Sandy Berger on the Iraq Showdown

The former National Security Adviser says success during -- and after -- a war will be more likely with an international coalition

As National Security Adviser from 1997 through 2000 -- and deputy adviser for the previous four years -- Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger dealt firsthand with a number of the hot spots now presenting tough challenges to President George W. Bush. One of those hot spots was Iraq.

Berger also served in a period when America's diplomatic leadership was held in high regard in both Europe and most of the Middle East. Today, Berger is chairman of the Washington (D.C.) consulting firm Stonebridge International. He took a few minutes to share his views on the Iraq crisis with BusinessWeek Senior International News Editor Pete Engardio. Here are excerpts of the interview:

Q: Why is it so important that the U.S. secure backing from the U.N. Security Council for military action against Iraq?


I think it makes a difference for the pre-war, the war, and the post-war. If we have very broad support, it puts the maximum pressure on Saddam Hussein to either voluntarily disarm or get out of town. As long as he sees divisions between us and the Europeans, he has room to maneuver.

In the conduct of the conflict itself, the more this has international mandate, an international imprimatur, the more likely it is that the Iraqi generals and public will take matters in their own hands fairly quickly, because they will see this as the international community coming at him. If this is seen as essentially a British or American enterprise, it will be easier for Saddam to maintain some support within the military around him. So international support may make a difference in the prospects for a quick success.

On the flip side, the risks are greater if this is seen as a British-American war rather than an international confrontation. Those risks could include turmoil in the region, anti-American terrorism, or political polarization in the Middle East along an Israeli-Palestinian fault line.

Q: Why is such support important for the aftermath of the invasion?


Afterward, we need allies in the peace as well as allies in the war. This will be costly and risky. This is not going to be a situation where there is a war and a post-war. I prefer to see this as a Saddam and a post-Saddam situation.

I think Saddam will be toast in a short period of time. In the beginning, we will be liberators. But that doesn't mean we have a secure, orderly situation. Even if he's gone, it will be messy.

We may have to do this job with a "coalition of the willing." But the prospects of success in terms of a more secure region are greater, and the risks are diminished, if there is broad support.

I don't think a second Security Council resolution is necessary as a legal matter. This is not a lawyer's issue. It's a strategic issue. I think if we had a second Security Council resolution, even if it's less robust than we would like, it would give a lot of cover to a lot of people.

Q: How do you interpret France's strong opposition? Will it support a U.S.-led war eventually?


I had assumed that, in the final analysis, the French would fall in line. I'm less certain of that than a few days ago because of what the French did in NATO, where they drew a line in the sand at a very strange place.

We all knew there would be a reckoning in the Security Council, that everyone would have to decide where to draw lines. But the French prematurely and foolishly have drawn this line over whether we even plan for providing for a NATO member, Turkey. That's either a reflection of a much harder French position, or it's their posture to make a strategic shift in a few weeks.

Q: How does the U.S. get out of this diplomatic jam?


This diplomacy needs to be done privately. If in fact we could reach some understanding with the French and others that after three weeks, rather than two -- that within some finite period they would support us if Iraq is not in full compliance, then we could wait for their support. If what they mean is two months, however, then probably that is more time than momentum and the dynamics of the situation warrant.

Basically, what needs to be happening beneath the noise is a private conversation between the French, Germans, Russians, and others, where we might show a little flexibility with the timetable.

Q: Could this situation have been alleviated with better diplomacy?


I think there is some residue of resentment over a couple of years in which we have been quite unilateralist in the way we've treated our allies. We're going to confront Saddam. The question now is whether we do it as a world united or divided, and we have to do the most that we can to bring those allies on board.

Q: What are the chances that the U.S. will be able to raise much money for the war and reconstruction if there's no second Security Council resolution?


The Gulf War cost $78 billion, and we got about $70 billion from others. But it will be virtually impossible to get others to share the cost of this conflict, and that could be $50 billion-plus. It will be pretty hard to get people who did not participate in the coalition to contribute.

It will be easier to get burden-sharing for nation building if there is broad international support, because other countries will have a stake in the future Iraq.

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