Speech by National Security Advisor Samuel Berger
I thank Stanford University for bringing us together to mark the publication of Warren Christopher's book, In the Stream of History, to talk about the questions it raises and the history it records of a uniquely productive period in American foreign policy.
Like everyone here who knows Chris and who has had the privilege of working with him, I think of the book as a reflection of his character. Of the seriousness, dedication, and absence of cynicism he has brought to his public and private life. Of his concern with substance over self-promotion, a quality that is so notable because it is so rare.
Once, at a reception for the State Department press corps, Chris acknowledged their complaint that he did not give them enough pithy soundbites. I can neither confirm nor deny the truth of that allegation, he responded, wittily and wisely.
Of course, the truth is, Chris was and is superbly conscious of the power of the written and spoken word to shape our discussion of the future and our memory of the past. That is captured with eloquence and insight in this book. It is part of his remarkable legacy, and one source of the unique admiration and affection we feel for him and always will.
We also know that Chris is someone who always went the extra mile for peace as it turned out, the most extra miles ever traveled by a Secretary of State. One region where the miles he traveled paid off in achievements gained was the Middle East. Most dramatically, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that he and President Clinton did so much to encourage has survived the greatest trials and, with the Wye accords, gained fresh life. This is not because either side has illusions or an overabundance of mutual affection, but because mainstreams on both sides now accept the logic of peace.
This weekend, the President is leaving for Israel to make the case to both Israelis and Palestinians that implementing Wye will advance their mutual interests.
I want to talk about another aspect of our Middle East policy today our effort to combat the threat to peace still posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. And I want to put that discussion in a broader regional context.
America's most vital national interest in dealing with Iraq is straightforward: to prevent Saddam from rebuilding his military capability, including weapons of mass destruction, and from using that arsenal to move against his neighbors or his own people. But we must also keep in mind that Saddam's continued reign of terror inside Iraq and intimidation outside Iraq have broader implications for all our interests in region. The future of Iraq will affect the way in which the Middle East and the Arab world in particular evolve in the next decade and beyond -- and our policy must take that into account.
This region is enormously important to us, poorly understood, and changing in many ways. We sometimes think of it as monolithic. It is anything but.
Yet as different as its many nations and peoples are, all are grappling, in their own ways, with a struggle between two broad visions of the future.
One vision is to move toward economic openness, political pluralism and integration with the world economy. In every part of the Middle East, there are growing constituencies working to make this happen. I'm thinking about the Arab and Israeli entrepreneurs who went to the Middle East economic conferences in Casablanca, Amman, Cairo, and Doha hoping to build a region where goods move across frontiers and soldiers stay home.
I'm thinking about the economic reformers in Egypt who are laying the basis for an economic miracle after years of stagnation. In the face of a terrorist war against tourism and low oil prices, the Mubarak government has slashed inflation, privatized industries, and achieved sustained growth averaging 5 percent over the last three years.
I'm thinking about the still fragile movement toward political reform that is taking hold in many Arab countries. Morocco now has a prime minister from the opposition. Yemen has held open parliamentary elections and has a vibrant press. Kuwait and Jordan have also held elections. Qatar has begun to give women the vote.
I'm thinking as well about the Israelis who are looking beyond the day-to-day struggle for security to put their economy at the forefront of the information age. About the Palestinians who have recognized that they cannot gain their freedom by denying Israel's existence, but rather by economic development through projects like Gaza's airport and industrial estate. I'm thinking about the Lebanese who are restoring their country's tradition of tolerance, while pumping $5 billion to rebuild Beirut. About Iranians struggling for greater personal freedom and reconnecting to the world.
I am thinking about the people in every nation of the Middle East who are deeply religious, but also deeply respectful of other faiths. In fact, President Clinton has made a concerted effort to overcome the mistaken view that there is a fundamental conflict between the values of Islam and the values of the non-Islamic world. We know that for the vast majority of the more than one billion Muslims in the world, tolerance is an article of faith, while terrorism is a travesty of faith.
The question that all the reforming countries in the Middle East face is whether openness and integration with the global economy can deliver prosperity that can assuage the resentment of the street the hopelessness that is the cause of so much violence in the region.
And of course the reformers face a competing vision that feeds on that hopelessness: of continued self-isolation and violent opposition to liberalizing forces whether they come from within the region or without.
The proponents of this vision appeal to the poor by exploiting their sense of grievance. They recruit the destitute by mixing acts of terror with acts of charity, meeting social needs that governments fail to meet. They are convinced that traditional values can only thrive behind walls of hatred and mistrust. They talk openly about the threat of peace, because peacemaking requires making contact with outsiders, recognizing the legitimacy of other faiths and points of view, and openness to a world of competing values and ideas.
We need to be humble about our own ability to influence which vision of the future the peoples of the Middle East choose. Foreign policy can move governments and armies, but it is a weak tool for shaping hearts and minds.
Still, we do have an interest in the choices people in this region make. At stake is the stability of Arab and Muslim states, our future relationship with them and our fundamental strategic and economic interests in the Middle East. At stake is our ability to fight terror, avert regional conflict, promote peace and protect the security of our friends and allies.
And in fact, over the last decade our engagement has helped shape which future the people of the Middle East will choose.
For example, the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians has made possible the tenuous beginnings of a reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world: mutual recognition between governments and increasingly among peoples; the falling away of the Arab boycotts; a greater focus on economic challenges and on the reforms necessary to meet them. This process has been painfully slow; there have been many ups and downs. But it is real. And it represents not just a change of tactics among the nations of the region, but an evolution in attitudes.
And this process of reconciliation was itself given life in part by the outcome of the Gulf War.
Keep in mind that Saddam's Iraq was traditionally the region's leading opponent of compromise with Israel. It led the effort to quarantine Sadat's Egypt after Camp David, and it prided itself on being the only Arab country that could rain down fire on the Israeli people.
But when Saddam was defeated by a coalition of Americans, Europeans and Arabs fighting together, many old preconceptions about Middle East politics were shattered. The Madrid peace conference soon followed, and from that the whole series of events that led to the Rabin-Arafat hand shake and more important, to the countless handshakes among ordinary people that have followed.
The peace process has moved forward in part because, ever since the Gulf War, the immediate military threat Saddam poses has been contained -- albeit at a substantial price. But even a contained Saddam is harmful to stability and to positive change in the region. Conversely, a constructive Iraq would help change the equation in the region.
That is not because Saddam is a true believer in any radical, extremist vision. The only cause Saddam believes in is his own survival and ambition. And more Arabs see through him today than ever before. But by manipulating the suffering he himself has inflicted on Iraqis, and invoking the rhetoric of Arab solidarity, he has remained a convenient symbol for those who seek to exploit the sense of aggrievement, frustration and defeat that is still so powerful in much of the Arab world. Fundamentalists like Osama Bin Laden may be utterly different from Saddam, yet they can still take advantage of his conflict with the world to win recruits for their cause.
As long as Saddam remains in power and in confrontation with the world, the positive evolution we and so many would like to see in the Middle East is less likely to occur. His Iraq remains a source of potential conflict in the region, a source of inspiration for those who equate violence with power and compromise with surrender, a source of uncertainty for those who would like to see a stable region in which to invest.
Change inside Iraq is necessary not least because it would help free the Middle East from its preoccupation with security and struggle and survival, and make it easier for its people to focus their energies on commerce and cooperation.
For the last eight years, American policy toward Iraq has been based on the tangible threat Saddam poses to our security. That threat is clear. Saddam's history of aggression, and his recent record of deception and defiance, leave no doubt that he would resume his drive for regional domination if he had the chance. Year after year, in conflict after conflict, Saddam has proven that he seeks weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, in order to use them.
Our strategy for meeting this threat has been one of containment, based on four pillars:
First, we have maintained international sanctions against Iraq, exempting food and medicine, in order to deny Saddam the resources he needs to rebuild his military.
Second, we have supported UNSCOM the UN inspection mission -- to ensure Iraq fulfills its pledge at the end of the Gulf War to destroy its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, and the missiles needed to deliver them.
Third, we have maintained the credible threat of force to deter Saddam's aggression and to hold him to his obligations, and proven we are willing to act, if need be alone, to defend our interests.
Fourth, we have worked to keep our friends and allies united in pursuit of these goals.
Since the Gulf War ended, this strategy has essentially held Saddam in check. We have prevented him from aggression against his neighbors and forced him to back down whenever he has tried to cripple or expel UNSCOM. In spite of Saddam's continuing deception, UNSCOM has forced Iraq to declare and destroy, among other things, almost 40,000 chemical weapons, almost 700 tons of chemical weapons agents, 48 operational missiles, 30 warheads fitted for chemical and biological weapons, a nuclear centrifuge program, and a massive plant designed to produce anthrax.
In the meantime, it has been the international community, not Saddam, that has tried to take care of the Iraqi people. Soon after the Gulf War, the United States took the lead in proposing that Iraq be allowed to sell controlled quantities of its oil in order to purchase humanitarian supplies. Remarkably, for five years until 1996, Saddam refused to do so. But now that the oil for food program is being implemented, the food supply in Iraq has grown, and will soon provide the average Iraqi with about 2,200 calories per day, which is at the top of the UN's recommended range.
We have a moral duty to do this. It has also allowed us to point out a simple fact to our friends in the Middle East who are rightly concerned about the suffering of the Iraqi people: Right now, under international sanctions, Saddam's regime is permitted to spend its oil revenues on only two things: food and medicine. If sanctions were lifted, Saddam could spend his country's oil wealth on anything he wanted. Oil for food would likely become oil for tanks. Iraq's people could well have less to eat. Iraq's neighbors would certainly have more to fear.
Despite this record, there have been many challenges to our policy over the last few years. The most recent crisis was perhaps the most serious test.
This August, for the third time in a year, Iraq severely restricted the activities of the UN weapons inspectors. The UN Security Council voted unanimously to condemn Iraq's actions and demand compliance. We also supported, along with all the members of the Council, what Iraq said it wanted, a comprehensive review of Iraq's compliance, provided it resumed full cooperation with the UNSCOM inspectors. And we are prepared to back our demands for compliance by force.
Although we had left considerable strength in the Gulf after a similar crisis in February, we chose to augment those forces somewhat. During that period, we solidified support among our allies and among the nations of the Middle East. On November 12, eight Arab nations Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the UAE -- issued a statement making clear that Iraq alone would bear responsibility for the consequences of defying the UN.
On the morning of November 15, Saddam capitulated, and agreed to let UN inspectors return -- on our terms, not on his. President Clinton was faced with a difficult decision. He could have proceeded with the military strike he had already ordered. But by bombing after Saddam agreed to the world's demands, we would have lost our moral high ground. The issue would have shifted from his intransigence to our overzealousness.
It was a tough call, but the right call. UN inspectors are now back on the job. Saddam failed to achieve his goal of ending sanctions without meeting his obligations. He remains forbidden from spending his precious oil revenues on what he wants rearmament and required to spend them on the one thing he cares nothing about food and medicine for his people.
The issue now is whether Saddam will, in fact, cooperate with UNSCOM as he said he would. If he does not, the whole world will be able to see that a forceful reaction is justified. In fact, if UNSCOM cannot complete its job of supervising the disarmament of Iraq's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, the UN Security Council has said that the severest consequences will follow. This is because if UNSCOM were rendered ineffective without a strong response, Saddam would be free to rebuild his arsenal and emboldened to act aggressively elsewhere
Through constant confrontation, our policy of containing Iraq has been successful. But that does not mean that by itself it is sustainable over the long run.
It is, first of all, a costly policy, in economic and strategic terms. The pattern we have seen over the last few years, of Iraqi defiance, followed by force mobilization on our part, followed by Iraqi capitulation, leaves the international community vulnerable to manipulation by Saddam.
Because we continue to block his advances, cheat and retreat leaves him no better off in the end. But we cannot tolerate it endlessly, either.
The longer this standoff continues, the harder it will be to maintain the international support we have built for our policy. Even this toughest of all sanctions regimes in history becomes harder to sustain over time. In the meantime, the Iraqi people will live in a murderous and corrupt police state, with no prospect for a normal life, as long as their country is Saddam's preserve.
Perhaps most fundamentally, Saddam's continued misrule of Iraq is harmful to the Middle East as a whole. It is partly responsible for the pervasive sense of insecurity that prevents the region from evolving in a positive way. It creates the false perception of a conflict between Muslims and the United States a perception that the President has done much to erase over the last few years, but which inevitably persists among some people in the Muslim world. It means the continuation of oppressive policies against all the peoples of Iraq that threaten that country's integrity, and thus the stability of the region.
The sooner the situation in Iraq is normalized, the sooner the people of the Middle East can get on with the business of building a more stable region, and the more likely we are to realize our goal of seeing the region integrated, with consent of its people, into the international system.
We will continue to contain the threat Iraq poses to its region and the world. But for all the reasons I have mentioned, President Clinton has said that over the long-term, the best way to address the challenge Iraq poses is through a government in Baghdad -- a new government -- that is committed to represent and respect its people, not repress them; that is committed to peace in the region. Our policy toward Iraq today is to contain Saddam, but also to oppose him.
In this effort we are forthright about our ultimate goals, and realistic about the manner in which we pursue them.
Change in Iraq will take time. We must not play recklessly with the lives of those who must risk their lives to oppose Saddam. We should be careful about implying commitments before we are clear about their full risks and costs.
What we can and will do is to strengthen the Iraqi opposition and support the Iraqi people, to work with them step by step, in a practical and effective way, to delegitimize Saddam, and then when the time is right, to help them achieve a new leadership in Iraq.
Already, we have deepened our engagement with the forces of change in Iraq. We have reconciled the two largest Kurdish groups. We have begun broadcasts of a Radio Free Iraq throughout the country. We will intensify that effort, working with Congress to strengthen our political support to make the opposition a more effective voice for the aspirations of the Iraqi people.
We will also stand ready to help a new government in Iraq that respects the rights of its people and meets its obligations to the world. We would work to ease economic sanctions against such a new Iraq as quickly as possible. We would work to relieve Iraq's massive economic debts. Those debts were acquired by Saddam to build weapons that the Iraqi people did not want or need; their children and grandchildren should not have to go hungry to pay the bill.
* * *
In his farewell speech to the State Department, Secretary Christopher said something that applies well to the challenge we face in Iraq, and in the Middle East as a whole: When we are confronted by the conflicts and tragedies of a still dangerous world, he observed, we can respond in one of three ways. We can choose the easy way, taking satisfaction . . . in lashing out. . . . Or we can choose to walk away and wash our hands. Or, we can make the choice to persevere until a solution is found. That is the choice, he said, that the people who defend our country's interests overseas make day in and day out.
It is the choice we should make in seeking a better future for Iraq, with patience and resolve, with determination to use effective force if necessary, and with confidence that our goals will be met.
We know from history that when tyrannies are prevented from expanding they often retreat and decay. We know from experience that when people struggling for freedom gain the moral and material support of the American people, they usually win in the end. We know as well that change, when it does come, often comes suddenly and at unexpected times.
Change will come to Iraq, at a time and in a manner that we can influence but cannot predict. And when it does, we'll look back and say thank goodness we persevered. That is what we intend to do, with your help and your understanding.
Thank you very much.
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