Richard Murphy Interview

MARK DAVIS: Richard Murphy, welcome to Dateline.


It’s been an extraordinary week at the UN. It doesn’t look like the Americans can swing the debate internationally anymore. Do they have any more cards to play?

RICHARD MURPHY, FORMER US AMBASSADOR: My reading – and time will tell if it’s accurate – is that the next move from the American side will be to present a draft resolution, in company with the British, which will call for certain specific actions by the Iraqi Government to show good faith, to show that they are serious about cooperation, specific tests if you will and, if, after a certain period of time, those tests have failed, I think the American expectation is that it will get support from those governments that have been most critical of the American position, that the time is up and that the time has come for the Security Council to call for…implying serious consequences to Iraq.

MARK DAVIS: What will be happening behind the scenes, though, this week? It seems that the positions are now being set in concrete or is there still room for the Americans to try and swing this back to their favour?

RICHARD MURPHY: Well, I think there’s still time, yes, because one thing that’s clear to me is America does not want to go into a military action without – if at all possible – securing UN support. The best thing would be the blessing of a resolution and that may not prove possible. I assume, as these consultations go on in the coming days, the next two weeks perhaps, Washington’s going to have to decide is it possible to get a resolution. I can’t imagine that they would want to court a veto by France, by Russia, by China. And, rather than have a veto, they might just reach the point of saying, “Alright, gentlemen, that’s it. We’re convinced of the seriousness. If you aren’t, then we’re going to have to go it alone or go it with the ‘coalition of the willing’ as the phrase is.”

MARK DAVIS: Well, that’s certainly the public message that they’ve been giving, that they don’t care, ultimately, whether there’s a second resolution or not.

RICHARD MURPHY: I think they do care, because I think they’re very much aware of the problems of the day after, the day after military action, if it comes to that. If Washington goes into this with just the coalition of the willing, then the expectation is going to be – “You went into this on your own and now you remain on your own. You are going to be responsible for the rebuilding, the reconstruction, the pacifying of Iraq.”

MARK DAVIS: But the Administration officials are seeming quite openly belligerent to the rest of the world, or to the nations that are opposing them, almost surprised that anyone disagrees with their analysis on this case. Are they handling this well? Do they care any more what the rest of the world thinks of them?

RICHARD MURPHY: Well, they do care, but they’ve got an odd way of showing it right at the moment. As one fellow said, “There’s a bit too much testosterone flowing out of Washington,” and there’ve been some gratuitous insults, there’s no question. I think they need to be a little more careful, a little smoother in handling the presentation. But remember this Administration came into office two years ago convinced that Saddam and his regime had to go. When 9/11 came – the President, ever since 9/11, has acted as a man absolutely convinced there was no question of a strong direct link between world terrorism, al-Qa’ida in particular, and the regime of Saddam Hussein. Now he has not proven that to the satisfaction, not only of Europe, but of many Americans. But he comports himself as a man absolutely persuaded and a little bit surprised that anyone could doubt this. It’s become his mission.

MARK DAVIS: This wouldn’t have been a good week for Colin Powell. He was the main figure that encouraged the President to take the UN route. It’s now arrived at the stalemate that the hawks in the Administration said that it would. Is this diminishing to Powell within the Administration?

RICHARD MURPHY: Well, I think it’s obviously a difficult time but…

MARK DAVIS: I mean, the reality is Rumsfeld and Cheney both said, “This is a mistake. It’s going to end in stalemate.”

RICHARD MURPHY: “We told you so, now look what’s happened.” I think Powell clearly was convinced that, if he didn’t convince the President to stay the course with the United Nations, and to give inspectors a chance to secure the cooperation of the regime in Baghdad, that the US would have looked like a wild cowboy, another Rambo, and he was persuaded from the beginning that we should do the utmost to secure an international coalition.

MARK DAVIS: Well, if America does go alone or goes with a ‘coalition of the willing’, presumably the war on Iraq would be relatively brief – the force would be overwhelming. But what would the long-term damage to America be in its relations with the UN itself, with the Europeans in particular?

RICHARD MURPHY: Well, I think we should all be worried about that, not just the American side, but the Europeans should be worried about a rift which has been an amazingly sharp and discordant discussion going on between Washington and Paris and Berlin these last weeks. Some damage has been done. Can it be mended? Of course it can be. I mean, we’ve been allies now for decades and we’ve gotten through some very difficult times together, but I think it’s come as a shock to the Americans to realise that, after all of our efforts to persuade those governments about the dangers of Saddam Hussein’s regime, that they still don’t see it that way and they appear to be ready for an open-ended inspection, an endless inspection.

MARK DAVIS: You know, on the evidence presented, were you convinced? Were you convinced on the terrorist connections of Iraq to al-Qa’ida? They’re very simplistic…

RICHARD MURPHY: The weakest part of the presentation was on the connection between Qa’ida and Baghdad. Now, I think we will see Powell authorised to reveal more of the intelligence that has convinced the American side that connection is clear and that the danger of its developing into an even closer relationship is facing us today. So, in these coming days, I think the American side is going to have to make a more detailed and persuasive case than it has done to date.

MARK DAVIS: What impact will this have on America’s larger ambitions in the war on terror? Isn’t there a danger now of offending, of isolating, countries that would have supported the war on terror, but are now going to back up against America? America may lose the bigger battle here. It may win Iraq but lose the bigger battle.

RICHARD MURPHY: Well, I think there’s grounds for concern on that but, at the end of the day, another country is going to continue to cooperate, if it feels itself threatened. When this tension, this friction has passed, I think that, at the end of the day, others are going to say, “Look, we all to have to continue to work together on terrorism.” But it is…it has been a distraction and, unfortunately, the signs of disagreement between America and some very good allies has probably given encouragement to Saddam to continue to try to play the games that have been his hallmark for the last three decades.

MARK DAVIS: Richard Murphy, thanks for joining us.