powell's speech.
The 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.
Mel Goodman: I'm looking forward to this important discussion on the intelligence dimensions of the Iraqi situation and the Powell speech. At the outset, want to remind all of you that there were two Adlai Stevension moments at the UN in the early 60s. We are all familiar with the 1962 use of U-2 photography to make the case against the Soviet deployment of short and medium-range missiles in Cuba. Many of us may have forgotten that Stevenson was given false information from the White House in 1961 that was presented to the UN. The false information was that the Cuban air force was attacking Fidel Castro's government. In fact, Stevenson did not know that this was the beginning of the Bay of Pigs invasion and that the aircraft belonged to US National Guard units and had been requisitioned by the CIA. So, the issue of intelligence and policy is a complicated one. As for me, remember that, in addition to being a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, I am also a professor at the National War College. Today, I am speaking for myself and my remarks do not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the National Defense University. Let's begin:
Monroe, La.: If the United States decides to go along with France and Germany in not attacking Iraq, and later it turns out that President Bush was correct about Sadaam having weapons of mass destruction, now what?
Mel Goodman: There are obvious risks in acting or not acting at this time. But even if it were established that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, remember that the forces of containment are in place, the no-fly zones are being monitored, Hussein is in a very vulnerable position, and none of this is likely to change in the near term. In other words, the threat is not imminent even if you are correct.
Elverson, Pa.: While Secretary Powell has made the case that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and has defied numerous UN resolutions, do you think he made a compelling case for an immediate attack on Iraq?
If the Bush administration were to get behind the more robust inspection plan the French and now the Russians have endorsed, don't you think Saddam Hussein would be contained? The CIA says thete is no evidence that he has given forbidden weapons to al-Qaida terrorists, and the CIA has said he is unlikely to use weapons of mass destruction against Americans unless we attack him.
I'm usually no big fan of the CIA, but in this case, shouldn't we be listening to them?
Mel Goodman: Yes, I certainly agree that we should be listening to the analysis of the CIA in this case. It was the CIA that argued last fall and continues to argue that the best scenario involving Iraqi use of WMD is in response to a US attack. I agree. Thus the US policy is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we expect Saddam Hussein to use WMD, then invade him and he is likely to do so.
Washington, D.C.: What specific kind of information, in your opinion, does our intelligence compile that has changed our warning level to orange?
Mel Goodman: I believe that the intelligence organizations have made it clear that there is no specific information available. The White House and the Homeland Security Department moved the threat level because of the volume of message traffic and not because of any specific warning. In fact, the CIA and the FBI opposed changing the threat level, but they were overruled. Again, I believe the CIA was correct in this call. We are being over-alerted and we soon tire of the process.
Los Altos Hills, Calif.: Given our inability to discover the source of anthrax attacks in our own country even with the clues provided by its use, how can inspectors in Iraq have any hope of discovering all of Iraq's WMDs against Saddam's wishes?
What is the endgame for any inspection plan? If Iraq is left with the knowhow and the will to build WMDs, why won't they simply restock chemical and biological weapons when inspections are "complete"?
Given Saddam's known close links with Hamas, and Al Qaeda's efforts to forge ties with the Palestinians, isn't it possible Saddam will give WMDs to Hamas for use against Israeli? If so, why should we think such weapons and knowhow would not eventually move to terrorists that would attack America?
Mel Goodman: It is very difficult to monitor chemical and biological facilities in the best of circumstances, let alone the cat-and-mouse game that Iraq is currently employing. Nevertheless, we have no evidence that Iraq is sharing its WMD with third countries or parties (unlike North Korea, by the way) and no evidence that Iraq is in a situation to actually deliver these weapons effectively. Again, the best scenario for Iraq sharing these weapons is in the wake of a US invasion. The evidence on deployment and capacity does not support going to war. The evidence on efforts to develop suggests the need for intensifying inspections or resorting to coercive inspections. The use of the U-2 over Iraq is an important step. We obvious have Saddam Hussein's attention.
New York, N.Y.: In his presentation at the U.N., Colin Powell went to some length to support the Bush administration's claim of a strong link between the regime in Iraq and al Qaeda. True or not, how can the administration fail to acknowledge that, according to this argument, a U.S. attack on Iraq will almost certainly trigger further terrorist attacks against Americans by al Qaeda?
Mel Goodman: The portion of Powell's speech that dealt with the so-called Iraqi link to Al Qaeda was clearly the weakest part of Powell's argument. It was very dependent on information from detainees, presumably involving the use of torture techniques, and not supported by foreign intelligence agencies that have been our best human sources on Al Qaeda and terrorism. It is certainly possible that Al Qaeda would exploit an American invasion of Iraq to resort to another act of terrorism. But Al Qaeda presumably has its own timetable for acts of terrorism and, let's face it, our sources on such acts have not been fully developed.
Ruidoso, N.M.: MEL- With all the intelligence info. on the ground, and all the info from U-2 spy planes, why can't we pinpoint where Saddam is and take him out in the first 15 minutes of an attack? If we don't, he will become another UBL in hiding and that's not good.
Mel Goodman: The recent past demonstrates that it is terribly difficult to pinpoint specific individuals to support military operations. We had difficulty for years in Lebanon to find the kidnappers of the CIA station chief; we have failed thus far to find Osama bin Ladin and his top followers; we had difficulty in Panama. Our only success in this area was in Libya in 1986 when we had the actual location of Qadhafi, thanks to Israeli intelligence supplied at the last minute.
Fairfax, Va.: What do you think of the possiblity that N. Korea would take advantage of the situation after we commence hostilities with Iraq and attack the South? The leader there seems to be crazy enough to attempt such an action.
Mel Goodman: The North Koreas are already effectively exploiting our preoccupation with Iraq to raise the nuclear issue in our bilateral relations. But Kim Jong Il is not crazy and I would not expect him to use military force against the South unless he did so in retaliation. It is unfortunate that the Bush administration abandoned the effective Clinton policies toward North Korea, which brought us the Agreed Framework of 1994 and a freeze on certain North Korean testing and certain WMD development. We must get back to the table.
Arlington, Va.: So, if the intellegence community counseled against rasing the threat level to orange why did the White House do it? Do they have something to gain by keeping us all living in fear? Do they think the public will give the greater support to do whatever they want if we feel afraid for our safety and security?
Mel Goodman: I believe that there is great concern in the bureaucracy that some type of evidence will be ignored and there will be an attack that will lead to all sorts of incriminations. Unfortunately, this type of thinking leads to worse casing of this serious problem and the overuse of the alert mechanism. Certainly US fear at this points contributes to support of policies that involve the use of force. The overuse of this instrument of alerts, however, will lead to cyncism and the overall interests of the nation will not be served.
Washington, D.C.: In the one instance where they caught some people talking about "nerve agents" on the telephone, is there any detail or context that reduces the likelihood of the evidence being staged by some overzealous CIA people just trying to provide some fodder for the higher-ups to latch onto?
Mel Goodman: I am not into conspiratorial interpretations and I strongly disbelieve that the telephone intercepts were faked or manipulated in any way. Certainly intelligence has been misusued by the government in the past (Vietnam, KAL 007, the so-called Papal Plot, etc.) but I believe the intercepts were genuine and present the best case for intensified inspections, but not war.
Cumberland, Md.: Why this push for more inspectors? Blix has already said that more inspectors are not needed, what is needed is greater Iraqi cooperation.
Mel Goodman: The international community generally supports intensified inspection; Blix supports more time to conduct inspections and the use of U-2 flights; and virtually the entire international community supports greater cooperation. We should develop our policy around these facets of the international community in order to maintain our credibility and legitimacy as a world leader.
Washington, D.C.: I'm very torn on this issue and am trying hard to come to a conclusion. To me, the best reasons for attacking Iraq are (1) enforcing the U.N. resolutions and therefore helping the U.N. maintain validity; (2) freeing the Iraqi people of a terrible government; and (3) possibly encouraging more liberal governments in the Middle East. My primary misgiving is a sense that the Bush administration isn't seriously preparing to maintain order and human rights in a post-Saddam Iraq. Your thoughts?
Mel Goodman: I believe that the US would do great hard to the credibility of the UN if it resorted to force without an international consensus; that we cannot be sure that "freeing" the Iraqi people will not lead to a more terrible situation involving the fragmentation of Iraq and more brutal recrimination and revenge; and that there is little chance of getting that liberal, democratic regime you seek for Iraq. I strongly agree that this is an administration that uses military force and then wants to turn the difficult peacemaking and national building job over to others. Witness Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the Bush administratin muddled the argument by calling for regime change. Our issue should revolve only around WMD and non-proliferation.
Falls Church, Va.: Do you believe there are ANY circumstances under which unilateral U.S. action against Iraq would be justified?
Mel Goodman: Yes, if we were to learn authoritatively that Saddam Hussein had developed and deployed WMD, we should take immediate military action to target the actual sites of deployment. I would even take some risks in interpretation of the intelligence because of the great risk of the usage of such weapons. But our evidentiary base at this point does not suggest the use of force, particularly the imminent need for force.
Conway, Ark.: How damaging is the rift in NATO? Is there any chance France would withdraw from the alliance as it did in the 1960s? Is delegitimizing the UN and NATO a possible goal of the Bush Administration, and if so, to what end?
Also, Thomas Friedman noted in a column last fall that every regime change in Iraq over the past 30 years has been done with the assistance of the Kurds, only to see a falling out between the parties and hostilities. Couldn't those NATO members reticent to aid Turkey simply be wary of their air defence forces being drawn into internal peacekeeping with Turkey's Kurdish population (or simply afraid of being caught up in a bad situation)?
Mel Goodman: The rift in NATO is very serious and I personally doubt that NATO will recover. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO has lost its reason d'etat, and the enlargment of NATO further weakened the institution as a political and military alliance. This unfortunate difference over the use of force in Iraq calls for more effective diplomacy and not the kind of name-called that we have seen recently in Washington. A serious fence-building job will be needed as soon as possible. But it may be too late this time.
I believe that NATO has many reasons for not wanting to aid Turkey at this time, including the possible fragmentation of Iraq and a terrible geopolitical situation; the involvement of Turkish forces in a war with the Kurds; the involvement of Iranian forces who enter Iraq on behalf of the majority population, the Shiites. The scenarios are very complicated and many promise a more difficult security situation for the United States and key West European states.
Arlington, Va: What is wrong with the U.S. using military force against Afghanistan, then enlisting the help of other nations to rebuild?
Or did you not think we were justified in attacking Afghanistan?
Mel Goodman: The use of military force was justified but it does little good to win the battle and lose the war because we are unwilling to take on the conditions of the failed state in Afghanistan and thus allow the problems to return. We should have learned some of these lessons in Africa, particularly our experience in Angola, where we mishandled the post-war challenge of nation building.
Rockville, Md.: Good morning,
Colin Powell refused to answer journalist questions about why the refusal to target the Al Qaida camp anti -Sadam Kurd controlled Northern Iraq and area that's right under the UK and the US plane surveillance. If the US knows the location of this camp, why has the US refused to even consider it? This doesn't make any sense.
Mel Goodman: I totally agree that it made no sense. Unless we didn't have the evidence that we suggested we had. Reporters have visited the site you mention and found a rather primitive facility with electricity or water...unlikely facility for the somewhat sophisticated task of using chemical and biological agents. Again, the so-called Iraqi-Al Qaeda link was the weakest part of the speech and US interests would have been better served if Powell had left it out, which was his original intention. Who changed Powell's mind?
Rockville, Md.: Suppose the US goes along with France and Germany's containment strategy. If Sadaam ends up using WMD against another country, are France and Germany willing to accept responsibility including full financial compensation?
Mel Goodman: Earlier I noted that there were all sorts of risks in acting and not acting, but the key is that Saddam Hussein is contained and has never used WMD against a superior force. We have time to act; there is no need or even cause for a preemptive strike.
Montreal, Quebec - Canada: Could it be possible that Mr. Bush will try just about anything so as not to lose face? After all, millions of dollars have already been spent on sending troops abroad, and no American President has ever backed off from firm decisions such as this one in the past. He seems to me as a man of war, not of peace. So much more can be done to avoid a conflict of devastating consequences for generations to come; for ex., what about the "Liliputian approach"?
washingtonpost.com: Transcript: Earlier today Paul Kennedy, Yale historian and author of "The Rise and Fall of Nations," was online to discuss the alternatives to war.
Mel Goodman: I believe that the Bush administration has unfortunately fixed on a course of military action and that it will be very difficult to turn back. Prior to Desert Shield in 1991 and prior to the land campaign of Desert Shield, Saddam Hussein offered last-minute compromises, but it will probably be too late this time. There are obvious diplomatic and non-military options at this time but the clock is ticking.
American University, Washington, D.C.: Would it not be possible for Saddam to be brought down in a similar manner as that of Milosevic in Serbia in 1999. Could the Iraqi people unite to remove this man?
Mel Goodman: I think that you are underestimating the power and resources of a genuine totalitarian state. Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who rules with the use of fear, much like Stalin in the years prior to WWII. It would be very difficult to find or exploit the dissident forces who would have access. The CIA wrongly advised President Bush in 1991 that the Iraqi military defeat would lead to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Not that easy.
Los Altos Hills, Calif.: Given that we have not been able to find the source of the anthrax attacks in our own country, how can inspectors have any hopes of finding all Iraq's WMDs against Saddam's wishes? Even if they do, what stops Iraq from quickly restocking chemical and biological weapons when the inspections are "complete"?
Mel Goodman: It will now be very difficult to have complete confidence in the measures of verification and monitoring or even in the military measures that will probably take place. It is much too easy to develop chem and bio weapons in modest areas if the technical expertise and proper elements are available. But it was be difficult for Saddam Hussein or a successor to actually deploy and use such weapons outside of his borders. We need a diplomatic campaign that anchors Iraq to international security institutions that can monitor this problem for the near term. There are options in this area.
Council Bluffs, Iowa: Very little is said in the American press (but much is made, for example, in the BBC) of the Franco-Russian proposal to put blue beret peacekeepers in Iraq in support of the inspectors. Doesn't American opposition to this action, which would make containment pretty iron-clad, signal that they're really seeking the reckless path of regime change and regional turmoil?
Mel Goodman: I agree that the US should have been open to the deployment of coercive inspection, which would include fighter support for U-2 flights and UN peacekeepers to accompany UN inspectors. Again, the US has emphasized the military instrument and once you employ the hammer, all problems begin to look like nails.
San Francisco, Calif.: My feeling is that after 12 years of spying on Iraq that the Powell presentation was a sad indictment of our intellgince investments and the leadership of our administration. Yes - we already knew he is despicalble but the issue was: do we need go to war now? To that question there was no clear answer. Do you feel it is fear or politics that is driving this campaign?
Mel Goodman: It is not clear what is driving the Bush administration toward war, although I don't believe that oil is a key factor. The usual reasons for war have a great deal to do with honor, prestige, and revenge. In this case, I do believe that this Bush administration wants to avenge the mistakes of an earlier Bush administration that won a war but had no idea of how to conduct or manage a peace.
Leesburg, Va.: If as you say the CIA wrongly informed President Bush in 1991, how can you be certain the CIA is not again wrongly informing President Bush in 2003?
Mel Goodman: You can never be certain. In 1973, the CIA was wrong about the Arab attack on Israel in October; therefore, the CIA was ignored when it argued at the end of the war (correctly)that the Soviets would not intervene with nuclear weapons. Kissinger ignored the CIA and resorted DefCon to III. Unfortunately, the CIA is under great pressure from the administration to produce evidence that demonstrates an Iraqi link with Al Qaeda. Interesting that nothing was said in the Powell speech about Iraqi links to Atta, which William Safire supports and the administration supports. Again, the CIA was probably right on this one and nothing was said in the Powell speech.
Evergreen Park, Ill.: What do you believe are the reasons Washington is after Iraq? I read in the Chicago Tribune yesterday that as officers of Unicol, Rumsfeld and Cheney among others sent a letter in 1998 to President Clinton about the need to change regimes in Iraq. How can we not become cynical about Washington's intentions? At the same time, can their intention be so self-serving? Can this be possible?
Mel Goodman: I don't believe that economic reasons, particularly oil, are a key factor in the US going to war. As I said earlier, it has more to do with honor and prestige and correcting the problems from 1991.
washingtonpost.com: A recent Washington Post/ABC News survey found a majority of Americans support attacking Iraq even without the approval of the United Nations. In fact, a majority of Americans say negotiating with Iraq will not work and would prefer the war start sooner rather than later. Your comments?
Mel Goodman: I'm never sure what to make of polls, but it is obvious that the Powell speech probably increased support for war and such newspapers as the Washington Post and such TV networks as Fox News have had a sustained editorial drumbeat for war. All these elements are important.
San Francisco, Calif.: Much of the information that was presented as proof was already suspected, open to interpretation and the effort to strongly link Al Qaeda to Iraq was a sad effort. As an additional drumbeat to war it was effective but Powell lowered his status as he made the case. Do you feel he switched because he was so unceremoniously set up by the French a couple of week ago. Sad if that was the case.
Mel Goodman: I believe that the decisions were made and Powell was given a choice between supporting the decision or leaving the administration. I also believe that too much was made of Powell as a reluctant warrior. Yes, his instincts as a warrior are to look for other means to resolve issues and then to resort to the military as the last resort, but he has never been in opposition to a decision that has been made.
washingtonpost.com: If U.N. intervention -- in the form of inspections and other sanctions -- has not worked for the past decade, why would it work now?
Mel Goodman: Inspections in the 1990s destroyed more lethal military equipment than US military force destroyed in Desert Shield. Inspections in the 1990s also located more elements of WMD than all the efforts of the intelligence community in the same period. So why do you imply that inspections don't work?
washingtonpost.com: What are the real risks and repercussions of embarking on a war without international support? Do you believe there is an imminent threat from biological, chemical or radiological weapons that Saddam Hussein is believed to have developed?
Mel Goodman: I have been saying that there is no imminent threat. There are many repercussions from acting now without the international community: reduced role for the UN; reduced role for international inspections; greater proliferation of WMD; greater pool for recruiting terrorists; greater isolation for the US in the international community; greater instability in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf; etc. etc. etc.
Toronto, Ontario - Canada: What precedents for successful 'regime change' since world war ii, can we look to?Has there been a situation where the U.N. has had to consider 'managing' one of it's member countries?
Mel Goodman: The best precedents for regime change, unfortunately, involve the US and the CIA, with every succession producing greater problems. Chile in the early 1970s; Congo in the 1950s; Iraq prior to Saddam Hussein; Cuba and the Bay of Pigs; Central America, particularly Guatemala; Iran in 1953; etc. etc. etc.
Gaithersburg, Md.: I still have yet to hear an answer to the question why Iraq now?
Of course Saddam will use WMD if we invade....we would too if our country was invaded.
What ever happened to Al-Qaeda?
We already know that Iraq has WMD, we have the receipts from when we gave them the weapons during the war against Iran.
I still don't see the threat to us if we maintained a containment policy against
Saddam--it worked against the old USSR, and they certainly had WMD.
All that will happen with awar with Iraq is a self fulfilling prophesy of terrorist attacks here in the States..followed by more invasions in retaliation, followed by more attacks, etc.
Mel Goodman: I thoroughly agree...and would add that the war against Iraq will be an unnecessary and unhelpful divesion from the war against terrorism and Al Qaeda, certainly weakening the international support that we need.
Brookline, Mass.: Powell made a case, but for what? I don't think many rational people had any doubt that Hussein is a destestable dictator and that his regime is terrible. And we already know how committed he has been to developing weapons of mass destruction.
For me, Powell's presentation changed nothing. We need to keep international pressure on this regime - and that means good diplomacy on the part of the U.S., not this cavalier unilateralism we're seeing. And we need to continue the low-level war that we have already been fighting since 1991 (enforcement of the no-fly zones, Clinton's strikes, clandestine support of efforts to remove Hussein, etc.). It's not glamorous and exciting and it may not make Bush and Rumsfeld look like a cowboys, but it will save thousands or hundreds of thousands of civilian lives, and it will strengthen rather than weaken our position with our allies, and it will decrease the threat of terrorism.
Mel Goodman: I totally agree.....and you have the last word.....
Mel Goodman: Unfortunately, we are out of time. Thank you for the excellent questions and discussion points, and I hope that we can do this again. Mel Goodman, Center for International Policy.
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