Jimmy Carter: "Iraq Invasion...One Of The Greatest Blunders That American Presidents Have Ever Made"....

03/28/2008 02:44 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
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From CNN's Situation Room

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BLITZER: Former President Jimmy Carter has been a vocal critic of

some Bush administration policies, including the war in Iraq. He has a

unique perspective on international conferences fueled by religion and

long histories of hatred. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has a new book

entitled "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid."

He's joining us now in the SITUATION ROOM.

Mr. President, thanks for coming in.

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a

pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: A very provocative title.

We'll get to the book shortly.

Let's get through some of the major issues of the day.

The president spoke forcefully today about Iraq at the NATO summit,

not backing down at all, seemingly repeating the lines he was saying

before the Democratic victory in Congress.

Listen to this little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We'll continue to be flexible and we'll make the changes

necessary to succeed. But there's one thing I'm not going to do -- I'm

not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is

complete.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Smart strategy on his part to enunciate that policy the

way he is?

CARTER: Well, I think that he and the American people, the members

of Congress, everyone in the United States, and maybe around the world,

are waiting to see what Lee Hamilton and Jim Baker recommend.

BLITZER: But is that outsourcing foreign policy, sort of kicking,

punting the ball down the road to these outside 10 Democrats and

Republicans giving him advice? Is that smart?

More after the jump...


CARTER: Well, I don't think he did it. I think this was an

initiation by the Congress. He has his own recommendations, to be

derived from people in his administration.

But I think it would be natural for President Bush to adopt as many

of the policies that Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton recommend, and their

committee, as he possibly can.

If there are some things with which he disagrees, in order to save

face, or to show his independence, that he's still the

commander-in-chief, then he will do it.

But I think in general, the recommendations of the committee will be

seriously considered by the White House and maybe a lot of them will be

adopted.

BLITZER: He can reject or he can accept whatever he wants. You

used to do the same thing...

CARTER: Sure, he's the commander-in-chief. Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... when you were president.

Is this a civil war that the U.S. is involved in in Iraq right now?

CARTER: Well, I know that NBC has ordained that it be called a

civil war.

BLITZER: But what do you...

CARTER: But we're...

BLITZER: What about Jimmy Carter?

CARTER: I think civil war is a serious -- a more serious

circumstance than exists in Iraq. And I say that based on some of the

civil wars with which we've been involved in the last few years.

For instance, we've worked 19 years to try to get a civil war ended

in southern Sudan, where two million people died. And we just helped to

hold an election in the Republic of Congo, where four million people

have died in the last eight years.

BLITZER: So you're saying this is not a civil war?

CARTER: Well, I think you can -- if you want to call it a civil

war, some of the news media, like NBC, or if you want to call it not a

civil war, by the White House, it's a matter of judgment. I think

semantics or what you name it. It doesn't have any real effect.

BLITZER: The U.S. this commission you're talking about, this

bipartisan Lee Hamilton, James Baker Iraq Study Group, one of their

proposals that there's a lot of speculation about, that they're going to

recommend the U.S. starts talking directly with Syria and Iran.

Listen to what the president said today about Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We see the struggle in Iran, where a reactionary regime

subjugates its proud people, arrests free trade union leaders and uses

Iran's resources to fund the spread of terror and pursue nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: This doesn't sound like someone who really wants to let

Iran play a significant role in Iraq right now.

CARTER: Well, you know, there's a difference between letting Iran

play a role in the future of Israel, on the other hand, which would be

completely out of the question, and including Iran and Syria in a

conference of all of the surrounding nations, including those that are

close to us, moderate Arabs like Egypt and Jordan and Saudi Arabia and

some of the other Gulf States.

But I think if they are included in a conference, that would

reassure the Iraqi people that some day in the near future they're going

to have complete control over their military and political and economic

destiny, and Israeli and American occupation forces are going to be

withdrawn. I think that would be something that the president should

accept.

BLITZER: You know a lot about Iran. You spent the last 444 days of

your presidency focusing in on the American hostages.

CARTER: I remember that.

BLITZER: I know. I remember it very well. I think everyone who

was alive remembers it, as well.

This is a regime -- basically, the same people who were in charge

then, who took over for the shah, are still in charge right now, led by

a supreme ayatollah, who has been meeting today with Talabani and

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met yesterday with Jalal Talabani, the president of

Iraq.

CARTER: Yes.

BLITZER: This is the same Iranian president who said last October,

a year ago: "Israel must be wiped off the map of the world, and god

willing, with the forces of god behind it, we shall soon experience a

world without the United States and Zionists."

CARTER: This is one of the most ridiculous and obnoxious statements

that I've ever heard a public official -- certainly in a leadership

capacity -- to make. It's ridiculous and ought to be completely

discounted.

However, you know, the Iranian people and the government, I think

collectively, would like to see a stable Iraq and there may be a role

for them to play in the conference that I think will be forthcoming.

And I think this is going to be one of the key recommendations of the

study commission that we've already discussed.

And so I think this is one that I would certainly approve, is a

broad-based conference, maybe even including France and Russia and

others who might help to reassure the Iraqi people that their nation is

going to be, I would say, reconstructed and given the proper element of

freedom and independence.

BLITZER: If you ask me, it sounds like the Baker-Hamilton

commission is getting ready to call for an international conference to

bring...

CARTER: Which I think would be good.

BLITZER: Well, Baker, when he was secretary of state, used to call

for those conferences in Madrid, as you remember, the Oslo conference...

CARTER: I remember it well.

BLITZER: ... and before the first President Bush went ahead and

liberated Kuwait, the international conference. So I suspect that will

happen.

Listen to this clip, also, from what the president said today,

because it sounds to me like the neo-conservatives, who were so

instrumental in shaping a lot of this strategy, that he's still very

much influenced by that line of thinking, because listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The war on terror that we fight today is more than a military

conflict, it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century.

And in this struggle, we can accept nothing less than victory for our

children and our grandchildren.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It doesn't sound like he's moving away from that

neo-conservative ideology from earlier, does it?

CARTER: No, but one of the most ridiculous and humorous things that

I've seen lately is the neo-conservatives moving away from George Bush --

BLITZER: Well, a lot of them have (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARTER: ... when they were the orchestrators and the supporters and

the originators of the Iraqi adventure. And now that it's gone bad,

they've said we didn't have anything to do with it. Bush has just

really fouled up himself, and his associates, if they're still there.

So I think that's a really funny thing to see.

But I think there's no doubt that the neo-conservative inclination

is still prevalent, both, maybe, in the White House and also among some

of those that have abandoned President Bush.

BLITZER: I assume you believe that the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the

removal of Saddam Hussein, was a huge -- with hindsight, was a huge

blunder.

CARTER: Well, when you throw in the removal of Saddam Hussein, I

don't include that. But I think that the original invasion of Iraq, and

all of its consequences, yes, were a blunder, including what happened

with the leadership.

BLITZER: In the scheme of things, how big of a blunder was it in

terms of foreign policy blunders that American presidents h made?

CARTER: One of the -- it's going to prove, I believe, to be one of

the greatest blunders that American presidents have ever made.

BLITZER: Bigger than Vietnam?

CARTER: I think it's going to be a close call, but perhaps much

more vividly known by the rest of the world than Vietnam was. And, of

course, my answer is predicated on not knowing what's going to happen in

the future.

I think that President Bush could still salvage out of Iraq a

conclusion that he could identify as victory if he would agree that this

international conference would come in and help Iraq and if there could

be an orderly withdrawal of American troops and Iraq could be sustained,

with the support of the rest of the world, as a viable democracy.

Then he could say, in retrospect, this was a success. And I think

that's what he would like to see as an ultimate indication of a victory.

BLITZER: If you were president right now, what would you do, given

the current situation as it exists on the ground?

CARTER: I would immediately convene an international conference and

let it be known -- which is not known now -- that America has no desire

to maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq. Almost every Arab

leader with whom I have discussed this issue in the last year or two

believe that the current plan is some day, 20 years from now, still to

have a military presence of the United States inside Iraq. I would make

that clear. And I would involved as many of the neighbors and other

leaders in the world along with us, not in the occupation of Iraq, but

in the orderly withdrawal from Iraq of American troops and a reassurance

to the Iraqi people that you can control your own affairs.

BLITZER: Let's talk about your new book, "Palestine: Peace, Not

Apartheid." The book jacket, the book cover, has a picture of you. It

also has a picture of the wall that Israel has constructed...

CARTER: Yes.

BLITZER: ... along the West Bank to protect itself, presumably,

from terrorists coming into major Israeli cities and towns.

CARTER: Not along the West Bank, but inside the West Bank.

BLITZER: Inside the West Bank...

CARTER: OK.

BLITZER: ... to separate, if you will, the Palestinian territories

from Israel, pre-'67 Israel...

CARTER: Well, as a matter of fact...

BLITZER: ... or close to those lines.

CARTER: As a matter of fact, that's not correct, Wolf.

What the wall does is separate Palestinians from other

Palestinians. This wall is not built between Israel and Palestine.

It's built between the Palestinians and other Palestinians.

BLITZER: In terms of going a little bit further than the pre-'67

lines...

CARTER: I wouldn't say (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLITZER: You're right, it's all built on Palestinian-occupied

territory.

CARTER: And in some places it goes much further than a little bit.

BLITZER: You know you're going to be -- you're already being

criticized for using the word apartheid.

CARTER: Well, let me explain the title...

BLITZER: OK.

CARTER: ... because the title was very carefully...

BLITZER: Because that's such a provocative -- the impression that

somebody gets -- and you can't judge a book by its cover -- but the

impression you get looking at this cover, you see "Palestine: Peace,

Not Apartheid," you see a wall and you say is Israel creating an

apartheid regime in the Palestinian territories?

CARTER: Let me answer the question.

First of all, the entire title should be considered. First of all,

it's Palestine and not Israel. I have never insinuated and do not think

at all that Israel would perpetrate apartheid within their own nation,

because the Arabs that live in Israel -- and there's a lot of them --

have the full civil rights that other Israelis have, Jews or not.

What I say is Palestine. And then peace is what I'm for, and not

apartheid.

However, in the West Bank, in the occupied territories, a horrible

example of apartheid is being perpetrated against the Palestinians who

live there. Israel has penetrated and occupied, confiscated and

colonized major portions of the territory belonging to the Palestinians.

In order to do that, they have now built roads between those

isolated settlements -- about -- well, more than 200 of them. And those

roads connect those settlements but they are exclusively to be used by

Israelis.

So the Palestinians are separated from their own land. And in order

to keep the Palestinians from objecting to this, the Israelis have

arrested and imprisoned about 9,000 Palestinians, including 300

children, some of them 12 years old, and others women, about 100 women.

And, in the process, the Palestinians are completely treated as inferior

citizens.

This is not...

BLITZER: What...

CARTER: This is not based on racism, is the last thing I want to

say. It's based on a minority of Israelis -- and I say that very

carefully -- a minority of Israelis who refuse to swap land for peace.

BLITZER: But the...

CARTER: They would rather have the land than peace.

BLITZER: But the government, the current government of Prime

Minister Olmert...

CARTER: Yes.

BLITZER: ... the previous government of even Sharon and before that...

CARTER: Netanyahu.

BLITZER: But -- Netanyahu, but Barak, Ehud Barak, they offered,

under the last days of the Bill Clinton administration, a deal which

would give up most of the West Bank, including parts of Jerusalem

itself. And Clinton said Arafat missed a major opportunity to resolve

this crisis right then.

CARTER: That is not quite an accurate description of it, which the...

BLITZER: Well, let me read to you what

CARTER: ... the accurate description...

BLITZER: Let me read to you what Jim -- what Bill Clinton wrote in

his book, "My Life." He was the president who as negotiating at Camp

David...

CARTER: OK.

BLITZER: ... and then at Taba, trying to resolve this. And Barak,

the prime minister...

CARTER: Right, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) yes.

BLITZER: ... who made some major...

CARTER: OK. Go ahead.

BLITZER: ... major concessions. He said: "Right before I left

office, Yasser Arafat thanked me for all my efforts and told me what a

great man I was. 'Mr. Chairman,' I replied, 'I am not a great man, I am

a failure and you have made me one.' Arafat's rejection of my proposal

after Ehud Barak accepted it was an error of historic proportions."

CARTER: OK, well...

BLITZER: That's what the former president wrote in his book.

CARTER: All right. Well, in my book, which I think is accurate --

I hate to dispute Bill Clinton on your program because he did a great

and heroic effort there. He never made a proposal that was accepted by

Barak or Arafat.

BLITZER: Why would he write that in his book if...

CARTER: I don't know.

BLITZER: ... if he said Barak accepted it?

CARTER: I don't know...

BLITZER: And Arafat rejected it.

CARTER: You could check with all the records. Barak never did

accept it. And at Taba, for instance, which you've mentioned, not only

were Americans included, but Barak subsequently said I never authorized

any Israeli to negotiate at Taba with any Palestinians. And they never

did have any negotiations there.

What President Clinton proposed was never put in a map. But I've

got in this book a map, as interpreted by the Palestinians, the

enlightened Palestinians that want peace, and interpreted by the

Israelis. It's completely different. And one major difference is who

controls the entire Jordan River Valley.

The Jordan River Valley, as you know, is on the Jordan border, on

the eastern side of the West Bank, and it is controlled by the

Israelis. That completely excludes the Palestinians from having access

to anything in the east, including Jordan.

And Gaza is now completely surrounded by a high wall with only two

openings in it. And this wall is being built to confiscate even more

land that owns -- that's owned by the Palestinians.

BLITZER: But the Israelis did pull out of Gaza only to find that

these Katusha rockets, these other rockets, had been launched from Gaza

into the southern part of Israel.

CARTER: Israel withdrew from Gaza and then the Palestinians -- what

precipitated this was not the Katusha rockets, it was the seizure of an

Israeli soldier, which was probably a mistake on their side.

So the Palestinians do hold one Israeli soldier.

The Israelis hold 9,200 Palestinians, as I said earlier, including

300 children and about 100 women.

And as soon as the Palestinians took this soldier, immediately they

offered to swap this soldier to the Israelis for a limited number of

women and children being held by the Israelis in prison.

The Israelis rejected that offer.

BLITZER: All right, I know your time it limited, but I do want to

ask you a quick question on 2008.

CARTER: Quickly.

BLITZER: Is the United States, is the American public ready right

now for a woman president or for an African-American president?

CARTER: Yes, I think so, if they get the most votes. And I think

they have a good chance to get the most votes. I think you have to go

back a year-and-a-half before the other previous elections. And no one

would have dreamed this far in advance that I would get the nomination,

that Michael Dukakis would get the nomination or that Bill Clinton would

get the nomination.

So to conjecture about who might be the nominee in 2008 in November,

or elected, I think is really out of our realm.

BLITZER: Do you have a favorite right now?

CARTER: Not yet.

BLITZER: But we'll stay in touch.

The book is entitled "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid."

Jimmy Carter is the author.

Thanks very much, Mr. President, for coming in.

CARTER: And I hope it will provoke a discussion and a debate in

this country, which is always missing, as you know.

BLITZER: Well, you'd better believe it's provoking a lot of debate

right now.

CARTER: Well, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLITZER: And I know you're ready for that debate.

CARTER: I am.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

CARTER: Thank you, Wolf.

Good to be with you.

END

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