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Interview: Kenneth Pollack Of The Brookings Institution Discusses Whether Key Nations In The Security Council Will Back A War With Iraq

Weekend Edition Saturday: February 1, 2003

What's Next on Iraq?


The meetings between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair were a prelude to a week in which Secretary of State Colin Powell is scheduled to present the US and British case against Saddam Hussein to the UN Security Council. Of course, there's no guarantee that key nations on the council will be swayed by Mr. Powell's presentation. Several member states remain publicly suspicious of demands to forcibly disarm Iraq now. Kenneth Pollack is director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He was director for Gulf affairs at the National Security Council under President Clinton. He also served as a Persian Gulf military analyst at the CIA. Mr. Pollack's latest book is "The Threatening Storm: The Case For Invading Iraq." He joins us in our studios.

Thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. KENNETH POLLACK (Director, Saban Center for Middle East Policy): Thanks so much for having me.

SIMON: And help us understand, in your judgement, how critical is Secretary Powell's presentation to events over the next few weeks?

Mr. POLLACK: Well, I think they've become very important, not in determining whether or not the United States will go to war but in determining how many other countries will accompany us. My own reading of President Bush's State of the Union address is that the president has made up his mind. In short of Saddam Hussein doing something extraordinarily unlikely, like leaving Iraq prematurely, I think that we are looking at a war in the next few weeks. But there's a real risk here that if Secretary Powell comes forward with evidence that really doesn't convince a lot of people, the United States will look like we are just making this all up.

SIMON: It sounds as if you do not rate very high the chance that Saddam Hussein will accept what amounts to the invitation at this point of Saudi Arabia and perhaps other nations in the region to depart peacefully, go into exile.

Mr. POLLACK: That's right. I think that is exceedingly unlikely. One of the problems with Saddam Hussein that we've long had is that he is what I call a congenital optimist. Saddam Hussein has been wriggling out of one tight jam after another and it seems pretty clear right now that he recognizes he's in a tight jam but he's also very confident that he's going to be able to wriggle out of it. What's more, what we know about Saddam is that he believes that if he is not in power in Iraq, his life expectancy will be measured in minutes. He knows that there are thousands of people who want to kill him. Finally, what we know about Saddam Hussein's thinking is he does seem to be a man with pretensions of greatness. He believes he has a historic destiny. That historic destiny includes lashing out at Israel, at the United States, at Saudi Arabia, at other countries, and, in fact, he will try to go out in a blaze of glory and try to strike as many blows against as many of his foes as he thinks he can.

SIMON: You raise a question that I think people who are opposed to the US spearheading a war in Iraq have raised. And the center of that is that containment is working, that Saddam Hussein continues to get, if anything, weaker militarily, year after year, and that the risk of some kind of gutter-down-rung(ph) strategy, as you describe it, is so great it's heedless to run it.

Mr. POLLACK: Yeah. I would actually turn that on its head. The problem that we have is that while Saddam is definitely weak now, he is pursuing weapons which would make him very strong once he acquires them--in particular, nuclear weapons, but also advanced biological weapons. And one of the problems that we have is--point of fact, containment is not working. Containment is falling apart. The sanctions are hemorrhaging. More and more goods are getting inside of Iraq. Saddam is asking more and more progress on his weapons of mass destruction. The inspections are not finding anything because Saddam has gotten so good at hiding everything, and all of the intelligence communities in the West have come to a consensus which is that unless something derails Saddam from his course he is likely to acquire nuclear weapons in a period of anywhere from three to six years from now.

SIMON: There a good many nations around the world who seem to believe the United States wouldn't feel that the sense of conviction if the gross national product of Iraq were carrots or radishes instead of oil.

Mr. POLLACK: Well, there's no question that oil is a part of this. Our economy and the economies of the entire world are addicted to cheap oil. And if Saudi oil is taken off the market, if all the Gulf's oil is taken off the market, 15 to 25 percent of the world's oil production, the economic estimates are that it will cause a worldwide recession at least as great as the Great Depression.

SIMON: What about the concern, Mr. Pollack, that an attack against Iraq would make the United States and United Kingdom and Israel, for that matter, new targets for terrorism?

Mr. POLLACK: Well, I think that there's no question that we run that risk. With regard to terrorism, there are two real issues out there on the plate. One is the possibility the Iraqis will attack us, and I think there's no question that if we march on Baghdad and are about to take down Saddam's regime, Saddam will try everything, and, in fact, the Iraqis are already making preparations to employ terrorism against the United States should we decide to do so. The second issue that's out there, though...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. POLLACK: ...of course, is al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is going to attack us under any set of circumstances. And while it is possible that you will have sympathy attacks, again, whether they're sympathy attacks as a result of a war in Iraq or they were simply something that would have occurred anyway, later down the road, I don't think is terribly meaningful.

SIMON: Mr. Pollack, thanks very much.

Mr. POLLACK: Thanks so much for having me.

SIMON: Ken Pollack directs research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and is the author of "The Threatening Storm: The Case For Invading Iraq."

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