CNN.com, February 12, 2002
“Greenfield at Large” – Second Segment (this is a preliminary transcript that will be edited to correct errors)
GREENFIELD: Maybe it's inevitable that the United States should once again be casting a wary glance in the direction of Iran. This was, after all, the first place where an Islamic uprising put in power declared adversaries of America. It was the place where the seizure of American hostages helped unseat an American president. It symbolized a recurring new threat against the U.S., what some in Iran still label "the great Satan."
As for the notion that September 11 opened the possibility for a new understanding between Washington and Tehran, you sure couldn't tell it from recent words and images.
(voice-over): It seemed like old times yesterday in Tehran. Millions of Iranians rallying to denounce the United States, chanting "death to America." This rally was a response to the sharp words spoken by President Bush at last month's State of the Union.
GEORGE W. BUSH: States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world by seeking weapons of mass destruction.
GREENFIELD: It is a far cry from the hopes of some five months ago. After the September 11 attack on America, some Iranians marched in sympathy with the U.S. Officials there promised help to downed American flyers, reflecting Iran's longstanding hatred of the Taliban, who followed a branch of Islam hostile to the Shi'ites of Iran.
Secretary of State Powell shook hands with Iran's foreign minister at the U.N., the first such gesture since the hostage crisis back in 1979.
But Israel's capture last month of a ship load of arms bound for Palestinians, arms almost certainly supplied by Iran, was a sharp reminder that Iran has long backed terrorism against Israel, and for that matter, against the U.S. in the form of acts committed by Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based party of god that is fueled by Iranian money.
More broadly, for every word of moderation spoken by reformist President Mohammed Khatamei is the fact that real power clearly lies in the hands of hard-line clerics, led by Ayotollah Khameni, who want nothing at all to do with the United States.
Clearly, President Bush's words help put the mobs in the streets of Tehran, stirred more criticism from some of America's European allies. Just as clearly, the administration had to know that these consequences were coming. So what was behind the president's challenge to Iran? What, if anything, might it portend in the way the U.S. might act?
Joining us now, from Washington, Richard Perle, former Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration. Among other things, he now chairs the Defense Policy Board, a Pentagon Advisory Panel. Here in New York, the editor of "Newsweek International," Fareed Zakaria.
Mr. Perle to you first. The reason I had said what I said is it, you know, sometimes journalists think they're smarter than everybody else, which is usually not true. If the administration knew that there were consequences to the words the president used, who was that specifically aimed at? What were they trying to say and to whom?
RICHARD PERLE, FMR. ASST. SECY. OF DEFENSE: What I think the president was trying to say to the people of Iraq is that we understand that a small number of clerics over the objections passively expressed of the overwhelming majority of Iranian people, are ruling that country and not in the interests of the people or the development of Democratic institutions.
He was expressing the sympathy of the United States with the plight of the Iranian people. And I believe that's an investment that will pay off in increased pressure on the real movers and shakers in the Iranian regime, which are not the elected officials.
GREENFIELD: But the president said something else in the State of the Union speech. He said, you know, the time is not on our side. We will not wait until nations like Iran develop weapons of mass destruction. We will not permit the most dangerous nations in the world to seek the most destructive weaponry. That suggests a lot more than encouraging pro-democracy movements in Iran?
PERLE: Well, he talked about an axis of evil that involved three countries of which Iran was one. In fact, the elaboration with respect to Iran was barely a sentence. And the same for North Korea. The real focus of that speech in this regard was on Iraq. And about Iraq, he had a great deal more to say. He went on at some length about Iraq.
GREENFIELD: Indeed, but Fareed Zakaria, that I think is exactly why people reacted the way they did. I think that the -- the understanding that Iraq is in, and I'll put it this way, the crosshairs of the United States has been known for some time. What did you take from the president's pointing the finger at Iran?
FAREED ZAKARIA, "NEWSWEEK INTERNATIONAL": I don't know what I take. I mean, at some level, he's entirely right, of course. These are all three very nasty regimes. Whether they're actually terrorist regimes or supporting terrorism is a more complex problem. I mean, North Korea is not really supporting terrorism anywhere.
But I think that the mistake here lies particularly with Iran, because it strikes me that on Iraq, the president is 100 percent right. On Iran, I think you have two problems. One, whatever you may think of a regime like this, and it is deeply unpopular. It is nasty. It has not proved to allow its reformers any leeway and any power. The one card that this regime has, the one card of legitimacy is its nationalism. It claims to speak for the Iranian people. It claims to have deposed an American lackey, the Shah of Iran.
So what -- the one thing you can do by criticizing them from the outside is have this kind of rally around the flag effect, which is what's happened. So my fear is just a practical one. I entirely agree with the president's goal. But I think in doing this, you have given this regime the only source of -- you've strengthened the only source of support this regime has.
GREENFIELD: To focus for a second on what Mr. Perle talked about earlier, does that suggest to you that the administration is, in effect, saying the reformist president -- we just -- he's a figurehead. He has no power. We have no confidence at all in his ability to do anything there?
ZAKARIA: I think the analysis behind this is that Iran is a pre-revolutionary situation and that it's about to blow. And that if you put the pressure on it from the outside, you will get, you know, transformation of the regime, a complete collapse.
I think that's slightly wrong, that Iran is -- the regime is unpopular. But that what's likely to happen in Iran is somewhat more like what happened in eastern Europe, a kind of -- what Timothy Garden Ash called "refolution," a combination of reform and revolution.
Now in that situation, it seems to me you want to have a lot of pressure on the regime, but you also want to have some engagement. I mean, we engaged with the Soviet Union, even when we fighting a Cold War with them. And I think that, you know, that model of putting a lot of pressure on the Iranian regime, but still being open to seeing whether or not there are ways in which we can deal with them.
GREENFIELD: Of course, it was also President Reagan who called the Soviet Union an evil empire, while he was negotiating with them.
Mr. Perle, I want to raise a very specific question that is in the minds of some people. In focusing on those three regimes, Iraq, North Korea and Iran, and their goal, as the president described it, of developing weapons of mass destruction, I know there was some people who heard in that message something else. And that was a kind of subtle making of the case for a national missile defense program. Was that any part, you think, of the president's message?
PERLE: No, I don't think so. I think he was very much focused on where we are going next in the war on terrorism. And he understands that the combination of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction poses such an enormous threat to the United States, that we have to deal with that decisively and pre-emptively.
The fact is that he was moving the debate from whether we were justified in acting with respect to September 11, in cases where there was no connection to September 11, to whether we are justified in acting pre-emptively to protect this country. And I think he has put a marker down for what is going to be a policy of preemptive strike.
GREENFIELD: I know you were pointing us more toward Iraq than to Iran. And Secretary Powell today was saying pretty clearly that we weren't talking about a war with Iran. But when you say acting pre- emptively, I mean, I'm looking for some meat on the bones with respect to the nation of Iran. Does it mean funding democracy elements? Does it mean -- well, you tell me what you think it means.
PERLE: Well, I would hope that we would funding democratic elements, covertly assisting with broadcasting, with publications, with political organizations within Iran. I disagree with Fareed on a basic proposition. It was indeed the evil empire speech of Ronald Reagan that set in motion an ideological war that went after the legitimacy of the Soviet leadership, and that encouraged reformers in the Soviet Union and dissidents in the Soviet Union to take courage and ultimately to reshape their countries.
I think he was trying to encourage this pre-revolutionary mentality in Iran, particularly the young people of Iran, who have suffered terribly under this regime, who want nothing to do with the clerics and need to know that they have support somewhere in the world. And they have support in the United States.
GREENFIELD: Fareed, I mean, it worked -- the way Mr. Perle describes it, worked in the Soviet Union. Why not in a country like Iran?
ZAKARIA: Well, I advocate the Soviet model. I mean, I think that pressure, denunciation, absolutely, all that combined with some engagement. After all, I mean, I don't think Richard Perle would argue that Reagan should never have met Gorbachev, that there should've been -- you know, we don't even exchange ambassadors with Iran. We have no diplomatic relations.
So the Soviet model, it seems to me, is one where you have pressure, moral, political diplomatic, combined with some engagement. There is a model of only pressure with no engagement. And that's Cuba. And I think, and I think most reasonable minded people feel that nine presidents have called Fidel Castro many more names than evil. And he's still in power, and you know, and seems strong.
It seems to me that if you go down that route, you have really no historical models of success.
GREENFIELD: All right. PERLE: Well, the problem with engagement in this case is that you're engaging with an empty shell. The Khatami government has really no effective authority over the things that mattered. In the case of the Soviet Union, when you dealt with Gorbachev, you were dealing with the power and authority in that country.
I think the time will come for engagement. It just isn't quite yet. I think we need to turn up the temperature a bit and let the pot simmer a little longer, let it get close to the boiling point, and then a clever policy of engagement might consummate the revolution.
GREENFIELD: Well, to mix the metaphor, we'll let Mr. Perle and Mr. Zakaria come back and debate the temperature on the international stove of geo politics. And having completely muddled that metaphor, my thanks to the afore-mentioned Richard Perle and Fareed Zakaria.
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