Iraq As Unfinished Business

Derek Chollet is the Principal Deputy Director of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff. Prior to joining the State Department, he was a Senior Fellow at The Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a non-resident fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Global Economy and Development Program and an adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University. During the Bill Clinton administration, he served in the State Department in several capacities, including as Chief Speechwriter for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke, and Special Adviser to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. Mr. Chollet also assisted former Secretaries of State James A. Baker III and Warren Christopher with the research and writing of their memoirs, Holbrooke with his book on the Dayton peace process in Bosnia, and Talbott with his book on U.S.-Russian relations during the 1990s. He was foreign policy adviser to Senator John Edwards (D-N.C.), both on his legislative staff and during the 2004 Kerry/Edwards presidential campaign.

Mr. Chollet has been a Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin and a visiting scholar and adjunct professor at The George Washington University. He is the author, co-author or coeditor of five books on American foreign policy, including The Road to the Dayton Accords: A Study of American Statecraft (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11, coauthored with James Goldgeier (PublicAffairs, 2008). His commentaries and reviews on U.S. foreign policy and politics have appeared in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Financial Times, Washington Monthly, and many other books and publications. Educated at Cornell and Columbia, Mr. Chollet was raised in Lincoln, Nebraska.

  • Transcript


Question: What mistakes did we make during the first Gulf War?

Derek Chollet: Well it was hugely controversial at the time for us to stop basically at the border with Kuwait. Saddam Hussein, Iraq invaded Kuwait, the U.S. had a mandate to get Iraq out of Kuwait, kick Iraq out of Kuwait. At the time, some believed that we should have gone on to Baghdad. It’s interesting. The legacy of the decision not to go to Baghdad is one that sort of adds new layers of complexity on sort of the Iraq issue as it unfolded. When we interviewed several former Bush administration officials from the first Bush administration about this decision, Brent Skowcroft, who was George Bush’s national security advisor, said one of the reasons they didn’t go into Baghdad is because they didn’t have U.N. authorization to do so and that they had worked very hard to put together this diverse coalition that included European countries and Arab countries to kick Saddam out of Kuwait. But they didn’t have a mandate to go any further than that so, therefore, if they actually wanted the way the Gulf War was fought to be a demonstration of how the new world could work and how the U.N. system could work, they needed to abide by the rules that they had set and one of those rules was that they were going to stop at the border of Kuwait. Now it’s interesting though because the fact that Saddam was left in power and the fact that he stayed in power, bring yourself back to the spring of 1991, Saddam, I think most people believed, would not survive. He had been soundly defeated quickly in this war, there was a sense his military was in a shambles, there were massive uprisings in the south with the Shia, with the Kurds in the north, and I think many in the Bush administration wrongly, obviously, many in the Bush administration believed that it was just a matter of time until he was gone. But the fact that he didn’t go and the fact that he remained in power in many ways tarnished the Gulf War victory for the Bush administration and for the Republicans. What it meant was that for the early part of the 1990s they didn’t really want to talk much about Iraq because it was seen as sort of a blemished event.



Recorded on: 07/08/2008