JOEL ROSENTHAL: Good afternoon, and welcome. This is the actual launching of David Phillips' book, Losing Iraq, and his first talk. I assume there will be many, because there will be such high interest in the book. We are particularly honored that you have come here to Merrill House to launch the book and to send it out into the world.
When Joe Nye was here, we discussed the whole of ethics and how our approach at the Carnegie Council gives us a certain lens to view world politics. It is especially appropriate that David is launching the book here, with our focus on ethics, because my understanding of ethics is that it is a systematic reflection on values and standards by which we make decisions — and in our case, international policy decisions.
But ethics is also about reflection on our choices, how we make those choices and what values we use. Yet often in international affairs, we get policymakers who say our choices are few, and policy is based on necessity. It has been said by a famous diplomat, who will remain nameless, that the purpose of diplomacy is to rescue choice from necessity. One of the things we like to do here is think expansively about choices. Part of an ethical analysis is to develop new choices.
I also like to use the animated version of this, the cartoon character — usually Bugs Bunny — who finds himself painted into a corner and there's no escape. It is the ultimate necessity. How does he get out? He pulls his magic marker out, draws a window on the wall behind him, and he gets out.
DAVID PHILLIPS: That's called an exit strategy.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: One of the things I admire about David Phillips is that he has devoted his entire personal and professional life to developing positive alternatives, to thinking positively, thinking win-win, not necessarily zero-sum, about how to deal with conflict. He has personally been involved with many conflicts that many would call intractable.
Recently, he wrote a piece on the reconciliation process between Turkey and Armenia.
David has brought those skills to bear in thinking about the topic of the day, which is the reconstruction of Iraq. He has some personal experiences to share with you.
David is the Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Center for Middle East Studies, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and an analyst for NBC News. In addition to this book, he has published opinion pieces in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and International Herald Tribune. Thanks for being with us.
DAVID PHILLIPS: I made a choice, which was to resign from the U.S. Department of State on September 11, 2003, in protest over the terrible fiasco in Iraq. Making that decision was a rather liberating moment for me, because it gave me the opportunity to write about experiences working with the Democratic Principles Working Group and the Future of Iraq Project, and to share in a very honest and transparent fashion some of the observations that I have garnered from my work with the U.S. government on what is clearly the most important U.S. foreign policy issue today, and, in my mind, what will remain central to U.S. interests for decades to come.
What was most astonishing about our postwar plan for Iraq isn't the plan with which we went to war; it is that we went to war with no plan at all. For ideological reasons, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Office of the Vice President ignored, and even took steps to undermine, the Future of Iraq Project, which was led by the U.S. Department of State. It involved seventeen different federal agencies, hundreds of Iraqis. Thousands of pages of recommendations were produced; $5 million of U.S. taxpayer money was spent.
Instead of following the advice of these Iraqis and of experts who were involved in that planning process, the Bush Administration chose instead to follow the advice of a small group of Iraqi exiles, led by Ahmed Chalabi, and to believe their own propaganda, which was that you could transform Iraq into a liberal democracy overnight, and that would then become the engine for reform in the Middle East.
The serious errors in judgment that created the debacle in the immediate hours after Saddam's statue fell in Firdos Square on April 9, 2003, set the tone and created the substance of problems that we are still dealing with today.
Looking at this postwar period is instructive, because if we are going to move forward and not lose Iraq, but fulfill the aspirations of the Iraqi people for democracy and their own freedom, we must look in the rearview mirror and learn from our mistakes.
I had the honor of working with U.S. officials who were extremely capable and committed over a five-year period at the State Department. However, the political appointees in the Pentagon and the Vice President and his inner circle have betrayed U.S. interests and the hopes of the Iraqi people. The decisions that they made, based on ideology, have proved costly.
The original belief was that we would be in and out of Iraq in ninety days. The head of USAID gave congressional testimony saying that it would cost $1.3 billion. We are now at $230 billion, 1,600 Americans dead, 15,000 terribly maimed, and, according to The Lancet, probably about 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead.
My book is called Losing Iraq because it is not yet lost. Despite the incompetence of the Bush Administration, Iraqis might yet rise to the occasion. Ultimately, the Administration's intervention in Iraq and the events there will be judged by a set of events: the reasons that the United States went to war, the conduct of the war itself, the occupation, and what we leave behind in Iraq.
I believed the President of the United States when he said that the smoking gun might come in the form of a mushroom cloud. I had been to Halabja soon after the use of chemical weapons. When U.S. officials talked about the intersection, post-9/11, of terrorist groups and weapons of mass destruction, I felt that going after regimes like Saddam Hussein's was a noble goal.
But the most important lesson is that, subsequent to regime change, you had better have a plan for winning the peace. The planning that was under way, as we have seen day to day, has been grossly deficient.
The reasons that we went to war had to do with WMD [weapons of mass destruction]. Charles Duelfer, the head of the Iraq Survey Group, has issued his final report, determining that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I wonder if we knew that going into the process. Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, explained as early as the spring of 2003, "For reasons that had a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one reason that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction." Given the Iraq Survey Group's finding and the stated purpose of going to war, there are serious questions about our intention.
As far as the conduct of the war is concerned, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had a vision for transforming the U.S. military into a leaner, meaner, faster fighting machine. He wanted to demonstrate in Iraq this new capability. Because we rushed the timetable, botched American diplomacy with Turkey, not allowing the 4th Infantry Division to pass through Turkey into northern Iraq, we ended up with the 3rd Infantry Division rushing across the desert into Baghdad as the point of the spear. We didn't have enough boots on the ground to stabilize the country and deal with the pressing security concerns once the regime started to crumble.
The 3rd Infantry Division issued their "After-action Report" in which they indicated that they had no instructions from the political appointees in the Pentagon as to Phase IV stability operations, the measures to be taken to secure facilities and stabilize the situation once the combat stops.
We drew up a list of protected sites, and we provided those to the Department of Defense. During the air campaign against Baghdad and other places, none of those sites were, in fact, targeted. But for some reason, the list of sites wasn't conveyed to the field commanders. So when they arrived in Baghdad, they had no instructions; and with no instructions, they didn't know what to do. What was their gut instinct? They surrounded the oil ministry, thereby confirming the suspicion that existed in the Arab world and in many countries that the primary motivation for this war was for the United States to capture Iraq's proven reserves of 120 billion barrels of oil.
Let's not underestimate the extraordinary chaos and confusion during those days in April, when Saddam's statue fell. Seventeen of the twenty-three ministries in Baghdad were completely gutted — the furniture stolen, computers removed, wiring ripped out of the walls, plumbing dismantled. Not content with physical facilities, they tore apart the electricity grids to get copper wiring. This spasm of self-inflicted violence caused a situation in Iraq where there was no electricity, no water, and no sewerage.
The central premise to our planning was to demonstrate to the Iraqi people immediate material benefits to liberation. With this chaos and the inability of the U.S. troops on the ground to deal with the situation, we, in fact, created the opposite impression. The Iraqis were confounded by the fact that this vaunted U.S. military could dash across the desert and defeat the Republican Guard, but was unable to secure the country in the immediate aftermath of the regime falling.
The looting didn't stop there. Cultural treasures were also destroyed. The national library was looted, and every book was burned. The national museum lost 10,000 artifacts. Some of that, granted, was engineered by the Baathists themselves. Some of those items were later returned. But, clearly, there was a spasm of violence targeting Iraq's culture and history.
In addition, the International Atomic Energy Agency had put seals on the Al-Qaqaa weapons storage facility, one of seventy significant facilities around the country. The looters broke those seals and made off with high-quality explosives, of such a quality that they can be used to detonate nuclear devices.
In addition to that, yellow cake and other radiological materials were stolen out of the Tuwaitha nuclear complex. At the time, there were probably 180 Al Qaeda members in a remote mountainous area on the Iran-Iraq border. When I sneaked into Iraq across the Tigris River in July of 2003, on behalf of the U.S. government, to begin talking with Iraqis about their constitution making, I was warned by U.S. officials that there was one place that I shouldn't go, which is the area northeast of Halabja, because of the Al Qaeda cells there. An American in that part of the world, even if he was protected by Kurdish Peshmerga, simply wouldn't be safe.
The U.S. government estimates that there are, at a minimum, 5,000 Al Qaeda members in Iraq. We didn't have enough troops on the ground to secure the borders. So every jihadist from Yemen, Sudan, Egypt, and other countries who decided he wanted to take a shot at Americans crossed those borders into Iraq. Most notorious among them is Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. By transforming Iraq into the front line of terror, which it was not prior to the war, we have spawned a whole generation of Zarqawis. When they leave Iraq and return to their countries, they will bring with them urban terrorist skills that they didn't have previously. U.S. security interests have been ill-served by this intervention.
As far as the occupation goes, we were involved in a whole series of discreet meetings around the world, involving Iraqi dissidents, some from within the country, some from the diaspora. This was a process led by the State Department, but it was an inclusive and participatory endeavor, involving Iraqis across the political spectrum.
On 21 January 2003, the decision was made that the Office of the Secretary of Defense would take the lead in postwar civilian administration. Concurrent with that decision, the OSD decided that it would issue instructions to officials that were involved in this postwar planning to ignore the entire work of the Future of Iraq Project. General Jay Garner was appointed to be the head of the reconstruction effort. On 22 February, at the National Defense University, he convened a group of 200 experts to do a dry run on the immediate postwar period. It was at that meeting that he first learned of the Future of Iraq Project.
A friend of mine was at a seminar with General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and asked a question about the Future of Iraq Project. The Chairman said, "What's that?" There was clearly a bottleneck in the flow of information through this dysfunctional interagency process.
With the looting that ensued in Iraq, the U.S. government decided that they needed to remove Jay Garner. Instead, they wanted to appoint a civilian. They named Ambassador "Jerry" [Paul] Bremer, but the chain of command didn't change.
Bremer arrived in Baghdad, and his first decision and decree, on 16 May, was to "disestablish" the top three tiers of the Baath party. That gave a pink slip to 120,000 Iraqis, not only those who had committed atrocities and who needed to stand before a legitimate Iraqi court, but also educators and engineers and medical professionals who joined the Baath Party because they had no choice.
A week later, he issued a second decree dismantling all branches of the armed forces. The Future of Iraq Project planning recognized that you needed to identify professionals in the Iraqi army and make them partners in security. By dismantling the armed forces, which numbered about 400,000 Iraqis, overnight we turned 2.4 million Iraqis — 10 percent of the country — who could have been allies into enemies of our effort.
The revelations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib further undermined the virtuous claim that our reason for going to war was to liberate the Iraqi people. A cartoon in Al Hayati newspaper had an image of Abu Ghraib with a sign hanging from the door that said, "Under New Management." I cringed at the thought that we had reached that point, because my motivation in being involved was precisely to assist the liberation of the Iraqi people and to give them a chance to realize their aspirations for freedom and democracy.
Probably the most egregious mistake that Bremer made was a decision to suspend the transfer of sovereignty. We had discovered when we got on the ground that democracy in Iraq meant that Arab Shia would take control of the country. In all of my meetings with U.S. officials, not one of them mentioned the name Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
We all know that name well, because he has been the king maker. But at the time we knew nothing about him or Muqtada al-Sadr. There was surely some awareness about these personalities, but they didn't figure into the postwar governance plans at all.
We had a strategy in mind for how we would hand over sovereignty to Iraqis. The notion was that we would identify "liberated" parts of the country, and organize a series of regional conferences, the first in Nasiriyah, others in the western desert areas, others in the north. Each of those conferences would send delegates to a Baghdad conference, as soon as Baghdad was liberated. That conference would elect a national assembly which would draft a constitution. There would be national elections in Iraq.
Does all that sound familiar? That is exactly what we are doing now, but it is two years later, and the well has been poisoned. One of the most remarkable ironies is that when you look at the Bush Administration's approach today, it doesn't differ much from the original recommendations we made before the war, but they got to that point because they failed at everything else they tried.
Bremer proposed indirect caucuses. Sistani vetoed that and said only a legitimate elected body could draft the constitution. We then went back to the UN — an institution that we had "dissed" for the past year-and-a-half — hat in hand and asked the Secretary-General and Lakhdar Brahimi to bail us out by coming up with a legitimate transition plan that the Iraqis would accept.
It is remarkable that we went to war like it was a roll of the dice. You don't take chances like that when there are such extraordinary costs and so many human lives at risk.
The last element has to do with what we leave behind. Despite my intense criticism, I remain hopeful — although not optimistic — that Iraqis might yet rise to the occasion and come up with power-sharing arrangements that would enable the country to remain whole and free. I recently published, at the Council on Foreign Relations, a report on the Iraqi constitution called "Power-Sharing in Iraq," which is available on the Council Web site.
There is a surprising degree of agreement that already exists among Iraqis. They believe that the country should be federal, republican, and pluralistic. My recommendation is that the powers of the central government focus on national defense against external threats, fiscal policy, and foreign affairs.
There needs to be an inclusive process for drafting the constitution. Anyone who saw Iraqis show up at the polls on January 30 couldn't help but be impressed with the incredible resolve that these people have to exercise their democratic freedoms. But make no mistake; their other motivation in showing up to vote was a recognition that the only way to end the occupation was to participate in a political process that would culminate in U.S. disengagement and departure from the country.
A whole range of hot-button issues remain to be dealt with:
- What to do with the city of Kirkuk. My view is that displaced persons who were removed from Kirkuk during the ethnic correction periods of the Baath regime should return to their home, under a UN mandate, and that a census be taken and a referendum held on which governorate or federal Iraqi state those residents will choose to affiliate with.
- There is a proliferation of militias in Iraq. All along, we recognized that those militias have an important role, but they need to be co-opted into a national army or into federal Iraqi security services or local police to reflect the ethnic composition of the communities that they serve.
- The whole issue of religion in Iraq is a very divisive one. Washington was concerned that, once we got in and discovered this seething mass of Shia polity, Iraq would end up an Islamic republic, modeled on Iran. I believe that there is no chance that that will occur, given the strong tradition of secularism in Iraq. Certainly, there are Sadrites and Islamic extremists that are there. But at the end of the day, Iraq's constitution will enshrine Islam as the official religion. In addition to that, it will require that laws adopted by the national parliament be consistent with the fundamental tenets of Islam. But it will not deal with matters concerning family law. It will not impose Shariah on issues that are of special concern to women, issues concerning marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Iraqi women won't stand for it. Iraqi men have met their match.
- We are left with a question of accountability. When you look at all the key players who are involved in the Iraq policy and who were responsible for the fiasco, they all ended up getting significant promotions in the second Bush Administration. Condoleezza Rice, who allowed the interagency process to tilt towards the Pentagon, was promoted to be Secretary of State. Stephen Hadley, who allowed the reference to uranium from Niger in the President's State of the Union Speech, became the National Security Adviser. Mr. Gonzales, who wrote memos condoning the use of torture and established a suspension of the Geneva Conventions as official U.S. policy, not only in Iraq, but in Afghanistan and Guant?namo, was promoted to be the Attorney General. On December 15, 2004, at a star-studded ceremony in Washington, President Bush gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Tommy Franks, George Tenet, and Jerry Bremer.
This is the same George Tenet who said that the WMD [Weapons of Mass Destruction] was "a slam-dunk." This is General Franks, who went to war with too few troops. This is Jerry Bremer, who issued decrees that suspended the transfer of sovereignty and fueled the insurgency.
Rather remarkably, Colin Powell, who was the lone voice of reason in this whole process, was pushed into retirement. He didn't get a Presidential Medal of Freedom. He bought himself a new Corvette.
Accountability means the truth. It needs to be based on truth. There seems to be a conspiracy of silence among U.S. officials who were part of the Iraq policy. I was far down the food chain, but I was a part of that policy. I will not subscribe to the conspiracy of silence. That is the reason why I resigned from the government. That is why I decided to tell the story about what happened in Iraq, the betrayal of the Iraqi people and the deception of the American people.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: David, thank you for sharing your experiences, your story and your analysis. We'll open it up for questions now.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: For Kirkuk, you advocate letting the people who were turned out originally return and hold a referendum. Would the Sunnis stay and be part of the referendum? Are they going back to Baghdad?
DAVID PHILLIPS: Kirkuk is something very near and dear to me. The U.S. government asked that I take the lead in the compensation process there. I was assigned to a U.S. military airfield in Romania, to be lifted into Kirkuk just as the fighting was starting to wind down. From that moment forward — a trip that never occurred because of decisions taken in the Pentagon — I have thought long and hard about how to deal with the situation.
You have Sunni Arabs, Iraqi Kurds, and Iraqi Turkmen, each of them laying claim to ownership of property and providing deeds and documentation that they are the rightful owners, over a period of fifty years.
There needs to be a managed process for returning people to their homes based on credible documentation. If for some reason they are not able to return to their homes, we need to find adequate compensation and alternate housing for them. It is not just a matter of returning displaced persons. You have to look at it in its totality, which is developing economic programs in Kirkuk, community building, and using the multiethnic city council there, as a building block for promoting more ethnic tolerance, so that Kirkuk doesn't become the fuse that sets off Iraq and starts the fragmentation.
QUESTION: I went to a medical school where Shields Warren and Stafford Warren were in charge of the Bikini Atoll atomic bomb experiments. Is this not American guilt for having bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
DAVID PHILLIPS: I can't speculate on that. I do know that the chemical weapons that Saddam used against his own citizens and against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988 originated in the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands. So if there was any guilt for the suffering that was inflicted on populations during that period, it might have been related to our own decision to provide Saddam with those weapons.
Don Rumsfeld was the special presidential envoy who made a trip to Baghdad in 1983, in order to offer Saddam Hussein increased agricultural credits and military assistance. So we were deep in bed with Saddam for a long time. It wasn't until Kuwait and his threatening other U.S. interests — namely, the Saudi oilfields and the Bush family's good friends in Saudi Arabia — that we reversed policy. That was also after the Iran-Iraq War, so the need to support Iraq as a buttress against Iranian expansionism also had gone.
QUESTION: You said you thought Mr. Bush was concerned only with the WMDs. Can you say that oil had nothing to do with any of this?
Secondly, Human Rights Watch has come out with a scathing attack on Mr. Rumsfeld, asking for a separate, independent investigation, and perhaps some kind of prosecution. Would you comment on that?
DAVID PHILLIPS: The stated reason for going to war was WMD. My own view is that we were motivated by a deep ideological conviction. It wasn't about the reconstruction monies or the oil assets. There was a view in the Administration that was defined by the neoconservatives that said that you can reshape the Middle East by getting rid of Saddam Hussein in the heart of the Arab world; that Iraq would then be a launch point for getting rid of the Baathists in Syria, undermining the Mullahs in Iran, and establishing regimes that were friendly to the U.S. security and energy interests, and also that were benign and non-threatening to Israel.
When Richard Perle and the other neocons sat around the living room in Georgetown in the 1990s, when they were planning the project for the New American Century, oil wasn't in their minds. It was a rabid ideology to transform the world in America's image and to create an outcome that would be benign to our interests.
As far as the call for a tribunal to try Secretary Rumsfeld, it is remarkable how the internal investigations within the Pentagon have tried to isolate the responsibility for Abu Ghraib and other incidents with reservists and foot soldiers who were way down the chain of command. The reality is that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were not isolated. We are now hearing revelations about similar abuses in Afghanistan and Guant?namo; that the current Attorney General wrote memoranda manipulating international law to justify the use of torture; and that the President himself stood before the American people and said, after 9/11, the Geneva Conventions do not apply.
The view of President Bush and the ideological circle around him is that we will not be constrained by international law and institutions, that we will pursue America's security interests at all costs, and that the rest of the world will ultimately believe that we were right.
What role did Secretary Rumsfeld play in all this? I wouldn't be at all surprised, once their immunity is lifted, that an international commission will be established to look more closely at these events. It is not an accident that the Bush Administration has vigorously tried to torpedo the International Criminal Court, because they don't want to have U.S. officials or soldiers hauled to The Hague and forced into the dock to stand trial for these crimes.
QUESTION: You posed the possibility that there could be a scintilla of hope of the Iraqis themselves pulling some success out of the political process. What about the security situation? Do you see any turning point for a possible turnaround on the insurgency?
DAVID PHILLIPS: I don't see a turning point, but I do see a tipping point. The only way that you defeat the insurgency is if the Iraqi people believe that their sovereign government is legitimate and they have enough confidence in Iraqi institutions to stand in their defense. Even if that is the case, it will require the United States staying the course when it comes to security training and equipping and building up Iraqi security services so that they can deal with the security threats themselves. That will take a considerable amount of time.
To give you an historical perspective, in response to the insurgency, the British ultimately relinquished their control over Iraq and the country became independent, in 1931. It wasn't until 1955 that British troops ended up leaving Mesopotamia.
I suspect that we are there for the long haul. The current Iraqi leadership, Dr. Jaafari and President Talabani, though they all want the occupation to end, recognize that they don't have the capabilities to safeguard the country. There is already talk of a new Status of Forces Agreement, up to the point where an Iraqi sovereign is newly established. Then that new sovereign will also recognize the country's limitations and request that the United States stay on.
QUESTION: Niall Ferguson has said that Britain was in there too short a time, and that the United States should be in Iraq for a much longer period. Right after that, he said that he was a little concerned and amazed at the degree to which Americans were impatient about getting out of Iraq, and that they would have to be there a while before pacifying it.
Also, your U.S.-Iraq explanation was lacking something. We did help Iraq at a time when Iran was considered a much greater threat to us than was Iraq. So it was not necessarily because we were in bed with Saddam Hussein.
Jay Garner told me, after the American invasion that he strongly disagreed with what your assessment is right now — not you specifically, but the assessment that was being made of the conditions in Iraq at the time. John Burns of The New York Times, in his reports from the field, was also taking significant exception to what you were saying.
It was not an ideology so much that compelled the Bush Administration to move into Iraq. If you recall, the President — in this case, Bill Clinton — signed the Iraqi Liberation Act in 1998. The United States and Britain were already bombing Iraq, on behalf of the UN's sanctions. There had been something in the works for a long time.
DAVID PHILLIPS: I thank you for your comment.
QUESTION: I can understand the euphoria when we came into Baghdad and the statue started tumbling down, at day one. Why wasn't martial law declared on day two?
You also mentioned part of the hierarchy going off to State, in the case of Condoleezza Rice. How can Wolfowitz go to the World Bank?
DAVID PHILLIPS: You're right; I forgot Mr. Wolfowitz in my promotion list.
Don Rumsfeld's comments in the immediate aftermath of that chaos were that freedom is messy, and Iraqis are entitled, after all this time, to make a bit of a mess of things. That kind of attitude is deeply disrespectful to the Iraqi people and deceptive to Americans as well. That we didn't have a Phase IV stabilization plan was directly the cause of the inability of U.S. forces to have an effective chain of command, to make decisions, and to establish martial law and other security measures.
If there had been instructions, field commanders would have known what to do. That we went to war without a plan to win the peace is one of the most egregious errors in the history of American warfare, and it is a story which is just now being told. I suspect that when there is a tribunal that is convened to look at whether war crimes were committed, there will be some serious accusations made against senior U.S. officials for dereliction of duty.
As for Wolfowitz, the bureaucracy of the Pentagon is different from the bureaucracy of the World Bank. If he takes the same approach at the Bank as he did in Washington, he's in for a few surprises. He will have to listen much more than he speaks, and I'm not sure that he has the aptitude for that.
But he certainly has the intelligence, and I wish him well. The Bank is an important position, and we need effective leadership there. We have grown accustomed to Jim Wolfensohn, who did a stellar job. I hope Mr. Wolfowitz is up to the job.
QUESTION: I don't mean to defend the policy. I voted for Kerry — reluctantly — and I can easily get very angry at Bush and his policies.
I feel as if you gave a prosecutorial case, as opposed to a balanced assessment of what is going on. Specifically, you noted all the faults, which I cannot argue with, but you failed to put it in context about opportunity costs and what the alternatives might have been. You prefaced "ideology" with "rabid," a highly derogatory adjective. But many people would argue that this was an area which, under most people's reasonable interpretation, is dysfunctional and needed change and was threatening the "civilized world."
You mentioned arguments that the U.N. is dysfunctional. Europe has been dysfunctional. America acted badly, but in a broader context, there were problems to be solved.
Could you remove yourself and look at it more as someone who is very knowledgeable, and use your knowledge as opposed to your passion about the incompetence?
What you presented — again, not to be disrespectful — has been in The New York Times for the last six months. Going beyond that, could you discuss, from your insight, why it really happened? These are not dumb people; these are not evil people. The ideology, in theory, is well-intentioned. So why did it unfold as it did?
DAVID PHILLIPS: I was pretty dispassionate about disclosing my strong support for regime change and endorsement of U.S. military action. I was the first U.S. official on the ground in Iraq to work with Iraqis on their constitution. I did that not because I objected to rabid ideology; I did that because I believed that the Iraqi people had suffered enough under one of the century's worst tyrannies, and they needed to have a chance to do better.
It is precisely because we deprived them of that chance, by not trusting Iraqis and giving them responsibilities for their own government, that I point an accusing finger at the administration.
We were completely blinded by a fear that radical Arab Shia would take over the country, and we would have a situation that was awfully reminiscent of Iran after the revolution. Instead of navigating without instruments through a political process that was uncertain and dealing with personalities about whom we knew little, we decided to suspend the process. In doing so, we needed a legal instrument defining our responsibility. The resolution that was drafted in the Security Council by the U.S. and the U.K. specifically identified us as the occupying power, because in international law there are certain obligations and duties that accompany the occupation.
It was when we called ourselves an occupation that isolated incidents of violence started to organize into an insurgency. It was when Iraqis recognized that they had replaced a terrible tyranny in the form of Saddam Hussein with a foreign occupation that flew in the face of a strong tradition of Iraqi nationalism that this insurgency from former regime elements found common cause with the foreign jihadists and the common criminals, to organize the mayhem that we see today.
I have tried to be balanced in my presentation. I have tried not to convey any bitterness. I have tried to be analytical. Precisely because Iraq will not be the last country where we engage militarily, we need to develop some nation-building skills and learn from the experience in Iraq so that we can do the job better next time.
I am a firm believer that there is a strong freedom deficit in the Arab world and the Middle East. I give great credit to local political activists and human-rights activists that are working to try to promote freedom. If you ask them whether the U.S. occupation of Iraq helped or hurt their cause, they are unanimous in saying that the occupation has been a big detriment to their efforts.
QUESTION: What recommendations, if any, with respect to Iraq policy did your State Department unit on Iraq make?
Number two, should our military stay in Iraq because of possible problems in Saudi Arabia?
DAVID PHILLIPS: Everybody knew that the Baath Party was evil and that Iraqis in the Baath Party who committed crimes against humanity needed to be removed from office and either killed or captured, and if they were captured, tried before an Iraqi court. The fundamental difference was that we recommended a process looking at individual acts of culpability, whereas the decision that was taken by the U.S. government was based on guilt through association. It was a blanket decree targeting the top three tiers of the party.
The second item had to do with security cooperation. We also recognized that, especially in the Mukhabarat and the special Republican Guard, there was leadership which had committed atrocities, who were at the top of the command structure, when it came to the Anfal campaign that killed tens of thousands of Kurds and the killing of up to 100,000 Shia in the south, after the uprising in 1991. We recommended that those individuals be removed from their position, but that the structure of the armed forces, which was a professional institution and largely respected by Iraqis, be kept intact and made into a security partner. The decision was taken to disband the armed forces, and, in so doing, we transformed 10 percent of the country into antagonists overnight.
That many of the Baath Party and the armed forces leadership were Arab Sunnis contributed to the disaffection that exists in the Sunni Triangle, where the insurgency is strongest today.
The third primary area of difference had to do with the plan for handing over sovereignty. We talked at great length about the importance of a legitimate transitional authority that Iraqis assumed ownership of that would engage Iraqis in decisions about their future, that would establish an Iraqi assembly that the Iraqi people as a whole felt was inclusive and representative, and that the Iraqis should, with the help of international experts, form a commission to draft a constitution and then have national elections, and that that process would be legitimate if the terms of reference were set by Iraqis themselves.
The way it was done flipped the whole process on its head. We tried to have exiles and American lawyers write an interim constitution without Iraqis being consulted. The Arab Shia, who welcomed liberation, felt that they couldn't trust Western lawyers to write that document and guarantee their democratic rights, so Sistani pushed back, forcing us to rethink the approach.
As far as security concerns in Saudi Arabia go, there is clearly now a political trend in Saudi Arabia towards local elections, as well as radicalization of some of these Wahabi groups, that suggests that the kingdom is in flux. What happens in Saudi Arabia is anybody's guess. Had things gone smoothly in Iraq, we would have U.S. forces in Syria right now, and we would have ratcheted up the pressure on Iran and its nuclear program in a more robust fashion.
There is nothing wrong with getting rid of the Baathists in Syria or making sure that Iran fulfills its international treaty obligations. But the deployment of U.S. forces is not the most effective way to accomplish those goals.
QUESTION: Could you elaborate on your comment on botched American diplomacy towards Turkey? My recollection is that the Turkish government had recently changed and that, for their own domestic reasons, they weren't prepared to let the 4th Infantry Division go through.
DAVID PHILLIPS: Turkey and the United States have always enjoyed a privileged relationship. U.S. officials know Turkey well, like Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman, who was the former ambassador there. He was the point man going to Ankara and negotiating with Turkish authorities on the arrangements for moving the 4th Infantry Division into northern Iraq. In the past, before the rise of the AK Party and Prime Minister Erdogan's ascendance, it was easy to get decisions made in Turkey. All you did was call the chairman of the Turkish General Staff, and he would see that it was done.
This new element in Turkish affairs was a democratic revolution that swept aside the ANAP (Motherland) Party, and gave a new incarnation to the Refah Party through AKP.
We assumed that Turkey would do our bidding. We were offered such assurances, not only by the generals, but also by Abdullah Gul, who was at the time the AK Party senior official. The March 1, 2003, vote in the Turkish Grand National Assembly took everybody by complete surprise. Because there was not a majority of support, we felt that we could go back to the assembly and get them to vote again.
But we failed to address Turkish concerns. Turkey was concerned that a military attack on Iraq would trigger a sequence of events that we would not be able to control, and it would culminate in the country's dissolution and the emergence of an independent state of Iraqi Kurdistan. We tried hard to come up with security guarantees, but they were too vague for the Turks.
When Gul sat down with Powell to talk about the 92,000 U.S. troops that would need to transit through Turkey, he put a price on the table of $1 billion for each 1,000 troops. He said, "If you want us to play ball, we're looking at a $92 billion payout." Ultimately, the U.S. offered $26 billion in cash and credits.
But we fundamentally misjudged the sophistication of the AK Party and this new democratic factor in Turkey.
I was sitting with Marc Grossman the day that the military operation started. The Turks had offered assurances that we would be able to use Turkish airspace and that U.S. missiles would be able to fly over Turkey into Iraq. The generals came back to him on March 23 and said, "We had that agreement, but we want a pledge from you in writing about Iraq's territorial integrity and the dispatch of Turkish troops into northern Iraq, as far south as Erbil, so that we can provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqis." Grossman said to me that he felt as if "they had stuck a hot poker in my eye."
We fundamentally misjudged where the Turks were coming from, and we didn't understand the depth of opposition in Turkey to the Iraq War, nor the belief among this new cadre of Turkish politicians that, in opposing the war, they could keep it from happening.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: David, thank you very much.