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Former diplomats 'profoundly concerned'

Rep. Buyer: Letter condemning foreign policy 'very partisan'

Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Indiana, left, and former Assistant Secretary of State Phyllis Oakley
Phyllis Oakley
Steve Buyer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As President George W. Bush defended the war on terror and his push to bring democracy to Iraq in a speech Wednesday, a group of former high level diplomats and military officials gathered in Washington to issue a statement condemning Bush's foreign policy.

Former Assistant Secretary of State Phyllis Oakley, who worked during the Reagan and the Clinton administrations and is one of the signers of that statement, and Congressman Steve Buyer, R-Indiana, joined CNN anchor Judy Woodruff to discuss the statement.

WOODRUFF: Secretary Oakley, this is rare, the language is very strong. Why are you doing this?

OAKLEY: It is a rare thing for career foreign service officers, even though we're retired, to speak out like this. And we're doing it because we are so deeply and profoundly concerned about the status of the United States and the world.

And we're concerned, not only for ourselves, but for our children and our grandchildren. What we're worried about is the standing of the United States and the world for the long term.

WOODRUFF: And what is your main complaint against President Bush?

OAKLEY: We think that the fundamental thrust of his foreign policy is wrong, that it has been an arrogant attempt at world dominance by military power, neglecting our friends and allies and classical, although, certainly -- diplomacy that has been relegated to the side line.

We feel that the structure that we had all worked to build up over 50 years is crumbling. And that the security of the United States is less.

WOODRUFF: Congressman Buyer, you're a member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. You are a colonel in the Army Reserves ... How do you respond?

BUYER: First of all, let me compliment the years of valued service that those who signed this letter have given to the country. They did so in a non-partisan fashion throughout their career in the diplomatic corps and in the United States military.

What is different today is they cannot cloak their status in that non-partisanship. This is a very partisan letter. They've now taken off the coat of their nonpartisanship and become very partisan.

For Mrs. Oakley to talk about domination by our military is almost -- that's offensive. And I'm very concerned about the sort of language that they would use.

OAKLEY: We are a non-partisan group in the sense that we're not going as far as endorsing Sen. Kerry. Clearly, in calling for a defeat of President Bush because of his foreign policy, we do approach that step, but whatever we do in support of Sen. Kerry will be on an individual basis.

We realize that this is going to be seen as a partisan ploy. And I'm sure that there will be many other charges that it is nothing but political. But we're doing it because of deep concern for the United States.

BUYER: Let me show you a good example of why this is so partisan. Miss Oakley testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee January 28th of 1998. Let me show you what she had to say in a non-partisan fashion on behalf of our country with regard to Iraq. As a matter of fact, she testified before Sen. Shelby and Sen. John Kerry, of whom she wants to support.

"There shall be no doubt that Saddam will rebuild his weapons of mass destruction programs at the earliest possible opportunity. There should also be no doubt that Saddam will continue to capitalize on perceived differences of opinion among our allies on this issue. His recent efforts to exploit French and Russian diplomatic initiatives to loosen sanctions regime are the latest examples of such behavior."

The point is this. The point is that you sought to represent the country in non-partisan fashion. What you said here...

OAKLEY: All right.

BUYER: ... I believe is in fact true, Miss Oakley.


BUYER: ...Here she said one statement in a non-partisan fashion on behalf of our country. Now she's coming out with a very partisan letter attacking our president and our foreign policy.

So what my example here, Judy, is is how they moved the non-partisan jacket and have now put on their partisan jacket.


OAKLEY: ... I did testify before the [Senate] Intelligence Committee. I was the assistant secretary for intelligence and research for two years. I stand by what I said in 1998. It was what we believed true at that moment.

I retired from the State Department in 1999. I have been a private citizen for five years. I'm an adjunct professor now. And certainly I have a right, as a private citizen, to express my views on how I think the situation has changed. And that's what I'm doing.


WOODRUFF: Congressman Buyer, I want to get to the substance of the criticism that they are making. Among other things, they say the national security of the United States has been weakened because of Bush policies. Very briefly, why is that not so?

BUYER: I would say the president has strengthened our alliances as he also made the country more secure. I'd also like to make the point that the world has changed.

That's what September 11 has taught us and that we cannot return to what we now know as some failed policies that were inadequate to protect our country and we -- our borders are so porous and we never believed that terrorism would strike upon our own shores and we have to change on how we protect not only the homeland but how we engage with our allies to go after this new century's threat.

OAKLEY: I would certainly agree that the world has changed since September 11, but the world wasn't created on September 11 and there are many Americans values, many traditions, many alliances that we have used before and we still need, I think, in this world today.

It is clear to me that the perception of the standing of the United States has changed since September 11 and, of course, we have to rise to that new challenge.

And I don't want to argue why we went into Iraq. What I would point out is the year that we've been in Iraq has been disastrous. It's been disastrous for our armed services, we were ill-quipped, ill-trained, ill-prepared for nation-building and what the occupation there would be. We don't seem to have a clear exit strategy.

We have now belatedly gone back to the United Nations and to working with our allies. We think that is terrific and we're glad that we have made those changes, tactical moves, I fear, to get the international support that we really need. I agree there are unprecedented challenges, but we didn't start fresh on September 11.

WOODRUFF: Congressman Buyer, how do you respond specifically to the point about the war in Iraq having been disastrous in the last year?

BUYER: That just shows the partisanship nature of this group and that's what's unfortunate. Mrs. Oakley gave some testimony that -- I want to say she's very correct and on point when she said that when there is a vacuum of power, it invites aggression and mischief in the world.

And, Ms. Oakley, you're absolutely right and when the Russian bear was replaced by a thousand vipers and we have a asymmetrical threat in the world, we have to change with regard to how we protect the homeland, our trading routes and our allies. The engagement policies of the past, while you may have enjoyed those, the world is different today, Ms. Oakley.

OAKLEY: I'm not saying it isn't.

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