In an interview broadcast on Al-Jazeera, the pan-Arab satellite channel, a senior U.S. diplomat said the United States had shown "arrogance" and "stupidity" in Iraq.
Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the U.S. State Department, also said the United States was ready to talk with any Iraqi group — excluding al-Qaida in Iraq — to reach national reconciliation in the country, wracked by widening sectarian strife as well as an enduring insurgency.
'THERE WAS ARROGANCE AND THERE WAS STUPIDITY FROM THE UNITED STATES IN IRAQ'
As one of the few genuinely fluent Arabic speakers at the U.S. State Department, Alberto Fernandez has become a one-man public diplomacy machine, appearing in Arabic media on almost a daily basis.
The interview was taped in Washington on Friday and broadcast by Al-Jazeera Saturday night.
His remarks were in fluent Arabic and translated into English by The Associated Press. In the interview Fernandez said: "We tried to do our best but I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq."
Subsequently, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, in Moscow with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said that Fernandez disputed the description of his comments.
"What he says is, that is not an accurate reflection of what he said," McCormack said. Asked whether the Bush administration believed that history will show a record of arrogance or stupidity in Iraq, McCormack replied "No."
A senior Bush administration official questioned whether the remarks had been translated correctly. "Those comments obviously don't reflect our position," said the official, who asked not to be identified because a transcript was not then available for review.
Here is a transcript of the portion of the Al-Jazeera interview in which Fernandez made the remarks about arrogance and stupidity, among other issues. The translation is by AP in Baghdad.
Al-Jazeera: That endeavor by the American administration that you describe as good — an attempt to save Iraq and end the bloodshed — can it move forward to direct dialogue, secret or public, between the American administration or American forces on the ground in Iraq and armed groups per se. There is talk now about secret negotiations, it is even in the media, between the United States of America and what is known as the Islamic Army (taking place) in Amman, Jordan?
Fernandez: Without a doubt. I believe there is wide flexibility in this subject and at the same time, of course, there is coordination between us and the Iraqi government and Iraqi officials. We are open to dialogue because we all know that, at the end of the day, the solution to the hell and the killings in Iraq is linked to an effective Iraqi national reconciliation. At the end of the day, sooner or later, we and all those who are concerned with Iraq must sit together in that room or at that table and must discuss and establish some dialogue. This is the only way forward, and, thanks be to God, the Iraqi government is convinced of that.
Al-Jazeera: There is, Mr. Fernandez, now talk as was mentioned in more than one media outlet, especially in the Los Angeles Times, that a report is being prepared by the former Secretary of State James Baker. You know very well, and let us inform our viewers that the American Congress set up the committee of (inaudible) persons to discuss or present a full report and make recommendations on Iraq. We understood from what has been published that Mr. James Baker will recommend to the American administration major changes in American policies in Iraq. What do u have (interrupted)... .
Fernandez: We expect that report after the congressional elections in the United States of America, maybe in a month or two at the latest. Without a doubt that is a special committee from former experts in American administrations, not just Republican administrations, who thoroughly studied the subject with fresh eyes. Without a doubt we will see interesting recommendations in that report which may be acceptable to the administration or may possibly be rejected by the administration. But what is important, we believe, is the exercise of flexibility and self- criticism and take responsibility for correcting mistakes and policies if those policies have failed or are unable to present the Iraqi people with what they want most: Security first, second and third, and then (solutions to) a long list of problems, including economic and political one.
Al-Jazeera: I, of course, appreciate your usual candor Mr. Fernandez, especially what you just said. Does that mean, Mr. Ferndandez, in all honesty, that those who are labeled as radicals or hard-liners inside the American administration are responsible for the mistakes in Iraq? There is, in all honesty, I won't say contradictions, but a difference of policies between the State Department and the Defense Department in this respect (interrupted)... .
Fernandez: This, of course, is an important and interesting question. It is difficult for any politician in whatever administration, not just this administration, to admit mistakes, because people in the East as well as the West don't like to admit they have made mistakes or are wrong. This is the mentality of the people, the mentality of power, authority, autocratic thinking. This is reality. I think we are somewhat fortunate in America because we are a democracy and, within weeks, in about two or three weeks, we will witness the start of internal settling of scores in the United States over this question. The American people will decide the policies of the administration and the policies of representatives in the American Congress on the issue of Iraq.
Traditionally, congressional elections are linked to internal issues. In these elections, the issue of Iraq is important, maybe the most important in some congressional races in the United States. Of course, some historians, history will judge American history in Iraq. We tried to do our best but I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq."
The next question is about the Baker report, and Fernandez repeats his remarks as noted above on that topic. The interview then concludes with the following question and answer:
Al-Jazeera: My last question. The Iraqi situation, as it is now, I mean we spoke in detail about it, but what is the real impact of the Iraqi situation on conditions in the entire region and especially on the United States, because it (the United States) is not only concerned with the situation in Iraq but with the regional situation, it affects on it, whether negatively or positively?
Fernandez: This is important. We focused today, and the media focuses on blame. There is no doubt that there is plenty of room for blame. Blame of the United States or others, but we haven't focused enough on the future and the possibility of failure in Iraq. If we are witnessing failure in Iraq, it's not the failure of the United States alone. Failure would be a disaster for the region. We, all of us in the region, countries in the region, have a role in what is happening in Iraq. Failure in Iraq will be a failure for the United States but a disaster for the region. We must all focus on saving Iraq for the sake of the Iraqi people and for our sakes, us in the West, and also you in the Arab world. I know that sometimes there is a kind of gloating in the Arab world that America has problems in Iraq. I fully understand that. But, in the end, we must think of the Iraqi people, the Arabs, the Muslims and the citizens of Iraq more than gloating about the United States.
© Copyright 2006 The Associated Press