Journalist Jorge Traverso interviews Gregory
Lagana, White House director for global communications
Concierto FM, May 21, 2004
May 27, 2004
Traverso: Ladies and gentlemen,
Tiempo Presente will be speaking with Mr. Gregory Lagana,
White House director for global communications. He was hired
by the White house in October of 2001 as a staff member
in the Information Center of the Coalition, which coordinated
all communications in the war against terrorism and the
campaign in Afghanistan. He is a retired member of the Foreign
Service. He spent 21 years in public and political office
and in the Department of State's Information Agency. He
has worked in many locations, including Spain, San Salvador,
Quito and Rome.
Q: Good Morning from Montevideo, Mr. Lagana.
Lagana: Good morning.
Q: There's a lot to talk about this morning,
but today the world's
attention is almost entirely focused on the War in Iraq.
From the U.S. Government’s point of view, what exactly
is going on right now in Iraq?
A: Right now we’re preparing to hand
over sovereignty to the Iraqi people. Sovereignty is the
most important thing and is closely related to security.
Security is so important because the Iraqis themselves have
to have a nation, a government that functions, and we all
know that there are going to be security problems as long
as there are still people who don't want to transition to
Q: What benefits has the international community
obtained through the US/British coalition's intervention
A: I think the overthrow of Saddam Hussein
has been very positive. There is no doubt that Hussein was
a dangerous leader, with the capacity to make war on his
neighbors, to oppress his own people and to subvert neighboring
nations. It is a huge advantage to be rid of a dictator
like Saddam and it serves as an example to the rest of the
Arab nations that dictatorships, oppressive governments,
do not necessarily have to be the future. We have seen that
there democracy has a great following in the Arab world
and the best example of that is the Iraqi people.
Q: Mr. Lagana, without a doubt, the world
will be a better place without Saddam Hussein. However the
situation in Iraq seems to be completely chaotic, out of
control. The guerilla warfare, the terrorism in the world
have not ceased to exist; on the contrary, one could say
that terrorism today is as great a threat as it was before
Great Britain and the United States went to war in Iraq.
From this point of view, I ask again, how has the international
A: All right, two things. First, the situation
with regard to terrorism: Terrorism is a problem. There
are groups of terrorists dedicated to war against the western
world, against the United States and against democratic
nations. They are not, in my opinion, rational. They look
for any possible excuse to step up their level of operations.
But I don't believe that the operation in Iraq has been
the cause for more terrorism. It has been more of an excuse
used by them.
Secondly, as we all know, the news depends on action, on
events, on stories and what we always hear are the stories
of war, of conflict, of death in Iraq. But there are two
realities in Iraq. The first is that of conflict, because
we know that there are two principal groups, one a small
group of Shiites under the leadership of Mr. Moqtada Sadr
and some Sunnites and their foreign allies who want to augment
the chaos. They want to take advantage of this uncertain
situation since they can't take over through democratic
processes. They are, therefore, part of the reality in Iraq,
but there is another part of Iraq that is moving forward.
The majority of the cabinet is already in the hands of Iraqis.
The majority of the national territory functions pretty
well, but you don't hear about this because it isn't a story.
I believe, for the international community, for a key nation
such as Iraq to be at peace, to not have a dictator any
longer, that it is no longer the threat it has always been
to its neighbors, is a great advantage for the international
Q: Now, the United States managed to live
with Saddam Hussein for quite a while, despite the fact
that he was a threat, but without invading Iraq. The justification
for this operation that has been carried out in Iraq was
the supposition, the affirmation on behalf of President
Bush's government that there existed chemical and biological
weapons that posed a threat of mass destruction. The arms
have not been found. Don’t you think that in some
way this has shaded the U.S. decision to undertake an operation
of this nature, after taking into account that the UN only
had requested 90 days to bring a resolution on the matter?
A: Yes, but 90 days after 10 years of inspections.
First of all, the whole world believed Saddam Hussein had
these weapons. He had used them in the past. We knew he
had programs for the production of these weapons. Everybody,
the United Nations, France, Russia, China, Germany, believed
he possessed such weapons and his own behavior gave credibility
to the intelligence in hand. He seemed like a person who
had something to hide. But I have to say that for us, everything
changed after Sept. 11, 2001, and that for the president,
the weight of his concern for the security of his people
was enormous. The possibility that these arms fell into
the hands of terrorists through some hidden action on the
part of Iraqi intelligence service was a very serious consideration.
We have seen the results of 10 years worth of UN resolutions,
of inspections, of the Oil for Food program that the Iraqis
were defrauding and the president went before the UN to
say, all right, the international community has to make
good on these resolutions.
Q: But, Mr. Lagana, the United Nations was
asking for 90 days and you tell me, and take into account
that this is not an anti-American speaking, but comes from
someone who very much admires the United States but who
gets angry when the United States suddenly, at least from
my point of view, takes on a failed endeavor that weighs
on all humanity. You are telling me, Mr. Lagana, that the
entire international community believed that Saddam Hussein
had these chemical weapons. Can you invade a country only
because you believe something or should you only invade
a country, when you have, let’s say, all of the proof?
A: Well, we believed we had all the proof.
But you have to realize that he wanted to hide what he had,
and for this he behaved, let’s say, like a guilty
man. Those 90 days were very important, because if a country
wants to cooperate with the United Nations, I mean if a
country wants to disarm itself or to show that it no longer
has these weapons, it is very easy to do so. South Africa
has done it, Ukraine has done it, because there are records,
a government produced records that the arms were destroyed,
the orders were given to destroy them, exactly as the Ukrainians
and the South Africans have done. Therefore, we know that
the process is really very easy, that 90 days are more than
enough to demonstrate the will to comply with the UN resolutions.
But one must take into account that Saddam Hussein played
and played and played with the United Nations and the international
community during the course of 10 years. Ten years of inspections,
10 years of fly-overs and he was disposed to continue playing
games with the international community forever. Therefore,
we had to set a deadline and we had to insist that he prove
his good will.
Q: Lagana, you could say that the level
of support shown by American citizens for the US government
and for President Bush has shown a concrete decline recently,
right? Many things have affected it and it would seem at
first glance that the average American citizen doesn't see
things in the same manner that the government sees them.
On the other hand we have been informed that another round
of photos, videos and documents have been published in the
Washington post. You are one of the organizers in the Coalition's
information center, which, if I am correct, has a concrete
role in these developments. What elements could arise when
you see, for example, horrors of this magnitude, such as,
for example, the execution of the American soldier and things
that we reject completely, true?
A: No, it was a civilian. The man assassinated
was a civilian. All of these images have been a deception
for the American people, for the government and for the
president. These images of the abuses in Iraq, are shameful
to us and a stain on our national honor. They do not reflect
the values of this country, and we will get to the bottom
of this problem and we will do it in front of the eyes of
the world, in exactly the same manner that we resolve all
of our problems. We have never hidden our problems. I believe
that every country and every society have people with the
capacity to commit atrocities. That’s why we have
laws and jails and tribunals. The real test of a democracy
is its ability and its will to face its problems and correct
them; we are going to continue with this investigation,
following the thread no matter where it leads us.
Q: Mr. Lagana, it has come out in the American
media that these photographs have been in existence since
the beginning of the year, that President Bush was aware
of them, that his immediate colleagues were aware of them,
but that in spite of this they had not been exposed to American
public opinion nor exposed to the opinion of the international
community. Do you think that it would have been better if
these photographs had never been released?
A: Sooner or later these images were going
to have to have been released, mainly because we had already
begun with the process of military discipline, which is
conducted openly and with the full knowledge of the public;
therefore this was not about an attempt to hide the images.
And I must say that there are more pictures and more accusations
that will come to light, because we are in the process of
an investigation, of judgments in military courts, although
this does not change the fact that this is a problem that
we have identified, that we have faced. And we are going
to continue with the investigation, but there will be more
images and more accusations, there’s no doubt, but
they won’t be news to us. That will take us to the
heart of the problem because we already know what the problem
Q: You are currently one of the White House’s
communication strategists. Which are the things that you
think could potentially be understood by the world at large
and which are the things that you think it will be much
harder for the public to understand with respect to the
conduct of the US government?
A: In Iraq?
A: First of all, the situation in Iraq is,
in many ways, a lot better than people think. The Iraqi
people have a democracy right now under the occupation that
they never could have even dreamed of before. For example,
they have control of their ministries, they have city councils
and even neighborhood councils. We are not there to govern
Iraq for the long term. We are going to turn over full sovereignty
to the Iraqi people and only stay on as advisors, as helpers,
but according to the desires/wishes of the Iraqi people.
We don’t want to be there a minute longer than necessary.
Q: I believe it was Tocqueville who said
that for a great nation like the United States it is difficult
to start a war, but even more difficult to pull out of one.
Do you believe that this so-called American epoch in this
part of the world will end in such a manner?
A: Yes, he is right, it is very difficult
to end a war. We have an obligation to the Iraqi people.
We went to Iraq, we overthrew the existing government and
we are not going to abandon them. The president has been
more than clear on this point. We are not going to abandon
the Iraqi people. And yes, we are very uncomfortable with
this type of operation. Our natural impulse is to return
to our country and not have to be in a situation like the
one in Iraq, but it is our obligation, and the American
people and the American government are willing to step up
to the challenge and do what is necessary for our security
and the security of the world.
Q: How are the American people, would you
say, living out the phenomenon of terrorism? Are they maintaining
levels of prevention, are they maintaining the fear?
A: Well, of course the levels of prevention
are being maintained. As far as the fear. As you know, people
don’t think about terrorism. You can’t live
every day in fear, but we are all very conscious. I told
you that the events of Sept. 11 changed everything. It changed
everything because for two centuries, we had the security
of the oceans and terrorism is a completely different enemy.
Terrorism has changed our way of life forever; life will
not go back to normal. There is security everywhere. Access
to certain installations and certain buildings is more limited.
We live with security. It’s always right in front
of our faces and for a free society, for a society that
would rather be free, that is an enormous change. How would
it be for Uruguayans? So, yes, we are very conscious of
Q: Will Bin Laden be caught? Will Al Qaeda
ever be eliminated?
A: We realize that Al Qaeda is more than
just Bin Laden. It is more of an idea. He has created this
concept of Jihad. But even without his leadership, Al Qaeda
continues to exist because, even though we have done a lot
of damage to the group, it is an organism that is divided
into various parts that all operate independently. Therefore
whether or not we capture Bin Laden directly, doesn’t
particularly change all that much.
Q: Mr. Gregory Lagana, Director of the White
House office of Global Communications, it was very kind
of you to receive us and this communication from Montevideo.
Thank you very much. It’s always enlightening to speak
with members of your government and hear explanations of
those things that often seem inexplicable. In the practice
of democracy, freedom of thought has been one of the things
that has sustained the regime in the United States and one
of the most notable and admirable characteristics of the
U.S. political system. Thank you very much for the communication
and for your time.