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America's New War: How America Should Respond to Terrorism

Aired September 19, 2001 - 19:00   ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Good evening to CROSSFIRE, a special CROSSFIRE tonight again from the campus of George Washington University in downtown Washington. And we're looking for answers again tonight, how America responds to terrorism.

TUCKER CARLSON: CO-HOST: Our guests tonight, Senator McCain of Arizona with us for the entire show, along with our audience here at George Washington University.

First, we'll go to Wolf Blitzer in Washington for an update on today's events -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much, Tucker.

And here are some of the latest developments in America's new war. More than 100 U.S. war planes have been ordered deployed to the Persian Gulf region, as part of President Bush's anti-terrorism campaign. The operation is tentatively called "Infinite Justice."

Two more air carriers are announcing massive job cuts, in the wake of last week's hijackings. American Airlines says it will lay off at least 20,000 employees, or about 20 percent of its work force. And United Airlines says it too will lay off about 20,000 employees. The company's flight schedule has been drastically reduced since last week's attacks.

Afghan leader Mullah Mohammed Omar says the United States is using Osama Bin Laden, the prime suspect in the terrorist attacks, as a "pretext" to destroy the nation's Islamic system. About 600 Islamic clerics from across Afghanistan are meeting to decide Bin Laden's fate, that after Western demands that Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia hand Bin Laden over.

Civil liberties groups and some lawmakers are criticizing some proposed anti-terrorism laws, that would broaden law enforcement powers. Among the proposals are easier surveillance measures for the FBI, tougher deportation laws and longer detention of suspected terrorists.

President Bush will address Congress tomorrow night, to discuss his administration's response to last week's terrorist attacks. President Bush says he owes the country an explanation of who would do this to the United States and why.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is so important for my fellow Americans, as well as everybody in the world to understand, that America will hold those evil-doers accountable. We don't view this as war of religion in any way, shape or form.


BLITZER: The President's address to Congress is scheduled for 9:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night. CNN tonight of course will bring you the President's remarks live.

The President's National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice says President Bush wants Americans to realize that the war against terrorism will take time and patience. A short time ago, she talked about Mr. Bush's address tomorrow night to Congress.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This is not a speech to announce military action. The President has made clear he intends to be patience, that he is going to review his options, that he is going to look for ways to be effective in whatever it is that we do, and that we are now launched on a long campaign.


BLITZER: Rice also says President Bush continues to make it very clear he will not tolerate any backlash against Muslim, South Asian or Arab Americans.

Fearing possible attacks by the U.S. and its allies, thousands of people have fled Afghanistan in recent days. Along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, tensions are on the rise, as the refugee numbers grow.

CNN's Robert Wiener reports.


ROBERT WIENER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A chaotic scene at the border of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), as thousands of Afghans fearing American reprisal fled into neighboring Pakistan. According to officials here, some 2500 refugees have crossed in the past 24 hours and thousands more, many from Kandahar are waiting to join them.

MOHAMMED NASI HAMAN, REFUGEE: 80 percent left their homes. And they are in fear of a U.S. attack. They are thinking that they may attack today or tomorrow. They don't know what will happen in future.

WIENER: Among those on the run, this American citizen from California.

ABDUN BAGUIL, U.S. CITIZEN: My home is there, my children are there, my wife is there. WIENER: The photographer who took these pictures confronted angry and frustrated people and eventually sought refuge in a customs shed. Surrounded by both Taliban militia and the Pakistani military, identity papers were carefully checked. And those without proper documents were forced to return, but the border itself remains volatile and will become even more so if the United States begins to wage war.

This is Robert Wiener, CNN in Quetta, southwest Pakistan.


BLITZER: Gas prices held steady in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States. There were reports of both supply disruptions and price gouging, but neither boosted the national average. According to a new government report, the average price for regular gas rose up only two-tenths of a penny per gallon. Gas supplies tightened a bit last week when many Americans apparently took to the highways when airlines were grounded.

The FAA began searching for new air marshals today. The marshals will fly on commercial jets to prevent hijackings. They can carry firearms and make arrests to ensure the safety of the crew, passengers and aircraft. The FAA isn't saying how many marshals it wants. The FAA posted advertisements for the positions on its web site.

Sports in New York City resumes at the garden tonight. They will take place at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers are taking on the New Jersey Devils in an NHL exhibition game. This is the first professional sports event in New York City since the terrorist attacks eight days ago.

You're looking at some live pictures now from Madison Square Garden, as the New York Rangers prepare to take on the New Jersey Devils. Let's listen in.


Huge video display at the scoreboard at Madison Square Garden. Garden fans know that scoreboard well and getting ready for the first professional sporting event in New York City since last week's tragic terrorist attack. Garden officials, by the way, told fans to arrive early and expect increased security.

Now let's get back to the CROSSFIRE town meeting at George Washington University. There's Bill Press. Tell all those George Washington University Colonials that I'm a huge fan of their basketball team.


PRESS: Yes, Wolf, we welcome you to campus, too and everybody else to this special CROSSFIRE town meeting.

Today, dozens of warplanes were deployed to the Persian Gulf. And the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt also steamed toward the Mediterranean in the first wave of America's war against terrorism, now called operation "Infinite Justice." What kind of response is planned? How big and how soon? Tonight, we're back at the George Washington University in downtown Washington, looking for answers -- Tucker.

CARLSON: We are joined by Senator John McCain of Arizona. Senator, welcome.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thank you, Tucker, Bill.

CARLSON: We're going to have questions throughout program from our enormous and spirited audience here at George Washington.


But first a question for you, Senator, was this a state-sponsored act?

MCCAIN: There have been reports already that one of these hijackers Atta, Mohamed Atta, believe the name is, met with an Iraqi member of the Iraqi government. I don't know if this specific act or actions were state-sponsored. It's hard for me to imagine that even with his vast material resources and network, that Bin Laden could have done this by himself, but I think we're going to find out. But we do know that other acts of terror were state sponsored.

The Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, Iran was named as a conspirator by the United States government to shoot down a Pan Am 103. Clearly, at least in most people's minds, the government of Libya was involved in it.

So I think that we've had a string of terrorist acts going back to 1983, the Marine barracks in Beirut. And these nations or states are harboring and sometimes assisting these organizations. And that's what President is trying to get at.

PRESS: Senator, in the past, we've struck at terrorism. And in the past, our actions have been surgical. They've been quick. They've been high flying and they've been pretty painless. Is this going to be any different or should it be?

MCCAIN: It has to be. I think it's been pretty painless for both the perpetrator and the recipient. And so, it's nice to see on CNN all the explosions, particularly when they're at night, you see. But the reality is, that it's had very little effect, if any.

In fact, we hit an aspirin factory, I believe, and God knows what that did. I think you could trace back to '83, a number of acts of terror. The Beirut bombing, the shoot down of 103, the Khobar Towers, the USS Cole. I've left out a couple here, a string of acts of terror that were committed and took American lives.

And our response was either legal recourse. Take them to court as in the case of 103 or send some cruise missiles and say everything is fine or move on, maybe not say everything is fine. That's why I think the President is going to talk to the American people tomorrow night and say what he's been saying. We must be patient, my friends. We must be patient. We will win. We will prevail. I promise you we will prevail as long as America remains steadfast.

We are the greatest and strongest nation in the world, but we have to be patient. And this time, my dear friends, in the interest of straight talk, we will invest American treasure and probably some American blood.

CARLSON: Will we do that in Iraq. I mean, the administration has said, certainly implied that if we can tie these acts to a specific state, we'll go to war against that state. Do you think we could go to war against Iraq?

MCCAIN: I think that we've got to offer these nations a choice. In Damascus today, there's a U.S. embassy. It's in the capital of Syria, as we all know. There's a U.S. embassy and there's a headquarters of a couple terrorist organizations, who we can tie directly to terrorist acts committed against the United States.

So Syria has to make a choice. They're either going to get rid of those people and stop harboring them and stop assisting them, or they've going to face the consequences. And I'm not saying that that's a nuclear attack. I'm not, you know, as Colin Powell has been saying, it's economic, it's diplomatic, and it's military.

And so, I think that they have to understand that they have make a choice. And if they make the choice to keep these terrorist organizations within their countries, the consequences are going to be long and severe. But again, I want to say, we have to be patient. We have to be patient.

To develop the kind of military operations that may be necessary in a place like Afghanistan requires planning, logistics, highly trained people. I mean it is really tough. And we're not going to occupy Afghanistan, my friends. The Russians tried that and the British about 150 years ago, but we may have to go in there and come back out.

PRESS: So you are talking, I was going to ask you that question because I'm reading between the lines, you are talking about the possibility, if not the probability of a ground war in Afghanistan and maybe as Tucker indicated, a ground war in Iraq?

MCCAIN: I say that we rule out no options. I think you could probably, and my friends, I have received no secret briefings. And I have intentionally not done so that I wouldn't say anything that might be compromising. But we have highly-trained, highly skilled members of the military, ranging from the Rangers, to Delta Force, to our seals.

And what we can do is certainly not have a "ground war," but we can insert people, we could surround these cells, we could take them out and then we could extract them. I don't that as a ground war. I view that sort of as a -- I don't mean to be nuanced here, but that's activity that could be on the ground. But I don't know of any military person or anyone who would contemplate an occupation of any of these countries. That's just not -- that's not something that would.

First of all, that wouldn't solve the problem. And second of all, the expense and effort would not be worth it. We could do it in the other ways, I believe.

CARLSON: Now what is the role of Congress in all this? We had Dick Gephardt on last night. Bill and I asked him a number of questions, do you disagree with the President. He kept coming back to the point we need to support the President. The implication was that Congress should sort of stand back and let the President act as the executive. Do you think is that right?

MCCAIN: I think it's largely true in a time of national crisis, national emergency which we're in, a war. Then the President's powers and authority have to be enhanced because there's only one commander- in-chief. And I strongly support the President. I think he's been doing a wonderful job.

There be come a time though, particularly when we get into the expenditure of money, that the Congress will have play a greater role. You know in World War II, Harry Truman headed up a committee. A lot of people don't this. He headed up a committee that oversighted -- that had the oversight responsibilities for how the money was spent in World War II.

In those days, huge unheard of amounts of money. We will probably need something like that in Congress. And the patience of American people are going to wear thin, because this is a long struggle. This could take years.

The longer we tell them it's going to take, the shorter it's going to be. As soon as they're convinced that we're not going to ever give up this effort, then the quicker we're going to prevail. But there's going to have to be significant Congressional support and steadfast Congressional support, too.

PRESS: Harry Truman, as you remember, also found some fat in the military budget in the middle of the war and was willing to stand up and say it. John McCain, you have your work cut out for you. And you've got some tough questions cut out you from this student body.

They've been sitting here a long time. They're hungry to get at you. They'll get your chance. After we take a break, we'll be right back with CROSSFIRE special town meeting here at George Washington University. Questions from the audience for Senator John McCain. Bill and Tucker will be right back.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're here at George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C. for a special town meeting with Senator John McCain of Arizona. We also have a large studio audience and we're taking our questions.

PRESS: And I meant it. Senator McCain, we want you to feel at home here at GW. And so, the first question comes from Roy from Tempe, Arizona. How do you like that?

MCCAIN: Roy, you're away from home.

RON: Yes, I know. It's going to be cold out here, too, which is something different. My question has to do with in this new war, how much of this war is actually going to be known or seen by the American public, considering all the special ops and special forces that seem to be involved in this or going to be involved in this?

MCCAIN: I think much less than any time in the history of warfare that we've been involved in. And that's probably appropriate. The one advantage, a huge advantage we have is our technological capabilities. And we do not want to, obviously, compromise any of them. So I think you're going to hear less. But at the same time, there's going to be, on the other side, the American people have to know of what we're doing to some degree because we're going to need their continued support. Thanks, Roy.

CARLSON: Senator, you have a question from Alexis from Redding, Massachusetts.

ALEXIS: Based on your military experience, how long do you think it'll take for the United States to penetrate to the top ranks of the terrorist organizations?

MCCAIN: I don't know the answer to that. I think it's going to be difficult but, this operation that they hopefully is over, and as we know, there may, and I'm emphasize may, still be some people in the United States of America that are part of this organization. Was so complex and so detailed and left so many paper trails and other trails, that I think we will be able to ascertain very well who they are, how they were involved and pretty well understand this entire operation unfortunately after the fact.

I think that'll give us good opportunity to get the people at highest level, but I want to emphasize one other thing real quick. And I'll try to make my answer short, Tucker and Bill.

If tomorrow we got Mr. Bin Laden and brought him to trial, there would still be the challenge of numerous other organizations and states that are involved in this activity. That's why this is so difficult. We could wipe out this entire Bin Laden organization, Al Qaeda. At the same time, there are numerous other organizations that have to be removed also. So that's what makes it so difficult.

PRESS: We have a question here for you, but I want to sneak one in. The personal question, too, but we reported that there are dozens of planes and their crews that have been deployed to the Middle East. You're a former Navy pilot. Put yourself back to those days. What are these guys thinking; What were you thinking when you were sent out on your first mission? Are they scared to death?

MCCAIN: No. I hate to betray my advanced age, my friends, but I was on the USS Enterprise in the Cuban missile crisis. And we were the first ship down, because it was a nuclear aircraft carrier.

We were imbued with patriotism. We listened to President Kennedy as he addressed the nation. We knew we were the professional military and we had a job to do. And we were prepared to do it.

My friends, we've neglected the military to a large degree over the last eight years or so, but we still have the finest that America can offer in the men and women in the military. And they are not only prepared, but they're eager to do the job.

PRESS: Dustin from Sinsbury, Connecticut, Senator.

DUSTIN: In terms of the debate on freedom versus safety, how much freedom should we be willing to give up for our safety?

MCCAIN: I don't know, because if you give up too much freedom, then the terrorists win. Then they destroy our way of life. The whole purpose of this attack was destroy the financial center of the world, New York City and destroy the political capital of the world, and destroy our way of life.

So if you begin depriving the Americans of too many civil liberties in the name of safety, then obviously, then they have succeeded. I think the only way you go about this is a full and complete debate. I won't second-guess a lot of the President's decisions militarily. There's always time for that after the fact.

But if we're going to make decisions as far as Americans' liberties are concerned, we ought to have a full open debate within the Congress and with the American people before we take those measures.

Now I'm not saying that there aren't measures, particularly with the changes in information technology, the way people can communicate. We find out these terrorists went to public libraries and communicated with each other the Internet. Interesting.

Couldn't have been done 10 or 15 years ago. So there's no doubt that we have to bring about changes in what our government can do and can't do, but I want a full debate on it, really. We've got to have a full debate.

Other times in American history, we have done things that we have regretted in retrospect. We have regretted putting 110,000 Japanese American citizens in concentration camps in World War II. At the time, everybody agreed it. The United States Supreme Court upheld it. And I'm not saying we're ready to do that again, but let's have a full and open debate on any further restrictions we might make on Americans' liberties.

CARLSON: Senator, you have an excellent question from Jaime from south Texas.

JAIME: Yes, my question is, how will this situation affect the discussions with President Fox right now on easing immigration laws across the U.S.-Mexico border?

MCCAIN: In the interest of straight talk, my friend, it's all on hold. Because our first effort has to be to root out these individuals who may, and I emphasize may, I have no inside information, may still be in this country.

You know that two people, alleged members of this organization were apprehended on the Amtrak on the way to San Antonio because their plane that's scheduled to go to San Antonio landed in St. Louis.

I think it's going to be on hold. But on the long term, we are still going to have address the issue of immigration and relations between the United States and Mexico because I'm not sure that an average Mexican citizen, who can't feed himself or his family in some place Mexico, isn't still going to try to come to United States of America.

And there are many people who are living here, who have worked here and lived here for many, many years, who are illegal. So the issue is going to be put on hold, but it's still going to have to be addressed over time.

PRESS: Senator, you may be able to spot Ashley in this crowd. You certainly will when she stands up. Ashley's from Charleston, South Carolina. Ashley.

ASHLEY: Hi, senator. In regard to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, how is possible that certain like, reporters and journalists were able to pinpoint and grab like get hold of Osama Bin Laden but yet, Clinton's CIA was unable to do so? Should there be more oversight concerning the CIA? Or what is your take on that? Because I think they did have warnings kind of admonishing. I don't know, I read different things about him.

MCCAIN: I think there's been substantial evidence of Mr. Bin Laden's involvement in this and other acts and attempted acts of terror. Now the defenders of our intelligence agencies, and they are across the board, FBI as well as CIA, et cetera, will say, "Look, we foiled lots of plots."

I've heard through the media that at the millennium, we foiled a very significant plot, but they can never tell you about their successes. But again, in the interest of straight talk, we're going to have to have an entire reevaluation of our intelligence capability.

This was a massive operation, in some cases, involving years. As you know years. People started -- went into pilot training years ago. And the director of FBI, who I don't know, but I admire, basically said we had no inkling of this. Well, we've got to start having some inklings, obviously.

Finally, and this is a very important point. In fact, Bill and I may have a little disagreement on this particular issue.

In the late 1970s, as a reaction to the Vietnam War and some of the things that we did in Vietnam, such as a Phoenix program which was assassinations, among other things, although that wasn't their main mission. We basically dismantled our human intelligence capabilities. We did away with them because we didn't want to get into this very nasty business because these are terrible people that do these things. They're not Boy Scouts.

None of them are decent people. Most of them do it for money. Most of them can be bought and sold and they're not nice people. And it's a very tough business, filled with failure. For example, some of these cells are probably all blood relatives, hard to penetrate, but we got to get back into human intelligence because only human intelligence divines intentions and motivations. Our satellite capabilities and other technological capabilities are superb, but obviously, they weren't good enough.

PRESS: Senator, just for the record, I believe if we were able to penetrate every student organization in the '60s, they should have been able to penetrate every terrorist cell in the '90s.

MCCAIN: Well said.

CARLSON: Sounds like yours was penetrated. Senator, as you know, you're popular in New England. We have yet another question from Massachusetts.

MCCAIN: Could I just -- Bill, I don't disagree that there were excesses in the '60s. There were excesses. And they need to be fixed. And some people's rights were violated. And I don't really disagree with that, but I think we might have clearly overkilled by dismantling the whole thing. Go ahead.

CARLSON: Mark from Wakefield, Mass.

MCCAIN: It's be a great subject for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: We're ready. We're cueing it up right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, given the fact that you are veteran and formerly prisoner of war, how do you propose we fight an enemy who isn't afraid of dying?

MCCAIN: I think, first of all, there are a limited number of individuals who are not afraid of dying. I don't think they have an unlimited supply. Second of all, it's a daunting challenge those.

If someone had said before, to you or to me, two weeks ago, that terrorists are going to be able to use an airliner as a weapon, and that they're going to have highly trained and highly skilled people, able to achieve what they achieved, we wouldn't have really given any credibility to it.

Just as we didn't give credibility to the report issued by former Senator Hart in Redmond who warned us of some of these things that might happen.

So I think it makes it far more complicated and far more difficult. And finally, and I don't mean to overanswer your question, but our stereotype of the person who is willing to do that, used to a young teenager in Palestine who had no education, no prospects, who had been told that he or she, in this case he would be a martyr and would go to heaven.

Some of these individuals who are willing to sacrifice their lives were educated, well off. Some of them even with family members. So our entire stereotype of who's willing to be a suicide hijacker is dramatically changed, as you know.

So I guess our answer is this probably lays to a large degree in going to the source, as well as enacting significant procedures as far as security is concerned.

PRESS: Senator, we're going to take a break there. And as we all know in addition to questions about what kind of military response, we can also expect a lot of changes in checking in at airports.

Let's get to the question of airplane security, airport security with Senator John McCain. We'll do that when come back at our CROSSFIRE special town meeting right here at George Washington University. We'll be right back.


PRESS: This is the special CROSSFIRE town meeting at George Washington University in downtown Washington with Senator John McCain. Tucker Carlson and I will have -- and our studio audience -- will have lots more questions for John McCain. But first let's go back to Wolf Blitzer for the latest on latest developments. Wolf?


CARLSON: Thanks, Wolf. We're talking about the effects of last week's terrorist attack on United States with Senator John McCain of Arizona. Of course, one of the great effects is the restriction in air travel. Senator McCain, if you take a look at the restrictions immediately imposed by administration on air travel -- no more curbside check in, no more electronic ticketing, closing National Airport -- they really seem like ways to punish air travelers rather than to protect the nation against terrorism. Are these effective steps, do you think?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: I think they are steps that need to be taken, and I think are there other steps that probably deserve serious consideration.

One of them is the federalizing -- or making part of the federal work force -- the security personnel at airports. I think we all know that these are very good people, but they are very low pay, and not extremely well trained, to say the least. I think, also, that we have to spend some more money on technology: better equipment to run our bags through and people through. So I think there is going to have to be additional steps. I have been on two -- I flew home last Friday to Phoenix, and then I just came in today.

I see Americans very patient. Americans are very understanding. They are more than willing to undergo some discomfort, get there two or three hours ahead of time. And so I think Americans are going to be very cooperative in this. And clearly, what happened and what continues to happen, airport security has to be dramatically improved.

PRESS: Senator, I want to be sure I heard you correctly. I know you worked very hard for the last couple of years to get more flights from National Airport, particularly nonstop flights from National to Phoenix, Arizona, just...


PRESS: Some interest of yours. Are you now saying that in the interest of national security we should close permanently National Airport?

MCCAIN: I personally would not like to see Reagan National Airport -- by the way, I promised also never to take a flight directly from Reagan Airport to Phoenix, much to my dismay. But anyway, I would like to leave that up to national security experts. I don't think I have the knowledge or expertise to know whether Reagan National Airport should remain closed or not. And I think that whatever those who we entrust with that kind of knowledge and expertise decide, I will support it. But I do believe that it will have an economic impact on the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area I don't think there is any doubt about that. But I will leave it up to the experts.

CARLSON: It's interesting, Senator, to see Republicans who are talking usually about free market solutions to business problems, all of a sudden join the clamor for a Congressional bailout -- a federal bailout of the airline industry. Why is there all of a sudden this consensus that the airline industry needs federal money? And is that a correct consensus?

MCCAIN: The airline industry is vital to our nation; we all know that. Air travel is a vital part of the America. I think they probably need some help. They were severely hit when the government ordered all commercial airliners to be grounded. The trick is, is to take care of them in that respect.

But as you know, a lot of the airlines were in serious trouble before, because of the economic downside before this act of war took place. So I think the answer is that we need to try to give them some assistance, but at the same time not some kind of blank check. And there are complicated issues such as liability and others that are going to have to be addressed.

What I would like to do, ideally, is give them some short term relief. My friends, there are going to be airlines that shut down very shortly unless we give them short term relief, but then step back a little bit and contemplate exactly what we need to do in the long term, if anything. And I think it is a very difficult kind of situation we are facing. The airlines came in asking for like $25 billion worth, obviously, we are not going to do that. But we do need to help them. The question is how.

PRESS: Senator, I want to take you to the next step in the process. You get through security, with no curbside check-in and no e-tickets -- the one issue that Tucker and I agree on -- and then you get on the plane. And yet these men were able to take over these planes. So are we talking about armed marshals in every plane? Are we talking about arming the pilots? Arming the flight attendants? All of those things have been suggested.

MCCAIN: I think one thing we look at is El Al, the Israeli airline, which hasn't had a skyjacking in 40 years or so. They have air marshals on board. I don't think we have to have them on every airplane, but the fact that they are out there would be a deterrent to the would-be terrorists, and I think we also obviously need a cockpit that cannot be penetrated.

But remember, the way that terrorists did this was they started killing the flight attendants, which pulled the pilots out of the cockpit. I mean, so it's not -- there is no real easy solution here. So I think we ought to look at what El Al has done over the years. We can make the cockpit secure, we can put air marshals on board, and we can improve the technology. We can make air travel measurably safer in the United States of America. Finally, my dear friends, if you are really going to stop terrorism you've got to go to the source. You are not going to stop it within the United States of America.

PRESS: OK, Senator. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be back with Senator John McCain for CROSSFIRE's special town meeting at George Washington University. We'll take a break. We'll be right back.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Bill Press and I are here at the George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C., for a CROSSFIRE town meeting. We are talking with Senator John McCain of Arizona and taking questions from our studio audience. Here is Faith from Wakeland, Florida, Senator.

FAITH: I just wondering how last week's events are going to affect the U.S. foreign policy, and if it might cause the United States to lean back towards isolationism?

MCCAIN: I think that is an excellent question. Obviously, we are -- as the president has stated and I stated -- we are in -- we are at war. And so obviously that changes our foreign policy dramatically. And it is the most complex challenge we have ever faced. I think that the second question was...

FAITH: If the United States may lean back towards isolationism due to last week's events.

MCCAIN: I'm not so concerned about isolationism as I am about something that I'm -- that I think is important to all of us. That is that we do not and will not tolerate discrimination against anyone, including people of Middle Eastern descent. What has happened in my home state of Arizona is a disgrace and an outrage. People who are of Middle Eastern descent love this country as much as we do. They are dedicated Americans. Their religion of Islam is a loving and caring religion, and we cannot tolerate in our society discrimination against anyone because of their race, or their color, or ethnicity. And I hope you will support that with all -- everything in your power.

Thank you.

PRESS: Thank you, Senator. We turn to our great neighbor to the north, Ontario, Canada. Here is Mike for this question for Senator McCain.

MIKE: Hi. Regarding this tragedy, how can young people participate in the policy-making process?

MCCAIN: By contacting your elected representatives, by e-mails, by -- in writing, and by contributing in a broad variety of ways. One of them is -- I hope that some of you -- and this wonderful -- will consider serving our county in the military. We need good men and women in the military today. I believe that we should do everything we can to return to normalcy.

My friends, one of the reasons why the airlines are in so much trouble is because people are not using -- flying the airlines. If you were planning on taking a trip, take it. If you were planning on making a purchase, do it. The best thing we can do is return to our normal lives. Support the president of the United States. Support this policy. Know that we are going to be steadfast. And fly the flag. Fly the American flag whenever you can.

CARLSON: Amen. Senator McCain, Scott from Wisconsin has a question for you.

SCOTT: Since you were part of Vietnam, is it the same type of warfare that we're looking at going into Afghanistan? Guerrilla warfare? Now at what point do you reassess the casualties, and also look at the fact that it may not be working?

MCCAIN: I don't believe that this is comparable to Vietnam either strategically or tactically, because in Vietnam Americans never believed that there was a significant threat to our national security. Now all Americans know that our very way of life is at stake, and that is why you see this overwhelming support. Vietnam was the most divisive war in our history with exception of the civil war. This conflict will not be.

What we have to do is remain steadfast. Steadfast, steadfast. And with patience, with patience, recognizing that this terrain that we are going to ask our people to operate over, and perhaps some times in, is the most difficult of any in the world. And the whole geographic situation makes our challenge extremely difficult. I don't think you are going to see such large casualties, because I don't think you are going to see large masses of troops involved. You may see failure, you may see failure. This may not be a perfect kind of scenario. And you may see the loss of American lives. I think the problem is not so much casualties as it is tenacity. I pray that maybe we can come back here six months from now and go through this whole town hall meeting again. I would love to do that. And I hope and pray that the kind of dedication that we see here tonight will prevail six months from now as well. Thanks for the question.

PRESS: Senator, Shah is born in Pakistan. Now an American citizen. Lives in nearby Maryland, with a question.

SHAH: Senator, last time in past we joined hands with Pakistan to go against Soviet Union, and we did a good job. This time, we are doing the same thing to go against terrorists. And I think looks like Pakistan is going to go along with that. However, this time the government is going through a revamping process even though the president is very profound and they have the very best cabinet. But I'm afraid the country is not as strong as it used to be, and if something goes wrong there are we willing to go all the way or we will back out from a point -- at any point?

MCCAIN: First of all, I don't see how we can back out. If we back out, then we will then be target of terrorism from other parts of the world besides organizations in Afghanistan. Second of all, there is many tactical and technical aspects. But Pakistan is now a critical element in our ability to get to these people. Without the cooperation of Pakistan, we -- our chances of success are dramatically diminished.

I'm rather pleased that General Musharraf has shown this kind of steadfastness, because there is significant fundamentalist Muslim organizations within Pakistan who will cause domestic problems for the government. That problem we never had during the Afghan war when the Pakistani people were completely behind this effort. So I believe that Pakistan is critical and I believe we will do everything we can to secure their assistance.

CARLSON: Paul from West Hartford, Connecticut, has a question about the president.

PAUL: President Bush has been using language like dead or alive, hunt them down, even a word like crusade. What is the diplomatic logic behind language like this? Do you think there is a point it can go too far and maybe isolate some of those nations that are hanging on the border like Pakistan?

MCCAIN: I think the president -- and it has already been stated by his spokesperson -- regrets the use of the word "crusade" and he won't use that again. The president is rallying the American people. The president is leading that the American people, and last time I saw, 86 percent of the American people support him. And all of us here are part of that 86 percent. I think he's doing a great job leading the country. I'm glad he is speaking to the country tomorrow night before a joint session of Congress. Yes, he has to be careful in language that he uses, but his strength, I think, is sincerity. And I think he is totally sincere in his dedication to leading the country and winning this war.

CARLSON: Someone else that has been rallying people is Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in New York. What are the lessons about leadership do you think we learned from his conduct of last week?

MCCAIN: Visibility. Being on the scene, I was very pleased the president went to New York City. I think the display of compassion that Rudy Giuliani has shown, and his understanding, has endeared him not only to the people of New York City but the people of this country. And he is a marvelous man, and I think he will serve this country in other capacities in the future.

PRESS: Senator, you were one of three senators who questioned the bailout money. I think it was 20 billion to New York for the cleanup operation.

MCCAIN: I did.


MCCAIN: I didn't, Bill. What I wanted to do was make sure that the appropriators were not the only ones who made the decision. I support that and I support more money for New York City. There is going to be a need for more money, as we are rapidly finding out. I totally supported that. I wanted the president's recommendations to be the key and the approval of the entire Congress. As you know I have fought with the members of the appropriations committee for many, many years. It was the procedure I objected to. I certainly didn't object to the money.

PRESS: Here's Alexis from Jackson, Mississippi. Alexis.

ALEXIS: How do we know when we have won the war?

MCCAIN: When the president of the United States can tell the American people that the threat of acts of terror have been dramatically reduced, to the point where when can go to an airport or a public gathering or anyplace else in America with a sense of freedom and security. And that is why I say that this may take some years before we can do that.

And I'm not sure we will ever completely, totally eliminate it. Because there may always be random acts such the Oklahoma City situation. But that is far different from the challenge that we face now. But I think it is when the president can tell the American people that we are largely safe.

PRESS: Thanks, Alexis. We are at George Washington University. This is a special CROSSFIRE town meeting with Senator John McCain. Bill Press and Tucker Carlson. We'll be right back with last questions for Senator McCain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CARLSON: Welcome back to a special CROSSFIRE town meeting at the George Washington University in Washington. We're going to take one more question from the audience for our guest, Senator John McCain.

PRESS: Tucker, I'm going to do that by sliding behind you here. And this is Josh from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Did I get that right?

JOSH: You got it right.

PRESS: Senator John McCain.

JOSH: Senator McCain, what has the United States military learned from Russia's past engagement in Afghanistan?

MCCAIN: I think the major lesson is that you cannot occupy that country. The British learned that lesson nearly a couple hundred years ago as well. You can't occupy it. The terrain, the landscape and the nature of the people are such that you just simply can't do it. And by the way, there would be no point in us doing that. It isn't the Afghan people that we are opposed to. It is the cells that are operating within Afghanistan.

By the way, could I just mention I did receive a question from over here, where they're not allowed to ask questions. These are the dummies, I guess, that...

PRESS: Oh, Senator.

MCCAIN: We are not allowed to -- we did get -- I did a question from over that I think is an important one, because -- particularly given this audience. What about a draft? What about a return to the draft?

My friends, we don't have to return to the draft. If I felt that we needed to return to the draft, then obviously we would all support it. It is not that we need a whole bunch more people. We need people who are highly trained, highly skilled, technologically capability in very specific areas including fighting. So I can see some increase in recruitment. But there is just not a need in this particular challenge for us to have a draft. And I don't -- I'm sure that that view is shared by most decision makers. Thank you, my friend.

CARLSON: And also, I think, by Kevin from St. Louis, who has the next question for you, Senator. Kevin.

KEVIN: How are you. I had a question in dealing with President Bush's decision of withdrawing from the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty and how that affect our relations with the international world in this time of chaos.

MCCAIN: I think that the president is seeking a way that we could modify the treaty so that we can proceed with the testing necessary to develop a ballistic missile defense capability. I think he is going to be in more intensive conversations with the Russians, particularly in light of this situation. It does not -- this terrorist attack does not relieve us, in my view, of our efforts or need to develop a missile defense system. Saddam Hussein, we know, continues to try to develop weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. But -- so I think that the president is on the right track here. But I think it is going to increase the desirability of intensive negotiations.

PRESS: Another point on which we might disagree. You would have to admit, though, that a missile defense system would have been helpless and powerless over what happened last Tuesday. Aren't we fighting tomorrow's war with yesterday's weapons?

MCCAIN: I would say to you, Bill, that I think they will seek in the area of vulnerability. If we become relatively invulnerable to this attack, I think they will continue their efforts to develop missiles, as the north Koreans and at least Saddam Hussein is doing. So I think that we've got to probably address a number of threats and challenges that we face.

PRESS: Joe is joining us from Boston. Hi, Joe.

JOE: Thank you. How confident can the American people be that the administration will articulate and then successfully implement realistic exit strategies in these given areas?

PRESS: And we need a real quick answer, Senator, please.

MCCAIN: I think that we've got the most experienced and strongest national security team that we have ever had. I have complete and total confidence in Colin Powell. By the way, I also have complete and total confidence in young Americans who are prepared fully to serve a cause greater than their self-interest. We love you.

CARLSON: Senator McCain. You threw out something -- I think we have time for one quick question. I have to indulge myself. You threw out a sort of tantalizing hint there that we haven't seen the last of Rudy Giuliani. I know you are a friend of his. Where is going to reappear?

PRESS: What did you have in mind?

MCCAIN: I'm the chairman of the "Abolish the term limits clause in the New York City rulebook" group.

CARLSON: Thank you, Senator McCain. Thank you very much.

MCCAIN: Thanks.

CARLSON: Thank you all.

PRESS: Thank you all in our studio audience. We'll be back tomorrow night with another special CROSSFIRE town meeting from George Washington University. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" is next on CNN.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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