Dukakis: Iraq is my fault
Former Democratic presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, spoke to Karim El-Khashab of America's future in the Middle East
"I blame myself for the debacle in Iraq," former governor Michael Dukakis said jokingly to the students he met at the American University in Cairo. "If I had won the presidential race in 1988 and beat the old man, you would never have heard of his son," referring to his presidential campaign where he lost to George H W Bush.
Dukakis beat records three times in the race to become governor of Massachusetts, winning in 1986 by one of the biggest margins in history. One of the main goals of his trip to Egypt, he said, was to listen to people in the region and see what they want of America. "This 'with us or against us' policy that we have now is absolutely arrogant," he adds, "and it's time we got off our high horses." Throughout the conversation the former governor emphasised that a coalition built on a basis of mutual respect was the only way to reach a solution in the region.
"If Bush had read his father's memoirs he would have never gone forth with the invasion," he says, quoting the former president, who says in his memoirs that had he listened to the same people who now advise his son in 1991, the US would have lost its coalition and become an "occupying army in a hostile nation".
He accuses the Bush administration of being the worst national administration he has ever seen, and of being ideologically driven in its quest to spread democracy in the Middle East. "Every one knew," he said, "that if you want to spread democracy you do not start with Iraq. It was clear that it would turn out to be the sectarian war it has become." He added that if America continues to assume a superpower status and act unilaterally, "some one will hand you your head, like we are seeing in Iraq"
He agrees with the administration that there is a need to fight terrorism in the world; however, Iraq was clearly not the place to exercise this policy. "Terrorism must be fought through cooperation, especially cooperation amongst law enforcement around the world."
Dukakis sees that the next elections are a chance for America to truly change course in the region and pick up where Clinton left off, especially with regards to the Palestinian issue. "Clinton came closer than anyone to resolving the conflict because he was involved; this administration has intentionally neglected the issue".
The next president must undo all these wrongs by taking the advice of the Baker-Hamilton report which the administration asked for but never looked at, according to Dukakis, and by talking to people. Not just the people we like, but more importantly the people we don't like, namely Iran and Syria. "It is clear that we cannot get out of this mess in Iraq without them".
But it is not just Iran and Syria that Dukakis has advocated talking to. "I think that the next administration has to reach out to opposition forces in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood here and other opposition forces to see how America could be helpful in bringing about more democracy to the region".
When asked about the 2008 elections Dukakis told Al-Ahram Weekly that, "next year is the Democrats'. The issue will be Iraq next time and if we organise the grassroots like we used to, then it has to be our year." He said that the Democrats had depended on polls and "people who never knocked on a door in their life".
The former governor would not back either Democratic candidate for the moment. "My wife likes Obama, but I am still undecided." But he said that Senator Barak Obama has what it takes, he can mobilise the youth vote, and he has over two million contributors to his campaign already, which is quite a feat. He added that Obama has always stood fast on Iraq, coming in earlier than Hilary Clinton to stand up to the president. "Hilary is a strong candidate," he said, "but on foreign policy I can't figure out where she stands, or why she feels she needs to act tough."