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William Kristol

He is editor of the conservative magazine, The Weekly Standard. He also chairs the neo-conservative think tank, Project for the New American Century. He is one of the architects of the blueprint for regime change found in the document "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century."


Other segments from the episode on April 1, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 1, 2003: Interview with Joseph Cirincione; Interview with William Kristol.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Joseph Circincione discusses his opposition to the
Defense Guidance Policy Document

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The Bush administration started calling for regime change in Iraq after
September 11th, but the idea of removing Saddam Hussein from power has a much
longer history among a group of policy analysts who are now officials in the
Bush administration. These analysts have been writing documents over the past
decade outlining a new vision for the role of the United States in a post-Cold
War world. These documents advocated pre-emptive action and regime change as
part of a larger strategy to remake the Gulf and the Middle East and protect
our interests there.

A little later we'll hear from William Kristol, an author of one of the
documents. He's the editor of The Weekly Standard and the chair of the
Project for the New American Century.

First we're going to talk with Joseph Cirincione, who has studied these papers
and how they've influenced US foreign policy. He's the director of the
Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
I asked him to outline the larger strategy and doctrine that's expressed in
these papers.

Mr. JOSEPH CIRINCIONE (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): There's
a group of people in the administration, usually called the neoconservatives,
bolstered by columnists and editors outside the administration, who believe
that the role of US power should be not just to manage the world but to
transform it. What's the point of being a hegemon if we can't remake the
world in our image? So they see Iraq as the beginning, not the end, of this
process. There's a sort of a short-term agenda, which is to transform all the
regimes in the Middle East. That may seem sweepingly ambitious to some, but
it's just the beginning of this view that what the United States can do is go
into a region or confront a country that we disagree with and force that
country to change its government, and in so doing we can create a more stable
situation for the world, as well as for the United States.

So after Iraq, the idea would be--and they've talked about this--that the
people in the neighboring countries, Syria and Iran, would be encouraged to
rise up and overthrow their governments with the help, of course, of US
troops, who would now be based in Iraq. And this would spread to all the
other countries, including Saudi Arabia. In this way we can transform the
Arab governments, create a democratic Palestinian Authority and give Israel
and credible and reliable negotiating partner. That would then secure US
interests in the vital region of the Persian Gulf for decades to come.

But, of course, that's just that one region. After this we would continue to
remake basically all of the international institutions that we've come to rely
on since the Cold War.

GROSS: Well, if the United States wants to spread democracy around the world,
what's your objection to that?

Mr. CIRINCIONE: You can't spread democracy on the point of bayonets, that
spreading democracy, creating democratic institutions, transforming countries
requires primarily the efforts of the people themselves in those countries.
That's the way we did it. That the way most countries do it. Can you support
those? Yes. But you can't liberate a people by invading them. And more
importantly, what this group wants to do is first tear down the existing
institutions that we have to promote peace and security and democracy in the
world, most importantly the United Nations.

It may come as something of a surprise to the American people, who support the
United Nations in overwhelming numbers, that a group like the editors of The
Weekly Standard, on their March 17th cover, present the United Nations as
`Present at the Destruction: The United Nations Implodes.' And the
contributing editors go on to argue inside that journal that the United
Nations today is an impediment to world safety; it should be replaced.
Charles Krauthammer, a prominent New York conservative columnist, says the
president should simply walk away from the United Nations. They see these
international, these multilateral institutions now as hindrances to US power.

GROSS: Let's talk about some of the earlier documents that relate to the Gulf
War. Let's go back to a 1992 document called the Defense Policy Guidance
Document. What is this document, and what does it spell out that seems to
connect to the actions we're taking now in Iraq?

Mr. CIRINCIONE: In 1991, when the Gulf War ended, Paul Wolfowitz was then
deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy. He was very unhappy. He did not
want the war to end so soon. He was put in charge, in 1992, of drafting the
guidance for the Department of Defense, what would guide US national security
strategy as far as the department was concerned. And he produced a document
that was very controversial, so controversial that people in the Pentagon who
opposed his point of view leaked it to The New York Times. And when it was
leaked it was seen as an extremist view, and Wolfowitz was forced to withdraw
it and it was rewritten.

What was extremist about it was that he called for a policy where the US would
seek to prevent any other country from challenging US power, either globally
or regionally. He proposed a policy of pre-emption, where we would go and
attack based on the speculation that a country might someday threaten US
interests. And he specifically proposed preparing for several regional
contingencies, including another war in Iraq. Now remember, this is just a
few months after the '91 Iraq war ended.

That document was withdrawn. Pre-emption was replaced by containment. They
put out a fairly bland Defense Policy Guidance Document. But these elements,
this strategy, is now what's in the current US national security strategy.
They worked during their years of exile, when Republicans were replaced by
Democrats in the White House, organized, cooperated, hammered out a common
political line. And when Bush came back into office this group assumed key
positions. If you look at it, almost all the important sub-Cabinet positions,
right below the secretary in the State Department and the Defense Department,
are now filled by these neoconservatives, people who work together, who know
each other, who often worked for each other. And they were successful in
dominating the policy apparatus and pushing through what used to be considered
an extreme point of view.

GROSS: And Paul Wolfowitz, the author of the report you just mentioned, is now
deputy Defense secretary.

Mr. CIRINCIONE: Yes. He's the leading both intellectual leader of the
neoconservatives and the highest-ranking neoconservative in office.

GROSS: Now another document that seems to relate to the current war in Iraq
is one from 1998, in which 18 people wrote a letter to President Clinton
urging him to remove Saddam Hussein, remove the Saddam Hussein regime from
power. Who was behind this letter, and what was it about?

Mr. CIRINCIONE: Well, Bill Kristol formed an organization called the Project
for the New American Century, and used that to bring together leading
neoconservative thinkers and experts and to get clear on what their position
was, what was their strategy. It's a very effective organizing tool. I mean,
these guys are smart. They're dedicated. They know what they're doing.

And this letter did two things. One, it told President Clinton--this was in
early 1998--that he should focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power, that
inspections, if they ever had failed, that it was unlikely they would ever be
reimposed and that the policy of the United States should be to change the
regime. And it wasn't just the idea, but they used it as an organizing tool
to line up support, and they had 15 prominent experts assign it, many of whom
have now ended up in senior administration positions in the Bush
administration, including, for example, Paul Wolfowitz--Richard Perle recently
resigned as head of the Defense Policy Panel--and many others.

GROSS: So this letter said that removing Saddam Hussein needed to become the
aim of American foreign policy.

Mr. CIRINCIONE: That's right, that it wasn't enough to contain him, which
is what the policy had been, or to try and bring inspections back. The only
solution was to go in with military force and take him out.

GROSS: Joseph Cirincione, in the year 2000, a report was issued called
Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New
Century. It was issued by the Project for the New American Century, a group
chaired by William Kristol, who also edits the conservative magazine The
Weekly Standard. What's the connection of this report to the strategy behind
the war in Iraq?

Mr. CIRINCIONE: Well, this document was basically adopted by the Bush
administration when they took office as their defense and national security
program. It's just remarkable. You read this report and it point for point
has been taken up by the administration: large increases in defense spending,
specific recommendations on weapons systems, a policy of pre-emptive attack,
the need to change the base structure of the United States--so move it from
bases in Europe to bases in, well, the Middle East or parts of Asia now. The
idea that what we're doing is expanding US influence in the world. We're
taking advantage of the collapse of the Soviet Union and now moving into areas
of the world that we haven't been in before and asserting American military
dominance. Some might see that as a new form of colonialism. They see it as
the spread of democracy and US power.

GROSS: My guest is Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation
Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. We'll talk more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Joseph Cirincione. He's
director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace. We're talking about some of the documents that seemed to
lay the groundwork for the war in Iraq and for the political doctrine behind

One more report I want to ask you about, and this is the National Security
Strategy of the United States, a report issued in September 2002. What's this
report and how does it connect to the war in Iraq?

Mr. CIRINCIONE: Well, the National Security Strategy of the United States is
issued every year, and it's sort of the president's vision of how he sees the
world. Often, it's just a bureaucratic document, but Condoleezza Rice was
very clear that this time, they were going to use this to lay out the new Bush
doctrine, the new Bush vision. And it broke new ground. So, for example,
quote, "We will not hesitate to act alone and, if necessary, act
pre-emptively." This idea that the alliances were fine as far as they went,
but that the US would take a much more aggressive posture towards the world
and would act when it saw fit, getting together ad hoc coalitions when
alliances could not be orchestrated.

As a result, the US now is implementing this policy in Iraq. It really is
remarkable how quickly these ideas went from the extreme end of the political
spectrum to center stage in official US national security documents to
implementation in the battlefield of Iraq.

GROSS: How do you think that it happened, that these ideas went from the
fringe to the mainstream of the administration?

Mr. CIRINCIONE: Well, two things. One was the appointment process itself.
It turns out that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush himself
were much more radical than people thought when they were elected, and you
remember the president was talking about a humble foreign policy, wanted to
take troops out of Kosovo; didn't want to be arrogant. He debated Al Gore in
his third presidential debate and said, you know, `If we're arrogant,
countries won't respect us. We have to be patient and strong, not arrogant
and weak.'

Well, what happened was, when they went to the appointment process, they had
some key people, such as Scooter Libby, who was Vice President Cheney's
national security adviser, in position to help steer the appointment process
so that the administration basically was flooded with a group of
neoconservatives who all thought alike, who all had worked together, and what
that meant was as we go into interagency meetings below the Cabinet level, you
end up with a bunch of people who all already know each other, already have
worked out these problems, already have a strategy. They push it through. It
gets talked up, and it gets presented with apparently a great deal of
unanimity from the ranks up to the chief policy-makers. Still, these ideas
were so radical, they probably would not have been adopted, except for
September 11th.

And that was such a shock to the country and to the president that they were
looking for something dramatic to do. And in--a series of articles by various
journalists have pointed out the key role that Paul Wolfowitz played. On
September 12th, he was arguing with the president, telling him we had to go
invade Iraq. On September 15th at the key meeting at Camp David, Paul
Wolfowitz was there pushing the invasion of Iraq. It didn't take at the time,
but a few months later, the president was won over to this view. And this is
a president who doesn't have much foreign policy experience. As people say,
when he was running for the presidency, he literally went to school. A group
of experts went down to Texas to educate him about foreign policy. So this
relatively empty vessel, which is filled with this view, this vision, this
coherent framework, and he took to it. It just fit him like a glove and, in
part, because it fit in with his own evangelical view of the world and the
role of the United States and the power that ideas and faith can have in
changing the world.

So we found the perfect marriage between a somewhat inexperienced president on
foreign policy who had this evangelical bent and this group of visionaries in
the administration who were out to change the world, and that, more than any
other factor--more than weapons of mass destruction, more than terrorism--is
what has brought us to the battlefields of Iraq.

GROSS: When you say that this doctrine fits the president's evangelical view
of the world, what do you mean?

Mr. CIRINCIONE: Well, the president has said, for example, that we are in a
war between fear and freedom, and God is not neutral in that struggle. He
really does see himself at this historic moment, this cusp of history, where
everything is in play, everything is in motion, and that he and his
administration can play this crusading role to rescue the world from evil, and
so there's evil arrayed on one side, there's good and God arrayed on the
other, and that God is with us, providence is with us, and that this impels
his decision and helps promote the goals that he now has laid out for the

Unfortunately, all the countries in conflict in the Middle East think that God
is on their side. They all feel that they are acting with God's blessings and
that they will be rewarded in the end for carrying out their policies. In
some ways, the president's view feeds into this Middle Eastern dynamic,
doesn't replace it.

GROSS: Now some people, when they connect the dots between the war in Iraq
and the documents that you describe leading up to the war in Iraq, the
documents outlining the strategy that we appear to be following now--outlining
the doctrine that we appear to be following now, some of those people see this
as a conspiracy theory, you know, and behind it is a cabal of people who have
been wanting to do this all along. Do you see this as a conspiracy theory?

Mr. CIRINCIONE: No, because they've been quite open about what they think.
It's a conspiracy in plain sight, I guess. All you have to do is go read the
documents, go read The Weekly Standard, go to the American Enterprise
Institute, look at what these people say. They are openly advocating this.
The one element you do have there is they're very well-organized. This is a
tight-knit group of people who have been working together for some time, and
we're not quite used to that. We haven't really experienced as a country the
policy domination that we have now by a group of people whose interests
transcend the particular administration that they're in.

GROSS: How would you compare the architects' projections of what would happen
when we invaded Iraq with what is actually happening so far in that war?

Mr. CIRINCIONE: These people have talked and pushed and championed the cause
of war for years now, and that they more than anyone else, more than the
president himself, are responsible for bringing us in this war, and it is
turning into a disaster. It's really a shock for some of them. They really
thought, as Vice President Cheney said, that Saddam would fall like a house of
cards. Richard Perle said that the regime would collapse at the first whiff
of gunpowder. It would topple like a hollow log. They really believed this,
and the reason they believed it is that they know nothing about the region and
that they completely underestimate the force of nationalism. Once again, the
US underestimates nationalism, why people fight for their land, for their
village, even though their land is ruled by a tyrant who oppresses them.

And I think it will be a disaster. I don't think that it's certain that we
are going to win this war, as some of our military commanders are now telling
us, but it is likely that the military will be able to prevail and suppress
any resistance in Iraq. But what this, unfortunately, tells us about the
future occupation of Iraq is that it's going to be difficult, it is going to
be bloody; that even if there's a minority of that country that still opposes
us, that's going to be tens of thousands of people fighting us, attacking us,
sniping at us.

GROSS: Well, it sounds like you believe we might, in fact, be entering a new
era, but you think it's not a very good new era. Project forward a little
bit. What are some of the problems you think we might run into in this new

Mr. CIRINCIONE: We're seeing it already. We have tens of thousands of people
demonstrating in Arab capitals against us. We have thousands of people
telling us that they're going to kill themselves to oppose us. We have
exactly what I and others have warned about, you know, new waves of recruits
into al-Qaeda-like organizations. You know, this is not the battle that the
American people were promised. This was supposed to be a liberation of the
people of Iraq. Does it look like a liberation to you? It sure doesn't to
me. We're in a situation where American troops once again can't tell the
enemy from the civilians they're supposed to be liberating; where you see
stories of kids with their fingers on triggers, hesitating, `Is that a soldier
or is that a civilian? Is that a woman or is that somebody who's luring me
into a trap?'

You know, you cannot bring democracy to a country when that's the situation
you're facing. I don't think it's going to change. I know we're being told
right now that once Saddam is gone, that this will all become clear, the
support will collapse and everybody will come over to our side. They're not
paying attention to what the Shiites in the south are saying. Their leader is
an ayatollah in exile that they want to bring back to power. They want a
Shiite Islamic rule in Iraq, not a Western democracy rule.

GROSS: Joseph Cirincione is the director of the Non-Proliferation Project at
the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He'll be back in the second
half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: Coming up, we talk with William Kristol, chair of the think tank the
Project for the New American Century. The group published a paper in 2000
that lays out some of the strategy the Bush administration is now using in the
Gulf. And we continue our conversation with Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Joseph Cirincione,
director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace. We're talking about the larger agenda that he says
regime change in Iraq is part of, an agenda that pre-exists September 11th and
was outlined in policy papers that were considered radical at the time.
Several of the authors are now in the Bush administration.

You're a non-proliferation expert. We are facing two countries now that seem
to be adding nuclear weapons to their arsenal: North Korea and Iran. What
kind of a model are we creating with Iraq, and do you have any sense of how
Iran and North Korea are interpreting what we're doing in Iraq in terms of
what their future might be?

Mr. CIRINCIONE: What lesson will North Korea and Iran draw from the war in
Iraq? Do they curtail their nuclear ambitions or speed them up? The evidence
so far seems to be that they're speeding them up; that the lesson they're
drawing is that they better get a nuclear weapon quick before the United
States comes after them. And, in fact, those two countries are on the
president's axis of evil list and on the administration's to-do list.

There are some who I've spoken to in the administration who after the Iraq
war's over want to go on either to Iran or to North Korea and try the same
strategy with them. This is even more difficult. There are no good military
options for either one of those countries. But they want to use that same
kind of coercive diplomacy; not negotiations, but force them to end their
programs and to come in line with the United States. I believe the Iranians
and the North Koreans see that coming, and are trying to increase their
negotiating position by acquiring nuclear weapons as quickly as they can.

GROSS: What position would that leave us in?

Mr. CIRINCIONE: This means that the world is going to be a lot more dangerous
than it was two years ago when the Bush administration came into office. You
know, like all administrations, they inherited problems from the previous
administration, but they've taken those problems and they've turned them into
crises. North Korea is a problem; Iran is a problem. But they're escalating
them by their mishandling of their situation into a crises.

But it's not just those two countries. We think--well, those are sort of
opposed against us. What about some of our allies like Pakistan? I mean,
here's a country that has 30 to 50 nuclear weapons, that has sold
uranium-enrichment equipment to North Korea to help them secretly start a
uranium-enrichment program, that probably has sold Iran the uranium-enrichment
equipment that they're using for their nuclear program.

There were tens of thousands of people in the streets demonstrating against
the US war in the streets of Peshawar over the weekend, one in a series of
demonstrations being called by the Islamic opposition in Pakistan. If
Pakistan destabilizes or goes over to an Islamic fundamentalist government,
then we're going to have proliferation problems the likes of which we have
never seen. Then we really are going to have loose Islamic nukes. That is a
nightmare scenario. And unfortunately, the policies of this administration
are making that more likely, not less likely.

GROSS: Joseph Cirincione, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. CIRINCIONE: My pleasure. Thank you for having me in the studios, Terry.

GROSS: Joseph Cirincione is the director of the Non-Proliferation Project at
the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: William Kristol discusses the Bush administration's
plan for regime change in Iraq and the idea espoused by his think
tank that appears to be serving as the blueprint for that action

My guest William Kristol is part of the group of policy experts, historians,
officials and journalists who were calling for regime change in Iraq long
before the attacks of September 11th. Kristol is the chair of the group the
Project for the New American Century, a think tank which describes its goal as
promoting American global leadership by maintaining the pre-eminence of its
military forces.

In 1998, the project wrote a letter to President Clinton, calling for regime
change in Iraq. It was signed by 18 prominent policy experts, including
Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. In 2000, the project
issued a report titled "Rebuilding America's Defenses." Some experts, like
our previous guest, Joseph Cirincione, consider this report a blueprint for
the Bush administration's foreign and defense policies.

Kristol is also the editor of the influential magazine The Weekly Standard,
and served as Vice President Dan Quayle's chief of staff. He's co-authored
the new book "The War Over Iraq." I asked Kristol how the war in Iraq fits
into the larger doctrine he advocates.

Mr. WILLIAM KRISTOL (The Weekly Standard; Author): You know, one shouldn't
overexplain--if I can use that word--the war in Iraq. We've been in conflict
with Iraq for--What?--12, 13 years. President Clinton almost came to--well,
did come to blows with Iraq, certainly. We bombed Iraq; we enforced no-fly
zones against Iraq; we even threatened a major war against Iraq in 1998. It
shouldn't be a great mystery or surprise that this might come to a war. So I
wouldn't want to exaggerate the importance of the doctrine.

Having said that, I think it's also true that if you look at the Bush
doctrine, if you look at some of the arguments we've made, Iraq's not an
entirely isolated case. Saddam isn't the only dictator developing weapons of
mass destruction. He's not the only problem. And if you think post-9/11,
that the choices to confront these problems or to not confront them and then
have them confront you, then there will be more problems to confront even when
we finish with Saddam.

GROSS: Part of the Bush doctrine, part of the doctrine underlying the war in
Iraq, is the idea that sometimes pre-emptive action is necessary, and this is
the first time the United States has acted pre-emptively in going into a
country with the military to overthrow a regime. Why do you support the idea
of pre-emptive action? And it's something that you supported before this war
actually happened.

Mr. KRISTOL: Yeah, I do support it in this case, Terry. I would emphasize
that it's not something that should be done recklessly or too often,
obviously. And I would also emphasize that it's not quite as new as people
sometimes pretend. When you think about it, President Kennedy's threats
against Cuba in 1962--his statement that was unacceptable that Castro have
nuclear weapons in Cuba and the embargo, which is an act of war that we put on
Cuba--was was a kind of pre-emptive action. Castro hadn't attacked us, and we
didn't know that those nuclear weapons would be used against us. And we, in
fact, probably had a pretty effective deterrent against them at the time.

Having said that, I won't deny that this is a bigger effort. And even though
I could argue that we're responding, in some respects, to Saddam's violation
of UN agreements and agreements with us, which I think is true, it's also true
that when you look at the president's rationale for this war, it is
pre-emptive in an important way, which is to say that what the president has
said, and I agree with this, is that if you look at Saddam's history--this
particularly brutal tyrant--that the prospect of allowing him to continue
developing weapons of mass destruction is unacceptable, and that we don't feel
compelled to be attacked directly first, or attacked indirectly first through
a terrorist group, before attacking him.

And I would simply say, looking backwards, if we could have pre-emptively gone
after al-Qaeda and removed the Taliban government in Afghanistan before
September 11th, wouldn't that have been a good idea? If we could have
pre-emptively removed Hitler, incidentally, wouldn't that have been a good
idea? In the past, we have waited until we were attacked. That's not
something I'm particularly proud of, frankly, to have waited till December of
1941 to get into the Second World War. Many historians--I think most of us in
school, even--learned that that was probably a mistake. That was due to a
kind of American isolationism, an inward-looking in the '30s.

So I think the exercise of this doctrine in Iraq is somewhat new, but when you
think about it, it's a reasonable decision to make given the dangers that are
out there.

GROSS: You're the chair of the group called the Project for a New American
Century, and the founding principles of this group--it says that the United
States should, among other things, `purposefully promote American principles
abroad,' and that certainly fits with the idea of trying to transform the
world through the spread of democracy. For example, going into Iraq,
overthrowing the regime, creating a democracy there in the hopes that
democracy will then take root and spread through the Middle East, which is an
idea that you endorse.

Joseph Cirincione, who was just on the show, said that you can't create
democracy through the point of bayonets, that you can't go and invade a
country and then create democracy there. That's not the way it's done.
What's your reaction to that?

Mr. KRISTOL: Well, of course, it is the way we've done it in Germany and
Japan and elsewhere. First of all...

GROSS: But Germany and Japan, that was after they were already defeated. You
know, there had been a long...

Mr. KRISTOL: Right. Well, we're not going to...

GROSS: ...war.

Mr. KRISTOL: it in Iraq...

GROSS: But I mean, we didn't go in there just, like, `We're going overturn
that regime and then create democracy.' Creating the democracy was a kind of
result after a long war that--it was just different.

Mr. KRISTOL: Well, we hear that--well, not that different, Terry. I mean,
here we're going to do it after a short war. And it's not the reason we're
doing it. I am not for invading every Arab country that's not a democracy and
imposing democracy.

Having judged that Saddam with weapons of mass destruction is unacceptable,
then the question becomes: Do we, as we've done in the past, in effect,
accept the substitution of one thug for another thug, or do we decide that
these deals we've been making with Arab dictators have been a mistake in many
respects, or whether they were justified or not 20 or 30 years ago, no longer
are really the way to go?

And having taken upon ourselves the responsibility of removing the regime in
Iraq, something I strongly support, I think it would be irresponsible to say,
`Well, we've taken out the current regime. Let's just let there be chaos or
let the strongest thug sort of take over.' We have some responsibility to try
to help the Iraqi government create a decent regime.

This is not quite as bold a departure as people say and, in fact, I would
challenge other people: Do they really want us to go to war and then not try
to create democracy afterwards?

GROSS: Well, the other option is to not go to war.

Mr. KRISTOL: Correct. No, no. That's a legitimate argument. In other
words, to say that the threat of Saddam with weapons of mass destruction is
not a decisive enough threat that it warrants this war. But having gone to
war, I actually think we have very little choice, as a country that believes
democracy is good for people and that believes that people have the right to
at least make a good effort to govern themselves, that we have the right once
we're, in effect, in control of the country, to help them set up a decent and
democratic government.

I also think it would have good effects elsewhere in the Middle East. I don't
believe that Arab nations are condemned forever not to have democracies, so
I'm very much for this. But again, it's not the prime reason for going to

GROSS: My guest is William Kristol, editor of the magazine The Weekly
Standard and chair of the think tank the Project for the New American Century.
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is William Kristol, editor of the magazine The Weekly
Standard and chair of the think tank the Project for the New American Century.
The project wrote a strategy paper in the year 2000 that some experts consider
a blueprint for the Bush administration's foreign policy, including the war in

Do you think that we might have underestimated the force of nationalism, that
although the people of Iraq hate Saddam Hussein, they don't necessarily like
the United States, they don't necessarily see us as their liberators? You
know, a lot of people in that part of the world see the United States as the
opponent, as the imperialist or the colonizer. Most of the people in the
United States are not Islam. A lot of the people in Iraq might hope that
there's an Islamic government if Saddam Hussein falls. The Shiites might be
hoping for an Islamic government, not an American-style democracy.

Mr. KRISTOL: Yeah. Well, there's several points there. Look--no,
nationalism makes a difference. An awful lot of Germans fought very hard
against the US in March of 1945, and they probably despised Hitler and knew
they were going to lose, for that matter. But there is a kind of nationalism
that rises up; that's inevitable. I would resist the notion, though, that
because some Iraqi troops and a few Iraqi irregulars are causing trouble for
the American force that that means that the great bulk of the Iraqi people are
hostile to the American invasion or are, you know, somehow supporting Saddam's
government against us.

Look, of course, many people in the Middle East aren't going to love America.
They're predominantly of a different religion than most Americans are, and
they may want to shape their lives in different ways than what they see on TV
as being the kind of American way of life, and that's certainly their right.
Now that doesn't mean that they deserve the really corrupt and tyrannical
governments they often have, and it doesn't mean that we can't play a role in
helping them. I don't think that we need to pretend that we're going to
create them in our own image; we just need to try to secure for them some
basic human rights that I think we do believe that everyone is entitled to.

And on this issue of the Shia in Iraq, I think there's been a certain amount
of, frankly, Terry, a kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow
the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to
establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no
evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular. The Shia, in most
Iraqi countries, are less fundamentalist and more inclined to be for some kind
of pluralism and tolerance since they're a minority in almost every Arab
country. And, of course, as a sect within Islam, they've been a minority
forever, really, for over a century.

So I'm reasonably hopeful about Iraq. It's not going to suddenly become, you
know, an American-style liberal democracy with everyone, you know, being
wonderfully tolerant and pluralistic and even politically correct to each
other. But America didn't become that overnight, either. And, you know, even
a somewhat fractious and a tense and a little bit unstable semidemocracy in
Iraq would be such an unbelievable improvement over the horrible brutality
they've been subject to that I'd be proud to help bring that about, and I
think it would have a good effect, actually, elsewhere in the Middle East.

GROSS: In talking about the Shia, what about Iran? I mean, the Iranian
government is a Shia fundamentalist government.

Mr. KRISTOL: It is, and that was, you know, a very unfortunate reaction to
the shah and to his mistakes, I think, in governing. And most of the Iranian
people--who as you absolutely correctly say are Shia--are very unhappy with
the Iranian government. And I think you would agree that almost every expert
on Iran believes that the huge majority of Iranian Shia, having experienced
fundamentalism for two decades, very much want a more liberal, pluralistic

I think one of the great agenda items for the US government over the next year
or two or three is helping foster and aid the forces for pluralism and
toleration in Iran. We can debate exactly how to do that: Do we help the
liberal reformers in the government, or do we help the student demonstrators
in the street and civil society? Do we do some of both? I think this is a
big challenge, actually, for the US government to be more imaginative in this
diplomacy in helping push Iran further down the path towards getting rid of
the theocratic government they're unfortunately saddled with. But I would
cite Iran precisely to prove my point; that, you know, a great majority of the
Iranian people who are Shia very much want a more pluralistic and liberal form
of government.

GROSS: The war in Iraq is, in a way, the first chapter in acting out a
doctrine that has existed for several years now, one that you've endorsed and
helped write, which has to do with pre-emptive action, acting unilaterally,
not necessarily in constant with the UN or even with NATO and trying to, you
know, overturn a regime that is not in the United States' best interest and
then trying to promote democracy there. Where do you see this heading after

Mr. KRISTOL: Well, that's an awfully--yeah.

GROSS: Like, for example, we're faced with regimes in Iran and with North

Mr. KRISTOL: Right.

GROSS: ...that look like they're about to become nuclear powers. North
Korea, in particular, could export nuclear weapons to terrorists if it wanted
to. Where do we go with those two countries if we follow the direction of

Mr. KRISTOL: Well, I think those are the two biggest challenges probably
facing us right after Iraq, as the president himself has basically said; he
said a year ago when he characterized those three as the axis of evil.
Iran--I think we have a very good shot at using political and diplomatic
pressure and inducements to bring about a peaceful, really, change of regime
there. I think we should help the Iranian people achieve regime change if we

The worrisome thing is the drive by the Iranian government to get nuclear
weapons. They're a couple of years away. You know, whether we can be much
stricter in terms of cutting off their access to certain things that have
helped them to develop these weapons. We've been pretty weak, I think, the US
government has, in pressuring countries like Russia and China to stop
proliferating material that could help other countries go nuclear.

In North Korea, we have a big problem. They already have a couple of nuclear
weapons, it looks like, and they have this ability to kill hundreds of
thousands probably of South Koreans if a war were to start and, in fact, some
tens of thousands of American troops there, too. But we can't let North
Korea--and I think there's bipartisan agreement on this. We can't let North
Korea become a nuclear assembly line. So we may have to again see if maybe we
can cut a deal with that regime, distasteful as that would be since it's such
a horrible regime, starving its own people. We may have to embargo or
quarantine North Korea. I suppose a military option has to be retained as a
sort of last option, though it's very risky and dangerous on that little
peninsula over there.

But look, these aren't choices that come from my doctrine or George Bush's
doctrine; these are choices that come from the real world. And the truth is
that if I had never written a word and The Weekly Standard went out of
business tomorrow, which I certainly hope doesn't happen, and, you know, if Al
Gore were president instead of George Bush, you'd still have a huge problem
with North Korea--Bill Clinton almost went to war with North Korea in
1994--and we'd still have a big challenge in Iran. So, you know, the real
world trumps all doctrines. In this case, we just have some real challenges
out there that have to be dealt with.

GROSS: Do you think we'll be dealing with these options with a weakened
United Nations and a weakened NATO, and how does that affect us?

Mr. KRISTOL: I think NATO--I'm a strong believer in NATO, and I think we can
strengthen it. Just last weekend, I and some of my colleagues in the Project
for the New American Century co-signed a letter with some Democrat mostly
former Clinton administration officials, many of them at Brookings--some of
them at Brookings--endorsing a stronger role for NATO in the reconstruction of
Iraq. And I think NATO--and what we say in this letter is that NATO could
actually play a big role in helping with some of the security tasks of a new

I'm more dubious about the UN. You know, I think it's mostly weakened itself.
I mean, since--the UN was, of course, pretty useless during the Cold War when
we were at loggerheads with the Soviets and we both had vetoes on the Security
Council. People had great hopes in the UN beginning in the '90s. And
obviously, in 1990, the first President Bush, in 1991, was able to use the UN
to put together the coalition in the Gulf. But since then, in all honesty,
it's not been a terribly useful instrument for dealing with major security
challenges. It can do lots of useful things in humanitarian aid and in
peacekeeping and in other respects, but it failed in the Balkans, basically,
and it failed, certainly, in Rwanda, and it hasn't been very, you know,
successful in dealing with Saddam. And I'm a little dubious, actually, about
the utility of the United Nations. This isn't, you know, a theological
position of mine; if it's useful, that's fine. I just think in practice, it
has not been terribly helpful in dealing with the real threats that are out

But I'm not a unilateralist. I mean, we need to work with other countries.
We may need to look at new institutional arrangements. We may need to look at
reviving or reforming older institutional arrangements, like the United
Nations Security Council. And again, this shouldn't be a partisan matter.
There's no reason, frankly, why American liberals should sort of have such a
theological faith in the UN, that they think that the current structure of the
UN Security Council is handed down from on high and that, you know, that has
to exist forever. You know, so I think a healthy debate could be had if we
can get beyond this unilateralist-multilateralist kind of name-calling. And I
think that's something that could happen over the next year or two and that
could be pretty helpful.

GROSS: My guest is William Kristol, editor of the magazine The Weekly
Standard and chair of the think tank the Project for the New American Century.
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is William Kristol, editor of the magazine The Weekly
Standard and chair of the think tank the Project for the New American Century.
The project wrote a strategy paper in the year 2000 that some experts consider
a blueprint for the Bush administration's foreign policy, including the war in

You have, you know, argued intellectually for a point of view that is now
actually being followed with the war in Iraq. And I'm wondering what it's
like for you to see something that had been, like, an intellectual point of
view, a theory that you deeply believed in and have written about--you've
published reports about it; it's been expressed a lot in your magazine, The
Weekly Standard. So this intellectual point of view, this theory, is now
actually being tested in Iraq. And the war looks like it's going to be a lot
longer than planned and people are dying on both sides. I'm just wondering
what it's like for you to see the idea tested in reality and to see the
consequences of the test. And I'm not saying that the idea is right or wrong,
but that, you know, once you start a war, there are consequences; there are
deaths on both sides. You know, even if the war ended in one day, there'd
probably have been deaths on both sides.

Mr. KRISTOL: Right.

GROSS: But--so what's it like for you to play out, particularly given that
things seem to be kind of chaotic right now?

Mr. KRISTOL: No--look, you're absolutely right. You know, one feels some
responsibility. Obviously, I'm certainly not a policy-maker, but I will say
this. I think whether it was Paul Wolfowitz or me or Bob Kegan, we're all
people who served in government, and we didn't develop this just as an
intellectual exercise. I mean, we've never been flip, I don't think, about
the kinds of things we were proposing. These weren't just, you know, mind
games to make people think outside the box. We thought these were the right
policies. And, you know, obviously, people are more than entitled to say,
`No, they're the wrong policies.' So in that respect it's not quite as
startling, perhaps, to see them in practice. We've always tried to think
through their implications in practice.

I'll give you one instance. In December of 1997, we had a cover Saddam Must
Go at The Weekly Standard. It was at the height of one of the crises with the
inspectors, and we had become convinced--in fact, Clinton had became convinced
that the inspection regime wasn't working and that we had to--and Clinton
threatened for us, in February '98, we thought we actually had to use force.
And one of the articles we had in that magazine, that issue, was by Fred
Kagan, who teaches military history at West Point, and it said we're going to
have to use ground troops to get rid of him. It says there's not going to be
an antiseptic bombing campaign, and we might even need to use a
quarter-million ground troops because this is a serious regime, it's a big
country and there'll be casualties.

So we've always--I think, to be fair to us, you know, we've always taken this
seriously, so I'm willing to be serious. And I think your question is right
about this. I mean, one has to be serious about the consequences of what
one's recommending and take some responsibility for it, or at least take some
responsibility for thinking it through seriously. And, you know, we'll have
to be judged by the results. I mean, does this ultimately contribute to a
safer world, to a safer country, to a better life for the people of Iraq or
not? And more broadly--excuse me--does our doctrine make sense? Is it a
better alternative for the world than the competing doctrines?

The one thing I'd say--I don't want to go on too long, but the one additional
point I'd make is, you know, the fairest way to compare, obviously, anyone's
proposals is to compare them with the other real-world alternatives. So, you
know, the question is: If we weren't pursuing this strategy, what other
strategy would we be pursuing and what would the risks and the costs of that
be? You know, you can't compare any strategy to sort of a best case. You
know, we'd all love a peaceful world with no Saddam, no tyranny, no horrible
brutality within Iraq, no weapons of mass destruction; that's not an
alternative. So the question is: Would moving in through war or counting on
inspections or accepting the fact that he has weapons of mass destruction?
Whatever. But one has to compare real-world alternatives, you know, not
unrealistic ones.

GROSS: Well, Bill Kristol, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. KRISTOL: My pleasure, Terry.

GROSS: William Kristol is the chair of the Project for the New American
Century, editor of The Weekly Standard and co-author of the new book "The War
Over Iraq."

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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