March 20, 2008

Diario de Noticias Interview

I was interviewed by the Diario de Noticias newpaper of Lisbon. Click on the image for a larger, readable copy - if you can read Portuguese. Click here for the online version, also in Portuguese. I have included a rough translation below.

Click for larger image

Q - What was the worst and the best of this war?
A - The best, of course, was the removal of Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime. Aside from the suffering imposed on his own people, he represented a threat to other nations in the region. The worst was the poor execution of the war after the fall of Baghdad up until the surge that began last summer. The US military should have been in there and out quickly, turning the security of the country over to the Iraqi army that had agreed not to fight. When Ambassador Bremer disbanded that army, it forced the coalition to become an army of occupation, something it was not prepared for.

Q - Is oil worth this result?
A - American involvement in the region is largely based on oil, and has been since at least 1973 and the Arab oil embargo. At that time, we had the Iranians as an ally. When that changed in 1979 with the overthrow of the Shah, the United States had to reassess its policy in the region. What emerged is now called the Carter Doctrine – use of military force to guarantee international access to Persian Gulf oil. It was that doctrine that led America to support Iraq against the Iranians in the latter years of the Iran-Iraq war. It was also that doctrine that led to American support of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Q - Some say that the Americans should withdraw, the sooner the better. Others, like McCain, by the contrary, that US military presence in Iraq should last a hundred year. What is your opinion?

A - I don’t think Senator McCain meant he wanted to keep American forces there for literally a hundred years. I think he was referring to the continuing presence of U.S. forces in areas such as Germany, Japan and Korea going back in some cases over 60 years. I think it is inevitable that the bulk of American troops will be withdrawn in the next year or so, but that there will continue to be a small presence for some time to come. As long as Iraqi security forces are not capable of maintaining order, we cannot abandon the place to the likes of al-Qaeda in Iraq or even Muqtada al-Sadr.

Q - Which lessons should America and the rest of the world take?
A - If you are going to conduct these kinds of operations, do better planning.

Q - The world today is more dangerous that it was?
A - Good question. I guess it depends where you live. As long as we have al-Qaeda engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is difficult for them to reach out effectively beyond there.

Q - Did we open Pandora’s box?
A - What were we to do in the aftermath of September 11? The big question is - was the invasion of Iraq necessary? Some claim it diverted the main focus from Afghanistan, maybe so. Given the poor intelligence at the time, the decision was made. Now we have to deal with it.

Q - How can Americans win the war?
A - Continue the surge until the Iraqi security forces are capable of independent operations.

Q - Is this a shame for the most powerful nation of the world?
A - Perhaps this is a question for the Shia and Kurdish Iraqis.