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October 10, 2002

ONE ON ONE: William Keller America's goal should be disarming Saddam, not deposing

him, Ridgway Center director says

The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are expected to vote as early as today, Oct. 10, on a resolution that would authorize President Bush to order unilateral American military action against Iraq.

In a nationally broadcast speech Monday night, Bush called Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein “a murderous tyrant” who poses an immediate threat to the United States and American lives.

Pitt’s William W. Keller agrees with the “murderous tyrant” label but disputes Bush’s assessment of the threat posed by Saddam.

“I don’t think that Saddam Hussein now presents any direct threat to the security of the United States,” said Keller, who is the inaugural holder of the Wesley W. Posvar Chair in International Security Studies and a professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA).

Keller also is the new director of the Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies, part of GSPIA and Pitt’s University Center for International Studies.

“Saddam doesn’t have ballistic missiles or aircraft that can reach us,” Keller said. “And he doesn’t, according to recent British intelligence reports and U.S. unclassified material, possess nuclear weapons and isn’t projected to have them for another one-to-five years, although he does have chemical and biological weapons.

“The threat is that if we engage him militarily, he might use his chemical and biological weapons against us or our allies in the region — here, Israel is the obvious candidate.”

Before coming to Pitt this fall, Keller was executive director of the Center for International Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and research director of M.I.T.’s Japan Program. Prior to joining M.I.T. in 1997, Keller served for two years as associate professor and deputy director at the Center for Trade and Commercial Diplomacy in the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

From 1987 to 1995, Keller was project director and senior analyst for the U.S. Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment in Washington, D.C. He is the author or co-author of numerous articles, reports and other publications and has written three books: “The Myth of the Global Corporation” (co-author; Princeton University Press, 1998), “Arm in Arm: the Political Economy of the Global Arms Trade” (Basic Books, 1995) and “The Liberals and J. Edgar Hoover: Rise and Fall of a Domestic Intelligence State” (Princeton University Press, 1989). He co-edited the book “Crisis and Innovation in Asian Technology,” which Cambridge University Press is publishing this year.

Keller holds an A.B. degree in philosophy from Princeton University (1975) and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in government from Cornell University (1985 and 1986, respectively).

He talked with the University Times this week. — Bruce Steele

UNIVERSITY TIMES: Under what conditions, if any, would you support a U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq?

KELLER: I can’t conceive of any conditions under which I would support a unilateral U.S.-led invasion of Iraq because I don’t think the goal should be to depose Saddam Hussein. The goal should be to re-institute inspections and get rid of his weapons of mass destruction.

How should you do that? You should work multi-laterally through the United Nations, even if it takes two U.N. resolutions and the threat of measured amounts of force to get the inspectors back into Iraq. We must have open, impromptu, immediate inspections of any site, including Saddam’s presidential palaces. If our inspection teams are met with hostile forces, then we evacuate our people and bomb the site or sites in question.

UNIVERSITY TIMES: The Bush administration says that Saddam Hussein is a master at duping and stringing along the U.N. and Western leaders who are all too willing to play Chamberlain to his Hitler.

KELLER: The Hitler analogy really doesn’t make much sense to me. I suppose you could say that when Saddam attacked Kuwait, that was like Hitler going into the Rhineland. But in the case of Hitler’s Germany, you had a very powerful nation with overwhelmingly strong military forces in the center of Europe. With Iraq, you have a weak and rather disorganized military force that is no match for our own.

I think Saddam is fairly well contained, at least militarily. He doesn’t seem to be seeking to invade other states or impose an ideology beyond his own borders. What we have to worry about are his weapons of mass destruction. That should be the focus of our policy in Iraq — to remove those weapons, if necessary by force, the kind of measured force I was talking about earlier.

UNIVERSITY TIMES: The Bush administration claims to have clear evidence of links between Saddam’s regime and al-Qaida.

KELLER: So far, I haven’t seen any credible link between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein and his government. About the strongest link that we’ve seen is Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, saying something along the lines of: There have been some contacts between al-Qaida and Saddam’s government, and they go back quite a ways. Well, that’s not very hard intelligence. And then you have the secretary of state, Colin Powell, saying, essentially: There is no smoking gun. We’re looking for one all of the time, but we haven’t found it.

UNIVERSITY TIMES: In his speech Monday night, President Bush likened a pre-emptive strike against Iraq to JFK’s authorization of a U.S. naval blockade in 1962 to prevent Soviet missiles from reaching Cuba. Bush said: “Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

KELLER: The two situations are hardly comparable. In the Cuban missile crisis, the Soviet Union was prepared to base ICBMs — missiles that could reach any part of the United States — within 90 miles of our shore, and they could have been carrying nuclear warheads. In the current situation, there is an implied possibility that Iraq could somehow get a weapon of mass destruction — one of them, perhaps two, and not a nuclear weapon — to the United States.

In the case of the Cuban missile crisis, there was a clear and present danger and there was hard evidence, which Adlai Stevenson [U.S. ambassador to the United Nations] showed to the U.N. Security Council in the form of photographs of the missile facilities in question. With Iraq today, it’s more a question of what might be possible in the future.

This doesn’t mean that we should do nothing about Saddam Hussein. What it means is that we should renew our efforts to remove his weapons of mass destruction and make that the focus of our energies rather than attempting to topple his regime.

UNIVERSITY TIMES: The Bush administration is having difficulty selling the U.N. Security Council — France and Russia, in particular — on the need for stringent weapons inspections in Iraq, backed up by the threat of an immediate military invasion if Saddam doesn’t cooperate.

KELLER: I think the Bush administration brought this trouble upon itself. There has been some difficulty in getting members of the permanent five on the Security Council, other than Britain, to go along with us. This is partly because some of our diplomacy has been mishandled.

The Bush administration has gone to Congress and said: “Give us tremendous war power to attack Iraq. We’re going in no matter what the U.N. does.” Now, this tends to undermine not only the authority of the U.N. but also our own negotiating position vis-à-vis our allies and other members of the Security Council. Because, in effect, what we’re saying to them is: “We want you to make all of these concessions to us. But in the final analysis it doesn’t matter what you do because the U.N. is irrelevant. The United States is going to take matters into its own hands if it believes that its security is at stake.”

UNIVERSITY TIMES: Is the Bush administration playing a subtler game than it’s being given credit for? Maybe the president is talking tough primarily to establish a viable-sounding threat of a unilateral U.S. attack, so that other countries can warn Iraq’s government: “Look, if you don’t back down on weapons inspections, those crazy Americans are going to destroy you.”

KELLER: That’s a credible theory, except that the tough talk has been going on for so long. It’s difficult to think of an instance where a president started talking months and months before the fact that there was going to be a U.S. attack on another country.

Bush has created a viable threat of a unilateral attack. But let’s look at the implications of such an attack. If we go in and try to topple Saddam’s government, we’re probably talking about an attack on Baghdad, and this would be a very different scenario than we saw in 1991. Back then, Saddam moved into Kuwait, dug into the sand and waited. The United States and its allies built up a very large invasion force, and when they were good and ready they attacked and routed Saddam’s forces.

Saddam learned from that experience. Today, he doesn’t have the same quality of forces or the same abundance of equipment that he had in 1991. A lot of it was destroyed during the Gulf War and a lot of it has deteriorated since then. This time, he’s much more likely to withdraw his forces into Baghdad and force the United States into a nightmarish scenario where we would be fighting house to house and street to street, and he would pack the most significant targets with women and children. In that case, we would have not only hand-to-hand combat in the streets but also a lot of body bags and full CNN coverage. The American people don’t tend to support their boys coming home in body bags for very long.

UNIVERSITY TIMES: What do you think of the vision of toppling Saddam and establishing the first Arab democratic republic in Iraq, the hope being that democracies would then blossom throughout the Middle East?

KELLER:Well, it’s a very fine vision, and it would be a very fine thing. But there is no history of democracy in that region. There’s no particular reason to believe that the people would know how to run a democracy. It’s no simple thing. We have troubles with it all of the time in our own democracy, which is very imperfect.

The Iraqis don’t have the necessary institutions in place. If we succeeded in toppling Saddam’s government, there would be quite a lot of instability inside Iraq among the warring factions and tribes that would emerge almost immediately — and perhaps instability between Iraq and its immediate neighbors. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that Saddam fought a major war against Iran.

We might also see, during the actual battle between U.S. or coalition forces and Iraqi forces, the use of unconventional weapons. In that kind of scenario, things tend to become unglued and it’s very, very hard to put them back together again. So, if we were to go in and topple the Iraqi government, that would be the easy part. The hard part would be the next dozen years or so, when we would have to reconstruct the country.

UNIVERSITY TIMES: Could Saddam Hussein’s Iraq be like Castro’s Cuba in the sense that there’s the hope: If we can keep the peace until the current ruler dies, maybe his successors will be less threatening?

KELLER: History certainly has something to teach us about this. I was a child of the Cold War. I was raised to believe that the Soviets were the bad guys and we were the good guys. As I grew older, I could see that it came down to a great ideological battle between capitalism and communism.

Somehow, about 12 years ago, all of that disappeared. The Berlin Wall came tumbling down, the Germanys were reunited, the Soviet Union came apart at the center, and some form of capitalism began to insinuate itself into the formerly communist regime.

That’s an example of a much bigger threat than Saddam Hussein coming undone by more or less natural economic and political forces.

I think this is a waiting game. If we can remain calm and wait it out, we’ll be much better off. But, having said that, if there was incontrovertible proof that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapon, I would be for some kind of pre-emptive intervention.

UNIVERSITY TIMES: What do you consider to be the greatest threat or threats to U.S. national security? Terrorism? Economic and social problems? A military attack against us or some ally we’d be obligated to defend?

KELLER: The greatest threat to the United States would be a terrorist group with weapons of mass destruction. With nation-states, we’ve been able to rely on the doctrine of deterrence, which says that we would respond to an attack with overwhelming force.

Weapons of mass destruction tend not to get used by states. Nuclear weapons have not been used since the first two U.S. uses over 50 years ago. There is a tremendous presumption and norm against the use of chemical and biological weapons, although that norm was eroded somewhat by Iraq’s use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war.

The great problem is that we are only at the dawn of nuclear proliferation. We don’t have the institutions or the mechanisms yet to deal with the kinds of proliferation we’re likely to see in the future. That’s what we should be thinking about: forming coalitions to make sure that terrorists never get their hands on weapons of mass destruction.

UNIVERSITY TIMES: President Bush might reply that that’s exactly why we should not hesitate to act alone and pre-emptively against Iraq — because Saddam is fully capable of turning his weapons of mass destruction over to terrorists who share his hatred of America.

KELLER: A unilateral U.S. action is likely to create all kinds of animosity against us in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, and it’s also likely to break apart the coalition of allies and friends who would be willing to help us in building the broader institutions we need to slow down proliferation and curtail it in the future.

I believe that the most prudent course would be for us to wait until after the elections and then assemble the friends and allies that we need to move against Iraq in a way that will assure successful inspections.

Unfortunately, I think the president’s speech Monday night will preclude that option. Indeed, it seems likely now that the Congress will vote to give broad war power authority to the president.

UNIVERSITY TIMES: Are you surprised that almost 13 months have passed since Sept. 11, 2001, without a major terrorist attack against the United States?

KELLER: I was one of the people who was surprised that the attack of Sept. 11 took so long in coming. I had been expecting it for about 10 years. So, I’m probably not a very good authority on this question. I’m certainly grateful that another attack hasn’t happened.

UNIVERSITY TIMES: Is it just a matter of time until there is another attack by al-Qaida or other terrorists against the United States or its military bases, businesses and embassies abroad?

KELLER: I think it is a matter of time, yes. But there is a great deal that we can do either to extend that time or bring us closer to it. It’s almost a stimulus-response kind of exercise. If we have a belligerent foreign policy in which we launch pre-emptive strikes against countries like Iraq, we’re likely to fuel the fires of terrorism around the world.

One of the principal beliefs behind terrorism against the United States is that we are a kind of evil empire. Before we launch what could appear to be an unprovoked attack on Iraq or some other country, we should think about what the CIA calls “blowback” — the notion that there are consequences that come back at a country because of things it’s done in the past.

We have to start thinking very carefully about our foreign policy in terms of the responses it’s going to elicit from terrorists. This is very different from a policy of capitulation. One should never negotiate with, or capitulate to, a terrorist. But one can do an awful lot about the underlying conditions that tend to make terrorism more violent.

UNIVERSITY TIMES: What forms are terrorist attacks against America most likely to take in the future?

KELLER:That’s impossible to predict. They could take any form at all. And I don’t think it necessarily has to be an escalating kind of scenario. It might be weapons of mass destruction or it might be car bombs. It might be more airplane hijackings or it could be human beings blowing themselves up in Times Square.

As I study terrorism, I don’t see a trend toward escalation, with the one exception of Sept. 11, either in the frequency of events or in their destructive power.

UNIVERSITY TIMES: Prior to September 2001, some policymakers and political pundits were warning that North Korea posed an immediate threat to world peace. Likewise, peace allegedly was threatened by Chinese aggression against Taiwan, and by ethnic genocide, AIDS and starvation in sub-Saharan Africa.

KELLER: One of the real problems with our response to the horrific events of Sept. 11 was that other security and economic issues were sent to the back burner. The weakness of the economy has been almost ignored by the Bush administration. Our nuclear agreement with North Korea has not been looked at very carefully.

This administration seems to have a single-minded focus on terrorism, so much so that it makes a linkage that may not exist between terrorism and Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. It would be better to keep a focus on terrorism while also looking at other issues that are crucially important to the United States.

UNIVERSITY TIMES: You mentioned our nuclear deterrence agreement with North Korea.

KELLER: When we thought that the North Koreans were creating a nuclear weapon, we agreed that if they would cease their production of such weapons we would help them build nuclear reactors and that the I.A.E.A. [International Atomic Energy Agency] would come in.

With North Korea, we were able to take a very backward regime, work with it and, hopefully, either slow or stop their nuclear program. It didn’t require an invasion. One would think that we could have tried a similar approach with Iraq.

UNIVERSITY TIMES: If you were to designate an axis of evil, which countries would make your list?

KELLER:I would never designate such a thing. It’s not a matter of good versus evil. It’s a matter of states behaving properly or not. It’s a matter of international criminal activity. Bringing in the question of good or evil devolves it to an emotional issue that might have more to do with getting votes and getting re-elected than it does with solving the problem.

In that regard, something that I think was, at best, a serious miscalculation and, at worst, thoroughly cynical was the decision to begin this enormous debate about Iraq just a few weeks before the elections. It’s allowing local politics to affect international relations, and international relations to have an unwanted influence on what happens locally within the United States.

The leaderships of both houses of Congress are in doubt; the House and Senate could go Republican or they could go Democrat. One of the key issues is going to be Iraq. Any American political scientist will tell you that when there is a threat of war or a national emergency on the horizon, the American people rally around the president. This president came into office promising to be bi-partisan, and yet recently he suggested that Democrats were not interested in the security of the American people. Now, of course, the White House quickly retracted that statement, but by then the damage had been done.

Our Iraqi policy ought to be a strictly non-partisan, apolitical matter, and that could have been accomplished simply by forestalling the debate for two months. After all, there haven’t been weapons inspections in Iraq since 1998. We could have waited a few more weeks.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 35 Issue 4

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