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Winslow 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 on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and the chances for success of the White House's new strategy for the Middle East.

 

GLOBAL 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 ultimate goal?

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 turn
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 for Israel.

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 all.

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.

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