C-SPAN Q & A: Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski
Sun Apr 2, 2006 23:55

April 2, 2006
Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski
U.S. Air Force, 1983-2003

Info: She discusses her opinion of the build up to war in Iraq from her position in the Near East/ South Asia policy office at the Pentagon. Also, we discuss her service in the Air Force, why she choose to leave the military and the current state of the military-industrial complex.

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BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Karen Kwiatkoski, how did you get involved in a movie, ”Why We Fight?”

LT. COL. KAREN KWIATKOSKI, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): Well, Eugene Jarecki, the director, called me up and said, ”I’d like to come out and talk to you. This was in 2004 I think. He - I had spoken out against the war. I had been in the Pentagon. He knew my name. He had read some of the things that I had written, and felt that I had something to contribute. I really did not know anything about the project that he was putting together. I said yes. He came out to the house and filmed.

LAMB: How long were you in the United States Military?

KWIATKOSKI: Twenty years, United States Air Force.

LAMB: What was your rank when you left?

KWIATKOSKI: Lieutenant Colonel. I retired in the summer of 2003 as a Lieutenant Colonel.

LAMB: At what time in 2003?

KWIATKOSKI: My retirement date was effective 1 July, but I left the Pentagon basically two days after we invaded Iraq, and I had moved my retirement date up specifically because of my experience in that final tour in the Pentagon at the Office of Secretary Defense Policy.

LAMB: Why did you come out against the war?

KWIATKOSKI: Well, I was actually against the war when I was in the Pentagon, and the reason had to do with what I felt to be lies, not so much lies told to the American people, but lies, in fact, promulgated on us inside the Pentagon. I worked in Near East-South Asia Policy. Doug Fyffe was our boss, over me and 1,000 other people in Policy. The Office of Special Plans had been formed from our office, staffed with political appointees, and they were producing, in the fall of 2002 and ’03, and the winter and spring of 2003, talking points for us to use in our own papers, and those talking points did not match the intelligence that we had previously used to put together our papers and our work. So, I felt that we were being lied to.

Now, it was made worse when I saw the president and vice president make speeches and heard what they were saying because it seemed as if they were also speaking from these same talking points. And so, that means, in my view, they were also lying to the American people.

LAMB: Why did you go in the military in the first place?

KWIATKOSKI: Well, I had a four-year ROTC scholarship back in 1978 when I graduated high school. Went into the Air Force. I originally intended to stay four years, my commitment, and get college paid for because I didn’t have money to pay for college, and, like a lot of people, went into the military for an education. It was a good life. I enjoyed it very much. I did communications and computer work for the first 15 years, then when into political military analysis-type work, which is also very rewarding and very wonderful. I got to see the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the post-Cold War era. I felt it was wonderful. But, that very final tour, when I was moved up in May of 2002, to actually see how Middle East policy was being made, was being driven, when I got a glimpse into the real agenda, I definitely - yes, I - at that point, very unhappy and I had to leave. And I did leave, and I retired.

LAMB: Where did you grow up?

KWIATKOSKI: North Carolina, the mountains of North Carolina, Appalachia.

LAMB: And Reserve Officer’s Training Corps, what school?

KWIATKOSKI: I went to Clemson the first 3-1/2 years, and I got married in college to a civilian, who remained a civilian that whole time, still married to him, Hap. Hi, Hap. And he - because of where he lives I had to move. I transferred, and I graduated from University of Maryland, College Park. That’s where I got my first - my bachelor’s degree.

LAMB: I’m going to show a clip from the movie, and the reason this movie is making the rounds, it’s gone through - I believe through HBO, it’s now in theaters, and it’s called ”Why We Fight,” and it’s got people from both sides of the fence, although it seems to have a point of view. But, here’s you and others from - let’s just look at a little clip here.



KWIATKOSKI: ”Why We Fight” was actually the title of a series of World War II films that were done by one of the great directors.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Master of the art of motion picture entertainment, Frank Capra.

KWIATKOSKI: The Frank Capra film even back then were propaganda, to kind of build up a war fever.


KWIATKOSKI: But, given that it was during a global world war, there were a lot of reasons that Americans embraced.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: We’re fighting for liberty, the most expensive luxury known to man.

KWIATKOSKI: Today, if you went downtown to my local town and you asked five people why we’re fighting in Iraq, you’d get five different answers.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Why do we fight? I’m not quite sure, but I think it’s for power and control, for greed.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I’m not sure if we’re fighting for the oil or not. We could be. We could not be. The government has more knowledge than I know.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I think everybody has a different idea why we’re there, and a lot of people think we shouldn’t be.

KWIATKOSKI: What we’re seeing is a disconnection of our American foreign policy from the citizen, from the average American citizen.


UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I wish we didn’t. I wish we didn’t. Sometimes you have to, though.


LAMB: What’s going through your mind when you look at that?

KWIATKOSKI: I think it’s an honest appraisal of - particularly what the people are saying. People really don’t know, and we love our country. You know, we want to do the right thing. We think very highly of ourselves as Americans, and I think we should. And yet, we do things that we don’t understand, and it’s a mystery, I think, to a lot of people, particularly Iraq. I think particularly Iraq, and I think that’s what was on my mind certainly as I participated in that film.

LAMB: Where were you on 9/11?

KWIATKOSKI: In the Pentagon, in our office. We were actually - at the moment that the Pentagon was struck, we were in my boss’s office watching television, and we were looking at one tower that was damaged and burning, and then - and we actually witnessed on television, it was very surreal. I’m sure many, many millions of people who watched that felt very surreal. We saw it on TV and then, within minutes, it seemed we heard a huge boom and looked out over our window into the interior of the Pentagon. Pentagon roof looked like it had a huge fireball on it. I mean, we saw the fireball. Didn’t know where it came from, had no concept of - that something had actually hit much lower and exploded through four stories. And we - you know, we left the building and congregated actually - most of the people in my office and myself included were able to - for whatever reason, we were - when we exited, we were over on that side. We could - and we stood on the grass in that beautiful day and saw the gash in that Pentagon. You know, just an amazing day.

LAMB: On that day, had you done any work at all toward going into Iraq before that?

KWIATKOSKI: No. On that day I had not. On that day I worked in Sub-Saharan African affairs, and that’s where I had been for the previous year and a half. So, my focus was Sub-Saharan Africa policy as it relates to Pentagon interests. I had not done anything on Middle East, and was pretty much just like an average citizen with regards to our Middle East policy.

LAMB: What was the reaction around your fellow officers and all, and other civilians after 9/11?

KWIATKOSKI: I think pretty typical of what the rest of the country was going through. There was certainly a sense of unification. There was certainly a sense of shock and anger, a need to retaliate.

Quite frankly, I’m not - I was not an expert on Afghanistan or the Middle East at that time, although I had worked Middle East issues. And it seemed to me very logical that our initial strike-back would be at Afghanistan. I mean, they said Osama was there, the Taliban was being funded by Osama, they were harboring him. Made a lot of sense. I had no real problems with the thing on Afghanistan. It made sense to me, and I think it made a lot of sense to a lot of people.

Now, even at this point, looking back at Afghanistan, there are some problematic issues there with our relationship with the Taliban. I mean, we had only months before that given them a great big award for cutting the poppy production. Colin Powell himself I think presented it to them. So - but at the time, very much on board with the Afghanistan strike. Made sense. The talk about Iraq began within Pentagon corridors, as you know, as we all know now, from reading people’s memoirs and that kind of thing, that Iraq was on the horizon.

It was something that - and I’ll tell you, a lot of people in the Pentagon who had been part of Desert Storm or had participated in the no-fly zone enforcement over the entire Clinton period and early George Bush period, you know, they felt, ”Yes, we ought to finish that. I think there’s clearly a military sense that we ought to finish something we started.” I didn’t share that. I did not share that at all. But, there were a lot of people in the military very supportive of taking action on Iraq, but not for the reasons I think that the administration offered up for us.

LAMB: My memory on numbers are correct, there are something like 9,000 cars that park around the Pentagon, 17 miles of halls and about 25,000 people. What’s it like to be a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force in the Pentagon?

KWIATKOSKI: Well, there’s a lot of us. There’s a lot of Lieutenant Colonels. We are nothing like a Lieutenant Colonel on a regular military base or in a smaller unit. We’re really a dime a dozen. It’s a lot of fun, actually, to be an officer, a middle grade or upper grade field grade officer in the Pentagon. It’s fun. You do things that seem to be important, things that engage your interest, that challenge you intellectually. It’s fun. It is a lot of fun. A lot of people don’t like the Pentagon itself, but there’s a lot to be said for an assignment there. And certainly, the ones that - where I worked in Office of Secretary Defense, very highly coveted assignment. Certainly you have to interview for those assignments normally and be selected, and they’re highly valued, and we do have a good time. We feel like we’re part of something in that sense.

LAMB: How long after September the 11th, 2001, did you stay in the Pentagon?

KWIATKOSKI: Well, I finally left in May - I’m sorry, in March of 2003, but it was in May of 2002 that I was moved from Sub-Saharan African Affairs into Near East-South Asia, and that’s really when my eyes began to be opened about how our policy towards invading, destroying and occupying Iraq, although I’m not sure if that’s the right order, but I began to be aware of something else that was going on, which was very, very different from what I had seen in the previous 19 years, and I think that’s really - you know, when you have a shock, when suddenly you have a veil pulled away and you see something - and it was inconsistent with my values as a military officer.

You know, we sort of noticed it pulled the Constitution. We have a sense that the people in the Pentagon will be very apolitical. Certainly, the political bosses reflect any administration, the administration that places them there, and that’s fine. But, I saw a type of politicization almost from the very first week in Near East-South Asia policy, which really violated the idea of an apolitical military. This was an agenda-setting organization, and the agenda was war. The agenda was an invasion of Iraq. I’m not sure the agenda was nation-building in Iraq. We did very little planning. There was very little that emanated from the Pentagon in any practical way that would have prepared us for what came after toppling Saddam Hussein. But, certainly the agenda amongst the political appointees there, almost a little nest of very ideologically motivated folks.

And neo-conservatism is a word that we’ve all come to know and not necessarily love, but neo-conservatism is a part of that. The neo-conservative agenda preceded George Bush’s presidency. Certainly the plans of it were envisioned by neo-conservatives for Iraq, had been talked about for many, many years, and these plans included his destruction and a changing of Iraq, a transformation somehow of that country.

LAMB: Let’s go back to the movie, just I think some excerpts so people can get a flavor for what this movie’s about. Bill Kristol is one of those that’s labeled a neo-conservative. He may argue with that label, but he’s definitely - his father was a neo-conservative. But, let’s listen to what - a little bit of what he had to say.


KRISTOL: When September 11th happened, the president and his top advisors said to themselves, correctly I think, ”We need to rethink American foreign policy,” and I think that would have happened even without a September 11th. But, September 11th was really the event that changed American foreign policy.

KWIATKOSKI: While I was in the Pentagon when we got hit. You know, I - yes, it did change. It was a very dramatic and terrible thing, and it does change your perspective. But, the war in Iraq had nothing to do with the war on terrorism. That was a huge leap, a manufactured leap in order to implement a very calculated and pre-developed foreign policy.


LAMB: When you sat down to do this movie, how long did you talk on film?

KWIATKOSKI: Oh, Eugene came twice to the house, probably took 2-1/2 hours.

LAMB: And what was the context? Did you know who you were going to fit in with?

KWIATKOSKI: Absolutely not. I didn’t even know what film he was making. At the time, in 2004-late 2003, because I had spoken out, I’m a conservative, actually a registered Libertarian, but my dissent about this war made me attractive to a great many people who opposed the war.

So, I had lots of people making documentaries, and some of them were probably much more ideologically oriented, much more anti-Bush documentaries. And so, quite frankly - and I never said no. If they came - if they drove two hours to my house and set up and didn’t inconvenience me or the family, we - I would do it. I would tell them the truth, and I told everybody pretty much the same story. I really didn’t know what Eugene was doing and, when he told me later about the documentary and the fact that he’d done well at the Sundance Film Festival, I mean this documentary actually was very well done, and it was apolitical.

I was happy to see that it was kind of apolitical, and a really nice piece of work, almost a historical work in some ways. I had no idea, though, at the time what he was doing. And when he told me he had to come back because he needed to get one or two more things, I’m just like, ”Oh, my God, please. Please don’t come back.” But, I mean he’s a great guy, but I just - you know, and I’m very happy with what he did with the information that he had. I really like how he wove many story lines together, and he’s got a lot of real stories in there, and I’m just a small, I think, part of that film.

LAMB: Conservative. Explain your conserve.

KWIATKOSKI: Traditional conservative. I grew up in a Barry Goldwater household, OK, so what I thought Republicans were was Barry Goldwater. What I thought Republicans were was Ronald Reagan at his very first electoral campaign when he ran on a very Libertarian Goldwater and - Goldwater-type platform. That

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