WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- Former Secretary of State Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr. said Monday Syria, not Iraq, should be the next target in the war against international terrorism. His comments came in an exclusive interview with United Press International's Editor at Large, Arnaud de Borchgrave.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
Q (de Borchgrave) -- What did the United States do right in Afghanistan and what did it do wrong? And what lessons have we learned for the future?
A (Haig) -- We didn't do anything wrong, but among the lessons learned, given the magnitude of the problems we now face in Afghanistan, a major U.S. force on the ground would convince the world we were in for the long-haul recovery of a country devastated by 21 years of warfare. We lost interest in Afghanistan and left it in the lurch after the Soviets pulled out in 1989 -- and paid a terrible price for our shortsightedness, witness the emergence of Taliban and its alliance with al Qaida. If we are to thwart another round of warlordism and tribal warfare, such as what followed the Soviet withdrawal, and encourage the Afghans to get on with rebuilding their own nation, U.S. assistance, diplomacy and a muscular military presence will be required.
In Desert Storm, we had too many troops; in Afghanistan probably not enough for the major commitment we have made. President Bush and his team did a superb job winning the war, and we need to remember how he achieved maximum success despite a number of formidable restraints. The United States first had to negotiate with Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for basing rights to bridge enormous distances to a land-locked Afghanistan.
Q -- Is a lack of an institutional memory and a sense of history to blame for the crises that seem to hit us with tedious regularity in that part of the world?
A -- You have to look at the history of the Middle East in particular. It has been one of failure and frustration, of feudalism and tribalism, of Pan Arabism under Egypt's (Gamal Abdel) Nasser and its flirtation with the Soviet Union, then a flirtation with the Western world which led to more frustration when our great victory over the Iraqi aggressor left Saddam Hussein in power who then became a hero to the Arab masses because of Clinton's woefully inadequate and weak Iraqi policy. Then you look at Iran, which became the crucible of fundamentalism coupled with terrorism, a situation we totally misread. Prior to his takeover of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini was camping near Paris, giving daily news conferences to a fawning international press corps without a murmur of complaint to France from the United States about the disaster it was coddling in the incredibly naïve liberal belief that this extremist cleric would be an improvement over the Shah. For years we leaned on the Shah for land reform, which led to the expropriation of the massive land holdings of the clergy, which, in turn, triggered the clergy's revolution against the monarchy. And when the Shah found himself in trouble, we quite literally stabbed him in the back. It didn't take long for the world to realize that the Shah was an enlightened liberal next to the bloody reactionary regime that followed, and which executed more people in three months than the Shah had done in 30 years.
Then came the hostage crisis during which Carter did nothing to rattle the ayatollahs who hung tough until Ronald Reagan was inaugurated when they suddenly backed down. After that we saw the killing of 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French soldiers in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983. But the two culprits -- Syria and Iran -- got away scot-free.
Q -- You mean the United States and its allies never understood that terrorism was a transnational terrorism?
A -- Exactly right. We contributed to its attractiveness among people who were frustrated and disenfranchised. Fundamentalism was the first of two perversions. Nation states converted guerrilla warfare into terrorism to conduct asymmetrical warfare against the world's only superpower. Sun Tzu said 2,500 years ago that successful guerrillas float on the sea of people. The Bush administration understood early on that the particular perversion we saw with Taliban and al Qaida required coalitions to defeat it, but not coalitions for the sake of coalitions. And as Secretary (of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld has stated with great clarity, the mission decides the coalition and not the coalition deciding the mission, which is what happened in Iraq.
Q -- So this should not deter the United States if Iraq is the next target?
A -- Or Syria.
Q -- So you think Syria's a possibility?
A -- Syria is a terrorist state by any definition and is so classified by the State Department. I happen to think Iran is too. Iraq, Iran, Syria, they're all involved. If al Qaida terrorists need a favor, such as safe houses, you can bet your bottom dollar that Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad would not hesitate to accommodate them. And all these groups are protected by these states which makes them sponsors of state terrorism and therefore potential targets in President Bush's global war against terrorism, when the footprints, that is, are clearly established.
Q -- Where are the footprints clearer -- Iraq or Syria?
A -- It's clearer in Syria than in Iraq. This doesn't mean that Iraq isn't a more venal threat. If it's proven that Iraq has provided aid and succor to international terrorist groups -- and we're not just talking al Qaida, which is just another tentacle that has enjoyed the most success and was leading the attack against the United States, but its defeat in Afghanistan didn't neutralize the venality of other tentacles, such as Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah.
Q -- And what is the second perversion you mentioned earlier?
A -- The first one is guerrilla warfare transformed into terrorism that singles out non-combatants, innocent civilians, including women and children. The objective is to spread fear to break the morale of the target country. The second perversion is what has been done to Islam, a pacific religion that believes in the rule of law and peaceful change.
Q -- But radical Islam is at war with the United States. So how does one separate fundamentalism from anti-U.S. and anti-Israel radicalism?
A -- That's where the perversion comes in. If they analyze the situation as thoroughly as they should, Muslims will realize they are the first targets. What are the fundamentalists really after? Simply taking over Islam and then turning its back on modernity. The House of Saud would be the first to go so the Saudi royal family's policy of exporting Wahhabi fundamentalism to buy peace at home is shortsighted in the extreme and has now been proved to be tantamount to funding terrorist-prone organizations from Indonesia to North Africa.
Q -- So what is the Bush administration attempting to do about this kind of extremism?
A -- It's an enlightened approach that keeps trying to separate classic Islam from radical Islam. What the fundamentalists are doing is a total negation of their own faith -- encouraging and lionizing suicide bombers and killing women and children, hardly in keeping with the teachings of Prophet Mohammed.
Q -- To what degree has the U.S. campaign against transnational terrorism been hurt by the fact that Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammad Omar have eluded U.S. forces so far?
A -- Anyone who believes that doesn't understand the nature of this war. We went in there and in 60 days with unprecedented use of precision weapons we wiped out both Taliban and al Qaida's extensive infrastructure in that country. To rebuild that in another country will be impossible as the most likely candidates are under a U.S. magnifying glass. Unlike Kosovo or Bosnia, we had precise targeting with an on the ground presence of Special Forces and anti-Taliban militia, equipped with sat phones and GPS to laser paint targets. It was not accompanied by a large ground presence.
Q -- Which you think was a mistake?
A -- I didn't say that. We did what we were able to do.
Q -- In other words, we didn't have the wherewithal for a large ground presence?
A -- With all the commitments that were made by the previous (Clinton) administration, and a continued reduction in our manpower base in all the services, we should be asking ourselves whether or not we have sufficient forces to cope with a global war against terrorism that involves several nation states. Sooner or later something had to give. But President Bush, faced with the unprecedented affront of 9-11, could not wait to take action. So he had to do what we were capable of doing and he did it brilliantly.
Q -- Can he take on Iraq without the tens of thousands of men and women such an intervention would presumably require?
A -- We have to recognize that we had far more people over there the first time than we ever needed. The Gulf War itself was fought essentially by two units.
Q -- So what would the United States need next time?
A -- About 100,000 combat troops.
Q -- Unlike bin Laden and Omar in Afghanistan whose capture you said was not essential to success, this time Saddam and his regime would be the principal targets.
A -- So far, what we know is that Saddam's problem is very independent of al Qaida that organized and executed the monstrous crime of 9-11. Saddam is not part of a transnational terrorist network. Which is not to say he is not a threat to the entire Gulf region with his growing arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Because he is.
Q -- And as some Gulf leaders told you after the Gulf War, we had failed because we didn't go after the snake's head. So surely Saddam himself becomes critical to the next round's success?
A -- First and foremost we must go after hydra-headed al Qaida's global tentacles. These Islamist terrorists look upon their defeat in Afghanistan as the loss of a piece of real estate on the larger canvas of Islamist fundamentalist extremism that has developed roots in some 40 Muslim countries and which has cells all over the Western world, including the United States. Iraq doesn't belong on this canvas. International terrorism continues to be the enemy and continues to be the mission. So Iraq is not an immediate priority. There are several factors that will determine future targets. First of all, our capability to deal with it effectively and efficiently. Also evidence of their culpability, conflicting priorities with other objectives, and how much time we have before the venality of these regimes becomes a bigger threat than the evidence we have.
Q -- But hasn't culpability been proved in Iraq in the context of international terrorism?
A -- There's a great deal of culpability in Iraq for the past 10 years, but not necessarily as a branch of Global Terror, Inc. Iraq is a substantial target, but not an insurmountable one. We've proven that. And it won't be as tough a nut next time as Iraq is now a much-weakened state. But we still have to assess the situation against our worldwide commitments, our current force levels and capabilities, our priorities for dealing with transnational terrorism, and our intelligence with respect to the nature of the targets we develop.
Q -- Would you take a bet on Saddam not being in power a year from now?
A -- No, I wouldn't take a bet on the timing. But I am very confident that unless he changes his ways -- and that includes authorizing detailed inspections, even though he has leaned the lessons of earlier inspection years and now has everything well hidden -- his regime is doomed.
Q -- Why is the United States still stationing 70,000 troops in Germany?
A -- A lot of good reasons for that. This presence is the basis for our influence in the European region and for the cooperation of allied nations whose security it enhances. A lot of people forget it is also the bona fide of our economic success. The presence of U.S. troops keeps European markets open to us. If those troops weren't there, those markets would probably be more difficult to access.
Q -- I didn't forget. I just didn't know that if the United States didn't maintain 70,000 troops in Germany, European markets might be closed to American goods and services.
A -- On occasion, even with our presence, we have confronted protectionism in a number of industries, such as automotive and aerospace. In addition to economic benefits derived from our presence in Europe, there is perhaps an even more important diplomatic and political benefit.
Q -- But the United States is not defending Europe against anything anymore.
A -- That's what we hope for and the situation with Russia is beginning to look encouraging. But you have to remember how quickly geopolitical situations changed in the 20th century. In 1904, Japan suddenly burst onto the world stage by sinking the entire Russian fleet in one day. Four years before the war to end all wars, an international bestseller -- "The Great Illusion" by Norman Angell -- posited that the economic interdependence of the major powers had made war unthinkable. In 1920, the Soviet Union was the basket case of Europe -- starvation, hunger, people dying by the hundreds of thousands, a government at war with its own people, and pretty soon 20 million dead. But a short 10 years later -- the distance between the Gulf War and today -- they became the largest military threat in Europe. Hitler topped that in six years, from 1933 to 1939. So we're not living in snapshots of time. We're living in evolutionary times, pushed by ever-faster technological change that can give smaller players capabilities undreamed of by major powers half a century ago. All this dictates we remain vigilant with our guard up. We're opening up to President Putin, trying to cooperate with him. And Putin has made clear Russia belongs in the Western camp.
Q -- So why not move faster on this track to lock things in to a larger alliance? NATO allies have adopted the G7-meeting-one-day-and-becoming-G8-with-Russia-next-day formula and applied it to NATO 19 morphing to NATO 20 with Russia in the space of the same conference. So why not have Russia inside NATO? Wouldn't that be an incentive for Moscow to move faster toward the rule of law and genuine democracy?
A -- If you make the case for Russia in NATO, then there would be no reason for NATO. You would have to rechristen it and change its overall objective.
Q -- What about the need to face common transnational threats that now loom larger than Russia as a potential threat?
A -- Responding to global threats that are not specifically focused on one of NATO's members would complicate the implementation of Article V of the NATO treaty.
Q -- But Article 5 was invoked the day after 9-11 by the European allies who solemnly declared that the attack against America was an attack against them all. They were referring to transnational terrorism. Therefore, the same enemy threatens Russia the same way -- witness non-Chechens fighting the Russian army in Chechnya and Chechens fighting with al Qaida in Afghanistan. And China is also threatened by Islamist terrorists. Doesn't all this militate in favor of a new global security system?
A -- Well, I think all that has begun. In fact, it's made some people in Europe quite nervous. It's made some Americans nervous. But it's a wise and prudent thing. It has to be done at a very measured pace.
Q -- In what way has President Bush moved toward a new global security system?
A -- The Warsaw speech when he said Russia is no longer our enemy, that NATO wants to cooperate with them, and he didn't discount future NATO membership for Russia.
Q -- Would you favor that?
A -- It depends on many things that are yet to take place.
Q -- Wouldn't NATO membership for Russia encourage Moscow toward real democracy at a faster pace?
A -- It depends on what Russia wants. If they genuinely want to move to full democracy and a market economy governed by the rule of law, it would be hard to argue against it. We don't have enemies just because we need enemies. You have enemies because they are enemies. As for your remark about Chechnya, there is an awful lot to be said for the fact that Russian policies in Chechnya are still unacceptable.
Q -- You mean their methods, rather than the target?
A -- Russia signed a treaty with Chechnya that promised a large measure of autonomy that was never delivered. Out of an understandable motivation to try to improve relations with Russia and make them an ally instead of an enemy in the struggle against terrorism, because they are indeed threatened by Muslim fundamentalism in a geopolitical sense, we should never endorse a violation of Western values, such as the indiscriminate use of military power against innocent civilians. That's what's going on in Chechnya.
Q -- Isn't it a colonial problem similar to Algeria that was once considered to be an integral part of metropolitan France and where the French used indiscriminate force to suppress aspirations for independence until President (Charles) De Gaulle cast Algeria loose a an independent country?
A -- It should be negotiated by Russia according to solemn undertakings that were never implemented.
Q -- But you have quite a few al Qaida Arabs fighting the Russian "infidel" in Chechnya.
A -- I think that's questionable.
Q -- I've met Arabs who fought in Chechnya. Some of the teachers in Pakistani madrassas (religious schools) are veterans of Chechnya.
A -- I'd be careful about overdramatizing that aspect.
Q -- Quite a few of al Qaida's foreign legionnaires captured in Afghanistan were Chechens.
A -- I think you'll find that most of them were Saudis. You'd better get the figures on that. You'll find that the Russians are using a handful as a justification for genocide.
Q -- Going around the world, what can the United States do to try to weave China into a web of mutual interests with America?
A -- We could begin by refraining from gratuitous insults. Our interventionism in China's internal affairs is something we committed not to do in the Shanghai and subsequent communiqués. And yet we've proceeded to do just that with increased intensity, especially during Clinton's eight years in the White House. How can we expect China to live up to its commitments when we don't live up to ours? I happen to think that if this kind of meddling in their internal affairs, the constant critical carping, economic punishments and so forth, would produce results, I'd be more than willing to reconsider my position. But the fact is that interventionism usually aggravates the improvement in human rights and sets things back.
That's also been the history in Haiti, Somalia and wherever else we've been involved, Iran being the prime case in point. So how is the best way to promote our values, whether it's human rights or a market economy? By example and by success, that's how. John Adams said that back in the early days of the republic. He was very leery of this proclivity of democracies to try to create mirror images of themselves around the world. The conditions for what we are today do not exist in large parts of the world. So we ought to be far more patient. Most of our posturing is done by politicians for domestic political gain, not to achieve results around the world.
Q -- Should the United States defend Taiwan in case of attack by China?
A -- Of course.
Q -- But you don't believe China will ever attack?
A -- We shouldn't delude ourselves that throwing Taiwan over the side would enhance our relationship with the People's Republic of China. Just the opposite. Because what Chinese leaders would say to themselves is, "today it's Taiwan, tomorrow it will be us." And that's what the rest of the world would say too. We have commitments and we have to live by them. But we shouldn't go around rattling sabers and we shouldn't let either Taiwan or China go around influencing our think tanks and Hill lobbies against the Executive branch's policies.
Q -- What specifically can the United States do to weave China into a web of mutual interests with America?
A -- Anything we do in the Far East vis-à-vis the major powers there -- China, Japan, India, Pakistan, and Indonesia -- should take into account how the others might react. Anything we do with China should not come as a surprise to Japan and vice versa. We too frequently operate in a strictly bilateral context, thus ignoring the interests of other major players in the region.
Q -- Last May, Lee Kuan Yew told UPI that outside of Islamist fundamentalism and an Islamist nuclear bomb one day, the biggest threats he could see 10 years out were the twin challenges to the status quo by China and India.
A -- He certainly didn't mean Chinese imperialism but China's global economic clout. Chinese history, contrary to popular belief in some circles, has not been imperialistic. They are indeed aggressive but only when it comes to what they perceive as their sovereign rights.
Q -- Doesn't your concern about U.S. emphasis on bilateral relationships as opposed to a larger multilateral context militate in favor of a new global security system.
A -- A prime example of what I'm alluding to is the way we mishandled the Pakistani nuclear issue. Pakistan was sitting alongside a historic enemy, a regional colossus with 1 billion people that had launched a nuclear weapons capability as early as 1974 when India conducted its first nuclear test. There were no complaints from the United States or any other Western country at that time. So Pakistan decided it could not look forward to a peaceful future with a nuclear-armed hostile giant on its eastern border and opted to go the route of a comparable nuclear deterrent. So then the United States decided to punish Pakistan with all sorts of punitive sanctions. And now we wonder why anti-U.S. fundamentalism found roots in Pakistan and then spread to Afghanistan. Throughout the Cold War, Pakistan was a close ally and friend, and we worked very closely together to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan. They even gave us base rights. And then in 1989, we not only walked away but also started punishing them. Now President Bush is very sensitive to all of this and is determined to restore our relationship to its halcyon days. Pakistan deserves nothing less. President (Pervez) Musharraf has taken tremendous risks for U.S. interests. This time we cannot renege on this new commitment and change policies whenever there's a change in administrations.
Q -- What about Congress then?
A -- That's part of our system, but let me tell you the Pakistani disaster was the handiwork of a single senator -- Larry Pressler (R, S.D.) -- who led the anti-Pakistani charge, blissfully unaware of the geopolitical mess he was creating. I had many arguments with him but he was geopolitically myopic.
There are exceptions, of course, but as a general rule whenever Congress tries to micro-manage foreign affairs, it does more harm than good. When the Executive branch fails is when that Congressional appetite grows as it did n Vietnam. The Executive had bad policies. Congress and the media knew that. But few of them understood why it was bad policy.
Q -- With the visible part of the war against terrorism virtually over -- with only one U.S. soldier killed n action thus far -- and a new invisible phase already underway in places like Yemen, Somalia and a jungle-covered island in the Philippines, how does one keep public opinion from losing interest and lapsing back into a ho-hum mode like the war against drugs.
A -- An extremely complicated and difficult task that has many facets -- economic, political, psychological, religious, military. That's why the president said the easy part is over and the tough part is only just beginning. So it's a reflection of good leadership, of the success quotient of the president in whatever he's doing, and so far that's been good, and it's a question of patience on the pat of the people when we know that democracies are historically impatient. It means a legislature that stays supportive and doesn't sink into partisan warfare, which now threatens as we approach the next election cycle.