Interview: Edward Peck Discusses The Possible U.S. Involvement In Iraq Should The U.S. Launch A Pre-Emptive Strike

Morning Edition: October 21, 2002

Plans Differ for U.S. Strategy Toward Iraq


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Bob Edwards.

Now that Congress have given President Bush the authority to wage military strikes in Iraq, many are asking how the government plans to help rebuild the country after a war. The New York Times has reported that Bush administration officials are discussing a full-fledged military occupation, including installing a military government following the ouster of Saddam Hussein. Those officials said it would be similar to the US occupation of Japan and Germany following World War II.

Ambassador Edward Peck, chief of mission in Iraq from 1977 to 1980, says those models won't work in a post-war Iraq.

Ambassador EDWARD PECK (Former Chief of Mission in Iraq): Unlike Japan, which had a unitary language and culture and history and, you know, all of that, Iraq is a country of Christians and Arabs and some Jews living there. You've got the Turkmen and Yezidis and the Sabians and Chaldeans and Shia and Sunni, and it's a little different there. The parallel is closer to the success that we've had in Afghanistan, which, as you know, has not quite worked out the way many people would have hoped.

EDWARDS: How would Iraqis react to an occupation government?

Amb. PECK: If you had an American occupation, you would have some people who would behave like conquered peoples anywhere. You would have others who would try to use that occupation to promote their own sectarian or ethnic interests at the cost of others. You would have another group who would look for ways to make the occupation unpleasant. There would be some of that.

EDWARDS: Many experts have warned that there has to be some kind of firm action by the US following the ouster of Saddam Hussein, or Iraq would fall apart into its constituent components as you've described.

Amb. PECK: Well, it's entirely possible, but you have to go back a step behind that. `Well, what in the world are we going to go do this Iraq for, when an awful lot of people who are in positions of responsibility and knowledge indicate that there might be a treat at some point, but that there isn't any threat now?' While it would seem logical that our efforts would be to isolate Saddam Hussein, what we have thus far succeeded in doing is isolating the United States. If you make a list of the countries that consider Iraq to be an immediate, right-now threat, there's only one, the United States of America. Great Britain goes along with us for obvious reasons, but if we were to drop the subject, so would they. And no countries in the Middle East see Iraq as an immediate threat at all. Israel has said, `Yes, yes, well, we're concerned about this, too' in efforts to support us. But the danger comes by going in and adding, in a region which doesn't need it, additional instability.

EDWARDS: And it's absolutely impossible to determine what the Iraqi people want.

Amb. PECK: Well, it is and it isn't. If you look at the people in the background when you see little clips of Saddam Hussein wandering around the streets, they're not standing there mutely waving little flags, they're cheering and screaming, `This is the guy who has stood up to the United States for 12 years.' We've made him a hero to his own people, and in addition, by keeping Iraq under attack, we've made it easier for him to run a much tighter government, just as has happened in the United States since September the 11th.

EDWARDS: Well, there is a big difference. I mean, people here can make a choice.

Amb. PECK: Yes, they can, but my point is that all of the things that are happening, which some people claim are limiting freedoms, are being done under the umbrella of, `We're under attack. We have to tighten things up.' Same thing happens there.

EDWARDS: OK, if not an occupation government, and if not a government in exile, what to do with post-war Iraq.

Amb. PECK: Well, what do you do about pre-war Iraq. Our nation prides itself on its desire and willingness and urgings to have other people talk over their problems, especially when the problems are related to where borders should be. If you don't talk, you're going to go to war, and the United States of America has not spoken to Iraq on any subject at any level for 12 years. And they're, as I say, 7,000 miles away. Why aren't you talking? Maybe you can get what you need by talking.

EDWARDS: Ambassador Edward Peck was the chief of mission in Iraq from 1977 to 1980. Currently he's head of Foreign Services International, a consultant firm that serves governments and private organizations worldwide.

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