The Road to Iraq

Dr. Dov S. Zakheim is a vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton where he is a leader in the firm’s global defense business, working with U.S. Combatant Commanders and allied and coalition ministries of defense worldwide.

Former United States government official Dov Zakheim was the Undersecretary of Defense and Comptroller from 2001-2004 in the George W. Bush administration, and was a foreign policy advisor to that administration during the 2000 election campaign. From 1985-1987, during the Regan administration, Zakheim was Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Planning and Resources. An Orthodox Jew, he helped to end the IAI Lavi Israeli fighter program. Previous to his work with the Bush administration, from 1987-2001, Zakheim served as a consultant to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and sat on a number of Defense Department panels, including the Task Force on Defense Reform, in 1997, and the Board of Visitors of Overseas Regional Centers, from 1998-2001. During those years he was also CEO of SPC International, a subsidiary of  System Planning Corporation. Zakheim is on the editorial board of The National Interest Journal and has published a multitude of articles and monographs on defense issues. Zakheim earned his BA in government from Columbia University in 1970 and his PhD in economics and politics from St. Antony's College, Oxford University. He was an Adjunct Scholar at the  Heritage Foundation, and an adjunct professor at the National War College, Yeshiva University, Columbia University and Trinity College, where he was also Presidential Scholar. He has been a Senior Associate at the  Center for Strategic and International Studies, and is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the  International Institute for Strategic Studies, and the United States Naval Institute. Zakheim has received many awards for government and community service, including the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal, its highest civilian award.

  • Transcript


Question: What was your original vision of the Iraq war?

Dov Zakheim: I wasn’t obsessed with Iraq. And I certainly didn’t see the hand of Iraq in Al Qaeda or anything like that. I felt that, frankly, we had our hands full of Afghanistan. We needed to do that right. And like I said, I think we’ve done it reasonably well. We could have done it better. I felt that Saddam had to go. I felt it was a good idea to go after him. Whether we needed to do it alone is a whole other matter. Yes, we had, you know, this coalition; but it wasn’t the same coalition like the coalition on Afghanistan. That was clear. Another point was I believed, yeah, that there was a problem with weapons of mass destruction. And to me at least, it was a matter of connecting dots. And that is here is a guy, Saddam Hussein, who’d attacked five other countries. He’d attacked Bahrain, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Kuwait, okay? So it’s interesting that out of the five, three were other Arab countries. And of course he attacked his own people in Kurdistan. He used weapons of mass destruction, and he was giving $25,000 to every Palestinian family that had a suicide bomb in the family. So there was a connection to terrorism. There was a proclivity to attack others. And there was a desire to develop weapons of mass destruction and use them. So if you connected the dots, you saw that this guy really was a threat. And he was behaving as if he were a threat. You know, he didn’t wanna let inspectors in and so on and so forth. But my sense of it was we should have gone in, knocked him out, and gotten out. We could have done that until we disbanded the Iraqi military. Once we disbanded the Iraqi military and disbanded the Baath, there was no structure. There was no country. We were stuck.

I’ve never been a great believer in nation building. I think, you know, everybody should be prepared to modify their views. And Afghanistan taught me that you can do some nation building – and as did Bosnia – but you can’t do it alone. I still don’t believe the United States is best equipped to do nation building. We have a terrible record at it. We’ve done it well twice: Germany and Japan; but first we flattened them both. That’s not the sort of thing we’re likely to do in the future . . . nuke somebody, or flatten somebody, Dresden type thing. We’re not good at it. We’re not colonialists. We don’t have a colonial office. So if we’re gonna do it, we have to do it in concert with others; but really in concert with others. Afghanistan led me to believe that. Iraq . . . we didn’t disband the Baath and the Iraqi military in concert with others. From what I understand, we didn’t even disband them in concert with half our own administration.

Recorded on: 7/2/07