Transcript: Richard Holbrooke on 'Fox News Sunday'

The following is a transcribed excerpt from "Fox News Sunday," Aug. 31, 2003.

TONY SNOW, FOX NEWS: The Bush administration appears more open to the idea of accepting United Nations help in Iraq. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage says Washington might accept a U.N. fighting force under an American commander, and the U.S. ground commander in Iraq would like to see broader international participation in peacekeeping efforts.

Joining us to discuss what the U.N. can and cannot do to help is America's former ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke. He joins us from New York.

Mr. Holbrooke, first I want to get your general impression of how things are proceeding right now in Iraq. Senator John Kerry has described it as a possible quagmire. What do you think?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N: I think that Iraq, we have to be clear about this, is now shaping up as the worst foreign policy problem that the United States has faced since the end of the Vietnam War.

Not worse than Vietnam, at least not yet. We lost 55,000 people there, we were engaged for over a decade, it tore our country apart. But this is a hellishly difficult problem.

If we leave, chaos would result and it would become a new center for terrorism. If we stay the course, as Senator Lugar believes we should, as I believe we should, as Senator McCain in the article you just quoted says this morning, it's going to be long and costly, and we're going to have to develop a strategy that works, because the first four months since the president declared victory have been absolutely terrible for the United States.

SNOW: How have they been absolutely terrible? If you take a look at at least what we hear from administration sources, they have services back up and running in most major places, that there is some sense of order outside the major cities, you've got a Governing Council that is beginning to feel its oats a little bit, to the point now where it's saying, "We want to take jurisdiction for some peacekeeping operations."

And four months out, one would expect a certain amount of chaos. So why do you think it is a disaster?

HOLBROOKE: Well, Tony, if the administration believes the items you just said, then we're in much more serious trouble than I thought. Because nothing that you just said is entirely correct.

It is true that there isn't fighting every day, every moment, all over the country. But every part of the country is going to be vulnerable if this continues.

Jerry Bremer said this week to The Washington Post, Baghdad is not in chaos. I honestly don't know what Jerry means. Of course Baghdad's in chaos. He himself said that an American C-130 at Mosul, in the so-called safe north, almost got hit by a surface-to-air missile.

Anyplace in the country is vulnerable or will be vulnerable. We are up against a multiple number of enemies of different motives, but they all have the same overall goal: drive us out of Iraq.

Services are not up and running, and the situation is deteriorating. And the Americans, whether it's our fault or not, are going to get blamed for it.

So I must tell you that it is not as good as the outline that is being presented. And we have to be honest with the American people, as Senator McCain and Senator Lugar said.

SNOW: So what would you do differently?

HOLBROOKE: Well, first of all, let's start with the United Nations, the role of the international community. The U.S. does not need to go it alone. We should reduce the costs in lives and dollars to us by bringing in the international community.

This can be done quite easily if the United States follows the trial balloon floated by Deputy Secretary Armitage, when which you just mentioned, at the United Nations. But it is my understanding that Armitage was not speaking for a united administration, but for one faction in an administration which is divided, as it has been on so many other issues, along the traditional State-Defense lines.

Armitage has proposed a simple solution, one that we followed in Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Afghanistan. You have the U.N. pass a resolution, but it keeps the command completely under the U.S. or NATO chain of command. There's no diminution of American authority, but you create a resolution that brings other countries, from India and Pakistan and Bangladesh, to Norway and Germany and perhaps even France, into the fray.

SNOW: OK, let me jump in...

HOLBROOKE: Tony, may I just bring you up-to-date?

SNOW: Yes.

HOLBROOKE: Because I, in preparation for this program, I talked to some of my former colleagues.

This will be a decisive week. President Bush needs to decide whether what Armitage said will be official U.S. policy.

And I assure you that we can negotiate this kind of arrangement without much trouble at the U.N., and it will not risk any American lives and not put Americans in blue helmets, U.N. helmets...

SNOW: All right, that's...

HOLBROOKE: But it has to be decided.

SNOW: Well, the real question also is whether the United Nations would go along. The French have made some -- they've given the impression that they might, in fact, not be fully receptive.

Your sense is, if the United States sent to the Security Council something saying, we would like U.N. help in putting together a unified command, with some U.N. forces primarily designed to protect, I presume, U.N. facilities and personnel, that the Security Council would say yes, and then other nations, principally India, Pakistan and Turkey, would then feel that they had a green light to go ahead and commit troops to the cause, as well?

HOLBROOKE: Tony, there are a half-dozen ways or a dozen ways to write this resolution. Diplomats can use diplomatic language to cover it, but the bottom line is exactly what Deputy Secretary Armitage said: American troops remain under a unified command, but the U.N. makes it an internationally authorized command, a so-called multinational force.

HOLBROOKE: Forget about blue helmets, forget about U.N. peacekeeping forces. That's a canard.

And this can work, I assure you. We face similar problems with the French and other Europeans in the Balkans and in East Timor. It all worked. East Timor today is an independent country because of this process. Bosnia and Kosovo are on the road to final success. And Afghanistan is working better than otherwise would.

There is no reason for President Bush not to do this. And the most important reason he should do it is it will reduce the costs and risks to Americans.

SNOW: All right. Let me ask you a question I asked Richard Lugar. Do you think it is possible that Iraq might, of its own forces, break apart into two or three separate entities, either a federation or separate nations?

HOLBROOKE: The country we call Iraq was created 81 years ago by Winston Churchill and others at the Cairo conference in 1922. It never should have been created in its current international borders. The Ottomans had ruled it for 400 years as three different provinces -- the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shiites -- Mosul, Baghdad and Basra.

That was the right solution. The British made a mistake. We have now inherited it because we are committed to the international borders that were created after World War I.

You know, a very similar thing happened to Yugoslavia. It was created at the same time. It broke apart, but not until 300,000 people were killed, 2.5 million were dead, and we had to have the Dayton agreement.

So, as what Senator Lugar said to you, which I thought was very important, is, all the scholars he consulted said this isn't a country in the traditional sense. Yet, the U.S. and Europeans are committed to its present borders. That's what makes the dilemma so uniquely difficult.

SNOW: Well, and that's what I was getting at. Do you think it might be necessary for the administration, its allies, to reconsider and think about undoing the mistake that Winston Churchill later confessed this was a mistake?

HOLBROOKE: Well, I'll tell you, Tony, I've thought a lot about that; I've written about it. I think, in 1991, the first Bush administration, working with the Turks, could have done it. I am reluctantly persuaded that in the current context, all of Iraq's neighbors, including our Turkish allies in NATO, including Saudi Arabia, including the terrible Iranians and Syrians, would all start nibbling off pieces, and Iraq would end up looking like the Congo, which is completely cannibalized by its neighbors, but with terrorists in the middle.

So I say this with great regret. I think the moment to correct the Churchillian mistake of 1922 is passed, which means we are in a terrifically difficult problem.

We need to support President Bush, but President Bush needs to come up with a plan and a strategy and an honest statement of costs. As Senators Lugar and McCain have pointed out, he has not done any of those things.

SNOW: Let's turn to North Korea. The Clinton administration, like many others before it, including the Bush administration, tried carrots with Kim Jong Il and his father. They don't appear to have worked.

What do you think the United States ought to be doing about North Korea's announced decision -- no more talks, it's going to proceed to test a nuclear weapon?

HOLBROOKE: I'm not so sure, Tony, that the 1994 Clinton-era agreement was quite as bad as you made it sound. It did hold things off for six years. The North Koreans, however, did cheat. Anyone who knows the North Koreans, which is the most odious, closed-down, totalitarian regime on Earth, knows that they were going to do that.

I think the Bush administration began on the wrong foot by not building on it, cleaning it up, fixing its mistakes. Instead, they just repudiated it. Now they're in a tough spot. The North Koreans have reversed themselves again in the last 24 hours and said, as Senator Lugar said to you, that they're not going to come back to a second round. I think that's just negotiating.

The American position, which is no talks until you agree in advance to their outcome, that is, that you dismantle the nuclear, isn't going to fly either. So they're going to have to go back to the drawing boards.

There will have to be talks, but I want to underscore one thing. You asked Senator Lugar whether we are in imminent threat of war in North Korea. I don't believe that. We have 41,000 troops there. The North Koreans know that if they move across the DMZ, they will be demolished. I think this is, as President Bush has said, a diplomatic problem. It's serious, but it is not going to lead to a war.

SNOW: All right, Richard Holbrooke, thanks for joining us.

HOLBROOKE: My pleasure.