CNN speaks with Fareed about Iraq and his interview with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, which will air on GPS this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN. This is an edited version of the transcript.
What did you think of the defense secretary?
Well, he's a very impressive man. I thought it was an excellent interview. I thought what came through more than anything was the seriousness with which he took these decisions. You know, he was very honest about the ones where he was wrong.
But what you sense when you listen to a man like Robert Gates is how many decisions in foreign policy are not 90/10 decisions. They are 51/49 decisions. You know, you have other evidence suggesting one course of action, you have other evidence suggesting another course. It's a judgment call, and then we look back on it and we assume it was so obvious because we now know how it worked out, whether it's the Libyan intervention, when it's the bin Laden raid, whether it is the Iraq war.
At the time, all of these seemed much more even-handed and then you get history and it, in a sense, tells you what the answer was.
Why are so many of these officials – and he was not back in 2003 in the government so he did not have a direct role, he was outside the government at the time. But so many will say to you and to me and to all of these other reports, off the record, privately, if we knew then back in March of 2003 what we know now, the U.S. would never have deployed a few hundred thousand troops to go into Iraq and get involved in that messy situation. Why are they so reluctant to acknowledge that it was a blunder?
I think it's a very important question. I think the reason is this: They cannot face up to the reality. Then you have to tell those troops, those men and women whom Robert Gates so rightly admires, that they were sent there in vain, that this was a mistake.
You know, who wants to be the last man or the first man to have died from a mistake? But you hit the nail on the head when you were talking about the issue of fundamentally we went in there, and failed to create a democracy. We got involved in a very complicated sectarian struggle. We overturned a Sunni regime, installed hardline religious parties there, and then watched as a sectarian civil war brewed, and then kept trying to say to each of them, hey, can't you guys get on better?
And you know, we're still doing it. Robert Gates was still saying, if only al-Maliki would reach out to the Sunnis more? Al-Maliki is a hard-lined Shia religious thug who was sheltered by Iran and Syria for 15 years. Ever since he's come in power, he's had 10 years to reach out to the Sunnis. Why do we think he's going to do it now? We're in the midst of something so deep that we can't quite acknowledge the magnitude of the error.