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Perspective from Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin

Aired August 19, 2003 - 10:19   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: As we continue to follow this story, we want to bring in our Jamie Rubin. He is London. As you know, he was former assistant deputy secretary of state to Bill Clinton.
Jamie, first of all, you're overall reaction to what's taken place here, and also, I understand there was a congressional delegation in Baghdad at the time of this bombing.

So let's just talk about the overall impact here.

JAMES RUBIN, FMR. ASST. SECY. OF STATE: Well, I think the first and most important thing to say is in recent weeks, and now clearly today, we've seen the Pandora's Box of terrorism opened in Iraq, we've seen an attack on the Jordanian embassy, we've seen attacks on the water supplies in the last 24 hours, electricity in recent weeks, and now today, the headquarters of the United Nations has been attacked in a terrorist attack. That is the indiscriminate killing of innocent people, not only innocent people, but people who went to Iraq to try to help the people there.

Sergio De Mello is a high commissioner for human rights. His job in the world is to try to help the oppressed. That's why he's in Iraq. And so it's clearly a terrorist attack. And the Pandora's Box of terrorism has now been opened, and that doesn't mean that it wasn't a good thing to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but I think we have to be honest with ourselves that the terrorism in the Middle East has now increased as a result. You have Saudis rushing across the border to join in some sort of jihad against American soldiers and outsiders. You have Al Qaeda individuals from all over the world, linking up with Sunni clerics in Iraq to try to attack American soldiers, and anyone who has the perverted notion that there are at war with the United States now has a real opportunity to rush into that country, Iraq, to try to pursue their misguided war.

So terrorism has not -- the war on terrorism has not been helped in recent weeks. We see a massive increase in classic terrorist acts.

PHILLIPS: Jamie, taking a look at the war in Afghanistan and the post-war Afghanistan and now looking at post-war Iraq, I don't know if it's maybe because our focus has been on Iraq for so long now that we've not really paid, you know, as much attention to Afghanistan, but what's different here? Why does it seem like there is so much more chaos taking place in post-war Iraq, and what does this say about just the security issues? What's different here versus how we handled, or how the U.S. handled Afghanistan? RUBIN: Well, I think we need to realize that the United States military is an enormously powerful instrument, and that has been extremely successful in overthrowing the Taliban; although they were a relatively small army, the military operation was conducted very smoothly. And then similarly, a military operation to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

But once the military objective of overthrowing the regime has taken place, I think that's where the United States has unfortunately dropped the ball massively.

In Afghanistan, let's face it, in the last 10 days, has been probably the worst ten days in Afghanistan since before the fall of the Taliban. Dozens and dozens of people killed, Taliban coming back, Al Qaeda coming back across the Pakistani border. Nation building, the effort to fix a country or help improve a country after you win the war is just something the administration and the Western world has not put its shoulder behind.

And in Iraq now, we had a plan, and we were hoping that the Iraqi regular army, the Iraqi police, all of them would stay in place, and we would change the top level of leadership, decapitate Saddam Hussein's regime, and then leave the running of the place to the Iraqis themselves. That plan was misguided. It was based on a misjudgment of the Iraqi situation. It has failed spectacularly. Now it is the United States military, with help from the British, that has to run every single aspect of the Iraqi society, from criminal activities to looting, now to protecting buildings from terrorist attacks, to getting the water up and running, getting the electricity up and running. The United States military has to do all of this work with very little help from Iraqis, and now with increasing numbers of outside individuals like Al Qaeda, like other extremist Islamic groups trying to kill Americans, trying to take off after soft targets. That's why they attacked the Jordanian embassy, the water supply, the electricity, the U.N. headquarters. These are not military targets, in the sense that the U.S. military isn't guarding them extensively, and that's why they're so open to these kind of car bombs. And it's really a tragedy for the war on terrorism that so much terrorism has broken out in Iraq.

PHILLIPS: Jamie, I've got one more question for you. But real quickly, I just want to add I am being told now that the president is cutting his golf game short. He's heading back to the ranch. He has gotten word of this blast that has ripped through U.N. headquarters. So hopefully, the president will be able to address the nation soon with regard to what's taking place here. Once again, the president heading back to the ranch. We may possibly be hearing from him coming up soon.

Jamie, one more question. Taking a look at what's happening right now, is this -- Saddam Hussein knew something was going to happen. I think that we all pretty much have faced that fact, that he knew military action was more than likely going to take place. His regime was going to fall. Was he planning -- before his regime fell, was he planning for this? was he organizing for this type of chaos to continue once U.S. military came into Iraq? I mean, was there other organizing going on besides, you know, his attempts to prevent a war or engage in a war with the U.S.? Was he doing some on-the-side planning for sort of post-war actions like this?

RUBIN: Well, that's a really good question, and I think it will be years before we know the real answer.

I think the biggest point here is that nobody can figure out what Saddam Hussein was thinking, because let's face it, if he had fully opened up his weapons of mass destruction programs, if he had fully cooperated with the U.N., which they said he wasn't, he wouldn't be in this situation. His sons wouldn't be dead.

The idea that he planned for a massive guerrilla warfare campaign I think is belied by the pathetic way in which his sons were hiding from the West. Let's remember they were killed in sort of a two-bit condominium-type situation, where they didn't have a lot of support, they didn't have a lot of protection, they didn't have a lot of bodyguards, so they were running for their lives. I think most of the people around Saddam are running for their lives.

What I think Saddam Hussein may have known is that without his dictatorship and his tyranny to keep Iraq together, that there was a very good chance the place would slide into chaos and instability, and that's why he would constantly taunt the United States and the West with the threats that would come to American forces if we attacked.

But I don't think he's been planning this. I don't think he's behind the attack on the Jordanian embassy, or even this U.N. attack. I think he tries to inspire out of revenge all of his former loyal forces to attack Americans where they can.

But I think the real problem is chaos, the chaos that has allowed terrorist organizations and others to come into Iraq, where, let's remember, they weren't before. The only terrorists we found so far in Iraq is a 20-year-old Abu Nudal who seemed to have been confined to an apartment complex and was killed by Saddam. So terrorists are now rushing into Iraq as the best playing field for the dirty game they want to play.

PHILLIPS: Jamie Rubin in London. We're going to ask you to stand by. Jamie, thank you so much.


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