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Will the War in Afghanistan be Protracted, or End Quickly?; What Kind of Economic Stimulus Should Congress Pass?

Aired October 21, 2001 - 17:00   ET


MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to a special edition of CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields, with the full GANG: Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson.

The first announced mission of U.S ground troops into Afghanistan was described today by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff as a search for the al Qaeda and Taliban leadership.


GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We have not been able to pinpoint exactly where all these command and control facilities are. We continue to look.


SHIELDS: General Myers was asked whether even now the Pentagon is preparing targets in Iraq.


MYERS: This is a global war on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Afghanistan is only one small piece; so of course we're thinking very broadly.


SHIELDS: Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested a short war in Afghanistan.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think it would be in our interests and the interests of the coalition to see this matter resolved before winter strikes and it makes our operations that much more difficult.


SHIELDS: Is that emphasis on coalition partners impeding U.S. military objectives?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) POWELL: Quite the contrary. Without this coalition we wouldn't be able to do what we are doing.


SHIELDS: What did we learn today, Kate O'Beirne, about the war in Afghanistan?

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Well Mark, from General Myers we learned that two weeks into the war, the military feels as though they have air superiority to the extent that they can now put special operations troops on the ground. Presumably this means the Taliban is not safe in their hideaways, if our troops can move around on the ground like that.

And from Secretary of State Colin Powell we learned that he'd rather the military part of this be over sooner rather than later. The old soldier in him worries about the coming winter and the added demands, of course, on our troops. And I think, as secretary of state, he appreciates that our coalition partners will be bucked up by an early, decisive win in this military phase.

And we heard again what we've know from the beginning: that the war in Afghanistan is phase one. The president has pledged to go offer terrorists with a global reach who threaten us. And that is not just the al Qaeda network.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, do you agree with Kate's assessment?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well, I think General Myers is a rookie on the Sunday talk shows. He came on saying, I'm not going to tell you anything, and he told a couple things.

One thing he told was that the commandos, the Rangers, were not able to find the command and control facilities of the Taliban and al Qaeda. That gives me memories of searching for the cusman (ph) in Cambodia. It's hard to find those kind of troops, the search and control facilities. This is not as simple an operation as might be represented.

The other factor, Mark, is that General Myers, when asked is it true that we are -- the U.S. is targeting targets in Iraq, the school answer was -- should have been, "one war at time." Instead he virtually said yes. He said yes, this is a global war. And I believe that that decision, which is a very, very important decision, has not been made by the president of the United States. It may well be made. But to go into Iraq with a military operation without tying it to the events of September 11 means the United States is going in a different direction in this war on terrorism.

SHIELDS: A different direction, Margaret?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I think they may have tied it in some ways. There was a meeting between al Qaeda and an Iraqi prior to September 11. If these anthrax attacks are tied to anthrax coming from Iraq -- they may already know that and not have told us. So they may have the goods to go forward.

What, you know Myers may be reading from the wrong page is that no one at the State Department wants to say that yet because we do need the coalition that we have the moment; which means we need Pakistan and we need to in Uzbekistan. That's the problem.

I don't think anybody believes deeply in this coalition forever. They believe deeply in it for momentary gain to get rid of the Taliban and then they're going to regroup.

SHIELDS: Al, is this a disposable coalition?

AL HUNT, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL" Yes. And there are some members who are getting, in Margaret Thatcher's term, wobbly already.

But, Mark, I think what was reflected today is what I believe to be a genuine optimism over how this has gone. And I think there are other reports following the one that CNN had two or three days ago about people coming out of Afghanistan, including some former Taliban types, who say the Taliban is quite fractured, and it really is scared and shaky.

So I think there is cause for optimism. But I think General Powell is absolutely right in talking about how important timing is; not because of American pubic opinion, not because of our capacity but because, in part, of the coalition. In part because of winter, which will make it even tougher. And also there is the religious factor of Ramadan coming, starting on November the 17th.

One other factor: The longer we're in there, the longer we send those special forces in -- and we've got the best special forces in the world -- there are more land mines in Afghanistan than any place in the world outside of the DMZ and Korea. And what does that mean? That means the more they go in, the more casualties. And we don't want that.

SHIELDS: Let me just unsettle brother Novak by agreeing with him. And that is this: That if we're going to go into Iraq, we need a full, complete public debate in this country about the commitment involved. We now, at this moment, have 2 million, 150,000 fewer troops under uniform -- in uniform in the United States under arms than we did in Korea. We have half a million fewer of them than we did 10 years ago.

I don't know who we're kidding, because this war isn't going to be fought by the sons of CEOs and congressmen and columnists. And the word processor commandos, frankly, who are urging this -- you know, expand it immediately, they can start sending up their own sons.

NOVAK: And Margaret used the word "if." "If" on the anthrax. And that's the big word that's always used about Iraq.

I disagree with you to this extent, Margaret: I really believe that if they had any firm evidence -- and I don't believe they do on a connection with September 11 -- it would be out right now. Right you now, the British don't even go with us on an attack on Iraq. (CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: But the problem is you're not going to be done with the war on terrorism when you're done with Afghanistan.


O'BEIRNE: Look, we're not talking about going to court where you need probably cause. We know what Saddam Hussein's capabilities are and we know what Saddam Hussein's intentions are.

NOVAK: Then we can bomb Beijing.

O'BEIRNE: I don't see how the president can deliver on his promise that when this is over we will all feel safer if Saddam Hussein remains in Iraq with the kind of designs he has on us and his neighbors.

SHIELDS: But Kate, if you didn't learn anything else in Vietnam, it's that a nation fights a war, not an army. And we don't just send an army somewhere. Are we going to make that kind of commitment as a nation?


O'BEIRNE: I welcome that debate we should have debate.


O'BEIRNE: We should, of course, have that debate; we will have that debate. We're obviously a democracy going to war, pursuing this.

HUNT: We're not ready for that debate now. I mean, to quote the Bible, Ecclesiastes, I think there's a time and a season. This is not the time and season for that debate. It will be coming soon.

NOVAK: This is Sunday, isn't it?


SHIELDS: For those who may have missed mass this morning, the GANG of five will be back with George W. Bush in China.



SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, good news in Washington, as Miles O'Brien calls it?

CARLSON: Yes, the Capitol is open. And the right decision. The people working there shouldn't be exposed unnecessarily. Any factory floor in America would be closed because OSHA would require it. So leave the offices closed until they're done, but make the wimps come back.


President Bush wound up his stay at the Asian summit in Shanghai by conferring with Russian President Vladimir Putin.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today the world is building a broad international coalition against terrorism, and Russia is taking a full and responsible role in the coalition.



VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): I fully agree with the position of President Bush, and I believe that his action was measured and adequate to the threat that United States was confronted with.


SHIELDS: Earlier President Bush met with China's President Jiang Zemin.


JIANG ZEMIN, PRESIDENT OF CHINA (through translator): We hope that anti-terrorism efforts can have clearly defined targets, and efforts should hit accurately and also avoid innocent casualties. And what is more, the role of the United Nations should be brought into full play.



POWELL: The Chinese were supportive, and we are very pleased with their support.


SHIELDS: Al, did President Bush get a real commitment out of the Russians and the Chinese for the war against terrorism?

HUNT: Yes, for the short term. Invariably in these summits, Mark, good spin is put on, and then it's only later that we learn what the real agenda was. And I think that will probably be the case now.

And considerable tension and focus has been a Russians, and that's understandable because of their history in Afghanistan, their proximity in the region -- former Soviet republics and the importance that they play in this. But I think over the longer haul China may be, in fact, as important -- and probably more important there. And the Chinese are with us now because they have their own fears about Islamic terrorism. But I think when it comes -- one thing they don't want, to back up for a second, is an enlarged American presence in South Asia. And I think that's going to be a real issue down the road.

SHIELDS: A real issue, Bob Novak?

NOVAK: Well, I think the Chinese and the Russians are on our side on this -- on the U.S. side. And a lot of people who want to have a some kind of a holy jihad against Islam are the same people who don't like these alliances with our former Communist adversaries.

But I think there has been a subtle change. If you notice, Putin said -- he gave an approval to the bombing of Afghanistan, while Jiang Zemin did not, was critical. And I think we're as -- the U.S. was more on the side of China for much of the last generation; I think this is switching. And I think that Russia is afraid of China, and I think that the U.S.-Russian relationship is getting stronger, while the U.S.-Chinese relationship is a little touchy.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, the "Washington Post" reported this weekend that as soon as the United States had fired missiles at Osama bin Laden's camp in Afghanistan, 1998, the Chinese were there to dismantle them, to take them apart, to study them. These are our new best friends, I guess.

O'BEIRNE: Well now I -- Russia is clearly more cooperative more openly. It's stunning to think that American troops are stationed on the ground of former Soviet republics, as they are. The Russians have refused to cut oil production, despite the fact that OPEC wanted them to.

I think it's terribly important, this cooperation with the Russians. It's an opportunity for them to cooperate with the West after all these years, as many Russian would like a new Russia to be able to do. It's bound to make the Chinese suspicious, this new friendship with the Russians.

And I think -- they're telling us that the Chinese are being cooperative on the intelligence front, with sharing intelligence. I suppose they could be helpful there. But if they're going to recommend a central role for the U.N., there's no more surefire way for our war on terrorism to fail than to give the U.N. a central role in conducting it, planning it, or in any other major way being involved.

SHIELDS: Margaret, should this be trust -- check and verify...

CARLSON: I think the U.N. is going to have to end up being involved because we're going to have to form a new government there. You can't go in and push out the Taliban and have nothing to replace it.

O'BEIRNE: That's until later.

CARLSON: I agree with you, it is problem. I mean, the U.N. won the Nobel Prize for peace, but not the Nobel Prize for speed. So there's just going to be a problem getting a new government formed.

You know, I made fun of President Bush when he looked in Putin's eyes and saw his soul and said it was good. You know, that friendship -- whatever he saw there has turned out to pay off.

NOVAK: So you apologize?

CARLSON: I do; I apologize to President Bush for laughing at that particular way of characterizing it.

HUNT: Terrible precedent to set on the show Margaret.

SHIELDS: Margaret, we don't have an hour for Bob to apologize for all of his wrongdoing.

CARLSON: Some of which could be to me.

And I think he kicked the can down the road on some of the bigger issues that we differ on, like ABM Treaty and missile defense. Those things weren't discussed. And I'm not even sure he brought up selling the missile technology in China. I think he left these things for Powell to take care of.

SHIELDS: Didn't the Chinese actually get a pretty good deal, though? I mean, all the things that one would have expected if this had happened six months ago when they're shooting down...


SHIELDS: ... human rights, worker abuses -- gone. All of them gone.

NOVAK: Well, they've also taken Russia off the hook on something. The president said, you know, we've got to treat minorities nicely, but the Chechens are not going to get much out of the Bush administration when there's a war a terrorism going on, particularly since a lot of -- now my conservative friends tell me that the Chechens are terrorists. I didn't know that before.

SHIELDS: That's right.

CARLSON: Did you notice that the Bush trip was on A-25 of the "Post" today? I'm struck by how little attention the whole trip got, in favor of -- anthrax was all over. I mean, the media has tested positive for anthrax, so we've really missed a lot of this trip in favor of talking about that.

SHIELDS: Al, Bob Novak used a phrase here, our former Communist adversaries. But only one of our adversaries is former Communist. They're both former adversaries...

NOVAK: Former adversaries...


SHIELDS: Aren't the Chinese still Communist?

HUNT: Bob sees it as a market as opposed to an ideology, that's very important for you to understand.

But I do think the Chinese are critical, and let's not forget the Chinese and the Pakistanis have a fairly decent relationship.

SHIELDS: They should do; how about nuclear?


CARLSON: They're nuclear friends. The best kind of friendship.


SHIELDS: Next on CAPITAL GANG: the tax stimulus. Too much, too little, or just not right?


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

To start this past week, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said the tax stimulus bill approved by a Republican Party line in the House Ways and Means Committee is too large. He added, quote: "Part of what you saw last week was show business," end quote.

The view at the White House was different, but the Senate Democratic leadership sounded closer to Secretary O'Neill.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is very pleased with the actions that the House Ways and Means Committee has taken, and Chairman Thomas' leadership. He looks forward to the vote on the floor, and hopes that this will pass.



SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: It exceeds budget. It isn't stimulative. It doesn't provide the kind of immediate relief in the economy that we're all looking for.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, what happened to bipartisanship in stimulating the economy after September 11?

NOVAK: There has never been such a thing as bipartisanship when it comes to taxes -- not in World War II, and not ever.

But this is a very interesting thing that happened there, because this bill -- I have to say Tom Daschle is right, this is not a stimulative bill. And I don't think the things that Tom Daschle wants, which are redistribution of income, would make it any more stimulative.

But what has happened on this bill -- I hate to ever agree with Al Hunt on tax policy, but he was exactly right last night. This bill, instead of having the good things like a cut in the capital gains tax, an across-the-board speed-up in individual taxation to counter the tax rebate for people who don't pay taxes, which is ridiculous, have given a grant to the big corporations because they have good lobbyists in town. And that is really an absolutely outrage. It doesn't help the economy, either.

SHIELDS: Al, we've got a real populist on your side, here, Bob Novak.

O'BEIRNE: Are you nervous now, Al?

HUNT: No I'm not, because Bob didn't hear everything I heard last night.

NOVAK: I heard.

HUNT: Let me tell you something. During the Civil War, Mark, Abraham Lincoln raised taxes on the rich in order that we could preserve the union. During World War II FDR and the Congress enacted an excess profit tax so we could preserve Western democracy.

The answer now from some Republicans is, in a war on terrorism, let's give the rich more money. That's a dreadful idea; it's perverse; and it's bad policy. The corporate tax breaks are not justified, but neither would be -- neither are the individual tax cuts, which give 41 percent to the top 1 percent and only 7 percent to the bottom 3/5. Why is that bad? Not because I'm a Marxist, not because you want to redistribute income: You want a stimulus package that gives money to people who have to spend it. That's what Alan Greenspan and Bob Rubin and others agreed on several weeks ago. That's what this White House is now reneging on.

SHIELDS: You know, listening to supply-siders Bob, I've concluded -- conservatives like yourself -- the whole problem is money. And that is the poor have too much and the rich don't have enough. I mean, that obviously -- if we could do that, we could straighten out the economy.

NOVAK: Well, that's what Karl Marx felt.

SHIELDS: Margaret?

CARLSON: Repealing the corporate minimum tax means that the corporations are going to have to have their accountants go back and do their taxes. And someone at the House Ways and Means Committee said, well listen, it's not going to happen quick -- that money's not coming to them quickly. And they said, well listen, this is a twofer: We'll help the corporations and we'll help the accountants.

I mean, every pet project has been stuffed in here, including a full deduction for the three martini lunch. The Lobbyists were there, they were vultures. And their war effort consists of saying, listen, we've got to get people going to Disney Land. And the president was asked in his press conference, what kind of sacrifice are you asking of Americans; and he said, well they have to stand in longer lines at the airport. There's an American travel credit -- $500 per person if you'll go to Los Vegas or the beach. And we did Victory Gardens and rationed sugar in World War II, and now we're being told to go to Disney Land?

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: There is a room, though -- a need for a pro-growth, pro-job economic package. I agree all the corporate welfare stuff ought to be stripped out of there.

But George Bush is going to be head accountable for the economy. Obviously they know. He will be judged by a single standard overall: Did he successfully wage his war on terrorism? But the biggest issue domestically is the economy. And his economic team has never compared favorably with his defense and foreign policy team. Very often this administration has no economic message -- this is beginning in January. When they did, very often their own treasury secretaries contradicting it.

They played very little leadership. I think they've missed Dick Cheney being more involved with things going on on the Hill, because he, of course, has been preoccupied, as he should be, elsewhere. And I think you're really seeing now a lack of leadership coming from the White House, mixed messages. The president himself, when he does engage, does say, I think the right thing; it has to be a tax cut package. We've already done the stimulus spending. Congress has spent $105 billion more next year than they have this year; it's time for the tax cuts.

SHIELDS: I think the president will include that...


O'BEIRNE: That's why -- the Democrats still want more spending, and the stimulus package the president reasonably says, we've done the spending, let's do tax cuts.

NOVAK: Exactly. O'Neill really -- Secretary O'Neill gives a mixed message. He really enraged the House Ways and Means Republicans when he talked about this "show business" thing. They were about ready -- in fact, they were calling for his dismissal.

But the point, Margaret -- Al -- I'm sorry, I was going to give it to you...


O'BEIRNE: Although frankly, you're wrong too. You know, you're wrong too.

HUNT: People confuse us always, Bob.


NOVAK: Giving -- you don't get a stimulus by giving money to the very poor people. That isn't going to help anything. And your friend Alan Greenspan is like the oracle of Delphi: You've got to pay attention to what he reads. If you had watched -- if you had read his testimony last week, he said the greatest stimulus you can get is in the investment area. And that -- by doing that you do have a capital gains cut and across-the-board speed-up in the income tax cut, but not grants for corporations.

HUNT: Alan Greenspan specifically said in those meeting with Daschle and Lott, that this was not the time to cut capital gains taxes. He said it specifically. He was asked about, and that's what he said repeatedly. He don't believe in capital gains taxes -- he's wrong on that -- but this is not the time to do it.

And I'll tell you something, Bob, I know...

NOVAK: I'll show you the quote.

HUNT: ... I know you know a lot of poor people, Bob, but somehow you don't quite have it right, because you know something? If you give them extra money, they don't have any choice but to spend it Bob, unlike your friends who can take exotic trips and buy yachts and buy tax shelters, these people...

NOVAK: Listen, you've got more rich friends...


NOVAK: I'm just a poor guy from...


NOVAK: ... when it comes down to it.

But I'll tell you this: This is a redistribution of income, which the left wing is always after. It has nothing to do with stimulating the economy...

HUNT: It should be temporary, so it shouldn't be a redistribution of anything.

SHIELDS: The difference between you and me Bob, is this -- it's very simple: We both grew up baseball fans trying to get Joe DiMaggio's autograph. Now the only people you want the autograph from are rich people. I don't know where it went wrong. Where'd you go wrong, Bob?

NOVAK: Like Cal Ripken.

SHIELDS: I don't know where you went wrong.

This is Mark Shields saying good night for the CAPITAL GANG. Next CNN, "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" profiles George W. Bush.




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