Caspar Weinberger is chairman of Forbes magazine. Born in 1917, he graduated from Harvard College and Law School, then served in the army in 1941-45. His political career began in the California Assembly in 1952, even as he worked in a San Francisco law firm and began writing for newspapers and hosting a television show. He rose to statewide positions under Ronald Reagan in 1967 and to national positions in 1970. He served Richard Nixon as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, director of the Office of Management of Budget, and secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. He served as secretary of Defense during nearly all of the Reagan years, 1981-87. Daniel Pipes and Patrick Clawson interviewed him on May 6, 1999, at his office in Washington.
The Next War
Middle East Quarterly: By coincidence, today—May 6, 1999—is the very date which you chose in your 1996 book, The Next War,1 when an Iranian nuclear device goes off, precipitating a huge crisis for the United States in the Persian Gulf. So, we start this discussion by asking: Are you expecting news from Tehran along these lines today or anytime soon?
Caspar Weinberger: I'm slightly encouraged by what's going on in Iran, although not completely so. President Khatami basically recognizes the reality that he has to have Western support and friendship and that the Iranian regime has to give up some of the more mad approaches it has used. But Khatami doesn't have full power by any means, and he's challenged every step of the way by the mullahs. He has probably won the latest challenges, and that's a good thing. To my surprise, there's more hope for Iran than for Iraq; I would not have said that a few years ago.
Still, there are elements within Iran that are viciously anti-American and anti-Western. Every once in awhile also, the new moderate president delivers a few sentences I would not have recommended if I had been his speechwriter. But generally I think it's slightly more favorable —guarded optimism, I would think, expresses my view best.
MEQ: And the prospect of the Iranians setting off a nuclear device?
Weinberger: They'll probably get one; they have been trying to for years. It would give them an enormous tool for blackmail and considerably more stature than they would otherwise have. They're being helped toward this end by Russia, China, and a number of other states. This assistance results from financial considerations; it's a dollar proposition. The Russians have a great need for any funds they can get. Also, they and the Chinese are glad to oppose America every way they can.
MEQ: The aggressiveness that you outlined in your book—an Iranian take-over of the whole Persian Gulf oil-producing region—are you fearful of that as much now as you were when you wrote it three to four years ago?
Weinberger: Much depends on Khatami's degree of authority. He seems not to control foreign policy or security affairs, which makes it necessary to continue to watch the Iranians carefully. They're not friendly. If they're slightly less hostile than they were, they remain intent—though perhaps marginally less so than Libya or Iraq—on injuring us in any way possible.
MEQ: Can the United States prevent countries like Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?
Weinberger: It's very difficult. We don't know what they're doing, as our so-called inspections of Iraq proved. A determined intent can hide these programs, because we don't yet have a satellite that looks underground. I do hope we still have ways of knowing what progress they're making. But I don't see how we can actually prevent them for getting nuclear devices—you can't mount an effective, leak-proof blockade. Sanctions can hurt them and they do, but they do not stop a determined government from getting the weapons it wants. China has them; probably Israel has them. Iraq and Libya are trying to get them. North Korea has them and will have more despite all the appeasement we've offered them. Russia still has anywhere from 18,000 to 23,000.
MEQ: You describe nuclear weapons as "a tool for blackmail." If the United States were considering going to war in the Middle East but thought its opponent might well have nuclear weapons, how heavily should that affect the U.S. decision whether or not to become involved?
Weinberger: I find it very difficult to imagine a situation in which an American government would authorize or permit the use of nuclear weapons. This leads a lot of people to suggest that the United States should declare it will never use them, or even to abolish them all. I'm against that suggestion though, for I lack the trust this implies in the rest of the world. I think we have to have the weapons. No matter how hard it is to imagine a scenario in which we would use them, having them is the basic deterrent to a lot of nastiness.
MEQ: What about catastrophic terrorism, such as weapons of mass destruction deployed within the United States. Is this something you worry about?
Weinberger: We've seen a couple of attempts along these lines, such as the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. Libyans and Iraqis seeking revenge will try to cause as big a problem as they can. With the small size of a nuclear weapon and the ease with which they can now be transported, there's no guarantee that one can stop everything. My conclusion: We need to increase intelligence capabilities. Our human intelligence abroad, which was so much reduced by the [Frank] Church [Senate] committee twenty years ago, needs to be revived. Penetrating organizations and knowing what they are planning is the best weapon we have against terrorism, but we are not able to do that very effectively.
MEQ: You have said that "The U.S. force that defeated Saddam Husayn no longer exists. What we have today is a military that is a shadow of its former self."2 Do you worry that the drawdown of U.S. military forces has left the military unprepared for conflict?
Weinberger: Oh yes, very, very much so. I disagree strongly with the reassuring words from the Joint Chiefs to the president and the Congress that we can fight and win two major regional conflicts fought simultaneously. In fact, we would have trouble winning one; Kosovo is at the moment not even a major conflict—and we're having enough trouble there. We've got a third of our airforce committed there now and have stripped the carriers out of the Pacific to the point that we have none left there at all. This encourages people like Saddam Husayn, who probably keeps a close eye on these things, to believe he can get away with what Slobodan Milosevic is doing, and without punishment.
We no longer have the air and sea lift to mount an operation such as the Gulf War, thanks to a roughly three-year procurement holiday during which we have not added new planes, ships, artillery pieces, or tanks. Nor are things getting better; headlines you see about increased military spending by $7 billion are not so. None of it will be used to strengthen the forces, only to make up for the constant drain that the enormously heavy operational tempo in the Balkans is causing; maintenance and operation costs are very, very, high.
We do not have the size force that is needed. Instead of eighteen army divisions, we have ten divisions, and even they are not filled out but require a mobilization of the National Guard and the Reserve.
The Weinberger Doctrine
MEQ: In November 1984, you articulated six points to guide the American use of force in what came to be known as the Weinberger Doctrine. (See page 76.) Almost fifteen years later, how do these look to you?
Weinberger: I stick by what I said back then.
MEQ: You were much criticized in the aftermath of your doctrine.
Weinberger: Oh, yes, for that and for virtually everything else!
MEQ: For example, George Shultz criticized your position as calling for U.S. forces "to be constantly built up but not used: everything in our defense structure seemed geared exclusively to deter World War III. … This was the Vietnam syndrome in spades, carried to an absurd level, and a complete abdication of the duties of leadership."3 Please comment.
Weinberger: Ah, yes, that sounds familiar. We still hear echoes of that today. Madeleine Albright also says that we have this great army that we are never willing to use.
She seems to think she's expressing some new formula.
MEQ: Does the absence of the Soviet Union affect your doctrine?
Weinberger: Not much. We have to decide if a matter is important enough to our own security to use force. If so, and it must be dealt with, which essentially means sending in our troops, then we have to go with a firm, complete, and undeviating intent to win. We have to define what winning is going to be and get in there with overwhelming force to achieve it. Win and get out. That is basically part of what the so-called six rules that I put forth say.
MEQ: Apply them to the Middle East, please.
Weinberger: Well, that's not easy, because the situation today results exactly from not applying those rules in the Mid-East. We allowed Saddam Husayn to remain in power, just as these days we are doing the same with Milosevic. That makes it much more difficult.
MEQ: Still, there is a situation that must be dealt with.
Weinberger: Look at the situation in Kosovo. Whether or not it was the right decision to use force, we are there and now we have to win. Trouble is, the White House has not defined what winning means. I count four different goals: "degrade" the Yugoslav military; force Milosevic back to the negotiating table (which is completely useless; he will promise anything); create circumstances which permit Kosovars to return home (presumably obligating us to rebuild their homes and guarantee they won't be driven out again); and making sure that "none of this crowds out the president's domestic agenda." The last one is the worst; one should not ask American soldiers to die for somebody's domestic agenda. To my mind, the last is not at all a legitimate war aim and the first three are completely inadequate. Victory means eliminating the factors that cause the war; in this case, that's Milosevic. If getting rid of him requires ground troops, then put in ground troops. This problem will always arise when you aim simply to get an unpleasant situation off the front pages, as opposed to taking care of those factors that caused it. I can't imagine ending World War II and leaving Hitler, Mussolini, and the others in power. Nor can I imagine ending World War I and leaving Kaiser Wilhelm in power.
MEQ: Those sort of decisive end to wars ended in 1945. Every one since has been ambiguous—Korea, Vietnam, Iraq.
Weinberger: That's correct but that does not make it right. We have gone into wars that we haven't intended to win—all we ever wanted was containment in Vietnam; that was the worst example. That was why I drew up those six points. The idea of sending 565,000 American troops to a war that is not important enough to win struck me as terrible.
I told President Reagan when he spoke to me about being appointed as defense secretary that I could not accept the position if it required overseeing a war that would not be fought to victory. He said, "No problem about that, I agree with you completely. If it's important to be in a war then it's important enough to win." If you ask people to give their lives to a cause that's not important enough to win, you have done something inexcusably bad for the troops, for the country, and the country's future. Our goal should clearly be that we get rid of Saddam Husayn and Milosevic; as long as they are in power, it does no good to appease them by making offers and sitting down to draw up nice diplomatic agreements. Nor should Jesse Jackson be given an opening to "give peace a chance." That's the worst possible way to run foreign policy.
MEQ: Did the 1990-91 use of force against Iraq fit your definition of the proper use of force?
Weinberger: Yes, yes. Putting a huge force in to prevent a small Arab country from being stolen by another Arab country was not just the proper thing to do but a very good thing to do strategically and militarily. We could not afford to have 85 percent of the world's oil reserves under Saddam Husayn's control. More: he would not have stopped at Kuwait but would have gone into the kingdom and down into the Gulf.
MEQ: You would have had U.S. forces not stop where they did, but go on to Baghdad?
Weinberger: Yes. Three days out of Baghdad, we stopped, leaving Saddam Husayn with the ability to be pretty nasty, which he has completely exploited. We accepted his promises, although they were perfectly insincere. It should have been obvious to anybody that he would not keep his word. I would have finished the job. You cannot leave in place the person who caused the war in the first place. The decision to stop short of full victory is one of the few major disagreements I had with Colin Powell. To my mind, what happened in Iraq was like U.S. forces stopping five days short of Paris in World War II. We didn't do that when we ended the war in Germany or Japan. As a result we got two fine, strong democratic allies with totally changed governments.
MEQ: Do we have the will now to do that again?
Weinberger: I don't know, I really don't know. I do know we can't have the will without the right leadership, a leadership we lack at this time.
MEQ: We can all agree that it would have been good to have gotten rid of Saddam Husayn, but what if our troops had taken him out and the United States had become responsible for Iraq—this in the face of intense enmity of the Iranians and Syrians? Would the American public have had the endurance for bombs going off, sabotage, Kurdish nationalism in the north, Shi‘i separatism in the south, and the like? Would leadership have sufficed for all that?
Weinberger: I do not see that any of these reasons for stopping are valid. They are mostly based on a fear that the Arab members of the coalition would not follow us into Baghdad, but that completely underestimates the hatred and fear that Saddam Husayn generates among his fellow Arabs, the Saudis especially.
I wish we had finished the war, then not put in an American army of occupation. I would have put into Iraq a broad mixture of forces with a Muslim-Arab majority, then let them do what was urgently needed to do. They should have stayed until they could install a government in Iraq that could live in peace with its neighbors. That would have worked.
MEQ: You don't see Americans as the main occupying force?
Weinberger: No, the United States did not have to take on that responsibility. Americans should have made up only a small portion of an occupying force, a token portion. The great majority of the occupying forces should have been made up of Egyptians, Kuwaitis, Jordanians, Saudis, and other Arabs.
MEQ: Would you not worry about the results of that?
Weinberger: No, not really, because if the
Arabs knew we were going to support them as we had supported their cause in the Gulf War, there would have been little to worry about. The Saudis tend to be skeptical of us, knowing that we come and go, but that Saddam is there all the time. They can't afford to be on the wrong side. Our changes in policy have led them to retreat back into their old neutrality.
MEQ: You don't worry about a power vacuum that the Iranians or others would have exploited?
Weinberger: The geo-strategic arguments you read in all the journals about what would have happened after driving out Saddam Husayn were basically wrong. To the notion that we couldn't do this because we needed a strong Iraq, without which there would be a power vacuum and the whole Gulf region would collapse, I say: if we needed a strong Iraq we shouldn't have gone to war—we had a strong Iraq before the war.
MEQ: But what about an Arab occupation force? You didn't foresee troubles there?
Weinberger: A lot could have happened—just as a lot might have happened in Japan after the occupation, particularly in the first five weeks. We had just a couple of airplanes, a general, and nothing else in there. But we didn't have trouble. Nor did we have trouble in Germany. In both places, the governments that caused the trouble were driven out. Interim representatives authorized the entry of Americans and did what they could to keep their people quiet, which was not hard, they being exhausted anyway. We had their cooperation and we worked to build a strong, friendly, democratic government.
MEQ: But that's an American occupying force; you see Arabs carrying out the same disinterested reforms and then leaving as Americans would do?
Weinberger: The Arabs would have been a more successful occupying force than we could have been because they would have negated the whole conspiratorial argument about America trying to dominate the region. We demonstrated our willingness to help out in the Gulf War—without, by the way, endangering or weakening our alliance with Israel. We had a half-million troops in Saudi Arabia with their permission, a very major accomplishment. Then the war was won, and won decisively.
MEQ: Had you been in office in 1991, do you think you would have prevailed in this view?
Weinberger: No, I don't think anybody would have accepted those arguments because they entailed a somewhat longer commitment then anybody wanted to make. A hundred hours for the land war was ideal. That's fine if you finish the job, but if not, you should not pull out so soon. In Granada, on a much smaller scale, we stayed about a month to ensure democratic elections, then we left. We did the same in Panama and imprisoned Noriega. On a larger scale, the same thing could have been done in Iraq.
MEQ: How do you evaluate the Desert Fox bombing campaign of Iraq in December 1998 and the thirty or so bombing runs against Iraq since then?
Weinberger: These are attempts to put out radar sites, to stop the activities we regard as violations of promises by Saddam with respect to the no-fly-zone. I don't see any significant depreciation of Iraqi military assets yet, however. Nor is this bombing designed to overthrow the regime or otherwise end the problem there. Rather, it is designed only to enable our planes to fly to patrol the no-fly-zones without
I should note the futility of trying to extract new promises from Saddam Husayn, who is deeply evil and someone you cannot negotiate with or from whom you can accept promises. If you do take his word, you will always find yourself in this kind of situation—bombing and bombing to try to enforce agreements signed eight years ago.
MEQ: President Clinton says our aim is a change in regime in Baghdad.
Weinberger: That would be a great result, but I don't see how it can be achieved by these raids.
MEQ: What should the United States do to achieve that goal?
Weinberger: Lead our allies and work with them. At the moment, Britain is leading our allies very well. We aren't. We're turning over everything to NATO and the United Nations.
MEQ: Please assess the U.S.-Israel relationship from a military vantage point. Have we benefited by this connection overall?
Weinberger: I think so, surely. I think we gain from close ties with most countries. We need all the friends we can get in all parts of the world.
It was also essential to demonstrate, as we did in the Gulf War, that we wanted and needed and could work with more than one friend in the Mid-East. That established our credentials in a way that was invaluable. It brought all kinds of dividends to Israel, to us, to everybody in the region. That also helped give us our best chance for an Arab-Israeli peace.
MEQ: Please tell us about the benefits of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Are they merely that of having an ally in a tough neighborhood? Or does it go beyond that in terms of intelligence-sharing and other gains for the United States?
Weinberger: A military alliance carries with it a lot of things. First, it offers an opportunity to use bases and other facilities, for we can't do everything from an aircraft carrier, we do need some bases. Israel is very helpful that way. Second, they have a very fine technology that we have helped develop and which in turn helps us.
I think connections to both sides can enable us to be far more able to bring peace to the Mid-East. If we proceed to seek peace, and are not just on one side, we will be most effective. The Gulf War proved to all those who participated, particularly the Saudis and other Arabs, that America does want peace there—and wanted it enough to make absolutely major sacrifices.
MEQ: In your experience as secretary of defense, did you find that the close U.S. relations with Israel enhanced or detracted from Arab and Muslim cooperation with the United States?
Weinberger: It was not helpful when our policy was perceived by Arabs as being pro-Israel only, and that not only would we never oppose some particular policy of Israel, but were always on its side—that we only wanted one friend in the Mid-East. But when we decided to be of assistance to Jordan, or sell some observer-aircraft to the Saudis, or do a few other things—then we began demonstrating that we were willing to work with all sides, that we wanted more than one friend in the Mid-East. That was always my song: we had to have a number of countries recognizing that America wanted peace and that we were going to be helpful in securing such a peace. The Gulf War demonstrated that in a way that few could have imagined possible.
MEQ: Did you find that the close U.S. connection with Israel enhanced your ability to work with Muslim states or detracted from it?
Weinberger: Ideally, it should not have done either. It was a separate relationship we had for years. It was widely known that we were going to preserve it. At the same time, it should not lead us into a situation in which we exclude friendships or associations with other countries. To the extent that we have other relationships, we are also, incidentally, working to secure peace in the Mid-East, because only in a peaceful situation can we make it clear that we are trying to have a number of friends there. The Gulf War was an ideal demonstration of that, and it very successfully cancelled a lot of anti-U.S. arguments from people like Usama bin Ladin, who always insist that the United States is the enemy of every county in the Mid-East except Israel—an argument that carried certain weight in extremist circles.
MEQ: You have been quoted saying that Jonathan Pollard "should have been shot."4 Is this accurate?
Weinberger: Any traitor who did what he did should be shot.
MEQ: You describe him as a traitor.
Weinberger: I thought Pollard did a very great deal of damage to the United States. The Walkers and others also did a very great deal of damage. My views here have nothing to do with his religion or his beliefs or anything of that kind. There are some lawyers who have been paid to say, "Yes, but it wasn't treason." But avoiding all the technical definitions, I would simply say that his paid spying caused us a very great deal of additional problems in a difficult situation.
I said everything I knew about Pollard at the request of the United States District Court. I gave the judge an affidavit that was classified because it went into great detail about the extent of the damage that was done and the number of lives of our people that were endangered. That covered a lot of sources and methods at the court's request. Others seem to have seen it and talk about it very freely; I don't. I'm sort of an anachronism because I still respect classified documents.
MEQ: You are saying that calling Pollard a "traitor" is in the general sense, not in a lawyerly sense.
Weinberger: Whatever it is, that is only the smallest kind of footnote, if anything. How you define it technically is not as important as the fact that he did tremendous damage to us; how you want to define it technically doesn't really make any difference.
MEQ: Some people have become quite fixated on the word "traitor."
Weinberger: The rule is, I don't talk about this matter at all. What I had to say, I said at the court's request in the classified affidavit. I have nothing else to say. It's the damage that he did that counts. It wasn't just Pollard—Aldrich Ames and the Walkers and others also did tremendous damage. They all should be punished.
MEQ: The Victim Impact Statement filed by the U.S. government sometime between May 1986 and January 19875 predicted that Pollard's crime would threaten U.S. relations with its Arab allies and reduce U.S. bargaining leverage over intelligence with the Israelis. A dozen years later, how do you assess the accuracy of those predictions?
Weinberger: I'm not familiar with that statement; I suppose I should be. The whole case was a source of very considerable potential and actual danger and damage to the United States, primarily from the vantage point of information, intelligence sources, and methods that were lost. We were impacted very severely. That was the exact subject matter of the information that the judge wanted in the case, and he made a formal, official request to me to supply it to him, and I did.
I've told virtually everyone who has asked me that I have nothing further to say about Pollard.
1 Caspar Weinberger and Peter Schweizer, The Next War (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 1996).
2 Gannett News Service, Nov. 25, 1996.
3 George Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1993), p. 650.
4 The Washington Times, Oct. 24, 1998.
5 Published for the first time in the MEQ, June 1997, pp. 92-93.
Related Topics: US policy | September 1999 MEQ
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