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Debate on the Merits of U.S. Occupation of Iraq

Aired June 27, 2003 - 12:37   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Dangerous duty and getting more dangerous, apparently, every day. Since May 1, when President Bush declared major combat operations in Iraq over, more than 1 American service member, on average, has died each day.
Should they stay or should they be brought home? Let's get some analysis. Joining us, two special guests here in Washington Joel Mowbray, with "The National Review" in San Francisco. Norman Solomon with the Institute for Public Accuracy. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Norman, let me begin with you, should they stay, cut their losses and come home?

NORMAN SOLOMON, INSTITUTE FOR PUBLIC ACCURACY: Well, I think the U.S. troops should step aside and let the United Nations come in. I don't expect that to happen because the White House has other priorities. But I think it would be better for the United States, it would be better for the people of Iraq.

Clearly the occupation is a mess. It's degenerating, there's been no electricity for four days straight, this week, in Baghdad. And the prudent thing would be for the United Nations to come in and the U.S. give up its current priority, which I believe are geopolitical positioning, access to future U.S. military bases in Iraq, and of course, oil, that's good for George Bush's buddies in corporate America. It's not good for people in Iraq or the people of the United States.

BLITZER: All right, Joel, go ahead.

JOEL MOWBRAY, "THE NATIONAL REVIEW": Oh boy, I just keep hearing the same old leftist conspiracy theories being drug out, decade after decade. Big oil, George Bush, and his buddies.

Look, the fact of the matter is, we liberated the people of Iraq and now we're there to make sure that the job is complete. Because you can't win the war and lose the peace. And we are in a real danger of that if we pull out. Plus, we could have a redux of Somalia. I don't think anyone wants to have that. Because then what you'll have is open season on American servicemen everywhere around the world. Because if they believe that by shooting and killing a few Americans that Americans will then pull out, it makes them more likely to kill Americans.

BLITZER: But Joel, what about the main point that Norman made, let the U.N. take over, get those U.S. troops out of there? MOWBRAY: Well, since when has the U.N. ever done a successful job at any thing, let alone nation building, and bringing about democracy in a country like Iraq. I don't think they're capable of and partly because they might not even believe in the institutions of democracy. Remember this is a playground for dictators and tyrants.

SOLOMON: You have to ask, though, what kind of job the U.S. has done as occupiers there, legally, through internationally obligated to provide basic services, in fact, the priorities of the U.S. has been to protect the Oil Ministry and protect the Interior Ministry when Baghdad fell, where the secret police files are kept, not protect the libraries, the archives or the hospitals or health care facilities.

No water for millions of people in Iraq. No electricity and sweltering heat. What kind of job is the U.S. doing? I think we need some kind of decency to prevail rather than the opportunistic goals of the Bush administration in the Middle East. And you can throw all the labels you want, the reality speaks for themselves.

BLITZER: Alright, Joel.

MOWBRAY: Have you have been reading the retraction after retraction after retraction. All those stories that hyped the failures of the U.S., as you call it, occupation of Iraq, it turns out that most of them were hype and overheated. It turns out that the United States has been doing a wonderful job in Iraq, and given all the circumstances, don't forget, we have Ba'athists there right now who are trying to make things very difficult for the United States.

Saddam Hussein, before the fall of the regime, predicted that this would be like the invasion of Mongolians back some 700 years ago. And his loyalist are doing their best to make sure that there is chaos in Iraq.

SOLOMON: Excuse me, if you looked at the actual coverage of reality on the ground, you see shambles you have -- it may be easy for you in air conditioned offices in Washington or wherever -- to say, hey it doesn't matter. But no electricity or water in the summer in Baghdad. I can tell you I've been there in the autumn, people are dying and, by the way, there are thousands of components of cluster munitions that the U.S. army left, blowing up some of them in children's hands.

The U.S. priorities are very far from the health and well being of people in Iraq. The U.N. might have different priorities, hopefully it would.

BLITZER: Joel, I want to respond to that, but I want you to respond in context to this e-mail we got from Mark, Instead of fighting a conventional war Saddam had no chance of winning, he planned a covert guerrilla war. Now he has Bush right where he wants him, with Iraqis around every corner waiting to pounce. What do you say to Mark?

MOWBRAY: Well, I think Saddam Hussein would have rather have had Bush in a position where the U.S. military had lost the war. But that said, of course, he's doing what he's planned to do in the case of losing, which is to make life very difficult for Americans there.

And I think that there's some people who are always going find sinister motives for the U.S. That they don't like America. And so they're going to do everything they can to somehow blame America.

Take a look at France after the end of world war II. Thirty thousand people died there. They're revenge killings, they were retribution killings that normally follow this sort of thing. We're talking over three decades of tyranny that has reigned over Iraq and to have so few deaths is amazing, and, yes, the electricity grid has been a problem, but again that's because of sabotage from committed Ba'athists who remain loyal to Saddam Hussein and doing everything they can to create these problems.

BLITZER: Norman, what do you say to those people who say, look, it's only been -- what -- two months or so since the war. The major combat is over. You got to give the U.S. military personnel some time to try to get this reconstruction project off the ground. You can't lose patience simply in two months?

SOLOMON: Yes, well it's easy for us to say from far away. But the fact is, the military did a superb bang-up job of planning to win the war. It had very little interest, based on the actual -- on the ground realities and the plans we know about, to secure any kind of meaningful security and peace for the people who are there.

So we can't have it both ways. If the U.S. claims to be liberators. Why more and more do so many people in Iraq treat the U.S. as occupiers. The flowers, the parades, the warm greetings have not materialized, instead, it is looking increasingly like a guerrilla nationalist war.

BLITZER: You know, let me just weigh in on this with this email from Dave who writes this, I heard the survey of Iraqis, where 65 percent are reported to want the coalition forces to stay until a new government is well established. And yet we hear almost nothing positive coming out of Iraq.

Apparently that survey was in a Baghdad -- a new Iraqi newspaper -- called "al-Mutamur" (ph) which went out and interviewed some, I guess, 620 people on the streets of Baghdad. What do say, Norman, to the people who say, you know, we're seeing little snippets here and there, but by and large the Iraqi people are breathing freely. There are newspapers, radio stations out there. They no longer have the Ba'ath party and Saddam Hussein torturing them and killing them.

SOLOMON: Yes, well the good part. The bad part is, while the U.S. officials are talking about democracy, the head administrator for the United States, Paul Bremer, has banned statements in that so- called free press that call for the ejection of U.S. occupying troops from Iraq.

So on the one hand, we are talking democracy. On the other hand, those U.S. troops are part of a policy apparatus, coming out of Washington, that's trying to suppress democracy if it doesn't go the way that Washington wants it to go. BLITZER: Alright, Joel, 10 seconds. You have the final word.

MOWBRAY: I just think it's very funny that Norman says the military did a bang-up job when, at least, his colleagues certainly didn't say that before, during the military campaign. And the Iraqi people, today, are better off then they where under Saddam Hussein. And that is a fact.

BLITZER: Alright, we're going to leave it right there. Joel Mowbray and Norman Solomon, a good solid debate.

SOLOMON: Thank you.

MOWBRAY: Thanks.

BLITZER: We'll have both of you back. Thanks very much.


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