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War in Iraq: The Need for Caution

Aired April 14, 2003 - 00:24   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well not all the voices being raised just now are offering congratulations, some are offering caution, serious ones at that.
We're joined now in Washington by Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies. She's quoted in a "Washington Post" article yesterday as being very concerned about the direction in which she sees the U.S. going.

Thanks for being with us -- Ms. Bennis.


COOPER: You're concerned, what, that the -- that peace is not a unilateral -- or it's too unilateral at this point, it's just coalition forces, the U.N. should be involved?

BENNIS: Absolutely. This is a big problem, Anderson. It's not peace at all when we're seeing U.S. tanks that are essentially occupying Baghdad, occupying the other cities and failing to do what an occupying power is obligated to do under the Geneva Conventions which is to provide for the basic needs of the population, most notably, immediately, water and security.

COOPER: But there...

BENNIS: Those are the two things they need and they haven't gotten them.

COOPER: There are those who will say you know you just got to give it a little bit of time. I mean this thing has been moving extraordinarily quickly. And I know in a 24-hour news cycle where coverage is instantaneous and omnipresent, it -- you know we follow this thing second by second. But what do you say to those who just say look, this has just been a matter of days?

BENNIS: I say that they've been doing the wrong thing. No. 1, when we look at the first two days, when we saw troops entering the cities, spending time putting flags over statues and helping pull down statues, those troops would have better spent their time guarding the hospitals, guarding the water treatment plants. That was more important than the symbolism.

COOPER: There -- you know what the U.S. military will tell you is look, there are still active operations going on. This is not a peacekeeping...


COOPER: ... role at this point. You know you used the term occupying force, but the U.S. military will tell you we're still fighting a war.

BENNIS: They may still be fighting. This was a war that is not authorized. This was not a legitimate war in the -- in the minds of most people around the world. And I think many Iraqis, despite the exuberance and the happiness that this terrible regime was overthrown, it doesn't make this war OK. It doesn't mean that people support it.

And I think that the fact that the U.S. has been unable to simultaneously carryout the war and provide for the needs of the population is an indication of why the war was wrong. That's why we need the United Nations in there making decisions, not being brought in just as a fig leaf, which I'm afraid is what the U.S. has in mind.

COOPER: Why are you so confident that the Iraqi people have that much confidence in the U.N., a U.N. that was unable to seemingly do much to prevent Saddam Hussein from torturing and oppressing his own people for years, and a U.N. which you know really wasn't able to do that much, it seems, to -- according to some in Iraq?

BENNIS: Well I think that there are problems with how the U.N. will be viewed in Iraq, not least because the U.S., U.K. imposed -- economic sanctions were imposed in the name of the United Nations. Now I think most people in Iraq believe that it was the United States behind those sanctions, so they don't hold the institution responsible.

COOPER: So you're saying the U.N. was sort of a puppet to U.S. interests?

BENNIS: On the issue of economic sanctions, unfortunately, that was what happened. The U.N. was used by the U.S. and the British. There was not another country on the council or on -- in the General Assembly that wanted to maintain those sanctions, but there was an inability to challenge the U.S. I hope that we don't find the same problem with the reconstruction and the rebuilding of Iraq.

COOPER: Where...

BENNIS: That is so important.

COOPER: Where -- sorry, where do you see the U.N. as having been extraordinarily successful in reconstructing a country? I've spent a lot of time in Haiti, for instance, and you know there was so much hype, so much talk, the U.S. handed over the operation to the United Nations. You know U.N. monitors went in, U.N. police went in to retrain the Haitian police force, and you go to Port-au-Prince now, it's a mess.

BENNIS: That's true. I don't -- I don't claim that there have been any huge successes that we can point to and say we want it to be just like that. There were significant successes in East Timor. Ironically, there were significant successes in Somalia before the United States went in. There were significant successes in Cambodia. There have been significant successes in a number of places around the world.

But the most important thing right now, I think, is the question of international legitimacy. Iraq is different than many other countries. It's a wealthy country, and it can rebuild based on its own resources. It has an educated and a trained population. What's needed in the -- is trust in the process. The process that the U.S. has put in place right now is not one that's guaranteed or that has much chance at all of having much legitimacy either inside Iraq or in the international community.

The U.S. is saying we have chosen a former general, General Garner, who's going to go in and run things and we have confidence in him. But this is a man who until two weeks ago, three weeks ago, was the president of a company whose job it was to make the guidance systems for the missiles that were raining down on Baghdad. Now at best that's a tone-deaf argument. At worst, it's outrageous as a -- as a -- as a symbol to the Iraqis of what the United States believes to be appropriate to rule their country.

COOPER: Well I think there's certainly a lot of people who would differ with you on that assessment, not only of...

BENNIS: Perhaps so.

COOPER: ... him, but of the role the U.N. should be playing. We simply don't have more time to discuss it, but we very much appreciate you coming in. I know you waited a long time. We were supposed to do this about an hour ago and things kept pushing back.

BENNIS: No problem.

COOPER: We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.

BENNIS: Thank you.

COOPER: Good talking to you.


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