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Richard Pearle Discusses U.S. Defense

Aired September 16, 2001 - 17:30   ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Thank you, Paula.

I'm Robert Novak, Al Hunt and I will question one of the Defense secretary's top advisers.

AL HUNT, CO-HOST: He is the chairman of the U.S. Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle.

Mr. Perle thank you for being with us.


HUNT: Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that we are going to assemble the widest possible coalition, including many Arab states, in this war against terrorism. Is that doable and a good idea?

PERLE: Yes, I think it's doable. Let me say at the outset that I'm speaking only for myself. The policy board has not met on the subject, so anything you hear from me today is my own view.

The key thing is to assemble the widest effective coalition. And sometimes there is a difference between breadth and depth. What we want in the coalition are those countries that are truly beside us in combating international terrorism. And to try to bring in those who are in fact those who are part of the problem rather than the solution in order to widen it, I think would be a great mistake.

We need people who are solid and reliable.

HUNT: So who should we not bring in? Should we not bring in Iran? Should we not bring in Pakistan? Tell me who we should not bring in.

PERLE: It would be crazy to bring in Iran, which is on the -- which is involved in terrorism, or Iraq, which is involved in terrorism. And frankly, I think it is unwise to bring in Yasser Arafat, who has not only a history as a terrorist, but has been letting go the very sorts of suicide bombers and others that are behind these international acts of terror.

HUNT: You mentioned Iraq. Vice President Cheney said on "Meet the Press" that Iraq was the -- our information was Iraq was not behind this latest incident. But should a primary goal of the war on terrorism be to topple Saddam Hussein?

PERLE: Yes, I think so. There is no question Saddam has been involved in acts of terror. He gives support to terrorists and harbors them. They have safe passage in his country. They are permitted to operate there freely. As long as he is around with his desire for vengeance, he will be supporting international terrorism.

And we need to take this fight to the countries that harbor terrorists. Chasing individual terrorists is not the way to solve this problem.

NOVAK: So, Mr. Perle, you are proposing that we go after...

ZAHN: I hate to have to do this to you, gentlemen, but I've got to break into your show to bring you some statements by Attorney General John Ashcroft who now joins us from Camp David.

I'm actually looking at the shot. And I don't think he has appeared at that table yet. But he, I am told -- he is walking in the room and will be making a statement shortly. There's the microphone he will be addressing. There's a little hubbub of activity preceding the attorney general's arrival.

Let's listen.


ZAHN: All right. Some strong words coming from the attorney general this morning, calling terrorism the enemy of human civilization; saying that the United States will do everything in its power to disrupt these networks that he says are pervasive and substantial. He also went on to say that he would like to elevate the penalties for anybody accused of either harboring someone involved a terrorist attack or the attack itself to the level of espionage.

Let's quickly go back to Bob Novak, who I'm sure would love to get back into the substance of his show. Sorry about the interruption, Bob.

NOVAK: Thank you, Paula.

We're talking to Richard Perle, former assistant secretary of defense. He is now a private citizen, but he is also chairman of the Defense Policy Board of the Pentagon, and so is a leading adviser to Secretary Rumsfeld. But he is speaking for himself in our conversation.

Mr. Perle, maybe you can help -- you can clear up some confusion. We've been talking about war; that this is a war. We're talking about a military mobilization. And the governor -- Attorney General Ashcroft was talking about what seemed to be a criminal proceeding against individual terrorists. Is there a confusion there?

PERLE: No, I think there are two tracks here. There's an effort to determine who individually was responsible for this act of terror and to try to discern the ties back to larger terrorist organizations. But separate and apart from that, if we are going to win the war against terrorism, we must take that war to the countries who harbor terrorists, who give them the facilities, the money, the training, the intelligence, the communications. Without that, the ability of these terrorists -- bin Laden or anyone else -- to inflict this kind of damage would be extremely limited.

NOVAK: Mr. Perle, when -- before we went to Attorney General Ashcroft, I understood you to be saying that we should take actions against terrorists or people who harbor terrorists even if they are not necessarily associated with the catastrophe of September 11. Is that correct?

PERLE: Even if we cannot prove to the standards that we enjoy in our own civil society that they were involved. We do know, for example, that Saddam Hussein has ties to Osama bin Laden. That can be documented.

So, on the theory, which seems to be a valid one, that if you support terrorists and they then commit atrocities against Americans, you are responsible.

Unless we hold those countries responsible, we will be chasing terrorists without significant effect.

NOVAK: If we go into -- if the United States goes into Afghanistan, could you say perhaps that the United States has learned something from the Soviet catastrophe in Afghanistan and that an expeditionary force is not the answer; that perhaps there has to be commando strikes, Delta Force teams, rather than putting in a big, set piece battle operation such as the United States had in Iraq?

PERLE: Well, I have no knowledge of what may be underway in terms of planning, but I can't imagine that we would send a significant ground force into Afghanistan. We have a lot of other options.

There's a civil war going on in Afghanistan. There is a another side not now in power that deserves the support of the United States. And that may be a much a better approach.

There's something similar going on in Iraq, where there's an opposition to Saddam Hussein. They ought to have our support.

We should be aligning ourselves with the opponents of terrorism where we can find them and we should be taking this war to the heart of the enemy, which is the infrastructure that supports them. Without that infrastructure, there may be a car bomb, there may be a hijacking, but we won't see anything on the scale of the tragedy we've seen now.

HUNT: Mr. Perle, supporting the other side in Afghanistan or in Iraq may make for good long-run policy, but that's probably not going to do anything in the very, very short run.

So, I want to rephrase Bob's question. In the short run, if we determine that someone like Osama bin Laden is the culprit here, should we send in some kind of commando force to get him if need be?

PERLE: Well, I don't know that we know where he is. We mustn't reduce the war on terror to a manhunt against Osama bin Laden. Despicable as he is, he's not the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem is a network of countries and terrorist organizations working together hand-in-glove supporting one another, and that provides the infrastructure that permits terror on this scale to take place.

If the terrorists had to change location every night, if they couldn't walk into an office where they have communications and secretaries and research and the support of governments, their ability to do what has been done would be greatly reduced. So that's where we have to concentrate our efforts.

HUNT: Can you do that without at least some commitment of American ground forces, wherever it be? For instance, the Weekly Standard this week raised the possibility of an actual war in the Middle East with United States ground troops there.

PERLE: Well, we want to choose targets that are going to protect us; whose elimination would diminish the exposure of the United States to terrorist attacks. And I can't tell you that we have such a target in our sights today. I don't know. I have no inside information on this. But we want to choose targets very carefully, and when we have chosen them we want to be devastatingly effective. We had the capacity to make the cost of supporting terrorism extremely high.

HUNT: Do we have the intelligence capacity? Are you convinced that this was a breakdown of our intelligence capacity? And if you are, why should we have confidence in it in the future?

PERLE: I think we have a lot of useful intelligence in terms of which countries support terrorist organizations. That's different from the kind of intelligence that permits you to foil a specific plot. There, I'm afraid, we're weak. But we do know which countries have been helping these terrorists, and they can't hide. They can't run. They have military installations, they have intelligence organizations, they have leadership facilities and our ability to make the price very high for continued support of terrorism is substantial.

And that could include, in my view, should include, the use of military force against the key installations of countries that support terrorism. And these countries by and large are dictatorships that depend for their own leadership on the ability to intimidate their own people, so if we strike at their intelligence organizations, at their military forces, we can be effective.

NOVAK: Mr. Perle, you talked about the power of the United States' military around the world, but as an adviser to the Pentagon, I'm sure you've been involved in what has been an effort in the Bush administration to revive the military from its weakened position over the last several years.

Are you talking about a future strength, or do you believe the United States military is in a -- is capable of a major worldwide operation against these various targets?

PERLE: I think we are very strong. We could be stronger. We need to make changes because our forces even today are a legacy in many ways of the Cold War, oriented toward Cold War missions and we need to reorient them toward missions like this one dealing with terrorism. But there's tremendous strength.

We have the ability, for example, where we can identify targets to destroy them from the air with very high probability of success.

NOVAK: I want to go back to Mr. Hunt's first question about the coalition building. You've been watching Moscow for about 30 years closely, I believe, and just over the weekend we've had a statement -- we've had some statements by Ivanov, the defense minister, kind of backing away from support. And we've had support from Nikolai Patrushev, the head of what's the equivalent of the KGB, saying that he warned the United States about this and we didn't take -- the United States didn't take the advice.

Based on that kind of comment coming from the Kremlin, how much help in this fight against terrorism do you expect to come from Moscow?

PERLE: I don't think we'll get a lot of help from Moscow. I think the help will come from those Western democracies who share our values, who believe in the value of human life and individual liberty, who are part of our culture, our history, our tradition.

The countries on the margins that we can drag into this kicking and screaming who really don't want to be part of it, but we can intimidate, are not the kind of reliable allies that we need for this war.

NOVAK: Don't you have some concern, sir, about the United States, Israel and Western Europe aligned against maybe three billion people around the world -- Islam, China, Russia? The odds don't look very good there, do they?

PERLE: Well, I don't think we're against Russia or against China, and with respect to Islam, we're not against Islam. This country helped to save Bosnia. I wish we'd done more to save Bosnia and had done it earlier. What we are against are people who destroy innocent civilians in the name of some fanatical envision of what the world should be like. And for them, there is no room for America, there is no room for Western civilization and Western culture. They are the enemy, and it is in dealing with them that we must focus our efforts.

HUNT: Is Iran one of the targets of our war on terrorism?

PERLE: Iran has been supporting terrorism, there is no doubt about it.

HUNT: And the Saudis always say nice things, but is the past any guide to what kind of real cooperation they'll provide or not provide? PERLE: Well, I think the Saudis, unfortunately, have often looked the other way in order to try to diminish the terrorist threat to themselves. So I would not expect the Saudis to be the most the reliable of our allies.

The reliable allies are going to be those whose heart is in it, whose soul is in it, and that's the coalition we need to build.

NOVAK: The big question for Richard Perle. This Sunday morning, sir, there's a lot of talk in Washington that Reagan National Airport will never be re-opened. If the United States cannot provide security for the close-in airport of its national capital, isn't that a great victory for terrorism?

PERLE: It would be, indeed. I can't believe that Reagan would remain closed. In any case, we mustn't fight the last war over again. The next attack will not be of the same nature as this one. It will be entirely different.

But if we close airports because of what happened a few days ago, we'll discover that that isn't effective because something else will -- another route will be chosen.

HUNT: What is the most dangerous route to think about now?

PERLE: Well, I think we have to worry about the use of biological and chemical weapons against water supplies...

NOVAK: That's all the time we have. Richard Perle, thank you very much for joining us. From Washington, I'm Robert Novak.

HUNT: And I'm Al Hunt. Now more of CNN's coverage of "America's New War."



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