MARK DAVIS: Well, General Myers, thanks again for your time for joining us.
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you, Mark.
MARK DAVIS: Australia joined the effort in Iraq basically on the premise of weapons of mass destruction. Is it awkward for you that those weapons don’t appear to be there? Has been it awkward on this trip?
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: No, it is not – and I’ll tell you why. I don’t think there was any doubt in the international community’s mind that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction programs and in fact had weapons and that was the crux of about 17 different UN resolutions. Secretary Powell’s statement before the UN, I think it was in November of ’02, I mean, I think those were the facts as we understood them at the time. Pretty much the facts, I think, as the international community understood them.
MARK DAVIS: I don’t know that the international community had a great way of judging it at the time. It has become a critical issue, of course.
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: I think they did in UN resolutions and the UN was not convinced that the regime had come clean.
MARK DAVIS: Well, do you have any expectation now that any weapons will be found, and I’m assuming if they are, they’re not going to be of the scale that was presented in 2002.
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: I think – my personal view is it’s still too early to tell. Iraq is a large country. We saw the hole that Saddam Hussein came out of. That same hole where he was actually hiding could contain enough anthrax to harm tens or maybe hundreds of thousands of people if it was distributed properly. So, you know, it’s a tough problem.
MARK DAVIS: On the evidence that you saw before the war, are you either surprised or disappointed that substantial holdings weren’t discovered?
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: Like, I said, I fully subscribe to the statement that Secretary Powell made in front of the UN, that the facts contained in there were the facts that we knew. We’ll just have to let this play out.
MARK DAVIS: Wait and see, huh?
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: Wait and see is absolutely right.
MARK DAVIS: Look, after September 11 there was – the whole world – it seemed the whole world, of course, including Australia, supported the US in its fight against terrorism. But it now seems that much of that goodwill has evaporated in Iraq. Is that a lost opportunity to get strong, international support for America’s efforts in the war on terror?
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: A couple of points. One is the war on terror needs to be an international effort. This is a scourge that affects the whole world community, not just the US, and Australians know that from the Bali bombing.
MARK DAVIS: But you would be well aware that much of the world, including the allied countries, are now deeply suspicious of American motives since Iraq, that wave of cooperation that followed September 11 seems to have gone. Senator Kennedy suggested as much very recently. He said it’s the biggest blunder in America’s foreign – in the history of American foreign policy and that it’s diverted from the real war on terror.
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: From a military standpoint I don’t see any of that cooperation fading. In fact, I see better cooperation today than right after 9/11. It continues to grow and I think the international community is actually coming together like it never has before.
MARK DAVIS: Has that – what I’m suggesting is you’re asking, perhaps, has that been advanced in the war on Iraq at all? I mean, what successes have you had in Iraq with al-Qa’ida or other terrorist organisations?
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: You bet. There was a nation that was a threat to its neighbours, it had prosecuted wars against its neighbours, had killed many tens, hundreds of thousands, perhaps more of its own population, that had WMD program, that had – after the Gulf War it was discovered – you know, a nuclear program, certainly was not contributing to stability in the region, just the opposite. This is not the kind of regime that is –
MARK DAVIS: They weren’t good guys, I’d agree with you there. But the attack that was upon America came from al-Qa’ida and bin Laden, I mean what – how have you succeeded there in the attack on Iraq, and it still is the main threat to America, it’s still al-Qa’ida, an associated cause.
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: Right, and the goal was there was to do away with, destroy or degrade international terrorist organisations, to deny safe haven and to not allow weapons of mass destruction to fall into terrorist hands. Where Iraq came in, weapons of mass destruction and also –
MARK DAVIS: Weapons of mass destruction is not solved yet.
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: Not solved yet.
MARK DAVIS: That’s the open – still an open case there.
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: But they also were safe haven to an al-Qa’ida affiliated group, in northeast Iraq, the Ansar al-Islam.
MARK DAVIS: But were they? I mean this is the case that –
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: That’s terrible, that’s not even a question.
MARK DAVIS: Well, is it? Colin Powell made that case to the UN but just last week he effectively retracted that and said there is no evidence that al-Qa’ida was connected with Iraq.
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: This is a different issue. This is the group Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist organisation clearly affiliated with al-Qa’ida. Now they were not – they had safe haven inside Iraq. The relationship between Ansar al-Islam and the Iraqi Government is still subject to analysis.
MARK DAVIS: This seems like slim pickings here. I mean, the attack upon America and the threat to America was al-Qa’ida.
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: Absolutely.
MARK DAVIS: And your government made the proposition that al-Qa’ida was in Iraq, was associated with Saddam Hussein. Now Colin Powell has specifically denied that recently. So –
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: I don’t think our government ever said that Saddam and al-Qa’ida were linked. That’s a wrong premise.
MARK DAVIS: He did say – it was part of his UN address – was that there are al-Qa’ida connections with –
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: No, I think he was referring to the Ansar al-Islam connection. There was never anything said by – that I recall – that ever said that.
MARK DAVIS: You’ve spent much of your career in the Pacific. You know it very well. Do you welcome Australia’s recent re-engagement in this area and the deployment of troops in various countries in our neighbourhood?
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: Well, that’s not a judgment I can make. The one thing I can say is that our relationship and our partnership between US and Australian forces is an important one. It’s been a partnership that’s gone on since World War I that our work together here in the region, around the world, on the war on terrorism is much appreciated and I think it brings security and stability to this region.
MARK DAVIS: Do you see these operations as part of a US/Australian strategy to bolster or secure the Pacific?
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: Well, we’re both Pacific nations. I mean, people forget that the United States is a Pacific nation, has a great interest in the Pacific, our overall interest is in stability so economic progress can take place. And I think Australia and the US share that vision. It’s a very important vision.
MARK DAVIS: Well, it would seem that with the agreements that are being considered now on this tour – the US troop deployments here and the missile shield – both are based on an assumption that there’ll be a far more active military activity by both Australia and America in South-East Asia at least. Is your – in your strategic planning, what are the potential threats?
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: If we can go back to your premise there for just a minute. You referred to, I think, US forces in Australia and what I think we’re referring to is the training issue that – and capability that we we’ve talked about here over the last couple of days and the papers had it today as a matter of fact. I think it’s important for people to understand that the US and Australia have been exercising together for many, many, many years and we exercise together here in Australia, other places around the Pacific, and in the United States.
The notion is not to station US troops here, that’s not being considered by anybody that I know of. What is being considered is perhaps a training facility here that allows us to continue this close cooperation and exercising that we do but at a higher level of sophistication, but this is just a very embryonic idea. There’s a scoping team that’s going to do the who, what, why, where piece and when. Missile defence, that’s an Australian decision. That doesn’t – I think there’s been some speculation that my visit was based around that. It was news to me when I got here actually. I came here to just further our military-to-military relationship.
MARK DAVIS: It’s certainly significant when you see them in tandem, both an increase in training deployment and the missile defence system in itself. They’re major issues and they are issues which would cause anxiety, at least in this region, as to what Australia and America’s intentions are.
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: Well, in terms of missile defence, the United States has made clear, and we’ve put a lot of research and development in that by the way, it’s made clear if nations want to join us in defending themselves against missiles that are proliferated, they’re welcome to do that and so that is out there. That will be an Australian decision. Certainly it wasn’t anything we discussed at length here.
MARK DAVIS: As you know, we’ll be facing an election this year. I know your role isn’t a political one, but the Leader of the Opposition here has described your President, his words not mine, as “dangerous and incompetent”. He also rejects the ‘Son of Star Wars’ missile program and any grandsons that may emerge. Now does that concern you and where does that leave your longer-term strategies that you were discussing and considering at the moment?
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: You’re absolutely right about not being involved in politics. As you know, in your system, I think, and in our system in the US, the military is apolitical and doesn’t get involved in it. So it would be one of the things I can’t do is comment on some politician’s comments. I can say that the leadership and the security of the United States and I would say other nations as well, has been enhanced by President Bush and by the efforts we’ve taken and the leadership we’ve shown on this international war on terrorism. Again, I think it’s the biggest threat that we’ve seen on this globe in a long, long time.
MARK DAVIS: Alright, thanks for your time, sir.
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: Thanks, Mark.