Sunday, September 01, 2013

Christopher Dickey v. Fouad Ajami on the Relevance of Iraq as we Contemplate War with Syria

This is from the very rough transcript of CNN Newsroom with Don Lemon on Saturday night. Fouad and I were on the panel in the studio, other guests were at remote locations. It was the third night in a row that Fouad and I were on together, and in some respects it was a continuation or our earlier conversations, but more explicit. Off camera, Fouad said I misread his position going into the Iraq war, but I remember watching him again and again in 2002 and 2003 as an expert commentator on television, and there is really no doubt he was cheerleading the invasion without giving nearly enough thought to the consequences of occupation. This was a shame then and is a shame now, because Fouad Ajami is one of the great scholars of the Arab world, and a beautiful prose stylist whose several books I admire tremendously:

... LEMON: Where's my general here? "Spider" Marks, who always has great information with stories like this and a great perspective? Do you agree? Are they signaling by doing this, are we signaling to Syria what we're not going to do, giving them a chance to move things around so that perhaps they won't be found? 

GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Don, absolutely correct. The one thing you cannot get back in warfare is time. We have given time to Assad to disperse his forces, disperse his delivery means, as Rick has indicated to conduct another offensive. It might even include chemical weapons. Why not? I've used them before quite effectively. I'm got the entire world mad at me. I can't put that back in the box. Why don't I just keep using that capability? 

You never want to lose freedom of action. And the United States has lost freedom of action. I can guarantee you planners inside the Pentagon right now who are familiar with all of these considerations in terms of the allocation of force, the preparation times, the rehearsals that are necessary -- and most importantly, what our opponent, what the opponent does and what he does with that time to better prepare himself -- are right now kind of moving over into the shadows and into the corners going this is a bad idea. 

LEMON: It's interesting because I know politicos do this and the media does it a lot, well, what about Iraq? What about Kosovo? What about Libya? We always compare it to some other military action or being on the brink of some other military action. Is that fair, Fouad Ajami? 

AJAMI: No, we shouldn't. Actually, we've had this conversation. We should lay Iraq to rest. We should lay it to rest. And then you have even your right, the example of Kosovo has been used. I mean, Kosovo is not a bad model. Kosovo was a war; Bill Clinton did it. He didn't go to the United Nations. He bombed Serbia for 78 days. And this is Bill Clinton. No warrior was he. But he did it on his own. And I think some people are very comfortable with the Kosovo model. 

But you're exactly right. This is a discreet fight right now in this year in Syria. 

LEMON: Yes. I'm going to let you get in, but I heard Spider Marks saying amen. Why are you agreeing, Spider? 

MARKS: Totally agree with Fouad. There's nothing wrong with being a reluctant warrior. And in fact, we should all be reluctant warriors. You look at what's at risk if you're not. But at the same time, you have the lead. You have to have the fortitude to understand -- you know, there was moral outrage in the form of the president's speech a couple of days ago. And what you heard today and what you heard from Secretary Kerry yesterday. 

Now that moral outrage has been qualified. And I'm not sure why that's the case. They didn't do their work on priority to get to a position where they can act with leadership and with aggression and with confidence. And we don't see that. 

LEMON: Yeah. And it's all different. And I agree. Listen, I was doing this during Iraq. There was a vast difference between Iraq and this even in the coverage, I remember. Also Libya as well. There was a vast difference between Libya and this. All the situations are unique in their own right. 

I'm going to let Chris Dickey talk about that in just a minute. Stick around. My entire panel will get back. Chris, I promise I'm going to let you speak after this. 

OK, will part of this conflict, this Syria conflict, this play out in cyber space? Again, not talking about favorite Web site going down, but could Syrian hackers target U.S. infrastructure? That's a very real question, and that's next. 


LEMON: All right, we're back. Chris Dickey, did you agree with what the general is saying here, what we were saying here? 

DICKEY: No. First of all, the general knows perfectly well that the technological edge the U.S. military has over the Syrian military is overwhelming. And Assad knows that as well. And so do his commanders. And that's what you'll see in action when the strike takes place. Of course, they don't want to have to reprogram their cruise missiles right now, but they can do it and they do it pretty easily. 

As far as the wars being the same or different, I'll tell you the big difference between this war and Iraq is Iraq. Eight years, spending $2.5 billion a week, costing 100,000 or more lives, thousands of American lives. No, that's the big difference between now and then. 

LEMON: Yes, but do you remember the president said -- then, George W. Bush said this is going to be limited. We'll be out of there in a small amount of time. 

DICKEY: Yes, what we know about Bush was that he was lying. We know that Bush knew perfectly well all through 2002 that he wanted to go to war. And we know a lot of people facilitated that by creating this logic, this hysteria that said the next -- we don't want the next cloud that forms over New York or whatever to be a mushroom cloud. This kind of hysteria. We know that in fact Saddam did not have any chemical weapons or biological or nuclear weapons. 

LEMON: But we know that now looking in the rearview mirror. 


LEMON: But then, all the weapons inspectors, including Hans Blix (ph), who's spoken out on this as well, said they thought there were weapons of mass destructions but they never found any. And all of the intelligence leading up to -- 

DICKEY: No one said that. They didn't say that. They went in thinking that that might be the case. Why? Because there was a symbolic raid four years before Operation Desert Fox that resulted in all U.N. inspectors being taken out of country. So, we were completely blind for four years. 

LEMON: Fouad Ajami?

AJAMI: Well, we don't want to relitigate there --

LEMON: As you said, we should put this in the rear view mirror. 

DICKEY: I'm sure you don't, Fouad. You were pushing for it the whole time. 

AJAMI: You don't know what I was pushing for. 

DICKEY: I watched it.

AJAMI: This is just not -- we don't want to get into it. It's just too - 

LEMON: No, we want to get into it. What do you mean? Go ahead. 

AJAMI: No, it's just -- you can't go back and look at the Iraq war and just say here is this dummy. The Iraq war, the Iraq war was about lying. 

LEMON: Put a piece of tracing paper on top of it and show the similarities. 

AJAMI: You need to take a look at the context of the Iraq war. The context was 9/11. The entire country was convinced -- 

DICKEY: (INAUDIBLE) eight years, Fouad. 

AJAMI: The context of the Iraq war in 2003 was connected with 9/11, and the American people signed up for the war. 

DICKEY: The context of Syria is connected with eight years of Iraq. That's all. 

AJAMI: But I don't really -- I mean, I think Syria is such a vastly different question. Syria is a country that's being tormented. Syria is a country that's being taken apart by a despot who comes through minority community. And Syria is a distinct issue and a distinct time -- 

DICKEY: All of those were true of Saddam, too. 

AJAMI: No, no, no, I don't think so. 

DICKEY: It's not true of Saddam Hussein? 

AJAMI: It was true that Saddam was everything Bashar is and worse. But again and again, we need to stay with Syria. We can't revisit Iraq and relitigate. 

LEMON: I agree with you. Because we don't want to draw false equivalents. But all we know is what we know, and Iraq is our most recent one that we can draw comparisons. 

DICKEY: And the key question here is American -- especially in light of what was done today. The key question here is American support for military action against Syria. And if we take it as a given that really it would be a great idea to get rid of Bashar al Assad and for the U.S. to get involved, then you need a whole lot more American support that exists. 

LEMON: All right, stand by, both of yuo. We'll talk much more about this. ...

1 comment:

Norman Ball said...

Hi Chris,

You posted a poem of mine up here many moons ago. Here's one for grins and weekend levity. take care.
Norm Ball