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February 28, 2003: Wilson Explains ‘Shock and Awe’ Strategy, Rationale for ‘Re-growing the Middle East’

On PBS’s NOW with Bill Moyers, former ambassador Joseph Wilson explains why he does not believe the administration’s impending war with Iraq is necessary or warranted. Wilson, as he has said before (see February 13, 2003), is for aggressive, coercive inspections and what he calls “muscular disarmament.” But, Wilson says, President Bush does not want a disarmed Saddam Hussein: “I think he wants a dead Hussein. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.” Bush is giving Iraq no incentives to disarm because he is not interested in disarmament, he wants nothing less than to overthrow Hussein. “I think war is inevitable,” he says. “Essentially, the speech that the president gave at the American Enterprise Institute (see February 26, 2003) was so much on the overthrow of the regime and the liberation of the Iraqi people that I suspect that Saddam understands that this is not about disarmament.”
'Shock and Awe' - Moyers asks Wilson about the US tactic of “shock and awe” that he has heard is being considered for the opening strikes of the US invasion (see March 19, 2003). Wilson says: “From what I understand about shock and awe, it will be a several day air assault in which they will drop as much ordinance in four or five days as they did during the 39-day bombing campaign of the Gulf War.… Missiles, bombs, precision bombs. I believe the president and our military officials, when they say they will do everything to minimize casualties to the civilian population. But it was difficult to imagine dropping that much ordinance on a population of four million people without having a lot of casualties that are unanticipated. A lot of civilian casualties.” Wilson is pessimistic that even such a massive opening assault might, as Moyers asks, touch off a rebellion against Hussein or a mass retreat and exodus of Hussein’s ground forces. While “you might well have a bloody uprising in Baghdad in which pits essentially the Iraqi population against the Republican Guard in Saddam’s palace, I think far more likely, is that most Baghdadis will just simply go into hiding and try and avoid getting hit by this American ordinance and/or getting killed by the Republican Guard.”
Redrawing the Map of the Middle East - Wilson believes that one of the biggest reasons why Bush is invading Iraq instead of working to disarm the Iraqi regime is because Bush is committed to what he calls “re-growing the political map of the Middle East.” He explains: “[T]hat basically means trying to install regimes in the Middle East that are far more friendly to the United States—there are those in the administration that call them democracies. Somehow it’s hard for me to imagine that a democratic system will emerge out of the ashes of Iraq in the near term. And when and if it does, it’s hard for me to believe that it will be more pro-American and more pro-Israeli than what you’ve got now.” Wilson says that Bush is implementing plans drawn up in the 1990s by neoconservatives such as Richard Perle (see July 8, 1996), which provide “the underpinning of the—of the philosophical argument that calls for basically radically changing the political dynamics in the Middle East and… to favor American national security interests and Israeli national security interests which are tied.”
Recipe for Anti-American Demagoguery - Such a grand agenda will be far more difficult to implement than Perle, Bush, and others believe, Wilson says. “I’ve done democracy in Africa for 25 years,” he says. “And I can tell you that doing democracy in the most benign environments is really tough sledding. And the place like Iraq where politics is a blood sport and where you have these clan, tribal, ethnic and confessional cleavages, coming up with a democratic system that is pluralistic, functioning and, as we like to say about democracies, is not inclined to make war on other democracies, is going to be extraordinarily difficult.” Wilson provides the following scenario: “Assuming that you get the civic institutions and a thriving political culture in the first few iterations of presidential elections, you’re going to have Candidate A who is likely going to be a demagogue. And Candidate B who is likely going to be a populist. That’s what emerges from political discourse. Candidate A, Candidate B, the demagogue and the populist, are going to want to win elections of the presidency. And the way to win election is enflame the passions of your population. The easy way for a demagogue or a populist in the Middle East to enflame the passion of the population is to define himself or herself by their enemies. And the great enemy in the Middle East is Israel and its supplier, the United States. So it’s hard to believe, for me, that a thriving democracy certainly in the immediate and near-term and medium-term future is going to yield a successful presidential candidate who is going to be pro-Israel or pro-America.”
Losing Focus on al-Qaeda - Wilson believes that the US has lost its focus on pursuing Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. “The game has shifted to Iraq for reasons that are confused to everybody,” he says. “We have been sold a war on disarmament or terrorism or the nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction or liberation. Any one of the four. And now with the president’s speeches, you clearly have the idea that we’re going to go in and take this preemptive action to overthrow a regime, occupy its country for the purposes, the explicit purposes of fostering the blossoming of democracy in a part of the world where we really have very little ground, truth or experience. And, certainly, I hope along with everybody that the president in his assessment is correct. And that I am so wrong that I’m never invited to another foreign policy debate again.… Because if I am right, this could be a real disaster.” [PBS, 2/28/2003; Wilson, 2004, pp. 320-321]

Entity Tags: Richard Perle, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Bill Moyers, Saddam Hussein, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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