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Military Strikes Against Iraq: A Show of Power or an Exercise in Futility?

Aired February 16, 2001 - 7:30 p.m. ET



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Saddam Hussein has got to understand that we expect him to conform to the agreement that he signed after Desert Storm. We will enforce the no-fly zone.


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, U.S. and British warplanes attack five Iraqi military sites. Was it the right thing to do?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE: Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and in New York, Richard Perle, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

PRESS: Good evening, welcome to CROSSFIRE. Administrations come, administrations go, but some things never change. The United States and Great Britain bombed Iraq today. While President Bush was in Mexico on his first foreign foray, 24 fighter planes carried out his orders, striking five different Iraqi military sites; action taken in retaliation for Iraq's increased violations of the no-fly zones sent Pentagon General Gregory Newbold.

Traveling with President Bush, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer insisted that today's mission was just part of routine operations. But others see the combined U.S.-U.K. bombings as Bush carrying out his campaign promise to get tougher on Iraq.

Whatever the motive, today's action rekindles that old debate. What is the best way to deal with Saddam Hussein and if previous air strikes haven't forced him to change his behavior, why would this one -- Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Richard Perle, welcome. The explanation given by the United States government for the bombing was self- defense, but this is one of the strangest exercises of self-defense I have seen in any of the history I read. There was no American planes shot down; no American planes hit. This wasn't self-defense, was it? It was just an attempt to finally show a lesson, give a lesson to Saddam Hussein. RICHARD PERLE, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Well, I hope it had at least that purpose, but there is an element, an important element of self-defense here. The Iraqis have been confronting our aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone with increasing frequency. Already, early in the year, as often as they did in the whole of last year, they're becoming more aggressive, and it was time -- the administration said two things. One, is no more Mr. Nice Guy, and the second is we are going to enforce the no-fly zone and this is a president who is going to keep his promise.

NOVAK: And nonetheless, we suffered no planes shot down, none are hit. But I want you to listen, Mr. Perle, to the distinguished Iraqi diplomat, I know him well and perhaps you know him, Nizar Hamdoon, and after we enter his country and bomb his country, this is what he had to say. Let's listen to it.


NIZAR HAMDOON, IRAQ FOREIGN MINISTRY: It is well-known and it is on record that Iraq welcomes any diplomatic approach, any meaningful approach that goes beyond the bombing and use of force. And this is the civilized way of doing business. Hopefully, that one day this administration or whatever administration the in future will resort to this in dealing with Iraq and Iraq will respond positively.


NOVAK: Let me correct myself, this was prior to the bombing, Ambassador Hamdoon. Why don't we take up the Iraqis on the willingness to negotiate, and perhaps get out of this constant state of war that we have been with them for all these years, these last 10 years.

PERLE: Let me say first that Mr. Hamdoon, who we've just heard, who used the word civilization, should be ashamed of himself. He works for one of the great thugs of 20th century, for a man who has used poison gas against innocent civilians. He is part of a Mafia- style administration.

I don't think you use normal diplomacy to deal with thugs, and that's what we have to deal with in Saddam Hussein. He understands one thing and one thing only, and that is strength, and for too long now we have not demonstrated the strength and resolve. We now have adult supervision in Washington, and things are going to be very different from here on in, and the sooner Saddam understands that, the better for Saddam.

PRESS: Ted Galen Carpenter, I happen to be a dove most of the time when it comes to military activity, but in this case it seems to me that the case is pretty clear. We fought a war against Saddam Hussein 10 years ago. We won the war. He signed an agreement agreeing to certain terms, and he consistently violates those agreements. President Bush in Mexico today, I think laid it out very clearly what we've got to do.

Please listen to the president. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Saddam Hussein has got to understand that we expect him to conform to the agreement that he signed after Desert Storm. We will enforce the no-fly zone both south and north. Our intention is to make sure that the world is as peaceful as possible.


PRESS: So, he violates the terms, he gets slammed. What's the problem?

TED GALEN CARPENTER, CATO INSTITUTE: Well, I think, Bill, the very fact that we're here, 10 years after the end of Desert Storm, talking about what do about Iraq suggests that the policy is a failure. We basically have a policy that is supported by fewer and fewer countries. The old Gulf War coalition is essentially down to the United States, Britain, Kuwait and sometimes Saudi Arabia.

We have a policy that basically has two components. One, the embargo that devastates the Iraqi people but barely inconveniences Saddam and his cronies, and then the other component, periodic largely pointless bombing.

We need a new policy. One that will be directed by and supported by the countries in the region that have the most at stake, not so that we are the nanny of the Persian Gulf for decades to come. We could be here a decade from now talking about the same topic in the same way.

PRESS: Well, there's no doubt why some of these partners in the coalition have peeled away because they want to sell oil and make some money out of Iraq, but if we're still where we were 10 years ago, I would suggest maybe it's Saddam Hussein's fault and not ours.

Look, the guy is clearly building weapons of mass destruction. He is probably building chemical weapons. We don't have inspection teams there. All we've got is the ability to enforce these no-fly zones. If we don't even do that, how do we have any credibility left in the world?

CARPENTER: Bill, let me say first of all, Saddam Hussein is indeed a thug. I certainly will not shed a tear if something unpleasant happens to the man. Unfortunately, though, we have to have a more imaginative policy than we do now.

The countries in the region have the wherewithal to contain any Iraqi threat. Let me just point out something. The countries that directly border on Iraq, to say nothing of other countries in the region who would have it in their best interests to limit Iraqi ambitions, have four times the military personnel of Iraq, five times the combat aircraft, and six times the battle tanks.

There are ingredients in place in the region to have a reasonable balance of power. The United States does not always have to be the point man in every crisis. This is one where we ought to defer to the countries in the region, to other interested parties such as the European Union countries and Russia, and let them take the lead on policy.

They have a lot more at stake. Iraq is a lot closer to them than Iraq is to us. If Iraq poses a threat, it's more of a threat to them than it is to us.

NOVAK: Richard Perle, let me take up some of the issues that Mr. Carpenter made. For example, the great coalition of the Gulf War where we had Egyptians, we had the Saudi Arabians, we even had the Syrians, we had French; all we are now is the United States with the British as a junior partner.

Now, you are a keen student of international geopolitics, isn't that alarming that we -- that the French have dropped out of this, and we and the British are standing against the whole world and a lot of people up at the United Nations don't like very much when we decide unilaterally we are going to bomb Iraqis.

PERLE: Look, I think what we have seen in the deterioration of the coalition is a major failure of American policy, a failure of leadership, a failure of resolve, and Carpenter is right, a failure of imagination.

American policy for the last eight years was to harbor the illusion that the sanctions were a sufficient policy and they were not and they cannot be. So, it is not surprising that the countries closest to Saddam, observing a feckless American policy marked by occasional pin-prick attacks and a leaky embargo, have grown restive and nervous and uneasy and feel threatened by Saddam.

An imaginative policy would be aimed at removing Saddam from office. It's the only thing that is going to produce stability in the region and protect the United States from his drive to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and I hope that what we're seeing is the beginning of a strategy to do exactly that, drive him out of office.

CARPENTER: Richard, you continue to indulge in the illusion that the countries of the region are just looking for an even more hard- line U.S. policy and that they will embrace that. In fact, most of the countries in the region, to say nothing of most of the European Union countries and Russia and other parties, want a more normal relationship with Iraq. Right or wrong, that is what they want.

And I think if we pursue a harder line policy, we will merely drive them away faster from supporting a policy toward Iraq. The vigorous display of leadership is not going to get them to support a policy they regard as stupid and misguided.

NOVAK: Mr. Perle...

PERLE: What they want is an effective policy and they haven't had the option for the last eight years. I think they will now get that from an administration that is very much more committed, as the president indicated during the campaign, to dealing decisively with Saddam Hussein. I hope what we are seeing is the beginning of a strategy that must include, and I'm confident will include, significant support for the internal opposition to Saddam Hussein, for the Iraqi National Congress and other Iraqi freedom fighters and I'd be surprised if we're debating this a year from now.


NOVAK: I want to get to that with you later, Mr. Perle, but before we do, I want to bring up one unpleasant thing, and that is that Saddam Hussein is beating the anti-Israeli propaganda drum loudly today, saying this was an attack by the United States and Israel.

Isn't this disconcerting from the standpoint of American foreign policy that we are losing support in Islam, that the Muslim countries are turning against us, that the recent murder of Palestinian demonstrators by armed Israeli troops, again, has increased an anti- American sentiment? Isn't that something for an American foreign policy to worry about?

PERLE: Bob, I believe that Arabs, like Americans, like Europeans, gravitate toward winners, and they have contempt for losers. We've had a losing strategy with respect to Iraq. It's been indecisive. It's been inconclusive. It couldn't possibly have led to a decisive result. When they see us prepared to take Saddam off and deal with him effectively, we will have support among his neighbors. I have talked to many of those neighbors, and I have no doubt that if we're serious, they will be with us.

NOVAK: OK, we're going to have to take a break and when we come back, we'll find out how, just how, we're going to take Saddam on in the next year.


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Another President Bush and another bombing of Iraq. But what's next? Is there an end game? Is there a plan to get rid of Saddam Hussein? We're asking Richard Perle, resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, he's in New York; and here Washington, Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy at that Cato Institute -- Bill Press.

PRESS: Mr. Carpenter, I'm going to talk about the politics of this for second. You know, during the campaign, then-Governor Bush promised he was going to get tough on Iraq, I mean, even though President Clinton had struck five times, Iraq, during his presidency, now President Bush said when get there, he was going to get tougher. So you can't be surprised that three weeks into his administration, he's got fighter planes bombing Iraq, can you?

CARPENTER: I'm not terribly surprised. I think he wanted to establish the macho-credentials of his administration. There had been a lot of talk that adversaries of the United States might try to test the new administration. I think in many ways this was a preemptive strike, giving message not only to Saddam Hussein, but to anyone else that might think of challenging U.S. power.

PRESS: Now, I want to pick up on something the Mr. Perle said because you've got, you know, the old Desert Storm crew back in the White House. Dick Cheney is back there. Colin Powell is at State. Bush's son now in the White House. Do you see, do you agree that they're going to try to finish the job they didn't do 10 years ago and as Mr. Perle suggests take Saddam Hussein out within the next year?

CARPENTER: I think there's a very good chance that they're going to try that. They would prefer to...

PRESS: Is that the policy that you're looking for?

CARPENTER: Well, I would anticipate that that is likely to happen. I don't have any way of knowing for certain. But I think the administration is likely to support the Iraqi National Congress, the opposition to Saddam Hussein, the so-called democratic opposition.

With all due respect to Richard Pearl, though, my niece's Girl Scout troop has about as much chance as taking out Saddam Hussein as the Iraqi National Congress does. If Saddam Hussein falls from power, and I think he will at some point, it's likely to be as a result of an assassination from a member of the military hierarchy.

That's been tried before. Coups have been tried. they failed but some point his luck is going to run out. The Democratic opposition, though, has two problems. It's not very democratic and it just isn't much of an opposition.

PERLE: Ted, I'd like to meet your niece's Girl Scout troop because I know the opposition we are talking about. I know large number of the individuals associated with it. They are serious. They are dedicated. They're prepared to take risks to rid their country of the scourge of Saddam Hussein, and it is entirely unjustified to dismiss them with a clever quip.

They have risked their lives in the past. A third of the country in the north and a good section of the south were not under Saddam's control and could be returned to the control of the opposition very quickly with support from the United States.

NOVAK: Richard Perle, I want to -- I'm very interested to explore with you how Saddam Hussein is gone from the scene within one year, and first place let's rule out what's not going to happen, you're not suggesting in any way that we are prepared at this time, without coalition partners, to send an army of a million -- of a half a million men and a commensurate air force to Saddam to finish the war that was waged 10 years ago? You're not suggesting that, are you?

PERLE: No, certainly not. I don't think that's necessary. What is necessary is to get behind the legitimate opposition, and to say they're not democratic, by the way, is unfair. They act using democratic means to achieve consensus. They have a manifesto that is democratic in word, in deed.

What we need to do is get behind that opposition, help them to operate politically in Iraq, in those parts of the country that are not under Saddam's control. This will -- this political challenge to Saddam will lead ultimately to piercing the veil of his invincibility. NOVAK: How did we get...

PERLE: When it becomes clear that he is not invincible, you will see a rise against Saddam from quarters you can't even begin to predict.

NOVAK: How do we -- how do we get behind them, Mr. Perle? Do we send do we send a CIA -- I guess we don't even have those kind of irregular forces like we used to put into Laos or do we send them arms? Do we send money? What do you mean get behind them?

PERLE: Sure, well the Congress voted support for the Iraqi opposition. It took the form of something called the Iraq Liberation Act. It's provided funding for radio broadcasts so that they can break Saddam's monopoly on communications. It's provided support for a political operation in northern Iraq.

NOVAK: And that's going to bring down Saddam? You really believe?

PERLE: Look, in 1996, when the Iraqi National Congress was well- established in the north of Iraq, there were very substantial defections of the Iraqi military forces over to the opposition. That will happen again, once they are established politically in those parts of the country beyond his control.

PRESS: Mr. Carpenter, we have just about a minute left. Before we get -- feel that we're into full-scale warfare here, I just want to establish one point with you. I mean, every day, the British and American planes that are flying over and enforcing this no-fly zone, every day recently they've been shot at. Many times, they return fire.

Condoleezza Rice today said that four times in the last three weeks, we have fired missiles at these installations. So, isn't what happened today maybe a little bit higher because the commander-in- chief had to approve it, but basically it's really part of a routine operation over there, isn't it.

CARPENTER: Yes, I think the current incident has been hyped a lot. I want to say just one thing, though with regard to the Iraqi National Congress. This is a motley collection of some 90 organizations ranging from Islamic fundamentalists to Marxist- Leninists. They would have no ability to take power without massive U.S. military assistance, and afterwards, we would have to give them plenty assistance to stay in power, This would be the mother of all nation-building missions, eclipsing anything in Bosnia or Kosovo.

PRESS: All right, we're not going to solve it, the rest of it tonight. We're out of time. Mr. Ted Galen Carpenter, thank you very much for coming to the studio tonight. Richard Perle up in New York, thank you so much for joining us.

And when we come back, Commander Novak and I will have our solutions on how to you deal with Saddam Hussein. Closing comments coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Bill, at the risk of agreeing with you, I think this little bombing raid has been hyped out of all, all comprehension, and it will soon be forgotten. You know, I really don't believe that it is of the vital national interests of America exactly who governs Iraq, and the way to deal with Saddam is to try something we've never tried: Sit down, negotiate with him, try to make a deal with him, lift the sanctions. It might work, but I know one thing, this -- we're just continuing the Clinton policy and it's not going to work.

PRESS: Well, Bob, here's the problem, I think, with Saddam Hussein. Number one, I don't think you can trust him, particularly if he's not keeping the agreements. And the fact is this is February 16th, there have been as many missiles shot at our planes so far this year as there were all last year. So I think the guy...

NOVAK: How many have hit?

PRESS: None of them have been hit so far, but that means they're coming closer to our planes and they're coming more and more often. Our pilots are in danger and I think we've got to show the guy we're not going to tolerate that.

NOVAK: But you know, I -- there is -- as a liberal, I'm not even a liberal. I'm not even warm-hearted, Bill, and I would you think as a warm-hearted liberal you would worry about what we've been doing to children and the ordinary civilians of Iraq with these sanctions and maybe, that -- this is the answer that this something we ought to pull away from.

PRESS: But I blame him, not us, Bob. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE. Have a good weekend.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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