T. Wheeler made headlines when he published an essay under the pseudonym,
"Spartacus," criticizing Congress' readiness to load Defense
bills down with patronage and lucractive political payoffs in the
wake of Al Qaeda's attack on the World Trade Center ("Mr. Smith
Is Dead: No One Stands in the Way as Congress Lards Post-September
11 Defense Bills with Pork"). After a 31-year career working
on national security issues in key positions on numerous Senate staffs
and at the GAO, where he directed
major, multi-volume, ground breaking studies on the US strategic triad
and the air campaign of Operation Desert Storm, Wheeler
is now a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Center for Defense Information.
He is also writing a book about his career on Capitol Hill. Global
Beat talked with Winslow Wheeler about the administration's emphasis
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and the chances for success of
the White House's new strategy for the Middle East.
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BEAT: Does it really matter if the administration exaggerated
the threat of weapons of mass destruction in order to justify going
to war with Iraq?
Winslow T. Wheeler: I very much think it does.
Some members of Congress have talked about an investigation to get
to the bottom of it. I have zero expectations that they will find
anything. The Republican Chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence
committees are not about to find fundamental problems with the work
of their own president, especially with the presidential campaign
getting hot. It is not going to happen. It is not in the system.
The staff system is not set up to encourage them to find anything
fundamental or serious, and if some miscreant staffer were to come
up with some important information, they are at liberty to fire
him. He has no protection. So Congress is not going to get to the
bottom of this. It is going to take some other non-political organization
like the press.
But the press in this country has been demonstrating in the last
decade or so that it has forgotten how to be professional. The press
is atrocious on defense and national security issues. During Operation
Iraqi Freedom, I pretty much gave up on most American newspapers.
There were some journalists who did good work, but I pretty much
found the European press to be far more informative about Iraq than
the American press. Case one is the Jessica Lynch story. The American
press bought the DOD story hook-line-and-sinker. It took the BBC
to research it, and the U.K. press to come out with the expose.
The American press still hasn’t figured out what to do with
it. It is pitiful. I am not optimistic that anybody in this country
is going to get to the bottom of it and do some work that will change
public opinion about it.
GLOBAL BEAT: Why is it so important? After all,
Saddam was a monster, and many people feel that the world is better
off without him.
Winslow T. Wheeler: If the president had wanted
to make that case, he should have. But that is not the case that
the president made. The case he made was that Saddam was a threat
to us, and that the threat was weapons of mass destruction. That
is the case he made. I am not particularly interested in a president
who presents a disingenuous case for going to war. Even if you support
president Bush, why should you believe him? It has all sorts of
consequences. The people who wanted to go to war with Iraq are saying
that it is not a big deal, and that the son-of-a-bitch was horrible
to his own people, and that justifies the war. Well, that is not
what they were telling us. We could see that he was a son-of-a-bitch,
but that is not what they built the war on. They built the war on
weapons of mass destruction.
GLOBAL BEAT: So the issue is credibility?
Winslow T. Wheeler: It is one of ethics. If you
don’t have ethics, you have no credibility.
GLOBAL BEAT: How do you see the situation with Iraq now?
Winslow T. Wheeler: I don’t think that we’ve
seen the end of the story yet. I assume that at some point, they
will find something, although the U.K. press is now pointing out
that even in the case of the trailers, the evidence that they might
have been used for biological weapons is quite weak. We haven’t
seen the end of the story, and it will have to play itself out.
That has consequences for the opposition in this country.
The leading Democratic candidates supported the president on authorizing
the war. Only the fringe candidates, Dean and Kucinich, were at
all serious about opposing him. It will be interesting to see how
that plays out. In the Democratic primaries where people who aren’t
particularly happy with George Bush to begin with get to express
their views to their own party, it will be very interesting. We
haven’t seen the end to that story either.
GLOBAL BEAT: Do you feel that the intelligence
was massaged to back the administration’s agenda?
Winslow T. Wheeler: Yes. Absolutely. The stories
that were surfacing last week about Vice-President Dick Cheney and
his chief-of-staff visiting the CIA. The appologists protest that
he was just asking questions. I worked in the government for 31
years, and I know how to recognize that a principal simply asking
questions sends a message to staffers, bureaucrats, analysts and
researchers all on its own. He doesn’t have to say what he
wants to find. He can communicate very successfully
without making himself culpable to charges that he pressured intelligence
analysts. Vice-president Cheney is an extremely intelligent man.
He knows how to do that. He knows how to ask his own staff in a
way that tells them what he wants them to do.
GLOBAL BEAT: What do you think the long range goals
were? Was Iraq ever an issue, or was it a first step to extending
an American empire?
Winslow T. Wheeler: No. I think that empire theory
is crap. The agenda is the Middle East. People like Paul Wolfowitz,
Douglas Feith, Richard Perle and Kenneth Adelman, have an agenda,
and part of that agenda was eliminating Iraq as a hostile party
in the Middle East. They are trying to achieve
that, and they got our government to take the first step. Whether
the Iraq that comes out the other end is democratic and friendly
to the United States and in favor of peace between Arabs and Jews
in the middle East is an unknown.
GLOBAL BEAT: What do you see as the administration’s
Winslow T. Wheeler: I don’t believe it has
anything to do with that left-wing crap about Halliburton trying
to control oil. It has to do with a process that these individuals
believe will impose peace on the Middle East. And I think they are
crazy. I am not at all convinced that a truly democratic Iraq is
going to be friendly towards the United States, or friendly towards
Israel. I think that that is what they are trying to achieve, but
I find it difficult to imagine that a truly democratic Iraq will
out the way they want.
GLOBAL BEAT: What is your worst case scenario?
Winslow T. Wheeler: There is too much history in
the Middle East to expect that a democratic process in a country
like Iraq is going to come out the other end being friendly and
placid towards Israel. I don’t see it happening. There is
too much hostility in the region, and to give vent to that in the
form of democracy means that there is going to be more of a problem
GLOBAL BEAT: What do you think the extra costs
will do to the U.S. economy?
Winslow T. Wheeler: In the longer scope, it will
be minimal. Cost is certainly a concern, but over the long term,
the cost is not going to be what drives our economy, even if it
adds up to
several hundred billion dollars. That is chicken feed in terms of
our economy. Other forces will determine whether we get out of this
in a non-recession, non-growth period, will make the deficit is
larger or smaller. The same for the tax cut. That is not what is
driving the deficit. The economy is driving the deficit. Just as
Bill Clinton benefited from the virtuous cycle of growing revenues
and expanding jobs that resulted in surpluses. If the economy turns
around that will have the largest impact on the deficit.
GLOBAL BEAT: Where do you see everything going
in terms of national security? Are we caught in a downward spiral?
Winslow T. Wheeler: I think Americans need to understand
the consequences of their actions. Right now, I don’t think
Americans have understood the consequences of what we did in Iraq,
in terms of cost, in terms of our reputation in the world and in
terms of our ability to influence others in the world. That will
be driven by whether Iraq turns sour and U.S. casualties increase
with out a resolution, or things begin to work out. Americans need
to appreciate that we can’t run around the world changing
regimes without consequences.
We are going to experience that first hand with Iraq.
GLOBAL BEAT: What about Congress?
Winslow T. Wheeler: Congress surrendered its war-making
power last October. President Bush asked for totally unfettered
authority to go to war if he felt like it, and Congress gave him
that. Bush had the brains to outmaneuver
the Democrats in October, just before the elections. He presented
the Democrats with a request to go to war and dared them to say
No just before the elections. The Democrats capitulated; at least
their leadership did. There
were a few who spoke against the war, but as a body they capitulated
to George Bush, who totally out thought and out maneuvered them.
Since then, there has been no meaningful opposition to almost anything
that George Bush or Donald Rumsfeld want to do. My expectation for
the short term is that the Republicans--in the absence of any serious
Democratic opposition--will continue to dominate the government.
As far as the elections are concerned, there are no negative consequences
for the Republicans in the polls. It does not look like a replay
of 1992, when Bush I seemed golden at the beginning of the year,
and then things fell apart. I don’t see that replaying at
GLOBAL BEAT: So the major problems are likely to
come from overseas with U.S. alliances?
Winslow T. Wheeler: It remains to be seen whether
George Bush can learn from his experiences. It remains to be seen
whether over the long term the results in Iraq are going to be what
George Bush was told they were going to be at the get-go. I don’t
think that that is going to be the case. It remains to be seen if
he can learn, and whether the Colin Powells of his administration
can prevail rather than the Wolfowitzes, Perles and Rumsfelds. That
remains to be seen.
GLOBAL BEAT: There has been some speculation that
Richard Haas’ departure from the U.S. State Department may
be a signal that Colin Powell is getting ready to leave as well.
Winslow T. Wheeler: I don’t know what to make of that. You
would certainly expect Powell to be frustrated and chewing the carpet
every night, but I see no sign that he is going to walk away from
it at any time. I guess that I am an optimist and think that he
may be ready to stick with it and see if Bush can learn. I don’t
know. It is a bizarre scenario, but I wouldn’t be surprised
if Bush gets into political trouble, or trouble in the polls in
the next year or so, that Cheney decided to step aside for Powell.
That would be a true nightmare for the
Democrats. I’ve seen crazier things happen.