Analysis: Iraq After Saddam Hussein

Iraq After Saddam Hussein


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The debate on Iraq has taken a new turn over the past week or so. At the same time that reports suggest a US military buildup in the Persian Gulf, a key American ally in the region, Bahrain, became the latest country to voice opposition to any attack on Iraq. And in this country, several prominent Republicans urged the president to rethink his policy. What, some asked, justifies an American attack? How would regime change in Baghdad affect Iraq's neighbors and support for the war on terrorism? And what would happen internally inside Iraq? Might the country splinter? Are there political leaders there ready to take over? Would an American-installed regime have any credibility? How long might US forces have to stay? And is Iraq ready to become a model for democratic change in the Arab world?

We're going to begin today with a look inside Iraq. We'll talk about the forces that unify and divide the country, and about the politics of regime change. Later, we'll ask about the significance of objections from within the president's own party.

To join the conversation, give us a phone call: (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is

And joining us now from Beirut, Lebanon, is NPR's Kate Seelye, who has just returned there from a trip to Iraq.

And, Kate, good to talk to you.

KATE SEELYE reporting:

Hello there.

CONAN: Hi. Can you give us an idea, is Baghdad, is Iraq a place that appears to be gearing up for a war?

SEELYE: Well, yes, indeed. I mean, the parliament has met a couple of times in the last few months, basically announcing that they are preparing for war. They say they don't want war, but they expect war and they're prepared to face it. In a much more subtle way, you see Iraq's preparation in that Saddam has been trying to sort of buy people's loyalty over the last couple of months. You see a lot more new cars in Baghdad which diplomats say is basically part of Saddam's design to buy people's loyalty. I've heard of salary increases. Somebody told me their brother, who's a general in the army, his salary was increased from $25 a month to $35 a month. There are some new construction projects in the south, a traditionally neglected area of Iraq, once again to try to buy the Shiite Muslim loyalty in the country.

So you see on the surface these responses, and then you hear from diplomats that militarily Iraq has been getting ready. Supposedly they have deployed troops and anti-aircraft sites to the north, where Iraqis expect an attack to be launched from Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. And there's also a huge propaganda campaign going on in which, you know, the Iraqi press has been condemning an American attack and telling Iraqis that they're prepared, their country's prepared, America will be defeated, Iraq will be the US' next Vietnam. So, yes, preparations are definitely taking place, and many Iraqis that I spoke to say they expect an attack, frankly, any second.

CONAN: Is there any way to measure--and I know that Western reporters, when they go to Iraq, are supervised by Ministry of Information officials, known generally as minders in that part of the world. But given that, is there any way to measure how much disloyalty there might be in Iraq at this moment, or to put that another way, how interested are people there in regime change?

SEELYE: Well, I mean, as you mention, Neal, it is very hard to tell. You're always with a minder, and when you get Iraqis alone, they're very cautious about speaking to foreigners because they know the possible consequences of saying something authorities don't like. But, you know, what I know is based on what foreign diplomats who've spent years in Baghdad have told me, and also what I've heard from the Iraqi community in neighboring Jordan, where many average Iraqis have fled for economic and political reasons. And what most say is, yes, they would like a different leader. You know, frankly most Arabs would like a different leader.

And as much as Iraqis blame the US for the devastating impact of sanctions, they realize that it's basically thanks to Saddam and his adventures that they're in the current situation, suffering terribly under sanctions. And, you know, you very much have a sense that you are living in a police state just as a visitor, as an outsider. So, yes, there is a sense that people would like a change, but diplomats tell me there's real concern in Iraq about what will follow the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

I mean, Iraq is historically a very fractious country comprised of, you know, Sunnis, Shiite Muslim, Kurds, Christians, Turkemans, you know, and all of--who were sort of thrown together in this sort of unnatural state created essentially by Great Britain after World War I. So, you know, from what I've been hearing, Iraqis both inside and outside the country will say, you know, `We need a strong leader. We need a strong man to hold this country together. And who will that be after Saddam? Will there be chaos? Will there be anarchy? Will Iran try to interfere?' So you have a range of views on this matter, some saying, you know, `Nothing could be worse than what you have now'; others who say, `Well, regime change could lead to total chaos in the country.'

CONAN: Well, as you suggest, the situation there now is not so great. Obviously Iraq has been under economic sanctions for quite some time. Is it to the point where people are now concerned, that, you know, anything is better than a continuation of the present?

SEELYE: Yes. I mean, you do hear people who will say that, actually not to me obviously, but they have said that to diplomats that, you know, life under sanctions is so difficult, is so strenuous. I mean, Iraqis are basically struggling to get by on a daily basis, are basically living off of government food rations, are surviving off of, you know, their $7- to $10-a-month salaries. So, yes, you do hear Iraqis apparently saying, `Well, you know, it's got to be better than the way it is now.'

But at the same time, there's a lot of fear about what will follow. Once again, the overthrow of Saddam, despite the economic hardships in Iraq--I mean, it's a relatively stable country. And there's a great deal of concern about the instability that would follow.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

SEELYE: Thank you.

CONAN: NPR's Kate Seelye speaking with us from Beirut, Lebanon. And she's just returned from a trip to Iraq.

Joining us now here in studio 3A is Phebe Marr. She's a specialist on Iraq; a former professor at the National Defense University.

And, good to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. PHEBE MARR (Iraq Specialist; Former Professor, National Defense University): Very nice to be here.

CONAN: Remind us--Kate Seelye was telling us about, you know, how Iraq is constructed and the large demographic groups inside the country. The Sunni Muslim population, from which Saddam Hussein springs, and his people, known as Tikritis, from the village of Tikrit, north of Baghdad, they represent a minority of the population in Iraq.

Ms. MARR: Yes, they do. And I would sort of go along with what your correspondent has said about feelings. One word there, however, about Iraq being an unnatural state. Most of the established states of the Middle East are unnatural in the sense that their boundaries were drawn after World War I. But they've been around now for 80 years, and I'm not sure how unnatural Iraq is. There is a sense of Iraqi identity, a sense that Iraqis belong in that state. After all, they've had 80 years to develop some roots, to share some very rich resources. So I don't think we should get ourselves into the situation where we think it's likely to break up.

But let me address your question. Like many states, it's multiethnic, multisectarian. The three main communities are the Arab Sunni population, which I would say represents 15 to 20 percent and inhabits mainly Baghdad and a central triangle that goes up the north of the Tigris to Moson(ph), over to the Jordanian border. Another minority, of course, is the Kurdish-speaking population. That's a different language than Arabic. They inhabit the north of the country, and constitute--again, we don't know for sure--but 17--something like that--percent of the population.

There is little doubt that the majority of the population, 60 percent or more, are Arab Shia. And they inhabit the territory south of Baghdad, the very populous delta, the Tigris and Euphrates, from Baghdad to Basra. And then there are many smaller minorities--a Turkish-speaking population, a variety of small Christian groups, maybe something like 5 percent.

CONAN: After the Gulf War, the Shia population, or many of them, in the south, rose up against Saddam Hussein, as did the Kurds in the north. Isn't that a suggestion that, you know, these populations are eager to break loose from the thrall of Saddam Hussein?

Ms. MARR: Yes. And, in fact, I think many people in the center are equally eager to break free of the thrall of Saddam Hussein. But it was harder to revolt in the center, where Saddam has his forces. But it's one thing to want to break free of Saddam Hussein and the regime, and it's a second thing to want to be independent and separate.

Within the Kurdish minority in the north, there is a strand of nationalism that tends toward separatism that is going to be a little bit more difficult to deal with; that is to say, to integrate back into a post-Saddam Iraq. But even there, the majority of Kurds recognize they will not be able to have a separate state. The Shia have never wanted to be separate; they simply want to have representation in the central government to accord with their numbers.

CONAN: And I guess it's important to remember in that context that during the Iran-Iraq war--and, again, Iran, the neighbor of Iraq, is also Shia, though different ethnically from the Shia Arabs in southern Iraq. But they thought the Shia in southern Iraq would flock to their banner; it didn't work out that way.

Ms. MARR: No, indeed, it did not. And I do want to remind everyone that although we talk about the two different sects, Shia and Sunni, well over 80 percent of Iraq is Arab-speaking and identifies itself as Arab and, for the most part, Iraqi.

CONAN: Now is there--you've given testimony to Congress in which you laid out a couple of scenarios of what might happen the day after. Now you're not talking about how the day after that day arrives, but what might happen the day after. Obviously this concern over factionalism has to be one of the major problem areas that might arise after Saddam Hussein.

Ms. MARR: Well, as I said in testimony, I want to say again here, I think it's most unlikely that Iraq is going to break up into its three main components because there is no homogeneity among these communities in the major cities of Iraq. These population components are very mixed, and how you would split them up that way is not clear. But what might happen is that a central government might break down. That is to say, whoever comes in afterwards in whatever way might not be able to get control over the entire country. And so you would have a certain amount of regionalism, parochialism, the Kurdish groups wanting to govern themselves in the north; different groups in the south. The greatest unknown is who will replace the current regime.

CONAN: One of the things that most people are surprised to learn about Iraq is that it is a middle-class country; that it's a well-educated country. Are there sources of political leadership within that society that could throw up a new leader? The obvious sources, I guess, would be the army or the same place where Saddam Hussein came from, that would be the Ba'ath Party.

Ms. MARR: I suspect we're not going to see another Ba'athist as Ba'athist, although there may be Ba'athists that cadre, who assume power. Essentially there are two sources of leadership. Someone or some group may emerge in Iraq but we cannot know who that is because, as has been adequately described in today's Iraq, no leader can emerge. Anyone who acts like a leader is cut down. So there are institutional sources, such as the military, as you say, people who are currently in the party, maybe the bureaucracy. Iraq is a middle-class country. It's got institutions, a bureaucracy, several military components, an educational establishment and so on. These people could administer fairly well a post-Saddam Iraq if they had political leadership over them.

Then, of course, we have the outside, exile opposition which definitely has leadership, known leaders who have been sort of arguing and discussing things with themselves but who are for the most part, unfortunately, outside.

CONAN: So if you want to know more about what's going on inside Iraq, about the tensions and the solidarities amongst these various groups, and about what might emerge after Saddam Hussein when that day eventually does arrive, give us a phone call. Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is

We're speaking with Phebe Marr, the author of "The Modern History of Iraq," who's with us here in studio 3A. After we get back from a short break, we're going to be talking with Kanan Makiya, who is the author under a pseudonym of "Republic of Fear," a well-known book about Iraq that many Americans read in the run-up to the Gulf War in 1991. So stay with us. We'll be back after a short break.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're discussing the prospects for what might happen in Iraq in the event of a regime change in Baghdad. Our guest is author and Iraq specialist Phebe Marr. Of course, you're invited to join the discussion. Our telephone number is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is

And joining us now is Kanan Makiya, a professor of modern Middle East studies at Brandeis University; the author of several books, including "Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq." Just over a week ago, members of the opposition Iraqi National Congress came to Washington to discuss the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein and the political leadership afterwards.

And, Professor Makiya, good to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.

Professor KANAN MAKIYA (Brandeis University): Hello, Neal. Thank you for inviting me.

CONAN: How capable, how well-organized is the opposition?

Prof. MAKIYA: Frankly, I think it's getting stronger by the day. The measure of unity that we saw on August 9th is not just paper thin. There is a growing connection between the groups that were alienated from one another in the days of the Clinton administration after the 1996 events which led to the defeat of the opposition in the north. Let's not forget that this is not an opposition totally without foundation inside Iraq. It operated out of northern Iraq until 1996, and the Kurdish parties which are part of the Iraqi National Congress and, in the case of some of them, very strongly so; others feel themselves more alienated from it. That attachment is growing. So there are roots, there are connections, there are people inside Baghdad. There's a flow of information, dissidents are coming out, defectors are coming out through the INC.

And I think also all the new ideas about Iraq, the future of Iraq and so on, are coming naturally for obvious reasons that Phebe's just mentioned, which I totally agree with, are coming from the outside. The generation of politicians who are really thinking in new ways--they're breaking the mold of Arab politics, not just Iraqi politics--are doing so from the outside. And for that reason, I think there's going to be in the initial phases of the transition in Iraq a kind of reliance on, an importance to that exile leadership which will decline very quickly over time. But it's going to be there in the first years of the transition.

CONAN: Would an American-installed government in Baghdad have much credibility with the Iraqi people?

Prof. MAKIYA: Yes. I mean, I think in the beginning there will be a welcoming of the downfall of Saddam. Much depends on how it's done. I mean, if it's done by simply replacing one set of baddie faces with another, then it's going to go sour very quickly. If it's seen as a major change in the way America deals with the Arab world as addressing certain, very fundamental questions, namely America wants, desires, aspires, wants to support the democratic aspirations of this middle-class population, then I think we could have a very dramatic opportunity here that did not materialize in the case of the Oslo Accords.

This is a part of the world--and I'm talking about the whole Middle East--that desperately needs a success story. During the Clinton years, it was thought that that success story would come out of the Oslo Accords. But unfortunately part of the premise, the mistaken premise of those Oslo Accords was to put Iraq back on the back burner. That was, I think, a strategic mistake. And that is not what this administration is doing. And what with the demise of the Oslo Accords, or the deterioration of the United States' relationship with Saudi Arabia, Iraq emerges as an alternative, a way into the morass or, if I might say, the malaise of Arab-American relations, you know, so dramatically realized in the post-September 11th situation, a way into the United States connecting up with the peoples of this part of the world, not just the autocratic regimes.

CONAN: Our phone number, again, (800) 989-8255. And our e-mail address, Our first caller is A.J., who joins us from Concord, New Hampshire.

A.J. (Caller): Hi.


A.J.: I've got a question, but first an observation. I definitely get the feeling that the US is trying to make its hegemonic weight felt around the world, and I'm not quite sure why Iraq has been such an issue now given the fact that it's been a dead issue for 10 years. And I was wondering if your guests could comment on what the effects would be on Saudi Arabia. And I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you.


Phebe Marr, I know one of the questions that you addressed in your testimony was the effect of a regime change on Iraq's neighbors.

Ms. MARR: Well, the question I have in mind to attempt to answer all of this, the day after, is: How much effort, how many resources, how much time is the United States going to put into a changed Iraq? Is this going to be accomplished militarily? Will there be a lot of, you know, destruction? I cannot answer that. Of course, the hope is that there would not be. And are we willing actually, either ourselves or through allies, to put some security on the ground, some troops on the ground to see a transition period through, because even if we take this lively opposition and American-Iraqi--not only American but exile Iraqis that Kanan spoke of and infuse them into Iraq, this new spirit which I agree with--that's going to take a certain amount of shepherding and willingness to see it through.

And I think the American public has to know that this is not just a quickie, that we eliminate Saddam and then kind of move out and expect the pieces to fall into place. So it's possible that this could become a new model. I'm rather skeptical myself as to how much time, effort and so on over the long term the US is willing to put in, but I'm not sure that we're going to get quite the results that people want, and that includes--and I don't want it, but that includes the, quote, unquote, "hegemony" afterward.

CONAN: And Kanan Makiya, you've certainly experienced various administrations blowing hot and cold on a regime change in Iraq and the urgency of this issue. Why do you think it's so hot now?

Prof. MAKIYA: At the moment?

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. MAKIYA: Because I think he's dangerous, and, you know, very dangerous. To answer the gentleman's question, is it all such a far-out scenario that some Palestinian suicide bombers equipped with one of these exploding belts that has VX or sarin gas in it and kills a couple of thousand people and doesn't even have to blow himself up in a crowded and protected and secure place, but anywhere in Israel? And what with this Israeli government, in the mood that the Israeli public is in today, I mean, I don't preclude them dropping a nuclear device on Iraq. We're talking about a very volatile situation. We know he has these weapons of mass destruction. We know he's been developing them. Iraqi defectors from inside the Mukhabarat have been telling us that. We know he's hiding them in new ways.

There is an obsession in this regime. It's irrational, there's--a certain dimension of it, which is what makes it hard for people to believe, that doesn't make sense. After all, if Saddam had truly relinquished his weapons of mass destruction way back after the Gulf War, as various UN resolutions demanded of him, he might very well be free of sanctions, sort of climbing his way back to international credibility and a player in the game of nations that goes on. But he had to hold on to them. They were extremely important psychologically. They, after all, pulled him through the Iraq-Iran war, and he believes, according to people who know him closely, that they probably saved him in the last Gulf War, rightly or wrongly.

So there has developed a psychology, a political psychology inside the ruling elite that these weapons are closely connected with their survival. And that, in the hands of a volatile and completely unpredictable and adventurous leader like Saddam Hussein, who's shown his aggressive and regional ambitions more than once, is a very, very dangerous proposition.

CONAN: Our next caller is George, who's with us from Grand Junction, Colorado.

GEORGE (Caller): Yes. My question is given what most Americans, I think, would view as the negative impacts of radical Islam in regimes in Iran and, of course, most recently in Afghanistan, how likely is it that we could expect a post-Saddam regime to be secular, and to what degree are there pressures for radical Islam among any of the opposition groups or anyone else that might come into power? And I'll listen to the answer off the air. Thanks.

CONAN: Thanks, George. Phebe Marr, is there a strong presence of Islamic radicals in Iraq?

Ms. MARR: Well, Iraq is one of the most secular states in the region. One can never make clear predictions, but if there's going to be sort of a secular regime anywhere, it's likely to be in Iraq. Despite the fact that few of us really like the Ba'ath policies, it is a secular nationalist regime. The Kurds and the Kurdish parties that are in power in the north are distinctly secular, and so there's a strong secular tradition. I would put just a couple of caveats to that. Amongst the Shia, there are clergy who, of course, are religious, and one of the opposition groups that we're familiar with, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq--actually it's moved in a much more democratic direction than the title implies--has a very strong component that's religious. It's headquartered in Iran, and the assumption is that that would be, of all the opposition groups, the most religious.

I would like to add, it's interesting that among youth, particularly in the colleges and so on, there's a revival of piety and Islam among the Sunnis as well. I wouldn't overemphasize that, but it's there and interesting. However, for the most part, I'm not worried about a militant Islamic component in Iraq after a change.

CONAN: Kanan Makiya, let me flip that question on its head. What gives you such great faith that democracy, democratic change, would emerge in the aftermath of a regime change in Iraq?

Prof. MAKIYA: Well, look, Neal, it's a high-risk business. But among other things, to add just to what Phebe just said, even the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, with that terrible name that it's got, has opted now for democracy, this Western concept and this claim that it supports democracy; Dawa Party, which is another one of these Islamist organization Iraq had. And the Islamist experiment itself has, by and large, now had a 20-year history, starting with the Iranian revolution. It's failed. I mean, inside Iran, the overwhelming bulk of the population want American-style democracy as well. So it's failed in Algeria. It's failed in Sudan. It's failed everywhere. September 11th notwithstanding, there's a serious argument to be made that it's a kind of final gasp of the radical Islamist movement. Islamists see that the experiment that started with Khomeini isn't working in the countries where they managed to have a chance of making it. So it's not at all popular amongst Iraqis. This is just to add to the points that Phebe made.

What gives me faith in democracy is, well, you can't have faith unless you have people on the ground who are willing to push it forward. It is the only alternative. It is the kind of mirror reflection of the West. It is what people want on the ground. The question is whether there are the activists to make it happen, the Iraqis who are willing to fight for it and so on. And that, I think--I mean, you certainly have a different opposition in Iraq than you do in other parts of the Arab world. You have an opposition that is, for instance, disliked by the Arab country that has no regional clients, that is not subsidized by Saudi Arabia or Iran or Syria or any of these countries. No. It looks to the West. It identifies with us. Right now, it's sitting down--there are members of the Iraqi opposition or one of them--am I working with the US government on various detailed positions of defining the shape of the democratic state in Iraq on the day after? Now will those be just paper resolutions or will they say these are intended, I hope these come to a vote on the platform of an extended meeting of the Iraqi opposition? No other Arab opposition has gone that far. There are documents going back to 1992, Salah Hadeen(ph), when the opposition met, 300, 400 people in northern Iraq. This is a new culture. Will it take hold? Depends on people on the ground.

CONAN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And our next caller is Judy, who's on the line with us from Sunnyvale, California.

JUDY (Caller): Hi.


JUDY: I wanted to ask why we are not considering that we may not either catch or kill Saddam Hussein, given that he has vast resources, lots of experience and knowledge? And, of course, we haven't caught Osama yet. And why aren't people talking about what the results might be if we get into a very extended search or search and destroy? Everybody seems to think, oh, it's obvious we're going to overthrow him. We're going to kill him. It's not clear to me that that's true.

CONAN: Well, Phebe Marr, what kind of resilience is there in not only the Iraqi political structure but in Saddam Hussein and those who support him?

Ms. MARR: Well, this is not the question that I wanted to address. This is more, I think, a military question. Iraq is not Afghanistan, as everyone points out, the sort of country where you can hide in mountains and so forth. There are mountains in the north, but I think if he gets up into the Kurdish area, that wouldn't be too good for him. Most of it's desert and a lot of cities. About 70 percent of the population live in cities. I think one of the scenarios that people are concerned about is that if we get in with military force, there would be a residual group fighting, and we'd have to do fighting in the cities.

But I would like to say that although the people who have some position and authority in Iraq are worried about the future, they're worried about the military actions, they're worried about retribution, I think it's fair to say that the overwhelming bulk of the Iraqi population wants to see the back of this guy and are not really going to stand up and protect him. The main point is that they may be interested in protecting themselves and their family, and we have to make very clear, in whatever scenario occurs when we come there, that retribution is not going to be the order of the day. We're talking about some limited number of people that we do expect to see gone and that the retribution issue is dealt with. But really, he does not have support in the population.

CONAN: Judy?

JUDY: Well, you know, I think we ought to plan for a worst-case scenario, and I think people should at least think about it. Everybody assumes, you know, we'll get rid of him.

CONAN: Yeah. Thanks very much for the call.

JUDY: OK. Thank you.

CONAN: Kanan Makiya, let me put that to you. Worst-case scenarios, a lot of American people would think that, you know, if American troops had to stay there for three, four, five, eight years, you know, as American troops had to stay in Japan and Germany after the war. Is that something that you would envision?

Prof. MAKIYA: I certainly would hope it happens. Whether they will do that or not, like I just am simply not in a position to know. But I think it would be desirable, let me put it, from an Iraqi point of view, from a regional, from the whole Middle Eastern point of view. And let's not forget Iraq is not Afghanistan in another sense. It's a rich country. It can pay for its reconstruction. But to take bad-case scenarios, I would not take the one that the caller mentioned. For me, the worst-case scenario of going in is if he releases some of his weapons of mass destruction and the implications of that and whether there's any way of forestalling that prior to or on the eve of military action. I mean, there, we are talking about truly unpredictable forces.

CONAN: Well, at that point, we're going to have to end this part of our discussion and wanted to thank both of our guests. Kanan Makiya was with us on the phone. He's a professor of modern Middle East studies at Brandeis University, the author of several books, including "Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq." And he joined us on the phone from his home in Boston, Massachusetts. And you have a more recent book out, a novel, Kanan?

Prof. MAKIYA: That's right, "The Rock: A Tale of Seventh-Century Jerusalem." It's the story of the building of the Dome of the Rock, a metaphor for Jerusalem.

CONAN: Thanks very much for being with us today.

Prof. MAKIYA: Thank you.

CONAN: And, Phebe Marr, appreciate your coming in to join us here in studio 3A. Phebe Marr, an Iraq specialist who's also working on a book about Iraq, which will be out soon.

When we come back after a short break, we're going to be discussing the divisions within the Republican Party on the question of Iraqi policy. Our number again is (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address,

I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Tomorrow, join us for part four of our series on women's health as we discuss reproductive issues. From new contraceptives to advances in fertility to sexually transmitted diseases, women's health tomorrow at this time on TALK OF THE NATION.

Today we're talking about the debate over Iraq. And these days, the Bush administration is hearing opposition or at least reticence to the idea of an American attack from an unexpected quarter, from the president's own Republican Party, from people like House Majority Leader Dick Armey, from Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Brent Scowcroft, President Bush Sr.'s former national security adviser and Larry Eagleburger, the former secretary of State. So where are the fault lines in this debate?

Joining us now by phone from his office in Washington is Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard magazine.

Good to have you on TALK OF THE NATION again.

Mr. BILL KRISTOL (The Weekly Standard): Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Also with us, David R. Henderson, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor economics at the Naval Postgraduate School. He's on the phone from Monterey, California.

And nice to welcome you to TALK OF THE NATION.

Professor DAVID. R. HENDERSON (Hoover Institution): Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Bill Kristol, the chorus of `Don't do it' or at least `Think twice before you do it' is growing louder amongst conservatives. Why do you think that is?

Mr. KRISTOL: Well, I think it's come out of the closet. The truth is people like Brent Scowcroft--I talked with him in early February. He was unhappy with Bush's State of the Union speech. He didn't like the good-and-evil rhetoric. He doesn't like the Bush doctrine, which implies the possibility of pre-emption, which focuses on regime change. I happen to agree with the president on this. I think most Republicans do, but people are entitled to differ. I don't think it's--you know, there's an old-fashioned Republican view, which is an honorable view--I don't agree with it--a realpolitik view, don't mess around with changing regimes, don't intervene too much in countries' internal matters, containment and deterrence will work even with the most horrible tyrannies. I don't think it works post-9/11. I don't think it works with terrorist groups out there who can get access to weapons of mass destruction through dictators like Saddam, and I think the president's going to go down the road he has pretty much laid out. But Brent Scowcroft and others are entitled to make their case.

CONAN: David Henderson, are the realpolitik people of the world, the Henry Kissinger wing, if you will, of the Republican Party--first time I've ever said that, the first time anybody may have ever said that--are those the only people objecting to this policy?

Prof. HENDERSON: No, I don't think so. Although I think that Bill is right, that the realpolitik thing is part of it. But let's do a little translation here before I get to the other part of my answer. Realpolitik means take account of realities in politics, and so you definitely should take account of reality in everything. And so it certainly makes sense to do it here. But there is a kind of a view that's more based in principle than that, which is that the United States shouldn't just go around--even for people who think that we should have a very active interventionist foreign policy, which we clearly do--that the United States shouldn't go around just invading a country just in case, that that's not right.

CONAN: And, Bill Kristol, you know, that's, to some degree, what Dick Armey was saying last week.

Mr. KRISTOL: It was, and it really depends then on the seriousness with which one takes the `Just in case' scenario. I mean, Saddam is not just any old dictator who's got an unpleasant record. He's got a very particular record of aggression. We fought a war with him. We had a cease-fire with certain conditions, which he's broken. He's broken UN resolutions. He's determined to get weapons of mass destruction and has some, unfortunately, has links with terrorists. I think that is a special case. I agree with David. We can't go in and topple every dictator in the world.

Though I would also say that toppling Saddam and liberating Iraq from that dictatorship and with a willingness to stay there and help in the nation-building and the rebuilding, as we have done in Bosnia, will be a healthy thing. It won't be easy. It won't be the smoothest thing in the world. But just as the Balkans is much healthier now, now that Milosevic is gone, even though it's a bit of a mess and we have some troops there, it's a heck of a lot better than when ethnic cleansing was going on. So I believe will be the case in Iraq. But the core argument obviously has to do with the risks of action vs. the risks of inaction. It's a legitimate debate. People like me think the risks of doing nothing are just too great, and in this case--not in most cases--but in this case, we do have to act.

CONAN: Let's take a phone call now. Richard joins us on the line from Oakland, California.

RICHARD (Caller): Yeah. Thanks very much. I find it very interesting to see that Republicans have a curious case of amnesia about events that happened before 1990 and the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq based--well, simply yesterday, there was a front-page article in The New York Times by Patrick Tyler that officials in the Reagan-Bush administration met with Saddam Hussein when they knew very well that he was using gas against his people and against Iran. And I think the current secretary of War--I mean secretary of Defense, Mr. Rumsfeld, met with Saddam and knew that he was gassing his people and didn't say anything then. Why are these people now so intent--what has Mr. Saddam done in the last--What?--six months, 12 months to encourage this sort of enmity from the Republicans who actually supported Saddam 15 years ago?

CONAN: And, Bill Kristol, before I turn that over to you, I will point out that Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was at the White House at the time, said that report was dead wrong. But go ahead.

Mr. KRISTOL: Yeah. And I think The New York Times is now leading the crusade against the war, and yesterday's piece was a disgraceful piece of journalism or non-journalism in my view.

RICHARD: You know, the fact...

Mr. KRISTOL: I mean, you know, we obviously helped Iraq at times in the war against Iran. We did not help them use poison gas, and the claim that Pat Tyler makes in the piece is that we, quote, "acquiesced"--whatever that means--in Iraq. We protested vociferously at the time--Secretary of State Shultz did. Anyway, maybe we should have protested more. Fine. I'm willing to acknowledge that we weren't aggressive enough in fighting against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the past. That doesn't mean we shouldn't do it in the future.

The other thing that happened between 1988 and 2002 is the war in 1990-'91 and the discovery at the end of that war that Saddam was much further along in the development of nuclear and biological weapons than we might have thought. So I'm willing to acknowledge that in 1988, I probably wasn't as aware of how dangerous Saddam was as I should have been. That doesn't mean we sit back and do nothing now.

CONAN: David Henderson, the issue of weapons of mass destruction--you say it cuts both ways.

Prof. HENDERSON: Well, yeah. First of all, I want to point out that whatever else Saddam Hussein does--and I hope you understand I am no defender of Saddam Hussein; I agree with Bill that he's a very evil man--but whatever he's done, he's never actually done anything to the United States, and that's relevant in the whole idea that there is this just war doctrine which isn't talked about much anymore. But the general idea is you have a right to attack someone who attacks you, and he's never done that, and it's hard to create a scenario in which he does.

But the point is let's say that he does have these weapons of mass destruction--and this is a point I made in my article, which I'm sure is what got me on this show--if he does have these weapons of mass destruction and he is an evil man--I think we agree on that--I think we also agree he's probably not a madman. In other words, he makes some bad mistakes. He shouldn't have tried to knock off Bush I, even from his own viewpoint, but he did. But he makes very calculated decisions. So if he feels himself in a corner, why does he suddenly become a good man and decide not to try to take a lot of people with him? So if he really is this guy holding on to weapons of mass destruction, we shouldn't be talking about it like this is just some easy thing to do or just even if it's a hard thing to do, that the only people on our side who are at risk are our soldiers. We could be at risk, too. Israel could be at risk, too.

CONAN: William Kristol, this has to be something that is of deep concern, and I'm not suggesting for a moment that anybody on your side of the argument thinks it actually is going to be an easy thing to do.

Mr. KRISTOL: No. I'm worried that it won't be, and I very much agree with David that we need to be serious about the risk, and the risk includes risks to civilians here in the United States. But look, you know, the alternative is to sit back and--What?--wait till he develops more effective weapons, then puts us at even greater risk five years from now? So basically, at that point, the situation becomes acquiesce in Saddam with all matter of weapons and feel that somehow we can live with that, we can be confident he won't smuggle them out to terrorist groups and let them use them, as opposed to going in now when at least we have a reasonable shot, I think, at getting him before he's had a real chance to rebuild. It's been four years since the inspectors left. I wish we had done this, frankly, in 1998, and President Clinton thought about it. He did a little bit of a military action. He pulled up short. Other things were going on then.

But, no, look, I totally agree that we need to be serious about the risk, and there's probably been a little bit too much sort of talk on my side of the argument about, oh, this will be easy, the Iraqi army isn't much. I do think that we can make it hard for him to use those weapons by making clear to any military commander who does use them at Saddam's behest that he's finished and, conversely, by making clear that people who disobey an order to use these weapons will be--you know, we will try to watch out for and protect. But, no, there's a real risk. There's no question about it.

Prof. HENDERSON: Neal, can I reply to that?

CONAN: Very quickly.

Prof. HENDERSON: Yeah. Let's say he does get more weapons of mass destruction in five years, which I think is likely, you know, if we don't get inspectors in there. Still, you have to make the case why he becomes a threat to the United States? I mean, if you were a dictator in Iraq or anywhere else in that part of the world, you would want weapons of mass destruction, too. I'm not justifying that. I'm saying that is just a fact of reality, and so the fact that he acquires weapons of mass destruction doesn't automatically make him a threat to us. And people have tried to establish a link between him and the terrorists, and there was all kinds of incentives in the world to do that in September and October, completely failed.

CONAN: Bill Kristol, very quickly, if push comes to shove and the president asks the American people to unite behind him for an attack against Iraq, do you anticipate that he would have any difficulties bringing his own party along?

Mr. KRISTOL: No. And I don't think he'll have much difficulty with the Democrats either. I think he'll have strong bipartisan support. And I think it will happen and it will happen for the reason that David sort of alluded to, which is if you let it go for five years, every dictator in the world is going to decide his ticket to safety is to develop weapons of mass destruction. You're then looking at a world which I think is just intolerably dangerous and unsafe, and we can't even retreat and hide behind the oceans at that point.

CONAN: Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard magazine. He was with us by phone from his office in Washington. Good to talk to you, as usual.

Mr. KRISTOL: Thanks.

CONAN: David Henderson, a pleasure to meet you.

Prof. HENDERSON: Thank you, Neal. Same here.

CONAN: David Henderson, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a professor of economics at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and he spoke to us from his office in Monterey.

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

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