David L. Phillips recently visited Eaton Residential College to give a talk on his experience in Iraq and on his work with the Council on Foreign Relations. He has worked for both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations and resigned in 2003. Phillips is an active member of the Council on Foreign Relations and currently serves as Senior Fellow and Deputy Director at the Center for Preventive Action. He is a visiting scholar at Harvard’s Center for Middle East Studies and is also an analyst with NBC News. Phillips recently sat down with The Hurricane for an interview.
The Hurricane: In your experience, how did the procedures in the Clinton administration differ from those of the Bush administration?
David Phillips: When I worked for the Clinton administration, of course there were strong disagreements, but the inter-agency process successfully allowed the president to consider a whole range of options and information. The Bush administration is dominated by ideologues. They do not tolerate dissent. To advance their ideological objectives, they present the president with narrow options reflecting the president’s simple approach to world affairs focusing on the global fight against terrorism.
When you were in Iraq in 2002, what did you observe?
I went to northern Iraq to meet with Kurds and other Iraqis in order to discuss governance arrangements in the event that Saddam was overthrown. I was surprised that the Kurds supported regime change and American military action. It was clear that Iraqis felt profoundly insecure with Saddam in power. We promised them liberation, but the Iraqis have been deeply disappointed with the chaos that has existed since U.S. forces entered the country. Instantly achieving liberal democracy was totally unrealistic. After years of authoritarian rule, Iraqis had a very steep learning curve.
Do you believe that there is more or less anti-American sentiment in the Middle East than existed prior to our going into Iraq?
Because we found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the world believes we went to war under false pretenses. Iraq’s neighbors are deeply concerned about Iraq becoming a failed state and causing widespread instability in the region. Despite the enormous commitment of troops and treasure, the U.S. is reviled by almost all Iraqis other than Iraqi Kurds. The U.S. failure in Iraq and torture of prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison has further poisoned the well, fueling virulent anti-Americanism. However, anti-Americanism is still about U.S. policies and directed towards the person of George W. Bush. But if the electorate returns Bush to the White House for four more years, anti-American sentiment will be directed toward the American people.
What did you think of the administration’s handling of Al Qaeda post-9/11?
After 9/11 the top priority was getting Osama Bin Laden and destroying Al Qaeda. By shifting focus to Iraq, we’ve failed to apprehend the top Al Qaeda leadership or effectively dismantle the organization. The Iraq war has also become a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda that appeals to angry Arab and Muslim youth who want to wage holy war against the United States.
Based on what you have seen, what positives or negatives would another four years of the Bush administration have on the war on terror?
The U.S. needs alliances to protect itself and promote democracy and freedom around the world. We need friends and allies to help with international intelligence, law enforcement and to disrupt Al Qaeda financing and recruitment. Given the disdain that many countries have toward the Bush Administration, it will be near impossible to secure their full participation in the fight against terrorism. In addition to confronting terrorists militarily and staying on the offensive, we need a multifaceted approach that includes a multiplicity of state actors and international organizations. That’s how to win the war on terror.
Do you believe the stakes in this election are as high as the media is making them appear?
Yes. Four more years of George W. Bush will result in a war without end. We need new, smart leadership in the White House to deal with today’s daunting challenges that confront the United States as well as our friends and allies around the world.
David L. Phillips will be visiting UM on Thursday, Oct. 28 at 3 p.m. He will speak in Studio C at the School of Communication.
Melissa Teich can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.