You have two minutes.
What would you ask George Bush if you were given just a couple of minutes to pick his brain and try to extract from it bits and pieces of information?
Such was my dilemma in a similar situation Monday evening, June 25, 2007 at the Temple Emek Shalom in Ashland.
— — See Perry's speech along with the Q A by .
He wasn't the president of the United States. But he was as close as I might ever get to interviewing a man who has spent much of his life in the upper echelons of leadership in this nation.
Former Secretary of Defense, William J. Perry, was visiting Ashland as the guest of the United Nations Association. His talk was regarding "Nuclear Proliferation: an existential threat?" His intent was to convince those of us captivated by his credentials, experience and expertise that nuclear proliferation was a real threat, as was the notion of an accidental firing by nations possessing nuclear weapons. The underlying message was apparently, the more nations possessing such power, the greater the risk of an accident. Okay, I can get onboard that ship.
The 19th Defense Secretary in history, who served from 1994 to '97 under President Bill Clinton, painted the scene of a couple of very close calls, one in which he was involved personally.
Perry, who turns 80 years old in October, was quite the showman. He had personality, humor, intellect and a smooth delivery. He came prepared to dazzle, and dazzle he did. He even produced actual footage from the former Soviet Union during his visits there with other military and political VIPs. We all watched in awe as Perry was one of three dignitaries invited to press the detonation button that destroyed a Soviet nuclear silo. The leaders planted sunflowers on the grounds where a warhead had once been housed, poised and pointed at the United States for years.
Sunflowers. Nice sentimental touch.
While Perry didn't disappoint, the attendance turnout sure did. The Temple Emek Shalom is a beautiful complex on East Main Street with a view of the rolling hills under a clear blue sky. The weather was perfect. The setting was supreme. And the highest ranking political speaker to address a local audience in Ashland (that I'm aware of) since I arrived here three years ago, spoke to a smattering of roughly 50-60 people.
And he was riveting.
After his talk, he opened the floor to questions. Despite the small attendance, Perry was bombarded with a load of hard-hitting inquiries.
Audience members wanted to know why the U.S. believed it could own a nuclear arsenal but other nations could not. Why should nuclear power be the preferred energy source for any nation? What guarantees in a treaty did any nation have when the U.S. and Russia were not dismantling, but rather modernizing and updating nuclear technologies and weaponry? The questions took the former Defense Secretary around the world and back again, touching on countries like China, Pakistan, N. Korea, Japan, and various regions of the Middle East and Europe.
I even tossed in a quick question about the positions of the presidential candidates regarding Perry's non-proliferation ideals. He explained that he was working with a number of other leaders of his caliber (Perry was a member of the Iraq Study Group) to seek the signatures of each candidate to a nuclear non-proliferation platform. His group is meeting in October to strategize.
When the Q A session was over, the president of the United Nations Association, Russy D. Sumariwalla approached Mr. Perry with a request on my behalf. He had offered me an interview with the speaker before the program began, but time was ticking and I was asked to wait until after the speech. It was now time.
And the time I was allotted was two minutes.
I didn't complain. I was thrilled to get two minutes with a man who was once the Director of Naval Intelligence, the Deputy Director of the CIA and a former Secretary of Defense. This man knew the real history behind the government bureaucratic curtains that block public knowledge. From President Jimmy Carter to the current administration, this man had seen a lot, knew a lot and experienced a lot.
But he didn't have a lot of time. He was off to catch a plane to Washington with his wife Lee, who I also had the privilege of meeting.
"Mr. Perry," I started. "Given the CIA's overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953, the subsequent befriending of Iraq by the U.S. and assisting Saddam in an invasion of Iran, and most recently the harsh words spoken by Vice President Cheney from the deck of an aircraft carrier toward Iran, why would Iran trust anything the United States had to say regarding nuclear treaties?"
Perry responded in a thoughtful manner that suited him in every situation. He explained that the U.S. would work with other nations in the region to establish trust and offer assurances. He made plain that it needed to be more than just the U.S. involved.
Obviously. But, it struck me that while Perry had demonstrated an adept ability to correct what he perceived to be a mischaracterization of a situation posed in the form of a question by an audience member during the Q A session, he resorted to no such tact when addressing my questions. I had argued a variety of such scenarios regarding the nefarious U.S. relationship with Iran and Iraq with many people over the past several years. And yet this esteemed gentleman, who holds a doctorate in mathematics, and has handled some of the most top secret data in the country, never faltered when confronted with the notion that the U.S. was not to be trusted by Iran, rather than the other way around.
My two minutes were not yet completed.
"Do you know how long our military has been in Iraq conducting military operations?
"You mean ground forces in Iraq?"
"The military as a whole. In 1991, George H. Bush sent over a half-million troops into Iraq and I'm not sure we ever left. That's my question."
"Yes, our ground forces moved out of Iraq after Desert Storm. During the time I was SecDef we had no ground forces in Iraq."
"But we did have the Air Force in Iraq. And the Navy."
"Yes, the Navy in the Gulf. The Air Force enforced what we call the No Fly Zone."
"Did we engage in military operations during that time?"
"On the ground?"
"Whether on the ground or in the air."
"Yes, we enforced the No Fly Zones which our military forces were flying over ... parts of Iran [perhaps Mr. Perry misspoke, or perhaps not when he said Iran. But he said Iran, not Iraq, according to the tape]. And we had American forces in the Kurdish region of Iraq on humanitarian reasons to try and protect the Kurds who were fleeing their homes. Not with military operations, it was humanitarian operations."
"The British have already publicly stated they plan to remain in Iraq and Afghanistan through 2012. Do you anticipate the United States is going to follow suit and perhaps even set up a permanent presence?"
"I think that depends on who is the next president."
"Who do you want to be the next president?"
"I'm (laughter) keeping my eyes open on many candidates. Not ready to commit."
I found it interesting to delve into the past with a man in-the-know. While he offers no apology for the U.S. aggression into Muslim nations, most notably Iran, he seeks to find a place of compromise and resolution to the current problems that he believes threaten to annihilate the world. It appeared from his talk that Perry understands the difficulties of finding a place of resolution when the U.S. behaves in a manner that shows it cannot be trusted.
Even as we threaten others with economic sanctions and death for failing to comply with demands to cease efforts to develop nuclear energy (and simultaneously offering them carrots of cash bribes), we continue to develop and increase our own nuclear technology. Rather than depleting our nuclear weapon supplies we are contaminating Iraqi soil and water with depleted uranium from exploded weapons. Rather than lead by example, we are telling nations they should do as we tell them to do, rather than do as we do.
Perry's quest for a peaceful planet is admirable. His admission that he, along with others in his group, are responsible for the current nuclear quagmire, sets him apart from most leaders who duck and dodge the issue until their grave. Still, Perry isn't all that forthcoming.
The Secretary of Defense understands the term military operations. He also is clearly aware that while the Army is considered "ground troops," it is by no means considered to the entire military. And all branches of the military can wreak massive havoc, as in war. And speaking of war, an issue brief regarding U.S. operations in Iraq, published by the characterizing the end of the Gulf War as a "cease fire."
"Since the cease-fire of March 2, 1991 (Operation Desert Storm), the United States has resorted on several occasions to the use or threat of force against Iraq."
Perry is quite aware, I am certain, that Clinton ordered air strikes on Iraq a number of times during his presidency. These strikes included Baghdad, which was outside of the "No Fly Zone" &
an area covering the greater portion of Iraq &
created and patrolled by the U.S. with the help of Great Britain. I don't have to remind the Secretary that destroy more than buildings. They kill innocent civilians, pollute land and water, and terrorize communities. The U.S. conducted such in Iraq for six of the eight years Clinton was in office.
These operations weren't without cost to the U.S. military either. Aside from literally costs, mistakes resulted in the deaths of U.S. service members. And in some cases, ground troops were even brought in as well. But, according to Perry, not on his watch.
Apparently, the troops that were on the ground from '94 to '97 were in the Kurdish regions to protect the Kurds. With the aid of a map, we find that the whitewashed explanations of the ongoing deadly American presence in Iraq for a decade prior to 9/11covered nearly 2/3 of the entire country. Most nations would consider that hostile.
But in America, we consider it "humanitarian."
I wouldn't expect the Secretary to divulge the CIA's relationship with the Iraqi National Congress or Iraqi National Accord. After all, the extended No Fly Zones provided cover for numerous covert ops in an effort to unseat Saddam Hussein throughout the '90s. And eventually, it was decided that nothing short of a full-scale invasion would achieve the task.
Fortunately, this information is all public knowledge, except most of the public hasn't taken the time to become aware of it.
But why was the U.S. intent of getting rid of Saddam for more than a decade when just one week prior to his invasion of Kuwait, President George H. Bush sent his ambassador to seek strengthening of the friendly ties we presumably had with Saddam?
And why did George W. Bush regard Saddam with such disdain that he was willing to bet his presidency on the sacrifice of service members in an all-out assault upon Iraq reminiscent of his dad's orders to conduct the same operation a dozen years prior?
Today, Saddam is no longer in power. And the U.S. is still in Iraq. I know we are there to stay. The Secretary of Defense knows we are there to stay. But he offers us the notion that it is up to the next president.
That's very true. So, then, which presidential candidates stand unequivocally opposed to U.S. troops in Iraq?
Just two: Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich.
I wonder which of these two will receive the endorsement of Secretary Perry and his esteemed colleagues?
This will be one very interesting election campaign to watch. Thanks Mr. Perry for the interview. I sure wish I had another two minutes.
is the author of, "The WHOLE Truth about the U.S. War on Terror: answers to every question you never knew to ask."
If you only had 2 minutes, what would you ask the president?
You have two minutes.