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Showdown: Iraq: Debating War

Aired October 31, 2002 - 12:32   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The latest survey of the Pew Research Center shows support for military action against Iraq is apparently slipping. The majority of the Americans, 55 percent, still support military action. Of those, 23 percent say they only support action with the agreement of U.S. allies, but that 55 percent is a significant drop from August, when 64 percent favored military action against Iraq.
We are continuing to watch all of these poll numbers of course in the days and weeks to come.

Joining us now for our daily debate two Persian Gulf War veterans. Eric Gustafson is the founder of the group Veterans for Common Sense, and Steve Robertson is the legislative director for the American Legion here in Washington.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Eric, let me begin with you. Your group opposes U.S. military action against Iraq. Is that fair?

ERIC GUSTAFSON, VETERANS FOR COMMON SENSE: Yes, that's fair. It's our view that action against Iraq at this time would undermine our national security, not enhance it. I think we cannot afford to replace a dictator with chaos, especially as we deal with a new emerging threat coming from Al Qaeda and other terrorist elements.

BLITZER: Steve, what do you say to that initial thought.

STEVE ROBERTSON, AMERICAN LEGION: Well, first of all, the war has never ended. We accomplished one mission, and that was the liberation of Kuwait. We have another mission ongoing, to maintain the no-fly zone. If necessary, we may take on another mission, getting rid of Mr. Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: Let's go to the e-mails, Eric, we got a question for you from Dennis in Pennsylvania. "Diplomacy cannot work unless both sides approach the negotiations truthfully. Iraq has constantly lied through its teeth. How could we trust them to negotiate honestly." What do you say to, Dennis?

GUSTAFSON: You don't have to have the cooperation from the Iraqi government, necessarily. We saw that with weapons inspections that were on the ground in the 1990s. What you do need is you need the unity of the U.N. Security Council, and hopefully that unity will come together around new, tougher resolutions that will strengthen the mandate that the U.N. had to disarm Iraq, but we're not going to have that by unilaterally going, you know, into war with Iraq. We are just not going to have that support.

BLITZER: Steve, why not give the U.N. weapons inspectors another chance, which is apparently the bush administration's position, and see if they can get the job done peacefully.

ROBERTSON: Truth is in verification, and our inspectors were over there, asked for cooperation. Saddam Hussein has had ample time to cooperate. It's time for the United States to stand up.

BLITZER: All right. Let's get to another e-mail. This one for you, Steve, from James in Missouri. "What provisions are the defense department or the Department of Veterans Affairs making for the long- term results of a war. The administration is not properly taking care of vets from previous wars. There are always long-term results that need to be addressed, and in my opinion, never are."

That's a pretty strong comment from James.

ROBERTSON: Well, James, is absolutely right. When the Gulf War initially ended and we returned back, we had six soldiers that had to receive medical care from both DoD and VA. We're very concerned about the chemical protection equipment that the military is now using, and we're worried about the health and safety of veterans, but we're going to be there making sure that they're taken care of when they return.

BLITZER: Fair point. Eric, we have a question for you from Daniel, who writes this, "Why do we have to put ground troops at risk in Iraq? Why not simply bomb Baghdad, the oil fields and palaces. That will strip Saddam of his power."

In other words, Daniel supporting going to war in effect on the chief, just bombing them and then hoping that will do the trick.

GUSTAFSON: Well, because what comes afterwards. If you utterly destroy Iraq, if you kill tens of thousand, possibly even more, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, then will we see a more moderate regime emerge, or will we see just another dictator? Those are some of the unanswered questions that remain, and there are concerns that we are undermining long-term goals by carrying out a war that will include bombing of the city like Baghdad with five million people.

BLITZER: Steve, what do you say to that?

ROBERTSON: Military veterans are trained to control the intensity of a conflict. We try to inflict minimum damage to civilians and noncombatants. That approach is one approach. It would probably not be the best approach.

BLITZER: You were there, Eric, during the Gulf War, what did you see and what did you do that convinces you now it's not the time to, quote, finish the job, supposedly?

GUSTAFSON: Well, I mean, it's a very different situation. In 1991 I was involved in an operation with the U.S. military as part of an international coalition to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. I mean, this was a case when you had one U.S. member state invade another U.N. member state. The very U.n. charter had been violated, and it was the right thing to do.

In this case, we are the ones that could be violating the U.N. charter by deciding that we will overthrow a sovereign government.

BLITZER: Steve, what do you say about that.

ROBERTSON: First of all, when we got on the plane to leave, I didn't think there was a troop that got on the plane that didn't think we'd be back. It was just a matter of. But I think there are three very important things that have to be done. Number one, we have to have clear objectives of what we're trying to achieve; number two, we need the support of Congress and the American people; and number three, which is probably the most important, we have to have a withdrawal strategy, how are we going to back out?

BLITZER: All right. We will have to unfortunately, leave it there. Steve Robertson and Eric Gustafson, thanks to both of you for joining us.




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