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Interviews With Gary Hart, Brent Scowcroft

Aired August 20, 2003 - 20:06   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The attack in Baghdad, as well as yesterday's bus bombing in Jerusalem, are painful reminders that terrorists can strike any time anywhere. Will we see similar attacks here?
Former U.S. Senator Gary Hart co-chaired a commission that issued a series of reports on the risks of terrorism in the United States. The reports came out before September 11 and actually predicted a major attack on the United States on U.S. soil. A more recent report pointed out weaknesses in the U.S. power grid. Gary Hart joined me a short time ago from Denver.


ZAHN: Senator Hart, always good to see you. Welcome.

GARY HART, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: A great pleasure. Thank you.

ZAHN: So what is it that you read into yesterday's violent attack in Baghdad?

HART: Well, up until yesterday, I would have said we will be in Iraq for four to five years. Today, I'm more in inclined to say nine or 10 years.

ZAHN: And why that particular timeline?

HART: It's arbitrary.

I got to listen to part of the interview with Senator McCain. I was struck by a phrase that he used, properly explain to the American people; they will support this war. Well, those in favor of the war have had nine months to explain the war, starting last fall. And some of us urged the president and others in the administration to tell the American people how long we would be there, what the costs would be, what the probable loss of American lives would be in more explicit terms.

And I think, if that had been done October, November, December, there would be more public support. But I think that's going to be eroding if we have many more incidents such as this. Now we're in an occupation mode. We'll be there a long time. It's costing $1 billion a month. And with calls -- I think Senator McCain yesterday said we're going to have increase our troop levels there. That's going to increase the cost and the loss of American lives.

And I think the president really would be well advised to go on national television right this minute and be as candid and forthright with the American people about cost of lives and cost of tax dollars as quickly as he can.

ZAHN: And if the president does that, would you subscribe to the view that he should use the language of a potential quagmire here?

HART: Oh, of course not. Well, he's not about to do that. But if he says, we are going to be in this country, rebuilding it, for the next five to 10 years, I think that speaks for itself.

ZAHN: What did this nation learn about our vulnerability on the night that some 50 million Americans and Canadians lost power?

HART: I think, as you know, both the U.S. Commission on National Security that Senator Rudman and I chaired and the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force we co-chaired a year after 9/11 forecast the vulnerability of the energy distribution systems, part of the critical infrastructure of this country.

And all the blackout did was prove that case. We're a long way from even beginning to harden or secure those critical structures, such as energy, communications, finance transportation. This is going to be a long and costly proposition. And we're -- we haven't gone from zero to one yet, let alone 10.

ZAHN: Do you think we gave potential terrorists out there an actual blueprint?

HART: No. I think they're smart and I think they already knew about that vulnerability. And they will, I'm sure, seek to take advantage of it as quickly as they can.

ZAHN: So what you're basically saying tonight, you don't believe we are appreciably safer as we head into the two-year marker of September 11 than we were in 2001?

HART: I guess the key word is appreciably. In some areas, the beginning of coordination among federal agencies is certainly occurring since the official creation of the new department March 1 of this year.

But we have a long way to go before we're sufficiently integrated or appreciably integrated from the federal down to the state and local governments, in terms of training and equipment and financing of local security. And we haven't begun the coordination of the public sector, namely government, and the private sector, namely private industry, such as the energy industry.

ZAHN: So you believe the American public today has a false sense of security?

HART: I'm not quite sure what -- I think the public, at least that I've talked to, around the country is confused and not sure.

They hear from Secretary Ridge and Attorney General Ashcroft that we're on top of the problem. But, on the other hand, at the local level, they're not seeing it. And I think, in the latter case of liberty, they're increasingly concerned about the sacrifice of too much liberty.

ZAHN: Gary Hart, good of you to drop by. Thanks so much for your time tonight.

HART: A great pleasure. Thank you.


ZAHN: And in today's "Washington Post," former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft writes: "The problems of the Middle East may demand individual attention, but they are also very much interrelated."

And Mr. Scowcroft joins us tonight from Washington.

Always good to see you, sir. Thanks for joining us tonight.


ZAHN: I don't know how much of my conversations you could hear with Senator McCain and also with Senator Hart, both of them indicating they think it's very important to communicate to the American public what a challenge lies on America's hands in the years to come, Senator Hart saying this involvement could go out some nine to 10 years.

Do you believe the American public has a complete understanding of what lies ahead?

SCOWCROFT: I don't know how complete it is, because I believe that the government is learning as we go along.

The expectation in Iraq was that we, in fact, we're going to be liberating, rather than occupying and, after removing the leadership, the infrastructure and the society would pick up and carry on. That obviously is not the case. So we're learning as we go along. And I think that we have to expect -- I don't know whether Gary Hart is right in his estimates -- but we'll be there a long time.

ZAHN: Senator McCain saying that mistakes have been made, but we all need to move on. What mistakes do you think have been made?

SCOWCROFT: Well, I think one of the mistakes was, we put too much stock in estimates that the military operation would be a cakewalk -- and it pretty much was -- but that the aftermath would be one of just getting rid of the top Baathist and Saddam Hussein people and then turning the system back to the Iraqi people.

But, in the meantime, the society collapsed and we're facing increasing hostility. And I think we're going to have to put the society back together. And that's going to take a long, long time.

ZAHN: And how difficult do you think it is to convince the American public that this effort is worth even more loss of American life?

SCOWCROFT: I believe you can do it, but I am very worried about a continuation of casualties.

It seems to me, that will be -- do more than anything else to raise questions about what are we doing there and is it worth continual spilling of American blood. And there I think our priority still needs to be on improving security there.

ZAHN: And finally tonight, you write in "The Washington Post" about the potentially fatal deadlock in the Middle East and you say -- quote -- "a deadlock that only the United States can break and keep broken." And you talk about the importance of American leadership.

Do you believe the United States has the ability or will take the aggressive step you need to take to get this road map to peace back on track?

SCOWCROFT: Oh, I believe we have the ability.

But it's a very difficult problem. And the Middle East peace process is different from Iraq, in the sense Iraq now is staying the course, staying steady. But, in the Middle East, if the process does not go forward, it will fall backward into greater chaos. So there, it's not a matter of staying the course. There, we have to improve the course. And these latest -- the latest suicide bombing and then the temporary halt in discussions about Israeli withdrawal, this threatens the road map.

And if both sides don't continue on the road map, it's going to collapse in a greater violence. And we will pay a heavy price. And the only -- the only people who can keep both sides on the road map is the United States.

ZAHN: And I can only give you 10 seconds, sir.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about this next step?

SCOWCROFT: I'm mystic about it

ZAHN: Mystic. And by that, you mean what?

SCOWCROFT: Neither one. Neither one. I think we can do it. Whether we will is a difficult question, because it will not be easy.

ZAHN: Brent Scowcroft, we always appreciate your perspective.

SCOWCROFT: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks so much for joining us tonight.



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