Talking with Robert Kaplan, Author of Imperial Grunts
HH: What do you hear the officers of the military say about Rumsfeld and Bush?
RK: It’s important not to become polemical about Donald Rumsfeld. He’s done…the bad things, the mistakes he’s made in Iraq are well known. We don’t need to belabor them. But a lot of the good things he’s done are things that the military appreciates, but because we have a media establishment that hasn’t served in the military, it’s something they don’t appreciate and aren’t interested in. For instance, NATO and European command were for long decades always ruled by American army generals. They became regular army mafias, so to speak. Rumsfeld appointed a Marine to head NATO as the supreme allied commander in Europe, General Jim Jones. And what he has done is refitted NATO in a leaner, meaner form, for an expeditionary age, so that NATO will have a real purpose. Rusmfeld has tried to kind of end in a soft manner the big navy mafia in the Pacific command, by trying to appoint an Air Force general to shake things up, to give the Chinese something to think about. He didn’t succeed for other reasons, but the writing is on the wall there. His emphasis when he got in on special forces, and a lot of small deployments all over the world, rather than a few big ones, are all things that had to be done. His tragedy is that he understood the world of the future, which is a world of more special forces, a regular army that needs to reform drastically if it’s going to survive, but he got himself involved in a war where he required the very forces that he knew he would have to make obsolete twenty and thirty years hence. So that made him conflicted about the number of regular army troops he needed in Iraq.
HH: Robert Kaplan, do you regret, personally, that we went to war in Iraq?
RK: No, I do not. I’ve been going back to Iraq since 1984. The only way I can describe Saddam’s regime is think of Eastern Europe before Stalin died in 1953. It was like the worst, darkest regimes in Eastern Europe in the late 1940’s. Had we not gone into Iraq, the sanctions would have been lifted, all the scientists from the ex-Soviet Union, the nuclear and other scientists, would have flooded back there. The U.N. sanctions would have been lifted. And the problems we would have now would probably be equally as bad, though of a different nature.
HH: Can you expand on what you saw there in Colombia, what Americans generally don’t know about what’s going on down there?
RK: Yes. Colombia to me…I’ve been all over Iraq. I was in the Battle of Fallujah with the Marines. I’ve never been to a place that felt as dangerous as Colombia. You can’t go from one Colombian city to another without flying. And Colombia does more kidnapping than any country in the world, per capita. Colombian narco-terrorists are as brutal and cruel as the worst al Qaeda people. We have a great opportunity in Colombia. If you ask me, Hugh, who is the most impressive leader in the third world, I would say President Álvaro Uribe Vélez of Colombia. He has risked his own life. He is a constitutional democrat. He has made big in-roads against these narco-terrorists. His approval rating after six years in office is still 70%, in a fully democratic society with a feisty media. When a commando operation goes wrong, he takes full responsibility on television. And what we are doing is we are backing up this man, because it is the only chance we have. And President Chavez of Venezuela is trying to undermine Colombia. I’ve walked along that border. It’s a very porous border divided by just a narrow stream in the middle of the jungle. The FARC controls large areas of the country, in almost like a sovereign manner. When you think of the ark of instability in the world, don’t just think of the greater Middle East. It’s everywhere, because Arab terrorist groups are active. They are there in Venezuela, in Maracaibo, in Margarita, in islands off the Venezuelan coast. So there is like a strategic alliance with drug criminals and the Arab terrorists, because the Arab terrorists have…what they have is they have expertise in car bombs, things like that, where the narco-terrorists have money. Billions of dollars of it. And they also have sovereign territory, so to speak.