Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of Fareed Zakaria's discussion with Joe Johns about the U.S. drawdown from Iraq and its global repercussions.
Joe Johns: After the United Kingdom left Iraq 80 years ago, things crumbled pretty quickly. If Iraq can remain strong, Fareed, in the coming years, something Mr. Obama says he is hoping for, could the United States and Iraq end up in an adversarial relationship?
Fareed Zakaria: I don't think so. I think if Iraq were able to stay strong, build greater stability, the single most important thing that would happen is Iraq would start exporting more oil. Remember, Iraq has the second-largest oil reserves in the world.
If it were able to produce anything near the amount it is capable of, this will have a huge impact on the world of oil and therefore have a huge impact on U.S.-Iraqi relations because the Iraqis would be doing us a big favor, diversifying the sources of oil, lowing the price and increasing supply.
The United States and Iraq did not have fundamentally adversarial interests. We're not adversaries by interest. Saddam Hussein was a weird dictator and we found ourselves on the other side of the stick with him.
Joe Johns: Now to the question of Iran. If you look at the situation down the road, can the United States essentially find itself in a worst position in Iraq because Iran is there? Because United States leaves, we have a vacuum, what happens?
Fareed Zakaria: That's a real concern. Look, Iran is the neighboring power. It is going to have influence in Iraq no matter what. In addition, many of the leaders who now rule Iraq, including the president, Mr. Talabani, the prime minister, Mr. Maliki, spent almost a decade in Iran when they were exiled by Saddam Hussein.
Iraq is a proud nation. There's a strong tradition of nationalism. While the leaders may have spent time in Iran, most Iraqis have memories of Iran in one sense: They fought a war. They fought an eight-year war with Iran, the Iran-Iraq war. They lost hundreds of thousands of people.
So I don't think the Iraqi people are going to be too comfortable with a policy in which the prime minister of their country becomes some kind of a puppet of the Iranian regime. Nations have national interests. And I expect that Iraq and any Iraqi prime minister will try to preserve his national interest and not become a puppet of Iran.
Joe Johns: Not to be too cynical, several thousand U.S. nonmilitary personnel and contractors will end up on the ground after the military leave. Are those people there for Iraq or are they there for the United States?
Fareed Zakaria: Well, it's a little bit of both. They are, in a sense, disguising the drawdown so it is not a drawdown quite to zero. We have some paramilitary forces, some who are protecting the embassy, embassy personnel, USAID people. There's going to be a fairly healthy contingent, I'm sure, of CIA people. There'll be people from the DEA. You add that together and the United States will have a certain kind of offensive presence in Iraq.
It's entirely justified. The U.S. consulate in Basra is minutes from the Iranian border. What were to happen if some Iranian thugs were to cross the border and try to launch an attack on the U.S. consulate in Basra? Well, you've got to be able to protect yourself. The U.S. is appropriately taking precautions so they don't end up in some situation that looks like the Iran hostage crisis all over again.