REV JESSE JACKSON INTERVIEW (PART 1): 'We find ourselves in a deep hole'

The Nation - Sunday, November 09, 2003

The veteran US civil-rights leader views the situation in Iraq as only getting worse as blunders are compounded.
In an exclusive television interview with the Nation's Group's Editor-in-Chief Suthichai Yoon, the Reverend Jesse Jackson shares his thoughts on Iraq. Excerpts:

Suthichai: Reverend Jesse Jackson, if you were to meet President Bush today, what would be your advice to him on the latest situation in Iraq?

Jackson: Well, he must no longer underestimate the Iraqi people's resistance to the invasion and the occupation. The invasion and the occupation were not welcomed by them. There was no mass outcry for the Americans to come and save Iraq. And so now we find ourselves in an expensive, deadly invasion and occupation. And maybe we should look at the mistakes of how we got in. We went in unilaterally, ignoring the advice of our German, French and Chinese allies, threatening to undermine the UN. We chose to do it alone and now we are there alone, but it's a bit difficult. We should try to convince France and Germany about the rubric of the UN to share power and responsibility and then accept the outcome of Iraqi self-determination.

We cannot determine the outcome of the Iraqi election. [Without] the French and the Germans, it will not work.

Suthichai: Go back to the French, the Germans and the Chinese, but not necessarily to the United Nations?

Jackson: Well, certainly under the rubric of the UN. As a matter of fact if you're in a deep hole and it's dark, don't look for another shovel, look for a rope.

Suthichai: You think President Bush is now plunging even deeper?

Jackson: Deeper because more Americans are dying and more Iraqis are dying. There are 6,000 wounded soldiers, but this is almost never told to the American public. There is no sense of how deep it has become. It's the bloodiest conflict since the Vietnam conflict. It's a very bloody conflict. And just as there was no preparation for the transition in Iraq, there is no preparation for the Americans coming back home wounded. Many of them are in unfit barracks. Some have not yet had medical assessment. Some cannot yet get surgeons.

They're prepared to be soldiers, not policemen. Some of them are inflicting wounds upon themselves. It's a story that is untold: the number of self-inflicted wounds, the number of surgeries and low morale.

Suthichai: But President Bush has said that if American troops retreat now, it might give encouragement to the terrorists.

Jackson: Well, you know that was the rationale used so for long about Vietnam, and the longer we stayed the more we got killed. Somehow our military might was not reining in the will of the people to determine their own destiny. In this case, Iraq, a 7,000-year-old civilisation is difficult to occupy. We need allies. We cannot do it without France, without Germany, without China under the UN's rubric. So there must be a change of assessment by the commanders there. And the targets are so organised. That suggests inside information. And now a helicopter is shot down that means someone knew they were leaving at a certain time. Fifteen killed and many other officers injured. That's a tremendous revolt against our presence in that country.

Suthichai: Do you suspect that this is the work of people who support Saddam Hussein alone, or do you think the al-Qaeda organisation is also behind it?

Jackson: I think it's even broader in the sense that America is a great God-blessed nation which is 400 years old, but Iraq is 7,000 years old and does not see itself as being occupied by America no matter what is our military might. There's a pride there, which I think we underestimate. When I was there in 1991, I met with Saddam Hussein because he was going to use 600 women as human shields. I convinced him to let the women go. He said to me: "Well, before you leave, come walk with me down to Babylon. It's just 60 miles from Baghdad." I said no. I really wanted to go [home] because I didn't want him to change his mind. He had been talking about Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar and he saw himself in that lineage. Those are ancient civilisations. So his frame of reference and the Iraqi people's frame of reference is, like, 7,000 years.

Suthichai: Are all anti-American elements, whether they are for or against Saddam Hussein, now in Iraq because you are the target?

Jackson: That's right. At least when Saddam Hussein was there we knew what the government of the day was. We occupied 60 per cent of their air space. So Iraq was contained. It couldn't go toward Iran to attack Iran. It couldn't attack Syria. It couldn't attack Europe. They couldn't get to the US, so containment was enough. But somehow Mr Bush went from containing to invading and now occupying. It could be a very expensive, divisive, dangerous mission.

Suthichai: But President Bush can also say this is a pre-emptive strike for the US. If you don't strike them first, they will do another September 11 on you.

Jackson: There's no evidence that they did September 11 in the first place. There is evidence that al-Qaeda and the Taleban struck us. And we knew our intelligence said that they [al-Qaeda and Taleban] could do it, but we didn't act upon it. And we knew the Taleban because it had been our ally. We knew bin Laden because he had been our ally and we supported him and the Taleban against the Russians. We knew who they were and where they were.

As a matter of fact we gave the Taleban 60 million dollars [Bt2.4 billion] in May before the September 11 hit as our anti-drug partner. So we knew who they were. But the reason we could not strike immediately after September 11 was that Bush's isolationist policy made us unable to get world support.

We upset the Europeans on the Kyoto environmental treaty our way or the highway. We had pushed the Europeans off. We had refused to go the UN conference on racism in South Africa. We'd pushed them off. So that kind of policy has us in conflict with some of our allies.

We didn't have the coalition to hit back. The whole world said no to the al-Qaeda hit on America. So we had the global coalition against terrorism. But Bush pulled out and decided to go to Iraq alone. We decided to go and hit Iraq even before the UN reports even came back. Many didn't think it was Operation Liberation, Operation Oil, our hegemony over the region. None of the [Israeli-Palestinian road map to Middle East peace] has worked now. And to that extent we are in a situation now that we are less secure today than we were a year ago.

Suthichai: Aren't you happy now that Saddam is gone from Iraq?

Jackson: At least when Saddam Hussein was there it was a known entity. There was a government infrastructure we could contain. Now he is a mystery. Now it is the ghost of Saddam Hussein or the mystique of Saddam Hussein. We have no idea where they are.

I hope that tyrants everywhere leave and tyranny everywhere ends. But when you do fight tyranny, do not use tyranny to fight it. There must be some real commitment to diplomacy. Diplomacy, economic assessment, allies, economic assistance, these matter in resolving conflicts between nations.

Suthichai: You met Saddam in 1991 and you managed to get him to release some Americans. How do you like him as a person?

Jackson: Well, he did release women from America, Britain, and France and Canada. I didn't meet him long enough to assess, like or dislike, or know who he was. I knew he had the power to release. I also knew Saddam Hussein had an interest in surviving.

Suthichai: Is America going down the road to the situation in Vietnam, that is, that American soldiers have to pull out and accept defeat?

Jackson: Well, we will never explain it that way. I can only say that in the end we can't stay and we can't leave. This is the quagmire.

Suthichai: Why can't you leave?

Jackson: Well, to leave now would be to accept a defeat that this administration isn't going to accept nor will the American public want to accept. But then if you leave you also leave our Iraqi allies, who identified with forces that could destroy them. It could really unleash a process of even genocide. It would be dishonourable.

Suthichai: So your solution would be not to leave but to bring in the United Nations?

Jackson: Yes, it would be dishonourable just to leave. Many people took a risk and joined us against Saddam. To pull out now would be to open up a bloodbath.

We really cannot leave.

The second part of the interview will be published on Tuesday