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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[…]

The time period after the fall of the Berlin Wall is crucial to understanding the fall of the Twin Towers, says Derek Chollet.

Topic: From 11/9 to 9/11 

Derek Chollet: Obviously the Persian gulf war in, you know, well 1990-91, after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 war is important for two reasons. One is it shows the United States trying to use the U.N. as they believed it had been intended to be used, with the U.N. Security Council being the kind of forum through which we would be policing the world, or we and others would be policing the world, doing so by kicking Saddam out of Kuwait. You have to also understand the end of that war and how that war ended because it was, in many ways, foreshadowed the future. The war ends in March of 1991 and there’s a humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq and U.S. troops are sent to northern Iraq and occupy the territory of northern Iraq to try to protect the Kurds, and a whole host of U.N. Security Council sanctions come into play, get passed at that time in part of the war’s end, limiting Saddam’s ability to govern his own country and basically along those weapons programs, huge sanctions, and also again U.S. troops occupying northern Iraq, and in many ways that is the moment in which our entanglement with Iraq is sort of cemented, and that entanglement then lasts throughout the 1990s, through 9/11 and we’re still entangled with Iraq today. So it’s important to kind of see that. The beginning of the Iraq story is not a story that begins in 2003 with our invasion of Iraq or 2002 when Bush started to sort of beat the drums of war. The opening date is August of 1990, the day that Saddam invades Kuwait and the U.S. decides to stand against that invasion and get involved in solving that problem and that’s really the seeds of what has borne out over the years. Part of the story moving forward, it’s a story of campaigns. Again, it’s the intersection of politics and policy and campaigns are about drawing distinctions. One side tries to distinguish himself from the other. So I think understanding the campaigns as sort of hinge points or windows into which you can understand what was going on in the Democratic and Republican sides on foreign policy during these years is quite important, so of course the ’92 campaign between Clinton, Bush, and Ross Perot and the ’96 campaign between Dole, Clinton, and Ross Perot in the 2000 campaign between Gore, Bush, and Ralph Nader and sort of the windows that each of those candidacies give us into foreign policy during those years. In the early 1990s the events that are mainly these sort of so-called ethnic conflicts or humanitarian crises that crept up on us and really sort of dominated foreign policy. Rwanda, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, all of which are sort of negative in terms of the history of American foreign policy, you know the sort of bad stories. It’s an important subject in which we sort of come out of our shell, which is Bosnia, and then Dayton, we ended up in 1995 by ending the Bosnia war by negotiating Dayton Peace Accords. That was sort of a turning point for America and the world in that it was the first time Clinton had really gained confidence in the use of force and using American power with our friends but also not being afraid to go it alone, to try to do something that he thought was important and the success of that, I think, only helped as we moved throughout the ‘90s give Democrats more confidence when it came to using U.S. power in the world. I would also say in the early-to-mid ‘90s, these trade agreements, Bill Clinton’s efforts in ’93 to pass the NAFTA Agreement, the next year to pass the GATT Agreement, which created the WTO. These were huge efforts by the Clinton administration to make an important statement about America’s approach to the global economy and also to try to change the way we did things here at home. We’re still dealing with the legacies of that. Positive, I think, but also politically largely negative in some ways, at least on the Democratic side. Thinking more towards the late ‘90s, clearly 1998, Operation Desert Fox against Iraq, December of 1998, was the culmination of a struggle over several years with Iraq over weapons inspections and Saddam’s potential to develop weapons of mass destruction, I think we have a whole chapter of sort of in our book the details, the sort of struggle that Clinton had with Iraq throughout the 1990s leading up to 1998, and what is a little sobering in retrospect is sort of recounting the statements that many Clinton officials made at the time about the threat from Saddam and the potential he had to develop weapons of mass destruction and what America might have to do about that. There was very much a sense that at the end of Clinton’s term that Iraq was a piece of unfinished business and we describe in the book, we’re approaching that this moment a third Iraq handoff. The first handoff was between George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, where we were still engaged in Iraq in a serious way and it was sort of an unsatisfying handoff. The second handoff occurred in 2001 with Bill Clinton to George W. Bush, and Clinton told George W. Bush during the transition year that he regretted that he still hadn’t found a way to deal with Saddam. I mean, invasion was not on the table but he was frustrated, that this was a problem that he had to hand over to his successor and, of course, this January we’re approaching our third Iraq handoff. It’s a much more troubling and problematic handoff because of the fact we have 130,000 troops there, have lost so many lives, and it’s a much more harmful one and I think our hope is, just recounting this history, that the next handoff, you know, hopefully it’s eight years when Barack Obama hands off to somebody, that Iraq is not handed off again.


Recorded on: July 8, 2008.




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