Bush Faces Gains, Setbacks in Iraq

Robert Siegel talks with Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and the former director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department, about the Bush administration's talks at Camp David on the future of Iraq.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Richard Haass was head of policy planning at the State Department under Secretary of State Colin Powell. He's now president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He's in New York City and joins us. Welcome to the program.

Mr. RICHARD HAASS (Council on Foreign Relations): Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: First, do you think that this retreat or war council at Camp David is an occasion for some serious self-scrutiny, or is it more a show and more cosmetics than substance?

Mr. HAASS: I think it's essentially to look at the options. It's a way of signaling the American people about staying the course, that despite the positive developments of the past few days that we're not on the verge of any necessary breakthrough. And I think there'll be a little bit of symbolism. This jointness with the Iraqis tomorrow will send a signal that we remain partners in this and that has some value in both countries.

SIEGEL: Let's assume that all options are on the table right now at Camp David and President Bush might come down from the mountains with an Iraq policy that's either as unchanged or as revised as it could conceivably be. In your opinion, what should he do ideally right now?

Mr. HAASS: I think we're more likely to hear continuity rather than fundamental change. That was the message of today. I would add two things, though, to the basics. One is, I would press the Sunni leaders of this new government. Obviously, it's Shiia led, you've got Kurds. But you've also got Sunnis. They enjoyed a monopoly of power under Saddam. They are the most disaffected. I think it's important that we get Sunni leaders to step forward to support this process and delegitimize, really speak out against violence, against the Iraqi government, against the security forces.

Using a South African parallel, Robert, it's not enough to have a Mandela, which in some ways we have with the Ayatollah al-Sistani. We also need a de Klerc. We need someone to take the people who used to run the country, make them comfortable with their new situation. Secondly I would begin a formal dialogue, not just with Iran, but with all of Iraq's neighbors.

Here again there's a parallel to Afghanistan. There you had the so-called Six-Plus-Two talks, where all the neighboring countries, the United States and Russia were involved. I think we need to establish a similar mechanism for Iraq because outside involvement is crucial now, say in the case of Iran, Syria and others. And if the situation ever does begin to deteriorate and really become a full-fledged civil war, it will be important to put a limit on outside involvement.

SIEGEL: How does Washington communicate to the new government in Baghdad what, first of all, President Bush wants to communicate, we're behind you and we'll do what you need. But also, you have to get your act together. You have to develop security services that can actually keep the peace in your country.

Mr. HAASS: They understand that and that's why the emphasis has been on security, on the police and army. If in real estate there's three rules, location, location, location, in Iraq there's three rules, security, security, security. The Iraqis don't need any reminders from us. They understand there will only be, say, economic improvement, greater oil output, in an Iraq that is secure. And what the President will basically keep doing is saying, we are there to help you. We will continue training you up. We don't want to stay a day longer than is necessary, but he will also say, we're not in a rush to leave.

SIEGEL: But which is the more important message? We're willing to stay there for a long time or look, eventually American troops are coming home within a few years, so you better be prepared for that eventuality.

Mr. HAASS: The obvious answer is both. We've got to stay the course, but the course does not mean that we're there permanently. I think the United States ought to reassure the Iraqis that, for example, that we're not interested in permanent basis. That there is some pressure on them. And I think the Iraqis know that.

Again, they look at the American polls, they look at the American media and they understand that this president or a successor will not have an unlimited blank check. But they feel the pressure because it's their lives that are stake, it's their country that's at stake. So I don't believe the president needs to lecture them on the subject that they need to do more for their own security. They understand that full well.

SIEGEL: Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. HAASS: Thank you.

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