Zakheim lays out what his vision of the Iraq War and nation building.
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