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James Rubin
James Rubin
Confronting Iraq Special Report
Confronting Iraq Transcripts
Talk: World Message Boards
Live Online Transcripts

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Confronting Iraq:
International Diplomacy

With James Rubin
Fmr. State Dept. Spokesman

Wednesday, March 12, 2003; 11 a.m. ET

The U.S. and Britain said Tuesday that they would extend for a short period a deadline for Saddam Hussein to disarm or face war but discounted a 45-day delay sought by six swing nations on the U.N. Security Council. A minimum of nine "yes" votes are needed to authorize military action against Iraq but with France and Russia threatening to veto the current draft resolution, action in the council is being held up. Another open meeting was scheduled giving nations in all parts of the world a chance to voice their views on an issue that has polarized the Security Council. Meanwhile, the White House is insisting on a vote this week.

Massive diplomacy is at work. President Bush has conducted an urgent phone campaign aimed at seeking support from world leaders for the March 17 deadline and has talked to top officials from Japan, China, South Africa, Oman, Spain, Turkey, Chile, Mexico and Angola.

James Rubin, former State Department spokesman under President Clinton and top policy advisor to the secretary of state from 1997-2000, will be online Wednesday, March 12 at 11 a.m. ET, to discuss the diplomatic efforts involved in determining U.N. support for a war with Iraq.

Rubin is now a partner at communications consulting firm Brunswick Group Limited, a visiting professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and host of the PBS series "Wide Angle," a weekly international affairs program that premiered in July of 2002.

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.



washingtonpost.com: With all the diplomatic maneuvers going on in deciding to go to war with Iraq, what do you see happening at the UN Security Council for a second resolution this week?

James Rubin: Boy, that's a tough one. I don't think anybody knows for sure right now. My best guess is that there will be a modified resolution which gives Iraq some more time to come into compliance and that modified resolution will receive a bare majority of votes but be vetoed by Russia and France. But all of that is subject to change if Paris and Washington decide to make a last ditch effort to reach an agreement in the next few days.


East Lansing, Mich.: James,
The intro to this discussion says, "Massive diplomacy is at work." As a casual observer, it seems to me that "massive face saving is at work."

I cannot recall a time when so much is at stake and so little has been done behind closed doors. Nearly everyone has aired their laundry for the world to see.

To me, it seems incredibly dangerous and disconcerting. Am interested in your thoughts.

James Rubin: I think you make some good points. Certainly I believe the French have seemed more interested in their public role opposing the war rather than behind the scenes diplomacy. Similarly some in the administration seem more interested in bashing their allies than persuading them to support us. This is an unprecedented risk among our NATO allies and it's a unfortunate situation. There's lots of blame to go around, but hopefully when war begins, as I believe it will, the French and the Germans and other opponents of the war would much prefer to see America succeed and say so publicly as I expect many Americans who have their reservations about this war will rally around our forces as they try to achieve a military in Iraq.


Richmond, Va.: Hi Mr. Rubin-- I'm a former student of yours from The London School of Economics. Hope you are well.

In your opinion, which is more dangerous-- allowing Saddam Hussein to remain armed with chemical and biological weapons, or invading Iraq and risking some civilian lives in order to create a democratic state, like Afghanistan today?

James Rubin: You must be one of my former students because you asked a very precise and difficult question. I think it would be more dangerous to allow Saddam Hussein to maintain an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. But clearly, there are risks to war that any sensible person must weigh and take into account and consider before military action begins. Prime among those risks is the possibility that the WMD in Iraq will get lost in the chaos of war and end up on the market for the very terrorists we're trying to prevent from getting them. That is why I think our military plan must have as its highest priority the securing of such weapons and the attempt to prevent such weapons from leaving Iraq before they can be accounted for.


Columbia, Md: Mr. Rubin,
I enjoy listening to your analysis of events, can you please shed more light on the possible war with Iraq and tell us more if it is " a neo-conservative conspiracy" that ultimately serves Israel or does the war really fit within our national security strategy.
Thanks

James Rubin: I don't believe that this war is a result of any conspiracy. I don't believe that it's about getting oil contracts for American oil companies and I don't believe that it's any attempt by the president to redeem his father's decision not to overthrow Saddam Hussein. I do believe that there is a strong case for using our forces and risking our soldiers' lives and the lives of many innocent civilians who will surely die in this war because at some point WMD in Saddam's hands will cause grave damage to our country. But I can't honestly say that I think the leadup to this war has been handled particularly well. It would have been far preferable to have sought an agreement with countries like France and Russia last fall establishing a deadline this spring for Saddam to comply. Had such an agreement been sought last fall, it's possible that we wouldn't be in the terrible diplomatic mess we're in today. At the same time I think France has behaved irresponsibly in not telling America and the world at what point it would be prepared to support and participate in military action to disarm Saddam Hussein.


Chicago, Ill.: What was Rumsfeld getting at yesterday, in his remarks to the effect that British troops might not join the U.S. in an attack on Iraq? Is this simply a signal from the Bush administration that they want war sooner than later and will go forward even if the British waver?

In the British attempt to draft a compromise resolution, are we finally seeing signs of a rift between the British and the U.S. on Iraq?

James Rubin: I think we may be seeing a slight parting of the ways on tactics but I don't think we're seeing a real rift. As far as Rumsfeld's remarks are concerned, they have certainly done needless to Tony Blair here in London who's fighting for his political life to support President Bush and certainly didn't need nor want any doubts planted in the minds of the British public at this sensitive time. I suspect that Rumsfeld's comments were hypothetical in nature and not a reflection of his doubt that Britain would be alongside us in military action. Instead, he just seemed unwilling to avoid a tricky question when asked. Sometimes in high stakes diplomacy, it's better not to answer every question you're asked.


Cumberland, Md.: Doesn't 1441 give us sufficient authority to go to war? I realize that we are trying to get this 18th resolution for Tony Blair, but should we keep our troops sitting in the desert losing their fighting edge while "little" countries just try and string out the debate?

James Rubin: Excellent question. I think we have to distinguish between legal authority and political legitimacy. There is ample legal authority in a series of UN resolutions including 1441 for the use of military force but our British allies desperately want the political legitimacy which would come from a positive vote on this current UN resolution. It's up to the president to weigh the potential downside of some delay in military action against the political upside of increasing international support for what will be a difficult and risky enterprise.


Downtown D.C.: The more I think about this, the angrier I get. My reservist husband dropped everything and our life is now at a standstill while he's somewhere in the Kuwaiti desert. Why in hell didn't the Administration get together with the inspectors to work out a plan before arbitrarily committing thousands of troops who are now killing time for no reason?

James Rubin: I certainly sympathize with the effect of this crisis on the personal lives of so many Americans and family members of American servicemen and women and it certainly appears that not enough planning and strategizing went into this diplomatic end game. But if the unlikely happens and diplomatic agreement is reached and Saddam Hussein disarms without war, I think we'll all be better off, although that seems extremely unlikely now.


Harrisburg, Pa.: Let me take a hopeful look at this conflict. We successfully maneuver Saddam Hussein into realizing that adhering to our demands is his only alternative to war. He decides to agree to our demands. What is the bottom line he has to do to avert war?

James Rubin: It looks like the latest draft of the UN resolution will require him to very quickly reveal the biological weapons, the chemical weapons, the delivery systems for such weapons and show that he has made a fundamental decision to disarm without war. I think we should all hope for that but it would be unreasonable to expect in these final days.


Crownsville, Md.: I haven't heard any experts discuss this point, but if Saddam did make a strategic decision to fully disarm would this affect his ability to stay in power, either because he would be perceived as weakened and susceptible to a coup or because he actually needs these weapons to maintain control of the disparate groups vying for power in Iraq?

If the answer is that he would likely lose power if he disarmed, then it seems clear that he has no incentive to comply with inspections.

James Rubin: Excellent question. I think many experts do believe that if Saddam fully capitulated that it would be a humiliation in the eyes of many in Iraq and in the Arab world. However, many experts also believe that the power structure that enables him to stay in power is so tyrannical and involves so many secret services and the use of torture and control that he could even survive that humiliation.


Danville, Vt.: Notwithstanding the question of whether we go to war next week or the week following, do you think that French, Germans, and Russians will ever authorize the use of force? If they will not, is not any further delay largely academic?

James Rubin: Unfortunately the French and the Russians have been very evasive on this crucial point. As best as I can tell, the only circumstance they have indicated in which they would support force is if Saddam Hussein's government were to block the inspectors from inspecting and doing their work. But they have not indicated any time limit for Saddam coming into full compliance by coming clean as to the location of biological and chemical weapons.


Morgantown, W. Va.: Could you please explain why we are allowed to have WMD -- as are N.Korean, Pakistan, India, etc., whereas Iraq is not?

Thanks

James Rubin: Well, first of all, Iraq is under special restrictions as a result of its invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Second of all, North Korea's WMD are a clear and present danger to our interests -- a danger that, in my opinion -- not enough has been done to confront America's maintenance of nuclear weapons has been enshrined in treaties with the long-term goal of full and total disarmament. But Iraq's history of aggression the ruthlessness of its leader do make it a unique case.


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