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America Strikes Back: Should the U.S. Target Iraq?

Aired October 8, 2001 - 19:30   ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: The United States tells the reserves the right to strike other countries in its war on terrorism. Does that mean Iraq and Saddam Hussein are next? This is CROSSFIRE.

Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE and day No. 2 of the war against terrorism. Soon after President Bush Presided over the swearing in of former Governor Tom Ridge as the new head of homeland security, a second round of missiles from U.S. warplanes struck targets in Afghanistan: opening salvos in a war that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says could take years, and might even go beyond the borders of Afghanistan.

U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte in fact has informed the Security Council that the United States reserves the right to strike other nations as part of its efforts to end terrorism. But will that only make matters worse?

That's our CROSSFIRE tonight. Starting with Iraq. If Osama bin Laden is stopped in his tracks, should Saddam Hussein be the next target? Our guests, the former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Edward Peck, and retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Robert Maginnis -- Bob Novak.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Colonel Maginnis, I want to read to you exactly what Ambassador Negroponte said that Bill referred to. He said, quote, "We may find that our self-defense requires further actions with respect to other organizations and other states," end quote. As I read the diplomatic double talk, he's saying that the United States can attack Iraq without proof that Iraq had any complicity -- any complicity -- in the events of September 11th. Is that the way you read it, sir? And do you think it's a good idea?

RET. LIEUTENANT COLONEL ROBERT MAGINNIS: I think you're right. It is double speak. Often they speak like that at the U.N. I've been up there quite a few time. Quite frankly, Bob, I think we have more than sufficient evidence that Saddam Hussein has been involved in terrorism. He certainly has a very large inventory -- at least based on the UNSCOM reports on bio and chemical agents -- and he's willing, we think, to provide it to people like Osama bin Laden and the al- Qaeda group. So we have got to be concerned about this.

NOVAK: You have a reputation as a straight shooter. Didn't shoot straight that time, because you didn't even begin to answer my question. I wasn't talking about -- we'll talk about what kind of weapons he may have later. We'll talk about his record later. I'm saying, do you believe that the United States is ready to and should launch a military attack on Iraq -- listen carefully -- without proof that Iraq was involved in the events of September 11?

MAGINNIS: I think you asked me two questions, Bob.

NOVAK: No, it's the same question.

MAGINNIS: I don't know that we are ready yet. I don't think we have the forces massed right yet. That was the first part. The second question is, should we? And I think that we, quite frankly, don't maybe have yet all the evidence.

NOVAK: Should we do it without the evidence? That's what I'm asking you.

MAGINNIS: Not based solely upon that one incident in September the 11.

NOVAK: You're saying we should attack them without evidence?

MAGINNIS: No, I'm not saying that.

NOVAK: Can you give me a yes or no on that?

MAGINNIS: There are many, many other events over the years. That perhaps is one of those events, and we may find out before long that we have that.

PRESS: Ambassador, in the interests of full disclosure this is one of the rare occasions on which Bob Novak and I agree, but somebody has got to ask some tough questions of you tonight. It's my turn. I want to pick up where the colonel left off.

We know Osama bin Laden has been supporting the terrorists and financing them and arming them. He's not alone, and perhaps not the most dangerous. There's Hussein that we know is supporting terrorist groups like the Hezbollah the Hamas, and probably bin Laden. We know he has got biological weapons. Probably has nuclear weapons. Wouldn't this war against terrorism be a mistake if we stop at Osama bin Laden and don't take out Saddam Hussein as well?

EDWARD PECK, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Let me answer your question. I think it's not a mistake for the following reasons. No. 1 is that nobody in this world -- with the possible exception of Tony Blair -- gives us the right to decide who rules Iraq. That is not part of our charter. It is not part of our mandate. Now, they can't stop us, because we are who we are. But when you take out Saddam Hussein, the key question you have to ask then is, what happens after that? And we don't have a clue. Nobody knows, but it's probably going to be bad. And a lot of people are going to be very upset about that, because that really is not written into our role in this world is to decide who rules Iraq.

PRESS: We don't know what is coming next, but it's hard to believe it could be any worse than Saddam Hussein. But you know, Ambassador, looking at this today -- Bill Kristol at "The Weekly Standard," he got a passel of conservatives to sign this letter to President Bush.

NOVAK: 41.

PRESS: Saying, we've got 41 conservatives. We have to put Saddam Hussein in the target. But he's not alone. There are even some liberals who are speaking like this, and talking about the evidence that we do have that there was a link here in the September 11 bombings. I would like you to listen to one of my favorite liberals and hear what he had to say. Senator Joe Lieberman.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: We have heard reports of contact between the individuals who were on those planes that committed those atrocities against America on September 11; contact between them and various members of Iraqi intelligence. The obvious fact is that Saddam Hussein has the motive to have wanted to strike us. I think if the trail leads in this case to Iraq and contact with the attacks of September 11 or with terrorism generally, we have to go at them.


PRESS: If the trail leads, are you saying we look the other way?

PECK: No, but the trail hasn't led there yet.

PRESS: Pretty clear.

PECK: You have to understand now. Just like the colonel here, I'm a veteran of the armed forces. I have had two tours of active duty in the Army. And I don't take a back seat to anybody in terms of patriotism.

This is the greatest nation that ever was and may be the greatest nation that ever will be. But that's my view, and it is not universally shared. So we have come out with 21 pages of proof that Osama bin Laden was involved.

I have read that material. That's allegations. That's not proof. It's an entirely different thing. Proof of what it means to us. So, yes, he's not a nice guy, Saddam Hussein. But I think that the costs to our nation and its interests of taking him out are probably vastly exceeding anything we would gain by doing it.

NOVAK: Doesn't that worry you, Colonel Maginnis, that right today in parliament, our strongest ally, Britain, said there is no evidence linking Iraq to the September 11. If we were to wage a unilateral strike at Baghdad, send in troops, we would lose everybody -- in my opinion -- without proof, even including Britain. Is that where we want to be? Just the U.S. and Israel against the world?

MAGINNIS: You're right. I agree. We need to be very careful about proceeding. However -- I suppose maybe, Bob, I'm putting a little bit of trust in the president and Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Powell when they say that we have credible evidence. Now, the Ambassador says he's read it all. I suspect that there's more that he hasn't seen. In fact, I believe that some of the security operations, both in Iraq as well as other countries in that region, have some impact on that decision as to whether or not we should go in there. Maybe not yet. But eventually I think it's going to be.

NOVAK: I want to read you a CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll taken just over the weekend. "Action against other countries that are just harboring terrorists": 78 percent approved, 16 percent disapprove.

Now, I don't want to criticize the Gallup organization, but I would like a definition of terrorist. You know, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. They don't say terrorist connected with September 11. They don't say terrorist connected with anything. Were the Israeli Haganah or Stern Gang terrorists when they blew up the King David Hotel? What is a terrorist?

MAGINNIS: Taking innocent lives unnecessarily, whether it be 9- 11 or it being Hamas or Hezbollah going into pizza parlors, blowing up innocent civilians. That's terrorism to me.

NOVAK: What about Israeli F-16s shooting down Palestinian civilians?

MAGINNIS: If they shoot down Palestinian civilians and they're not collateral damage in going after a known Hamas or Hezbollah person that happens to be at the wrong place at the right time. And those sorts of circumstances do take place. But unfortunately, when we are dealing with terrorism and they are targeting civilians -- in many cases, primarily civilians, quite frankly -- they are not targeting the military.

We need to be very, very cautious about siding with the wrong side here, Bob, because I'm fearful that should we proceed down this primrose path, we are going to find ourselves endorsing or looking aside. And as a result, some of these groups are going to have an invitation to come in and attack us once again. We have to be vigilant.

NOVAK: I need -- if we attack them, the terrorists are not likely to come in against us. But if we don't attack Iraq, they are more likely to attack us. Is that your logic? That's what I thought you said.

MAGINNIS: If we attack them, clearly they are going to retaliate. I don't think there's any question whether or not they are going to retaliate. We have an obligation -- I think a moral obligation to do something about it this.

PRESS: Ambassador, as former ambassador to Iraq I know you have affection for the country and for its people, and you are disgusted with what Saddam Hussein has done with that country. When you look at this guy, it's not just the events of September 11, as horrific as they were.

We had a couple weeks ago on CROSSFIRE Laurie Mylroie, an author who has written a book where she puts out what I think is pretty convincing evidence that it was Saddam Hussein and his intelligence that were the masterminds behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. If we don't get him now, aren't we letting him get away with two attacks on the United States in a row? Don't you believe her evidence?

PECK: No, I do not. I think Dr. Mylroie has got a real phobia about this, and if she possibly could, she would accuse him of being responsible for male pattern baldness in the United States.

Saddam Hussein is not all that powerful. And we have been -- I have no -- I have an affection for that country because I lived there, but my job has been all these years to learn to understand these other countries so I could tell my country about them. Do not confuse, please, the message with the messenger. And the message is that we have been bombing Iraq whenever we feel like it for the last 10 years. Nobody likes that, least of all the Iraqis, and but lot of other people besides.

We have been responsible -- pardon, I'll take it back. We have accepted responsibility for the death of 500,000 Iraqi children on American television, a position taken by the then-ambassador to the United Nations. A lot of people don't want to excuse you for that. So if Saddam Hussein believes, in the words of Dr. Mylroie that he's still at war with the United States, could it be the daily bombings? Could it be the $94 million that Congress appropriated to finance his overthrow. Sir, that's an act of war. Whether you want to accept it as such, we are going to finance people to overthrow his government? That is -- that is called a hostile act, you see? So if he's upset with us, there may be a reason for it.

MAGINNIS: It's unfortunate we didn't go after him when we had the chance in '91. The fact is this man has killed his own people, the Kurds.

PECK: You remember he used to do it.

MAGINNIS: He attacked the Iranians with gases. The reason the kids have died is not because the U.S. is bombing in the north and south, but it's quite frankly to do something entirely different.

NOVAK: Gentlemen, I have to break this up because we have to take a break. When we come back, we'll ask our guests whether we should use U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan.


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. The U.S. is now in a state of war against Afghanistan's Taliban regime. Should the U.S. effort be limited to aerial attacks, as it was in Kosovo, or should an American expeditionary force be sent to Central Asia, as it was to Iraq? We are asking retired Lieutenant Colonel Robert Maginnis, vice president for national security and foreign policy of the Family Research Council; and Edward Peck, former United States Ambassador to Iraq and to Mauritania, and deputy director of President Reagan's terrorism task force. Bill Press. PRESS: Mr. Ambassador, right now we are involved in this air campaign against Afghanistan. Everyone agrees that the air power alone will not do the job we have set out for. And I think that Senator Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today -- just the other day -- it was this morning -- told us what the Taliban can expect next. Let's listen to Senator Levin, please.


SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: As we strengthen the opposition, they will not only meet ground forces from the United States, but hopefully meet some very strong Afghan ground forces that will finish the job.


PRESS: Now, he obviously knows more than we know about what is planned. Sounds to me like he's saying the decision has already been made that U.S. ground forces are going to go in. Do you agree and don't you agree that's a necessary next step?

PECK: I always feel, you know, as a former military man, yeah, that's it. Because you have to have an objective. You have to know what it is you are going to accomplish, and how you are going to accomplish it and what the end game is. I think that going into Afghanistan -- where in addition to fighting the Taliban forces, who are armed with slingshots and large rocks, as far as I know -- you're going to look for individuals. That's hard to do in a country like that.

PRESS: So that's a no?

PECK: I would say it's not a smart thing to do. I would say it would be a very dumb thing to do you. You have got a surrogate that you can use and arm and equip and so forth: the northern forces. Go that way. Don't put U.S. forces on the ground.

PRESS: Let me follow up on that. Isn't that in fact the best role for-- we are not talking perhaps about an expeditionary force, but we're talking about special forces that could go in and help the Taliban prepare them, train them, equip them, maybe give them transportation to the front, protect the refugees; the job for U.S. special forces has to be there.

PECK: I guess so. But that's kind of how we started out in Vietnam. That didn't work out to our advantage. Because you start out and they are not doing well, so we have to do more and then we try this and then we try that.

MAGINNIS: You clearly don't want this to become another Afghanistan for the Soviets. They had 100,000 troops there, they lost 13,000. We have got the Northern Alliance. They are a cobbled group of ethnic groups that quite frankly aren't much better in terms ethics and fighting ability than the Taliban. However, at least they are willing to go against the Taliban. We can fund them. And at the same time, though, I think that there's a diplomatic issue at stake here. We have to show that we have the resolve to fight. And I think that the knock against the U.S. is that, you know, we have run away. We have fired our missiles thousands of miles. We won't risk our young soldiers on the ground doing the necessary dirty business.

And frankly, Bob, you brought up Kosovo campaign. I was against the aerial bombing. I think there was more fratricide or at least noncombatants killed in that engagement unnecessarily. So if we are doing surgical strikes, knocking out command and control, we're knocking out air defense, great.

But now we have to go after the leadership. Beyond the leadership, it's questionable whether or not, I think, we need some of our forces. But clearly, I think we are going to need some of our people there to do that.

NOVAK: I want to make sure I understand you. You are proposing that the United States show to the world that it is not afraid to risk the blood of its young men in combat, but you would not be willing to send in a division-size unit to prove that, but a few special forces whose commander -- a Ranger, a few guys dropped in there to work with the indigenous forces, is that what you are saying?

MAGINNIS: Robert, it's not necessary to have a division over there. This is not like Saddam Hussein taking over Kuwait. This is really a tattered group of people running around the hills. They're fairly well fortified, dug in and so forth. We can use the Northern Alliance. We can use the expertise of some of our special operators, and we can work with them and take these people out.

NOVAK: What you are saying is that what we really are relying on are the indigenous forces, the famous anti-Soviet guerrilla fighter, Abdel Haq (ph) is being infiltrated across the border from Pakistan. He may be in Afghanistan today. People like that. And we'll throw in a few American soldiers for window dressing. Is that about it?

MAGINNIS: We have to send soldiers in for very specific targets. I'm not in favor of putting division after division in there. I think it's replicating what the Soviets failed to do years ago.

PRESS: Ambassador, I know you are chomping at the bit.

PECK: Not really chomping, but I'm listening and I understand exactly what Colonel Maginnis is doing. One of the things you have to understand -- try -- is that a lot of people, an awful lot of people are going to resent seriously the fact that we believe that if we don't like that government, we have the right to throw it out, overthrow it and put somebody else in place.

I sat at this very table a couple of years ago when the United States was debating the Iraq Liberation Act. And my opponent -- pardon me, my partner at the time -- was, we were going to go in and put this group in power and bring democracy to Iraq. You cannot enforce democracy. You don't stuff it down people's throat. It comes this way. Not that way. So that an awful lot of folks around the world are going to say, "Hey, that is not your job."

PRESS: I know we've been focusing on what comes next. I want to come back, if I can, to what we are doing today.

PECK: Yes, sir.

PRESS: Day two of this war against terrorism in Afghanistan. 94 percent of the American people support it. Do you? Are you among the 94?

PECK: Oh, yes, sure. Except that you ask the American people the question one way and they will say, "yes we are for it." And then you watch the body bags to come home and then they are against it. Polling is a very tricky business, sir. I don't need to tell you that. When you tell me that 86.2 percent of the people want lower taxes and 94 percent more services, I recognize that there's a conflict there. What the American people want is something that's very hard to understand because A) they don't know where Afghanistan is; B) they know nothing about it; and c) they have no idea whatsoever as to what the potential gains and costs are from getting involved.

MAGINNIS: What the American people really want is not a repetition of what happened on 9-11. We have to demonstrate to them how we are going to stop that in the future. Now, it doesn't involve ground troops in Afghanistan. If they can make that connect the dots, perhaps. Do we go to Iraq? Do we go to Syria, do we go to Libya? Those things have to be answered. Those are tough questions that intelligence have to be on hand and we have to have the forces in the right place. But I agree, this is going to be tough to explain to the American people.

PECK: The difficulty that we face is that I support -- because I understand how democracy works -- we have to go out and do the sorts of things we are doing. So we will mercilessly, viciously, effectively attack and destroy all kinds of symptoms. When the rubble has settled and the dust is gone, the disease is still going to be out there untouched.

Because we don't want to look at why, why it is that all of these people hate us. It's not because of freedom. It's not because Brittney Spears has a belly button or because we export hamburgers. They hate us because of things they see us doing to their part of the world that they definitely do not like.

MAGINNIS: The president is working on his PR issue with 37,000 rations. We need to invest in a big way in helping these people.

PRESS: That's just the start of a great other show, but it has to be another show because this one is out of time. Thank you very much for joining us. Colonel Maginnis, good to have you back.


PRESS: General, Bob Novak and I will be back with the plans for the next part of the war against terrorism in our closing comments.


NOVAK: Bill, the reason that many people give who want to attack Baghdad is not the September 11 bombing, but the fact that Saddam Hussein is supposed to have biological weapons. Scott Riddle, who spent nine years as a U.N. inspector, says there were no weapons of mass destruction when he left, and he bets there aren't any now. It's a red herring.

PRESS: I'm willing to believe the worst about Saddam Hussein, Bob. But as far this operation goes, I think we need to take it one day at a time. And I have to admit that so far, I believe the administration is doing a careful, select, targeted job.

NOVAK: I agree.

PRESS: But that doesn't mean there's a blank check. And I think you and I agree on this. If they go beyond Afghanistan, they have a real problem. That's when the American people stop supporting and I think the coalition falls apart.

NOVAK: Some of the body language and implications worry me a little bit right now.

PRESS: Yes. But no crusade. At least they dropped that line. All right. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Mark the tape. We agree tonight. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.




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