Rice & Jack Straw: BBC Radio 4 Today Program IV
Interview British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on BBC Radio 4's Today Program With James Naughtie
March 31, 2006
QUESTION: Secretary of State, the Iraq invasion didn't produce exactly what you expected. The violence is increasing. The number of deaths is increasing. Don't you have to accept now that American policy has become necessarily defensive? You are simply trying to make the best of a very bad job.
SECRETARY RICE: In fact, the invasion of Iraq, which removed Saddam Hussein, has given the Iraqi people an opportunity to try and build a stable democracy. Yes, it's difficult. And, no, not everything was anticipated. I think it's beyond human beings to anticipate everything in major historical changes. But I think it's important that we not judge now, long before the history of Iraq is written, how this will all turn out. I see the Iraqis working toward a political system in which people can use the political system to change -- to deal with their differences, rather than violence. And I'm quite certain that they're going to succeed.
QUESTION: You say not everything was anticipated, but of course President Bush and Mr. Blair, as we now know from a memo of the meeting in January 2003 not long before the invasion, believed, both of them, that there wasn't going to be (inaudible) conflict. But they simply got it wrong. It wasn't that they didn't anticipate the trouble; they thought it was going to go quite differently. Mr. Allawi, who was Prime Minister, said "We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then, God knows what civil war is." And this isn't just things not going according to plan. It's things not moving.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I firmly disagree. When you've had three elections over the period of about a year, when the Iraqis have a constitution, when indeed there are those who would like to drive them into civil war, in fact, we know it is the manifesto of the terrorist Zarqawi in a letter that he wrote to Zawahiri that there should be civil war and that he would do everything that he could to foment civil war. But when you have the Iraqis respond by going back to try form a government of national unity, by going to each other's mosques, Sunnis going to Shia mosque and Shia going to the Sunni mosque, when you have Kurds giving condolences to any who lose people, I think it's very hard to say that these people have fallen into (inaudible) battle.
QUESTION: Well, that is happening but what's also happening is that there is, if you like, a new breed of terrorists. There are people engaged in violence who weren't engaged in violence before. Of course Iraq was an oppressed place. Of course Saddam Hussein was a dictator. The question is: how do you handle it? And what the world was told, and particularly the American, British people were told about what would happen after April is not -- April 2003 -- is not what has happened.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think what people were told, or what happened after April of 2003, is that the Iraqis would have an opportunity with all the support -- the support of the United States, the support of the United Kingdom, the support of two dozen other countries around the world -- to try and build a stable democracy. Now it is obviously true that there is violence. It is also obviously true that there is a political process that is underway. And in (inaudible) changes that are this big -- change is often very turbulent, it's even often very violent. And the "new breed" of terrorist that has been born there, they'll be defeated by the Iraqi people.
But let me just make one point, you said a moment ago, well, yes, Saddam Hussein was there and he was oppressing people. Well, that's no small matter.
QUESTION: Of course it isn't. It's big.
SECRETARY RICE: When you have 300,000 people in mass graves, what does it mean to defend human rights?
QUESTION: That's right, but --
SECRETARY RICE: When you have the use of chemical weapons against Kurd populations and against Shia populations, what does it mean to stand for any kind of international law? And so I think we can't just blithely say, well, there was Saddam Hussein --
QUESTION: No. I agree. It's not a blithe assertion at all -- the question is how do you deal with it? And the fact is that tens of -- many tens of thousands and the lowest estimate is somewhere about 40,000, and everyone believes that's a baseline estimate, of civilians have been killed since the invasion, democracy is being promised, if it's being promised, at the point of a gun. The Americans -- the American people are paying $400 billion on the War on Terror since 9/11. I mean, these are huge commitments and the question is: are people getting what they were promised? And of course the reasoning that many people are angry in this country and in your own country is that they believe they were misled into the war.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the President -- and I believe Prime Minister Blair -- were quite clear that we were going to war against Saddam Hussein because he was a threat that had to be dealt with. We had dozens of resolutions, resolution after resolution in the Security Council that had said he was a threat to international peace and security. This is someone against whom we were still at war. He was flying, or he was he shooting at our aircraft as they tried to patrol the no-fly zones. He was cheating on the oil-for-food program, much at the expense of his own people. But let me just make the following point.
The notion that somehow there was some other way to deal with Saddam Hussein, we had 12 years of trying to deal with Saddam Hussein after he had committed a bloody war of aggression against his neighbor. And so, yes, the decision was finally made to overthrow him and to give the Iraqi people a chance.
QUESTION: To the Foreign Secretary in one second, but on the question of why we went to war, yes, it was said Saddam was a bad man who was a force for instability. No question about that. But the American people were told pretty straightforwardly we're in the business -- the American Administration -- of regime change. The British people were told something quite different and very distinctly different; that if it wasn't for the WMD than the whole game would be different. Now we know that those weapons didn't exist in the way that we were told they existed. And Mr. Blair tonight persistently -- that the argument in Britain was about regime change, and yet we now know don't we because of the arguments that went on and the leaks we've had from the discussions in Washington that Mr. Blair's party was regime change all along.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I would ask the question, was it possible to anticipate a situation which Iraq might change without the change of regime? Now the United States believed not, as a matter of fact, the American Congress had voted that it was not possible to think of a different kind of Iraq. We actually had an Iraq Liberation Act voted in our Congress.
QUESTION: And these are the Clinton years.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. But I would just note that we all thought that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein was given an opportunity to come clean with the international community. There was a 15-0 resolution, 1441 in the UN Security Council telling him to come clean. He still refused to answer the questions. So that was the reason for the invasion.
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Well, I'll just say, first of all, that had 1441 been complied with -- easy to comply with -- Saddam would remain. It wouldn't have been satisfactory but he would have remained there. We need to remember that. No question about it.
The second thing is, look, so far as the military action is concerned, I believe that it was justified and we can go through the arguments. Not everything worked out afterwards as anticipated, but I'm absolutely clear that without it -- that military action -- you would never have been able to unleash the forces of democracy, not only in Iraq, and let's be clear about what else is happening across the Middle East: In Lebanon, where at long last, they're gradually being liberated from Syria; in Egypt, where you had the first -- a bit defective, but multi-party elections; in Kuwait the first women elected across the Gulf; and let's just take Morocco and Algeria, but also let us never forget Libya, it had a nuclear weapons program. We had the intelligence. Qadhafi gave that up, but I don't believe that he would have given it up but for Iraq.
QUESTION: Was war, in your view, justified on the basis of regime change to help bring about those things, or did you believe as we were told at the time that only the threat of weapons of mass destruction would justify the invasion of Saddam Hussein?
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: I believe what I said at the time and what I said at the time was that -- at the time when we made a decision in the House of Commons, a democratic decision on the 18th of March three years ago, that that was necessary in order to see the compliance with the United Nations resolutions. And that, Jim, is all laid out and as Condi said it wasn't just us who believed that Saddam still had weapons of mass destruction. I mean, let us be clear about it.
QUESTION: But Dr. Blix didn't believe it. He told Mr. Blair in February 2003 look we've looked for them, thanks for all the information (inaudible), we haven't found one.
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: With great respect, Dr. Blix was saying different things to different people.
QUESTION: Yeah, but (inaudible) had more time.
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: And Dr. Blix, don't forget, on the 6th of March, 2003, produced this 173-page document -- unanswered questions in 29 separate chapters. And I often thought it's extremely revealing that Dr. Blix had that document in his hands and failed to submit it to the Security Council until after the Security Council meeting.
QUESTION: What's very interesting here is that we're very quickly back into the arguments, which are quite familiar about the reasons for war. And let me suggest to you, Secretary of State, that the reason these arguments are still quite fresh in people's minds a few years on is because they realize this has been a campaign attended by mistakes. Of course, there were people thought it was a bad idea completely. But even those who said, well, maybe this is the way to deal with Saddam. Look at John Sawer's, who's political director now of the Foreign Commonwealth Office, his assessment in May 2003 just after the invasion about what the American forces were doing there: no leadership, no strategy, no coordination, no structure and inaccessible to ordinary Iraqis. Now that was the Pentagon in Iraq. That was a mistake.
SECRETARY RICE: No. The Pentagon was in Iraq because we were in a transition from war to peace. And I think if you look back at the early Administration for the United States in World War II, you will also see that there was a heavy military content to that. The fact is that, of course, there have been mistakes if you've ever done anything, than I think you've probably not done it perfectly; that's beyond human beings. But it was not a mistake to overthrow Saddam Hussein. It was not a mistake to unleash forces of democracy in the Middle East.
And I just have to note one thing: it's not at gunpoint that democracy is taking place in Iraq. At gunpoint Saddam Hussein was taken out of power. But Iraqis did not go to the polls at gunpoint. They went to the polls, in fact, despite the terror threats against them.
QUESTION: But in many parts of Iraq they could move around less freely and go about their business than they could a year ago. The point that Mr. Allawi was making, he said it's not getting better. It's getting worse and that's what worries me.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, certainly, the terrorists have proved to be very determined enemies of the Iraqi people. And certainly it is an insurgency that is difficult to defeat, but it will be defeated and will be defeated politically. And again, I just want to note, sometimes when we talk about Iraq if it's as if there was a good time in Iraq when there wasn't any violence, because after all Saddam Hussein had a monopoly on the means of violence. The birth of democracy is sometimes --
QUESTION: But the question is not whether liberal democracy -- you talked about this in your lecture on the eve of this program -- is a good thing or a bad thing, as most people in this country, as in yours, think it is a desirable state. The question is how you go about bringing it.
Now let me remind you and I'm sure you know these words from President Bush himself in the presidential debate just before he was elected October 2000. He said, if we're an arrogant nation, they will resent us -- speaking about the United States. Now the problem is that many people who try to look at this fair-mindedly, look for example at the question of extraordinary rendition, people taken to third countries where there may be practices that amount under international convention as to torture and they know that they go through our airspace. And the government said, well, really request every time -- a permission is requested every time this happens. Is a rendition flight only allowed through our airspace if the British Government has been informed?
SECRETARY RICE: I've been very clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of our allies and of other countries in the international system.
QUESTION: Does that mean we're thought every time (inaudible)
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we've expressed the sovereignty of Great Britain or any other country. But let me make one point about renditions. Rendition is a practice that has gone on well before September 11th. And the United States does not transfer people to places where we know they will be tortured. In fact, when we think there might even be a possibility of such, we do seek assurances. But I would ask people, should we rather than let known terrorists wander the streets to commit their crimes? It is not good enough to say we can't do these things, even though they fall within international law or an international practice. And then when a terrorist attack takes place say, "Well, why didn't you do more?"
QUESTION: Well, it's not a question of letting them wander the streets. It's what's done with them. Now I mean, the question that I want to ask, very clearly of you, Foreign Secretary, is whether you have got what you believe is proper permission for every flight that's stopped in this country which has involved rendition?
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Yes. I am clear about that.
QUESTION: Because you see, you said that we're only a handful. Your cabinet colleague Alistair Darling revealed to the Parliamentary that it was 73. Have we got 73 persons?
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: No. We did not reveal that at all.
QUESTION: He said there may have been a rogue rendition, but we don't know because we don't have the information.
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: I am clear that on each occasion and the United States is which to use our air space over or sought to use our airbases, it has sought permission. The only four cases for which we have records and we've made the most extensive inquiries actually rose, in respect to the Clinton regime, not in respect -- administration, not in respect of the Bush Administration. And as for the allegation that was carried on the Today Program yesterday, Friday morning, Treasury Solicitors on behalf of the government, already written to solicitors acting for this person. Asking for --
QUESTION: But this Mr. Arar who says he was taken to Syria and a freedom of information request revealed that the Foreign Office hadn't requested any information.
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Well, yes. But let's be clear about this. If you listened carefully to the interview yesterday, what appeared to be alleged was that this person flied over part of the North Atlantic. Now it happens that we control for flight purposes, parts of the North Atlantic (inaudible) control for any other.
QUESTION: Would you be disturbed if he had crossed British. If it had happened, would you regard it as important that you had been informed?
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Well, if he crossed British territory, yes. And that is why we had already written back to the solicitor's concern to get further details. But Condi's just said that the United States always respects the sovereignty of other countries. I'm satisfied about that. We have provided endless answers to questions which have been asked about this. What's going on is people are seeing to generate some scares about this. Alistair Darling who is the transport Secretary, never, ever said there'd been 73 rendition flights through the United Kingdom -- let's be absolutely clear about this -- never, ever. And what he said is there may be, I think, 73 flights involving --
QUESTION: Flights since 2001, including one stopover going from Afghanistan to Washington, other flights. And he said these -- none of the information held by my department provides evidence that these flights were involved in rendition.
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Of course.
QUESTION: But these were transport planes used by the CIA?
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: What transports planes used by the CIA?
QUESTION: But aren't you interested in finding out? Haven't you asked?
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Well, what's been said?
QUESTION: Well, let's speak to that.
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: But as I said, on the basis of the inquiries we made, including through the extensive records of the British Government, I have provided assurances that I am satisfied as far as one can possibly be of the U.S. Government, the UK Government alike that the only rendition which has taken place have been as I have stated.
QUESTION: So, Secretary of State, let me ask you just a very simple, clear question: Have any prisoners of the United States been taken to third countries where they are treated in ways which break any of the obligations to which the United States has committed itself around the world.
SECRETARY RICE: The United States takes its obligations both in terms of international law and in terms of domestic law absolutely seriously. And the President has been very clear that there are to be no violations of international law by any personnel of the United States on the territory or extraterritorial.
QUESTION: But you see, the problem that we've got is that we know about Guantanamo and we know that Mr. Gonzales who is now the Attorney General has said in one famous remark in a previous incarnation with the White House that he thought the Geneva Conventions were "quaint" and they didn't really deal with the situation we've got. And we know, talking about the American Administration, we know that 500 people have been for varying lengths of time in Guantanamo Bay without the trials and the protections that would normally be given under your jurisdiction and ours. And people say, well hold on, if this is a model war, if these are for high ideals, if this is for the spread of the liberal democracy of which you speak here, how can that be? You're breaking your own code of conduct?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, it is a moral war and a different kind of war. And in that different kind of war, we face people who fight to kill innocents, not as collateral damage, but as the purpose of their killing. We face networks of terrorists who are not associated with any state, but are rather a loose network associated by a radical ideology. It is our view and we know that not everyone agrees.
QUESTION: Including the British Government.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we understand that it is our view that the Geneva Conventions would have to be stretched to their limit in order to cover al-Qaida and terrorists --
QUESTION: Well, but you accept that?
SECRETARY RICE: But one moment. One moment. The President also said that despite the fact that we do not believe that these people should be -- should have to be given the protections of the Geneva Convention, that they would nonetheless be treated with military necessity consistent with the Geneva Convention. And we have invited a number of international rapporteurs to Guantanamo because we want people to see that in Guantanamo we've gone out of our way to make certain that people can practice, for instance, their religious faith, that people are treated there with a sense for their humanity and that people are treated there, understanding that we don't want to be the world's jailer and that we want people to have trials. But we also want to keep terrorists off the streets and we want to be able to get information from them that's necessary.
QUESTION: Well, why does the -- Lord Chancellor of Britain and the Attorney General, why do they both reject that argument?
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: We have a different view about interpretation of the Geneva Conventions. People say we always agree with the United States, as it happens -- not the case. We have a different view. But can I just say this, Lord Hurd who chaired today's Chatham House lecture given by Condi Rice yesterday--
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: -- Said and I quote, that the international institutions, including United Nations, set up after the war were now rusty. His words, not mine. And the truth is --
QUESTION: Well, rusty is one thing -- but if you're arguing that this war is to protect liberal democracy --
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Well, no.
QUESTION: -- Surely you have to practice it at home.
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Let me just make this point. The truth is we believe that the Geneva Convention just about can cope with the situation Condi has described. However, well, we also agree that the United States Government and with Lord Hurd is that these international institutions and international conventions were written for an entirely different circumstance. They're written for wars between sovereign states. They took no account of the possibility of failing states like Afghanistan breeding terrorism, like that being run by al-Qaida. And we have now to try and frame new rules to cope with a new situation.
QUESTION: But if, Secretary of State, it's a battle for minds, not just in the Middle East, but in Europe and in the United States, isn't it important that people have confidence that the rules aren't being bent, that Mr. Rumsfeld isn't saying, look, why can't we do some of these things to these guys at Guantanamo Bay? Why can't we be rougher with them? And we've seen memos which suggest exactly that. You say, if I stand up in my office for eight hours a day, why can't they stand up for eight hours a day?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, --
QUESTION: Being questioned, you know, in prison, things like water-boarding. I mean, these are things that come very close to international declarations of torture.
SECRETARY RICE: I would clearly ask people to stop and read some of the assessments of people who've gone to Guantanamo, including some of the most -- our critics in the United States have gone to Guantanamo. But the point is this, the United States is a law-abiding country. In fact, we are one of the staunchest defenders over time of international law. And we are going to live up to our international obligations. We're going to live up to our domestic laws because we're a country of laws. Within those laws, the President has made clear that he is going to do everything possible to prevent another attack of the kind that we experienced on September 11th and that means --
QUESTION: Which didn't come from Iraq?
SECRETARY RICE: No, it came from Afghanistan. But if you really do think that the only thing that happened on September 11th was a few people flew airplanes into buildings, then you don't understand the War on Terror. It was, of course, the conditions that produced al-Qaida that are rife throughout the Middle East and that's where Iraq fits into --
QUESTION: But aren't those conditions more rife in producing violence now, even than they were then?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, absolutely not.
QUESTION: Look at the number of people who were engaged in violence against your forces and against our forces in Iraq.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's a bit like saying that if you don't bother them, then they won't bother you. But of course, we know, that we didn't bother them.
QUESTION: Then you (inaudible) them?
SECRETARY RICE: No, I don't think we're breeding that. Most of the people that meet on the battlefields in Afghanistan or Iraq were either Baathists or they were not I can guarantee you some place drinking tea. They were fighting the good fight, from their point of view, someplace. But I just want to make the following point.
QUESTION: Yes. Sure.
SECRETARY RICE: It is extremely important that we not lose sight of the Middle East and what it has been for the last 60 years. It has been a place of frustration, it has been a place of hopelessness, it's been a place where the only channels for dissent have turned out to be violent and extremist challenges and --
QUESTION: And sometimes, because the United States was extraordinarily slow to understand the aspirations of the Palestinian people?
SECRETARY RICE: The President has been the first to say that the policies for the last 60 years sometimes, or very often, substituted -- or believed that you could have stability even if you didn't have democracy and we got neither. And with the Palestinians, it is the President of the United States that first called, as a matter of policy, for a Palestinian state.
So yes, this is a difficult time, but I just want to note these terrorists were there. They hurt us as early as 1983 and as late as 2000 with the bombing of the Cole and it finally exploded in 2001 on September 11th. We had to deal with this problem.
QUESTION: A couple of things very quickly before we end. The Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said that a military option against Iran, who continues to prevaricate on the nuclear question, is not on the American agenda. Is that true?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, what's on the American agenda is to try to make this policy work. And if the international community stays together, then the diplomacy about Iran will work.
QUESTION: Well, you've bent every muscle to make sure it's a diplomatic role that --
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: We are --
SECRETARY RICE: I think we are using every muscle to make sure that the diplomacy works. Of course, the President never takes any of his options off the table, but I wouldn't have been in Berlin with my colleagues and earlier in London with my colleagues -- if the international community really stays united and sends a unified message to Iran, Iran will have no choice.
QUESTION: And do you hope that a new Israeli government under Mr. Olmert, when it's formed, will talk to a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority rather than go for a unilateral option on the pullout from the West Bank?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I sincerely hope that there is going to be adherence to the roadmap by all parties, but I just want to note there was a suicide bombing today in Israel and what happened? Abu Mazen condemned that suicide bombing. I haven't yet heard Hamas to condemn that suicide bombing. That seems to me, not in accordance with the spirit in which one seeks peace.
QUESTION: A personal question. You're having a visit with the Foreign Secretary, which is a return visit for the one he paid to Birmingham, Alabama, your home town. It's obviously quite a personal relationship. People are interested in you as a person, clearly. Will you ever run for President?
SECRETARY RICE: I really don't want to run for office. I was watching the student council today at the school and I thought. I actually never even ran for student council.
QUESTION: You know, we have a politician in this country called Michael Heseltine who challenged Margaret Thatcher and effectively blew her out of office. And he used to say, "I cannot foresee circumstances in which I would run for Prime Minister." And we all knew what he meant. It was next week.
Now, you didn't say no.
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: There's a difference, just a --
SECRETARY RICE: Right.
QUESTION: You didn't say yes and you didn't say no, so --
SECRETARY RICE: (Inaudible), I have said recently in the United States -- I've said no as many ways as I know how. I know what I want to do with my life. I know what my strengths are and I have enormous admiration for those who do stand for office. It's not what I want to do.
QUESTION: And even if your close friend, President Bush, who brought you into his administration and has trusted you with one of the highest offices that can be given to someone in the United States -- even if he said, "I want you to do it," you would say, "No, I want to go back to Stanford and play the piano and teach students?"
SECRETARY RICE: He's asked me to be Secretary of State. That's quite enough for one career and one lifetime.
QUESTION: Condoleezza Rice, Jack Straw, thank you both very much.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Thank you.
Released on April 1, 2006