'War With Iraq Is Inevitable'

This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, Jan. 25, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... about, you know, more time. You know, how much time do we need to see clearly that he's not disarming? As I said, this looks like a rerun of a bad movie, and I'm not interested in watching it.


FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Welcome back to The Beltway Boys .

Despite hemming and hawing about whether or not to attack Iraq, and whether the U.N. will, will back it, our next guest says it's immaterial. War with Iraq is inevitable.

Here to give us his reasons why, Eliot Cohen, professor of strategic studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and author of Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime.

Well, Eliot, we're glad to have you here. And why is it a done deal, war with Iraq?

ELIOT COHEN, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL UNIVERSITY: Well, I think the main reason is chiefly because of the president. It seems to me if you listen to what he says, you look at his body language, it's clear that he's made the decision to go ahead.

Now, there are a lot of other reasons why I think we're likely to move right now. The -- of course, they've put into train just a tremendous military effort, which has almost, in a way, slipped below the radar screen. It'd be very, very hard to reverse it.

But I really do think the main thing is simply that the president has decided the time has come to resolve this once and for all. It's clear, it's been clear all along that Saddam wasn't going to change, and the president's decided he's going to do something about it.

BARNES: Were the president to reverse himself and not go to war with Iraq, what would be the repercussions?

COHEN: Oh, I think they would be tremendous. I mean, there'd clearly be a blow to his personal prestige, but it would be a blow to national prestige.

And one of the things that it's important to realize in the region, particularly in the Persian Gulf, people are acting as if this is about to happen. And if they see us turn around and back down simply because of pressure from the French and the Germans, or, as people might construe it, through fear of biological or chemical weapons, it's going to be interpreted as an act of weakness.

So I really do think the administration has committed itself.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Eliot, do you think that the administration possesses a smoking gun, that is, some sort of proof that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction that he can unveil and erase the doubts around the world?

COHEN: Well, they may well have it, and they may be waiting to throw it on the table at a dramatic moment, maybe the State of the Union, maybe later on. But I'm not so sure about that. I think what they're -- you know, if you look at the arguments that they're making now, they're constructing a set of arguments which don't really particularly require a smoking gun, I think.

One of the things that's worth looking at is Paul Wolfowitz's speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, where he laid out a bill of particulars, and he made what I thought was really a -- the central point, which is, the point of having inspectors is not to go find a smoking gun. The whole point is, it -- the obligations are upon the Iraqis to be forthcoming.

And that's, frankly, that's why the U.N. resolution says that they're in breach.

KONDRACKE: Well, I understand, the argument is, is sound, but what does it say about our intelligence capacity if we don't have a smoking gun? I mean, we've been watching Iraq for years now with overhead satellites and, and fly-overs and stuff like that. And if we don't have, if we don't know where his weapons of mass destruction are, how does our intelligence know where the targets are that we want to hit when the war begins?

COHEN: Well, one thing to remember is, what you're talking about now is not really so much the nuclear program. I think most people were pretty confident that that was effectively dismantled after the Gulf War. You're talking about things, which are really easy to hide, you know, a few thousand liters of chemical agents, these biological labs are very, very small, they're very mobile. The Iraqis have worked very, very hard on hiding them.

It's conceivable to me that we do have some very precise knowledge that may come from human sources, they may come from very sensitive signal intelligence sources, which people are simply not willing to compromise. But I don't think there's any question in the minds of the people in the government and, for that matter, foreign governments that the Iraqis have these things.

BARNES: Eliot, what distinguishes the French and the Germans from the other Europeans that are backing the U.S., the British, the Spanish, the Italians? What makes them so leery of going along with the U.S. in Iraq?

COHEN: Well, the French and the Germans are a very particular case. You know, these are the two countries that dominated the European Union as it now is, the European community as it used to be, from the very beginning. And I think one of the things that they're seeing is their power slipping.

There's also another difference. The Germans are going through a tremendous internal crisis. You know, Schroeder has tremendous political difficulties, the German economy's not performing well. The Germans have lost the only postwar institution of which they can be proud, that's the Deutschmark. It's now been replaced by the euro.

So the Germans, in a way, are -- their problem is that they're...to break with the past, they're -- they've gone pacifist. They are in some ways kind of bewildered about what the world that they're in.

The French are acting very typically French, you know, they want to lead Europe, they are willing to be appeasers, they want to stick it in the eye of the United States.

KONDRACKE: Yes, yes. Eliot...

COHEN: And, and so there what you see is continuity.

KONDRACKE: Just, just, just, just quick, how, how do you expect the, the, the war to go? How fast can we win? And are you at all afraid that urban warfare may bog us down?

COHEN: Well, you can never be certain about any kind of war, and it's entirely possible things will go badly. I tend to think not. I tend to think on the whole the likelihood is that it'll go down pretty quickly, that what you'll see is, the Iraqis will throw in the towel. If you're an Iraqi soldier, you know how this is going to end, and your predispositions to fight for the regime are going to be pretty limited.

The difficult time will probably be in policing up afterwards. But I do think it's very important to understand, a decision for war involves enormous risks, and, you know, it's conceivable things could, could be very difficult.

BARNES: Only a couple seconds less, left. Is Bush following your advice that a president shouldn't leave major military decisions to the military?

COHEN: I think the evidence, particularly, say, from the Woodward book, is yes, he's actually been quite an active commander in chief.

KONDRACKE: OK, Eliot, thanks so much.

COHEN: Thank you.

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