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Interview with Cynthia Tucker, Mike Segal

Aired October 8, 2002 - 12:40   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The debate is taking place not just in Congress, but also at the United Nations, here on CNN as well.
Joining me now, Cynthia Tucker, she is editor of the editorial section, editorial page of the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," and in New York, Mike Segal, he hosts a radio talk show on WLIE -- thanks to both of you for joining us.

Cynthia, did the president make a convincing case to you last night?

CYNTHIA TUCKER, "ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION": Not for immediate invasion, Wolf. The president made the case that Saddam Hussein is a very dangerous man who needs to be contained, very dangerous especially to his neighbors in the Middle East, but we've known that for a decade. Did the president make a case for immediate invasion? Absolutely not. After all, if the CIA had persuasive evidence that Saddam Hussein represented an immediate threat to the U.S., the president wouldn't have spent months telling Saddam we were coming. Tanks would already be rolling through Baghdad if we believed Saddam Hussein were an immediate threat, but there is no such case to be made, there is no such evidence.

BLITZER: All right. Mike, I want you to respond to that, but I also want you to hear what a viewer e-mailed us. James from Maryland makes a similar point.

"I am disappointed because there was nothing new in the president's speech, and nothing to bolster the preemptive invasion of Iraq. We all agree that Iraq has an evil leader, but we cannot invade every nation that threatens the United States."

What do you say to James and to Cynthia?

MIKE SEGAL, WLIE: I think Saddam Hussein is a unique example, Wolf. I don't think that we can look at Saddam Hussein in the way we look at other leaders around the world. He, in fact, if you look at history, has consistently been this enigma to the civilized world. He took power in 1968, I had a chance to interview a fellow last week who, in 1969 as an Iraqi Jew was arrested, was tortured, saw other people being tortured while Saddam sat there and watched.

We have seen him take 50,000 to 100,000 Kurds and eliminate them, two million of them went into Iran and Syria and Turkey as refugees. We have seen that he has in his possession mustard gas, VX gas, cyclosarin (ph), sarin, he has various kinds of biological warfare.

The fact is that this guy is a danger today, and to wait until he wants to make the preemptive strike is absolutely irrational.

BLITZER: All right. Cynthia, I want you to respond, but I'm going to also read to you an e-mail that we just got from Dave in Chicago.

He says, "In his speech, President Bush clearly defined the threat that Iraq poses to the free world. An Iraqi regime change would bring stability, not disorder, to the region. Once Hussein is eliminated, we can focus on other problems like global warming and AIDS."

What do you say to Dave?

TUCKER: Well, the first thing I say is that is while Saddam Hussein, again, is a very dangerous man, there are many dangerous dictators in the world who are dangerous to their own populations and to their neighbors.

There are at least a dozen countries that have chemical programs, chemical warfare programs, biological warfare programs, at least a dozen or more that have nuclear weapons programs. Are we going to invade them all? Again, there is nothing that suggests that Saddam Hussein is an immediate threat to the United States, nor is there anything to suggest that as soon as we get rid of him, there will be a flourishing of democracy in the Middle East. By contrast, there is every reason to believe that Iraq will be a very big mess. That we will have feuding warlords, we'll have to separate just like we are in Afghanistan at the moment.

BLITZER: Mike, why is Saddam Hussein more of an imminent threat to the United States today than he was a year ago, or five years ago?

SEGAL: Because he has the capability now, and he has got al Qaeda that he is now training in Baghdad. We heard that from the national security adviser to the president. The fact is that he has now stockpiled these biological and chemical weapons, the fact also is he's work on nuclear capability, and Dr. Hamzi (ph), who was his own Iraqi nuclear research leader, defected from Iraq precisely because of the danger that Saddam was to other nations. He's already gone after four other countries with ballistic missiles.

BLITZER: Cynthia, you heard the president say, as Condoleezza Rice said weeks ago, he doesn't want that smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.

TUCKER: Yes, I heard that, and I thought that was very interesting, because what the administration has tried very hard to do is make an emotional link between Saddam Hussein and the events of September 11. Not only is there absolutely no evidence that Saddam Hussein was linked to September 11, there is precious little evidence that he has any link to al Qaeda. The president talks about members of al Qaeda being spotted in Baghdad. Well, if John Ashcroft is to be believed, members of al Qaeda have been spotted in Buffalo, New York and Detroit. Again, there is absolutely no evidence to link Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda.

We do have to be worried about loose nukes, but there are loose nukes that al Qaeda can get from Russia today.

BLITZER: What about...

SEGAL: The...

BLITZER: Go ahead.

SEGAL: The real answer here is what George Santiana (ph) said, those who do not learn from history are condemned by it.

We know -- since he took power, Saddam Hussein has been a brute, we know all about the danger he is, he has demonstrated that, he has gone after Iran with chemical weaponry, he has fired ballistic missiles into Israel, he has done the same to Bahrain (ph), he has done the same to Saudi Arabia. We know who he is, a tiger doesn't change his stripes.

BLITZER: All right.

SEGAL: Saddam is an eminent threat right now.

TUCKER: For heaven's sakes, I have to say, Wolf, when he went after Iran, we gave him covert support, we wanted him to go after Iran. Back then, in the '80s, he was our ally.

BLITZER: That is a fair point.

Let me read to you another e-mail from Beau, says "the rest of us living outside the Beltway think the economy needs attention and the Iraq issue should be thought out intelligently before going to war."

Is the president, the point that Beau might be making, many critics of the president maybe, he is trying to score political points for Republicans by making this an issue now a month before the elections?

SEGAL: Well, first of all, Wolf, he's already said that he is not going to invade Iraq or do anything militarily before the election. This debate is legitimate, this debate is an imminent problem. I agree that the economy should be dealt with as well, where are the Democrats on that? They are not dealing with it with any more assertiveness than the Republicans are. The Congress is caught up in this problem of Iraq and terrorism, and the two are linked.

You did a poll a few minutes ago, 24 percent concerned about Iraq, 14 percent concerned about terrorism, 38 percent of the people concerned about those two issues, they are connected.

He, in fact, had Abu Nidal -- just to make a quick point, he asked Abu Nidal, who was a retired extremist terrorist, who had been responsible for 900 deaths, to train the al Qaeda people in Baghdad, Abu Nidal said no, he was sick with cancer. He wound up getting assassinated.

BLITZER: Cynthia, go ahead. You will have the last word. TUCKER: Well, it's true that many more people are concerned about the economy, which is not being dealt with at the moment. Do I think the president has focused on Iraq just to draw attention away from the economy? No. But I do think that he's using the timing, with midterm elections coming up, to play to the Republican strength, which is seen to be foreign policy and national defense.

BLITZER: All right. Cynthia Tucker here in Atlanta, thanks for joining us. Mike Segal in New York, thanks for your joining us as well.

SEGAL: Thank you, Wolf.


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