Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS


LATE EDITION PRIMETIME: Condoleezza Rice on the Search for bin Laden; `Final Round' Deciphers Washington Spin

Aired December 16, 2001 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: This is LATE EDITION PRIMETIME, the last word in Sunday talk.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know whether we're going to get him tomorrow or a month from now or a year from now. I really don't know, but we're going to get him.


BLITZER: A chilling tape strengthens President Bush's resolve to capture Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants. When will this mission be accomplished? We'll get the answers from President Bush's National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

And LATE EDITION's new "Final Round." You've got questions, our panel has the answers. Join "The National Review"'s Jonah Goldberg, Robert George of "The New York Post," former Gore presidential campaign manager Donna Brazile, and Peter Beinart of "The New Republic," as they translate the political spin coming out of Washington.


BLITZER: Thanks for joining us for this one-hour LATE EDITION. The hunt for Osama bin Laden continues as intense bombing and fierce fighting erupted this weekend between Eastern Alliance fighters and al Qaeda troops in the rugged Tora Bora region of Afghanistan.

Earlier today, I spoke with President Bush's National Security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, about the search for Osama bin Laden, the next target in the war against terrorism, and much more.


BLITZER: Condoleezza Rice, thanks once again for joining us.


BLITZER: Let's get right to the situation in eastern Afghanistan. Reports that it's all over effectively in the Tora Bora region, that the Eastern Alliance forces allied with the United States have won, Al Qaeda has lost. Is that right?

RICE: As far as we know, Tora Bora has, of course, been under assault for some time, and it may well be now that Al Qaeda has been defeated there.

It's an area, though, that is quite difficult. And I would just warn against any premature declarations of victory in that area. It's very mountainous around there. There's still a lot of work to do.

So we're going to keep after it until we're certain that Al Qaeda has been defeated there.

BLITZER: So there's still some work to be done.

RICE: There's work to be done in many pockets of Afghanistan. And in fact, we are determined to keep our focus on making certain that Al Qaeda is really destroyed in Afghanistan, that it cannot use Afghanistan as territory to regenerate or continue to carry out terrorist activities. So there's still a lot of work to do there.

BLITZER: All right. What about Osama bin Laden? There had been reports he was there. Does the U.S. know where Osama bin Laden is right now?

RICE: We do not know where Osama bin Laden is right now, but we do know one thing. The amount of territory in which he can operate is shrinking. We also know that he is on the run.

And part of the goal here was to break up this network, to disrupt it so that it cannot continue to plan and train and carry out terrorist activities.

We will get him. It may take a month, it may take a year, but the United States is determined to make certain that Al Qaeda, the network, not just Osama bin Laden, but the leadership and the network, are broken up so that it cannot continue to do the things that it was doing.

BLITZER: Is it possible Osama bin Laden managed to escape to neighboring Pakistan?

RICE: Well, anything is possible. But we are absolutely determined to keep after this. We have the support of regional leaders. We have the support of the neighbors. Eventually, eventually, we are going to find a way to break this network up and to make certain that its leadership is brought to justice.

BLITZER: Most Americans think it's pretty important to capture Osama bin Laden. A new "Newsweek" poll, "Would the U.S. military effort be a success if Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, are not captured or killed?" Thirty-one percent say yes, but 62 percent say no. They want Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

RICE: Well, of course, the American, like the president and like the rest of the administration, want this network and its leadership and the Taliban brought to justice with what they did.

But the president has said all along that we are going to be patient in this quest. We are not going to relent until we have achieved our goals, and of course the goal is to bring this leadership to account.

Sooner or later we will be able to do that, but we may have to be patient to do it. They have lived in this area for a long time. They know the area, but they should know that there is no place to hide that we not eventually find them.

BLITZER: You assume he's travelling by himself or with one or two aides, Osama bin Laden, or he's got a big entourage of fighters with him?

RICE: I don't really know, and I don't think anyone really knows what he's doing to try and escape detection at this point.

I will say that anybody who hides in caves and runs this way while he's still trying to send young fighters to their death isn't a very brave person. And what we are learning about Osama bin Laden is that this isn't a leader. This is someone who's really quite cowardly in his own personal behavior.

But whatever he's doing, we have the territory more constrained in which he can operate. We have him on the run.

RICE: And sooner or later, no matter how long it takes, the United States of America is going to find him, the leadership, and bring them to justice.

BLITZER: Was that his voice that the U.S. recorded, intercepted earlier in the week on a radio communication?

RICE: I don't think we're -- anyone is quite certain about this. I don't want to get into the particulars of how we collect intelligence.

But let me just say again, this is a shadowy operation, we've always known that it was a shadowy operation that liked to hide. But there will ultimately be no place to hide.

BLITZER: The U.S. this week also put a multimillion-dollar bounty on head of Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban. Was he allowed to escape, in effect, with a wink and a nod, or did he successfully do it on his own?

RICE: We have no reason to believe that anything happened here but that he is still trying to evade the forces of the United States and of the alliance.

But, again, he is not a very popular figure in Afghanistan now for what the Taliban has done to that country. I think you're seeing, as we liberate the country, as the anti-Taliban forces liberate the country, that this was a terribly unpopular regime. And so, again, eventually he will run out of places to be and we will find him, as well.

This is not any longer hospitable territory for the Taliban or for Al Qaeda. And after only two months of this military operation, that's quite an achievement.

BLITZER: You believe he's still in the Kandahar area in southern Afghanistan?

RICE: Well, we have no reason to believe that he's left the country. The area in which he can actually operate is pretty narrow, because there are very few pockets now of Taliban strength.

But we're going to continue methodically to break up these pockets of Taliban resistance where they exist. We're going to continue methodically to work with the tribal leaders. We're going to continue methodically to work with alliance forces, all of whom have every reason to want to see Mullah Omar brought to justice for the horrible things that he did to his own country.

BLITZER: The Osama bin Laden videotape, why did the Bush administration release it this past week?

RICE: Well, it was released because in fact it was out there that there was a tape and people wanted to see it.

We do think that it shows that this is a man who has absolutely no conscience, absolutely no mercy for his innocent victims, and who, while he sits and laughs and hosts others, is sitting there watching people that he has asked to go to martyrdom go to martyrdom -- or go to their deaths. It really does show the true character of the man.

But it was a tape that was found in a house, and it seemed the right thing to do.

BLITZER: You obviously wanted to influence those doubters who may still exist in the Muslim and Arab world about the role that Osama bin Laden played. Did it achieve its purpose, the release of that tape?

RICE: I don't think there is any doubt when you watch this tape -- and let me just say, we had no doubts from the beginning that he was responsible for, he and the Al Qaeda network were responsible for, September 11. We had him, after all, under indictment for what he had done in the embassy bombings in Africa. We had every reason to believe Al Qaeda was behind the Cole incident.

So we had no doubts. But if anyone did have doubts, I think this should lay them to rest.

BLITZER: You have no doubt about the authenticity of this tape?

RICE: No, we do not.

BLITZER: How did you get it?

RICE: I'm not going to describe exactly how it was acquired, but let's just say that, in the activities and the operation when these houses and other places were abandoned, we found a lot of things.

BLITZER: You found more of these kinds of videotapes?

RICE: No, we found a lot of documents. We found a lot of documents of the activities of this organization. It's been fruitful to be able to clean out this area and to expose Al Qaeda for what it is.

BLITZER: It looks like the major purpose of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan is over. They're mopping up, going on, they're securing various locations. How long will U.S. troops have to remain in Afghanistan?

RICE: We're not going to set a deadline. We say to ourselves at every meeting that our deadline is when the mission is accomplished. And we believe that, until the Afghan territory is no longer a possible haven for terrorism, we believe that, until the Al Qaeda leadership is rounded up and this network and this paramilitary army of Al Qaeda is broken up, we will not have achieved our goals in Afghanistan.

It is also a network, of course, that is in many other places. And we shouldn't underestimate the importance of the intelligence- gathering, the law-enforcement activities, the financial piece of freezing assets that's going on worldwide.

This is one of the -- this is the most comprehensive war on terrorism that's ever been launched.

RICE: We have eyes, ears, activities in most parts of the world because we have unprecedented cooperation in trying to bring this network down. But it is out there in a lot of different places, and there is still a lot of work to do.

BLITZER: Are the Saudis fully cooperating with the U.S. in this war against terrorism?

I say it because the Saudi sheik who was with Osama bin Laden on that videotape, he seemed to be very much involved, an old pal of his, if you will, and so many of those hijackers, were Saudis.

Are the Saudis fully on board?

RICE: Al Qaeda was a foreign force. There were Saudis, there were Pakistanis, there was apparently an American. So it was a foreign force.

But the Saudi leadership has been extremely cooperative. We are totally satisfied with the cooperation that we're getting with the Saudis. One has to remember that they deprived bin Laden of his citizenship a long time ago. He is as much a threat to them, if not more, than to the rest of the world. And so they've been very cooperative.

BLITZER: Speaking of the American Taliban fighter, John Walker, is he cooperative? Is he fully cooperating in the debriefings that are under way right now?

RICE: Well, I'm not going to comment on what's going on in debriefings and action that the military is taking with him. But they are talking to him, and we will see what the disposition of him is to be when we know more about his activities.

BLITZER: You may have seen the item in "Newsweek" that's just out now, that not only was he involved with the Taliban, he was directly involved, they say, with Al Qaeda -- at least that's what he's suggesting. Was he?

RICE: I've read that too. I don't know. And I think until we have a better picture of his activities, it's probably just as well not to comment.

BLITZER: Did he commit treason?

RICE: I'm not going to comment on what will have to be a decision that will be taken under other circumstances.


BLITZER: We have to take a quick break. We'll have much more of my conversation with the U.S. National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice when LATE EDITION continues. I'll ask her specifically about the next terrorist threats facing the United States. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We go back now to my interview with the president's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.


BLITZER: The "Newsweek" poll that's out this weekend asks the American people, how likely are more terrorist attacks during this holiday season that's now before us? Very likely, 18 percent; 43 percent, somewhat likely.

In other words, 61 percent of the American public think it's either very or somewhat likely that there is going to be more terrorist attacks against the United States. Are they justifiably worried?

RICE: We're doing everything that we can to prevent any further attacks. You try and push out the border by going after terrorism where it is. That's why these cooperative efforts with people around the world, countries around the world so are important.

We're doing everything that we can to provide better security in the United States. The airport security efforts, for instance, are a part of that.

But no one can guarantee that there might not be another attack. And it's why the president has said that, while Americans need to get on with their lives, we also need to be vigilant, all of us.

Life did change on September 11, and it's key to get back to doing the things that make us American but to realize that vigilance can help not only in our personal lives but it might even help in uncovering or showing that something is about to happen because the American people have become part of the eyes and ears of the government in uncovering unsavory activities.

BLITZER: The homeland director, the security director, Tom Ridge, says we should be -- the United States should be on -- continue to remain on full alert in light of these threats.

Are there still, in your estimation, sleeper cells, Al Qaeda sleeper cells, roaming around the United States at this time?

RICE: We have every reason to believe that there are still people out there who came into this country for the purpose of trying to hurt us.

And that's why the president and the attorney general and the homeland security director and the entire team are very focused on the disruption of these cells. It's why the president has been insistent that we have to have procedures and ways of dealing with this new kind of threat that will not tip the hand of investigators as they are trying to disrupt these activities.

It's extremely important that everyone stay on high alert. But again, we're all trying to get on with our lives. I was at a basketball game the other night. It was great to see the Americans there -- Americans there, getting on with their lives.

We're going to have to learn to both carry out and go and take our kids to school and go to basketball and football games and, at the same time, remain vigilant, because we are still in a state of alert.

BLITZER: There were reports that U.S. officials, perhaps military officials, were in Somalia recently, checking out whether there were some Al Qaeda operatives there, whether that would be, in effect, the next U.S. target -- Somalia, the Philippines, other locations around the world.

Is that a fair assessment?

RICE: Well, I'm not going to comment on ongoing operations, but we are obviously looking at places where we think that Al Qaeda might still have cells. And we're looking at places where we think Al Qaeda might right to regenerate, might try to find a new base.

But I would caution against assuming that one size fits all, that we're just going to take the strategy that we used in Afghanistan and apply it to seriatim to place after place after place.

We have a lot of instruments at our disposal. In some cases, we have governments that are cooperative, which the Taliban was not. And so, we're not going to just mechanistically do what we did in Afghanistan every place else. We have a lot of instruments -- the financial, intelligence, law enforcement -- that may be quite helpful in wiping out some of these cells.

BLITZER: You saw, I assume, the story in the "New York Times" today, that Mohamed Atta, who was the suspected ringleader of the September 11 attacks, may not have been in Prague, after all, meeting with Iraqi intelligence agent, that there's some doubt, perhaps, now.

Is there any doubt about that?

RICE: We've long said that we are looking at all of the possible evidence about Iraqi involvement. I think it's early to judge what that might have been.

But Iraq was a problem before September 11 and it's a problem after September 11. It's a problem because that is a regime that is determined to threaten the region, our interests, not to mention its own people. And it's a regime that we know is determined to get weapons of mass destruction, so that didn't change after September 11.

And of course, we want to know about Iraqi involvement, but it's not the key issue here.

BLITZER: The Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says that Yasser Arafat, the leader of Palestinian Authority, is now irrelevant. Israel will have nothing more to do with them. Will the U.S. take the same stance?

RICE: The United States recognizes that Chairman Arafat is representative of the Palestinian people, but it is time for him, as a representative of Palestinian people, to lead them and not to follow the siren song of violence and of activities that are just really keeping peace from happening in the Middle East.

And so what we have asked him to do is to go out and to say to his own people that violence and terrorism has to be addressed. You cannot carry out a peace plan in a situation in which there is terrorism and violence.

BLITZER: How much time does he have?

RICE: Well, I don't think anybody wants to set a deadline. But certainly, time is of the essence here. You cannot continue to have terrorist activities, terrorist incidents against Israel and expect to have fruitful peace talks.

Now, the United States has been very active in having security talks with the two sides. General Zinni has been out in the region. General Zinni is going to return home for consultations. He would have in any case with the Christmas holidays coming up. And we will see where we are.

But what Chairman Arafat needs to do is to break up the terrorist organizations that are operating in his midst. We are asking no more of him than we are asking of every responsible leader in the world, and that is to make a choice here and to break up the terrorism that's in his midst. BLITZER: He says that in recent days he started rounding up the Hamas, Islamic Jihad, closing offices. Is he doing what he says he's doing?

RICE: Well, we will see. There is a lot of work to do even if he has begun, and we have been asking him to do it for a very long time. So it's about time now to stop talking about what he is doing to deal with terrorism in his midst and try to do something about it.

BLITZER: When will General Zenni go back to the region?

RICE: We'll see. He'll come back. We will all have a discussion how to move forward.

The United States is not going to disengage from this extremely important issue. We understand that the United States has an important role to play. That's why President Bush in his United Nations General Assembly speech, made the statements that he did. He laid out a positive vision for the Middle East. Secretary Powell followed that up in Louisville with a positive vision for the Middle East. We now have an envoy who is devoted to trying to advance that positive vision.

There should be a Middle East in which you have a Palestinian state, in which you have an Israeli state, and in which you have the possibility of security for everyone and prosperity for everyone. But we can't get there until we get passed this stage in which terrorism is being used to keep peace from taking place.

BLITZER: President Bush announced this week the United States was unilaterally abrogating the ABM, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972. Generated negative reaction from the Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying we regard this decision as mistaken. The Chinese are also very upset.

At this delicate moment, why antagonize potential allies in the war on terrorism by taking this kind of controversial decision?

RICE: Well, Wolf, I just disagree with the characterization of what President Putin said. He said he was, of course, he thought it was a mistake. He's told us all along that he wanted the ABM Treaty to stay in force.

But he also said that he believed that U.S.-Russian relations ought to continue at the same level. And "the same level" is pretty high. We have unprecedented cooperation with Russia on a whole host of issues.

He said that we should continue our efforts on strategic arms reductions and, in fact, gave a range that is similar to the range for strategic arms reductions that President Bush gave and said it's time now to move on that agenda.

People who said we should not move away from the ABM Treaty said that there would be two effects: One would be that there would be an arms race, and the second was that we would blow up U.S.-Russian relations.

We have never had better relations with the Russians, and they are going to continue.

Arms are coming down. The ABM Treaty never did prevent an arms race. When this started, the Russians had about 2,000 weapons. We had about 5,000 when the whole arms regime started. It went to over 10,000 during the period of time in which arms control was most in place. Now, we are coming down to numbers that will get us to about two-thirds of where we are now. These are very are important reductions. It is simply not true that this is stimulating an arms race.

BLITZER: Well, what about the Chinese, very briefly?

RICE: The Chinese have said that they have concerns about this, but they have also said that they want to have high-level dialogue about strategic stability. And the president offered that in a phone call to President Jiang.

The truth is we needed to get out of the ABM Treaty in order to be able to move forward on missile defenses. We did it in a way in which U.S.-Russian relations are intact, in which we can have discussions with the Chinese, and in which strategic arms are coming down, offensive arms are coming down.

This is a very good outcome, and we think it is one is that going to make the world more peaceful and secure.

BLITZER: All right, Condoleezza Rice.

RICE: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Thanks once again.

RICE: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.


BLITZER: When we return, LATE EDITION's new feature, the "Final Round." We'll ask the questions you want answers to. E-mail us at lateedition. That's at And the "Final Round" is just ahead.



BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION's "Final Round."

Joining me this week, Jonah Goldberg of "The National Review," Robert George of "The New York Post," Donna Brazile, the former manager of the Al Gore presidential campaign, and Peter Beinart of "The New Republic." Good to have all of you on LATE EDITION. Donna, let me begin with you. Colin Powell, speaking earlier today, promising the search for Osama bin Laden's going to go on. Listen to this.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: He is elusive. He will try to stay hidden. He will try to avoid us, but let there be no doubt in anyone's mind that the President is determined that however long it takes, as he says to us almost everyday, one day, one week, one month, two years, we will get him. Let's be patient and just not give up.


BLITZER: Can the U.S. declare victory without Osama bin Laden having been captured or killed?

DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: No. I think the American people would like to see Mr. bin Laden brought to justice, captured. And if we have search every inch of that mountain and the caves and cover up every hole that would lead to Pakistan or out of that country to find this guy, we should do it.

BLITZER: What about that, Jonah?

JONAH GOLDBERG, "NATIONAL REVIEW": I think that's basically right. And I'm pretty sure that Osama bin Laden's trying to find that island where Bruce Lee and Elvis Presley are living.


But my sense is that we probably can't have a military victory -- in the sense that we've defeated Al Qaeda, defeated the Taliban -- we can't have a true political victory or strategic victory, without having Osama bin Laden's head on a pike.

And so, we'd move from the bulldozer phase to the tweezer phase, because we're really just looking for one or two guys now. And that's going to be harder, but we're going to do it.

BLITZER: But they keep saying they don't really care if he's alive or dead, but do they?

PETER BEINART, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": No. I don't think they care where he's alive or dead. Probably they favor him being dead.

The problem is that we Americans have this tendency to always personalize these conflicts. We did with it Saddam Hussein. And the problem is we've had great success in getting rid -- in hurting Al Qaeda, probably eradicating its ability, but we may actually destroy most of Al Qaeda and not get Osama bin Laden and kick ourselves for having focused so much on this one man.

ROBERT GEORGE, "THE NEW YORK POST": And we shouldn't really think that just even when we do get Osama bin Laden that the war on terrorism is going be to be over, because I think that's the, you know, that's the wrong side. You can go too far on the other side of it, thinking that it's all Osama and it's all Mohammed or Omar and so forth, when it's not.

BLITZER: Well, you saw the videotape of Osama bin Laden with his Saudi visitor this past week. What was going through his mind, you think, when he agreed to allow himself to be videotaped saying all that stuff?

GEORGE: Well, I don't think I would ever try and get into Osama bin Laden's mind. You know, I don't think anybody wants to be caught in there.

He was obviously feeling overconfident. I think he felt that he had, you know, scored a major victory against the United States, regardless of what was going on, and he felt freedom to expound on his, quote, "vision."

BLITZER: And that was before the setback at Mazar-i-Sharif, was early November. He was feeling pretty cocky right there.

BRAZILE: Well, I mean, not only cocky, the guy was laughing and making fun of what took place on September 11. That's why the American people want him brought to justice and they want him captured or killed, by any means necessary. And I believe that should happen.

BLITZER: What was going through your mind when were you watching that tape?

GOLDBERG: Well, I mean, he's a bad guy. And it's obvious he's a bad guy. And he had the -- and he did have a victory. He did do what he wanted do.

But I actually I think the most dramatic development coming out of that tape isn't that it made Americans angry; Americans were already angry. And it isn't that it persuaded people in the Middle East. It's -- the most impressive change in public opinion, in my opinion, is that it showed -- that tape showed Americans that there are a lot of people, whole cultures in the Middle East, that are in a deep state of denial about how the world works and what America's like and about Osama bin Laden.

And I think it was a real shock to a lot Americans to discover that huge chunks of the Middle East actually buy into these deeply psychologically dysfunctional conspiracy-minded sort of theories about the world. And I think that's going to have a real effect on how we conduct foreign policy in that world.

GEORGE: At the same time, I think it also gave some political cover to, you know, the heads of Pakistan, Jordan and so -- and Egypt and so forth, in terms of saying, look, we actually do have some -- it's true that the average person on the street, not all of them, are going to accept this, but they could at least say, this gives me enough proof to say that the United States is actually on the right track.

BEINART: I think we've actually too much of this question of whether the Muslim street believes that Osama bin Laden did it.

I think most of the real anger comes from the fact that most people in the Muslim world are very badly governed. They have a tremendous amount of hostility towards their leaders and they associated, in some cases, rightly, those leaders in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with the U.S.

I really think that the real public opinion question is that America to get on the right side of democracy in the Muslim world. Then people -- this whole question about conspiracy theories about September 11 won't really matter.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by. What's next? We're next in the war on terrorism. Senator Joe Lieberman, he's the Democrat of Connecticut. Today he was pointing straight toward Baghdad.


LIEBERMAN: The fact is that the war against terrorism cannot end before Saddam Hussein is out of power in Iraq because he is the world's most powerful terrorist.


BLITZER: Donna Brazile, you once managed his vice presidential campaign.

BRAZILE: Well, there's another madman that's been on the loose for many years, and I think...


BLITZER: That's not -- that's not -- that's not Joe Lieberman...

GOLDBERG: Joe Lieberman?

BEINART: You're not going to -- you're not going to get a job with him next time.


BRAZILE: No, I'm referring, I'm referring to Saddam Hussein, of course, and I think it's important that we go back to the international table and really come up with a process to deal with Iraq. And I think that's what Senator Lieberman is talking about.

But no, he's a great man, he's not a madman.


BLITZER: We were all jumping on the same...


... as soon as we heard you saying that.

Is Joe Lieberman right that this is not going to be a victory -- forget about Osama bin Laden -- until Saddam Hussein is replaced?

GOLDBERG: Well, I think in a very macro sense you can't say that the war of terrorism has been won without going after Saddam. And I think there's a shocking level of consensus on both sides of the political aisle about that, about that fact.

And -- but I do think were the real gap is is in the ability to persuade the American people that we can actually go in there, and we need a good excuse and we need some....

BRAZILE: And we also need an international coalition.

GEORGE: The president really has to make the case because it's back to what we were saying before. Right now bin Laden has been the face of terrorism. But now you have to, in a sense, make a rhetorical and strategic shift now to say destroying terrorism means taking on Iraq.

BEINART: It's a tricky shift to make because the evidence that Saddam was involved in September 11 is probably quite weak. In a sense the argument about Saddam and the war on terrorism is proactive. It's about the terrorism he could commit, not the terrorism he has committed. And America has not been traditionally been very good at these proactive steps to stop things before they got -- this is the real test, I think, going for us.

GOLDBERG: But I also think you have look back a little bit and say that this is the guy who tried to murder the first President Bush and there is, there are...

BEINART: But by that standard we go after Gadhafi. I mean, there's probably better evidence on Gadhafi in Iran.

GOLDBERG: Bring him on.

BEINART: Saddam is the one who's the most dangerous going forward, and he's the one I think we need to focus on.

GEORGE: But this speaks to your point before, though. This is really about bringing freedom to that entire region.

GOLDBERG: Absolutely.

BRAZILE: Well we need to bring our international allies and partners with us before we do anything.

BEINART: I don't think they're going to come.

BLITZER: All right. Not much support for that.


Switch gears. Middle East violence, a peace process off the rails and an administration calling home its envoy.

Earlier on LATE EDITION, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, kept up the pressure on the Palestinian Authority president, Yasser Arafat, speaking just before Arafat himself called for an end to all armed activities and suicide bombings by Palestinians.


RICE: The United States recognizes that Chairman Arafat is representative of the Palestinian people, but it is time for him as a representative of the Palestinian people to lead them and not to follow the siren song of violence and of activities that just are really, they're keeping peace from happening in the Middle East.


BLITZER: Peter, have we all heard that so many times before, or is there some substantive difference this time?

BEINART: The substantive difference is not on Arafat's part, it's on the Americans' part and it's because of September 11. Because we are now in a war on terrorism, we can no longer in good conscience ask Israel to respond to terrorism with concessions and restraint. We won't impose restraint on ourselves. We're no longer imposing it on Israel. You don't hear Ariel Sharon's name mentioned at all when the Bush people get on TV, and that's because we're in a different world now. We're on Israel's side, we're in the same war. And it's Arafat who's in trouble.


BRAZILE: Well, he's leading all of those people who will listen to him, but he has the Hamas there and Islamic Jihad, and he needs to really crack down on them and put the whip to them quick.

BLITZER: Were you encouraged by what you heard Arafat say today?

GOLDBERG: I don't get really encouraged by anything Arafat says. I mean, Arafat has one of the most demonstrable records of being a liar. And so the only language of truth he can actually speak are in terms of actions not words, and so we'll see what he does. But I don't really care what he has to say.

GEORGE: And (OFF-MIKE) exactly right. I mean he is realizing he's been taking a great public relations hit in this and the collateral, the collateral damage of all these suicide bombings has been own authority within the, within the rest of the world.

If the bombings stop, then maybe people will start believing what he actually says.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, we'll be right back.

We have to take more of your phone calls. We will be taking some phone calls. We'll be taking your e-mail for our panel. Our address, write it down,

We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

We're continuing our conversation with the panelists on the "Final Round" and taking your questions by phone and by e-mail.

Much to the chagrin of Russia and the United States' European allies, the Bush administration announced this past week that the United States is pulling out of the long-standing ABM Treaty with Russia. The national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, told me earlier today the decision will not impact on U.S.-Russian relations.


RICE: We needed to get out of the ABM Treaty in order to be able to move forward on missile defenses. We did it in a way in which U.S.-Russian relations are intact, in which we can have discussions with the Chinese and in which strategic arms are coming down -- offensive arms are coming down. This is a very good outcome.


BLITZER: All right. What about that, Peter? Did the administration jump the gun?

BEINART: I think it really doesn't matter. Only one question matters; does this work? The truth is, the administration got very lucky by doing it right now because the Democrats don't want to pick a big fight with Bush while he is a war president. The Russians don't want to pick a big fight because they need our help desperately in trying to deal with the terrorist problems of radical Islam on their borders. So this dropped like a tree in the forest, nobody heard it.

But the reality is, it won't make any difference if the physics aren't there. And right now, they don't look like they are.

GOLDBERG: Yes, but, Peter, all things haven't worked until they worked. I mean, that's the nature of science.

BEINART: But, you know, but not all things always work. I mean, this seems to be -- conservatives say now, because we put a man on the moon, this will work. There is no logical connection. Some things work, some things just never do.

GOLDBERG: But there's no logical disconnection either. I mean, the idea is to...

BEINART: But the evidence is not strong.

GOLDBERG: The liberals are constantly saying, well, this wouldn't have stopped the attacks of September 11. But then again, neither would have the Marine Corps. Should we not have the Marine Corps?

BEINART: No, but we know the Marine Corps works. GEORGE: The interesting thing about this is that -- you know, absent the war, I think the really remarkable story would be how well Bush has handled Russia. When he first went over there, everybody said, well, you know, he says he trusts Putin; how dare he do that?

I mean, it's been really remarkable that actually Putin has come that much closer to the United States on everything that Bush has put out there. And right now, he's upset about them pulling out of the ABM, but I think that he's going to go along with it.

BRAZILE: It's a terrible move. And this administration is walking away from the table on every international treaty. And it's bad politics and it's bad manner in the international arena. That's my opinion.

BLITZER: All right.


You've got to tell us how you really feel.

BEINART: That's right. What a surprise.

BLITZER: Let's move on. Each president imposes his own style on the White House. Today the "New York Times" political reporter, Richard Berke, wrote about how President Bush runs a tight ship, but maybe at a price.

Berke writes this, quote, "The Bush White House is remarkably devoid of infighting and more disciplined and loyal than any administration in decades. Now the key question, one that may not be answered until after Mr. Bush has left office, is whether the Bush White House stifles debate."

Jonah, does he have a point there?

GOLDBERG: I think the real point of that is that Rick Berke is upset that not enough people in the Bush administration are leaking to him.

Well, there actually is a case to be made for leaks. I think in many ways, some of the problems with the Clinton administration in its last few years that it ran such a tight ship on leaks that things like the pardons that came down the pike weren't floated in the papers enough for people to say, that is an awful idea, don't do it.

But, you know, this is also -- this is a very professionalized presidency, far more so than the models we've had in the past. And at the same time, it's in the middle of a war on terrorism where secrecy and all of these things really matter. And so, you know, the issue some fatwas saying, don't leak, and they're actually listening to it. And if that makes Rick Berke's job a little more difficult, that makes me only happy.

GEORGE: There's actually attention now, where, if you were are in peacetime, it's just political gamesmanship and everybody does it. But right now there's a national security element to it, and I think that's good.

BEINART: The problem is this kind of rigidity works well in war, it's what you need. The problem is it doesn't tend to work so well in peace time.

Remember, before September 11, things were looking quite bad in terms of domestic politics for the Bush administration. It's partly because they stick to rigidly to an agenda and, unlike the Clintonites, they are not very flexible and creative. I think that might come back to hurt them when they have to deal with a recession next year.

BRAZILE: I believe there's a lot of infighting that's taken place since I've been to the White House. But we're not just getting a blow-by-blow account of it the way we would get it in some other...

BLITZER: A Clinton White House.

BRAZILE: And the previous administrations.

But I do believe that they are fighting and there have been all sorts of debates. But remember, the Republican Party is not really diverse. Unlike the Democratic Party, where we have southern conservatives and northeastern liberals where we always have debates and discussions in public.


I'm sure this have style developed the debates.

GOLDBERG: We just saw a clip from Condi Rice and Colin Powell...

BLITZER: Let's take a caller.

California, go ahead please.

CALLER: You know, in the conversations I've had with friends and family, we see Iran as being a serious threat to our country, and recently the Soviet Union gave them a nuclear reactor for a plant.

So, are we going to rely on Israel to fly in and blow that up, or are we going to take care of Iran now when taking care of everybody else?

BLITZER: All right, Jonah?

GOLDBERG: Iran is really interesting case because it had a fundamental Islamic state prior to everybody else.

The young people in Iran are actually wildly pro-American. They have these huge demonstrations at soccer games, saying USA, USA. And I think Iran, in many ways, poses the real opportunity that we were talking about earlier in terms of getting democracy flourishing. We used to make fun of, the idea of Iranian moderates. Well, it turns out that the people on the street are Iranian moderates.

BLITZER: That's a good point. There's an opportunity right now to deal with some new faces in Iran.

BEINART: That's right. And I think that probably there's a lot going on behind-the-scenes right now between the United States and Iran.

First of all, I'm sure they've given us more logistical help, being on Afghanistan's border, than we realize. And in a sense, the further we move from Saudi Arabia, which has traditionally been Iran's regional opponent, the closer we inevitably move to Iran.

I think, in a lot of ways, it will be fascinating over the coming year, we're probably looking at a U.S.-Iran alliance.

GEORGE: And Iran, obviously, would also like Iraq and Saddam Hussein to fall by the wayside as well.

GOLDBERG: And they hate the Taliban.

BLITZER: We have an e-mail question from Victor, and I want Donna to answer this question.

If Osama bin Laden ends up in Pakistan, would we go and grab him or ask the Pakistani government to hand him over?

BRAZILE: No question, we should be talking with the Pakistanis every minute of this day and the days that follow to make sure that we track him down. If he got away and he's there with his family because family got away there a couple of weeks ago, we should track him down and bring him to justice.

BLITZER: Do you think the Pakistanis are going to be cooperative in going after Osama, if, in fact, he is in Pakistan?

GOLDBERG: Well, if he is there, I certainly think that the Pakistanis have down enough for us, that we deserve to give them the benefit of the doubt in terms of their sovereignty and their help and let them try and get him, even though there may be some problems with that. But I'm not even sure he's dead.

BLITZER: All right, stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We have more to talk about.

When we come back, we'll join our panelists, we'll look ahead when the LATE EDITION "Final Round" returns. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to the "Final Round."

Giuliani leaves office next month enormously popular because of his handling of the September 11 attacks. Will he be singing political songs in the future? Is there a future for him at the next Republican Party convention? What about that?

BRAZILE: He should keep his day job, he's no singer. And I don't know about his future with the Republican Party, but clearly he's done a remarkable job since September 11, and we're all proud of him.


GOLDBERG: Well, you know, contrary to what Donna said, the Republican Party is remarkably diverse, because he's a remarkably liberal guy. And I think he does have a good future in front of him. I'm not sure if he's conservative enough in the Republican Party to win national office, but I think he'll be around quite a bit.

BEINART: He has no future in the Republican Party for one reason. He's too secular. It's become a party that is fundamentally religious at its base. He's a very compelling politician. Unfortunately, the Republican Party has left him without a home.

GEORGE: I would tend to disagree with that. I think especially in the current environment, it wouldn't be completely out of the ordinary, for example, for him to be on the national ticket if Dick Cheney chose not to run the next time around.

BLITZER: All right, let's move on. President Bush wants the U.S. Senate to approve his economic stimulus package before they recess for the year, that's supposed to be at the end of this coming week. Will there be a deal?

Let's begin with Peter. A deal?

BEINART: No. The Democrats want Bush to own this recession. They don't want any of their fingerprints on it. They're going to let him go out in 2002, see if can he revive this economy. I don't think he can, because there won't be a stimulus bill. No more interest rate cuts. We're going to be in deep recession next year, and the Democrats are going to win big in 2002.

BLITZER: No deal this week, Jonah?

GOLDBERG: I don't think there's going to be a deal. I think the Democrats are too bought into the idea that they're going to run as the mommy party and take care of people at home.

And as a conservative, I don't like stimulus packages anyway because they basically give this false impression that the United States government mans a steering wheel that drives the economy, and it doesn't.

BRAZILE: Well, Democrats are the party of working families, and this stimulus package has a lot in it. It will help working people get back on with their lives and help people who are unemployed who need help out there right now and will perhaps protect us from the Bush recession.

So I think there's a 50-50 chance that Tom Daschle will work out a deal.

GEORGE: A Bush recession that started last year, which is kind of interesting.


GEORGE: There's not going to be a stimulus package, because basically Daschle has said that nothing on the domestic front, whether it has to do with the economic stimulus or farm bills or health care, anything is going to get out. And it's all going to be basically part of the 2002 campaign.

BLITZER: All right, let's move on. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson could decide as early as this week whether to make the anthrax vaccine available to thousands of people who may have been exposed.

Should the secretary give the green light, Jonah?

GOLDBERG: Sure. I'm fairly libertarian when it comes to people wanting to protect themselves from really dangerous terrorist diseases. So, let people take the drugs if they feel like they want to take the drugs.

BLITZER: Right now only military personnel get that vaccine.

BRAZILE: And, you know, there's a lot of risk involved, and so I'm a little skeptical about giving that vaccination to our postal workers. They've been the unsung heroes of this post-September 11 crisis we've had, and we don't need another crisis in the post office.

GEORGE: You know, if they want it, sure, they certainly should go ahead and get it. One of my colleagues at the "Post" was on Cipro, and it had some very bad side effects on it. So the vaccination may be the way to go.


BEINART: I disagree, I think this anthrax thing is over. There are no more letters that we know about, and we know that this has side effects, particularly for older people, and the postal workers tend to be older and more likely to have already preexisting conditions. Seems to me, no reason.

BLITZER: Maybe you're right, let's hope you are.

John Walker, meanwhile, the young American who fought for the Taliban, is in the custody of the U.S. Marine Corp aboard a U.S. ship off the Arabian Sea, but no decision has yet been made about his fate.

Is he a traitor? Robert.

GEORGE: Of course he's traitor. And he should be tried for treason. I doubt if he'll get the death penalty, though, given the kind of general environment we're in, but he should be tried for treason, definitely.


BRAZILE: That's a tough one. I do believe that at this point I would consider him a traitor, but I don't know enough about the case yet.

BLITZER: You are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

BRAZILE: I'm willing, but I would like to see him come home quickly and be brought to justice as well, and shave that damn beard.



GOLDBERG: I think yes, I think he fits all the good definitions of a traitor.

I'm shocked, though, by the way leaders in both parties are so gentle on this subject, and it hasn't become a major cultural issue between the Republican and Democratic Parties, as a wedge issue.

BEINART: I couldn't agree more. You know, they talk about this kid as if, you know, they'd caught him with drugs or something. You know, he's a troubled kid, where did he go wrong, we need to understand him.

We don't need to understand him. He's a traitor. He was working with people who killed thousands of Americans. No question, doesn't matter whether he's American or not.

GEORGE: They'd be harsher on him if he had been caught with drugs.


BEINART: I know. It's really extraordinary. I think Jonah's absolutely right. The Republicans should have picked this up and run with it. As a Democrat, I'm glad they didn't.


BLITZER: All right. Let's move on. The war in Afghanistan, is it all but over, is the country -- but the country of course is far from stable -- how long should U.S. troops stay there?

Peter, you know, U.S. troops are still in Germany, they're still in Japan. Been a long time since that war ended.

BEINART: That's right, and look how well it's turned out. I think American troops hopefully will stay there a very, very long time. What I fear is that the Bush administration is backsliding to its earlier opposition to nation-building. They don't want to take part in this peacekeeping force. In the long run, it could be very bad for Afghanistan, very bad for us.

BLITZER: What about that?

GOLDBERG: I think that's generally right. I think there's going to be a half-life to American troops, but what I hope is a permanent thing for a long time as an American presence. We should tell the world that, if you take our side in the war against terrorism, you're going to get everything from democracy to snow-cone machines to air hockey to whatever you want, we're going to help you build a country, and going to help you get -- join the 21st century.

GEORGE: Frankly, the United States should have been in Afghanistan a decade ago, when the Soviet Union fell, when Afghanistan was partly responsible for that, for basically expelling the Soviets, and it's really -- we're 10 years two late. And we should stay there as long as it takes.

BRAZILE: I agree with Robert, stay there, help rebuild the country, secure the borders and free the Afghanistan women.

BEINART: That's unanimous.

BLITZER: All right now. We're going to leave, but what's wrong with beards?


BRAZILE: Al Gore looks quite well with it. So do you.


BRAZILE: But I think it's a cultural political signal that Mr. Walker made, and that's why I said to take it off.

BLITZER: We're going to leave it right there. The "Final Round," thanks for joining us.


And that is your LATE EDITION for Sunday, December 16. Please join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

And if you missed any of today's program, you can always tune in Sunday nights, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

During the week, I'll see you twice a day at 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. Eastern for two editions of "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.




Back to the top