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CNN CROSSFIRE

America's New War: America Speaks Out

Aired September 28, 2001 - 18:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Good evening and welcome to our CROSSFIRE town meeting, live from the George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C. American special forces are in Afghanistan. More on the way. What sort of welcome will they receive? We'll answer that question tonight, among others.

But first, we go to CNN's Wolf Blitzer for an update of the day's news.

(NEWS BREAK)

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: All right, thank you, Wolf. And welcome back to the George Washington University for our CROSSFIRE special town meeting on America's war against terrorism, which may already be underway. As Wolf just told us, even though the White House refuses to comment, CNN reported today that U.S. and British special forces are already on the ground in Afghanistan.

Tonight, we asked to people who know the country and its people well, what will American forces find when they get there? -- Tucker.

CARLSON: Joining us tonight, Laurie Mylroie, author of "Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America" and Sebastian Junger, author of "The Perfect Storm" and the new book "Fire," which includes a chapter on his meeting last year with the leader of the Taliban opposition. It's a meeting that's also featured in a new "National Geographic" special that is airing this week.

Sebastian Younger, you spent time with the Northern Alliance, which now appears to be an ally of convenience of the United States, at least for the moment. Some Americans are saying, "Well, gee, we sent years supporting the Mujahideen during the '80s." Many of them ending up being among the most virulently anti-American forces in all of South Asia.

What reassurance can you give us that the Northern Alliance won't wind up the same way 10 years from now?

SEBASTIAN JUNGER, AUTHOR, "FIRE": Well, I think we have to look at how they have been acting in the past few years. When I was in there with the Northern Alliance, women, for example, could work. They didn't have to wear veils. There was schooling for women.

Some of the strictures that we associate with the Taliban were not in place with the Northern Alliance. They are also -- they happen to be the recognized government of Afghanistan. We shouldn't forget that. They have representation at the U.S., here recognized by all but one country in the world, that country being Pakistan.

And their government, I mean, I've met many people from their government. They are very -- I mean, if this is any sort of comfort to people who are worried about them, frankly, very Westernized people. They speak fluent English. They're completely at ease in this country, very well educated. They are not, you know, sort of crazy warlords who are hiding in the rocks in Afghanistan. They really are very -- they fit in perfectly in our society.

If that's what we want, then they are that.

PRESS: Laurie Mylroie, let me ask you, we are on the ground in Afghanistan, which means the first phase of this war against terrorism is clearly directed against Osama bin Laden. Do we know for a fact that Osama bin Laden's behind the terrorist attacks of September 11? And could he have done it alone with his network?

LAURIE MYLROIE, AUTHOR, "STUDY OF REVENGE": Well, the administration has said that it knows bin Laden was involved. And I believe that they wouldn't say it unless they had good evidence. But bin Laden could not have done this by himself.

The kind of carnage we saw on September 11 required a state's capabilities in terms of logistics, coordination and intelligence. And this was not done by bin Laden alone. The only state that meets the bill for helping bin Laden with this is Iraq.

CARLSON: Well, if that's true, Laurie Mylroie, then why hasn't the United States made plans. perhaps it is making plans, tell us of you know about them, to attack Iraq or take action some sort of action against Saddam Hussein?

MYLROIE: Well, there's talk about doing that in phase two. That is what the Pentagon wants to do. The State Department seems to be not in favor of that. And the White House, I guess, will have to make a decision on whether Iraq is included in the retaliation for what happened on September 11.

PRESS: Sebastian, I want to ask you, you went to Afghanistan to interview Ahmed Massoud, who is the leader, this charismatic leader. I watched the "National Geographic" special of the Northern Alliance.

He was assassinated by Osama bin Laden's people on September the 9th, two days before these terrorist attacks. And everybody said at the time, without him, the Northern Alliance was nothing. I mean, do they have another leader? Are they capable of, you know, being our allies inside Afghanistan without Massoud?

JUNGER: Yes, I think they are. I mean, certainly Massoud kept them pegged together. He was very charismatic. He was able to work with many different commanders. You could even call them warlords, who -- I mean, some of them he fought against during the Soviet war. And he was able to bring them into the coalition, in order to fight the Taliban.

Very, very capable leader and tactician. He is gone. His charisma's gone. I mean, the equivalent would be when the United States lost Kennedy 30 years ago. That's the kind of leader they just lost.

They may have traded their beloved Massoud for U.S. help, U.S. involvement. Massoud had been calling for U.S. military aid for an isolation of Pakistan for years and years, saying, Afghanistan is breeding terrorism. Please help me. I want to clean up country. I want to bring democracy.

They may have traded U.S. weapons for Massoud's life. Frankly, he might have even thought that was a good deal.

CARLSON: Well, Laurie Mylroie, right after the bombing, when the first rumors or talks started surfacing that perhaps Iraq was behind this people, you heard people say, "Well, gee, Saddam Hussein, evil, crazy, but not stupid, would not be involved in this because he would fear the inevitable result that we remove him from power." You studied him a long time. What do you think of that?

MYLROIE: Yes, that's true if Saddam believed that we would blame the attack on him. But what has happened since February 1993, which was when the Trade Center was first bombed, and then the plotters led by Ramzi Youssef, this mysterious mastermind, aimed to topple one tower onto its twin, that is to bring down the tower.

Since that attack, the Clinton administration, which was in charge all the time, blamed terrorism on individuals and virtually ignored the role of states, such that it's my impression, a great confusion now exists, even in U.S. bureaucracies, as to what bin Laden's al Qaeda represents, and whether it's capable of even existing, without help from Iraqi intelligence.

I think if you're not an expert, it's pretty clear that Iraq intelligence is involved, but people are experts and invested in it, tend to see only al Qaeda. And therefore, Saddam's got a good chance of getting away with this. That's his calculation.

PRESS: So many questions, so little time. We want to leave time for our studio audience. So I'm going to take a break here and get questions from the audience here at the George Washington University for Sebastian Junger and Laurie Mylroie, we'll be right back with our CROSSFIRE special town meeting on America's war against terrorism.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE's special town meeting here at the George Washington University on America's war against terrorism. Before we go to studio audience for questions, I want to be sure to tell everybody that next week, CROSSFIRE's teaming up with Wolf Blitzer as part of CNN's program called "TARGET TERRORISM." It will be on every evening between 7:00 and 8:00 with Wolf Blitzer. So look for Bill and Tucker next week. Back in studio with Wolf Blitzer, again between 7:00 and 8:00.

Our first question for the panel, please is from Airfon, who's from Michigan. A question for Laurie Mylroie -- Airfon.

AIRFON: For 11 years, the United States government has victimized the Iraqi people through sanctions and bombing. What can they do this time around to ensure that they'll actually target Saddam Hussein instead of the millions of innocent people?

MYLROIE: You're right, what the United States has been doing to Iraq for the past decade is ineffectual and very damaging. It's caused a great deal of harm to the Iraqi people. The solution, to both our terrorism problem, and their problem, is the removal of Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime. It's a liberation of Iraq.

CARLSON: OK, we have a question here from Matthew from Washington. He's a U.S. federal marshal.

MATTHEW: How are you doing?

My expertise in looking for people and tracking people down, do you think when they are looking for bin Laden, I mean, what kind of procedures do you think they would use to actually try to track this man and also to track others in a foreign country? It's one thing doing it in America, but we're talking about going to another country.

CARLSON: Sebastian, you've been there. I mean, how do you find someone in Afghanistan?

JUNGER: I don't know what kind of intelligence they have. I mean, and I'm not -- I've never been in law enforcement. So -- but I should say that if -- you know, if they have very, very good intelligence where he is, and when he's going to be there, they could just do a massive police raid. I think it's no problem.

My guess is if they had that kind of intelligence, this wouldn't have happened in the first place. I think they're going to have to achieve some kind of control on the ground of at least parts of Afghanistan. And I think they are probably considering using the Northern Alliance to achieve that control without alienating the Muslim population.

PRESS: Sebastian, I want to ask you about the presence of land mines on the ground in Afghanistan. You saw pretty brutal evidence of that when you were there. And isn't that going to be a problem for anyone who goes in any military action?

JUNGER: Well, the often-cited figure is that there's more land mines than people in Afghanistan. I believe there's some 10 million or 20 million -- some enormous number of land mines. We don't know where they are. The Soviets who put them in don't even know where they are.

Yes, I think it's a huge problem. I saw during an attack of Massoud's mentor on the Taliban, they ran through a minefield. And I saw that the effect of that. It's absolutely horrifying. I hate to think of American soldiers coming back like that. It's horrifying.

PRESS: OK, question here from Scott, who's from West Bend, Wisconsin, and is a student as you might tell from -- of the George Washington University. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT: Sebastian, you were in Afghanistan and had met the people. Do you feel that since the United States is completely responsible for the Afghanistan refugees, that we should be completely responsible for humanitarian aid to all the refugees?

JUNGER: That's a good question. I'm not sure we're completely responsible. I mean, the refugees from a war that the Soviets initiated. I think it's in the best interests of our country to bring stability to any country, particularly one as unstable as unstable as Afghanistan. The refugees are part of that instability. It's very, very important. That has to be part of our ultimate solution there.

PRESS: Laurie, did you want to comment on that?

MYLROIE: No.

CARLSON: Yes, Laurie Mylroie, you have a question from Ashley from Massachusetts.

ASHLEY: In what ways do you think Saddam Hussein is assisting Osama bin Laden, since Osama bin Laden is religiously motivated and Saddam Hussein is not?

MYLROIE: You ask a good question, because that's how it appears to a lot of people. How can Saddam, the secular bosses and Osama bin Laden, the religious extremists, work together?

Well, they can't. They are both Sunni Arabs. That's very important. The Sunni split in Muslim world is very strong, but bin Laden and Saddam are both Sunni and they're both Arab. They share same the goals. Both want the United States forces out of the Gulf, and they want to overthrow the Saudi government.

There have been contacts between bin Laden and Iraqi intelligence, reported with some regularity in the international press. Notably, one of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta, met with Iraqi intelligence a few months before the September 11 attack in Europe.

So there's all sorts of evidence suggesting they're working together. And if you share the same goals, like Iraq and bin Laden do, then you can set aside the ideological differences.

Without Saddam, bin Laden would be very little. It's Iraq that provides the expertise and direction for bin Laden's terrorism. And bin Laden benefits very much from that. And what bin Laden does for Saddam is provide the cover and the foot soldiers.

PRESS: OK, Laurie Mylroie, thank you. Sebastian Junger. More questions coming up. We're going to take a quick break. This, a CROSSFIRE special town meeting from the George Washington University, how America responds to terrorism. Bill Press, Tucker Carlson. We'll be right back.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE, live from the George Washington University. American forces are on the ground in Afghanistan. What are they encountering there? We're asking our panel, Laurie Mylroie and Sebastian Junger. We have a question from Todd from Alexandria.

TODD: Yes, my question is, considering that with most previous military conflicts, the objectives have been clearly defined and the enemies that we're fighting against are also clearly defined, given that we're no exactly certain of these two criteria, can you tell us, how will we know when we have won this war?

CARLSON: When do we stop, Laurie Mylroie?

MYLROIE: I think that is a very important question. And Todd has put his finger on a very point.

I used to teach at the U.S. Naval War College, the senior Naval Academy. That's exactly what was pounded into the head of the incoming faculty and the faculty into the heads of students.

The needs for clarity in objectives, and means. And one of those things that troubles me is that we have not defined what -- clearly what this enemy is. As I've suggested, I believe it is Iraq that is providing the direction and expertise for this terrorism. And one of the risks we run is that as we go to war with bin Laden, there may be another terrible terrorist attack. And it would be natural for U.S. officials to interpret that next attack in context of our war with bin Laden.

Will as a result, intensify our campaign against bin Laden. Saddam will recede ever more from our memory and our consciousness. And we may be giving him license to repeatedly attack us because everything that happens, we blame on bin Laden. And we do have to ask, I believe, whether Iraq wants the United States, in fact, to go to war in Afghanistan and become entangled there.

PRESS: But it may be too late to ask that question. Correct?

MYLROIE: Could be.

PRESS: Question now from Michael, who's from nearby Fairfax, Virginia for Sebastian Junger -- Michael.

MICHAEL: I know that President Bush is building a coalition to fight the war on terrorism. What kind of compromise should we look for in our American values, especially democracy and human rights? You know we know that President Mubarak, for example, has been persecuted over 12 million Christians in his homeland for 20 years in Egypt. And we looked around, because that was in our favor to get him involved in the peace process. So, and you know now, this going to get -- are we going to have Saddam on board, possibly Iran? And where does it stop? And how do we do that without compromising our values?

(APPLAUSE)

PRESS: Want to tackle that, Sebastian?

JUNGER: Thanks for easy question.

Well, first of all, just starting at home, in terms of freedom of the press, things like that, and attacks on Arabs in this country, I think that's subsided, but that was very upsetting.

I would just like to say that bin Laden may have taken from us 6,000 people, 7,000 people in the World Trade Center, and sense of safety. I think it's extremely important that he not take from us our basic democratic values.

If we do things like shut down the press a little bit, attack Arab-Americans, we're playing exactly into his hands. As far as being allies with countries overseas that maybe don't have the kind of democracy we would like, I mean, to be very cynical, all through the '70s and '80s in Central America, South America, that has not been a problem for us to do business with countries like.

I'm not advocating that. I'm just pointing out, you know, our history. That doesn't seem particularly problematic.

PRESS: Unless perhaps...

CARLSON: Laurie Mylroie, from the what do we do next file, this Niko from Boston.

NIKO: Hi. I was wondering how should the U.S. change its foreign policy in order to prevent further attacks by foreign terrorists?

MYLROIE: Well, I think an important point that has to be re- examined and addressed is how terrorism has been treated over the past years, basically during the Clinton administration, as a law enforcement issue, with the emphasis on arresting individuals and bringing them to justice.

And one of the things, you know, as I'm speaking to the public, I find that people are shocked to learn that say, following the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and all terrorism subsequently, that at least that occurs on U.S. soil, the information from the FBI's investigation stays within the Justice Department.

It never crosses this line and goes to the national security bureaucracies. That's because of bureaucratic turf wars and grand jury secrecy laws, but it means that only the Justice Department, particularly the FBI, has the evidence and has -- and can judge and make the evaluation whether a state was involved. Well, the FBI is oriented toward arresting individuals because it's a law enforcement agency. And the bureaucracies that are most interested in state sponsorship never get the information that would allow them to judge whether there was state sponsorship. And that really has to change. We cannot ignore state sponsorship.

PRESS: Sebastian, you've spent some time with the Northern Alliance. A question about the Northern Alliance from Tiffa, who's from Ridley Park, Maryland -- Tiffa.

TIFFA: Yes, hi. I had a question for you. The roots of Afghani bitterness can also be linked to the feelings of being played by the United States against the Soviets years ago. And I wanted to ask you, how you foresee the Northern Alliance perhaps experiencing these same feelings and fears towards us, since before we have basically ignored them?

JUNGER: Well, I should start by pointing out that there wasn't one Afghan among the hijackers who committed those attacks. Should start with that. The Taliban, it's true. They came out of the refugee camps on the Afghan border, something that should not have been neglected.

They're people in desperate circumstances. And that breeds extremism. As far as the Northern Alliance goes, they had a little bone to pick with me as an American because we supported the Taliban in '94, but otherwise they're very eager for support from us and they want to work with us.

CARLSON: Sebastian Junger, Laurie Mylroie, thank you both very much. We have to go a break, but we'll return in just a moment with our CROSSFIRE town meeting live from the George Washington University. We'll be right back.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Thank you, Wolf. Our 10 night run at the George Washington University has come to an end, sadly. We'd like to thank our terrific guests tonight, our studio audience and the university.

PRESS: Yes, indeed. Thanks to our home away from, the George Washington University. A special thanks to President Steve Trachtenberg, who's here tonight, and the vice president, Mike Freedman. Thanks, everybody, for watching. We'll be up next week with Wolf Blitzer between 7:00 and 8:00 on CNN.

Good night, everybody. Have a great weekend. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: See you from the studio.

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