Transcript: Is Coalition of the Willing Still Willing to Help?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, March 19, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Terror is something that has been with us. Now that it is manifesting itself in other ways and more violent ways such as we saw in Spain, this is not the time to say let's stop what we're doing and pull back.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Spain's newly elected socialist prime minister won office largely on the promise to pull out of Iraq. Yesterday, Poland's president said his country was misled on Iraq but will keep troops in the country. My next guest, Radek Sikorski (search), is Poland's former deputy foreign minister. Mr. Sikorski, today's big question, a year later is the coalition of the willing still willing to help in Iraq?

RADEK SIKORSKI, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Yes, it is. And the Poles will stay the course. We are not quitters. But I think those remarks by the president show a frustration with the fact that a friendship is being seen as a one-way street. I think if the United States launched a program of modernizing the militaries of some of those new NATO (search) countries that have proven useful in Iraq, I think it would go a long way to shore up both the coalition in Iraq and the U.S. position in Europe.

GIBSON: Let's back up here a second. Do the Poles think that they were had on Iraq?

SIKORSKI: I think they're glad to be there with the Americans. We are, you know, the most pro-American country in Europe. But I think a show of solidarity with the allies is needed.

GIBSON: We're having this debate now. We constantly hear people saying in the election debate in this country we were misled on the war, the president lied about the war. And the implication is the war shouldn't have fought and Saddam Hussein (search) should still be in charge. Where are the Poles on that question?

SIKORSKI: That's not the feeling in Poland. We have a recent experience of dictatorship and our feeling is that if we could take Saddam Hussein, we should have done it and we did it. And it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

GIBSON: OK. Let's go to this next thing. You think the Polish military could benefit from, I guess, some American technology or equipment. Where are the Poles short and how would the Americans help?

SIKORSKI: Well, at the moment, Poland is subsidizing this operation to the tune of $200 million per year. We are a country that's only just emerged from 45 years of communism and the feeling is we can't afford that.

GIBSON: The feeling in America is we can't afford what we're paying either but we're going to go ahead and do it. Are you suggesting that the Americans should pony up Poland's share too?

SIKORSKI: It's happening to some extent. What I think would be good — there's a NATO summit coming up, a new NATO enlargement. A program of military upgrading of those allies who are willing to fight this time and might come in very handy and useful next time, that I think makes military sense, it makes political sense and geopolitical sense as well.

GIBSON: Let's just say you and I are making the deal right here, right now, Mr. Sikorski. And the United States says, OK, we'd be willing to help upgrade the Polish military, maybe help out with this expense which maybe burdens the Polish people more than the expense burdens the American people. That is quite a burden on this side. What do the Poles want?

SIKORSKI: Well, we could send you not just a brigade, as we do now. We could send you a division. We could send police forces, which are sorely needed in Iraq. We would also like to take part, of course, in the reconstruction. But I think we could cement the Polish-American military alliance by bigger exchanges and by upgrading the Polish military.

GIBSON: Now, I take it that the Polish officials at that summit are going to be saying just what you've said?

SIKORSKI: I think so. This is what those negotiations between our governments are taking place anyway. I think you have to remember that Europeans make a distinction between the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. They are committed to the first. They see the second as a war of choice, for better and for worse. That's the perception. Saddam Hussein wasn't threatening Poland, for example, or Spain. And now they are threatened. People are feeling solidarity with the United States. But sometimes they don't feel like allies. Sometimes they feel like subcontractors and subcontractors who haven't been paid.

GIBSON: All right, Mr. Sikorski. I'll tell you what, we'll make the deal right now and see if the leaders follow through a little bit later. Appreciate it.

SIKORSKI: That's right.

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