The Stakes in Iraq Are Enormous

This is a partial transcript from Hannity & Colmes, October 28, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Earlier tonight we had the chance to speak with former national security adviser to President Clinton, Sandy Berger.


COLMES: Are you happy with the way the war on terror is progressing?

SANDY BERGER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think the war on terror, in the sense of going after Al Qaeda (search), individuals around the world, has gone quite well. But I'm not happy with the way we've handled homeland defense here at home, and I think we've now opened a new front on the war on terror in Iraq.

COLMES: Would you not have gone into Iraq in the first place?

BERGER: I would not have gone into Iraq in a unilateral way. I do believe, after our own experience in the late '90s, that Saddam constituted a threat to the greater region that we would have to deal with. But I don't think it was an immediate threat. I think it's one that we could have taken the time to build an international coalition to deal with. And certainly have had a better plan for the day after.

COLMES: Now that we're there though, in the last couple days, four American soldiers wounded in northern Iraq. Just today the bombing of the Al Rashid Hotel (search). Thirty-four, at least, killed in the Red Cross bombing, as well. What do we do now?

BERGER: Well, now that we're there, we have to succeed. The stakes in Iraq are enormous, whether one agreed or disagreed with the decision to go into Iraq, we cannot fail.

On the one hand if we succeed, we'll have a significantly positive effect on the region. And on the other hand if we fail, we'll not only leave Iraq in chaos, but we will undercut our credibility in the war on terror. So we have to succeed.

I think that's going to take several things. No. 1, I think we have to be prepared to give up control on the civilian side, not on the military side, on the civilian side, fold the provisional authority into an international mechanism as we did successfully in Bosnia (search) and Kosovo (search).

I think we're going to have to recognize that we're facing now a classic guerrilla war, and that means doing things like putting enormous pressure on the neighbors to seal the borders and making sure that we have the right forces in place for counterinsurgency.

SEAN HANNITY,CO-HOST: Mr. Berger, welcome to the show. Sean Hannity here. Appreciate you being with us tonight.

You said back in '98 and you reiterated your case back in 1999 as it relates to Saddam Hussein at one point you said, "It's a situation we cannot tolerate" -- sir, you said -- "If Saddam defies international controls here with impunity, he will roll on, as he has before, energized by the conclusion that the international community lost its will."

And you spoke at length about his weapons of mass destruction program, biological, chemical, nuclear capability. I sense a shift in your view.

BERGER: No. I'm following that statement. We bombed Saddam for four days. We struck all of the weapons of mass destruction sites we knew. Perhaps we did a better job than we knew even at the time.

And I believe and believed in the lead up to this war that Saddam constitutes -- constituted a threat to the region. Believing there should be regime change does not mean believing there should be unilateral invasion. I think we had the time to build up broader international support.

But that's in the past, Sean. We now have got to look forward. I think everybody -- the president first, those who are critiquing the president, I think, have an obligation to now focus on how we simultaneously maximize the chance that we will produce an Iraq that is stable and secure at the same time reducing the exposure of our troops.

HANNITY: You know, I guess what's bothering me, as a conservative and a supporter of this president in this battle and conflict in Iraq, is you know, all and politically speaking the Democratic candidates have been without mercy in attacking this president, calling him a liar, saying this war was concocted in Texas. One senator said in one particular case that he intentionally misled the American people about the weapons programs.

But the administration, your administration, the Clinton administration, was very definitive when you said and the president said in '98 when he spoke to the nation that we were attacking their nuclear, their chemical, their biological weapons program and their military capacity to threaten their neighbors.

None of these guys were asking for you to back up your intelligence. So you understand that this threat really did exist even now and was greater than it was back then, right?

BERGER: I certainly believe in 1998 that there was a biological and chemical program and an insipient nuclear program. I continued to believe that up until the time of the war, based on what I knew. And I think we still don't know all of the answers, Sean, and we may not know the answers for some time.

I do think the threat was exaggerated with respect to the nuclear program, and I think the threat was exaggerated with respect to the link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. But I do believe that there were nuclear and chemical -- I believe based on the intelligence that I had access to that there were biological weapons that Saddam was pursuing and a nuclear ambition but one that was far from realization.


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