BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Sandra Mackey, author of "The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein," on your last page of the book, page 396, you write this: "An invasion of Iraq has become almost a given in the unfolding war on terrorism."
SANDRA MACKEY, AUTHOR, "THE RECKONING: IRAQ AND THE LEGACY OF SADDAM HUSSEIN": I think there are a variety of reasons, depending on where different people in the administration are coming from. I think, certainly, Donald Rumsfeld sees an invasion of Iraq to rid of Saddam Hussein as a way of reducing our defense costs in the Persian Gulf. His deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, I think comes at it more ideologically, that Saddam Hussein really is a threat to the region, and particularly to Israel, and therefore must go.
Dick Cheney -- I wonder if he is wanting to finish off the Gulf war of '91. And I think the president has maybe a variety of reasons. I think he really does see things in blacks and whites, and that Saddam Hussein, I think everybody agrees, is a black, as far as, you know, the villain on the scene, the one in the black hat riding across the range.
So it's -- you know, it's really a variety of motives. I think, certainly, the conservatives in Congress feel that the United States has power and that we should use it. And it -- certain parts of the media I think share that same opinion, that America, almost the imperial, that we are the superpower, and therefore power not used is power wasted.
LAMB: When was the last time you were in Baghdad?
MACKEY: I was there in December of '99. I had been there the previous year, and the reason I did not go back on a previous -- on a subsequent trip was two reasons. One is it's very dangerous. I mean, I was there by myself. I had no embassy. I had no organization I was connected to. I was out there dangling by myself. And obviously, if something happened to me, that was it, you know. And you have a healthy regard for Saddam Hussein's security services and his prisons.
The other reason, and I think this was probably a more compelling reason, was that what I was actually able to accomplish I had done. You know, I had been essentially all over the country. I had observed what I could observe. And you just simply cannot talk to an Iraqi in anything but just the most superficial terms.
I had had the previous experience of doing a book on Iran and had traveled extensively in that country in '92, '93 and '94, under the same type of circumstances. But I went into homes. I had, you know, talks with people. I knew where they were coming from. And in the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, there is no discourse. There is simply the state, the security services and the people.
LAMB: In your book, you write that, "The United States cannot wade unaware into Iraq, as it once waded into Vietnam." Why not?
MACKEY: We have focused since 1990 on Iraq only in the imagery of Saddam Hussein. And Saddam Hussein is a great problem. I mean, he is a real threat to the Persian Gulf region. But what we haven't thought about is Iraq itself. And this is a country that was put together by the British at the end of the First World War really to meet the British imperial needs. And they brought together people who had no sense of commonality. They were ethnic groups, sectarian groups, tribal groups, and they were then put into this contrived state.
And from the very beginning, Iraq has been a very, very tough country to try to govern. And now that you have Saddam Hussein's rule, that he's been there as the sole power for over 20 years -- he's stripped the country of its civil society, so that has been added onto all of these other fragilities in the country.
And for the United States to have the illusion that we can launch a military operation, get rid of Saddam Hussein, pack our bags and go home is very dangerous because we -- you know, somebody has got to stay there to try to help these people get through this period. And it would be a commitment that could have no end because there's so much damage done to the country that was already a very weak country, to start with.
LAMB: Where is -- how did you get into this?
MACKEY: Well, I grew up in the middle of Oklahoma, and there was in my little town one family of Arab descent, which my father always referred to as "the Assyrians." They -- in retrospect, they were obviously Lebanese. I don't know why -- in college I got fascinated with the Middle East, and then I went to the University of Virginia and did graduate studies in Middle East history and politics, principally politics.
And then I sort of took the mommy track and had a child and was raising him. And then in 1978, I went to live in Saudi Arabia. And my husband was a physician and went to work at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital. And I'd always had a hankering to write, but I didn't think I had anything to say, particularly. Well, believe me, when you're in Saudi Arabia in the middle of the oil boom and you have a background in Middle East studies, you have a lot to write about.
And at the time, I had -- was in my 40s, and my husband today still calls me "the Grandma Moses of journalism"! But I've just been at it ever since.
LAMB: Where do you live?
MACKEY: I live in Atlanta.
LAMB: And this is what book for you?
MACKEY: Number five.
LAMB: And what were the other four?
MACKEY: The first one I wrote was "The Saudis," which Norton is bringing out a new edition of that in October. The second one I did was called "Lebanon: Death of a Nation," which was about the Lebanese civil war. My third one was "Passion and Politics," which was about the relationship of the Arabs with each other, not the Arab-Israeli dispute. And my last book prior to this one was "The Iranians: Persia, Islam and the Soul of a Nation."
LAMB: One of the things I got from your book was that there are constantly different groups against different groups. You have Iran and Iraq, and the Persians and the Arabs, and then even within Saddam Hussein's own -- within the Kurds, you have two different groups. And within his own family, two different sons. And it goes on and on and on. And you have two different rivers.
I want to show this map that you have in the front of your book. And tell us what we're looking at here.
MACKEY: This is a map of present-day Iraq, and the most significant feature of it is the fact that you've got these two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, which, of course, as we all know from our high school world history, the area between those two rivers was the cradle of civilization that we call Mesopotamia.
And Iraq is very blessed with resources, and we hear oil, of course, but their other great resource is water that comes from these two rivers.
LAMB: How many times have you been there?
MACKEY: Well, I was in and out a lot when I was living in Saudi Arabia from '78 to '80, and then I was in Saudi Arabia again from '82 to '84. And then I didn't go back until '98, when I began researching this book.
LAMB: Saddam Hussein was born where?
MACKEY: He was born in Tikrit, which is just north of Baghdad about 60 miles. And he was born in 1937. He's just turned 65. Unfortunately, he has no -- shows no signs of retiring.
LAMB: What was his family like?
MACKEY: His family was what you could almost say was a typical rural family because another of the divisions in Iraq that have been there from the beginning, even as far back as Mesopotamia, is the urban-rural split in the country. And his mother was a tribal woman. Her family had migrated from the Arabian Peninsula into Iraq, we don't exactly know when, probably mid-19th century. Her husband, Saddam Hussein's father, died before Saddam Hussein was born, and he was raised by a very tyrannical stepfather. But he was very much raised in the rural tribal tradition that you find in Iraq. And he intellectually and his experience, he's never really gone beyond that.
LAMB: How did he get into the whole -- the avenue that got him to be the head of the country?
MACKEY: Well, he had an uncle that he was sent to live with in Baghdad. He didn't even start his education till he was 16 years old. And I do think you have to hand it to him that he did realize, you know, how important education was. And he -- and I don't think we can question the fact that he is an intelligent man. Whether he's, you know, well educated is another issue, but he is an intelligent man.
And so he went to Baghdad to live with this uncle, who was very much involved in Arab nationalism, in this political movement that said that the problems of the Arab world have come from two things. One is we're weighted down by the traditions of Islam. And secondly, the Arabs have been splintered between all these states that were created after the First World War. And so what we must do is bring the Arabs together, have one government, have a secular government, and then the Arabs can progress economically, politically.
And so Saddam Hussein was very much caught up in that, and it was an ideology that was promoted by a party called the Ba'ath Party and -- which was originally founded in Syria during the '40s and then really had its sort of heyday during the '50s. And Saddam Hussein really became what you would call an enforcer for the Ba'ath Party. He was the street tough who would go out and knock heads to get -- to make sure people were not opposed to Ba'ath ideology.
And actually, he was involved in an assassination attempt on President Qazim (ph), who -- well, General -- I'm sorry. It's General Qazim (ph), who was the leader of Iraq after the revolution of 1958. And he escaped arrest in that assassination attempt, went to Egypt and entered Cairo University under a stipend from Nasser. And then in 1968, he returned to Iraq and really became the principal person who organized the Ba'aths' own military regime.
And very often, people compare Saddam Hussein to Hitler, and that's not the right comparison. The comparison is with Stalin because Hussein has a whole library of books on Stalin and has studied him very closely. And the reason is because he sees Stalin as someone who used a political party to subdue the military, and that's exactly what he has done in Iraq.
LAMB: You wrote in your book that -- born in 1938, never in the military, lived in Cairo, and you just talked about it, under Nasser and was obsessed with Stalin. What would that -- I mean, part of what you're saying, it seems, in the book is that we, as a country, don't know anything about Iraq or Saddam Hussein or what we're about to get into if we go in there and try to take him out.
MACKEY: That's right. I really wrote the book from the standpoint that as little as we know about Saddam Hussein -- because he lives in this, you know, murky, secret world that no one but those closest to him ever see -- we know even less about Iraq. And Iraq is a very complex country. And when you start talking about dealing with Saddam Hussein and dealing with Iraq, is that, you know, there is no easy answers. There are only difficult choices. And whichever way we go, we get into very big risks.
And obviously, what has been talked about so much since 1991 is the fact that Saddam Hussein, in all probability, has chemical and biological weapons. What we're concerned about is, is he going to get a nuclear weapon? And if we leave him in place, you know, is that going to be what happens? And is he therefore going to be able to change the strategic balance in the Persian Gulf? So that's one -- that's one risk.
The other risk is that the United States invades Iraq on its own for no other reason than to change the regime there and all of the complications that could flow from that, that we simply don't understand because we have never paid attention to Iraq as a country.
LAMB: If you go there -- first of all, how many people live there?
MACKEY: Best guess right now is about 20 million.
LAMB: If you go to Baghdad, what is available in the way of radio, television, newspapers? What can the people there read and listen to?
MACKEY: Nothing. This is one of the great problems that we've got to deal with is not only, you know, do you have to build a government if Saddam Hussein is gone, if we take him out, you have people who have been totally isolated from the world by Saddam Hussein's propaganda machine and by the sanctions. I mean, the sanctions have contributed greatly to the isolation of Iraq.
And you have a group of people who have no idea what is truth, what is fiction, who is to blame for their current economic situation. And they really have suffered a lot economically under the sanctions. And you have people who really have no idea how to deal with the outside world. And you know, you are giving to these people then supposedly a, quote, "democracy," and I think there are some very naive people who expect that you just simply remove Saddam Hussein militarily by the action of the United States and you then tell the Iraqi people, "All right, now, you're free. Form a democracy and live happily ever after."
LAMB: Have they ever voted there?
MACKEY: They have had some democracy, particularly back during the monarchy that lasted from '32 to -- I'm sorry -- '21 to '58. And the monarchy, certainly under the first king, who was Faisal -- and if -- you know, to help people sort of identify who he is, he's the character Omar Sharif played in "Lawrence of Arabia." And he was put on the throne of Iraq by the British.
He was actually from the Arabian Peninsula, was not an Iraqi himself, but really did put a lot of effort into trying to develop among all of these tribes, ethnic groups, sectarian groups a sense of Iraq as a nation, not just Iraq a state, because those are two different things. You know, you can have a -- Iraq is a state today, but it's not a nation because it hasn't developed from people who have shared interests.
LAMB: Go back, though, to the British for a moment. How were the British in a position to even create this country called Iraq?
MACKEY: Well, because they had been victorious in World War I. And actually, during the war, the British had promised the Sharif of Mecca, who was the father of Faisal, that if he would launch a revolt against Turkey, that at the end of the war, they would give him an Arab state that he interpreted as going from the Persian Gulf to the Nile.
Then the British got into secret negotiations with the French that produced something called the Sykes-Picot agreements, in which the British and the French had already divided up the Ottoman empire's Middle Eastern territories before the war was ever over. And so when they went to Versailles to the peace conference, the British and the French listened to the plea of the Arabs for their Arab state, for their national -- you know, to recognize their nationalism.
And they said, you know, "Thank you very much. It was nice to hear your point of view." And then they went in a back room, closed the door, rolled out their maps that they had drawn in the Sykes-Picot agreements and divided up the states in what we now have as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, what was Palestine, which, of course, is now largely Israel, and -- Egypt had already gotten -- well, Egypt was already a British colony, so that was not involved.
But I think one of the problems that you had in the Middle East -- not only Iraq but these other countries -- is that they are all, to a certain extent, contrived countries that were really thrown into independence that came at the end of the Second World War. They got statehood at the First World War, independence the Second World War, and were more or less thrown out there without any preparation and said, "All right," you know, "govern yourselves."
And that's one of the reasons they've never been, you know, very successful at really being able to build viable countries that have been able to move away from localism and tribalism and to really modernize.
LAMB: Whose idea was it that they have a monarchy after 1921?
MACKEY: Well, there was a very interesting woman who was with the British Foreign Office named Gertrude Bell, and Gertrude Bell was a scholar of that area and had really traveled a lot and knew the tribes better than anybody did. And so she was one that felt that the Iraqis had to have a strong hand at the till, and she certainly was in agreement with other people in the British foreign policy establishment who felt that, you know, the model for Iraq should be the model of monarchy, which is what Britain had.
And so that was what led to -- and the choice of Faisal came about because of these failed promises to his father. And the British really took the oldest son, two oldest sons of the Sharif of Mecca and put one on the throne in Damascus, which was Faisal, and the other one on the throne in what became Jordan, who was Abdullah, the grandfather of late King Hussein.
And then the French threw Faisal out of Syria, and he wound up on the doorstep of the British in London. And they thought, "Oh, we've got" -- you know, "We've got to do something with this man." And so the idea of creating a government for Iraq and needing to fulfill a promise to the family of the Sharif of Mecca, they sent him to Baghdad.
LAMB: So in '58, what happened to the monarchy?
MACKEY: The monarchy was overthrown by a military coup. And I think this is one of the real unfortunate episodes in Iraq's history because the monarchy probably was the best government they've ever had. Now, certainly, it had its faults. It had its shortcomings. But particularly during the '50s, when Iraq began to develop economically, the monarchy really did think about how you were going to develop not only Iraq's oil but how you were going to develop its agriculture and how you were really going to try to somewhat equalize the economic system.
Their problems were that they were too interested in protecting the rights of the Sunni minority. These are Arabic-speaking Sunni Muslims who have always been roughly 20 percent of the population.
LAMB: So 4 million people out of 20 million would be Sunnis.
MACKEY: Right. And...
LAMB: And what is Saddam Hussein?
MACKEY: Saddam Hussein is a Sunni. And the Sunnis have always been the political and economic elite of Iraq, and it actually started with the Ottomans because the Ottomans being Sunnis themselves and being concerned with the rival Shi'a in Iran, always put power in the hands of the Sunnis in Baghdad. And when independence came, that gets carried over to the British, who want to keep things stable and they want to keep the existing system operating. So they also gave all the prerogatives to the Shi'a -- I mean, I'm sorry, to the Sunni.
LAMB: Now, what -- if I had a Sunni sitting here with us and a Shi'ite sitting here, could you tell the difference to looking at them?
MACKEY: Probably not. If you had a cleric, two clerics, you could because the Shi'a clerics dress differently than the Sunni clerics. But as long as they're Arabic-speaking, you know, that they are very much the same people because they all had their origins in the Arabian Peninsula.
And the reason that you have Sunnis and Shi'a in Iraq in the Arab population is that when these migrations occurred in the late 19th century, they -- the people who were in charge of the major Shi'a shrines in Iraq, which is Najaf and Karbala, were Persians. They had come from Iran, and they controlled those areas. And they were feeling that they needed to have some power on the ground, some military power, and so they actually went out as missionaries to these Arab tribes who were coming in to Mesopotamia and actually made alliances with them which very often were political alliances or economic alliances.
And the third thing they did was they addressed the tribal Arabs' sort of crisis of identity, of moving from nomadism to settled farmers in this very rich agricultural area. So those three things combined together that resulted in the split of the rural urban -- I mean the rural Arab population between the Shi'a and the Sunnis.
LAMB: How do you keep track of all this?
MACKEY: Well, I study it every day.
LAMB: What's been -- I mean, how long have you studied this?
MACKEY: Well, about 30 years.
LAMB: And what value did it have -- does it have when you go over there, when you're actually on the scene in Iran or Iraq? And have you been to Jordan and Syria?
MACKEY: Oh, yes, I've been in all of those countries. You go with I think a real cultural sensitivity, and I have found that I have not had problems working in this area that so many people say, oh, you must have this problem because you're a woman -- and I say, no, quite the contrary, that I think being a woman working in this area is an advantage.
One thing is that I think men sometimes don't take you maybe seriously enough as far as what your intellectual level is or what your expertise is, but even more important is that you get to go into the world of the women, and they really know what's going on, and they'll tell you. The men tend to be very close-lipped about, you know, what's going on politically, but the women aren't, and you find out an enormous amount.
LAMB: How much -- when did Iraq discover their oil?
MACKEY: It was early 20th century. I don't recall the exact date. But they knew there was oil in Iran, in as early as 1904. And so it just made scientific sense that there was oil in Iraq.
And so it was really after the fall of the Ottoman Empire that, you know, the oil then began to become a factor.
LAMB: Ottoman Empire was what?
MACKEY: The Ottoman Empire was the empire that was put together from Istanbul over several centuries, starting in the 14th century. And it was probably completed -- well, it was at its height in the 16th century under Suleyman the Magnificent.
And then, the Ottoman Empire, through a series of their own missteps and mismanagement, began to fall apart. I mean, sort of, you know, different areas would break away.
And, you know the famous phrase before the First World War, that the Ottoman Empire was the sick man of Europe; that everybody realized that it was falling apart, and that it probably could not survive the war. And of course, it didn't. It fell apart with the armistice. And as we've said, that's when you then had the boundaries of the modern Middle East drawn.
LAMB: In the Iraq area, and all those surrounding countries -- how many folks over there are Sunnis, and how many are Shiites?
MACKEY: The vast majority are Sunni. And the Sunnis are the orthodox Muslims. There's probably about 10 percent Shi'a -- well, probably not that much in the Arab world. Overall, about 10 percent of Muslims are Shi'a.
LAMB: So then Iraq is unusual?
MACKEY: Very unusual.
There is a concentration of Arab Shi'a in Southern Lebanon. There are some settlements of Shi'a on the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, in Bahrain. All of those countries on the Persian Gulf have some Shi'a population.
But the great Shi'a population is non-Arab. And that, of course, is in Iran.
LAMB: So what about the infrastructure of Saddam Hussein's government; made up of how many Sunni versus how many Shi'a -- the leadership, the military?
MACKEY: Well, you know, it's very hard to know what goes on. Because, as I say, things are so tight.
But what Saddam Hussein did after the Gulf War to save himself was that he just gave up on this whole idea of trying to build an Iraqi nation.
Because, you know, in fairness to the Ba'ath -- during the '70s, during the oil boom -- they really did make an attempt to bring everybody into a -- what was essentially a socialist system, albeit the fact that it was totally controlled by the Ba'ath Party.
After the Gulf War -- and Saddam Hussein had faced these two rebellions -- the Shi'a in the south rose against him, the Kurds in the north rose against him.
And the reason he survived that was that the Sunnis in the center -- and they're the people who are in the military -- decided that no matter how bad they thought Saddam Hussein was, the Sunnis hated the idea of the Shi'a maybe being able to take over as a majority of the country.
And so, they gathered behind Saddam Hussein. It was enough military power to put down both of these rebellions.
Since then, Saddam Hussein has not really operated on trying to bring these groups into the government to try to balance the political power and the economic prerogatives. What he's done is he has gone into each of these groups, and he has plucked out tribal leaders and made alliances with them. And how the thing works is that he gives them arms and money, and they patrol their populations.
And the most ordinary of these tribal alliances are with traditional tribes. And some of the tribes are Kurds, some of them are Sunnis, a lot of them are Shi'a.
And he's added to that what are -- what we might call neo tribes. And he will get, like, the metal workers in Baghdad in a certain section organized, not as like a union, but as a tribal unit -- and that they will be a tribe by occupation, as opposed to a tribe by kinship.
And he's just replicated this over and over and over throughout the country. And he controls Iraq through these tribal groups.
LAMB: Did Iraq ever have control of Kuwait years ago?
MACKEY: No. They wanted to. They -- you know, they claimed Kuwait as a part of Iraq, and certainly did that -- in the Gulf, when the invasion took place, they called it the 19th province of Iraq.
And their claim really goes back to the fact that they said the Ottomans included Kuwait in what was called then Mesopotamia.
LAMB: How much of that whole area that we showed in that map earlier belonged to the Ottoman Empire at one time?
MACKEY: The entire area -- if you get to the northern part of Saudi Arabia, the Ottoman Empire really went from the border of Iran across the whole Fertile Crescent until you got to Egypt. But then it swung up into the Balkans. And then you had some of the Ottoman Empire, of course -- what's now Turkey that is there.
So the Ottoman Empire was quite large. And every country in the Middle East now, with the exception of the countries on the Arabian Peninsula, were part of the Ottoman Empire.
LAMB: What do you see when you go to Iraq that we don't see through television?
MACKEY: I don't think it's what you see; it's what you feel. And you really feel this horrible, horrible repression of people. You sense the fear of people, and certainly a level of desperation which -- that level of desperation maybe has eased a little bit, because the sanctions have both been raveling, and secondly, we've revised the sanctions regimen. So the sanctions are not quite as tough.
I would say, more than anything, you just feel Iraq is an incredibly unhappy place.
LAMB: How much oil do we buy -- this country buys -- from the Iraqis?
MACKEY: They are producing now about four million barrels a day. And we are buying -- it seems to me -- I haven't checked the last few weeks, but I -- we're getting, you know, somewhere around 10 percent of our oil imports from Iraq.
LAMB: There was a statement made a couple of days ago by Senator Murkowski that we're getting a million a day.
MACKEY: That wouldn't surprise me. Because it will go up and down.
LAMB: ... $4 billion a year, spending in Iraq.
LAMB: We are still bombing Iraq in the north and the south, and over that -- trying to take out different missiles sites.
Explain all this.
MACKEY: Well, the United States in 1991 made the decision not to go to Baghdad, with good reason. Because we're -- we faced the same situation in '91 that we're facing now. Once you invade Iraq, it's like the tar baby, you know. You really don't know what you're going to get into.
Secondly, we didn't go, because the coalition that George Bush Sr. built -- one of the promises made to the Arab states that joined was that we would not invade and occupy Arab territory; that we would get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. And that was going to be the operation.
So it was a very defined, exact operation.
Then, you know, the feeling was that Saddam Hussein would fall within a period of weeks; months at the most. Because no one that was as hated as he was by his people, you know, "could survive such a humiliating military defeat."
Well, Saddam Hussein showed that not only -- you know, he might not know how to operate outside his boundaries. But he really understood Iraq. And as I said, with his Sunni-controlled military, he was able to, you know, hold himself in power.
And then, the United States realized that if we weren't going to get rid of him, we had to control his weapons of -- or his weapons, not just mass destruction; we wanted to get rid of his conventional forces and his missiles, and everything.
And so that was what originated as the -- you know, the arms embargo against -- well, actually, it's a total embargo against Iraq, under the auspices of the United Nations.
And every time Saddam Hussein would make a move that would threaten one part of the country or another, the United States would -- for lack of anything else they knew to do -- was to set up a no-fly zone.
The first one was with the Kurds. Because the Kurds really did suffer a great deal in their rebellion. And the advantage they had over the Shi'a, who had rebelled first, was that the international press could come in over the borders of Turkey and Iran and really see what was happening.
And so there was a great public outcry that the United States had to do something to protect these Kurdish refugees. So that was the first no-fly zone.
Then later, subsequently, when Saddam Hussein appeared to be moving back south, that then we set up a similar no-fly zone over the south. And so that means that there is a band across the center of Iraq that is under -- is not under the no-fly zone.
And what's been going on is that Saddam Hussein challenges those no-fly zones all the time by sending missiles against these planes that are patrolling them. And then we come in, and we bomb these installations.
So this tit-for-tat has been going on for the last decade.
LAMB: What would happen if we stop buying their oil?
MACKEY: Probably nothing, except that maybe oil prices would go up. But if -- they're in a market that -- if we don't take it, somebody else is going to take it. It doesn't make that much difference.
Because we always say, you know, well, we -- you know, why worry about the Persian Gulf, because we only get 17 percent of our oil from the Persian Gulf? Well, true. But you don't really figure out where you're getting your oil imports. Because what determines the price is how much is going into the international pipeline.
So if, for -- and this is why we have to worry so much about the stability of the Persian Gulf. Because while we maybe get 17 percent of our oil from the Gulf, Japan gets something in the range of 80 percent. Europe gets an enormous amount of their oil.
And if you destabilize that area, and you interrupt the production of oil, then that's when you really start having big economic problems, because the oil prices are just going to go -- are going to escalate. Because you've taken a huge portion of the oil out of the market.
LAMB: Is what you're saying that by us buying a million barrels a day -- if that's what it is -- out of Iraq, that we -- that money's going to building the weapons of mass destruction?
MACKEY: Well, actually, what we're buying from Iraq is "legal oil." And in 1996, because of the enormous suffering of the Iraqi people, the Security Council of the United Nations adopted the Oil for Food Program, which they had actually offered to Saddam Hussein in 1991. And he refused.
So the first five years of Iraqi suffering under the sanctions was no one's fault but Saddam Hussein. But in '96, things got so desperate that he accepted the oil for food.
Under that program, the sanctions committee tells Iraq, You can produce X barrels of oil in this quarter -- no, this six months; it goes in six-month space. And with the proceeds of that money, we will buy -- the UN -- food and medicine for the Iraqi people. And we will pay reparations to Kuwait, and -- when the inspector -- the arms inspectors were in Iraq -- pay for administering that program.
And so, the money that we are paying for Iraqi oil is not going to his weapons of mass destruction. That's going, actually, for food and medicine under Oil for Food.
LAMB: So what happens if we attack there? Say, you know, there's all kinds of scenarios -- that 200,000 troops were involved, and we went in to try to take him out and his government out -- what would happen -- and I'm trying to go around the horn quickly -- in Iran, what would their reaction be?
MACKEY: Iran would be very unhappy. Because they consider the Persian Gulf their front door. They're very nationalistic. They're very suspicious of the United States trying to re-invade their country. But probably, nothing serious would happen -- lot of rhetoric, but nothing serious.
LAMB: What would be the reaction of the people in Syria?
MACKEY: The people in Syria also -- I think they would make a lot of noise about the United States. But militarily, they're in no position to do anything. And I -- you know, the question is how much control does the government have over its people, and probably enough to keep the lid on.
LAMB: How many people live in Syria?
MACKEY: Oh, you would ask me that. I haven't looked at the figures. But I would say around 20 million.
LAMB: What would be the reaction of the people in Saudi Arabia?
MACKEY: All right, now this is where we really have to start getting worried. Because American foreign policy, since 1973 -- and this is policy in the Persian Gulf -- has been based on one thing. And that is to guarantee the movement of oil at reasonable prices.
And what we're facing with a unilateral invasion of Iraq is blowing the lid off of the political situation in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. Egypt, of course, is not a major oil producer, nor is Jordan.
But these are all countries that have been very friendly with the United States. They've been very cooperative with us. They've done us a lot of favors; we've done them a lot of favors. It's been a mutual alliance.
But those governments are really becoming less and less able to keep the lid on their populations. We in the trade refer to it as the Arab street, which means the non-elite.
And if you would have -- which I think is a very real risk we have to think about -- Saudi Arabia destabilized, and, you know, Iraq -- no telling what's going to, you know, happen -- I mean, we can defeat Saddam Hussein; that's not the problem. It's stabilizing the situation to keep oil production going there.
And we start really getting into problems of interrupted production in the Persian Gulf, then we're all going to pay a big, economic price.
LAMB: Twenty million people in Iraq -- what's the age breakdown?
MACKEY: Oh, vast majority under 20. You know, it's again one of these countries that -- like most of the Arab countries, you know, they have got to control population. That's their biggest problem: That regardless of how much oil they have, how much foreign assistance they have, how much economic development they try to do, they simply cannot keep up with the population growth.
LAMB: Are they trainable? I mean, can you go in there with a cadre of people that speak the language, and all that, and teach them democracy?
MACKEY: Sure. I mean, it's -- in fact, you know, we look at Saudi Arabia as being a very authoritarian regime. And it is, but it's not an autocratic regime. And there's always, then, in Saudi Arabia, a relationship between the House of Saud and the various segments of the population.
And, you know, you're not necessarily going to just say, you know, here's Western-style democracy; we want you to adopt that. They've got to find their own way.
But certainly, they can learn democracy. Because in many ways, they have -- you know, they have a type of democracy that we just don't understand how it works.
LAMB: Go back to your conclusion. You brought Vietnam into this. You also said in your conclusion that -- I'll read it again -- "An invasion of Iraq has become almost a given in the unfolding war on terrorism."
So, it's going to happen?
MACKEY: I'm afraid it is.
LAMB: You don't like the idea?
MACKEY: I don't like it at all.
I think it -- you know, it really depends on how it happens. I mean, if Saddam Hussein really does get a nuclear weapon, he then changes the strategic balance in the Gulf. And I think we could get people to get on board with us, and to get a multilateral invasion of Iraq.
That's a whole different scenario. I think that could happen without as many ramifications as going in alone.
Secondly, if Saddam Hussein would die, for instance, or if he would be overthrown, and you had just total chaos descend on the country, then I think the United States could go in, again, as part of a multilateral force to try to bring some stability.
What I worry about is us just going in and doing it alone, and having to take on our shoulders the whole responsibility of trying to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. The Iraqis have never been able to really bring themselves together to -- you know, to have a common vision.
The politics there, even in the best of times, has been one in which rival group refuses to give into the needs of rival group, and to reach some sort of consensus.
LAMB: So, having said all that, what part of your book is the most important to understand what could happen if we go in there?
MACKEY: I think the most important part of it to understand is really beginning with the founding of the state, and this lack of any common sense of identity. And it's just gone on decade after decade, government after government. And it has just been exacerbated under Saddam Hussein, by really reviving tribalism.
LAMB: This picture is from where?
MACKEY: That's the parade ground. And that is the monument to the Iraq-Iran War, which lasted eight years and killed probably a million people together, on both sides.
LAMB: You say that those arms of the hands on the site are supposed to be Saddam Hussein's?
MACKEY: That's the rumor, that they were sculpted from a picture of his forearms.
LAMB: Have you been on this parade ground?
MACKEY: I have, in fact. I almost got arrested there, trying to go to his birthday party.
LAMB: Why would -- why did you almost get arrested?
MACKEY: Well, I was there was on his birthday. They were having a big celebration at the parade ground. And I just decided that I would walk over and see what was going on. And I was cutting across an area that was not very well lit.
And I stepped across one of these grates that has the prongs that stick up, you know, so you can't drive over it. Soon as I stepped on the other side, all of these floodlights came on. And a soldier had a gun on me and told me not to move. And he summoned the Secret Police, and they arrived in one of their ominous white Toyotas. And I thought, oh, I've done it now, you know. I am off to jail.
And this is again where it really does pay to be a woman. Because they told me to get in the car. And I just, you know, rose up in righteous indignation, and I said, no. You know, how dare you, you know. You expect me, a respectable woman, to get in a car with men I'm not related to?
Now, mind you, I was scared to death as I said this.
LAMB: You're by yourself.
MACKEY: I was by myself.
And they didn't know what to do. You know, I mean, obviously, they could have just, you know, manhandled me, and put me in. Again, they told me, you know, to get in -- took their rifles and pointed at me, and told me to get in the car. And I said no.
And I pulled out my card they give you at the hotel. And it's the Al Rashid Hotel that most foreigners are required to stay there. And if you're there, they know you're there with the permission of the government.
And I said, you know, I'm at the Al Rashid. I am going back to my hotel. And I turned around and just started walking back to the hotel. And they followed me all the way back. And as soon as I walked into the gate of the hotel, well, then they turned around and left. Because every person who works at the hotel is part of the Secret Police. So they knew I, you know, would be observed.
So, anyway, it was -- it was a frightening experience.
LAMB: What's the greatest source of material for you, in writing this book?
MACKEY: I always think my greatest source is the people I talk to. And, you know, that was -- as I say, was frustrating inside Iraq. You had to do a lot of the interviews with people outside Iraq.
But I also think that it's just sitting down and really looking at the tragedy of Iraq from day one. It's a -- it's a sad story. It's a -- it's a sad country. And, you know, it's not going to be any better for a while, at least, after Saddam Hussein is gone. They have lots of problems, lots of wounds that have got to be healed.
LAMB: Unfortunately, we're out of time.
Here's what the book looks like. It's called, "The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein." Our guest has been Sandra Mackey. And we thank you very much.
MACKEY: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2002. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.