Transcript, Special Edition: March 17, 2003
ANNOUNCER: You're watching NOW WITH BILL MOYERS. With contributions from NPR News.
Tonight on a special edition of NOW…
A U.S. military occupation may follow war with Iraq. But what about the hopes for democracy?
MAKIYA: The American army is not just going in there to destroy things. It's going there to build things.
ANNOUNCER: Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya has met with President Bush to make his case.
And… will war in Iraq transform America's role in the world?
ISAACSON: I don't think America does empire very well.
ANNOUNCER: Simon Schama and Walter Isaacson, a Bill Moyers interview. All that, tonight on NOW.
ANNOUNCER: From our studios in New York, Bill Moyers.
MOYERS: Welcome to this special edition of NOW. President Bush has left no doubt that war is coming.
It's a war that's been years in the making. But the White House is confident will take only weeks to win.
So confident that much of the talk in Washington recently has been about what happens when Saddam Hussein is gone.
Just today, the WALL STREET JOURNAL revealed confidential government documents showing that the President envisions a sweeping overhaul of Iraq within a year of the war's end.
Practically all the work would be done by private American companies that are slated to receive at least $1.5 billion in contracts.
The President has invoked various rationales for the war.
Recently, his focus has been on creating a democracy in Iraq why none as ever existed. The invasion would be the first step toward what is likely to be a long occupation.
We begin with our senior Washington correspondent, Roberta Baskin.
BASKIN: This is what Iraq might look like for months, even years after the war.
There are real concerns that, if attacked, Saddam Hussein will torch Iraq's oil fields as he did in Kuwait during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
The Pentagon says the military will move quickly to salvage the oil fields.
It also will begin delivering food and medicine to the Iraqi people the start of what's expected to be the largest humanitarian relief effort since World War II.
Of course, any chemical or biological weapons located will have to be destroyed. But then comes the task of rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and stabilizing the economy.
Still unanswered: who will govern Iraq? That question has top advisors in the Pentagon and the State Department battling each other to provide an answer. The Pentagon would remove members of the ruling Baath party from all government functions.
The State Department would eliminate just those at the top, keeping basic government functions intact to provide stability.
It's complicated by the President's often-repeated desire to establish democracy in Iraq.
BUSH (2/26/03): There was a time when many said that the cultures of Japan and Germany were incapable of sustaining democratic values. Well, they were wrong. Some say the same of Iraq today. They are mistaken. The nation of Iraq with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled and educated people is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom.
BASKIN: But those in the State Department see the President's dream of a democratic Iraq as too ideological and impractical. They say U.S. military control of the government will be necessary to keep the peace among rival ethnic groups.
Thomas Carothers is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a leading authority on the promotion of democracy worldwide.
CAROTHERS: People will be delighted to have the dictator go. But what we have here is a group several different groups within the country who'll be pulling to try to get as much power as they can on their side, pulling against each other. And they have no experience of working together under a democratic regime. That takes time. You have to work out the rules of the game. You have to work out a new political balance. They've never done that in a democratic way. It's not something you do in three months. It's not even something you do in three years.
BASKIN: But there's a group at the Pentagon who see it very differently. While they acknowledge that establishing democracy is never easy, they contend that special conditions in Iraq do make it possible because Saddam Hussein's totalitarian regime has left the Iraqi people thirsting for a representive, pro-Western form of government.
CAROTHERS: They've been putting forward an ambitious, optimistic, even I would say, idealistic and a bit naive in my from my point of view vision of transforming Iraq into some kind of a democratic model for the rest of the region. And then creating a democratic tidal wave throughout the Arab world.
BASKIN: Further evidence of the concerns within the State Department appeared in Friday's LOS ANGELES TIMES. A classified State Department report concludes "liberal democracy would be difficult to achieve" in Iraq. And that the more ambitious goal of transforming the entire Middle East "is not credible."
CAROTHERS: This was the work of serious professionals trying to say, "Let's prepare ourselves for what could be a very difficult situation. Let's not paint too shiny of a picture because we're apt to have a disappointed American public, a disappointed Iraqi public, and a lot of Europeans and people elsewhere in the world saying, "Huh, I thought you promised a democracy. Look at the mess you've created."
We have to be realistic about how long it takes and about how difficult it's going to be. The idea of instant democracy in Iraq, that we're gonna go from a form of Stalinism to Jeffersonian democracy in three months, that's not credible.
BASKIN: On Capitol Hill, both Democrats and Republicans have been frustrated trying to get details of how the President would install democracy in Iraq.
At a recent hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden and Chuck Hagel grilled Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith on who would be in charge of post-war Iraq?
FEITH: I'm reluctant to get into the who because of the political realities and diplomatic realities with which you are...
HAGEL: Excuse me, Mr. Secretary. If you're having a problem now getting into it, what the hell do you think you're going to have a problem when we get in there?
BIDEN: Is that going to be an American General? Is that going to be like we have in Bosnia, the E.U. and some European? Is it going to be the United Nations? Those decisions I can't fathom when we're three weeks away from war or five weeks away from war possibly, you don't know!
BASKIN: Senator Russ Feingold asked Marc Grossman, the State Department's Under Secretary for Political Affairs, how long would it be before the U.S. military could transfer power back over to the Iraqis?
GROSSMAN: That might take a very long time.
FEINGOLD: Give me one scenario where that's all done how much time does it take? Give me one estimate of how long you think the entire process of turning all those over…
GROSSMAN: Two years.
FEINGOLD: Two years?
GROSSMAN: Yes sir.
BASKIN: Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle remains a top Pentagon adviser. He appeared at the National Press Club today. Perle wholly supports the Pentagon's view that a quick transformation to a democracy in Iraq can succeed through the efforts of western-oriented Iraqi dissidents.
BASKIN: There hasn't been any Arab country that has had democracy. Why do you believe that it will work in Iraq and that it will spread to surrounding regions?
PERLE: I happen to believe the desire for individual freedom is fundamental to human nature and that, given an opportunity, people will try very hard to acquire control over their own lives and destiny to do the best they can for themselves and their families and democracy works. These other systems don't work very well. So I see no reason to disqualify Arabs in those values.
BASKIN: Joining Richard Perle at the National Press Club was one of the leading dissidents, Kanan Makiya.
MAKIYA: Even if the President has to go into this enterprise alone, which is of course not the case, the judgment of the world of history will overwhelm his critics the day after.
Critics who are too shortsighted for reasons of interest, intellectual laziness and sheer lack of political imagination to understand the far-reaching nature of what this President is about to do.
MOYERS: As you just saw, the administration put front and center today the two private citizens who have long made the case for invading Iraq: Richard Perle and Kanan Makiya. Makiya is with me in the studio.
Now a professor at Brandeis University, he was born in Baghdad and left Iraq to study architecture at MIT his father had been one of Iraq's most successful architects. But the terrors of life under Saddam Hussein became an obsession for Kanan Makiya and in 1989, he published REPUBLIC OF FEAR, a chronicle of Saddam's crimes against his people.
Written under a pseudonym, it became a bestseller during the 1991 Gulf War. Makiya then returned to Iraq to investigate reports of Saddam's atrocities against the Kurds. Armed guards protected him as he traveled. The resulting film won the Edward R. Murrow award for best television documentary on foreign affairs in 1992. It also established Makiya as a principle voice of the Iraqi opposition.
In 1993, he wrote CRUELTY AND SILENCE, a stinging critique of Arab politicians and intellectuals. His detailed plan for transforming Iraq, "The Transition to Democracy," has become a major blueprint for the Bush administration's plans for post-war Iraq. The President himself invited him to play a part in an Oval Office discussion of Iraq's future.
Kanan Makiya, welcome to NOW.
MOYERS: Kanan Makiya, welcome to NOW.
MAKIYA: Thank you.
MOYERS: Let me get right to the heart of the matter, here's what the under Secretary of State told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about a month ago. He said an American military occupation could last two years and would involve American control over civilian ministries and over the oil industry in Iraq. Quote.
While we are listening to what the Iraqis like you are telling us, the United States government will make its decisions based on what is in the national interest of the United States.
When you heard about this plan a month or so ago you wrote the government of the United States is about to betray those core human values of self determination and individual liberty. America is about to repeat its mistakes of the past.
MAKIYA: What's starting to happen, Bill, since that is a new kind of talk coming out of the White House, the President's speech at the American Enterprise Institute about two weeks ago or 10 days ago today...
He talked about democracy in greater detail than he has ever done before. Communication we had with the very high level American delegation that chose to come to the Iraqi opposition after those articles, after those statements, and made an effort to come and speak with him and reassure them. Now, I'm not saying those reassurances are enough, but I'm saying I think we had an effect on their thinking.
MOYERS: When you saw the President, when did you see him in the Oval Office? It was back in...
MAKIYA: January 10th.
MOYERS: January 10th. What did he tell you that reassured you?
MAKIYA: When I saw the President I believed and I still believe just looking at the man in the eyes, he spoke about democracy I think he genuinely meant it. I think he genuinely wants it to take place in Iraq. I really mean this on a personal level, a one to one level. The President himself said, "We're going to build anything we destroy." It was sort of like a promise.
MOYERS: I know you want to believe that, but you know, there are so many critics and skeptics who look at us and say, we...the United States and say, we don't have staying power, look what's happening in Afghanistan now, there's a reestablishment of Islamic justice, women are being denied the rights that we thought they were going to be given, and that with all due respect, you're being naive and romantic about...
MAKIYA: Maybe I am, but you have to build on the hope. What else can you build on? And there's a part of any new, exciting new order like that that is going to be filled with hope, but what I think is the problem is in between what the President wants in the United States and what actually happens, is a whole other story.
MOYERS: Where? In the American government?
MAKIYA: Yes, thousands of people, yes.
MOYERS: I mean, you've been very critical of what you call the coup backers at the CIA and...
MAKIYA: That's right.
MOYERS: ...the State Department.
MAKIYA: Yes, I have been.
MOYERS: So the President can state a principle, but these are the people who are in charge of implementing the policy.
MAKIYA: And that's where our problems, Iraqi democrats only ever ran into problems with the State Department and, well, indirectly with the CIA but that's a separate matter. So yes, we had problems and there are different points of view inside the U.S. government. And this has been a government that was riven over this question of exactly how far to go.
MOYERS: Who is advocating not moving Iraq to a democracy and what is their motive?
MAKIYA: I'd rather not name names here, but the thought is this, the motive is this. We're in a nasty neighborhood. Everyone around here is worried about this.
The United States is isolated in the world on this question. Iraq has a history, a violent history. It's riven, the argument goes, by factions of one kind or another. This is a pipe dream. Democracy is a pipe dream.
You can't even...it's unimaginable. Let's do what's doable. Let's just replace this regime, remove the threat, weapons of mass destruction, and leave it at that. This is not a population ready for democracy. And this is, by the way, one of the most humiliating to me personally. And, what's the word, condescending things, that I've seen come out of people who claim to be speaking...claim to be pro Arab.
The irony is, the appeasers, that is people whose experiences are as diplomats in the Arab world, come back and say, they're supposedly fond of the Arabs, or they, like the Arab countries, and they come along and say, democracy is not here. Come on, be real. They're the ones who supposedly know about the Arab world.
MOYERS: This is the State Department view. I know that from my own reporting. Their concern is that their clients, our clients, our allies, you know, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others, are not democracies, and that if there's a democracy in their back door it makes them not sleep very well at night.
So they'd just as soon leave the Royal Families and the dictators who are friendly to us in power instead of threaten them with an invidious contagious democracy next door.
MAKIYA: September 11th opened up a new way of thinking. It was clear from September 11th that the pillars of American policy which had rested on sustaining autocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt over very long periods of time blew up in the face of the United States not only with the Arab/Israeli peace process in tatters but the relationship with Saudi Arabia.
Suddenly Saudi Arabia is a fearsome ally. What kind of an ally is this that breeds people who can do something like September 11th? So this has forced a rethink.
MAKIYA: That is why what the President wants to do, democratize Iraq, dismantle the institutions of the security service, hopefully dismantle the army which is essential to maintaining a democracy over a long period of time.
Those are truly radical revolutionary steps, very far reaching. And if I might put it, very wise in the long run.
MOYERS: One can understand the administration's desire to make sure that after the war there isn't chaos, ethnic fighting, that there is a way to pick up the biological and chemical weapons, and that only the American military can do that.
I mean, do you have sympathy for the possibility that the Americans would have to put a military government there to just maintain control for a while? And get rid of that infrastructure...
MAKIYA: I have complete sympathy with the idea that the Americans largely should...the American army in particular should take control of getting rid of the weapons of mass destruction. I hope dismantling the security organizations of the Baath party.
People like myself are trying to convince then that they should do that.
MOYERS: Would you feel betrayed if in fact the administration didn't follow through quickly on plans to try to introduce democracy?
MAKIYA: Yes. Let me say, Bill, I think it would be a stark error.
But why? Because it would undermine the very attempts to build a long-term U.S.-Iraqi relationship based upon a new democratic Iraq. Let me explain why. I want Iraqis to make mistakes in the early period of their rule, not Americans.
I don't want American soldiers patrolling Iraqi cities. That would be a terrific mistake. They don't know the...they don't have the cultural cues, the signals, the ways of working with people. They desperately need to do that kind of work through Iraqis and with Iraqis together.
There needs to be a partnership between Iraqis and Americans. The problem with the scheme as it was originally presented, and I emphasize, I think the administration is moving away from that fast...
The problem with it is that it put the opposition, its natural allies, at arm's length. It marginalized them. That is not possible, that is not logical, that doesn't make sense.
And it therefore naturally built up the importance of the existing institutions, which are what? They're Baathist institutions.
MOYERS: Baath is Saddam Hussein's political party.
MAKIYA: Baath is the political party that the regime rules through. So we would be.... There's no way to create democracy if you rely solely on the repressive institutions of the Baath or the Baath party, because this is a totalitarian system.
MOYERS: How deeply do those...does the ruling party, Saddam's party, how deeply do the tentacles go down into the warp and woof of Iraq culture today?
MAKIYA: One simple statistic: there are two million members in the Baath party. They started in 1968 with less...with a few hundred and they now have two million.
Of course these are people who have to do that. They have to join the Baath party to get on in life. To be a teacher you have to be a member of the Baath party. To be a professional of any kind, you have to be a member of the Baath party. To get on in life in anything, you have to be a member of the Baath party.
MOYERS: As the Nazis in Germany.
MAKIYA: Exactly. And on top of that of course you have front organizations which are totally controlled by them, all professional associations. There is no sliver of public life, of social life, of civic life that is not controlled, dominated by the Baath party.
And it is legally so, that it is completely illegal to have any other form of organization. In fact, almost illegal not to be a member of the Baath party. You are shunned from school at a very young age if you all do not enter the youth organization, they have structures that start at ages three to five, five year old kids get put into the junior levels of the youth organizations which are not...believe me, they're not boy scouts type of affairs.
They take you through various degrees there are five levels of membership when you are still a teenager, right way up from five until 18, of different levels of organization within structures that eventually take you into the Baath party. That is the kind of organization of society that we have here.
MOYERS: You compare it to the Nazis, but it sounds to me more like the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union.
MAKIYA: You're right. It is far more similar in fact, it was modeled after the communist parties.
MOYERS: In fact, doesn't Saddam Hussein envision himself as a kind of modern Stalin?
MAKIYA: He does. He does.
And that is because the alter ego of the Baath in Iraq was the communist party. So it is a totalitarian form of organization basically.
MOYERS: But you describe a situation that is formidable. You describe a whole culture that is infiltrated by terror, by habit, by loyalties. That's not going to be an easy task to introduce democracy to in a country that hasn't known it.
MAKIYA: It isn't going to be easy, but don't forget, we're talking about a population that doesn't owe its leadership an iota of loyalty. We're not talking about Germany post World War II where lots of people sympathized perhaps with the Nazi party at the time. We're talking with a population that is going to feel liberated the day after.
MOYERS: You left Baghdad, Iraq when?
MAKIYA: Originally as a young man, '68.
MOYERS: So you've been gone essentially, although you've been back and forth, you've been gone essentially for 30 years, right?
MOYERS: How can you be sure that the Iraqis who've lived all of this time under Saddam Hussein will welcome the Americans as liberators instead of invading imperialists?
MAKIYA: Family, friends. I have close family connections coming outside during summer holiday times, telling, advising me what I should tell the Bush administration as though it were in my hands to tell him to do this, that idea, tell them to hit here first, they've got to do this first.
Now, I'm telling you, nobody was going to fight in this regime. That is not just my experience, that is that of many, many Iraqis. Don't forget something else, Bill, very important. One third of Iraqis have now lived for 10 years or so outside the grip of this regime.
Many of them have lived in western countries. One goodly proportion of them, most of them are inside free Iraq, inside the northern Kurdistan where I've just come from. We're talking about very large numbers of people who have begun to enjoy in Iraqi Kurdistan today a modicum of democratic life.
They have Internet cafes, you fall all over them when you walk down a city like Suleymania, or satellite radio connections, people in northern Iraq today get every television station in the world and are more informed about world politics than many other peoples and in many other populations around.
MOYERS: What makes you think that democracy, a political...viable political system in a representative government in Iraq would be pro western and pro American?
MAKIYA: This is a country that would have been liberated by the United States. It's a country that will have seen the benefit of a war. The American army is not just going in there to destroy things; it's going there to build things.
Iraqi politics today is dominated, completely shaped, by experience of dictatorship.
MOYERS: Homegrown tyranny.
MAKIYA: Homegrown tyranny, tyranny for which we are responsible. Tyranny which we created and we blame no one else for.
A tyranny which is quite extraordinary, by even the Nazi standards of the region. That shaped a beginning of a new way of thinking. It means, the politics of national liberation, the politics of arms struggle, the blaming the United States and blaming Israel for all our problems has been shelved by Iraqis out of their own experience not out of some abstraction, not because they're better than anybody else, but their own experience of exceptional tyranny has brought that about.
So they come up with new ideas. They're allies of the west for the first time. Their allies are not Syria, their allies are not Saudi Arabia. Today people like me are anathema, I can't even travel in these countries, my life is in danger...
MAKIYA: Because we identify with the values of the west because we're fighting for something else, because we espouse a very different kind of state system...
And because we say the be all and end all of Arab politics is not the Arab/Israeli question important as that is important as that is.
MOYERS: You say...
MAKIYA: We have problems. We have let those problems...we're responsible for what happened inside Iraq. Let's fix our problems at home. Sure we have opinions, Palestinians are suffering terribly. Yes. But let us face up to what we have done to our own world.
MOYERS: So Iraqis don't wake up in the morning thinking about the Palestinian question, and they don't go to bed at night thinking about the Palestinian question. They're thinking about Saddam Hussein.
MAKIYA: That's right.
MOYERS: You talked once when I was with you about the gulf that opened up in 1991 between Iraq and the Arab world. What kind of gulf do you mean?
MAKIYA: Precisely this different mindset that this preoccupation with dictatorship that has dominated Iraqi politics and discourse now for 10, 11 years and even longer, versus that which is focused on the Arab/Israeli question to the exclusion of all other questions in the Arab world.
That gulf is there. It's still there, and it's deepening, unfortunately. We have a problem. A million and a half Iraqis, Bill, have died violently at the hands of this regime since 1980. This is a regime that in the words of the United Nations itself is the worst violator of human rights since World War II, that's an official document that came out of Max van der Stoel' office years ago.
We've got evidence coming out of ears. I have lists of disappeared people. I just said, a million and a half people killed, Iraqis killed, since 1980, violently at the hands of the regime. That is an extraordinary number. That is eight percent of the population. That's like World War II or World War I in terms of the countries that waged it.
MOYERS: I have no question about that. I read your book. I didn't know you had written it, because you wrote it under a pseudonym...
MAKIYA: That's right.
MOYERS: ...describing the terrors of life under Saddam Hussein. Did you write that book under a pseudonym because you feared for your own life?
MAKIYA: Mainly because of my family's life inside Iraq. You simply...it's unimaginable to write a book like that in anything other than an assumed name.
I had to...I have cousins, I have uncles, I have close members of my family. Fortunately the immediate members of my family left. They too...they are also personas non grata. I had my passport taken away in the early eighties, there's no way I could write a book like that in anything other than an assumed name. This is a regime which has repressed identity in all its different forms. We need a new...figure out a new system. We need to build this state in a different way.
So we come up with an idea, very familiar to you Americans, Federalism. Federalism is an idea that was first coined in 1992 at the Salahaddin conference of the Iraqi opposition. I was I think the first Arab to publicly...I spoke at that conference in defense of it in a major way.
It is now currency, it's the common currency. There is not a single Iraqi opposition group that does not accept the idea. Now, what they mean by it, what definition you give to it, what different interpretation, that's the issue of politics amongst the Iraqi opposition.
But do we doubt for one second that what we want is a future federal Iraq, democratic federal Iraq? No, we argue instead that federalism is the thin end of the wedge for democracy in Iraq.
MOYERS: Would that include the Kurds?
MAKIYA: Yes, essentially...
MAKIYA: The Kurdish experience is the driving force of federalism in Iraq.
MOYERS: The Kurds in northern Iraq.
MOYERS: But my understanding is that the United States has agreed with Turkey that if Turkey went along Turkish troops would be able to occupy northern Iraq where the Kurds live in order to prevent the Kurds, their mortal enemies, from gaining power in the new political order.
MAKIYA: That is a terrifying prospect, an unwise prospect. I think it was something that was imposed on the Bush administration in order to get rights to passage for the American army through Turkey.
MOYERS: Imposed by the Turkish government.
MAKIYA: The Turkish government imposed that condition, that Turkish troops enter northern Iraq. Now, I think the United States for all kinds of technical military reasons thought that maybe that was a price worth paying, but...
MOYERS: It certainly puts an end to your desire for an Iraqi federalism, which.... If the Kurds are excluded from the beginning because of a deal with Turkey, your dream is dead on arrival.
MAKIYA: Certainly parts of it are dead on arrival, and that's why we've argued against it at the conference in Salahaddin. We took a position against it, we discussed this matter at great length with an American delegation that came, a high level delegation.
And I think that delegation saw with its own eyes the fear that existed amongst Kurds. There's a real sense in which they didn't realize what they were doing when they agreed that. So that Turkish issue is not settled yet. As you know, the Parliament did not bring the requisite majority to have it passed and that is, I think, American frustration with the Turks is also building up.
So right now they're talking about negotiating air rights, not the entry of troops. So we're hoping, person...people like myself are hoping the Turkish troops do not enter Iraq as part of the deal, a package deal about this war.
MOYERS: Some Iraqi dissidents, some of your peers, say Kanan Makiya is just simply too idealistic and too bullheaded, that we have to make our peace with the United States and with all of the elements and just to have a place at the table. And we're willing to get that place at the table and not press as aggressively as you would have us do, as Kanan would have us do.
MAKIYA: It's my job to be bullheaded, Bill, in this business. I'm there, I'm with the opposition, I'm on the ground with them. They are pointing me to head the constitutional commission. I will be... it is the decision of the Iraqi opposition that I run that commission, that's a big thing. That's a statement of trust.
MOYERS: What do you say to the critics like Edward Said, Noam Chomsky who argue that you are...you have become a philosopher king to the right wing architects of the Bush administration, the war party, like Wolfowitz and Perle, and that once they get an opportunity, choo! You're gone.
MAKIYA: I think that's nonsense. They have become arguers for the status quo in the Arab world. They are the ones who suddenly defending stability of countries like Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world as though those were desirable things to maintain the way they are.
Suddenly they, the great radicals, are turning into the great appeasers of Arab...of the bankruptcy of Arab politics. No, I am stick true to those principles that I grew up with, true I change my politics along the way. All these categories, left, right, are changing roles today in the world.
And I don't think in terms of boxes, who's who and who's not. I know Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Perle truly and genuinely believe that democracy is possible in Iraq. They truly and genuinely believe that Iraqis can make it, and they're giving us a chance. We have a whole program for how democracy can come about in Iraq, and all we need now, the big single big missing chink in this whole thing, is U.S. recognition of these efforts by the opposition and a working together, a genuine partnership between the U.S. government and what it's about to do in Iraq and the Iraqi opposition.
MOYERS: And you are convinced war is the right option.
MAKIYA: There's no alternative.
MOYERS: With all the unintended consequences.
MAKIYA: There's no alternative. There's a war already going on. And it's a war being waged on the Iraqi people.
MOYERS: Kanan Makiya, thank you very much for joining us on NOW.
MAKIYA: Thank you, Bill.
ANNOUNCER: This Friday on NOW: while the nation prepares for war, tough economic choices are facing our cities and states.
CRUZ: We see the needs that exist in our community every single day and they are far more compelling than the need for this war.
ANNOUNCER: That's this Friday on NOW.
ANNOUNCER: Connect to NOW WITH BILL MOYERS Online at pbs.org. Find out about plans for governing Iraq after the war. Explore media coverage of Iraq. Learn more about the economic cost of war. Connect to NOW at pbs.org.
ANNOUNCER: Once again, Bill Moyers. MOYERS: Tonight we're all wondering and worried about the impending war itself and the cost to human life. I'm going to talk about these subjects with my next guests.
Simon Schama is one of the most widely read historians of our time. He is University Professor of History and Art History at Columbia University here in New York. Among his best-selling works are these volumes on the history of Britain, his native land.
Walter Isaacson is just taking over as president of the Aspen Institute, an international non-profit organization dedicated to a dialogue and inquiry on issues of global concern.
He's the author of several books on American history and diplomacy including a biography of Henry Kissinger and a biography of Benjamin Franklin due out in July. Mr. Isaacson rose to the top of his chosen field of journalism to become managing editor of Time Magazine and most recently, chairman and CEO of CNN. I welcome you both to NOW.
You're here as the journalists and historians that I know you to be. What are you thinking right now?
SCHAMA: Oh, it's a rubicon day, Bill. I mean, a rubicon week, anyway.
MOYERS: And a rubicon day means?
SCHAMA: Yeah, meaning, you know, something absolutely momentous is in the making and the budding. I mean, we felt that after 9/11 the world would never be the same; I think the same is true probably after this week.
Historians aren't supposed to ever project a sense of cosmic significance into the present. We supposedly deal with the past safely under a bell jar, under aspic, that this is the moment where a huge leap of faith is being taken.
And anybody's who's read the lessons of antiquity, anyone who's had to deal with the fate of empires past can't help but having all those sort of bells go off. And remember, Joseph Brodsky, the poet, who wrote a wonderful essay called "Profile of Cleo" about history, said, "when history shows up it always takes you by surprise."
MOYERS: George Bush this weekend we're told was reading Michael Beschloss's book THE CONQUERORS about how the United States and Britain got together to bring democracy to Germany after World War II, and he says, the President says, "this is," as Makiya does, "this is what could happen in Iraq." Do you think so?
ISAACSON: Well, that was the whole tradition that we wrote about in THE WISE MEN, which was this notion of after World War II being engaged in the world but not turning it into an American empire, not making America a colonial power even though it had helped win World War II.
I don't think anybody's talking about this war in Iraq and in America becoming empire builder, that sort of thing. I don't think America does empire very well, and that's a good example.
And Beschloss's book is a great book about that which is, after the war we don't try to create an American empire or even a pax Americana; we had the Marshall Plan, we really try to rebuild Europe, we let Europe become democratic.
And likewise in Japan, if we're one half as successful in Iraq, I'll be pleasantly thrilled. But it's going to be difficult.
SCHAMA: There's some big differences, I think Bill, there really are...
MOYERS: Between Japan and Germany and...
SCHAMA: Yes, I think in both cases. We like in the United States sometimes to start the historical clock where it suits us, where we know there's going to be a happy ending. And talking about what lies ahead of us in terms of what happened in the years after '45 is a good case in point. Let's start the clock a little, a whole lot earlier. We see that while it's true, you know, we had to uproot hideous authoritarian systems in both Japan and Germany, both those countries had an experience of constitutional government.
Admittedly with a big kind of military tint to them. But there was a rich long tradition of constitutional parliamentary government in Germany. Germany was the birthplace of all kinds of democratic experiments as well as the birthplace of Nazism.
Japan since the middle of the 1800s, since the so-called Maji restoration had shown a simply astonishing ability to change its cultural clothes. One minute you're Samurai; the next minute you're businessmen hunting around the western world for the best battleships and the best factories.
These were.... And I was moved by Makiya's crucial point where he said it's patronizing to the Arabs to say they're not ready for democracy. But there was one little big word missing, and that was religion. That was religion.
MOYERS: He didn't...
SCHAMA: He didn't talk about it at all. It's the elephant in the room or the camel in the room.
ISAACSON: And he gives a very secular approach. You know, if everybody in Iraq were like him we would have a much...
SCHAMA: No problem.
ISAACSON: ...easier time.
But the question of a new strong religious fanaticism that's growing and growing in that region is very much what we're going to have to deal with.
MOYERS: He really does believe we're about to have a drive-through war on the road to democracy.
SCHAMA: May he be right. I don't think he is right. But may he be right. I would rejoice along with everyone else. Look, as you eloquently set up the story, his father was an architect, he comes from an extremely learned professional.... He's exactly the kind of democratic model. The question is, how many Makiyas are there…
ISAACSON: Right, there are not enough...
SCHAMA: ...in Baghdad?
ISAACSON: Also you asked another question that was really good which is what happens in the democratic Iraq or democratic region if democracy produces governments that are extremely anti-western and extremely anti-American, which is quite possible.
SCHAMA: There is a vision...
SCHAMA: ...can I just say?
SCHAMA: There is a vision I grew up with which is as in the 1950s as democracy flowers fanaticism shrivels and disappears. And I think that is to their credit the sort of rather idealistic vision currently reigning in the State Department.
My history teacher, Bill, said to me, you know, Simon, we don't know this is 1958 we don't know much about how the rest of the 20th century is going, but I'll tell you one thing we know for sure. It will be the end of nationalism and the fanaticism of organized religion. It shows you how dumb historians can be really.
And my worry is modernism, modernization, has in Iran, has in Pakistan, has in many places in the Islamic world, been the kindling of religious fanaticism. It hasn't damped down the fires; it's made those fires burn ever more brightly.
MOYERS: Are you saying that Makiya is underestimating the ferocity of religious passions that could arise once Saddam Hussein's iron fist is removed from that country?
ISAACSON: Yes, and I'm also agreeing with what Simon just said, which is it's quite possible that the reaction against modernism, of democratic capitalism, of the great system that triumphed in the 20th century, the reaction against it is taking the form of religious fundamentalism.
And it would be nice if we could all like those in the enlightenment and all the great rationalists and like your great history teacher all felt, that progress makes civilizations more civilized. But that happens in fits and starts at best.
MOYERS: It isn't only Kanan Makiya and his allies making this case. Let me show you an excerpt from a recent speech you probably saw, but for my audience's sake, let me repeat an excerpt by the President on this subject. Look over here.
[BUSH VIDEO CLIP]
MOYERS: The President is respectfully disagreeing with you two. He is saying the Suni Muslims, the Shiite Muslims and the Kurds in the northern part of the country will be able under a federalist system, as Makiya said, get along.
ISAACSON: Boy, I hope he's right.
ISAACSON: That would be really wonderful. There is not much history of that. I mean, there's not much evidence of that in history, of a federated system in Iraq having some foundation.
I do think that that's our goal. And I think that's why we need help with the international community, the UN, everybody else, to try to bring about the possibility of a peaceful Iraq.
SCHAMA: Our many friends in the United Nations!
MOYERS: Well, what happens, let's say the President is going without the United Nations. What does that do? Will they come back after, you know, meekly after all this is over and the Iraqis have...
SCHAMA: The administration's calculations, they want a piece of the action...
ISAACSON: I think people will come back. Yes. I don't think this is.... I mean, with all due respect to those who would say this is the end of everything that we know, I do think it's in everybody's interests.
And the President's made it clear that the United Nations is going to have a role in rebuilding Iraq. And as I say, we don't...in America rebuild countries or hold empires that well, so I think we'll want it and I think things will calm down after this.
MOYERS: But how can you comeback and ask others to cooperate when on this and so many other international treaties from the ABM to the Kyoto Treaty you've just said we're going to get along.
ISAACSON: It would be perhaps good to ask politely and a little bit with some humility which hasn't always been the way the administration has spoken. But I think you ask because it's in everybody's interests, and people say yes because it's in their interest.
SCHAMA: I don't disagree with Walter, actually. I think that there may be a "screw you" moment, actually to sort of satisfy the amour propre in various parts of Europe, and NATO seems, you know, just a catastrophic sort of ruin right now.
But depending on actually how contained post-liberation Iraq is, I think again it's a matter of pragmatic economic interests really, you know. The French aren't exactly pure as driven snow, you know. So it's possible they may want to make the United Nations more proactive in reconstruction.
I'll tell you what bothers me, though, is that we talk about what might happen in Iraq as though it were the kind of closed frontier. But the experience of empires like the late and possibly the mented British empire was that those frontiers have a horrible habit of rolling outwards.
For instance, it's admirable that the President thought actually that the liberation of Iraq to be piously hopeful is going to calm down, let's say, Iran. But if you were a mullah in Iran right now feeling slightly defensive about the evolution of dissatisfied politics, dissatisfied anti-fundamentalist politics in Iran, do you think this war and the presence of a huge number of American troops near, fairly near to the holy places, is going to help you bang the drums of religious puritan? Of course you do.
ISAACSON: And you do have a big problem within the administration because there's a great split between those especially in the State Department who see the nice stability in the region and Saudi Arabia having been quite supportive, and those who are on a real, I guess I'll use the word, crusade, of changing the Arab world.
SCHAMA: You, Moyers, are governor general of occupied Iraq, right? You have to choose after the first bomb goes off, heaven forbid it will, but it will go off in a barracks a year from now. You have to choose between saying, is it time to actually take away the Koran and replace it by the WEALTH OF NATIONS in the schools in Iraq, or do we want a quiet life, do we want to get out here with our skins, of course, you're going to choose a kind of much more pragmatic and conservative view about letting 1,000 western flowers bloom.
MOYERS: Well, the last time the west intervened in the Middle East it was in 1917 when the British marched in at the end of the Ottoman rule, Empire, and it's been downhill ever since in terms of war, violence...
SCHAMA: I'm British and Jewish, therefore British guilt is my specialty. But I was reading Gertrude Bell and Arnold Wilson, a young smart 35 year old who was in charge of what had just been invented as Iraq in 1919 or 1920, and he said, "it's no problem, a centralized administration. Yes, the Kurds, the Suni, the Shia, as long as we have a strong ruler in the middle of it, committed to far sighted liberalism and economic prosperity." A year later there were terrible riots, huge troop movements, all went, as we say in Britain, posthaste, very quickly.
ISAACSON: You talk about this being a watershed in history, one of the watersheds is for 400 years or so we've had an international system based on nation states and the sovereignty of nation states.
And when we drew the lines in the sand that's what it was supposed to be. Now we're getting away from that system where transnational terrorist groups and weapons of mass destruction give pretext for violating the sovereignty of nations. So I think that's the volatile combination you now have.
MOYERS: The President anticipates that Americans have the staying power to stay there. You once said that Americans don't like to visit nasty little places where there's a lot of disease and the neighborhood is dangerous. Do you think the American people...how long do you think the American people will tolerate an American occupation and presence in Iraq?
ISAACSON: Not very long. It's not like the great British empire where people would love to be sent over to India and be there for generations or whatever, being the rulers there. And I think that's in some ways good. I don't think America works very well as an imperial or colonializing type power.
MOYERS: Year? Two years?
ISAACSON: I think two years. And I think you hope to find some stability there and turn it over. And I also think from the very beginning as your first guest said, you try to make sure it's Iraqis patrolling, Iraqis ruling, as quickly as possible. Americans should not be the legions in Iraq.
SCHAMA: I doubt very much that we are only going to be in there for a year or that we can devolve the security of probably a slightly kind of beleaguered and jittery Iraq to a cleaned up Iraq security forces. It seems much more likely all sorts of pratfalls of a dangerous kind are going to be in the way, and we're going to be tempted to stay a whole lot longer than that.
MOYERS: So once we get across that rubicon, you don't find it as alien and threatening as Simon seems to.
ISAACSON: No, I don't. I mean, I guess I'm just a little bit more optimistic, and I think it's going to be hard to create a great liberal democracy there, but I think that's the goal, that's the vision. And you know, and we probably can do it better if we don't try to be long term rulers in that region.
MOYERS: I began by asking Simon a serious question. I would like to ask you as we close. What is on your mind tonight? You've been thinking about it. You've been covering it. What's on your mind tonight?
ISAACSON: Well, I have a few things, one of which is, it's a shame diplomacy didn't work because it was in everybody's interests to have a more united front if we were going to have a military action in Iraq.
Given a little bit more time, given some benchmarks, there's no reason for the diplomatic process to have broken down. We would be in a lot better shape if this were a united international effort with the Europeans and NATO and the UN involved.
And I truly believed it was not that hard for that to happen. And if that happened I believe a war could probably be avoided. I mean, it's not easily avoided, but you could have avoided a war I think had there been a united international consensus and you said here's the benchmarks you have to meet, and Saddam either would have met those benchmarks or it would have been a lot easier to get him out of power.
MOYERS: So is the world a less safe place tonight because multilateral diplomacy has failed?
ISAACSON: Um-hmm. Oh, absolutely. Because it stirs up a whole lot of resentment, I mean, the French seem to be using the UN to contain the United States as opposed to contain Saddam Hussein.
And it stirs up a lot of anti-Americanism, it's as the papers have been reporting, a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda now, this war when in fact the odd thing is most people in the United Nations, Security Council permanent member nations tend to agree with the purpose of this war. They tend to agree with the principles here. They tend to agree that Saddam Hussein should not be allowed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, that he should be disarmed.
And with a basic agreement of principle, to have gotten into such a world where the United States looks to so many people in the Arab world and some in the European world to be the villain here, that's ridiculous.
MOYERS: Simon, why did it fail? Why did the French and the Germans for example hold out as long as they have? Until tonight, I mean, they're still holding out.
SCHAMA: Yes, they are. I mean, I don't defend... I think it was unconscionable of them actually to be so aggressively subversive in terms and the historians might look back on Gerhard Schroeder's election campaign as the moment really when what seemed to be an improbable domestic political strategy had kind of global ramifications from which he couldn't retreat. Like Walter, I think it's profoundly tragic that the Blair/Bush position couldn't move a little more towards where Chirac is now, actually, which is a precise shopping list: "What the hell did you do with 10,000 liters of Anthrax? Where the hell is the sarin gas?" Go down that list.
But at some point really this was impossible to put together, and we are indeed left with a jump into terra incognito. It's a hell of a jump out of a plane. And I just hope the parachute opens for all our sakes at the right time before we land.
MOYERS: Thank you both very much for joining me on NOW, Walter Isaacson and Simon Schama.
MOYERS: Since President Bush spoke earlier this evening our Senior Washington Correspondent Roberta Baskin has been tracking reaction from around the world and she joins us now.
Roberta, sum up what you're reading and hearing.
BASKIN: Bill, I heard from an Egyptian journalist who called back to Cairo. It was 3:00 a.m. in Cairo when President Bush delivered his address here, and of course the whole world was listening. She said there were people in coffee shops in Cairo, and they listened and they reacted with increased anger and frustration towards America.
MOYERS: The President didn't offer any new evidence tonight that Iraq and Al Qaeda are in cahoots or that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Or that Iraq is an immediate threat to the United States. But is there any doubt in Washington that he means it when he says Saddam has to go?
BASKIN: Well, there's been a switch in Congress and some of the Senators who of course were opposed to the war, Senator Lieberman, Senator Levin, they are now coming out, I think frustrated with failed diplomacy and saying that it is time to rally around the troops, the men and women in uniform that it's time to support them. And there's the sense that there's this clock ticking now.
MOYERS: Any evidence of any dissent, that it's not all unanimous?
BASKIN: Well, I can tell you that up at this vantage point that I have here where we have this bird's eye view of the White House, there have been people who have been holding candles in front of the White House, in fact in little pockets around Washington, DC at DuPont Circle, along Connecticut Avenue, Western Avenue, you see the sort of ghostly image of people just very quietly holding candles and just silently protesting. But it's a sense of somberness really that it's going to happen.
MOYERS: The government today, as everyone knows, raised the alert to orange. What are you seeing in Washington in response to that alert, any evidence of it so far?
BASKIN: Bill, I've been a reporter in Washington for nearly 20 years now, and I've never seen it's never been more difficult to get around in Washington. In fact I didn't even bother to do anything but use my feet today because you run into these traffic snarls now, so much is being blocked off.
There's no direct evidence. I mean, there were helicopters patrolling around the White House earlier. But the sense right now is just a sense of expectancy, it's almost breathtaking, you can feel it, it's kind of a muggy spring-like day here in Washington, and it's as if there is something hanging over our heads. And there's a lot of quiet, particularly after, I have to remind myself that this is St. Patrick's Day, you'd expect people to be out partying and taking advantage of that kind of a holiday. And it's extremely quiet.
MOYERS: One of my journalist friends in Washington told me after 9/11 that he could no longer think just journalistically in Washington, that when he walked down the street past the Supreme Court building he had to realize that could be a target. I guess that's the same for, isn't it?
BASKIN: Well, it is, you know, on people's minds here that this is sort of number one on the hits for terrorism. And it's getting more difficult to get around and get into buildings, and at this point it's just sort of waiting to see what's going to happen next. None of us really know.
MOYERS: Thank you very much, Roberta, and thank you for a good day's work. See you later.
Someone said earlier this evening whether you're for or against this war, we're all in it together. Well, perhaps.
The consequences will certainly touch our lives in one way or another. But we are a lucky lot, we Americans. Our wars are fought abroad, 9/11 excepted. We can experience the adrenaline and then go to bed. Not so for others.
Listening to President Bush speak directly to the Iraqis, I was impressed at his effort. He would have name lay down their arms and welcome the Americans as liberators, but then it struck me. If they listened to Mr. Bush, Saddam would likely have them shot.
So events are in the saddle and I suppose we shouldn't make too much of this. There is little we can do, after all, about their fate now, except remember it. That's it for our special edition of NOW.
We'll be back at our usual time Friday night. Check your local listings. For NOW and my colleagues, I'm Bill Moyers.
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