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Interview with Danielle Pletka - 2002-07-31


Next week, Iraqi opposition leaders are scheduled to meet with the U.S. State and Defense Departments, probably to discuss a transition from the rule of Saddam Hussein. But what are the chances for his overthrow or a military campaign led by the United States?

To answer those questions and others, we spoke with Danielle Pletka, Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy at the American Enterprise Institute, and a former staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Ms. Pletka spoke with David Borgida, host of VOA-TV’s “NewsLine” program.

MR. BORGIDA:
Here to help us, we hope, understand all of this, Danielle Pletka, a Foreign and Defense Policy Expert at Washington's American Enterprise Institute. Thank you, Ms. Pletka, for joining us today.

The issue I guess at hand for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where you once worked -- is containment a policy that is effective or is it not and should we think about a military strike in Iraq? Where do you think at the moment the Bush administration stands on all this?

MS. PLETKA:
I think that they have concluded that after 10 years, containment isn't working. It is not going to continue to work. The tools really are not at our disposal any more, and that we are going to have to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

MR. BORGIDA:
The administration is also announcing that it is holding a meeting, presumably in the next few weeks, with Iraqi opposition leaders, who met weeks ago in London on this very topic. What is the goal of a meeting like this, to get everybody on the same page as it were?

MS. PLETKA:
I hope so. One of the problems with not having a very aggressive policy towards Saddam Hussein over the last few years, and particularly before the Bush administration, was that the Iraqi opposition spent a lot more time fighting with each other than they did worrying about fighting Saddam. I think that the Bush administration has started to focus on that. And that is one of the reasons why they are bringing them in at the end of next week. They have six senior opposition leaders who they are going to call in. They are going to be meeting with the Department of Defense and the Department of State.

And I hope very much that the message is going to be, okay, guys, here we are. We're all together. This is what we want you to do. This is how it's going to work. And we want you to stop fighting with each other.

MR. BORGIDA:
But if they can be on the same page as it were, is the ultimate goal to get them to work together to undermine Saddam Hussein in Iraq?

MS. PLETKA:
That's an excellent question. I think that what role the opposition plays is a very open question. I think a lot of people who follow this know that in previous years there was hope that the United States wouldn't really have to commit any ground troops at all to the removal of Saddam Hussein, and that we could have an almost opposition?only strategy -- a little bit like Afghanistan. In fact, I think that has changed -- what the role of the opposition can be is. First of all, there are opposition forces on the ground. The Kurds have tens of thousands of peshmerga Kurdish fighters. The Shiites in the south have a lot of forces on the ground.

How can we work with them? How can we coordinate? But, more importantly, and I think this is actually the most important aspect, what are we going to do once we get rid of Saddam Hussein?

MR. BORGIDA:
Be careful what you wish for.

MS. PLETKA:
Yes. And that's why you need to talk to the people who want to bring democratic transition to Iraq. You talk to them. You see what role they can play. You see whether they can work together, subsume the differences that exist inside Iraq, and whether they can represent a transition to leadership.

MR. BORGIDA:
Well, the fact is, though, Ms. Pletka, that there are a number of countries in Europe and in the Middle East that are not particularly happy with the notion of any U.S. air strike or attack against Iraq, correct? And the United States and the West needs their support. Is that another reason why the Bush administration is moving a little more towards a more active diplomatic tack here?

MS. PLETKA:
I think active diplomacy is important. Clearly we want our allies to be behind us. Whether we want our allies with us or not I think is perhaps a less important question. I think we can go in. I think the British will be with us. I think there are a number of other countries whose support we are going to require. The Turks, for example, are imperative to any operation in Iraq.

But the idea that we should decide not to do this because there are palpitations in European capitals -- if that's the case, we are never going to do anything -- anything at all, not just in Iraq.

MR. BORGIDA:
Let's focus, just in about the minute or so we have left, on the military strike issue. There have been a number of leaks in newspapers in the United States about what a potential plan might entail. But it is pretty clear that it won't be easy if the United States, with or without its allies' support, intends to take a strike at Saddam Hussein and undermine his leadership, true?

MS. PLETKA:
I don't agree with you. I don't want to be cavalier about American forces or about any human life, but I don't believe that the people who allege that this is going to be a monstrous campaign, with lots of deaths and great difficulty, are correct. I think there are plenty of good arguments to be made that this will be easier than a lot of people think.

MR. BORGIDA:
The views of Danielle Pletka, a Foreign Policy and Defense Expert at Washington's American Enterprise Institute. Thank you so much for your time.

MS. PLETKA:
My pleasure.

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