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America's New War: Reaction to President Bush's Call to Arms

Aired September 21, 2001 - 19:31   ET


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome back to our CROSSFIRE town meeting. Prepare for war -- that was the message of President Bush's historic speech to Congress last night. Bush said the war will be long, it will be difficult, we may not know when we win. Is America ready for struggle like this? To find out, we've come to George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C., with a special studio audience.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: And we're joined tonight by four members of Congress who were in the Capitol last night to hear President Bush's speech: Representative Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California, Congressman Jim Moran, a Democrat from the neighboring state of Virginia, John Mica, Republican of Florida, and Mike Castle, Republican of Delaware. And, of course, we're joined again tonight by our great studio audience of students, friends and family of the George Washington University.


PRESS: Congressman Mica, I'd like to start with you. Last night I thought the president gave an excellent speech, words of encouragement. You wanted to stand up and cheer, rah-rah-rah. And I have to be a skeptic, but as I heard him declare a war on terrorism, I'm thinking 35 years ago we declared a war on poverty, didn't win that one. Twenty years ago, we declared war on illegal drugs, we haven't won that one.

I mean, what are the chances that this war is going to be any more real? Are we just kidding ourselves?

REP. JOHN MICA (R), FLORIDA: Well, we could spend some time going into those other wars for another program, but, I think what the president did was, first of all, reassure the nation. He also explained that this is not the typical war, and went into a lot of detail about how it is going to be conducted.

But most of all, I think he drew a line in the sand, and said this is what is acceptable, this is what is not acceptable, and this is what we're going to do and this is what we're not going to do.

CARLSON: Congresswoman Waters, everyone appears to love the president now. Nobody criticizes George W. Bush, and it almost seems like Congress has given him a blank check to conduct this war in any manner he chooses. And I would expect there would be some people -- I would expect you, would be standing up and saying "Stop, no!" When are you going to do that?

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: No time soon. Let me just tell you that the American people have rallied behind him, the members of Congress have. Some of us have questions and some of us are concerned. None of us really want to send these young people out to war. As I looked in faces of the young people here tonight, I was almost moved to tears, because I don't want them in war.

However, something terrible has happened here. The president talked about using any number of means to deal with this. He talked about diplomacy, he talked about leveraging financial aid. I hope some of those things work. I hope they can find the perpetrators. I hope their persons in cells that can be rooted out. I hope we don't have to go to war, but we're going to stand with the families who have been harmed.

There is a lot of pain in this nation, and we are in mourning. We are trying to stay unified, and we don't want to create bickering and fighting at this time. There are questions to be asked. Now is not the time.

PRESS: Let me ask you, Congressman Castle, though, here we are, going on two weeks later, and we have no hard evidence of who are behind these deeds, other than the 19 men who gave their lives to pull them off. We have no real targets that have been identified -- so do we really know who we're fighting this war against, and how can you fight it if you don't?

REP. MIKE CASTLE (R), DELAWARE: Of course you don't know for sure, Bill. We are dealing with terrorism. Terrorism, by its very nature, is a hidden, seditious-type act, in which people are not going to be public. They're going to do everything in their power to keep in the operating cells, as we know.

I think we have a better idea of who some of the perpetrators are than one might think. I serve on the intelligence committee, and I think there is some sense of coming together of what we're doing. The FBI and the CIA are out there doing everything in their power to discover who they are. But then it becomes very difficult.

Let's say there are terrorist groups in Afghanistan. Let's say that's where bin Laden is, for example. How you go in there? I mean, this is a very difficult, mountainous country -- you just can't bomb it. It's not that simple. And there is no homeland, there's no Japan, no Germany. We're dealing with something that's very nebulous, very different than anything we've ever dealt with before.

So you're right, I mean, you raise very valid questions. This is not going to be easy. But I believe that this president gave a wonderful talk last night and I also believe he has very good people around him making these decisions. And frankly, we in Congress are going to look to that for our leadership, and hopefully, we'll stick together and make sure that there is the proper address to what has happened to us.

CARLSON: Congressman Moran, people in Washington, as you know, are saying, privately, anyway, that Iraq is the country we may end up getting into a war with. I interviewed someone the other day who's working on this, he said, "That's the elephant in the room." That's what everybody is saying, thought not in public.

Do you think that's true? Do you think we will end up at war with Saddam Hussein again?

REP. JIM MORAN (D), VIRGINIA: I think we're at war with anybody who harbors terrorists, as the president said. But they have their opportunity to avoid conflict with us. They need to expose their terrorists, they need to be able to cooperate with us. And we know whether they're being straightforward and honest. We know, certainly, that Saddam would love an opportunity to destroy the United States. There are people throughout the world who would do that.

They resent our wealth, that's why they go after the World Trade Center. They resent our military might, so they go after the Pentagon. They resent our political stability, so they were going to attack the White House and the Capitol. They want not just to end lives, but to end our way of life. And we've got to show the rest of the world that this country is going to make the difference between these students living in an age of terror, or living in an age of individual freedoms and security.

And this is a moment in history where we have to prove ourselves. And I agree, that the president proved himself last night, and so far, in responding to this crisis.

PRESS: The members -- the students in the audience came loaded with questions for all of you, and you're going to get those next. We're going to take a break, but the students have their voice. Joined by four members of Congress tonight, responding to president Bush's speech of last night, and answering our questions about how America responds to terrorism.

This a special CROSSFIRE town meeting from George Washington University. We'll be right back.


CARLSON: Welcome back! We have taken CROSSFIRE on the road. We've landed here at the George Washington University in downtown, Washington, D.c., and we have an entire audience full of questions for our four members of Congress. The first comes from Mike from New Jersey.

Mike, arise.

MIKE: How you doing? This question is for Congressman Waters. Ms. Waters, I'm wondering, last night in the president's speech, he talked about a covert military operation that would be extended over a long amount of time. Do you think the American people are that patient, to wait? And -- what do you have to say about that?

(LAUGHTER) WATERS: I think the president tried to prepare this nation for what we may be confronted with. If you can remember, a few days ago, he was talking very tough, remember the words that he said, "Wanted: dead or alive," and a lot people were led to believe he's going to go get them right now and he's going to bring him back, and we're going to get justice.

Well, I think last night what he tried to do was to prepare people for that may not happen so quickly, that this may take a long time. That they have to do any number of things, employ any number of methods, and I do think that we don't know how we're going to approach this. And people have to be patient.

CASTLE: Mike, if I could just add, very quickly here. Look at what we're doing here. We're dealing with countries that go all the way from North Africa, at some points over to Afghanistan, maybe 50 or 60 countries. We don't know what's there, we don't know where the terrorists are.

I mean, this isn't like going into Iraq, or even Japan back in the second World War. I don't think anybody knows. I mean, I don't think Colin Powell could give you a very good answer to that question right now. So it's all very uncertain, so I think the president has to take that tack, that this could take long time. He has no other choice.

PRESS: Again, members of the panel, jump in when you want to. Let us know. This is a question from Megan. Megan is from California, the Silicon Valley, question for Congressman Moran.

MEGAN: Senator Moran, from where...

PRESS: Excuse me -- Congressman Moran. We can't elevate him yet.


MEGAN: I'm sorry.

PRESS: He's running for Senate next time, but...

MEGAN: Excuse me. Sorry about that. From what I understand, prior to this tragedy that took place, there have been accusations on the Bush administration for squandering the surplus. So what I'm wondering is, how are we going to pay for this? Should we expect increase in taxes or dipping into Social Security? What can we expect for the American public to offer immediate economic aid in the war?

MORAN: Frankly, it is a good question. It is going to be funded from the Medicare and Social Security surplus. That money is going to be borrowed from the trust funds, and will be paid back into the trust funds to make them whole. But the money is not going to be able to be reserved. It's a matter of priorities, and right now, defending our country and responding appropriately to the tragedy of September 11th, is our highest priority. And I think that the beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries of our trust funds understand that. The trust funds will be made whole, but that's basically where the money is coming from right now.

CARLSON: Congressman Mica, we have a question from Steve from New Jersey, is a concern I think many people have, or are about to have.

STEVE: Hi. What kind of backlash can we expect, after we do our attack on terrorism?

MICA: Well, we really don't know. We've never seen anything like this. I don't think anyone in our intelligence community or in Congress could have anticipated that they would take our commercial aircraft, with human beings, and use themselves in kamikaze missions, as they did. So this is something we have never seen before, in the history of mankind, and certainly in the history of the United States.

They may come after us. We have to be prepared, and that is what we're trying to do through our various committees and responsibilities in the Congress.

WATERS: I think we need to prepare the people for the possibility of more terrorist attacks. We are dealing with people who fight with guerrilla tactics, and I think it is a new day, and they will not employ the kind of sophisticated weaponry that normally we have in wars. You have people who are prepared to die. You have suicide missions. We saw them in the Middle East. We saw them in Israel, and I just wish our intelligence community had been a little bit more on top of its game, so that we could have anticipated.


CARLSON: Well, then, Congressman Moran, your district has the Pentagon in it. Why hasn't the federal government, if what Congresswoman Waters said is true, warned the public about possible attacks? We haven't heard that very much from federal officials.

MORAN: We don't need to warn them. It's obvious throughout the country, and particularly in the Washington area. We are preparing for attacks. And we're not just preparing for a repeat of what happened, because that's less likely now. What's more likely are other weapons of destruction, whether it be chemical, biological warfare, car bombs, whatever. We need to be prepared for everything, and that's why I think the American people are prepared and should be prepared.

In terms of responding to the question. getting Osama bin Laden, I don't think is going to cause any backlash we can't deal with. But, if there is collateral damage of innocent people, then it gets dicier. Then there could be backlash, and if we get people that we have targeted because of information we can't share publicly, that may also cause backlash. That's why this is a very difficult, long, drawn-out and I think politically precarious war that we have undertaken. But we don't have an alternative. We've got to do it.

PRESS: I've got a question here for you members, but I'll direct it to Congressman Mica. Last night, the president said he's going to create a new office of homeland security, called something like that. I mean, but isn't this kind of a typical government reaction? So the FAA didn't do its job, the CIA didn't do its job, the FBI didn't do its job, so what do we do? We create one more government agency. Do we really need another office, rather than getting those other guys to do their jobs?

MICA: Well, one of the problems you have is you don't have really all of the information together. In the intelligence and enforcement area, we have some 30 federal agencies that are involved. So this, actually, this position was under consideration before the appointment last night -- maybe not at a cabinet level position.

But certainly, we've had a failure, a breakdown of our intelligence, law enforcement, getting that information to where it should be, and allowing us to respond so that event never occurred.


CASTLE: That's a justified question, but I'd like to respond a little bit too, because I think it's needed, and I think it will work, for various reasons. You can look at the drug czar and say what's happened, we haven't done much about drugs, or look at other appointments, as you pointed out, that didn't do much.

But in this particular case, you're dealing with CIA and an FBI, one has domestic, one has foreign concerns, and are they communicating with each other? What are we doing about the biological and the chemical warfare? How we are coordinating our military with respect to all this?

I believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to America. I believed it before this incident, I believe it now. I believe if we don't do something about it, the terrorists will continue to come at us. And I also believe that Tom Ridge is a wonderful appointment, because he is so close to President Bush. I think that will make a big difference in getting job done.

PRESS: Congresswoman Waters, a question here for you from...

WATERS: Let me just say, I think it was all right for the president to make that appointment. He is building confidence, and he wants the American people to know that he is active, that he is setting priorities, that he is doing things.

But, I think that we've got to do a better job of oversight of our intelligence community, whether it is the CIA or the DIA or the FBI. They have been sacred cows. We have given them all the money that they need to operate with. But we have not really done the oversight to make sure they were doing what they were supposed to do.

As a matter of fact, there is no reason why we could -- we should have had, people in flight schools who only wanted to learn to steer airplanes, didn't want to learn to land them, we should not have had people easily coming in and out of this country with visas that simply said they were going to stay at some hotel. They should have known. And they've got to do a better job, and no matter who coordinates all of this, we've got to demand that our intelligence community do what we are paying them to do.


PRESS: This is Zach from Cedar Falls, Iowa -- Zach.

ZACH: We were just talking on how to protect America. But how can we protect national security when we're broadcasting around the world all of our vulnerabilities, and also, how one might take advantage of them?

MICA: We do have open society, and that is one thing that they've taken advantage of. What we don't have, and what wasn't brought up in this conversation, is right to go after terrorists with every means.

Our intelligence community has been hampered. They don't have the ability to penetrate the organization. Some people stopped us from using sort of "dirty" folks, they're people to get in, penetrate these terrorist organizations. Some people in Congress stopped us from penetrating their communications. Some people in Congress stopped us from penetrating their finances.

Until you do those things, the people who are charged with that responsibility can't carry it out.

WATERS: I disagree with that. As a matter of fact, our intelligence community needs to open up its operation, recruit and train young people who represent all races, all cultures, all ethnic groups, so that they will have the people that they need to do the kind of work they that is -- they have people who can't even speak some of the languages of the people we're talking about going after! They've got to do better job of it, and no more excuses.

MORAN: You know what our greatest vulnerability is, is that we value every individual life so greatly. That's our vulnerability. That's why they're after us with terrorism. They know that it can strike at our heart if they kill any of us. And that is not always the case, in totalitarian regimes.

You know, that's one of the reasons I think they hijacked commercial passenger jets. And in fact, when we thought they were headed for the Capitol, a number of us said, look, no building is more valuable than any human life. You can't strike down that passenger jet because you're going to kill lives, and those lives are even more valuable, even, than our Capitol building. That's our greatest vulnerability, and we should be proud of it.

CARLSON: Congressman Moran, thank you very much. Congressman Castle, Congressman Mica, Congresswoman Waters, thank you all very much for joining us at George Washington University.

PRESS: And just before we take a break here, we're going to pause of another reminder of the personal toll of last week's tragedies. The families that lost fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, the companies that lost valued employees, the police and the fire departments, that lost heroic members. In a way, every community in America has been touched, and this community here is no exception.

Seventeen years ago, Jim Waters graduated from this campus, the George Washington University. He worked for a New York investment firm. His office was in the second tower of the World Trade Center, and he is listed as one of the missing and presumed dead.

Tonight, our hearts go out to him and his family, and the George Washington community.


CARLSON: And that's good night for us. We'd like to thank our panel, the George Washington University, the best studio audience any show has ever had. We'll be back here next week.


PRESS: Yes, in fact, we're going to be back all next week from George Washington University with a series of town meetings starting at a special time, at 6:30 p.m.. All next week, CROSSFIRE town meetings, George Washington University.

CARLSON: List them at your peril.

PRESS: 6:30 p.m. Have a great weekend, everybody. Go back and hug your kids. Hug somebody you love. Have a great weekend. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: Amen. Wolf Blitzer's next! Good night.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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