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Interview with Jon Alterman - 2003-03-04


MR. BORGIDA:
And joining us to discuss all of this, Jon Alterman, the Director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington, D.C. Thanks, Mr. Alterman, for joining us.

MR. ALTERMAN:
Thank you.

MR. BORGIDA:
A complicated time in which we're living at the moment. Let's go right to the Turkish situation, which is very delicate at the moment. How serious do you think this is? And what are the ramifications for any U.S. effort to disarm Iraq militarily?

MR. ALTERMAN:
Well, it certainly is important from a military perspective. And Secretary Cohen [Rumsfeld] suggested there are some work-arounds from the military perspective. It's my sense that it's more important from a political perspective. The U.S. says it's going to disarm Iraq to protect Iraq's neighbors. When one of Iraq's neighbors says, no, you can't do it from my soil, that adds to a sense of momentum that I think some other people think may be building -- in France and in Russia and other places -- saying, we're not going to sit by and take this lying down.

MR. BORGIDA:
Well, there is the suggestion that there will be a second vote in parliament as early as Tuesday. With the Turkish public opinion so overwhelmingly against their involvement, what do you think is going to happen here?

MR. ALTERMAN:
Just before I came to the studio, somebody told me they think the vote is going to be three weeks off, that there is no way that the Turkish leadership is going to push for an early vote. They're going to wait and probably see what happens in the next few weeks.

MR. BORGIDA:
Let's talk a little bit about the neighborhood, the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates is suggesting that Saddam leave. How much do you think the other neighbors will be embracing this notion?

MR. ALTERMAN:
I think a lot of people want Saddam to leave. They want to avoid a war. They just don't want to come out and say it. I think one of the fascinating real differences between now and 1991-92 is there really is no support for Saddam Hussein in the Arab world. I remember being in Jordan and in Syria in the summer of 1991 and seeing all sorts of pictures of Saddam Hussein on a white horse as the hero. Saddam Hussein isn't the hero. People understand that Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator and a murderer; they're just not sure that a U.S. plan to force Iraq to disarm is the solution to the region's problems.

MR. BORGIDA:
So, explain to our viewers, why is there this divergence between public and private conversations between diplomats, if many of these countries are saying they want him out privately and publicly they're on the fence a little bit?

MR. ALTERMAN:
I think publicly there is a lot of reservation about the U.S. role in the world. We see this in Western Europe, we see it in the Arab world. We see a lot of opposition to U.S. policy, especially on the Arab-Israeli conflict. So, there is a public sense that the U.S. really isn't our friend. And I think the administration is trying to work through that, both in the President's speech this past week and also from the Middle East Partnership Initiative and other things. The governments look at Saddam Hussein and say he is a menace and we do have to have the U.S. do it, let's just do it in a way that's not going to hurt us at home politically.

MR. BORGIDA:
We're going to be talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a moment, in a subsequent report, but I would like to ask you, since President Bush framed this debate the other day, referring to the Middle East conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how is all this playing in those terms? There is continuing conflict on the ground there.

MR. ALTERMAN:
There is continuing conflict. I think there is incredible cynicism in the Middle East now, that the U.S. is serious about playing an active role in solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. There is a sense that the U.S. has signed up with Ariel Sharon. I think it's up to the administration to make the case that no, in fact, the U.S. is going to play this broker role that the U.S. has traditionally played and it's going to push for a solution, as the President said, his personal guarantee, after we're done with Iraq.

MR. BORGIDA:
And Vladimir Putin, let's shift north, in about the minute or so that we have left. The Russia card. Is the U.S.-Russian relationship frayed because of this crisis?

MR. ALTERMAN:
I can't imagine that Vladimir Putin is going to sacrifice the relationship he has carefully built with George Bush for the benefit of Saddam Hussein. It just doesn't make sense to me. I think, when push comes to shove, the Russians will be on board.

MR. BORGIDA:
Very interesting thoughts. Well, we've taken you from the Middle East up to Russia, with Jon Alterman, Director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Thanks so much for joining us today.

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