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Showdown Iraq: Sound-Off

Aired November 4, 2002 - 12:46   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: At the moment, Americans are consumed with the mid-term elections. At stake, control of Congress and future votes on such issues of course, as Iraq. Sounding off right now from Watertown, Massachusetts, the former labor secretary, Robert Reich, he's a professor at Brandeis University, and here in Washington, the former presidential candidate, Gary Bauer. He now heads the non- profit organization, American Values.
Thanks, gentlemen, to both of you for joining us.

Gary Bauer, let me begin with you. You just heard Shibley Telhami, a respected Middle East analyst, just back from the Middle East, say even the friendliest, most pro-American allies in the Arab world are not happy with U.S. policy. They don't seem to be overly concerned about Saddam Hussein. Why should the United States be more concerned than they are since they're his neighbors?

GARY BAUER, HEAD, AMERICAN VALUES: Well, I guess the short answer is 9/11. You know, on 9/11 we were painfully reminded that the world is a dangerous place. We know that there are people right now as we're having this conversation feverishly working on ways to kill more Americans than died on the morning of 9/11, and we know that Saddam Hussein is consumed with a desire for revenge, that he's developing weapons of mass destruction, that once he develops them, it's relatively easy to transfer them to some of the worst thugs in the world. So I think the United States, quite frankly, can't worry about public opinion polls in the Middle East. We've got to act in our own self-interest and to protect the American people.

BLITZER: What about that, bob Reich?

ROBERT REICH, FMR. LABOR SECRETARY: The real issue here is what is in the long-term best interest of the United States. I don't think many Americans want to see Saddam Hussein continue there in power but the question is how we remove him without doing more harm than good in terms of our national security interest. If we ignite anti- Americanism to even a further degree than it's already ignited in the Middle East, if we create a breeding ground for more Al Qaeda network kind of anti-Americans who are going to be here in all sorts of ways, in cells, if we actually further the aims of radical Muslims who want to radicalize the entire Middle East, then we are not going to be acting in our own self-interest, and that's the where the whole issue of unilateralism or multilateralism comes down.

BLITZER: Gary Bauer, the elections of course are an important issue tomorrow, getting a lot of e-mail from viewers think that the Republicans in this particular case, the president especially, using Iraq as an issue to try to drum up support for Republican candidates. Anderson from Staten Island writes this: Will Republicans stop beating the war drums against Iraq as soon as the elections are over? Gary, what do you say?

BAUER: No, I don't think we will. I don't think the Republican party will because this is an issue that transcends the election. This has defined the Bush presidency over the last year. He's really made it very clear that he intends to remove Saddam Hussein from power. So I don't think it has anything to do with the election cycle. I would just say to my friend, Robert, that anti-Americanism is something that we have to be concerned about, obviously, but we got absolutely no benefit from going in on the side of Muslims in Afghanistan, in Bosnia, in rescuing Kuwait against Iraq ten years ago, so I don't think we can make these complicated calculations about where public opinion in the Middle East may be. If we are successful in removing Saddam Hussein, I think the benefits will be extraordinary and suddenly, everybody will like the idea, including the carpers and critics we're dealing with now.

BLITZER: Bob Reich, do you want to respond to that? You can add Bosnia to the mix as well. There were Muslims rescued by the U.S. in Bosnia.

REICH: Well, only that not only do we risk inflaming and radicalizing the Middle East, but we also have to deal with the question of the occupation of Iraq. Iraq, as we know, has Sunni Muslims, we have Shiite Muslims, we've got the Kurds, a very unstable environment. We are going to have to be there for years. I'm not saying we shouldn't do it, but we ought to be considering all of the downsides as well as the radicalization.

But, Wolf, your question a moment ago had to do with Iraq and this election. And let me just say this. It is clear that and judging from the opinion polls we heard on your program just a moment ago, Iraq is not playing a huge part directly in voters' decisions. Nevertheless, the war mongering and the preparations for war over the last two months have driven the economy and corporate corruption off the front pages, and that has undoubtedly been helpful to the Republicans.

BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt for a second, Bob Reich. When you say war mongering, that's a serious accusation against this administration. Is that what you meant to say, war mongering?.

REICH: Yes, I certainly meant to say it. Now, I'm not saying that everybody in the administration has calculated this war and this timing with politics in mind. Undoubtedly there are some very competent and able people in the administration who genuinely believe that now is exactly the right time to make preparations for war against Saddam Hussein, but there are people in the White House and the administration who have selected this time. It's not an accident that two months before the election, we see a lot of preparation, a lot of discussion, a lot of anticipation, a lot of questioning over Saddam Hussein. We didn't see it five months ago; we didn't see it eight months ago. And with regard to the economy and also corporate corruption, those were two issues that were huge before the Iraqi war took over the front pages.

BLITZER: Those are serious allegations. And I want Gary Bauer to respond. And remember, Gary, that Karl Rove, the political adviser to the president inside the White House months ago was suggesting openly, publicly, that issues like national security, Iraq, national security were potentially good issues for Republican candidates to run on.

BAUER: Well, you know, my opponent today, Bob, is a good man, and the charge he just made is beneath him I think. Do people in the White House, in any White House think about the political implications of big issues that are in the headlines? Of course they do. But the idea that anybody in the White House, including the president, has calculated this or timed it on a matter so important it involves the lives of our sons that are going to be in harm's way, that involves the national security of the American people, has somehow timed that on this election cycle is ludicrous. There are all sorts of reasons that this thing has come to a head now, and I would think that Bob, given the administration he served in, would not want to go down the road of suggesting that a president may time foreign policy events to deal with his political interests.

BLITZER: All right, Bob Reich, go ahead and respond.

REICH: Well, I'm not suggesting the president was the one who actually started the political calculation here. But undoubtedly there were people in the White House, in fact, Wolf, you just referred to one member of the White House staff who had this in mind. The Democrats have had a very, very difficult time, but it's not only because of the Iraqi war preparations, but the Democrats have had a very, very difficult time in this election cycle making the economy the kind of issue it could be for the Democrats.

And I blame them as much as I blame the Iraqi -- preparations for the Iraqi war. The Democrats simply have not had a solution to the economic problems. This is the most anemic recovery, if it is a recovery, we've seen in many, many business cycle, and the Democrats should have been able to make a much bigger issue of this as well as corporate corruption.

BLITZER: Let me just wind up with that point, Gary Bauer, and get your reaction. Bob Reich did make a valid point. All the talk about terrorism, potential war with Iraq, has put those issues, corporate corruption, the Enron scandals, for example, a little bit off the front pages, off the main news segments, and maybe that's an indirect benefit. Would you be would you be willing to acknowledge that?

BAUER: I think there could be some benefit, obviously, for the Republican party, because it's a party that's generally thought of by the American people as a party that can be trusted on national defense issues and national security and so forth. But I'll say, Bob and I do agree on something -- I'm glad we arrived at that point -- and that is that the Democrats did not put up any kind of viable economic alternative other than taking away tax cuts. And I think that's a losing issue. And, in fact, if the Democrats were campaigning on that in these key Senate races around the country, it wouldn't even be a close call what's going to happen tomorrow, Republicans would sweep.

BLITZER: We'll have you back to debate tax cuts and other domestic economic issues on another occasion, Gary Bauer and Robert Reich, thanks. Thanks to both of you for joining us. Always good to have you on the program.


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