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Transcript: Richard Holbrooke on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a transcribed excerpt from 'FOX News Sunday,' September 12, 2004:

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: This week, national security remained on center stage in the presidential campaign. One of the key questions, what would a Kerry administration do differently to defeat terrorists and stabilize Iraq?

For answers, we turn now to Richard Holbrooke, former ambassador to the United Nations and a top adviser to the Kerry campaign.

And, Ambassador Holbrooke, who's in our New York studio, welcome. Good to have you with us.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, FORMER U.N. AMBASSADOR: Welcome. Good to be here, Chris.

WALLACE: I want to follow up on what I asked Secretary Powell. Was it a mistake to leave Afghanistan unfinished and move into Iraq?

HOLBROOKE: Without question.

WALLACE: Do you want to expand on that, sir?

HOLBROOKE: I think your question answers itself.

Usama bin Laden hasn't been captured. Al Qaeda is still in the field. We've just seen another threatening tape.

The administration claims we're safer on one hand, but on the other hand it predicts attacks by the end of this year, kind of hedging its bets.

And Afghanistan itself, despite what Secretary Powell just said, is not in good shape. It's deteriorating and the Taliban is advancing.

And the fact that, as he put it, we have 18 candidates running for president doesn't strike me as proof of progress.

And the really serious threat remains terrorism.

But most importantly, Chris, there is a double standard in this campaign. Senator Kerry is constantly being asked what his position is on Iraq, but he has been very clear on it. When he voted to support President Bush in October of 2002, he voted, as most of Congress did, to give President Bush the authority to take care of Saddam. He voted the same thing in 1998. But...

WALLACE: Ambassador Holbrooke, before we go into all of that, let me ask you some questions.

HOLBROOKE: May I just make the connection to your question? Because it's critical.

At that point, the president used the authority to start a war in Iraq in the wrong way at the wrong time instead of finishing the job in Afghanistan. And that's the point I wanted to underscore.

WALLACE: OK. Let's talk about Iraq, because a lot of people are confused, and not just in the Bush-Cheney campaign, about some of Senator Kerry's varying statements about Iraq over the last couple of years. And I want to give you, as one of his top advisers, a chance to clear that up.

We're going to first play a series of statements by the senator and also one by one of his opponents in the Democratic primaries. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

U.S. SENATOR JOHN KERRY, D-MA: I think it was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein. And when the president made the decision, I supported him and I support the fact that we did disarm him.

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF VERMONT: I think this was the wrong war at the wrong time.

KERRY: It's the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

WALLACE: Ambassador Holbrooke, simple question: Does John Kerry now support the decision to take Saddam Hussein out of power or not?

HOLBROOKE: As I just said, Chris, twice in 1998 and 2002, John...

WALLACE: That's not the question I'm asking you, sir. I'm asking you, does he support the decision now to disarm and oust Saddam Hussein?

HOLBROOKE: Let me try to answer, Chris, and then I want to make a general comment about what I consider a very one-sided coverage of this issue. Because it's President Bush who's changed his positions much more than anyone else.

WALLACE: If I may, sir, I'd like to get an answer to my question. Does he support disarming Saddam Hussein or not?

HOLBROOKE: Senator Kerry has supported getting rid of Saddam Hussein from the beginning. But giving the authority to the president is quite different from the president taking that authority and creating a mess worse than Vietnam, which is the mess we are now in.

And the effort to find Senator Kerry's nanonuanced differences in his position, as opposed to the massive changes in the Bush administration's position, is quite...

WALLACE: Wait a minute, Mr. Ambassador. You're telling me that you think that Iraq is worse than Vietnam?

HOLBROOKE: Yes. It is strategically worse than Vietnam.

We are in a — you just heard the secretary of state avoid your very tough questions on whether there was an end in sight. I'm telling you that, given what President Bush said in his acceptance speech at the convention, the goal of the United States in Iraq is — there's no strategy for success, there is no exit strategy, there's no end in sight.

There are now three major parts of Iraq that are no-go areas for American and coalition troops, areas that we liberated and now they have liberated themselves from us. Millions of people are now living in areas which are sanctuaries for terrorists, Al Qaida, all sorts of people trying to kill Americans.

Last week, they went into the middle of Baghdad and snatched two young Italian aid workers, women right out of their offices.

You cannot say, Chris...

WALLACE: Mr. Ambassador, I don't mean to interrupt, but, you know, I do want to get some questions in here, if I might.

I would also point out that only a thousand Americans have died in Iraq and 50,000 died in Vietnam, so some people would put that into the equation as well.

But let me ask you about another seeming contradiction in Senator Kerry's positions. In August of 2003, a little more than a year ago, Kerry said, "I think we should increase it" — funding for Iraq — "by whatever billions of dollars it takes it win. It is critical that the United States of America be successful in Iraq."

But Mr. Ambassador, this week, Senator Kerry said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: $200 billion for going it alone in Iraq. That's the wrong choice. That's the wrong direction. And that's the wrong leadership for America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Does Senator Kerry still feel that we need to spend whatever it takes to be successful in Vietnam? I'm sorry — in Iraq. Now you've got me confused.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLBROOKE: Well, everyone's confused.

And before I answer that, I want to make clear, I respect the difference in casualty rates. We're never going to have 55,000 dead in Iraq, as we did in Vietnam.

 

But strategically and politically — and I spent three years of my life in Vietnam, Chris — strategically and politically, the situation in Iraq is worse than it ever was in Vietnam. You can't walk the streets of the cities safely; you could in Vietnam. The dangers in the region, they're worse. And everything the president said about Iraq proved not to be true.

Now to your question. When Senator Kerry made that comment, there had been $18 billion appropriated for reconstruction. None of us knew at the time — and we only found out a few weeks ago — that the Coalition Authority spent less than $1 billion of that money.

What is going on in Iraq? The situation is clearly getting worse, and there is no end in sight, and there is no strategy either for success or for victory or for exit.

And I think that the American public should put to the administration these critical issues. Because I'm telling you that if the Bush administration gets a second term, and based on what Secretary Powell just told you, they will certainly be in Iraq four years from today.

WALLACE: Senator Kerry says the key to his strategy is that he is going to bring more international partners in to help with funding, to help with troops.

I want to ask you about something that Kerry said just before the war. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: If the federal government, my friends, can find billions of dollars in order to create a coalition of the coerced and the bribed, why can't it provide vital aid for schools, health care and law enforcement in California?

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Question. Does the senator consider Britain and Tony Blair to be one of the coerced, or does he consider them to be one of the bribed?

(LAUGHTER)

HOLBROOKE: Neither.

WALLACE: Well, he talked about a coalition of the coerced and the bribed.

HOLBROOKE: There are some countries in that coalition that — like Costa Rica, which pulled out this week, which doesn't even have armed forces; Palau, an island nation of about 10,000 people...

WALLACE: Well, was he talking about Britain?

HOLBROOKE: Of course not.

WALLACE: Was he talking about Italy?

HOLBROOKE: Of course not.

WALLACE: Was he talking about Poland?

HOLBROOKE: The Poles and the U.S. have a very complicated arrangement, but President Kwasniewski, whom I know quite well and talked to about this, is under tremendous pressure to get out of Iraq, and he's staying in there because of immense pressure.

I was in Korea shortly after Vice President Cheney went to Seoul, and the South Koreans said their arm was twisted behind their back with American pressure to participate.

Still, I don't question countries that sacrifice and risk the lives of people in Iraq. The issue is different. There is no success strategy, no exit strategy left for the administration's current policies in Iraq.

WALLACE: We have less than a minute left, Ambassador, so I'm going to give it to you to do this: Tell us what specifically Senator Kerry, President Kerry would do differently to get us out of Iraq.

HOLBROOKE: President Kerry, if he's elected, would have a very different situation on January 21, 2005, than he has today.

The situation, according to everyone I've talked to, including many people who have just been there, is continuing to deteriorate. By the time he were inaugurated, he would be facing a much more difficult situation.

WALLACE: Well, what would he do specifically?

HOLBROOKE: He would have to do a combination of three things.

One, he would have to sit down with the reluctant allies and the people who are not even supporting us and the United Nations and work out a more international system, so that the U.S., to use Secretary Powell's own phrase, reduced its ownership of this mess.

Secondly, he would have to work out, with the Iraqi leadership, whoever's in power then — and, by the way, Chris, I don't think those elections in January of next year will take place. And you'll notice that Secretary Powell did not make to you the same commitment that Rumsfeld made publicly at the National Press Club three days ago about those elections...

WALLACE: We're almost out of time.

HOLBROOKE: And finally, finally, I think that we should look at different political arrangements for Iraq which give more autonomy to the regions and the groups. Because the current situation is not going to work.

WALLACE: I would just point out, Ambassador, that we asked that same question about international coalitions, and he said, "It's clear, there's nothing that's going on here with France or Russia or Germany," basically that it's an empty promise.

HOLBROOKE: Well, I don't think that anyone expects Chirac to call up the White House next January and say, "How many divisions in Iraq?" That's not realistic, and John Kerry knows it.

We're talking about American national security interests, and the current situation in Iraq is a tunnel without any light at the end of it. It's (ph) a return to an ancient war in another century.

WALLACE: Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much. Thanks for joining us today.

HOLBROOKE: You're welcome.