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America's New War: Military Retaliation Options

Aired September 14, 2001 - 22:30   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: As the nation struggles to recover here in New York, they struggle with rescue, and even the president noted the anger that is building in the land. The country now starts to think about how to respond to all of this, that always seemed to end up in a discussion of how the military might handle it.

Joining us to talk for a few minutes about our options, and there aren't a lot, perhaps, in Atlanta, General Wesley Clark joins us again tonight as he has before, and in Washington retired Army intelligence officer Ralph Peters. Good evening to both of you.

General Clark, let me start with you, if I may, because you wrote an op-ed piece in the "Washington Post" today where you laid out very -- in some detail I guess, a way to look at this. I don't want you to read me back all those words, can you sum up in a few sentences at least how you think the government and the country ought to approach this?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO ALLIED COMMANDER: You have got to have an overarching strategy to approach this problem, and that means you've got to work within a coalition, and you've got get other people to clean up their countries and make those hard political decisions first.

It's fundamentally a police effort directed against individuals. It's not a military effort directed against factories and airfields. You may still needed to use military force, but you have to use it in a very precise way. You want to end up taking out the network of terrorists, isolating them, cutting them off from all support, and moral support as well as financial support, and then bringing them to justice. You use force, but you use it only as necessary. You do not -- you take all possible measures to prevent harming innocent civilians.

BROWN: Before I go to Mr. Peters, one quick question. I saw a poll I think late last night where overwhelming percentage of Americans believe it's very likely we are going to go to war, and the question I wondered was, who are we going to war with exactly? Do we, as we sit here tonight, know who the enemy is?

CLARK: We've got a pretty good idea of who the enemy is. We've been watching these guys for a decade. We know their names, in many cases we know their faces. Some of them have multiple aliases. And we know the general locations, but what we often don't have is precise predictive intelligence that lets us go out and get them at the right time.

We want to operate against the cells at the bottom and the head of the snake at the top, and we need a little bit more information, and then we need some very precise strikes. But we have to remember, it's fundamentally not simply a military problem. It's an overall political military problem, because we want to discredit them and win the full campaign, not just kill a bunch of people and have another group come after us.

BROWN: Turning to Mr. Peters here for a second, anything heard so far in this that you disagree with?

RALPH PETERS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, I think General Clark and I agree on everything, except some nuances. I do think at this point it is preponderantly a military problem, but that will shift and change.

In some cases, you want a powerful military response. In other instances -- and it is case by case -- you want a pinpoint, perhaps a special forces A-team response. Sometimes it will be police, sometimes it will be economic or political. But what we must do is stop limiting our choices, and we must be willing, with steely and enduring resolve, to use every tool in the American arsenal when it's appropriate.

BROWN: Mr. Peters, what tools are we talking about? I mean, there is a kind of an underlining suggestion there and in some of the writing you've done that -- these aren't your words -- that we've been a little namby-pamby about this, that we need to take off the gloves. How's that? Tell me what that means?

PETERS: Well, certainly you have to beware throwing a strategic temper tantrum, and I think General Clark would agree with that. But we have been very hesitant to break any rules, ever. We've essentially accorded many terrorists the protection of the U.S. constitution, although they might be in Afghanistan.

The goal is frankly not to bring them to justice. The goal with terrorists is to kill them. Now, kill is the ultimate four-letter word in diplomacy, I understand that. But we've got to get past this. They've killed about 5,000 Americans. If we can find, when we can find these terrorists and their supporters, it's time to kill them. And there are times when we are going to find states sponsoring terrorists, and when they do they need to be severely and militarily punished.

I do believe in revenge, in vengeance, and I do believe in setting examples. Our hesitation about setting a ferocious example has really hindered us. You destroy -- destroy one dictator and his clique and the next 12 will think twice and three times before supporting another Osama bin Laden.

BROWN: General Clark, what do you think of that?

CLARK: Well, I think it's a very tough approach. And there are... BROWN: I would guess so, yes, sir, that would be a very tough approach.

CLARK: There's a lot of that that really strikes a responsive chord in a lot of Americans right now, because we are all very angry. And I'm certainly very angry about this.

We've got to keep in mind the larger objective. We've got to use force as is productive to meet our purposes, and what we really want to do is discredit this organization and take it apart. If it means apprehending and killing in the process of apprehension, that's fine; but on the other hand what we really want is we want these people humiliated and discredited, and we want to end the terrorist challenge of this network forever.

So we have to be selective in our means, we have to be selective in our targets, and we want to use the broadest array of diplomatic, economic, political, legal methods, as well as military methods. We may have a problem with states that support terrorism, and we may need to give them a hard rap, but what we don't want to do is create a martyr state and end up with a lot of people in sympathy with our adversaries. We want -- we've got the moral high ground, we want to keep it. We want to use it to win the campaign overall.

BROWN: Mr. Peters, let's go back to something you said a minute ago. Why exactly is it better to go in there and kill them, in your words, then it is to bring them to justice? Why is that an inherently better strategy?

PETERS: First of all, you cannot deter or dissuade terrorists. You could sometimes deter or dissuade their supporters, the fellow travelers. But when you have people that are willing to drive a plane and kill themselves into the World Trade Center, you can't reason with them, you can't have treaties. You have to find them and kill them, kill them, wherever they are.

Now, I'm certainly not in favor of indiscriminate use of violence. We always have to take into account civilian casualties. And certainly as a former soldier like General Clark, I never want to needlessly jeopardize the men and women in the uniform of this country.

However, we must be willing to do what it truly takes. Now, revenge is a dish best eaten cold. And we have to beware doing things in anger that are flamboyant but not effective. And we have to also realize that in the war, and it will be a war against terrorism, there is no victory party. There is no surrender on the deck of a battlefield Missouri. It's a work in progress, and you get progress reports.

But it has to continue from administration through administration. Frankly, and this is the bad news, this struggle will endure through our lifetimes. Is it worth doing? Absolutely. Some terrorists will always get through. But by God, it's better to stop 99 out of 100 than to just throw up our arms and say, we can't do this, we can't fix this. Americans can win. We're tough. In fact, the real challenge at this point is raining in American blood lust. When we're aroused, we're a lot meaner. Today at the national cathedral, I think a lot of people missed the symbolism at the end. It didn't end with "Give Peace a Chance," it ended with the battle hymn of the republic.

BROWN: Yeah, actually, it was not lost on me, I noted that today.

Mr. Peters and General Clark, some very provocative points made here. We appreciate you coming on a Friday night and sharing them with us. Thanks, and we will, I suspect, talk again. Thank you very much.

PETERS: Thank you.

CLARK: Thank you.

BROWN: You're welcome.



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