Seven Years In, Assessing Value Of Iraq War Since multinational forces invaded Iraq in 2003, there have been hundreds of bombings and attacks. But there have also been elections. David Corn of Mother Jones and Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute discuss Iraq today, and if it has been worth the cost.

Seven Years In, Assessing Value Of Iraq War

Seven Years In, Assessing Value Of Iraq War

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Since multinational forces invaded Iraq in 2003, there have been hundreds of bombings and attacks. But there have also been elections. David Corn of Mother Jones and Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute discuss Iraq today, and if it has been worth the cost.


This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Over the weekend, the seventh anniversary of the invasion of Iraq passed with relatively little notice. In a rancorous Washington, D.C., the issue that sharply divided politics two years ago appears to be on a bipartisan glide path. It looks as though U.S. combat troops will be out on schedule, by August, on the way to nearly complete withdrawal by the end of 2012. Of course, political reconciliation in Iraq remains fragile, and all that could change.

Where you can find debate is whether we leave Iraq a better place than we found it. After the loss of 4,386 Americans and more than 57,000 Iraqis, many more injured or fled into exile and the expenditure of better than $700 billion, can you argue that the war was worth it?

The debate erupted over the past couple of weeks on the Web pages of Politics Daily between Peter Wehner and David Corn. Wehner can't be with us today, so we've asked Michael Rubin to substitute, and we want to hear from you.

After a long, bloody conflict, a new and democratic Iraq has begun to emerge. Is Iraq better off? Were the terrible sacrifices worth it? 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Thats at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And joining us now in Studio 3A is David Corn, Mother Jones magazine's Washington bureau chief, columnist for Politics Daily. Nice to have you back on the program, David.

Mr. DAVID CORN (Washington Bureau Chief, Mother Jones): Good to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And we've posted a link to the exchanges between David Corn and Peter Wehner. Also with us in the studio, Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, who served as governance advisor in the Coalition Provisional Authority and returned from Iraq in January. Michael, nice to have you back as well.

Mr. MICHAEL RUBIN (Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And Michael, we have to remember, we were promised a quick victory over a brutal dictator ready to use and proliferate weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. RUBIN: We certainly had a quick victory. What we had also was a badly bungled occupation. I do think that historians haven't finished their research into what happened, and ultimately we're going to look into the role of the National Security Council, which hasn't been discussed, and its failure to coordinate, failure to have a unified mission.

That said, the status quo in Iraq, when the decision was made to go to war, wasn't tenable. Sanctions were collapsing. We know from the documents that Saddam Hussein hoped to reconstitute his programs. It's a tragedy, all the blood and money which was spent, but having just also come back from Iraq, it is really refreshing, in a way, to go to an Arab state ahead of elections and not know the outcome of those elections ahead of time.

CONAN: And David Corn, I think it was Ryan Crocker(ph) who said history will better remember how we left Iraq than how we found it.

Mr. CORN: So all's well that ends well? Actually, you mentioned 50,000 dead Iraqis, Neal. Some estimates put it much higher. The World Health Organization had an estimate, I think 120,000, 130,000, and some people believe more than that.

I mean, there are two questions here. I still think it's an important question how we got to war. You know, Mike - Michael just said, you know, that Saddam Hussein hoped to reconstitute his WMD program. At the time, that's not what the American public was told.

Again and again, people who Michael worked with you know, you were at the DOD at the time, right? said things that were not true, and not only were they not true, they were not backed up by the faulty intelligence. They were overstating the bad intelligence, and they led the country into the war on the virtue of not a possible threat but what they declared was a certain threat.

And so we've had a cost because of that. I think the Iraqis paid a bigger cost in terms of the number of people killed, and you know, it's easy to sit here and say, well, things are going better now. We haven't you know, we've sacrificed all those hundreds of billions of dollars and those nearly 5,000 service members, but we haven't had the sacrifices that the Iraqi people have made.

There have been four million displaced Iraqis, and so I think overall, you know, we all hope this turns out well at the end. We still don't know how it's going to actually, you never quite know how things turn out. But at the same time, I think, you know, we can't forget the fact that we were totally misled into this war, and it wasn't just that the NSC screwed up in terms of what would happen afterwards.

General Shinseki, others said we need 200,000 troops. Donald Rumsfeld in your Defense Department, Michael, said...

CONAN: I don't think it was his personal Defense Department.

Mr. CORN: No, but you worked in the Office of Special Plans. Am I getting that wrong?

Mr. RUBIN: Well, David...

Mr. CORN: Paul Wolfowitz and others...

Mr. RUBIN: You asked me if I'm getting it wrong, let me answer. You're talking about something that happened in August and before 2002. I came as a Council on Foreign Relations fellow in September of 2002. Chronology matters. Fact-checking matters.

Mr. CORN: I'm just asking...

Mr. RUBIN: The broader period with regard issue with regard to intelligence is the nature of the faulty intelligence.

You're assuming a maliciousness and a desire to lie. What we have under the Clinton administration and under the Bush administration was a Central Intelligence Agency which by and large was getting it wrong.

We know that from a number of reasons, and yet we budget them $40 billion, and we haven't really had a serious investigation into what went wrong.

I'm not going to get into all the conspiracy theories about the Office of Special Plans and nought(ph). It isn't I mean, historians will debate this once the documents fully become clear, but ultimately we had a few decisions.

One was the decision to go to war. The second was the decision to aim for a democracy, and the third was, frankly, the complete lack of plans and consensus as to whether we would have an occupation and then how that occupation would proceed.

Mr. CORN: So we went to war without good plans. But you raise one of my favorite points here: blaming the CIA. We can go through many statements that were made by the administration, by Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, that were not even backed up by the faulty intelligence.

In August of 2002, Dick Cheney gave a speech, and he said there is no doubt, no doubt that Saddam Hussein is amassing weapons of mass destruction to use against us.

At the time, there was no intelligence indicating that he was doing this. In fact, Thomas Wolfson(ph), Admiral Thomas Wolfson, the head of the DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, a few months earlier had testified before Congress that Iraq had residual WMD at best.

So where did Dick Cheney get this information? He was making it up.

CONAN: One more (unintelligible). This is the run-up to the war and the start of the war, seven years of war, but Michael?

Mr. RUBIN: Well, certainly you had the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, and to be fair, let's not cherry pick, David. You also had John Kerry, and you had Bill Clinton.

Mr. CORN: I'm talking about the people in charge.

CONAN: David, David...

Mr. RUBIN: The fact of the matter is, the Bush administration came in in January, 2001. Intelligence didn't just change in 2001. You had a consistent problem within the broader intelligence commission, and that's frankly why we had the 9/11 Commission try to get it straight.

Now, there's an issue of what the raw intelligence are, and there's the issue of interpretation of it, and there's an issue about whether policymaker can or cannot ask questions of the CIA about what they use to draw their conclusions. There's also, frankly, if you've ever looked at raw intelligence, you find that the CIA says a little bit of everything, and it never is clear. It's like looking coming up with a policy and coming up with any sort of consistency is - has it's like looking for a needle in a stack of needles.

Mr. CORN: If you say it's not consistent, how can you have leaders of this country come out and say there's no doubt? Bush said several times that Iraq, Saddam Hussein, was dealing with al-Qaida. The intelligence, according to the 9/11 Commission, didn't show that. They said things that were not this is the essential point in this debate. They said things that were not backed up by the intelligence at the time.

Mr. RUBIN: They said operational links, David, with regard to 9/11.

Mr. CORN: He said they were dealing with. That's what George W. Bush said. They were not dealing with Iraq, with al-Qaida at the time...

CONAN: David Corn of Mother Jones and Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute. Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation, and let's go next to Loni(ph). Loni is in Napa in Idaho.

LONI (Caller): Hello, Neal.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

LONI: You know, there's a lot of talk about the WMD aspect of this, but let's not forget that we were there in Iraq 10 years before that, and there was an agreement with the rest of the world and Saddam Hussein, and basically he was put on parole.

Now, just like if we let a parolee out of prison, somebody's got to keep an eye on him, make sure he does those certain things. Now, there's no question that the inspectors were kicked out of Iraq. There's no question that many of those sanctions were broken. Somebody had to step up and stop this madman. Ask the Kurdistans over there if they're better off now.

Mr. CORN: Can I just I hate to correct a caller...

CONAN: And sometimes the inspectors left, and at other times they were kicked out.

Mr. CORN: No, no. The inspectors came in in November, 2002. They were there until the war began.

CONAN: But there were other, earlier times when they were kicked out.

Mr. CORN: No, no. They were not allowed in (unintelligible), but at the time of the war...

CONAN: To say that Saddam Hussein cooperated fully with the international inspectors would be going way beyond...

Mr. CORN: Hans Blix(ph) in March of 2000 said that he had generally cooperated. The inspectors had gotten in. They had resolved key issues about aluminum tubes and other matters. I mean, these are facts that cannot be denied, Neal. I mean, the inspectors were there. They were working. They were resolving issues, and Hans Blix, the head of the inspectors, said right before the war that Iraq was generally cooperating.

So they were not kicked out. We did not have to go to war because of the inspectors being forced out of Iraq.

CONAN: That gets back to the issue, however, of Saddam Hussein and his governance and his adherence to other United Nations resolutions. Michael Rubin?

Mr. RUBIN: Well, certainly the credibility of the United Nations was on the line, and that's still an issue which we're dealing with today in any number of parts of the world. And I do think it would be a bit of revisionism to say that Saddam Hussein was complying with the Chapter 7 U.N. regulations.

That said, the caller had brought up the Kurds. I recently just came back from the Shia areas, and it seems that whether the Kurds in the north, the four-million-plus Kurds in the north, or for that matter the Kurds in Baghdad, or when we're talking about the south, which is really booming today, Basra and Najaf, the transformation that is that those cities are undergoing is just amazing. I don't think you would have much argument among Iraqis in those areas about whether they are glad that Saddam is gone.

If you do ask them, however, there will be a lot of debates about what mistakes the United States made, and you will also find a great lack of consensus among Iraqis about what those mistakes were.

CONAN: Even in the Sunni areas, there's very little nostalgia for Saddam Hussein, David.

Mr. CORN: Well, there wouldnt - why would there be? I mean, he was a thuggish dictator, and there are many of them around the globe, and the we could have had an honest argument about this. Saddam's a thug. He has his people repressed. He's brutal. You know, he's bad for human rights. He's bad for the region. American public, do you think you should spend your money and your dollars getting rid of this evil guy?

We could have had an honest argument about that before the war. The Bush administration chose not to.

CONAN: We're talking with David Corn and Michael Rubin, the former with the Mother Jones as the Washington bureau chief, the latter a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

And seven years after the invasion, is Iraq better off? Do we leave a better place than we found? 800-989-8255. Email us, Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan, in Washington.

The first barrage of U.S. missiles struck Baghdad about 5:30 in the morning March 20th, 2003. Saddam Hussein's government fell less than a month later, and by May 1st, President Bush declared an end to major combat operations.

Seven years later, the tide finally seems to have turned in Iraq. U.S. combat troops are scheduled to leave the country this summer. A new debate is taking shape here in Washington. Is Iraq better off? Were the terrible sacrifices in lives lost and billions spent worth it? 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation at our Web site. Thats at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Let's go next to John(ph), John with us from Wayne, Oklahoma.

JOHN (Caller): Yeah, I don't think we're better off because of the war. My son was killed in September, 2007, in Iraq. And the only ones I can see that's gained on this is, like, Exxon, Mobile and Shell, who are now drilling for oil over there. And it moved the price of oil from $20 a barrel to $147, you know, during this war.

CONAN: At one point. It's much lower than that now.

JOHN: It's hit a new price plateau.

CONAN: Yes, there's no question about that.

JOHN: It's up to 80, which is just, you know, it had been 20 to 40 for years, but if you go to war in an oil-rich country, you know, most economists will tell you the price of oil is going to go up.

CONAN: Well, John, we're terribly sorry for your loss, and I know there's nothing that can replace your son.


CONAN: Thank you very much for the phone call, appreciate it. There are too many people, Michael Rubin, like John in the country, and of course, the parents just not of the killed but the people who have lost limbs and still suffer from traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

Mr. RUBIN: There certainly are. When we're looking at Iraq and asking the question whether the decision to go to war was the right idea and whether Iraq is better off today, in an age of a 24-hour news cycle, it's all too often tempting to try to resolve these questions right away, but oftentimes, when we look for watershed moments or turning points, we only recognize them when they're five years past or 10 years past or even longer.

One item we could look at today, for example, would be Harry S. Truman's involvement in the Korean War. At the time, many of the complaints launched that were later launched against President Bush were also launched against Harry S. Truman, which are evident if you look at, for example, the political cartoons, which are in the Truman White House down in Key West, Florida.

But when we compare North Korea and South Korea today, I don't think many historians would argue that Harry S. Truman had made the right decision, although some historians will argue about the way he went about it. Harry S. Truman left office as one of the most unpopular presidents ever, and today, historians across the ideological spectrum consistently rank him in the top five.

Mr. CORN: Well, you know, history will determine what history determines at the point it tries to determine this. One can look at the Vietnam War, and now we know about the Tonkin Gulf incident, and we know about we had the Pentagon Papers that Daniel Ellsberg heroically, you know, leaked. And we saw all the lying and obfuscation and the misguided policy for years that went on in that war.

And so actually down the road, it looks worse and worse with each passing year. So I don't think it's much solace to John, who just called, or anybody else that maybe down the road we'll look back and have a, you know, and feel warm and fuzzy about this type of action.

I mean, the Iran excuse me, the Rand Corporation just released a report a day or two ago which they wrote up for the U.S. Air Force - and this is hardly a radical group - in which, you know, they assessed the Iraq War effects in terms of foreign policy, and they say the removal of Saddam Hussein, I quote, "today because of that, today, the balance has shifted towards Iran."

And they come up with in the region. And they come up with other assessments of the war which most people would look at and find negative. And so, you know, and I'm sure, Michael, you can counter this. But you know, this will play out over time, but I do think we can make some assessments now of what's happened, and actually, I think a blame game is a good thing to have for the country. People should be held accountable for their actions and what they say, and you can't just let history sort it out.

CONAN: Michael, quickly?

Mr. RUBIN: Well, indeed, David, I can counter this because James Dobbins, who has been consistently critical of President Bush, also authored a report at Rand in which he said that despite the polemics, the success in Iraq has actually been much greater.

With regard to Iran, I wouldn't look at everything through a Washington lens or through this one decision. The fact of the matter is we tend to play checkers. The Iranians play chess. The Iranians have their own strategy, and it's important also to counter it. But if we underestimated going into Iraq the psychological impact of occupation, anyone who has been to southern Iraq will tell you that the Iranians have underestimated the importance of Iraqi nationalism.

During the Iran-Iraq War, from 1980 to 1988, it wasn't the favorite sons of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, which were on the front fighting that war, which Saddam Hussein started. It was the Shia conscripts who didn't defect to Iran but stood up for Iraqi nationalism, as they are today.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in on the conversation, Carlos(ph) from Perkasie in Pennsylvania. Carlos, are you there? Carlos seems to have left us. Let's go instead to Matt(ph), Matt with us in Phoenix.

MATT (Caller): How are you doing?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

MATT: Good. I just wanted to make a comment for Michael. Michael, first of all, we are the one who helped Saddam Hussein from 1980 to 1988 to defeat the Iranians. So let's not forget that, number one. Second of all, I was raised and born in Najaf. What are you talking about booming? I'm from there. I mean, if you cannot give me some information, if you're going to make some allegation about it's better for the country, you have to come up with something more legit, makes more sense.

What I'm trying to tell you here, Saddam is a bad guy. We're not disagreeing about this. Saddam was I'm Shia myself. I hated Saddam with all my heart. But at the same time, is it really worth it destroying the whole country? My mom called me. She said I have four hours of power per day. We never had that before, before the invasion. Michael, what are you talking about? And now you're saying that it's booming? Where is it booming? In what area did you see that? I mean, am I blind here?

CONAN: Matt, when was the last time you were in Najaf?

MATT: Was back in 1991, but I talk to my mom on a regular basis, and I'm very in close contact with my family.

CONAN: Okay.

MATT: And I told them. And they have no power there, and I'm just, I'm just amazed that I mean, David, he brought a great point. He's saying is it really worth almost nearly 5,000 American lives? No. Bin Laden destroyed two building in New York. George W. Bush destroyed the whole country.

CONAN: Let's give Michael Rubin a chance to respond.

Mr. RUBIN: I would just respectfully disagree. If you want specific improvements in Najaf, for example, you have the international airport. You have all the religious tourism. You have the hotels, and along with all the hotels which have opened, you have the restaurants which have opened. Employment is much more.

Now, when we're talking about power, power has declined in Baghdad, but there is more power in southern Iraq now. One of the problems with the power is simply that consumption has gone up so much because many people, many more people now have air conditioning, electronic equipment and so forth. There's still a way to go.

The disappointment, I'd actually say, is in Baghdad, where, I mean, just a very visual metric. You go to Baghdad. You don't see any cranes on buildings. All that oil income is going towards paying a bloated bureaucracy's salary, but it's not going to new construction.

In these most recent elections, the open list system actually does give some hope because instead of having to vote just for party lists with somewhat demagogic leaders, people are getting to pick and choose which politicians they vote for, and therefore the politicians are becoming more accountable to the people. So I'm increasingly optimistic.

Mr. CORN: You know, Iraq has been a cesspool of corruption, which, you know, I'm not saying it wasn't beforehand. But I wrote a couple stories a year or two back about the top corruption investigators in Iraq, who at the time were all chased out of the country by ministers and by the Maliki government, who were, you know, pocketing a lot of the money that was coming in. A lot money still has disappeared. You can read the reports of the special inspector general on Iraq, Stuart Bowen, over and over again. I mean, there have been billions and billions of our money and other international money, as well as private money, that has gone to line people's pockets.

Now, you know, Iraq, you know, wasn't Iraq was a functioning society before the war. It was a repressive society, politically speaking, but there were hospitals. There were you know, there was a middle class, you know, not a big middle class. There was electricity. People went about their lives, and you know, they'd make their accommodations with the repressive state the way that billions of Chinese people have to do, and they got by.

They didn't have to you know, there wasn't rampant crime. There wasn't sectarian violence, and the Iraqi people, you know, they have to be treated as adults. Unlike the Iranians recently, they didn't rise up and mount a revolution, try to, just like the Chinese people haven't done that.

Mr. CORN: So, I mean, if there are advances now and there's more power and there's some building going on, that's great. But we'd really allowed the country to be broken before all these, you know, all this progress came about.

CONAN: Michael?

Mr. RUBIN: Iraq became broken in 1980, when Saddam Hussein launched the war against Iran, which was supported by a whole host of people, most of the Arab world. Now...

Mr. CORN: Including the United States, during my time there.

Mr. RUBIN: And I've condemned it in writing on The Wall Street Journal, David, but let me get on to my point. The point is that you had the -you had Iraq stop functioning as a society in the '80s. You had Iraq change from being the least-corrupt Arab state to the most-corrupt Arab state in the '80s, and especially under sanctions in the '90s. This isn't just the creation of 2003. And it's incumbent upon us now to try to fix it so that - help Iraqis fix the country, so it becomes a better society moving forward.

CONAN: And in the time we have left, why don't we try to look ahead and talk about American responsibilities in the years to come? Even as - if we hope things go on schedule, combat troops come out by the end of August and then there's supposed to be total withdrawal - I'm not sure anybody expects that - trainers left behind and some aspects of the Iraqi military are incapable of performing tasks at the moment. But, nevertheless, as the American presence dwindles in Iraq - in Iran -Iraq, excuse me, David, what is the American responsibility?

Mr. CORN: Well, I think that's a very difficult question, you know? Colin Powell, you know, cited the Pottery Barn rule at the beginning of the war, before the war: you break it, you've bought it. And, you know, we did break a lot. And, you know, I think we do have some responsibility. But at the same time, we can't spend billions of dollars that goes to corrupted government officials.

I think, you know, at some point we have to, you know, do what the president is doing, withdraw and say, we are here. We will continue to support you as best we can from the sidelines. But you, Iraqis, now have to make your own accommodation with what has happened. You know, we can saw we're even sorry we've left you like this. But I think continued, you know, military presence in the country is not going to, you know, do much good.

And our financial capabilities have been tremendously weakened. And I think one thing that will probably not help any of the Iraqis particularly is if we get - if we mount any sort of military action against Iran, which some members of Congress seem very eager for.

CONAN: David Corn of the Politics Daily, also the Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones. Michael Rubin also with us, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a governance adviser in the Coalition Provisional Authority.

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Michael, let me turn that same question to you. What's the American responsibility here on out?

Mr. RUBIN: Well, on the positive side, I think it's shameful how few visas we've been giving to Iraqis. We should be educating the new generation of Iraqi students. Those who are enter - when this new government is formed, when it finishes in four years, those who are entering Baghdad University would have been eight years old when Saddam Hussein fell from power. And it's incumbent that we give them all the opportunities which they deserve.

With regard to flooding them on - the country with money, I fully agree. And because of Iraqi corruption, most of that money, anyway, goes to American contractors. It doesn't go to Iraq. We should be more helping the Iraqis learn how to manage projects, manage that money that will come in through their own oil revenue.

CONAN: Is it fair to say that if violence continues to diminish, oil revenues should make it possible for Iraq to fund its own reconstruction?

Mr. RUBIN: If the neighboring states allow that to happen, but I would caution that if one looks at the Baker-Hamilton Commission report, a premature abandonment of Iraq would just lead the United States to have to go back there in the future, Baker and Hamilton found. And they were quite critical of the way the decision to go to war in the way which it had proceeded.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in on the conversation. Maximus(ph), Maximus from Wormansville - is that right?

MAXIMUS (Caller): That is right.

CONAN: In Pennsylvania. Go ahead.

MAXIMUS: Okay. My question is related to whether or not the status of women has improved with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The General Federation of Iraqi Women was disbanded, and since then many women leaders have been targeted and killed. And as one of the major subtexts for going to war - women's human rights, that is - I'd like to ask the panelists what they think.

Mr. CORN: Well, I know during - you know, for years after the invasion, the war, when there was almost a complete breakdown in civil society, women were raped and kidnapped, particularly, and, you know, bore the brunt of a lot of the sectarian violence that occurred. And there's been talk about, you know, bringing in more fundamental law into certain aspect of Iraqi society, which is usually not a good thing for women. So - I mean, I would defer to - I wouldnt presuppose to speak for Iraqi women, but, you know, it hasn't, I think, always been the best deal for them.

CONAN: Michael?

Mr. RUBIN: Short answer, yes and no. If you go back to the 2000 - the year 2000 State Department Human Rights reports, you'll see that Saddam and specifically Saddam's Fedayeen was starting to target educated women, beheading several and so forth. Immediately after the war, David's absolutely correct, women were targeted. Women have started to emerge from this. Many more women are in parliament. It would be a mistake to suggest, though, that just because a woman is in parliament, that they speak with one voice and they speak in unison what we would think of as traditional women's liberation. I think they're hopeful for the future.

CONAN: Maximus, thanks for the call.

MAXIMUS: Thanks.

CONAN: Just a few seconds left, and I wanted to talk about one of the aims of the war was the idea of leaving a democracy in place in the Middle East, that it might be transformational. Briefly, David Corn, any thoughts on that prospect, if we assume that the democracy there will survive and thrive?

Mr. CORN: Well, I haven't seen the transformation. I don't think that was the way the question was put to the public before the war. It was discussed. I dont think that was the central element. The Rand report I cited earlier also says the Iraq war has, let me, quote, "stalled or reversed the momentum of Arab political reform." So they're saying that, actually, it's had a negative impact on the region in terms of political liberalization.

CONAN: Michael Rubin?

Mr. RUBIN: The first free elections in Syrian history occurred in January 2005. The ironic thing was no Syrians were allowed to participate in them, only the Iraqis lined up outside the Iraqi Embassy in Syria. The elections have progress with time. I think it's very useful - when you go down to Najaf, for example, Governor Adnan al-Zurfi has to govern in coalition with his opposition.

Iraqis in this campaign for the March 7th election we just had, we're talking about how they could maximize their strength for the coalition negotiations. The horse trading which follows, I think that's a very healthy trend, especially now that it's a trend.

CONAN: Well, thank you both. Obviously, we're going to have to revisit this issue in years to come, but we thank you for your efforts today. David Corn of Mother Jones, the Washington bureau chief, also Michael Rubin, governance adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority, now a research scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, both kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A.

Coming up, from best-selling book to blockbuster movie, Rajiv Chandrasekaran's - will join us to talk about the story behind the "Green Zone."

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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