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Interview With Former Russian Deputy Minister Of Energy Vladimir Milov; Interview With "Danger Zone" Co-Author And Former U.S. Defense Department Official Michael Beckley; Interview With Iraqi Journalist And "A Stranger In Your Own City" Author Ghaith Abdul-Ahad; Interview With "Confronting Saddam Hussein: George W. Bush And The Invasion Of Iraq" Author Melvyn Leffler. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired March 20, 2023 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. And welcome to AMANPOUR. Here is what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT: These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: 20 years since the invasion that changed America's place in the world. We look at the domino effects of the war in Iraq felt to this day.
First, Mr. Xi goes to Moscow. The Chinese president embraces Putin, chipping away at democracy and America's unchallenged global status. Then,
"A Stranger in Your Own City", the true cost of the Iraq war with journalist and author Ghaith Abdul-Ahad on the human price.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELVYN LEFFLER, AUTHOR, "CONFRONTING SADDAM HUSSEIN: GEORGE W. BUSH AND THE INVASION OF IRAQ": There were good reasons for American policymakers to be
extremely distrustful and suspicious of him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: "Confronting Saddam Hussein". Why the U.S. chose a war, and what it's learned 20 years later. Historian Melvyn Leffler joins Walter
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Tonight, as the war in Ukraine throws the spotlight on democracy and accountability, we will look back to look forward because it's 20 years
since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the reverberations are still being felt today.
President George W. Bush once said, the road to democracy in that region would lead through Baghdad, and be a watershed event in the global
democratic revolution. Well, it didn't. Quite the contrary, in fact. Here he is, back in 2002.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT: The days of Iraq acting as an outlaw state are coming to an end. The United States is committed to helping make
the world more peaceful and more just.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Instead, the war upended the Middle East, plunged Iraq into chaos, killed hundreds of thousands there, and led directly to the rise of
ISIS. We will examine that legacy later in the program, but first, Americas hubris then is being flung back in its face now by new global challenges.
Vladimir Putin, intent on crushing Ukraine's democracy. And China's, Xi Jinping, who sees a new world order being made more in Beijing's image.
Today, the two come together in Moscow. Beijing is casting this visit as a journey of peace. But is it more like the rise of the authoritarians?
Vladimir Milov, former Russian deputy minister of energy, is joining me from Vilnius in Lithuania. And Michael Beckley, former Pentagon official
and co-author of "Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China", joins me from New York.
Gentlemen, welcome to the program. So, I sort of laid out a thesis and I want to ask you first then, Vladimir, what you think Russia, Vladimir
Putin, gets from this visit at this time?
VLADIMIR MILOV, FORMER RUSSIAN DEPUTY MINISTER OF ENERGY: Great to be with you, Christiane.
I don't think they will get very much because, I'm pretty sure that China is absolutely unhappy with how the war is going, that Putin is not capable
of winning, and that he actually entered this protracted and bloody conflict. On the contrary, I'm sure he promised Xi Jinping last year that
this will be just a swift blitzkrieg type operation. Now, it is messy. And moreover, China has no influence over it. They cannot make any decisions
that would change the course of the war.
However, Putin is a very important ally in Xi Jinping's standoff against the democratic west. He needs him. So, somehow, he has to show some support
and bring probably some help. Which is why, I would say, this is a very uneasy relationship behind the facade.
AMANPOUR: And Michael Beckley, from a former U.S. government perspective, and because, you know, you've written this book on the coming conflict with
China. What do you think Xi Jinping gets out of this?
MICHAEL BECKLEY, CO-AUTHOR, "DANGER ZONE" AND FORMER U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think we have to look at this in the context
that China believes that it is locked in a long-term confrontation with the United States. And in that context, Russia is a vital ally. It's really
China's only great power ally. It supplies, obviously, resources to China.
It's -- Xi is probably hoping to get military technology. China is trying to modernize its nuclear-powered submarines, which currently are very
noisy. They also want to get surface to air missiles.
And more broadly, as Vladimir pointed out, both of these countries are revisionist powers. They are trying to upend the status quo. They're trying
to redraw the map of Eurasia and to push back on what they view as a western, democratically dominated world.
And so, in that context, Russia is a vital ally for China. So, it is no surprise that China will continue to prop up Russia, even as it tries to
create a facade of being the even-handed peacemaker.
AMANPOUR: So, to that point, as we said, they are, you know, casting this is a journey of peace. Let us just play what Xi Jinping said during his
meeting. Here's a little bit of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
XI JINPING, CHINESE PRESIDENT (through translator): It is true that both of our countries share the same or similar goals. We have exerted efforts
for the prosperity of our respective countries. We can cooperate and work together to achieve our goals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that was about, you know, what you have just been talking about. Who do you think needs the other most, Vladimir?
MILOV: Well, definitely Russia. Russia is in deep crisis and there are a lot of troubles in the battlefield and the economy and so on. And China is
not participating, again, as I said, in this mess. So clearly, Putin needs Xi Jinping's support more.
However, is again, as we both pointed out, for China it is important that they keep this strategic ally. Sometimes, I think it's also very useful
that Putin really creates some disturbing positions which are -- taken a lot of American resources, western resources. So, maybe for China also,
somehow the situation is kind of useful. But definitely, it is Russia with its, you know, emerging economic crisis, budget crisis. With Russia running
out of ammunition at the battlefield, it is Russia which needs China most.
AMANPOUR: And Michael Beckley, again, just to dial deeper into this, you said Xi looks at a generational, sort of, struggle. Being locked in, in a
long-term struggle with the United States. So, in his letter to the Russian leader -- sorry, the Russian media before his visit, he said that the two
countries will, "Jointly adopt a new vision, and new blueprint, and new measures for the growth of China-Russia comprehensive strategic
partnerships of coordination in the years to come." So, what would that look like?
BECKLEY: It's -- yes, they're clearly sketching out an alternative world order where, first of all, sovereignty. What goes on within their borders.
How they treat their own people is their business, and the United States and its allies need to stay out of that business. And second, that great
powers should have natural spheres of influence. That basically, the countries around them should be reduced to vassal status, and that --
that's just the way the international politics works, and that we all just have to adjust to that reality.
So, they are clearly sketching out that alternative, and they also jointly pushback at what they call a cold war mindset or blocks. So, namely, U.S.
military alliances, as well as the use of sanctions, which obviously have been used to great effect in this war. So, trying to push back at that
world order and carve out space for another one, dominated by them.
AMANPOUR: Vladimir, you are particularly -- I mean, you are former deputy minister of energy, and you are very, very, you know, plugged to the
economy of Russia. Can you just sketch out, because we hear in the media so many different things. On the one hand, the sanctions are really hurting.
On the other hand, they are not. And the projected growth is bigger than we might have expected. Can you just give us, from your perspective, having
been, you know, in the room where it happened, what it looks like in Russia now for Putin?
MILOV: Well, the sanctions are having a very deep and profound impact. We are just plunging into a very deep budgetary crisis during the first two
months of this year. The deficit of the Russian Federal budget, I had comprised 90 percent of the total deficit that was planned for the whole of
this year. This is because of the European Union oil embargo and price caps working.
On top of that, you have major industries collapsing, being unplugged from capital markets and western technologies, and so on. We have domestic
retail trade in a deep depression. Last year, the contraction was more than 10 percent on an annual basis. Well, I could go on for a long time. Point
is that, sanctions are having increasing impact as time goes by. So, it's not an immediate thing.
And right now, this year will be particularly vulnerable for Putin because the government is running out of money. This is actually when he is needing
Chinese support the most. So far, I have to say, it's been relatively thin.
So, China is providing something at the bare minimum, actually, to make Russia hold on. But they are not, like, throwing their full weight to save
Putin and also economically.
AMANPOUR: So, let's just delve a little bit deeper into this. Do you all - - I mean, you sort of address it at the beginning. Do you all believe that, actually, Xi has anything constructive to offer regarding peace? This is
what Putin said to talk China -- about China's peace proposal, which Xi says he is bringing to Moscow. Here's what Putin said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We have carefully studied your proposals for resolving the acute crisis in Ukraine. Of
course, we will have the opportunity to discuss this issue. We know that you proceed from the principle of justice, and observance of the
fundamental provisions of international law. Indivisible security for all parties. You are also aware that we are always open to the negotiation
processes. We will certainly discuss all these issues, including your initiative.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Michael Beckley, should those involved, like -- including the west that's supporting Ukraine, you know, take any comfort from that? I
mean, is there any serious avenue towards any kind of resolution?
BECKLEY: No, unfortunately. I think we are at the point where the only comfort that can be taken are things that maybe Xi won't do coming out of
this meeting. So, hopefully he won't make an explicit pledge, for example, of lethal aid for Russia. Hopefully, he will reiterate his, sort of, bland
one-liners about not wanting this conflict to escalate to nuclear war. Just to put some doubt in the back of Putin's mind that he could really count on
China if he escalates severely in the conflict.
But other than that, I mean, you know, I agree with Vladimir that China, obviously, would have wanted Russia to win this war easily. But I think a
longer drawn-out conflict is not necessarily a terrible outcome for China either because it ties down the west and causes the United States and its
allies to expand their own stocks of munitions and distracts them from whatever China is trying to do in East Asia.
And so, while it might have preferred a Russian victory, keeping this war going is not the worst thing for China. And so, I just don't expect China
to make productive, proactive measures to actually bring this conflict to an end on anything other than Russia's total terms.
AMANPOUR: And Vladimir, keeping this war going, is that a good thing for Russia? On the one hand, we know that Putin always thinks that time is on
his side. And a gradual, you know, attrition and wearing down, not just on the battlefield, but in supporting nations. Is time on Putin's side?
MILOV: I think this is, again, one more major mistake and miscalculation by Putin. His permanent believe in his resource supremacy that time is on
his side and he can outlast and outweighed the democratic western societies which will soon, you know, confront fatigue over this war, and so on. This
This is wrong and this is a profound miscalculation. And I think this is also what makes Chinese very uneasy because they are not in control over
the outcome of this war. And this is, I'm sure, what worries Xi Jinping and this is something that prevents him for throwing his full weight in terms
of backing Putin.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you both now to just tell me what you think and what you felt when you saw Putin, A, being indicted or at least an arrest
warrant being issued for him by the International Criminal Court on Friday. And then spending the weekend hopping into occupied territories, including
on the mainland of Ukraine at Mariupol. What do you -- I mean, that's -- you know, I mean, it's serious chutzpah. What do you think, Vladimir?
MILOV: Well, this indictment -- I don't even think, I know that it actually sent shockwaves among my former colleagues in the Russian
government because all this talk about Putin being persecuted somewhere, somehow had finally transformed into a very, a very specific areas to war.
And then we all know what happened with many leaders who have been indicted previously.
So, this is like a major qualitative step forward, moving onto formally inditing him. I think Putin's snap visit to Crimea and Mariupol was an
emotional reaction to that. It was a show of defiance. He wanted to show that he doesn't care, and what I grab is mine, and you will not be able to
change this with your arrest warrants.
Also, you know, in a show of strength, attempted show of strength for the Russian elite. But I am sure this also demonstrates this, you know,
emotional reaction of his visit, this also demonstrates the vulnerability that they understand that, you know, in terms of lengthy strategic
confrontation, there are really very rare chances that Russia might win.
AMANPOUR: And Michael, he did this, you know, on the eve of Xi Jinping's visit. Was he trying to project strength to China as well?
BECKLEY: Yes, I think he's just trying to show he can act with impunity. And it really -- it made me a bit sick to my stomach. It's sort of like
seeing a criminal cavorting around the scene of the crime. And I think it is unnerving for a couple of reasons. One, it -- now the stakes have really
been raised because Putin, you know, he's -- is going to have trouble traveling outside of Russia for the foreseeable future now that he's been
accused of war crimes. And it also -- so that may increase his potential to escalate.
And I think it also says something about China and Xi Jinping, that he would be willing to have this state visit --
BECKLEY: -- and these friendly relations with Putin so soon after the optics of Putin going around and then being accused of war crimes. So, it's
as scary things. I think about both Russia and China going forward.
AMANPOUR: Yes, I was wondering about that, too. And of course, the United States, the Secretary of State Antony Blinken has addressed not just
Putin's, you know, arrest warrant and his visit to Mariupol, but also this visit between the two of them now. This is what Blinken has just said about
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: That President Xi is traveling to Russia days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant
for President Putin, suggests that China feels no responsibility to hold the Kremlin accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine. And
instead of even condemning them, it would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit those very crimes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, is that, do you think, what he is doing, Michael, providing diplomatic cover?
BECKLEY: I think that's exactly what he's doing because when -- it's not just that he is meeting, they are reiterating the message that this war is
the west, and principally the United States's fault for expanding NATO, for infringing on their rightful spheres of influence. And so, it is -- it's
just showing that they have a united front and are trying to shift the blame and make it look like they are the actors of peace and that they were
forced into this conflict by the animosity shown by the United States and its allies.
AMANPOUR: So, let's use our remaining minutes just to project forward, then. Vladimir, from where you sit, first of all, are you getting -- you
talked about your former colleagues in government. Are you getting any feedback from people who are still there and in the Putin circle? And where
do you think this is going for the Kremlin-backed operation?
MILOV: I think, my guess is that nobody in the circle surrounding Putin that he likes (ph) knows what's going on. Everybody, more or less,
understands that, you know, whatever time and resources the continuing war might take, Russia already lost it.
But they are also -- Russian elite is extremely incapacitated and fearful. They are being watched and monitored by security services day and night.
They are afraid of even talking to each other about their defiance of Putin's policies. So, you don't have to expect anything from them, except
maybe -- which I hope will finally work, some sort of sabotage or Italian (ph) strike. Like, they will not really enthusiastically invest themselves
into Putin's cause. And we see a lot of things in Russia are slowly but surely collapsing. Maybe it's also the result of that behavior.
AMANPOUR: And Michael Beckley, again, you're focused on the title of your book, "The Coming Conflict". Where do you think Xi sees the path to
whatever he's trying to do? I mean, President Biden says, maybe he'll try to have a phone call, maybe reestablish some kind of contact. Where do you
see this going between Xi and the United States?
BECKLEY: Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to go anywhere good anytime in the next five to 10 years. At this point, the United States and
China have clearly shown that they have severe conflicts of interest. They basically espoused clashing visions of international order. And then they
also have, of course, a territorial conflict in the shape of Taiwan, which has been heating up.
And yes, while we've been so focused on Ukraine, and rightly so, China has been conducting even larger shows of force in the Taiwan Strait. And with
elections coming up, in both Taiwan and the United States, I expect on the American side, there to be a fair amount of hostility shown towards China.
So, it's going to be a very combustible mix in that context. And then with, obviously a hot war going on in Europe, I just don't see any avenue for a
thawing, a real thawing in U.S.-China relations.
AMANPOUR: Gosh. It's all very dark, isn't it? Michael Beckley, Vladimir Milov, thank you so much indeed for joining us.
And as we said, of course, all of this, 20 years after the Iraq war that upended so much about international relations and the rule of law. Of
course, the real cost of the war in Iraq can be counted in lives lost, especially in Iraq.
The suffering of the Iraqi people grew greater as the insurgency grew stronger. And that all began shortly after the invasion. I witnessed a
little part of those beginnings while reporting on a U.S. military nighttime raid in Baghdad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get down. Get down. Get down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get down. Get down.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): Adrenaline pumping, accompany soldiers from the 82nd airborne starts house to house raids. Acting on intelligence flushed out by
the bombing phase of Operation Iron Hammer, they are after the leader of one of the guerilla cells that has been attacking them.
Let them search. Let them search the house, screams one woman.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking in a foreign language).
AMANPOUR: It's half past midnight and everyone is asleep on the floor. This young woman protects her newborn, miraculously soldiers avoid stepping
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking in a foreign language).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I remember that so well, the harrowing experience of so many Iraqis. Now, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is an Iraqi journalist who watched as his
country was torn apart. First, by the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, and then by the U.S.-led occupation. His new book, "A Stranger in Your Own
City", paints a tragic picture of a country that has been destroyed by war. And he is joining me now, here in the studio.
Ghaith, welcome to the program. You saw that, you are there when those -- I'm sure you actually accompanied maybe some western journalists watching
that happen on a regular basis. So, for people who don't remember, how did that kind of attack on Iraqi civilians set the process and sow the seeds
for this backlash against the American occupation?
GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD, IRAQI JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR, "A STRANGER IN YOUR OWN CITY": I mean, there was a moment, there was an hour, I call it an hour of
freedom, when the dictatorship fell before the Americans entered the streets. And in that hour, when suddenly all the security forces of Saddam
melted and disappeared, and the Iraqis were, I would say, everyone was excited to get rid of Saddam.
But when they saw the Americans, they were expecting, you know, -- I mean, it's a Faustian deal. No one wanted a war. We've been bombed by the
Americans before. We've seen war with Iran. But they thought, fine, if this will get rid of Saddam, let's go through the motions. But then, of course,
no one asked the Iraqis if they want a war or nothing.
But then you realize early on the attitude of the American soldiers toward the Iraqi civilians. I remember the first time was driving with a friend,
and I said (ph), why are they pointing their guns at us? And of course, these are how occupation armies behave because they seek threat everywhere,
while civilians were expecting something else.
AMANPOUR: Yes, I remember those days so -- I mean, they were -- they thought they were going after militants. But as you can see, you know, they
were going into houses full of civilians. And I remember being terrified that they were going to step on that baby in that house.
And I just wonder -- you know, you have -- I think you were five years old when Iraq, your country, invaded my country, invaded Iran --
ABDUL-AHAD: I'm sorry.
AMANPOUR: -- and that, you know, led to so much of this. You include all of that in your book. Why do you go as far back as the Iraq war and Iran?
ABDUL-AHAD: Because In 2003, after 2003 there was this kind of very binary, easy way to look at Iraq. Sunni-Shia conflict, Kurds and Arabs. And
I want to talk about Iran as we saw it. You know, when I was a child, during the Iran-Iraq war, I thought Saddam was the manifestation of God.
Because I had seen nothing. His pictures are everywhere. You -- people talk about him. People fear him.
And this is how we understood this Iraq. And Saddam, kind of, portrayed himself as this manifestation of the glory of all of this history stuff and
replaying the history again and again. And that was our understanding of history. Of course, the war in Iran led to the war of Kuwait, led to the
sanctions which destroyed the Iraqi people. 13 years of very severe sanctions.
Come 2003, Iraq is a broken nation. It's barely standing. It's barely functioning. And then suddenly, we are told that this whole narrative of
5,000 years of civilization is not true, you know? It's a new narrative. Now, it's a very sectarian narrative based on a system we call muhasabah
(ph) in Arabic in which each sect will take a number of ministries. And that sectarian rhetoric that came after the war, after the occupation,
thanks to exiled politicians who were in London and Tehran. That was the first step in the sectarian civil war that followed.
AMANPOUR: So, that's really interesting because you -- explain, you know, when you would go out with journalist and, you know, you would be
translating, I guess, of -- for the western journalists who you were working for. What would they be -- what would some of their first questions
be, to whichever Iraqi they were interviewing?
ABDUL-AHAD: So, the first time, I was asked to translate this question, we were seeing a family in some kind of suburbs of Baghdad, and the journalist
asked me to ask them, are they Sunnis or Shia?
And it was a shock for me the first few times. I think I didn't translate that question because it's a very -- crass question to ask in a moderate
middle class society. That -- I don't want to say that Sunnis and Shias did not exist in Arab. I'm just saying the sectarian political identity did not
exist. It was something imposed onto Iraqis. So, I was shocked.
Why do I talk about Iraq of the 80s? Because I want to say that in my high school, we were 40 students, or 42. Until today, I don't know half of them
if they were Sunnis and Shia. And that is very, very important to highlight. But of course, within one year, I myself started looking at the
Iraqis within this whole sectarian frame, and I started identifying Sunnis and Shia and took me many years to come out of that mentality.
AMANPOUR: Yes, but it lasted to this today. That is the legacy of this war, right?
ABDUL-AHAD: Of course. The legacy of this war -- I mean, there are two legacies. There is the political legacy, there are the same political
policies, half of them, you know, run militias. Half of them -- everyone is corrupt. You know, the Iraqi government is one of the most corrupt in the
world. That is one legacy of the war.
But then there is a new legacy, which is the young generation that came out after 2003. In 2019, 2020, we saw this massive pouring of youth into the
street. And they were a trans-sectarian, you know, generation, fed up with his political narrative that imposed on them since 2003.
AMANPOUR: You know, I was going to say, it goes, I suppose, to the heart of -- you know, you called your book, "Stranger in My Own City -- In My Own
Country". What do you mean exactly by that?
ABDUL-AHAD: I mean, imagine yourself growing in a city, never leaving it for 28 years, which is my case in Iraq. It's a very flat city. It's a very
open city. It's -- I would say sometimes it's an ugly and boring city. So - - but that was my city, and I knew it and I walked in it and I, you know, grew up in it.
And then within two years of the war, I, myself, cannot travel throughout Baghdad without having someone to vouch for me. So, I remember that moment
in, I think 2006 or '07, when I just woke up in my bed and I realized, this is not my city anymore. I am a stranger in this city. I need people to -- I
need to change my I.D. cards. I need contacts in every single street so that I can just move. And that's not only me as a journalist, that is the
life of so many -- of all the Iraqis who were trapped in this war.
AMANPOUR: I want to focus a little bit on what -- I think many Americans may not fully realize. And the -- you know, we were obviously reporting it
throughout the years since the invasion. Of course, thousands of Americans and others, British and others were grievously wounded in the many years of
the occupation. There were the IEDs, that was a new thing. Blue people up, they're -- you know, they had catastrophic injuries, journalists, as well,
you know, somewhere in the region of 4,000 Americans. But it was hundreds of thousands of Iraqi's, and they are still suffering from burn pit
exposure and all sorts of stuff.
Were you aware of that level of Iraqi suffering when you would, you know, being a journalist there during this period?
ABDUL-AHAD: Of course, all that we saw, we saw the Iraqis suffering. I mean, of course, the Americans suffered, the soldiers were injured and were
killed. But what we saw as Iraqis, we saw the suffering of the Iraqis themselves. And of course, the Americans left in 2009, then stopped
fighting on the street. But the Iraqis continued to die, and die in a more horrific numbers thanks to the emergence of ISIS, the Islamic state, and
all the repercussions.
And they are still dying until today. You know, two weeks ago, I was in Baghdad, and I was hanging out with this guy, you know, writing about him.
He's a militia commander and he is responsible for killing thousands of Iraqis. And you know, 20 years later, there is no accountability. None of
the people who plotted the war, who led the war, who executed the war, the commanders foreign and Iraqis who killed civilian, there's no
accountability, 20 years.
And this is the problem for Iraqis, you know. When you ask them about America now, they will just point at this corrupt political system that we
have and they blame America for bringing that. And without holding people accountable, not putting them in jail, but just opening the, you know,
being honest with the Iraqi people, I'm talking to them.
AMANPOUR: I was, you know, kind of shocked, but maybe I shouldn't have been, listening to quite a lot of the rapportage that is going on right now
in this 20th anniversary. Certain people, ordinary people in the streets saying, you know, in a way, we miss Saddam Hussein. Not because we loved
him, not because he was a good leader. He was a despot and a tyrant, but at least there was order.
ABDUL-AHAD: This is the disaster. You know, 20 years later, you know what this war has achieved? Endless sectarian killing and the massacres in the
street. Created this nostalgia for the strongman. Let me -- of course, all the dictators, you were just talking about Putin.
ABDUL-AHAD: All the dictators benefit from that illusion that it is the strongman who would stop a civil war would lead. And that's the disaster.
Another disaster of this war, apart from sectarian killing is, of course, the whole idea of democracy has been tainted in Iraq. Because when you go
to the young generation and tell them a parliament, tell them election, they say, oh, those kinds of corrupt people sitting at the green zone, that
is another victim of the invasion and the occupation.
You know, 20 years later, people are yearning for a strongman, and that is horrible.
AMANPOUR: That is a terrible legacy. And I wonder, you know, in your book, you talk about some of the images that you saw on the day of -- what was
it, liberation? I don't know -- when the Americans finally got to Baghdad. You describe it in great detail, and you describe watching U.S. marine and
we all watched it, you know, basically helped tear down a statue and put the American flag up. And you write, no, no, you can't be doing this, I
gasped, at least allow the facade of liberation to last for a day. But now, with all the arrogance of every occupying soldier throughout history, he
covered the face of the defeated dictator with the flag of his victorious nation, briefly, but long enough to seal the fate of the invasion in the
eyes of many.
You then called it perhaps an honest act. I remember, American -- the officials in Washington were horrified and tried to, you know, send a
message to stop that, get that flag off because this wasn't about America, it was about Iraq. Talk about again that moment.
ABDUL-AHAD: This is why I think he was very honest, because for that marine, he did not believe in all this rhetoric coming from Washington, all
of the people were talking about. He saw it as a war between his army, his soldiers, and the Iraqis. And probably, if all the rhetoric that was coming
around the invasion, the rhetoric of liberation and Iraqi prosperity and whatnot, that act of the marine, covering the face of Saddam with his
American flag, as horrible as it was on TV, it was a very honest act.
You know, that was a dictator, we topple. It is not the Iraqis who toppled this statute, and this is another sad thing, you know. Even the act of
bringing down the statute was not done by the Iraqis, it was done by the American marines.
AMANPOUR: And then, it was quite clear to those of us who, you know, knows to the ground that there was an insurgency growing and that it's sort of
started with the complete lack of control and lack of awareness and admission by the U.S. that there was an insurgency, and the first
manifestations were of looting and all of that kind of stuff. Were you concerned and where did you think it would lead to that time, in 2003,
2004? Did you think it would ever lead to ISIS in the end?
ABDUL-AHAD: Maybe no one could have imagined ISIS as it is, but it was obvious that the Americans had no security plan. And the borders were open,
and anyone who had a grievance against the Americans would come to Iraq to fight, that includes the Jihadi's, coming as far as -- from as far as
Afghanistan, so many. But also, the Iranians who were working very hard to make the -- you know, the Americans -- why would the American succeed in
Iraq and we are next? We should make the Americans fail in there. So, all these different forces.
But also, again, the sectarian rhetoric. The sectarian rhetoric of the political powers that came by lumping -- by -- because Saddam was a Sunni,
then by association, all the Sunnis must be guilty of Saddam's atrocities, pushing them into a corner, using the de-Ba'athification as a way to
torment the Sunni community. Of course, they will take rejections position towards the government. And that is -- he saw the aggressive piece of a
AMANPOUR: Again, as I said, you know, Bush and his government were basically saying, I mean, in so many words, democracy in the Middle East
will go through Baghdad. And that you heard, you know, Bush saying that this is going to be a great, you know, watershed moment. Could it have been
any different? Because there are many people who say that even though the war was -- the invasion was based on a lie about WMD, that a post war plan
that was coherent and credible might have made the best out of a situation. Do you believe that or not?
ABDUL-AHAD: For a few months, probably a year I thought of that. I thought, if only the Americans would do soi and so. If only they would fix
the services, maybe the people would. And a decade later, I realized you cannot bomb a nation, put it under sanctions for 13 years, bomb it again,
and come with this very clumsy plan until it become a democracy. There was no way to turn an illegal occupation into a democracy. It was bound to
fail. This is history. I mean, we are talking about another illegal invasion taking place at the moment.
AMANPOUR: Russia into Ukraine.
ABDUL-AHAD: It's all -- I mean, there is no legitimacy to that. Whatever Putin can say now, he will never, you know, create any legitimacy to his
AMANPOUR: And yet, he throws that invasion in the face of the Americans.
ABDUL-AHAD: Exactly. Because he knows what the Americans did. As we said, you know, democracy failed in the Middle East because people will point at
Iraq and say, this is the democracy you want? But also, the kind of -- because there was no accountability, legitimacy, international legitimacy
has been another victim. Every single dictator from Bashar to Putin to everyone else would point that the Americans acts in Iraq and say, look,
what did the American do? Why they are telling us not to do.
AMANPOUR: Oh, boy. This is tragedy. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, thank you very much indeed for being with us.
ABDUL-AHAD: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Thank you. And next to the United States, where the consequences of the Iraq war are also still being felt. President Bush has never
admitted that his war was a mistake, unlike some of his officials. And many Republicans today. Our next guest, Professor Melvyn Leffler tackles the
question of responsibility and accountability in his new book, "Confronting Saddam Hussein: George W. Bush and the Invasion of Iraq." And here he is
now with Walter Isaacson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank, you Christiane. And Professor Mel Leffler, welcome to the show.
MELVYN LEFFLER, AUTHOR, "CONFRONTING SADDAM HUSSEIN: GEORGE W. BUSH AND THE INVASION OF IRAQ": Delighted to be with, you Walter.
ISAACSON: Today marks the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. And you write that that was the most consequential American foreign policy act
of the 21st century. What were the consequences?
LEFFLER: There were many. First off, keep in mind that it led to the deaths of over 200,000 Iraqis and the displacement of about 9 million
Iraqis. It led to the deaths of approximately 9,000 American soldiers and private contractors. It will cost the American people, over time,
approximately $2 trillion.
Geopolitically, it had significant consequences as well. It diverted American attention from the ongoing war in Afghanistan. It allowed Iran to
become predominant in the Persian Gulf. It divided America from its European allies, however briefly. It distracted America's attention from
the rise of China and from the revanchism in Russia. So, geologically, it had significant consequences as well.
ISAACSON: But didn't we think that Saddam Hussein was a really bad threat and we had to do this? I mean, weren't these well-intentioned decisions?
LEFFLER: Yes, they were well-intentioned decisions. And as I described in my book, Saddam Hussein was a brutal, cruel dictator who had developed
weapons of mass destruction, who had used weapons of mass destruction, meaning chemical and biological weapons, both against his own people and
against the Iranians in the Iraq-Iranian war. He had lied about his weapons of mass destruction. He had concealed his weapons of mass destruction. And
he was, overall, a character who could not at all be trusted.
So, I think the -- what I try to present in my book is that there were good reasons for American policymakers to be extremely completely distrustful
and suspicious of him, especially after the shock of 9/11. That doesn't mean that I am writing that the war was justified, but it does mean that
policymakers were acting, in your words, out of good intentions. They certainly wanted to prevent the United States from suffering an attack like
the one that happened on 9/11.
ISAACSON: I want to drill down on the question of why did George W. Bush do this? Why did he invade? And that main theory is weaving through your
book and other places, some of which had to do with his father and his -- the way his father conducted the first Gulf War. Some say it was Cheney and
willful wits and advisers like that who drove him into it, and they had undue influence on him. Some say it was a whole fog and confusion. Some say
he really did believe in democracy promotion, that he would create democracy in the Middle East. What do you think the motivations really
LEFFLER: I think the overriding motivation was fear and a sense of responsibility to prevent another attack. The allegations that he was
trying to redress the errors of his father or get even with Saddam Hussein for Hussein's effort to assassinate his father, there seems to be no
credible evidence to suggest that that -- those were real factors.
But President Bush clearly was extraordinarily worried about another attack. And he had a reason to be worried about based on incontrovertible
evidence that al Qaeda did seek to attack United States again. The notions Dick Cheney was making policy, or the Neocons, like Paul Wolfowitz and Doug
Feith, those generalization are simply not well founded if you look carefully at the evidence. And the evidence suggests that President Bush
was motivated principally by fear, and President Bush also believed he had the capacity, the capabilities, the power to deal with this perception of
threat. So, it's really the fear, power, hubris that motivated him.
ISAACSON: In your book, there is a scene that illustrates, I think, one of the failings that happened in U.S. policy. I like to describe that scene
and have you discuss it. It's in a meeting with General Franks, and you talk about President George W. Bush saying, can we win? And General Franks
says, yes, sir. And the president says, can we get rid of Saddam Hussein? Yes, sir, says the general. And then, you say, the president did not ask,
what then? Why was that the problem?
LEFFLER: That was a tremendous problem because there was inadequate attention paid to what the war plan is defined as phase four of the war
effort. Phase four was the post war stabilization and reconstruction time period. And President Bush and General Franks and Secretary of Defense
Rumsfeld and other top officials actually spent a lot of time talking about the initial phases of the war plan. What would be required to topple Saddam
Hussein? But they did not spend much time on what it would take to preserve order and stability and ensure security in the aftermath of the government
Hence, there was enormous confusion and there was enormous chaos and there was enormous disorder, immediately after the regime was toppled. And the
United States did not have sufficient troops or sufficient plans to really deal with the dynamics of the situation that quickly emerged. The
administration must be held responsible for the inadequate planning for so- called phase four, the post war stabilization.
ISAACSON: You say it's hubris, but isn't that why we have an intelligence community, why did not the CIA know what would happen in the aftermath of
LLAMAS: Well, it's -- one, because, Walter, that's a very difficult thing to do. Predicting the future is infused with imponderables. So, I mean, one
might say that what happened after the war might have been very different if the United States had sufficient forces to preserve order immediately.
But it is the role of the intelligence community to try to predict what would happen. And in fact, in January of 2003, there were two intelligence
analyses that broadly -- in broad strokes didn't predict that there would be a type of chaos that emerged but suggested that that was that was a
The top policymakers did not really pay enough attention, as I just said, to what was likely to happen. They didn't pay attention to those two
intelligence reports that emerged in January of 2003. One of the points that I want to emphasize is that the policymakers, for example, in the
State Department, General Powell who is secretary of state, some of his subordinates in the policy planning staff, like Richard Haass, in the
division of Near Eastern affairs like Bill Burns, these people were very skeptical of going into Iraq with combat troops, very skeptical but they
never presented a systematic analysis of what was likely to happen.
ISAACSON: Let me read you a sentence that you wrote, which is, it's important to get the story right in order to grapple earnestly with the
dilemmas of statecraft. By simplifying the story, we comfort ourselves to think, if we only had more honest officials, stronger leaders, wiser
policymakers, all would be well.
Why was it not true that if they had just been a little bit wiser things would've been well?
LLAMAS: Well, it's because being wise is difficult. And what I try to show in this book and many other books I've written is that decision-making is
tough. There are real lessons to be extrapolated from this decision to go to war. One, American policymakers need to be able to calculate threats
more carefully. They need to -- Americans need to modulate their fears. They need to really be able to determine much more accurately when there is
war is not "an existential threat."
They also need to grasp the limits of American power. During this period of time, of course, the United States had hegemonic power, no great power
rivals whatsoever. So, American policymakers thought they could achieve what they wanted to achieve. They perceived threats and from a pretty weak
nation, overall, Iraq, and they believe that the exercise of their power would enable them relatively easily to remove the threats that they
Another lesson, right, would be reexamined fundamental assumptions. That's easy for me to say, it's easy for most people to agree, but how many of us
reexamined fundamental assumptions. The fundamental assumption here was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that assumption should
have been carefully reexamined, and there were opportunities to do it. But policymakers didn't re-examine it because they felt absolutely certain that
the lessons of history suggested that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
ISAACSON: You say it was the most consequential foreign policy decision in the 21st century. How did it reverberate and things like Obama's decisions
on Syria and other things that could have been different had we had not done this invasion?
LEFFLER: Oh, I think they had profound influence on President Obama's inclinations to get deeply involved in regime change in Syria. It certainly
influenced his initial action to withdraw completely from Iraq, thereby providing opportunities for ISIS or the Islamic State to regroup and gain
more and more power in the region before troops, again, were reinserted to stifle ISIS and to defeat the Islamic State.
ISAACSON: Was that a mistake on Obama's part to withdraw from Iraq?
LEFFLER: I think many experts now feel that the total withdrawal that occurred under Obama probably was an error. That is not to say that people
think or I think that there should have been a continued deployment of large numbers of combat troops. But the critical factor during the years of
Obama, especially in 2011 and 2012, the critical factor was whether to keep it in a small number of troops to continue the training and the support of
the Iraqi army.
ISAACSON: So, do you think this -- the really bad problem he had after the Iraq invasion has made the United States all the way through have these
reverberations where we don't know how to calibrate our involvements in the Middle East?
LEFFLER: Yes, I think it's chastened the United States, it's made policymakers think very deeply about the use of force. I think that's a
good lesson. I think people should think deeply and systematically about the prospective use of force.
But it also clearly contributed to the rise of the America First, of MAGA America because President Donald Trump certainly campaigned on the notion
that the so-called forever wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were totally inconsistent with American interests and led to commitments that was
totally self-defeating. And so, much of the growing American First-ism, most -- much of the present American hesitation, especially on the far-
right, even to give assistance to Ukraine at this very moment goes back to what Donald Trump and his supporters believe are the lessons of Afghanistan
and Iraq, stay out of these conflicts. They have nothing to do with U.S. interests.
ISAACSON: Are there some truths to that?
LEFFLER: These problems abroad do affect American interests. And the challenge for policymakers, the challenge for you, Walter, and for me is to
determine precisely what is the nature of our interests in Iraq, in Ukraine, et cetera? How important is that interest? And then to define
tactics, commensurate with those interests.
So, I would say today, President Biden's carefully calculating these issues with regard to the situation in Ukraine. He understands that undeterred
aggression, that Russian aggression left unmet is a dangerous precedent, both for Europe and for what might in the future have been in East Asia. He
understands that and I think that he is right about that. At the same time, he has carefully tried to calculate that although that is an important
interest, and overriding priority is not to get engaged in a full-scale war with Russia because that might culminate in the use of nuclear weapons.
So, I see President Biden trying carefully to calculate the nature of American interests and to prioritize them and to design tactics that are
commensurate with the priorities he is assigning to those interests. And I think that's the lessons to be learned here. It's not, yes, we have an
interest in Iraq or we don't have an interest in Iraq, we do have interests in Iraq. We have interest in the Middle East. But the challenge is how
great are those interests and what sorts of tactics should be employed in pursuit of those interests.
ISAACSON: Mel Leffler, thank you so much for joining us.
LEFFLER: It's been a great, great pleasure talking to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And finally, we leave you on a bit of lighter note. And what could be lighter than the goofy comedy of Adam Sandler. The funny guy actor
brough home the prestigious Mark Twain Award for American humor last night. And in true sandman fashion, he took the opportunity to make everybody
laugh, including himself. Here's a clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADAM SANDLER, ACTOR: Hello. My name is Adam Sandler. And I am the 2023 Mark Twain Humor Prize award recipient for greatness in American funny and
bringing the thunderous belly laugh to the sweet people of planet earth. Can I get a hell yes?
My first thought, of course, when they told me I was getting this prestigious Mark Twain honor was, of course, wow, is Twain going to be
there? No, said the Kennedy Center people, to which I reply, makes sense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The ceremony hosted by the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts was a star-studded affair. Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Conan
O'Brien and Steve Buscemi all paid tribute to Sandler. And he paid tribute to his own wife and family for always giving him the confidence and making
him feel the best.
The full ceremony will air at 8:00 p.m. Sunday on CNN, on America's East Coast, which is midnight Monday GMT for the night owls here across the
And that is it for now. Remember, you can always catch us online, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and, of course, on our podcast. Thanks for watching
and goodbye from London.