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Confronting Iraq Special Report
Confronting Iraq Discussion Transcripts
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Confronting Iraq
With Christopher Preble
Cato Institute

Wednesday, March 19, 2003; 11 a.m. ET

Now that war seems certain, how will President Bush steer the course through it? How did the United States get to this point? What are the long-term effects on U.S. prestige and foreign policy?

Christopher Preble, Director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, was online to discuss Iraq and the implications of a U.S. led war to topple Saddam Hussein.

Preble was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy and is a veteran of the Gulf War, having served onboard USS Ticonderoga (CG-47) from 1990 to 1993. He holds a B.A. from George Washington University and a Ph.D. in History from Temple University.

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.

Annapolis, Md.: Do you think the Turks are kicking themselves now for rejecting the initial U.S. multi-billion dollar assistance package in exchange for permitting U.S. ground troops to invade Iraq from Turkey?

Their financial markets have already started to suffer from the impending war and it's being reported that they may get very little money from the U.S. for allowing overflights, plus they won't have U.S. ground forces to help protect them from any problems caused by the Iraqi Kurds. Your thoughts?

Christopher Preble: Annapolis, thank you for your question.
I think that the Turks were caught in an unenviable dilemma.
First, the Turkish economy suffered greatly after the first Gulf War from the inflow of refugees, and they were understandably reluctant to incur these costs again.
Second, the Turkish government enjoys the support of the Turkish public, and is trying very hard to retain that support. Given that the public is overwhelmingly opposed to the war, it is difficult to go against the popular will, and continue to get elected.
That said, their third problem is the Kurds. The Turks want very much to have a say in post-Hussein Iraq, and they want to prevent the establishment of an independent Kurdish republic. Because the Turks refused to go along with the United States on troop deployments, the U.S. feels less of an obligation to honor their wishes with respect to the Kurds.

Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: What's the official CATO Institute -- the think tank of Libertarianism: The principles of which include less government is more, minding our own business, individuals over corporations, conserve national resources, respect for human liberties, no foreign adventurism -- line on the Bush war against Iraq? You fellows ought to be outraged at this waste of American lives and resources. Thanks much.

Christopher Preble: Mt. Lebanon,
Cato does not take an official position on any issue, but Cato scholars are free to study and comment.
My position is that the Bush administration failed to make the case that Saddam Hussein posed a direct and imminent threat to the United States, and therefore a preemptive attack is unwise. Most people in the international community, that supported the U.S. in its attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan, seems to agree.
That said, the president has a responsibility to protect the American people, and he has access to far more information than I. I hope and pray that the military action, if it comes, will be concluded quickly, and with a minimum of casualties on both sides. I then hope for a swift U.S. withdrawal from the region, so that we may allow the Iraqi people to govern themselves in the manner that they see fit. Our troops have been there long enough.

Atlanta, Ga.: I did not support the war, but now that it seems highly likely, I of course, want excellent outcomes for the US and I know that all of us must support the troops.

I am concerned that post-war Iraq (if the war really goes as easily as anticipated)might be problematic. There is tension between sects of Islam and ethnic division (i.e., the Kurds). I foresee a lot of instability in the area, that might require more policing and resources than the US is prepared to offer. Do you think this is possible? Also, can the UN recover and have any effectiveness in the future after what has just happened? Thanks for your response.

Christopher Preble: Atlanta, I am also concerned about post-war Iraq. Tensions between competing ethnic and religious groups have been held in check by Hussein's brutal regime, but may spill into the open after, or even during, the impending war. I believe that the United States might be expected to prevent ethnic violence, and this, in turn, could lead to a lengthy occupation. The experience from past nation-building debacles, including Bosnia and Kosovo, should give would-be nation-builders pause.
There is an alternative, however. The promotion of democracy is a noble goal, but it can not be imposed by an occupying army. The U.S. should draw on past experience and recognize that the Iraqi people have primary responsibility for governing themselves. We should withdraw our forces at the earliest possible date.

Berlin, Germany: Hi!

I would like to ask you for a personal opinion: Does Iraq possess WMD and would it not seem likely that Hussein would use them in the most effective way possible?

Would it not be his last and best option to unleash these weapons on Baghdad in the hope of killing thousands as an obvious example of American aggression against Arabs?

I cannot see any other use for these weapons, since Hussein has always denied their existence, and launching them on Israel or US troops would give the Americans the long awaited "smoking gun." It is furthermore unlikely, that he has the means to carry out such a strike.

Thank you.

Christopher Preble: Berlin,
I believe that Saddam Hussein does possess chemical and biological weapons. I do not believe that he currently has nuclear weapons.
Hussein did not use such weapons during the first Gulf War, either against Israel or against coalition forces. I believe that he was deterred from doing so by the knowledge that the use of such weapons would invite a full retaliatory response against his regime. He has less incentive for holding back such weapons today.
That said, the U.N. inspections at least forced the Iraqis to hide some of these weapons, and therefore they may be difficult to deploy. Also, Saddam's military commanders know that they would be held accountable for using such weapons, so while he might not be deterred, they still might be.

Silver Spring, Md.: Much of the emphasis has been placed on regime change and very little has been placed on even the larger task of stabilizing Iraq and it's region. Please comment on how this regime change should at least be tempered by a moderating policy with Israel regarding a Palestinian
Thank you.

Christopher Preble: Silver Spring,
I am troubled by the Bush administration's claim that regime change in Iraq is somehow linked to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I do not see the two as connected, aside from the fact that the foreign media, especially, focuses much attention on the United States' support for Israel.
I am skeptical of the claim that removing Saddam will set off a democratic wave throughout the region. The president is correct to say that all people thirst for freedom, but it is not clear that liberal democracy - including respect for the rule of law, and minority rights - follows automatically from removing Saddam from power.

Cumberland, Md.: Weren't the view of the US and European countries like France and Germany bound to diverge at the end of the Cold War. Those countries no longer feel US protection is necessary and also they have chosen not to spend on their military which is almost useless on the modern battlefield. Aren't they somewhat reduced in how much weight their views carry when a military solution to a crisis loom? In short haven't they brought the current situation in which their views are ignored, basically on themselves

Christopher Preble: Cumberland,
You make an excellent point. It is not surprising that democratically-elected leaders in France and Germany, where more than two out of three citizens oppose the war, did not automatically support the U.S. position on Iraq.
During the Cold War, there was a common threat to Europe posed by the Soviet Union, and individual countries often (but not always) put aside their differences in order to face this common threat. Now that the Soviet threat is removed, it is appropriate for individual European country's to have their own foreign policy. This does not mean they are hostile to the United States, or to U.S. interests. As Ted Carpenter, my colleague here at Cato recently argued, it is time for us to disagree without being disagreeable.
As for the military question, the United States has practically absolved many European countries from having to take responsibility for their defense because of the lingering American troop presence. Absent the promise of U.S. protection, some countries would choose to increase defense spending, others would weigh the risks and benefits, and choose to spend what they are spending today. But those decisions should be left up to those countries, and their citizens, and should not be the responsibility of the American taxpayers, a full twelve years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Arlington, Va.: Do you believe Presidents have the constitutional authority to wage war without an official declaration of Congress? What is the difference between a commander-in-chief's use of force and an undeclared war, and do you feel the latter is a line Bush is crossing?

Christopher Preble: Arlington,
The Constitution vests the authority to wage war jointly in both the Legislative and Executive branches of government. Our founders could never have imagined how warfare would change, and this explains how the role of the commander in chief has evolved over the last 225 years. Today, the president as commander in chief has the power to engage in war immediately, and I believe that there may be many undeclared wars in the future.
An alternate approach would be for Congress to reassert its capacity for controlling military action by closely scrutinizing the Executive's military and defense budgets. Further, individual Members of Congress should not be so willing to give blanket authority to conduct military operations, as many did last year.

Crystal City, Va.: With 70 percent approval of the war in the US (depending upon which poll you use), I don't understand your statement that the President has failed to make his case. France and Germany oppose us because they don't want to be seen as the second rate powers they are, and because 9/11 did not affect their people as it did the U.S. population.

Christopher Preble: Crystal City,
There is no question that 9/11 changed all of our minds about the nature of the threats facing us today. However, the terrorist attacks did not render ANY threat worthy of preemptive military attacks on sovereign nations for the purposes of regime change.
The international community supported the United States in its attack on the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan because they agreed with the Bush administration's contention that Al Qaeda posed a threat. Similar attempts to link Hussein to Al Qaeda failed to convince the vast majority of people abroad.
We should not forget that while other nations did not suffer the 9/11 attacks, they did support us in the fall of 2001. Much of that support has now dissipated. The active cooperation of foreign governments will be needed in order to continue to track down and prosecute Al Qaeda.

Washington, D.C.: So, the post-mortem from France is interesting. Le Monde's lead editorials the last two days have been entitled "Americas Failure" and today "Blair's Failure" without a lick of attention to the fact that France failed to either disarm Sadam or stop America. Today's Le Figaro though contains a more sober accounting of where France went wrong. How do you think this will all be viewed in retrospect?

Christopher Preble: Washington,
I have not read the editorials that you referenced, but I do think that the larger lesson for France, and for the international community at large, revolves around the nature of power, and of how that power is expressed in the UN.
There were no inspectors in Iraq until the United States began placing troops on Iraq's borders. The French, as well as Hans Blix and others, admit that the threat of military action compelled Iraq to readmit inspectors. I do not wish to see Americans repeatedly called into this role, with our troops repeatedly placed in harm's way, and the American taxpayers responsible for paying the bill. Therefore, countries such as France, which enjoys the authority associated with permanent membership on the UN Security Council, may wish to reconsider their own capacity for exercising military force in order to back up UN mandates. Without such force, UN resolutions are no more than a scrap of paper. And today, the United States seems to be the only country with the capacity, and the will, to punish those who have little regard international opinion.

Corpus Christi, Tex.: Mr. Preble. Thanks for taking the time. One argument used by protestors against a war in Iraq is that this war is "about oil." Is it about oil? And what does this war mean to us and other U.N. nations in terms of Iraqi crude?

Christopher Preble: Corpus Christi,
I do not believe that this war is primarily about oil, although I admit that that is a secondary consideration. Europe and Asia are far more dependent upon oil from the Middle East than is the U.S., which gets most of its oil from sources in the Western Hemisphere. There may be short term disruptions in oil flows, but markets have a way of sorting these out most of the time. Finally, the Bush administration will need revenue from Iraqi oil to help pay for rebuilding the country. In this way, I believe that most of Iraq's oil wealth will flow back to the Iraqi people.
We won't know for sure, of course, until five or ten years from now, when someone will trace where every dollar (dinar) from Iraqi oil sales went. To Houston, or to Baghdad?

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