Monitor Breakfast

Selected quotations from a Monitor breakfast with Sandy Berger.

Samuel Berger was assistant to the president for national security affairs during former President Clinton's second term in office, and deputy national security adviser during Mr. Clinton's first term.

On the state of Al Qaeda:

"I consider them to be a clear and immediate threat to the United States. We have to be absolutely unrelenting and laserlike on our focus on Al Qaeda. It will take a long period, as the president has said, but we cannot let ourselves lose that focus even if ... we conduct a war in Iraq. If we fight a war in Iraq and win, and prevail, the Al Qaeda threat will be there the next day. It will be no less. It is something we have to be intensely focused on."

On the risks to the US from war with Iraq:

"There are a number of contingencies here, any one of which could take place.

• Firing of biological or chemical weapons either at our troops or at Israel. If at Israel, then the potential of this conflict breaking along an Israeli-Arab fault line

• Troops loyal to Saddam Hussein fighting - even as others crumble - perhaps in the cities

• Instability in the region, including, at worst, regime change in Pakistan or Jordan

• Anti-American backlash and terrorism against the United States

"All of those risks are greater if the region sees this as the United States and Great Britain and some of our friends coming in at Iraq, on the one hand, or if it is a broader base which includes more Europeans [and] includes at least the support of countries in the region."

On the administration's doctrine of preemptive strikes against enemies with weapons of mass destruction:

"No president is going to wait until we are under attack before taking action to eliminate that threat.

"There is a distinction between terrorist groups and nation states. With respect to terrorist groups that have no address [and] operate in the shadows, deterrence is not a very effective instrument. And therefore going after them in a more aggressive, preemptive way I think is something we will see more of.

"I am troubled by elevating preemption to a doctrine - even a central or defining doctrine of American foreign policy. One can argue that it actually lowers the threshold on the potential use of weapons of mass destruction because [it sets up a] 'Use it or lose it' ... dynamic.... Second of all, I think you create a pretext for other countries to argue that they're attacking their enemies, their neighbors, because they fear attack by them. You can imagine this in the India-Pakistan context, a China-Taiwan context. Elevating this to a doctrine is problematic."

On what the president should do on his January trip to Africa:

"Our active engagement in closing the gap between rich and poor, in dealing with the AIDS crisis, in creating democracies, helping to create democracies that work in Africa, are things we ought to pursue not only because they are right, not only because they help create stability, which is good for us, but because, in my judgment, they are also part of the war on terrorism because they define us in terms that are not only the hard edge of military power. They define us in terms of our moral authority.

"I am sure the president will raise terrorism in Africa because clearly Kenya demonstrates there is an Al Qaeda problem there if not other places. But I hope that he also deals with Africa on terms other than terrorism so that we are saying to this continent and the world that all terrorism is evil but not [all] evil is terrorism."

On the need to prepare the American people for war:

"How do we have an honest conversation with the American people about what the risks and sacrifices of this are? If and when the president decides to go forward militarily, the American people need to do this with their eyes wide open. The best case may materialize and we all pray that it does. But any one of a number of difficult things could happen, number one.

"Number two, we are going to be there for a long time in my judgment. And I think the American people need to understand not only the threat, which I think they accept, but the risks and the costs so that we have staying power, so that we are not suddenly rattled when something happens, when a biological weapon is launched or when a regime neighboring Iraq gets in trouble, or when this gets more complicated."

On investigations into how the Sept. 11 attacks happened:

"There is a bit of a tension, it seems to me, saying heads have to roll and saying the intelligence community has become too risk-adverse. To the extent that is true (that there is some risk aversion), it is because of previous investigations where people feel that they can't take risks....If there is wrongdoing then, clearly, people ought to be accountable. If there is misjudgment and you want ... young people to come into government and take these high-risk jobs, I just think you have to be careful that you don't get into a scapegoat mindset."

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