Ambassador Baker explains U.S. Iraq policy on Japanese TV

Ambassador Howard H. Baker, Jr.
Interview on TV-Asahi's "News Station"

February 26, 2003

QUESTION: The Japanese people don't understand why the United States wants to attack Iraq and whether such an attack would be justified.

AMBASSADOR BAKER: First of all, the United States does not feel - and certainly the President does not feel - that conflict is inevitable. Indeed, less than three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit with President Bush at the White House, in the Oval Office, and he told me then, firsthand and categorically, that war certainly was not his wish and desire - and he wished for a peaceful resolution of the Iraqi issue. But he also pointed out, as he has often, that Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction, his oppression of his people, was a challenge to good order and to civilization throughout the world.

QUESTION: Since September 11, President Bush has said: "From now on, there is a war against terror." In line with this, talk of an attack against Iraq arose. In other words, wasn't it at first talk of a war against terrorism and then of an attack against Iraq?

AMBASSADOR BAKER: Well, I think they go hand in hand. I think that in a way they're the same, and in a way they're different. Certainly, they are coincidental, as you suggest, in the aftermath of 9/11. After all, 9/11 was a great trauma, not only to the United States, but throughout the world, because the unprincipled and massive attack on America in New York and Pennsylvania and Washington at the Pentagon was virtually unprecedented in modern history, and the American people and the American government reacted very badly to that.

QUESTION: The United States has accused Al Qaeda of causing the September 11 terrorist attacks. Was Iraq chosen to make a protest against because Al Qaeda and Iraq's connection is the strongest?

AMBASSADOR BAKER: No, I don't think so. I think it has been observed that there is some sort of linkage between Al Qaeda and Iraq. But I think that American policy with respect to Iraq and the danger of their weapons of mass destruction and the danger of the irresponsibility of Saddam Hussein are separate. They are parallel concerns, but they are not the same concern.

QUESTION: About ten years ago, the United States military led a coalition to throw Iraq out of Kuwait. [This coalition] stopped at the Iraq border. Because of that, the Saddam Hussein regime didn't collapse. There are many voices of regret from within the United States: "Now that there's a chance, we must get rid of Saddam Hussein. At that time, why didn't we go all the way to get Iraq ten years ago?" Isn't there this kind of feeling within the United States?

AMBASSADOR BAKER: No, I don't believe it is the question.

QUESTION: The United States wants to somehow adopt a new Security Council resolution on March 7. This resolution would give Iraq one final chance, and then soon after that there would be action. So does this mean that a war will start soon after March 7?

AMBASSADOR BAKER: Well, I can't tell you that. I do know that a second resolution, so-called - actually it's the eighteenth resolution - has been introduced by the United States, by Great Britain and others in the Security Council. I do know that no time has been set for the consideration of that resolution. The Security Council will do that in its own good time, but I would anticipate that it would be sooner rather than later.

QUESTION: These are the results of a public opinion poll in Japan. The result of the polls by "News Station" and Asahi Shimbun were mostly the same: 79% were against attacking Iraq - close to 80% of the Japanese people were against an attack. But most didn't think that Iraq was cooperating with the inspections. So the result of the polls was that Iraq is not cooperating with the inspections, but that it shouldn't be attacked. What do you think about this, Mr. Ambassador?

AMBASSADOR BAKER: Well, I think I've served in government for many years. I was in the Senate of the United States for 18 years. I was Majority Leader or Minority Leader for 8 of those 18 years. Then I had the privilege of serving as President Reagan's Chief of Staff, so I know the impact and I know of the dangers of following poll results. And I also know that in great democratic countries like Japan and the United States, we do not govern by polls. We elect and select people who are our leaders, and we vest them with the authority to make decisions, and their first responsibility is to use their best judgment. That is axiomatic. That's the very first rule of democratic government.

QUESTION: Will you directly explain to the 79% of the Japanese in opposition (to a war with Iraq) the United States' standpoint in an easy-to-understand way?

AMBASSADOR BAKER: Well, I would say that number one: Polls are merely snapshots of public opinion at any given time, and public opinion changes. And almost certainly, these numbers will change as time goes by. I would say, as well, that a poll in the United States, if you ask are you for war or against war, would be heavily against war, because no one really - not many people anyway - support armed conflict. But if you ask Americans, and I believe in time if you ask Japanese, gIf you feel that it is the responsibility of a great nation to participate in the business of trying to protect against the threat of weapons of mass destructionh, that you'll find very different numbers. So I believe in polls. Polls are an expression of sentiment. Representative government must always listen to the citizens and what their views are. But I point out that opinions change, that poll results are merely one small snapshot at one point in time, and they certainly change as time goes by.

QUESTION: Regarding the danger of the Saddam Hussein regime's weapons of mass destruction from Japan's standpoint, Iraq is scary, but isn't North Korea even worse? North Korea has admitted to developing weapons of mass destruction. So there are many people who think that the difference is that Iraq has oil, while the North does not. Why is the United States' attitude different toward North Korea and Iraq?

AMBASSADOR BAKER: Well, there are many reasons. Let me try to separate them out. First of all, I have heard from time to time that this war is about oil. This war is not about oil. As a matter of fact, as far as the United States is concerned, we can take care of ourselves as far as oil is concerned. Japan cannot. Japan depends on petroleum production from the Middle East, principally. But this is not a war by the United States to protect oil for the United States. We could take care of that. This is a war - or it's a potential war ? against a regime that has gassed its own people, that has a ruthless dictatorship, that threatens the world with weapons of mass destruction, is a clear and present danger to civilization - not only in that region but throughout the world. These are proven facts. North Korea, in my view, is a serious danger to this part of the world - and perhaps the entire world - but it does not bring to it the presence and the immediacy that Iraq does. Iraq is a present problem, a demonstrated problem. We've seen what Saddam Hussein will do to his own people, what he threatens to do with his weapons of mass destruction. And North Korea - it is a very serious problem indeed. I will say personally - and this is not a statement of my government - but personally and frankly I worry more about North Korea than I do about Iraq. And the principal reason is I think I can see how the Iraq issue will resolve ...

QUESTION: I want to repeat our first exchange one more time. You met President Bush two weeks ago?

AMBASSADOR BAKER: Three weeks ago.

QUESTION: Three weeks ago. At that time, President Bush definitely said that, if possible, he'd like to evade a war.

AMBASSADOR BAKER: That is certain that he did say that. That is certain. That I believe it is also certain. That I believe it is possible still, I believe that is also certain. And the solution is very simple. Saddam Hussein can leave Iraq to a better government and a different government, he can identify his weapons of mass destruction, and either he or someone else can set about the business of destroying them, or not. It's a simple solution. I do not know what the answer will be. But I do know that President Bush, then and now, prefers the peaceful solution to the conflict solution.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

AMBASSADOR BAKER: Thank you very much. I enjoyed it.