Behind the Scenes of the George W. Bush Administration

Question: Did George W. Bush have a grudge against Saddam Hussein?


Richard Haass: I don't believe that. I think one or two of the people in the administration had a thing about Iraq and it was mentioned from time to time and Paul O’Neal if you may recall in his memoir talked about how Iraq was mentioned early on and people around, the Secretary of Defense Mr.Rumsfeld, including the Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, people around the Vice President Dick Cheney, did mention Iraq intermittently but there was no intensity to it and there was no real opportunity to move with it.

It’s an interesting historical debate whether this administration would’ve gradually found the way over time to do what it did visibly Iraq hadn’t not been for 9/11. It’s possible but it would’ve taken longer and it would’ve been far more difficult to galvanize the support within the administration and beyond. But again, coming back to your basic point pre- 9/11, Iraq was simply not high up on the radar screen.


Question: Did the Bush administration have good intentions when invading Iraq?


Richard Haass: What people felt was the importance of doing this for various principles. It was not in anyway to spread religion. What I believed that motivated George W. Bush had nothing to do with religion in the proselytizing sense or anything like that. What it had to do more than anything else I believe was that he thought that after 9/11 that the United States needed to make a powerful statement to the world.

To use another phrase that Richard Nixon made famous in another context that the United States was not going to be a pitiful helpless giant and for George [W.] Bush and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice and others, the accomplishment of ousting the Taliban and liberating Afghanistan did not take care of that, it did not send the message that they wanted to. It simply wasn’t big enough.

The way I put it in the book is it didn’t scratch the itch and they came to the conclusion they needed to do something of greater weight and greater significance and that was Iraq and they wanted to take Iraq which had been a thorn in the side of the United States and other countries for sometime and they believed they could oust Saddam Hussein. They believed they can transform Iraq into a functioning democracy and they thought by so doing so, they would not only send the powerful message to the world that the United States was not to be trifled with but that they could then use Iraq as a model that would then go on to lead to political change throughout the Middle East and essentially this would become a transforming historical event and ultimately development. That’s what this is about.


Question: Was Bush or Cheney calling the shots on Iraq?


Richard Haass: I've also thought that Dick Cheney was quite conservative. People forget that because he’s such a moderate man in his manner and in the way in his bearing and the way he conducts himself, but he’s extraordinarily conservative. Now, in the previous Bush administration when Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defence, he was also quite conservative and he and I had our differences at that time. Once you saw me walking around the Pentagon going over bombing plans, being briefed on it and he complained to the National Security Adviser and the President about it. We had our differences when Israel was struck by Iraqi missiles.

In the early days of the war, Dick Cheney wanted the United States to essentially give Israel the green light to retaliate, and I argued against it and I prevailed, but the difference in the previous Bush Administration is Dick Cheney was the odd man out. You had Dick and then you had George Herbert Walker Bush, Brent Scowcroft, Jim Baker--these were all traditional centrists--and Dick Cheney was essentially outnumbered and largely went along and he actually also agreed with the policy.

If you recall Dick Cheney, even afterwards publically defended the decision not “to March on Baghdad” when people would criticize it. Dick Cheney in this administration, rather than being the outlier, was very much at the core along with Don Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, George [W.] Bush and there was Colin Powell, my boss, who was the outlier.

So I believe that Dick Cheney was in the position where he could put forward his more conservative use and rather than being isolated. He was then right in the center of decision-making, and again, as I've said after 9/11, his boss, the President, wanted to do bold things. So, Iraq was... the idea of putting Iraq at the top of the American foreign policy agenda was something that [George W.] Bush was very open to because Bush was looking to do something big and bold and Iraq seemed to present to him and others the best option for so doing.


Question: Did you clash with Bush over Afghanistan?


Richard Haass: No.

But I believe after 9/11 the United States had a window to get more involved in Afghanistan then it did. I advocated publicly. It ended up being a front page story in the New York Times. So I advocated at the National Security Council meeting with the president, the vice president, and others that the United States should do more. I thought there was a real moment after the ouster of the Taliban where the United States if we have put in not hundreds of thousands of force but maybe 25,000 forces and I believe we could’ve gotten an equal amount from the Europeans I mean, as they have ultimately done in Afghanistan as we see now where they have 30 odd thousand forces. I believed then that 50,000 forces, US and European together, could have made a real difference.

We could’ve filled that vacuum in and then might have been a receptivity then where we could have done some serious nation building in Afghanistan, so the deterioration that we are now dealing with would’ve come about. I can’t prove that obviously in retrospect and even then arguing in 2001, 2002 I couldn’t prove it then. I couldn’t guarantee that if people did what I was advocating, it would succeed but I did predict that if we don't do it, this sort of thing that we now have to deal with would come about. Ignoring it or doing the minimum would almost shortly lead to an Afghanistan that will essentially begin to look like a failed state again and that’s exactly what we have.


Question: Why were the foreign policies of Bush 41 and Bush 43 so different?


Richard Haass: I mean he’d speak to his son a lot but I believed for two reasons one is the father-son relationship, fathers tend to give their sons some space. Secondly, ex-presidents has an unwritten role that ex-presidents give the incumbent a little bit of a space. I think in this case there was a third thing though and it’s obvious that there was some awkwardness because the policies of the father and the son were so very different. George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president, he represented a traditional what I would call realist school of American foreign policy.

There was a foreign policy of multilateralism, of diplomacy, of limited ambitions, of working with international institutions. His son represented a very different foreign policy of transformational, ambitious almost radical foreign policy, unilateralism, a heavy dose, a much heavier dose or reliance on the military force, of real suspicion of international arrangements, you saw it with the international criminal court, you saw it around with climate change, you saw it with the United Nation so in some ways, they represented the fault line of the American foreign policy debate – the former president, the older president representing the more traditional realist school that the principal purpose of American foreign policy essentially ought to be to shape the foreign policies of others and his [son] representing the radical and more Wilsonian school, the idealist school with the principal purpose of American foreign policy ought to be to reshape the internal nature of others.

And this debate has been going on for more than a hundred years in the United States and it’s just fascinating to me that the two sides of the debates are so exemplified by a father and son and it manifested itself in these two wars with Iraq. This is... these are textbook case studies that define the basic fault line of the American foreign policy debate.


Recorded on: May 08, 2009


Richard Haass writes about his experiences in his new book, "War of Necessity, War of Choice," and describes the motivations behind the Iraq War.

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