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Is the President's Plan for Missile Defense Practical?

Aired June 13, 2001 - 19:30   ET



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can't imagine a world that continues to be locked in a Cold War mentality when the Cold War is over.


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Tonight, President Bush tries to sell his missile defense plan. But is NATO buying? And will he ever be able to close the deal with Congress?


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: And to commit to billions, to tens of billions of dollars to deployment, to a system that we don't know works just seems to be backwards to most of us.


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Tucker Carlson. In the crossfire, Republican Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire, and Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler from Florida, member of the International Relations Committee.

CARLSON: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. The Bush charm offensive continues its long march across Europe.

The president met with NATO leaders in Brussels today. He gave Tony Blair a new nickname, "landslide," a reference to the British prime minister's recent re-election. And Mr. Bush made his case for a missile defense system and against the ABM Treaty.

"It's time to shed the Cold War mentality," the president said.

The response was more friendly than expected. The Dutch weren't impressed, and neither were the French or the Germans. But a host of other nations seemed open-minded. The prime minister of Italy even suggested that his country might participate in a missile defense project.

Yet even with Italian support, the plan faces trouble at home. Democrats in Congress remain wary. Can the president sell Star Wars to a Senate his party no longer controls? And if he can, will missile defense work? The debate rages on both sides of the Atlantic.


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: And rages here. Senator Smith, welcome back.

SEN. BOB SMITH (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Good evening to you, Bill.

PRESS: I'm really surprised at you, because, I mean, I've known you for a long time as a good, solid conservative, and here's a government program that costs all this money and doesn't work. I would expect you to be against it.

So let me help you out by maybe reminding you a little bit of why you should be against it. Here's a man by the name of Peter Wilk from Physicians for Social Responsibility -- appeared on CNN yesterday afternoon.

Let's listen please.


PETER WILK, PHYSICIANS FOR SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: It's hard to believe that 20 years after President Reagan first introduced this misguided scheme that we are again faced with these kinds of questions.

Back then, we in PSR devised a simple way to illustrate the folly of the misguided scheme: That is the Star Wars umbrella.


Would you like to go out in a rain storm with an umbrella like this?


PRESS: Would you? Why are you for this turkey?

SMITH: Well, you know, when we -- let me ask you, Bill. We haven't fund a cure for cancer yet, so we should stop trying. Correct? I mean, the point here is that this does work, it will work. We've had 12 successful hits bullet on bullet in the years of research that we've done this, in the tests that we've done. And the truth of the matter is we need to keep moving on it because we need to do it to protect the United States of America. It's that simple.

PRESS: Well, senator, we've spent since 1984 $140 billion researching Star Wars, various proposals, various different systems. No one of those systems is in place today. No one of those systems has been proven to work.

The Pentagon most recently, at the beginning of this month said, the last three tests, they all three failed. How much more money down this rat hole?

SMITH: Bill, you know, it's a very impressive argument, and I know that the critics of the system make that argument. But the truth is I don't care what you test, what you build, you have failures. You always do. You have to test and test and test until you get it right, and we are testing and we are getting it right.

We have had successes. You don't hear a lot about them. You'll hear a lot about the cost. What's the cost of building San Francisco from the rubble in human life, and in just the cost, the cost of rebuilding all of those structures? I mean, that's a cost that we can't really comprehend, and I don't want to have to ever deal with it.

CARLSON: Now, Congressman Wexler, the real headline here is how popular missile defense turns out to be among the Europeans. I'll read you a partial list of countries that have said they're open to this idea: Hungary, Poland, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, Great Britain, Turkey. And I want to read you a quote from Vaclav Havel, Czech president. He says: "The new world we're entering cannot be based a mutually assured destruction. The role now is for defense. The Cold War is over."

So against Vaclav Havel and this enormous array of European countries we have the Dutch and you. You are the only two groups, the Democrats and the Dutch, who don't appear to know that the Cold War is over. Wake up, Congressman Wexler, it's over!

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: Yes. You're right, it is over. And it's ironic, because President Bush is presenting the argument that the ABM Treaty is a relic of the past. If you think about it, it's exactly the opposite. It is President Bush's presentation that the threat that America faces most is the notion of an intercontinental ballistic missile coming at us. That's a relic of the past.

The thing that threatens us most, all of our intelligence people say so, is coming in the form of a suitcase or a pill box or a boat off our shore or a truck loaded with incredible explosives.

We ought to be going after the bin Ladens of the world and protecting ourselves from that kind of terrorism instead of just investing in unknown technology.

You know, Senator Smith made a really interesting analogy. He said, should we go ahead and stop researching for the cure of cancer just because we haven't found it yet? Of course not. We should do research on missile technology. We should have a robust technology program to develop a system that works.

But I'll tell you what we shouldn't do. Before...

CARLSON: That is what the president is suggesting. You have described the Bush position.


CARLSON: Have you changed sides all of the sudden?

WEXLER: ... deploy. The analogy would be in Senator Smith's example if we start injecting people with a medicine to cure cancer when we have no idea whether it'll even make them sicker.

CARLSON: Then let's hear from the patients here really quickly. It turns out that the Council on Foreign Relations did a little polling on this. Now, we know from previous news stories past that you're a big fan of polls. You've talked about them a lot.

It turns out that most Americans support a missile defense and that fully half of all self-described liberal Democrats support it. So add them to the group of European nations and you're there with the Dutch still. Wake up.

WEXLER: I -- I support a missile defense system, but I support one that works, I support one that is tested, I support one that we develop in concert with our allies that doesn't create an arms race in Russia and China.

What are we going to do when China takes its very limited missile defense program and just blows it up into a major defense program. Then India increases theirs, and then Pakistan increases theirs. Is that a safer world for America?

SMITH: Well, the point is we do have an arms race, Bob. They are doing this because there's nothing that anybody can do to stop them.

They can deploy missiles. There are rogue nations all over the world: Iran, North Korea, China. You name these nations: They're out there building and proliferating these weapons of mass defection. They can deliver a biological, a nuclear or a chemical weapon, and they're going to continue to do it because they know there's no way to stop it.

I think the interesting point in what you said -- I agree with you on all the stuff about suitcases and terrorism and bringing bombs in. Sure, that's a very distinct threat. But so is a missile defense a threat, and we need to protect against all threats to protect our country.

WEXLER: The senator raises the point of Iran. It's very interesting. Today, the House International Relations Committee, the Bush administration came in and opposed the extension of sanctions against Libya and Iran for the next five-year period. That's what we ought to do, make certain that we don't proliferate the technology, make certain that businesses don't participate. The Bush administration doesn't support the sanctions in Iran for the next five years.

PRESS: Senator, I was a little curious to hear Tucker say a moment ago that that's what the president proposes. I don't think that's quite so certain. I really want to ask you, because maybe you know more than I do. I mean, you could have a national missile defense system or a theater missile defense. It could be based in space. It could be based in the sea. It could be based on land.

I mean, can you tell us what is it precisely that President Bush wants to build?

SMITH: Well, first of all -- very good question. I think what we're talking about...

PRESS: Do we know?

SMITH: Yeah, absolutely we know.


SMITH: We need a layered system that we can use on air, land, sea and space to be able to catch a weapon of mass destruction, a rocket, a missile in its boost phase over the homeland, so that we don't catch it like a baseball coming down into the mitt when it's coming down. We want to hit it off the bat. We want to get it when it's fired over the homeland, and we all of those, we integrate all of those -- air, land, sea and space -- to do it. And we can do it. And we have -- the technology has been proven.

And you know, I'm going to say, honestly, in 50 years, 30 years, whatever, they'll watch the tapes of this show and you guys are going to be wrong. Tucker and I are going to be right. It's that simple.

PRESS: Well, yeah, I've been right for 16 years so far. OK, so now we know, according to you...

SMITH: So far, so good. It's like the guy jumping off the Empire State Building saying I'll live as he passed the 30th floor. He said, so far, so good.

PRESS: That's an old joke.

So now we know from you it's going to be air, land, sea and space.

Now, would you agree -- a point the congressman just made earlier -- that before we built it, it ought to be reliably tested and we know the technology will work, so that we've researched now, we don't make a commitment to build now?

SMITH: Well, the law says...

PRESS: Which the president has said he wants to build.

SMITH: Well. the law of the land, which has been signed, says we will build it as soon as it's technologically possible to do it. And that's all the president is saying. Let's move forward. You can't continue -- you can't continue to...

PRESS: That's not what he said today in Europe, senator. He said he is going...


CARLSON: I want to get right to the heart, so I'll ask you a deep question here. A minute ago, you said, well, gee, we don't want to go forward with this because it will irritate and bother the Russians and the Chinese...


... hold it -- or may provoke an arms race. Tell me this...


Hold on. What motive, what possible motive would the Chinese or the Russians have to oppose a purely defensive system? It would make it more difficult for their missiles to hit our cities. I mean, that is the only possible objection that they could have, isn't it?

WEXLER: Well, first of all, I have no problem irritating the Russians or irritating the Chinese. What I do have a problem with is a unilateral decision made by America which endangers America more than we make ourselves secure.

And what will the Chinese think: Are we so naive to think that they just think that we are just a freedom-loving nation that harms no one? I know we are. Senator Smith knows we are. But when we develop a system that then protects Taiwan, as President Bush says in theory he might, from a Chinese attack, then the Chinese are likely to go ahead and build more.

CARLSON: That is totally -- that is out of bounds. Nobody is suggesting that the United States is going to build a missile defense system for Taiwan. I mean, nobody -- that is so out of the realm of the conversation at the...

WEXLER: Well, excuse me. Excuse me. Well, if -- I mean, Taiwan's a strong ally of ours. I would hope we would try to help Taiwan. The president has said this system is not just to protect America, it's to protect our allies. I would hope it would be.

SMITH: I don't want to interrupt you, but how does it endanger America to build a missile defense system to protect our cities and to protect our allies? You just said it would endanger America. How does it endanger America?

WEXLER: Several ways, because first of all, to build this system without testing it, without knowing how much it costs, you need...

SMITH: Well, of course we're testing it. It's not that we're not testing it. Of course we're testing it.


SMITH: That's why you guys are criticizing it, because we've had some failures. You don't talk about the successes, you only talk about the failures.

WEXLER: The Bush administration said they're going to deploy it by the end of the first term, even if it's a half-baked plan with a half-baked kind of notion.

You asked what's the danger. The danger is, in the process, we abrogate the ABM Treaty. I know the president likes to say, oh, this is just a relic of the past, but you know what?

SMITH: It is a Cold War relic.

WEXLER: You know what? It's helped keep the peace for 30 years. It's helped minimize the number of nuclear weapons, and it will also allow us in the future to get other countries to agree not to proliferate.

SMITH: Let me just add this point on the ABM Treaty. It kept the peace because you had two nations, the USSR and the United States, who mutually agreed not to destroy each other.

WEXLER: That's right.

SMITH: That's a heck of a way. Right now, if the president of the United States -- he could have a press conference tomorrow, and he could say: There's a missile coming at us. The Iranians have threatened -- or Chinese, anybody -- have threatened to shoot a missile at us tomorrow, and I'm going to surrender because we can't shoot it down. We cannot defend ourselves against an incoming ballistic missile.

WEXLER: But certainly there was one other aspect: mutual deterrence. The Russians knew and we knew that if they attacked us, we would attack back.

SMITH: Are you comfortable that Saddam Hussein wouldn't use a missile against us or Israel, or any of our allies?

WEXLER: Absolutely not.


SMITH: Well, that's what we're dealing with.


WEXLER: And we ought to do everything we can to make sure he doesn't get that missile.

SMITH: But he's got it. He had it. They already used it in 1991. Ten years ago.

WEXLER: To create the environment in which he and others like him (UNINTELLIGIBLE) makes us less secure.

SMITH: I think you're ignoring reality. PRESS: Senator and Congressman, we're going to pick up on that point when come back. There is this one sticky little issue. It's called the ABM Treaty. What should we do about it? We'll talk about that when we come back, and I want to let you know that Senator Smith has agreed to stick around after the show to answer whatever questions you might have left over after Tucker and I are finished. You can join Senator Smith by logging on to

We'll be right back with more CROSSFIRE.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. In between George W. Bush and building a missile defense system, as we've been saying, stands one big obstacle. It's called the ABM Treaty, banning such systems, which President Nixon signed way back in 1972. So what do we do about it? Abide by it? Ignore it? Revise it? Or junk it?

Debating that issue tonight, Republican Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire, and Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida.

Tucker Carlson?

CARLSON: Congressman, we did a little research, our crack staff, and it turns out that when the ABM Treaty was signed, you were 11 years old.


CARLSON: Much has changed. Not only were you elected to Congress, but the country with whom we signed it, the Soviet Union, no longer exists. There's a kind of Cold War nostalgia, seems to have gripped you, that doesn't want to allow people to admit that things have changed. But, of all people, it turns out the Russians -- the Russians, themselves, realize that the ABM Treaty is outdated, needs to be revised. I want you to listen to the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, who says that the Bush plan, partly to scrap the ABM Treaty, to be -- quote -- "in the interest of preserving and strengthening strategic stability."

So the Russians are onboard. They know the Cold War is over. Why don't you?

WEXLER: Well, Tucker, with all due respect, I think you're now comparing apples to apples. It's apples to oranges. Yes, the ABM Treaty at that time needs to be modified provides for modifications been needs to be modified, and in fact, it provides for modifications. It has been modified in the past. But what President Bush is proposing is not modify it to allow a limited national defense system. What he's saying is, junk it altogether.

And to me, what's the most arrogant part of President Bush's plan, he's not saying: Get rid of the ABM and replace it with this framework so that the peace can be maintained, so we won't have nuclear buildups. What he's saying is: get rid of the ABM, and everybody just trust us, America, we're going to build a system that protects everyone. Does anybody know whether it will work? Does anyone know how much it will cost?

CARLSON: But wait a second. He's saying that the ABM Treaty stands in the way of allowing America to protect itself from nations that were not thought of as threats at the time it was signed -- North Korea, Iraq, Libya. Now, why in the world -- now that these threats have arisen, and they're real threats, and you've admitted they're real threats, why should we allow some document signed 30 years ago when you were 11 years old to stand in the way of protecting ourselves?

WEXLER: And of course, we should never do that. And what the president ought to do is sit down with the Russians and negotiate a new document which allows for a system that is in fact, if it is needed for America's security, and keep it within the bounds of deterring a nuclear build-up.

But don't just arrogantly fly over to Europe and tell the Russians: "Hey, we're building it. Sorry. You guys do what you have to do." And when combine with the other policies of this administration, it gets real dangerous. They don't support Nunn- Lugar, and they don't even recognize the fact that Russia still has an enormous nuclear power.

PRESS: Senator Smith, I want to get back to a point that Congressman Wexler made in the first block, which is what is the real threat today? I mean, let's look at these so-called rogue nation states. And we talk about them all the time. There's North Korea, Iran and Iraq. Not one of them has one missile capable of reaching the United States. So we're going to build -- spend $100 billion defending ourselves against a threat that doesn't exist. Is that it?

SMITH: Well, the three you mentioned may not have that threat today, but China does. And China is very much a part of world, and China is proliferating these weapons of mass destruction around the world to these countries, Bill. And I think that's really the issue.

I think we're really exaggerating the argument here. This is a technologically feasible system. The preliminary tests have shown that, and we need to start methodically and progressively moving forward a segment at a time, to get to a layered missile defense to protect America. That's the right thing to do. It's -- how can you not -- how can you not be supportive of protecting? We have no protection period against an incoming missile.

PRESS: Because I have been following this for 16 years and I haven't seen anything yet. China...

SMITH: If we hadn't had any critics like you guys saying we couldn't do it, we probably have have done it by now.

PRESS: I'm sorry, I wasn't the one who flunked all those tests, Senator. Talk to the Pentagon.

SMITH: We could have put more money in, and had those tests much more successful. PRESS: But the truth of it is, if there is a threat today, and this week, of all weeks, we ought to remember that, it's going to come in a Ryder truck, it's going to come in a briefcase, it's going to come in a van.

I ask you" what good would this $100 billion star wars system do against a guy who walks into a building with a briefcase and a bomb in it?

SMITH: Ask the survivor of an attack on L.A. or San Francisco or Denver.

PRESS: We haven't seen that, but we have seen the World Affairs building and the building at Oklahoma City.

SMITH: With all due respect -- I agree with you. Those are legitimate threats, but they are not the only threats. That's my point.

You can say the guy with the suitcase, and we should definitely, and I are I think trying as hard as we can, to protect against that, but we have to protect ourselves against incoming missiles. You are ignoring a lot of statistical data, a lot of hard evidence of what these countries are doing. You can't ignore that. And we have the means -- we must move forward to build a robust system that protects America.

CARLSON: Congressman Wexler, there are luddites that are saying -- the same ones that would tell the Wright brothers, that get a new hobby, this will never work. Here's a question about motive, please answer it for me: Why in the world would the president propose building a system that wouldn't work? He clearly has access to people who know a lot about the capacity of United States to build a missile defense system. Why in the world would they go forward with something they knew couldn't work? Tell me the conspiracy at work here.

WEXLER: First of all, I'm not saying -- and I don't think anyone would say that this will never work. The issue is, when to make the decision to deploy.

The president, apparently, has already made the decision to deploy. What I and others are saying is, do the research, do the testing, do the negotiation, understand what the costs are, understand what the ramifications are, before you make a decision to deploy. None of that has been done!

And it's ironic, with respect to global warming, where the science is now pretty clear...

CARLSON: It's so far from the point!

WEXLER: Excuse me. The science is there. What does President Bush say? Do more testing before we act. Study.

CARLSON: Speaking of apples and oranges!

WEXLER: With respect to the missile defense system, where the science is totally unclear, he has, don't worry about it!

SMITH: How can we deploy, when we haven't built? Give us a chance to build it; you don't want us to build it.

WEXLER: Test all you want.

CARLSON: We have about five more shows in us here, and I'm sorry we can't continue. Congressman Wexler and Senator Smith, thank you both very much.

Bill Press and I will be deploying our closing comments, shooting down each other's rhetorical missiles. Don't miss it, when we return on CROSSFIRE.


PRESS: Tucker...

CARLSON: Bill...

PRESS: Consistency isn't everything, but last night you were saying, who cares that the Europeans think? Tonight you are saying, they (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Star Wars, so we should like Star Wars. Tucker, which is it? Do we care what Europe thinks or not, that's all I want to know?

CARLSON: Personally, I could care less what Belgium thinks, but it is frosting on the cake. You know what I'm struck by, Bill, the reluctance of some people -- that would mean you -- to move beyond the core.

You really are the Japanese soldier trapped on the Pacific atoll..

PRESS: Oh, nice...

CARLSON: ...emerging from the jungle, is the war over? And my answer to you, Bill, yes, it is. It's a brand-new world; we have to adapt. This is one way to do that.

PRESS: Here's what surprises me: you are buying right into the White House talking points.

CARLSON: That's ludicrous.

PRESS: It is George Bush who has taken us back to the Cold War. This Star Wars is a Cold War mentality.

CARLSON: I am (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Hovel's team when I say, go Star Wars.

PRESS: He hasn't seen it yet. From the left, I'm Bill Press, good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson, join us again tomorrow might for another edition of CROSSFIRE. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT


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