George Mitchell's Mid-East Agenda



Question: Is it reasonable to pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq?

++George Mitchell: Well, of course it’s reasonable to pull out the troops. It can’t be accomplished in a hundred days. I don’t think anybody has suggested that. The problem now is that it isn’t just the fact that the reasons given for entering the war have proven to be false. I, like most Americans, believed what the President said. I believed what the Vice President said. I believed what the Secretary of State said. I believed what the National Security Advisor, now the Secretary of State, said. I think there’s a predisposition on the part of most Americans to want to believe their leaders, particularly on matters involving such critical issues as life and death and war and peace. So, I think that there’s been a huge undermining, and they’re related, both of the American people’s belief and confidence in the current Administration, and the political standing of the current Administration, arising out of that. Well, that’s one issue. The other issue is, what do you do now? To me, the problem has been that the President’s policy, which is “stay the course”. It was “stay the course” for five years and now it’s “stay the course” without the slogan. The President stopped using those words, but basically continued the policy that had been in existence while those words were being used to describe it. And while it was a political slogan for consumption in this country, the effect in Iraq has been to cause or contribute to a very long delay, an inability of the Iraqi leaders to deal with the situation that involved painful choices for them. And it’s human nature for any leader with a very difficult choice to make in terms of the political steps needed to create reunification and reconciliation in that country, none of which are guaranteed to succeed, that you hesitate. So, to them, “stay the course” has meant “We don’t have to decide now, because they’re gonna be here.” And, I know Senator McCain didn’t say, “We’re gonna be in Iraq for a hundred years.” He used the words “a hundred years.” He used them with some more full explanation than he’s been given credit for. But just the use of the words conveys the impression that, you know, we’re willing to stay a very long time. And it drains from the Iraqi leaders the urgency of acting, of taking the very tough political decisions, even in the absence of a guarantee of success. They’re not assured that what they’re gonna do is gonna succeed, and so you people can just step back from making those decisions. So I think you’ve got to reverse the mindset, and make it clear that it isn’t “stay the course.” It’s that we can’t stay there forever or for anything like forever, and you’ve had all these years, and now you just got to make the decision. I’ll make one other point, which is tangential to the question, but it’s relevant. The other big mistake that the Administration made was the laser-like focus on Iraq led to a lack of focus on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which is the central issue in the region. It isn’t Iraq. Of all the things that were mistaken about the President’s view of the region, it was somehow that we’re gonna go in, we’re gonna oust Sadam, we’re gonna have a democracy there and it’s gonna sweep the region, and that’s what you need in the Middle East. What is needed is resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. That’s the central issue of concern in the region, indeed, through many parts of the world. And in taking the focus off that, we’ve in effect created a big problem over here, and we haven’t solved the real problem over there. And I hope that the President and the Secretary of State are now trying, almost very likely too little, too late, but I commend them for the effort, and maybe something’ll come of it, but the next President-- he’ll have-- he or she will have to deal with the question that you raised, what to do about Iraq? But they’ve also got to deal with what do we do about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?


Card 2: How can the U.S. better engage Arab governments? 

George Mitchell: Well, your question contains an untrue premise. How do you explain Egypt, which reached a peace agreement with Israel? How do you explain Jordan, which reached a peace agreement with Israel? If what you said were true, those wouldn’t have occurred. So, while there are many different and conflicting motives, there’s no doubt about that, I don’t think the premise is true. Now, I think you have to get everybody involved. It requires an active and aggressive American leadership, involving the 

President personally, whoever he or she is, and making it clear that we’re not here for a week or two weeks, we’re not gonna pull out at the first setback- we’re determined and we’re gonna stay and we’re gonna help facilitate an agreement that is the agreement of the parties. It’s not gonna be our agreement, it’s gonna be their agreement. But I think it can be done, and I think there’s a growing recognition among the Gulf Arab States that-- look, Israel’s there to stay. They might no like it, but it’s there to stay, and their interests lie is accommodation and particularly since they’ve become increasingly concerned about the threat from Iran. I think that’s a major factor in terms of political attitudes in the region.


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