DATE February 3, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Elizabeth Neuffer of The Boston Globe and author
discusses her recent trip to the Gulf states and a US-led war
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Before I introduce today's guest, I want to let you know that tomorrow we're
going to reflect on the rewards and risks of space exploration with astronaut
Jerry Linenger. In 1997, he left behind his pregnant and 14-month-old son to
spend 132 days on board the rundown space station Mir. He nearly died in a
fire on the space station.
But today we talk about a crisis on Earth, the possibility of war with Iraq.
My guest, Elizabeth Neuffer, recently returned from six weeks in the Gulf
region, reporting on Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan. Neuffer covers foreign affairs
and the United Nations for The Boston Globe. She also covered the war against
terrorism in Afghanistan, the war in Bosnia and the 1991 Gulf War. She wrote
about the aftermath of war and the war crimes tribunals in her book, "The Key
to My Neighbor's House: Seeking Justice in Bosnia and Rwanda." This morning
I spoke with Neuffer about her trip to Iraq and her reporting from the UN.
President Bush has basically said to the Iraqis that `Saddam Hussein is your
enemy and the Americans are your liberators.' Let's talk a little bit about
whether that jives with opinions in Iraq. Can you give a sense of the range
of opinions among the Iraqi people that you found when you were there?
Ms. ELIZABETH NEUFFER (Reporter, The Boston Globe; Author): Well, there is a
wide range of opinions in Iraq, and determining what is someone's real opinion
is very difficult. As you know, reporters are accompanied by government
guides, and so often what one gets when you ask a question is sort of the
stock party line, but you are able to talk to people in private, you are able
to kind of read body language.
It's clear to me that behind the sort of public adulation for Saddam Hussein
there's, in fact, a lot of deep discontent with him and his regime. People
are aware that his actions have played out in making their lives economically
more miserable than they were before. But the flip side of that is that 12
years of UN sanctions, which are widely perceived as US sanctions there, have
also created a sense of kind of collective victimization. And I did not find
people wanting to be liberated by America, because they see--at least the Bush
administration, or at least the American government, as something of an enemy.
So I did--you know, while people are unhappy with Saddam, in a way they'd
prefer to try and get rid of him themselves.
GROSS: Well, what are the odds they'd be able to do that?
Ms. NEUFFER: Well, very slim, and they recognize that. I do think this
is--the events of the last few months have kind of brought this issue to the
fore in a lot of people's minds. I was surprised how many people sought me
out to kind of talk about this privately--you know, `Who would be acceptable?
Is there anyone who'd be acceptable? How would we--you know, what would
I think that there's a very strong kind of Iraqi patriotism, again, part of it
from this sense of collective victimization, part of it just because it's the
nature of the country, and they don't want to be sort of told what to do by
anyone else. The problem is: How do you find someone to replace Saddam? I
think that's a question that's on a lot of people's minds.
GROSS: Well, you know, you mentioned that a lot of the Iraqi people see the
United States as their enemy. In Basra, in the south of Iraq, you say that a
lot of people have the feeling that the United States betrayed them after the
Gulf War in '91...
Ms. NEUFFER: That's right.
GROSS: ...because there was an uprising that started in Basra. What
Ms. NEUFFER: Well, that's right. In 1991, in fact, across the south of Iraq,
Iraqis responded to President Bush's call to rise against Saddam Hussein, and
took guns into their hands, battled with the forces of the Republican Guard,
captured weaponry, and took control of cities--Basra, al-Nasiriya, and some of
the holier Shia sites of Karbala and Najaf. And basically they anticipated
that since President Bush had said `Rise up against Saddam' that, in fact, the
troops of the US-led coalition would, in fact, march northward.
I was with those rebels in 1991, and I remember their hope and their optimism.
And needless to say, we did not march northward. Their revolt was quickly
crushed. The leaders were brutally killed. The people who live in the
marshlands of southern Iraq, which is near Basra, a very beautiful area of
winding canals and rivers, Saddam basically destroyed the area by filling in
the marshes and filling in the canals and eliminating people's way of lives.
So the entire area has changed, and there is a very strong sense now that, you
know, `Hey, we've got another President Bush calling on us to rebel against
Saddam Hussein. Why should we trust him any more than his father?'
There's deep, deep skepticism about America's intentions in Iraq, partly
because of 12 years of sanctions, which, again, people see as American
sanctions, American-imposed sanctions, partly because they can't believe that
if we were really serious about this we wouldn't have done it 12 years ago.
GROSS: So part of Saddam Hussein's punishment to people of the marshlands was
to fill in the canals?
Ms. NEUFFER: Parts of the marshlands have been filled in and burned and
GROSS: So like the whole landscape has been changed as retribution for the
Ms. NEUFFER: Yes. Yes, yes.
GROSS: Something else I'm wondering about, the landscape of Iraq now. Saddam
Hussein emptied out the prisons a few months ago, and this was an attempt, you
know, the way he described it, to show his love for the Iraqi people by
setting the people in prisons free. Can you get a sense a few months after
that event what the aftereffects are?
Ms. NEUFFER: Well, there's actually a very jaundiced view of that particular
move on the streets of Baghdad, because as people would quickly note the fact
that the prisons had been emptied had left a lot of--or put a lot of criminals
out on the streets, and, in fact, petty crime was allegedly up. One could
never get anyone to confirm this, but it was sort of the talk of the streets
of how, `Oh, you know, those people really should be back in prison, because,
you know, they really shouldn't have been released in the first place.'
I don't think anyone saw it as such a terrific, you know, move. They saw it
as a staged move designed to deliberately win some public support. And, you
know, the whole event had kind of come and gone by the time I was there and
GROSS: Let's talk a little bit more about the impact sanctions have had on
the Iraqis. You say that the Iraqis blame the United States, not Saddam
Hussein, for the sanctions, and that's helped turn them against the United
States. What impact has the sanctions had in terms of the day-to-day life of
people in Iraq?
Ms. NEUFFER: It's utterly devastating. And I'm arriving, you know, obviously
after 12 years of sanctions. And life has actually improved in the last two
or three years because sanctions have begun to hemorrhage. They're not as
strict or as tight as they used to be. But it's very visible.
You walk down the streets--the cars that Iraqis drive are dented and battered,
and every single windshield is broken, because people can't get spare parts;
rates of malnutrition are exceedingly high, although they have come down
somewhat, because people don't have access to adequate food; nearly the
literacy rates have dropped tremendously, because people can no longer afford
to go to school, and this is something that's happening in a society that was
exceedingly well educated. It's not uncommon when you're talking to people
over the age of 40 to discover they speak English and have a, you know,
masters or a PhD from an American university. But now a quarter of Iraqi
children don't go to school because they have to work.
People are really struggling to make ends meet--unemployment is rampant, the
dinar-dollar value totally has collapsed, something like 2,000 Iraqi dinar to
the dollar. So there's sort of a sense of, you know--the streets are
careworn, everything's sort of held together with rubber bands and Scotch
tape, and a real sense of desperation among many of the Iraqi people. They're
just barely getting by.
The sort of flip side of that, though, Terry, is the fact that sanctions have
begun to sort of crack over the last two years. You know, there is more than
there used to be. And there's also this whole new nouveau riche that's been
created. One guesses that these are the people Saddam has bought loyalty
from, they're the ones who are driving the new cars, they're the ones who are
living in the big houses, and they're the ones who are eating in the fancy
restaurants. Those restaurants are never crowded, but, indeed, there are
people there who've got money to spend and, you know, most Iraqis loathe them
almost as much as they appear to dislike Saddam.
GROSS: You've used the phrase `beleaguered nationalism' to describe the
feeling now in Iraq, a feeling that was generated, in part, from the
sanctions. What affect do you think the sanctions have had on Iraqi's
feelings about their country and about Saddam Hussein?
Ms. NEUFFER: You know what it reminded me of, Terry, it reminded me of the
time I spent in Belgrade during the sanctions period there. There's something
about sanctions that seems to almost make people fall back on a kind of innate
patriotism. They feel victimized by the greater world, and that's a very,
very strong sense you have in Baghdad. This is a country that really, really
feels proud and yet beaten down, and there is a sense that they want to take
their own destiny into their own hands even though they realize they're not
quite capable of doing that.
GROSS: And the political critics of Saddam Hussein and the intellectuals in
Iraq aren't there anymore.
Ms. NEUFFER: They're not there. They've long since fled or been killed off
or been imprisoned. And those that might remain, to be quite honest, are
really focused on day-to-day life.
You know, one of the things I think is important for people to realize in a
kind of love-hate relationship that I think a lot of Iraqis have with Saddam
is that under the sanctions, because in the first few years they created such
a tremendous humanitarian disaster, the UN moved to create what is known as
the UN's oil-for-food program in which Iraq can sell some oil on the open
market in exchange for humanitarian goods. Those goods, which are basically
food staples, are distributed by Saddam's government. So every single Iraqi,
even a political opponent of Saddam, knows that he's getting his tea and his
sugar and his flour from Saddam when he sits down to eat every day, not from
anybody else. I think that makes it a very complicated relationship.
GROSS: Because the gratitude you feel is toward Saddam Hussein even though
he's responsible for the sanctions that are denying you food.
Ms. NEUFFER: Invariably. Right.
GROSS: Right. Well, you also wrote that some of these food baskets are
actually getting sold on the black market.
Ms. NEUFFER: Correct. Most Iraqis, in fact, can't afford to keep all the
food that they have, so they sell it on the black market and use the cash to
then buy things that they need, like meat. There is no meat in the food
basket. And that's one of the reasons aid workers are so deeply concerned
about yet another humanitarian crisis if, indeed, a US attack was to go
forward. The Iraqi government has doubled the amounts of rations for people,
but people aren't hoarding that stuff; they're not putting it in their
cupboards. They're taking it and selling it. And a lot of aid workers are
really worried that there will be, you know, a break off in the food supply
and, in fact, people will starve.
GROSS: There's already a lot of malnourishment in Iraq, particularly
Ms. NEUFFER: That's absolutely correct. And you will meet children. And
it's obvious to any of us who know what healthy American kids look like, when
you meet Iraqi kids, they're stunted. You know, their growth is not what it
should be for someone of their age. It's actually quite visible. And you do
see kids, as I said, out on the streets, you know, shining shoes, begging, and
this is something that never, never occurred in this society before.
GROSS: What are the aid workers preparing for?
Ms. NEUFFER: Well, I think the key fear is, of course, the fact that water
will become contaminated quickly. Baghdad and much of Iraq runs on
electricity, and water is pumped via, you know, an electrical means. So the
chief concern is when the electricity grid goes, which is obviously usually
one of the first targets of any kind of bombing campaign, water will stop to
flow, that means people will start to have to turn to alternate water
supplies, that means waters in the river, which is deeply polluted and not
safe to drink. So people are trying to get these huge water bladders, and
they're like water tanks, to store clean water in it as a backup. They're
also trying to get, like, mobile water decontamination machines in so they can
take them out and actually work to decontaminate water so people have
something to drink.
GROSS: My guest is Elizabeth Neuffer, foreign affairs and UN correspondent
for The Boston Globe. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Elizabeth Neuffer. She's
foreign affairs and UN correspondent for The Boston Globe. She just spent six
weeks in the Gulf--in Jordan, Kuwait, three weeks in Baghdad.
Getting back to the health of the people in Iraq, you write that cancer is on
the rise and that there are suspicions that it's caused by depleted uranium
that's used in the shells from the first Gulf War. What's the connection
Ms. NEUFFER: Well, this is one of these incredibly contentious issues. It's
very difficult to get to the bottom of. You know, the Iraqis--and, you know,
this is obviously a key propaganda issue for them--claim that there are huge
spikes in the cancer rates and, in fact, it's related to depleted uranium.
Uranium, you know, once it explodes, can apparently enter into the food chain
and act as a carcinogenic in some way. There had been no concrete Western
studies that can confirm this connection as yet. Similar concerns have been
raised in Kosovo, where depleted-uranium bombs were also used. So this is an
issue that, you know, is not unique to Iraq. It's just there as yet no
scientific evidence of the connection.
Certainly, though, in the minds of the doctors, there's a connection. And in
the minds of the doctors there's also a connection to the UN sanctions,
because much-needed cancer drugs don't arrive. There again, you know, the
picture is a very complicated one. Part of the problem is those drugs don't
arrive because they do have to go through a sanctions process and be approved,
but the reason those needed cancer drugs don't arrive, it becomes very clear,
is because, in fact, the government doesn't order them. So it's a very murky,
murky picture; clear to say that if you are a cancer patient in Iraq, you're
not going to get state-of-the-art care these days.
GROSS: An Iraqi official was quoted yesterday in The New York Times, and he's
a vice president of one of Saddam Hussein's top two officials. His name--I'm
not sure I'm pronouncing it correctly--is Taha Yassin Ramadan. And he said
that there will be suicide attacks against Americans in the region if we
invade. He said, quote, "The whole region will be set ablaze. This part of
the world will become a sea of resistance and danger for Americans." When you
hear that, do you think, `Well, that's just rhetoric,' or do you think,
`That's likely to happen'?
Ms. NEUFFER: A little bit of both, Terry.
When I was in Iraq, I went to watch a military parade of this civilian
militia. They're called the al Quds militia. They were originally formed,
part of Saddam's dream, to march on Jerusalem and liberate it from Israel.
They obviously haven't done that, but they are, you know, a civilian militia.
Men are fairly, you know, on the older side, but there are women in it, too.
And one of the things as I watched this parade of militia go by that I notice
is they have entire squads that are supposed to be suicide squads--women
dressed entirely in black, not carrying weapons, who have, you know, vowed to
kill themselves to, you know, defend Iraq from invasion. I think some of this
probably will happen, and I do think there will be resistance. What's very
hard to tell is how widespread it will be, or, for that matter, just how
effective it will be.
I mean, the American military is a pretty formidable enemy, and I'm not
convinced that when some of these people, let's say, see American tanks move
into the streets of Baghdad they're going to perhaps sound quite as pugnacious
as they might sound now. But one should not underestimate, as I said, the
difference that 12 years has made. You know, the Iraq that this President
Bush faces is radically different than the one his father faced. His father
faced an Iraq where there was a large core of the population that wanted to be
liberated. Now he may find a lot of people who want to get rid of Saddam
Hussein, but who have very mixed feelings about the United States doing it.
GROSS: You say that Iraq has really changed a lot since the Iraq that the
first President Bush waged war with. Right now the Bush administration, the
CIA has been consulting with Iraqi exiles, trying to form a possible
government or coalition government that might take power if Saddam Hussein is
deposed or killed. Do you think at this point that the dissidents in exile
represent the people of Iraq today? And do you think the people in Iraq today
would accept their leadership?
Ms. NEUFFER: Well, I have to be very honest and say I did not hear one word
of indication that, in fact, they would accept those in exile. This is a
very, very controversial issue in Iraq. Again, when I was able to kind of get
people in private and without my government guide and to sort of quiz them on
who would you accept and what would you want, the opposition leaders are
usually seen as absolutely their last choice. There are a variety of reasons
for this. Again, part of this goes back to the sense of collective
victimization. We don't want--you know, an Iraqi might say to me, `We don't
want to be ruled by someone who's spent all their time outside of Iraq.' In
other words, they haven't suffered through the sanctions in the same way as
the Iraqis had. And so automatically there's sort of an emotional gap between
them and, you know, the opposition leaders outside.
I think there's also a lot of suspicion because they have been gone for so
long, and a lot of these people aren't well know, particularly to the younger
generation of Iraqis at all. They have no idea who they are. So I think
they're viewed with great suspicion. And, you know, many of them, as I said,
simply have no name recognition. I think that's going to be a difficult
challenge for the Bush administration as they seek to decide who should govern
the next Iraq.
GROSS: Elizabeth Neuffer will be back in the second half of the show. She
covers foreign affairs and the United Nations for The Boston Globe. I'm Terry
Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: Coming up, going it alone vs. getting the support of the Security
Council. We continue our conversation with Elizabeth Neuffer of The Boston
Globe about the likelihood of war in Iraq.
And Ken Tucker reviews a new collection of demo recordings made by Willie
Nelson in the early '60s.
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Elizabeth Neuffer, foreign
affairs and UN correspondent for The Boston Globe. She recently returned from
a six-week trip from Iraq, Jordan and Kuwait. Let's get back to the interview
we recorded this morning about her trip and her reporting from the United
At the United Nations, Colin Powell is going to give a presentation to the
Security Council on Wednesday, in which he's expected to share certain
intelligence and share more information about connections the Bush
administration thinks that Iraq has to al-Qaeda. What's the importance of
this presentation on Wednesday, and do you have any clues what he's going to
Ms. NEUFFER: I think this is a pivotal presentation for the UN Security
Council. All you had to see was sort of the reaction last week after the
State of the Union address, which was a very powerful address. And yet, I
think it was 11 of the 15 Council members came out of their session saying,
you know, `We still don't support a war. We're not there yet.' Mr. Powell
has a very skeptical audience to persuade. He has to persuade them that, in
fact, Iraq is hiding things, is contravening the terms of Resolution 1441, and
he will really have to make the case about al-Qaeda. That, of all of the
things that the administration has argued, is the one that has been the
weakest link so far in the minds of UN diplomats. There seems absolutely
nothing tangible to link, you know, the Iraqi government with the al-Qaeda
terrorists. So he has a very big uphill battle in front of him on Wednesday.
GROSS: Tony Blair has been President Bush's strongest ally, but over the
weekend, it sounds like Tony Blair moved away from the president a little bit
and would really prefer that they go back to the Security Council and get a
second resolution before waging war. How do you interpret Tony Blair's recent
change, or do you even see it as a change?
Ms. NEUFFER: No, I did see that. I do think there was a shift or perhaps not
so much a shift as an articulation of where Britain stood more strongly. I
think, all along, Britain has favored going back to the Council. There are
strong arguments for having UN backing for any military force as opposed to
going it alone. This is such a controversial issue in the Middle East. It
has divided Jordan. Even in Kuwait, you know, people are not entirely happy
with the idea of a US-led war against Iraq. But the more of a global alliance
you can have, the better; you know, the more that this is a reflection of the
world's outrage, not just America and Great Britain's somehow devious efforts
to conquer the oil of Iraq, which many people, indeed, do suspect is the real
motivation, the better. So it's also an advantage when you come to think
about rebuilding Iraq. If you go in with a large coalition, there are more
people to share the costs. If you go in under the egis of the UN, it's more
likely the UN will play a role in rebuilding Iraq. Rebuilding devastated
countries is one of the things the UN excels at. And, you know, it just makes
the whole process much easier.
GROSS: Do you think there's a chance that Tony Blair would not back the
United States if the United States went to Iraq without a second Security
Ms. NEUFFER: I think, again, it's going to depend on the evidence, Terry.
And I think Mr. Blair has gone too far in supporting America to sort of pull
back at this point in time. I think he will have to stay by the US side, but
I do think the British are going to push to try to get that second UN
resolution. And, in fact, what's not clear to me is whether or not they will
also push for more time for inspections, you know, another few weeks or so.
One of the great laments that you heard from people on the Security Council
was that, in fact, this is the strongest inspections regime that Iraq has ever
faced. It was created by unanimous vote. We've got, you know, more than 100
inspectors on the ground. Iraq is at least opening the doors to places. They
are collecting evidence. They are working on strong intelligence. And I
heard over and over again, particularly from the Germans, `Well, if we have
such a strong inspections regime, let's give it a chance to work.'
GROSS: Well, what do the Germans say when the issue of weather is brought up?
The United States feels it has a very short window of opportunity to strike
against Iraq before the summer sets in and will make fighting Iraq very
problematic, because the soldiers won't be able to wear those biohazard suits.
Ms. NEUFFER: Well, I'm not sure that that's really an issue that Germany
concerns itself with, because, you know, Germany, as you know, doesn't support
war in Iraq at the moment, and that isn't really something that would
necessarily come before the Council. And it's obviously, you know, at the
back of people's minds, but if I remember correctly, and you might know better
than I, but there has even been some controversy as to whether or not that is,
indeed, such a difficult thing for American soldiers to do. People
remembering, you know, Rommel fighting in World War II in Africa and the fact
that heat doesn't necessarily have to defeat an army. Clearly, the United
States would prefer, for weather reasons, to move sooner whether than later.
The question is if it is the kind is swift war they anticipate, whether, say,
the middle to end of March would still have them a large enough window to
GROSS: If Tony Blair succeeds in getting the United States to agree to a
second resolution before waging war, I'm asking you to speculate here, and you
might decline on doing that, but do you think that it's likely that France,
Russia or China, which have veto power, would, in fact, veto the resolution?
Ms. NEUFFER: I think it's more than likely simply because that's a pretty
powerful way to take on the United States, and that's very tough to anyone to
really want to do. I mean, that would be something that people would have to
think long and hard about. I think it would be more likely we'd see
abstentions, people saying, `We just cannot support this. We abstain,' than
someone actually vetoing it. But that option remains open. The threat of a
veto is a very powerful one. If you remember when the UN was discussing
military force against Kosovo, it was Russia's threat of a veto that made it
impossible for the UN to move forward with a resolution authorizing that
force. So, in fact, that military campaign was conducted outside of the UN
GROSS: How do you think the US' efforts to launch this attack against Iraq is
affecting the United States' image in the UN?
Ms. NEUFFER: You know, I'm not so sure I can answer that so much in the UN.
I mean, I do get a sense behind the scenes that there's a certain weariness
with the kind of American bellicosity, but at the same time, a recognition
that this administration wants this problem to be solved for once and for all.
What I can tell you is what I heard in Jordan and Kuwait, which, in some ways,
worries me more. I was stunned to be in Jordan and to interview people, in
fact, who had been educated in the United States, people who had been educated
and were in their 40s and 50s and people who had just graduated, you know,
from schools in Boston, and to hear how unbelievably opposed they were to this
war and how they felt, in fact, American military action contravened American
ideals, the very ideals that they had studied in the United States, that was
really a great shock to me and a source of some worry again. It's really
important to make this war a justifiable one, not just to the American public,
but to the world at large.
GROSS: The first Gulf War in '91 was about liberating Kuwait from the Iraqis.
How much support do we have in Kuwait now for this second Gulf War.
Ms. NEUFFER: Well, publicly, we have a lot of support. Privately, people
will tell you that they haven't--they're not happy with the fact that
one-third of the country is currently occupied by American troops. Privately,
they will tell you that they're really not sure that this situation warrants a
US invasion. They have very divided minds. They're also are quick to
distinguish between Saddam's government and the Iraqi people. And there's a
strong sympathy in Kuwait for the Iraqi people and the fact that they have
suffered so greatly under the sanctions. So some of the same kind of divided
loyalties you might find in Iraq are also replicated in Kuwait. Publicly, of
course, you know, they're going to say, `Yes, go ahead,' and, you know, `We
owe this to America,' and `America liberated us 12 years ago, and we'll never
forget it.' It is--you know, you do hear that people are very pro-American,
but they're worried about this particular step by Washington.
GROSS: My guest is Elizabeth Neuffer, foreign affairs and UN correspondent
for the Boston Globe. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Elizabeth Neuffer. She's a
foreign affairs and UN correspondent for The Boston Globe. She recently
returned from six weeks in the Gulf. She went to Jordan, Kuwait and spent
three weeks in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Hans Blix is returning to Iraq on Saturday. What's the agenda?
Ms. NEUFFER: I think the agenda is going to be to try and see if there's been
any progress on some of the key sticking points. For example, it's very
important to Mr. Blix to have U2 spy planes used to kind of fly over Iraq and
to help the inspections process. These would be American U2s flying under a
UN flag, so these would not be used for traditional spying, but, in fact, for
aerial surveillance to help identify sites, you know, ensure that documents
aren't being moved away from sites, to really give the inspectors a kind of
aerial view that they don't have at the moment. Now, the argument is--Mr.
Blix would make this argument; members of the Council would make this
argument--that is it Iraq's responsibility to disarm. It is Iraq that has to
step up to the plate and say, `Yes,' you know, `you can do anything you want,
so long as we can convince you that, you know, we have no weapons of mass
destruction, or if we do have them, here they are, and we'll turn them over.'
That is how disarmament is viewed certainly by Mr. Blix.
Now, in Iraq, it's viewed very differently. And I was really intrigued by the
utter sort of lack of comprehension of what Iraq needs to do to satisfy the
weapons inspectors. Their argument is, `Oh, well, we can't have U2 spy planes
overhead, because, of course, they will collect data that will go to the
United States that will be used in the bombing campaign.' So they were
feeling pretty adamant about it. That will be one key issue.
Another key issue will be, of course, why haven't scientists stepped forward
and, you know, why isn't the Iraqi government cooperating more proactively?
Why isn't it opening up its files, you know, opening up its sites and saying
to the inspectors, `Come, take a look. Here's what we've got,' you know,
`here's the documentation. You know those 600 chemical bombs you were worried
about? Well, here's where they went.' And I think Mr. Blix will really be
quite tough on the Iraqis this time and say, `These are the kinds of things
you need to do in order to be seen as disarming.' Iraqis, you know, in their
mind, feel providing open access to inspectors is enough.
GROSS: Everybody wants to know, will there be a war? And if there is going
to be a war, when is it going to start? Outside of this meeting on the 15th
that you just mentioned and Colin Powell's presentation to the Security
Council on Wednesday, what's the timetable as you see it? What are the key
events in the next few weeks that we should be watching for?
Ms. NEUFFER: Well, I think the key events will be the sort of slow diplomatic
progress towards whether or not we're going to have a second resolution. I
mean, that's still very much up in the air. We'll have to measure the
response to Mr. Powell's case on Wednesday. That will give us some clues.
We'll have to take a look at Blix's report. Then I think we're going to
see--we'll have a couple of weeks where there'll either be a push for a new
resolution or there will not. I think the consensus is, even from the
American perspective, quietly, that, in fact, there probably should be a
second resolution there. I think there will be an effort to make that happen.
It's hard for me to see that happening before the end of the month. And my
understanding, not from my own reporting but from reading the newspapers, is
that, in fact, not all of our troops will be in place until March, so I'm
guessing that we're looking at March as the time period for war.
GROSS: Do you think there's any chance that we might not go to war?
Ms. NEUFFER: I think that there is a very, very slim chance that we might not
go to war. I think that if Iraq were to suddenly comprehend what it needs to
do to convince world opinion that, in fact, it is disarming and it has no
weapons of mass destruction, if they were to make extraordinary gestures, if
they were to, as I said, open the files, invite the inspectors in, document
those missing questions, it would make it much harder to justify going to war.
I also think that much depends on the anti-war protests around the world and
the anti-war movement in the United States. I think that the demonstrations
took a lot of people by surprise. And there are more demonstrations. I
believe there's a worldwide protest planned at some point in February. I
think it's always difficult for leaders to go to war over the sympathies of
their own citizens, and that might also play a factor in, if not stopping war,
perhaps in delaying it slightly to give, again, inspections more time to work.
GROSS: Given that if Saddam Hussein doesn't comply adequately with
inspections, there's going to be war, and it's going to end badly for him, why
doesn't he make a better attempt to comply in--for reasons of
Ms. NEUFFER: Yeah, that is the $24 million question. I can't answer that. I
don't think anyone can answer that. You'd have to speculate. One speculation
would be that, in fact, they've been lying when they say they don't have
weapons of mass destruction, so if he is to cooperate, he'd have to admit
that, in fact, he's been lying, and they do have stuff, and you know, can he
afford to do that? Maybe, in fact, he is searching for such a way to do that.
The other question would be is Saddam in power without weapons of mass
destruction really Saddam in power? He might see his power as dependent on
these particular things; hence, you know, why cooperate, because, you know, he
would be a denuded leader afterwards. He'd rather just go down in flames than
be sort of half a leader at the end of it.
GROSS: Just before you went to Iraq, you had gone to one of these training
camps for journalists who might be facing war, and you were trained in coping
techniques in case you're kidnapped or in case you're facing war. Did any of
what you learned there come in handy for this trip? Granted, you weren't
facing war in this trip. You're just facing impending war, but did you need
to call on any of that?
Ms. NEUFFER: No, there were things I did call on actually, things that I
wouldn't have thought of before, just simple things, getting into a taxi. You
know, don't sit directly behind your driver, who could then, you know, reach
around and grab you. Be sure to sit in the seat, you know, diagonally in back
of him kind of thing. So certain kinds of, you know, basic skills for
protecting oneself in an environment that might not be particularly friendly
were certainly handy. But thankfully, the vast majority of what I was taught,
I did not need to rely on at all. And I have to say, and I think this is
important to say, that when you're out in Iraq, at times, the whole issue of
war seems terribly removed, simply because the Iraqi people, I think, are sort
of resigned to it as opposed to being agitated about it. And at the same
time, the fact that they are immensely hospitable people. Everywhere I went,
I was treated kindly, gently, cordially. It was clear I was an American.
Everyone was very quick to say, `Well, we don't agree with your government,
but we have nothing against the American people. This was really quite
striking. It was a sense that the war, in their minds, was not quite real
yet, and they had not really focused on seeing you as coming necessarily from
an opposing party.
GROSS: Well, Elizabeth Neuffer, thank you so much, and I wish you safe
travels to Iran. Thank you.
Ms. NEUFFER: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: Elizabeth Neuffer is foreign affairs and UN correspondent for The
Boston Globe. She's about to leave for Iran.
Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews a new CD of Willie Nelson's demo recordings from
the '60s. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Willie Nelson's "Crazy: The Demo Sessions"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Willie Nelson is most prominent these days in a funny commercial spoofing his
problems with the IRS. But FRESH AIR rock critic Ken Tucker says there's
another reason you should be paying attention to the veteran country
performer. It's the release of "Crazy: The Demo Sessions," a collection of
songs Nelson wrote and recorded between 1960 and 1966 in the hope of selling
them to the big country stars of the time. Ken says these demos are works of
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. WILLIE NELSON: (Singing) Just watch the sunrise on the other side of
town. Once more I've waited and once more you've let me down. This would be
a perfect time for me to die, I'd like to take this opportunity to cry. You
gave your word...
KEN TUCKER reporting:
Willie Nelson, strumming his own guitar, is recorded in 1961 on one track of a
two-track stereo machine singing a tune he wrote so artful in its verbal
adroitness, so uttering its despair that I still find it impossible to believe
that this song never became a hit. "Opportunity To Cry," starting with the
country music penchant for twisting a cliche to create ironic poignance, dives
deeply. By mid-song, Nelson's narrator is wondering whether he should kill
himself or the lover he's singing to. Here's a different variation on this
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. NELSON: (Singing) The sun just went behind the clouds, there's darkness
all around me now. I've just destroyed the world I'm living in. I broke her
heart so many times and now I've finally broken mine, and I've just destroyed
the world I'm living in. What made me think that I...
TUCKER: A chunk of apocalyptic country that's "I've Just Destroyed the
World," co-written with singer Ray Price, that went to number 12 on the
country charts in 1962. Willie Nelson was 29, married with three kids, and
part of Price's band, the Cherokee Cowboys, playing guitar and singing backup.
He was churning out songs for a Nashville publishing company called Pamper
Music and recording demos, demonstration recordings, intended to entice buyers
and never intended for commercial release. One such demo, made with a small
band that included Jimmy Day on steel guitar, found its way to Patsy Cline.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. NELSON: (Singing) Crazy, crazy for feeling so lonely. I'm crazy, crazy
for feeling so blue. I knew you'd love me as long as you wanted and then
someday, you'd leave me for somebody new. Worry...
TUCKER: "Crazy" became one of the Patsy Cline's signature hits, but even with
this success, Nelson had a lot of trouble launching his own recording career.
A Texan who'd grown up emulating the western swing rhythms of Bob Wills and
the conversational art of Frank Sinatra, Nelson's deadpan tone, the way his
phrasing stayed just behind the beat was too offbeat for Nashville. He made a
lot of albums that smothered his voice with chirpy backup singers and swelling
string sections. He wouldn't make his commercial breakthrough until 1975,
when "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" from his album, "Red Headed Stranger,"
went to number one. But 14 years earlier, he was cutting great stuff like
this, "Things To Remember," recorded soon after by his pal Faron Young but not
superior to Willie's demo version.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. NELSON: (Singing) I've cried so much lately that I've made out a list of
things to remember, things to forget. But my mind can't separate the joy from
regret. I always remember the things to forget. Things to remember, the day
that we met; the day that we parted, things to forget. Well, why won't my
heart let me do it this way, with just things to remember today.
TUCKER: On so many songs here, Willie Nelson sounds like a man who would
break down in pathetic racked sobs if he didn't maintain an air of stoic
impassivity, no one since Hank Williams wrote and recorded songs of comparable
self-laceration, guilt and romantic cruelty. How lucky we are to be able to
hear how miserable Willie Nelson could imagine himself to be.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
Willie Nelson "Crazy: The Demo Sessions" on Sugar Hill Records. Here's his
demo of "Are You Sure?"
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. NELSON: (Singing) Look around you, look down the bar from you at the
faces that you see, are you sure this is where you want to be? These are your
friends, but are they real friends? Do you they love you as much as me? Are
you sure this is where you want to be. You seem in such a hurry to lead this
kind of life, and you've caused so many pain and misery. But look around you,
take a good look, just between you and me, are you sure that this is where you
want to be? Please don't let my tears persuade you...
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. NELSON: (Singing) But look around you and take a good look at all the
local used-to-bes, and are you sure that this is where you want to be?
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