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Caspar Weinberger: Rebuild neglected military

Caspar Weinberger was Defense Secretary during the Reagan Administration, as well as holding high-ranking positions in both the Nixon and Ford administrations. His recently published autobiography is called "In the Arena: A Memoir of the 20th Century." He joined the chat room from Washington, DC.

CNN: Welcome to, Caspar Weinberger. Thank you very much for joining us today.

WEINBERGER: I'd like to thank you for inviting me. I appreciate it, and look forward to it.

CNN: You've served as a cabinet member for three administrations. How well is the U.S. strategically and militarily prepared to fight a war of the present scope and nature?

WEINBERGER: I'll put it this way... not as well prepared as we should be. We lost a great deal of our military capability during the eight Clinton years, and we have to regain that while fighting a war that was totally unexpected. We're not doing as well as we could be.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Mr. Weinberger, it took you less than 30 words to blame the conditions today on Bill Clinton. Why should we even accept anything you say as being non-partisan?

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WEINBERGER: I never claimed to be non-partisan. The criticism of Clinton was based entirely on the neglect and the way in which he allowed the military to lose effectiveness. We've lost about 40 percent of the effectiveness of the military that we had when we won our stunning victory in the Gulf War. Just the Army... we had about 925,000 after the Gulf War, and now, at the start of the next war, we're down to less than 460,000. That's just one service. We've also had procurement holidays, not acquiring the weapons we need. Clinton cut the funding for research and development that produced weapons that enabled us to win the Gulf War at such little cost. We've also lost substantial air and sea lift, the ability to move troops rapidly to where they need to go. We've also lost substantial arms capabilities because of these procurement holidays. Finally, Clinton used this military that he allowed to be weakened, and called on them to participate in a large number of overseas combat situations that did not serve the security interests of our country. These are not partisan statements, they are sad facts.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: If we are not doing as well militarily, what do you believe needs to be done? I think many would agree that the events in Afghanistan have moved quite rapidly

WEINBERGER: I agree, it's moved far more rapidly than anyone thought possible. We're using the right tactics, helping the anti-Taliban, anti-terrorist groups. We even used the Air Force as field artillery, putting down a rolling barrage in front of the advancing Northern Alliance. This broke the Taliban troops, sent them fleeing south, and now there's no more room to flee. Now we need to find a democratic government that can work with all the groups.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: After Mullah Omar and bin Laden are captured, do you not have a fear that these tribal leaders will attempt to re-establish what may amount to a feudal system in the country with little generals expanding their territories by warring with neighbours ?

WEINBERGER: All we can do is say that what we have now is completely impossible and unsupportable, and that it's vital that we make changes and offer the opportunity to have a normal government. I hope that that will proceed, and we won't have another set of groups warring against each other, as we've had for far too long. There's more hope now, with the Taliban gone, and al Qaeda about to be dismantled.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you see any difference between what Arafat is to Hamas and what Omar is to al Qaeda?

WEINBERGER: I don't know enough about Arafat... my impression is that he doesn't have control over the various groups in the area, and he's either unwilling or unable to keep promises to stop terrorism. Either way, we're dealing with someone who isn't an effective leader. He can make promises, but he's not able to keep them, even if he wants to.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you think the U.S. should have continued to Baghdad and push Saddam from power back in the Gulf War?


CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why do you think the Soviets turned down Reagan when he offered them the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) technology?

WEINBERGER: I think they were very much afraid that we would get that technology, and we wouldn't be able to handle it. They still oppose every possible suggestion that we try to defend ourselves against them. The reason is that they made a huge investment, and don't want anyone to be able to defend, and they've tried and failed, and they don't want us to succeed. It's imperative that we acquire and deploy such a defense, and the terrorist incidents underline the need for it.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Mr. Weinberger, America's national defense didn't work very well on September 11. In fact, cell phones seemed to communicate the situation faster. Why is that?

WEINBERGER: I think the communication of the horrible events was very rapid. I don't have a problem with that. It was the events themselves by people who had planned to do this for two years, who took advantage of the freedoms of our country to plan that, planning their own suicides, using our commercial planes as missiles. I don't think there's any way that could have been foreseen, unless we had a much better communication system, spies that could infiltrate that pass on the information. We lost that information in the sixties when the Church Commission managed to convince people that spying was a dirty business, and that democracies shouldn't use it. What they forgot is that democracies need to have eyes and ears, and without it, we will take substantial losses in the future.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Mr. Weinberger, the administration has stated that its objective in Afghanistan is to remove the Taliban from power and create an example for other governments currently or potentially thinking about harboring terrorists. In your view have we now met that objective and what is the next appropriate action?

WEINBERGER: I don't know that we've fully met that, because there are still Taliban and al Qaeda, and Osama is still in a cave somewhere. But we're making remarkable progress, and we'll complete our objectives soon. The next objective is to hunt down and eliminate terrorism in other places, and in my opinion, one of the prime targets for that will be Iraq.

CNN: Do you have any closing comments for us today, Secretary Weinberger?

WEINBERGER: The ultimate outcome of all this really depends on the patience and willingness of the American people to participate in and accept for a longer period of time than we'd like, some restrictions on our freedom, and some wartime problems. We are at war. We've been attacked, and it's vital that we defend ourselves. That's what we're doing now in Afghanistan, preventing future attacks on our country. That's why I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you. I hope my comments contribute to achieving that.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Secretary Caspar Weinberger.

WEINBERGER: Thank you very much.

Caspar Weinberger joined chat room via telephone from Maine. CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the interview, which took place on Friday, December 07, 2001


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