Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS



Is the United States Winning the War on Terrorism?

Aired October 29, 2001 - 19:30   ET



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am pleased with the progress we are making. I'm really pleased with the fact that the American people are patient.


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: But should he be pleased? Is the United States winning the war on terrorism? This is CROSSFIRE.

Welcome to CROSSFIRE. American bombs continue to rain down on Afghanistan today, beginning week number four of the war against terrorism. But the Taliban are still in power. And it's beginning to look like it won't be as easy or as quick as we thought to dislodge them.

In fact, even though Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insists everything is proceeding according to plan, military sources over the weekend said the war in Afghanistan might not be over until November of 2002, leading some, like Senator John McCain, to suggest we are not doing enough now and can never win the war without the introduction of ground troops.

So tonight, how is it really going in Afghanistan? What have we accomplished in these past three weeks. Why is it taking so long to beat a ragtag band of Taliban fighters, and is it time to rethink our military strategy?

Our guests tonight: retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Robert Maginnis, vice president of national security and foreign policy at the Family Research Council, and former assistant Defense Secretary in the Reagan administration, Frank Gaffney, who is now Director of the Center for Security Policy. Bob Novak.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Frank Gaffney, about three weeks ago the administration said that the Taliban fighters were eviscerated. Now, this week they said they have called -- talked about their dogged resilience. What happened to these eviscerated Taliban fighters that they are now dogged in the course of less than a month?

FRANK GAFFNEY, FORMER ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think there may have been some confusion between the facilities, the infrastructure, the hardware and equipment that the Taliban had -- which has almost certainly been largely eviscerated by virtue of effective bombing of known targets -- and the Taliban itself, the people and man-portable equipment that they probably have squirreled away all over the countryside, which is certainly dogged and resilient and likely to be there for awhile.

PRESS: Colonel Maginnis, I saw you on "TALKBACK LIVE" earlier today, very critical of the U.S. efforts. But Donald -- Secretary Rumsfeld today said people like you are just impatient. Now we were told from the beginning this is going to be a long, long process. What is your hurry?

RETIRED LIEUTENANT ROBERT MAGINNIS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, Bill, the secretary actually says that there are going to be differences amongst most military experts about this. So, you know, I don't know that he was critical of what we are saying. What I'm concerned about here is we are looking at a -- probably a protracted war.

We are not putting the right resources in there to accomplish this in a timely basis and we are about to face, I think, a period of Ramadan and winter and we just flat aren't ready to use the Northern Alliance and to use the limited resources we have put over there.

We went into this far premature. We should have put our pieces together and then launched, instead of launch and piecemeal and kind of figure out where we are going when we get there.

NOVAK: Frank Gaffney, Senator McCain as -- unlike a lot of the critics around here, I'm not talking about around this table necessarily, but around the country, around Washington -- has tasted battle. He's an American war hero. Son and grandson of admirals. Let's see what he says about ground troops.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We are going to have to put troops on the ground. We are going to have to put them in force. And although they will not be permanent, they are going to have to be very, very significant.


NOVAK: Very, very significant. Sounds to me like an expeditionary force, like a division strength. You don't think that's a good idea, do you?

GAFFNEY: I don't think it's a good idea. If we can find ground forces that happen to be Afghans to fight with our forces in the air, that's clearly a preferable situation. Whether that can be done or not remains to be seen. As Bob said, we have not seen the Taliban's enemies massing, taking new ground and otherwise carrying the fight to the Taliban the way we would have hoped.

But clearly, I would say before we put American ground forces in -- which frankly not only puts them in harm's way in a very dangerous environment but also may just catalyze this whole Afghan morass into one that is actually unified against us -- I would far rather see us see what can be done with opposition forces who comprise a ground force in place right now.

NOVAK: Well, you have got me a little confused, Mr. Gaffney. It's really not a big expeditionary near force. We had a leading Pashtun commander, Abdul Haq, who was captured and murdered. That cut a lot of that off. Surely you are sophisticated enough that you don't think the Northern Alliance troops are going to defeat the Taliban?

How are we going to win this war? Are we going to teach the Taliban to make love, not war, or what?

GAFFNEY: Well, I'm not saying I'm ruling it out, Bob. I think that what Bob has said about trying to move too fast could apply in spades to trying to move too fast on the ground. Look, there's going to be very unpleasant couple of months here, where nobody is going to want to be on the ground in Afghanistan. Not the Afghans and certainly not our forces.

And my sense of it is, let's see what can be done with those who are there. It will be slower. It will be more painful and it may be less productive than we would like. But far before I would put a division -- let alone several divisions -- on the ground there, I would like to see what can be done with the existing forces in place.

MAGINNIS: Well, clearly we need to equip and arm and train the Northern Alliance, who really aren't professional by any stretch of the imagination there.

GAFFNEY: And others that can be brought to bear, too.

MAGINNIS: And the equipment. There are some Tajiks and Uzbeks and so forth that are in little renegade groups. But we have to put people on the ground. We have to win this. This is not an option. This is the -- probably as much -- as important to this country as World War II was. Korea, Kosovo, Gulf War, not nearly as important. Because they came to our country, they killed 6,000 of our people on our soil, and they will continue to do this and they will use weapons of mass destruction. We have to deny them of that. And the best way to begin is strongly in the first place, which is Afghanistan.

PRESS: But I -- I want to come back to what you said earlier, Colonel, which is saying that we moved in too fast, and implying -- as I think you said earlier today -- that we haven't done enough while we have been there.

Now look, we took a month before they moved. They put together this big coalition, historic in some sense, like being able to put forces and bases in Afghanistan which -- I mean Uzbekistan, which we have never been able to do before. Every day for the last three weeks they have been bombing full bore. What more do you want? Do you want more bombs? More planes?

MAGINNIS: Bill, this has been terribly tepid. During the 43 days of the Gulf War, we bombed -- we sent 1511 combat sorties, on the average. During Kosovo we had more than 500 combat sorties every day during the 76-day war. We have had 65 yesterday. We had about 100 the day before. Maybe today we'll get up to a hundred. If we have plenty of targets out there, we have to generate more combat sorties.

Now the problem is, all we have is three carriers down there with about 50 combat aircraft on each. We ought to have more aircraft in Oman, we ought to have aircraft in Saudi. But the problem is diplomatic. Saudis don't want us doing that. And of course there are all these rumblings from all these, you know, moderates that are becoming scared about our being there.

PRESS: Well, let me tell you, you -- you missed one problem, which is the problem, I think next door, which is Pakistan. We depend on the support of Pakistan.


PRESS: In Saturday's "New York Times," the headlines said that the General Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, said the bombing should end soon. Let me -- let me quote exactly what he told "the New York Times". Quote: "With the prolongation of the operations and collateral damage that is taking place, there is a likelihood of the people sympathizing against the operations in Afghanistan."

So you are saying speed up. And the general we depend on is saying slow down. And even stop, he says, during Ramadan. How do you get out of that?

GAFFNEY: This is part of the problem we are facing. And clearly there may not be any good answer. But I would just say to you, one of the things that ought to be borne in mind here is the administration in power today -- just as the administration that fought the Gulf War fought with the equipment, the resources, the personnel it inherited from the previous administration -- and that in place today is not what was in place in 1991. And we are having difficulties in part because of that.

PRESS: You answered -- you answered his question. So at least let me give you a chance...

GAFFNEY: That's part of the reason we are not doing better, I think, in terms of bringing more power to bear against these guys.

MAGINNIS: We also inherited the diplomacy -- the failed diplomacy...

GAFFNEY: We did.

MAGINNIS: ...of getting out of Central Asia. We had a terrible relationship with India and Pakistan and any of the other former Soviet republics. So we didn't have any friends until the last couple of years that we started to generate something. So we really were trying to play catch up. And you can't play catch up like this in four weeks. This should have been laid out. We shouldn't have done anything significant in that country until next spring.

PRESS: Whoa. NOVAK: I would like you to listen to the new chairman of the joint chiefs of staff at a recent briefing.


GENERAL RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We are pretty much on our plan, and we are in the driver's seat. We are proceeding at our pace. We are not proceeding at the Taliban's pace or Al Qaeda's pace. In the truest sense, this is -- this is our -- we are setting conditions. They are certainly not setting conditions for us.


NOVAK: Now, do you know what "The Four O'Clock Follies" were in Saigon? I went to them many times where they would get -- they would go out...

GAFFNEY: This was not with the dancing girls.

NOVAK: No, no, no. This was a briefing by...


NOVAK: This was a briefing by the military. You would go out and see the real war and you would come back and you'd hear, "That has no connection with the real war, does it?" Do you believe that -- you are a good supporter of this administration. Do you believe that?

GAFFNEY: I think they are on their plan. The question is, is the plan the right plan? And is the plan using the forces that we have as effectively as we can? I think we can have an honest debate about that.

But I think this war is going about as well as could have been expected. The expectations may have been too high. But then this would have been over. A splendid little war. 100 hours. Knock the guys off. It may have even been that some administration spokesman spoke too enthusiastically in the early phases of it.

But really, if you look at Don Rumsfeld and the way he has characterized the problem and what it was going to take to address it, I don't think we could have sat around for six months. You talk about a problem in the region. It would have been nothing if we had left them alone for this period. You talk about weapons of mass destruction used here...

NOVAK: Frank, just...

GAFFNEY: this country, it would have been nothing if we had left them alone for six months.

NOVAK: Briefly before we take a break, I would like to get your reaction. It's been in the Abdul Haq catastrophe, it's been revealed that the CIA is involved on the ground. Does that make you feel better or worse? GAFFNEY: It's a mixed bag. I'm really nervous about the present leadership of the CIA, personally. I would like to see some changes...

NOVAK: But do you like the CIA operating...

GAFFNEY: I think the CIA is an important asset. I don't think it's properly tooled and equipped and led at the moment.

MAGINNIS: It's outdated, quite frankly. It doesn't have the capability it had 20 years ago and that has been part of the problem that we're facing today. Terrorism is out of control because we have neutered our CIA.

GAFFNEY: And the Pakistanis are unreliable.

NOVAK: We have to take a break. And when we come back we'll conjecture whether or not we should hold up the war in Afghanistan because of a Muslim religious holiday and the advent of winter.



DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There have been any number of conflicts between Muslim countries and between Muslim countries and non-Muslim countries throughout Ramadan. Needless to say, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are unlikely to take a holiday.


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. The president and the secretary of defense warn this is going to be a long war. But is it a time for long break to honor the month-long Muslim religious holiday of Ramadan and to hunker down for the long, hard Afghan winter? Is this any way to fight a war? We are asking retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Robert Maginnis, vice president for national security and foreign policy of the Family Research Council, and former assistant Defense Secretary Frank Gaffney, director of the Center for Security Policy. Bill Press?

PRESS: Frank, it's my pleasure to grill you this half of the show. You said earlier we are proceeding according to plan. It seems to me the plan keeps changing. You know, September 12th, Osama bin -- maybe even the 11th, Osama bin Laden is the poster child for terrorism. We are going to bring him back dead or alive.

And yet just at the end of last week, here's what Secretary Rumsfeld told "U.S.A Today," quote, Are we going to get Osama bin Laden? was the question. He said, "It's a big world. There are lots of countries. He's got a lot of money. He's got a lot of money, he's got a lot of people who support him. And I just don't know whether we'll be successful. Clearly it would be highly desirable to find him."

So I'm going to ask you, when did the plan change from you got to get Osama bin Laden to if we do, we do, if we don't, we don't.

GAFFNEY: Again. I don't think that's a change in plan. When you heard Don Rumsfeld clarifying his remarks the next day -- or the Monday that followed it or whatever he said

NOVAK: Today, I think.

GAFFNEY: No, no. Well, he's -- he's probably been given lots of opportunities to clarify. The point that he was making is I didn't say we wanted to do it. I didn't say the objective wasn't bringing him back dead or alive. He was just saying it's hard. And I think that's the point here.

You know, we can talk. We can quarterback. We can speculate about whether the plan is the right one, whether it's being implemented satisfactorily and whether it's changing. I think the bottom line is, this is a very hard job, and we are doing it as systematically as we can given the resources we have, given the constraints of weather and time and circumstance, and all of us hope we bring back Osama bin Laden dead. Not alive. And that we do it sooner than later. It may well be later, though.

PRESS: But part of the success of this operation is the message. It's communicating the right message. Wouldn't you have to agree to put out the word that we might not get Osama bin Laden after all and it's kind of OK if we don't, although we would like to. Isn't that the very wrong...

GAFFNEY: I don't think he said that.

PRESS: I quoted him.

GAFFNEY: No, but you didn't say -- Secretary Rumsfeld certainly did not say it's OK if we don't get him. He just said we may not get him. And what I really want to communicate here is I think the administration does need to do a better job expanding upon, clarifying, and disseminating the message: both here, frankly, and abroad.

This is a case in point. I think not where the secretary misspoke or changed the plan, but where he was very candid about the problem. And I'm happy to have him making that -- made as clear to the American people as we can.

NOVAK: Colonel Maginnis.

MAGINNIS: You have to be careful about these mantras. We're going to smoke them out. We're going to go after him dead or alive. We have heard this from this administration consistently over the last six weeks.

Unfortunately, they have had to back away from that. You know, that's indicative of a plan that is coming together step by step. And I'm afraid behind the scenes -- and I happen to know a little bit behind the scenes -- that that's exactly what has been happening.

NOVAK: Colonel, I want you to listen to somebody. Not from this administration, previous administration. Hear what he has to say.


RICHARD HOLBROOKE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: If these cities, Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif are not taken before winter, the history of warfare in these situations is that front lines don't change very often, if at all, in winter. And I don't think we would be in a very strong position if we spent the winter bombing with the political lines as they are, the opposition to us mounting, and Osama bin Laden -- our real target here -- still at large.


NOVAK: So he is saying, as I read him, Colonel, let's hang it up for the winter. You know, go into a sauna or something for that time. Is that -- isn't that what Dick Holbrooke is saying?

MAGINNIS: I think he is, Bob.

NOVAK: What do you think of that?

MAGINNIS: Well, I'm disturbed by that. I'll tell you, I spent four years in the Arctic. I understand, you know, cold weather and fighting in the mountains. Frankly, it's incredibly difficult. It's hard to get air strikes in at a meaningful rate. And it's just...

NOVAK: And he said the lines don't change.

MAGINNIS: And the lines don't change. You know, you dig in. You can't dig anywhere else when the ground is solid frozen. So you really have some significant problems. So if we are going to get Mazar-e-Sharif and establish a forward operating base -- which I think is a good idea -- we have got to do it soon and we have to help the Northern Alliance to advance there. Right now, I don't see that we are making the necessary progress to beat the snow.

NOVAK: All right, Colonel. There's another way -- in today's "Wall Street Journal," Robert Barclay, the editor of the "Journal," in his column said...


NOVAK: He still has got the title.

GAFFNEY: Does he still have the title?

NOVAK: Yes, yes.

GAFFNEY: More power to him.

NOVAK: Says that we have to go after -- the United States has to go after Iraq. That's the -- and he gives a big argument. But then the last sentence of his column is, "Our troops may be bogged down in the snows of Afghanistan while the main enemy goes untouched."

So is this the wrong target? Should the pleaded American army, instead, decide we are going to wage a war against Iraq instead of worrying about a winter campaign in Afghanistan?

MAGINNIS: Bob, we don't have the capability to do what you are articulating. We need to take care...

NOVAK: Not me. This is Barclay.

MAGINNIS: We need to take care of Afghanistan. You know, we had 18 divisions back in '91. We are down to 10 right now. We flat don't have the capability, even with our reserves and national guard should we call any more up. So -- now, I do believe that Iraq has to be in the crosshairs. And I know we disagree there. But Iraq, I believe, is the source of some of the agents that you know, quite frankly, Osama bin Laden might get ahold of.

NOVAK: But you would wait -- you would wait for Afghanistan.

MAGINNIS: I would wait, because we don't have the resources to do anything but that.

PRESS: Frank Gaffney, I want to suggest that the problem is not the oncoming winter, that the real big problem that this administration faces is the patience of the American people. They have told us it's going to be a long campaign.

Over the weekend, as I said at the top of the show, military officials were quoted in "the New York Times" as saying this is going to go into November 2002. Some of thought it was going to be over, given how poor the Afghan people, with a total budget -- not just military budget -- total budget of $83 million. I mean, that's chump change. And we still haven't beat them.

But my point is, do you think the American people are really going to hang in there until November of 2002? Wouldn't you agree if it's not -- if we don't see some real progress by Super Bowl, the American people are going to turn against this war?

GAFFNEY: I don't know. I don't think so. The -- the incalculable factor, here, is what is going to happen to us in the meantime? And the thing that makes this very different from any war we have fought in a long time is we have taken a bad hit at home. But unfortunately, as I think Bob was saying at the top of the show, it ain't nothing compared to what is in store if we are not careful. And one of the reasons why I think he's absolutely right, we have got to be fighting this war to win.

And by the way, not just win in Afghanistan. I think we have got to be very clear that other countries -- and the president has said this, the secretary of defense has said it, the secretary -- we are looking at a global problem, and it has to be prosecuted systemically and in a sustained way, and the American people -- if properly led and told the truth about this conflict -- I think are going to support it. They have to.

PRESS: Let me suggest another problem. This is another problem, which is we bombed a Red Cross facility three times. We bombed a hospital. We bombed accidentally residential neighborhoods. They say that there have been hundreds and hundreds of casualties. Even the Pentagon has admitted that. And some of this, of course, is inevitable in any war. But how much longer and how many more civilian casualties before the people of that region turn even more against us than they are?

GAFFNEY: Well, this is again why I would make the focus of this working with Afghans, not trying to take the war over and put our own forces on the ground and fight it as though it's us versus them. Remember, we firebombed Dresden. We atom-bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

This is a war against civilians only by accident and in a trivial way, so far, and I hope it will remain that way. And our job is to take that message to the Muslim world and to the American people.

MAGINNIS: Bill, you're right. It's a PR war and I think we are losing it right now. Those pictures that we aren't seeing are being shown in Europe and all over al Jazeera and through the Muslim world. They are not very happy with us. The moderates are running from us and the radicals are gaining ground.


GAFFNEY: Some of those moderates aren't so moderate.

NOVAK: The president -- President Musharraf of Pakistan says we ought to fold it up for Ramadan. Ramadan starts in November. Wouldn't that -- wouldn't that -- doesn't that add to the tension if we keep bombing them during Ramadan?

MAGINNIS: Bob, eight years of Iran, Iraq war in the 80's they fought through Ramadan. You know, every year of the occupation of the Soviets they fought through Ramadan. You know, the Syrians, the Egyptians attacked the Israelis during Ramadan.

NOVAK: Musharraf is just...

MAGINNIS: Musharraf is important, and we need to work with him and develop that relationship. However, if we fail to continue and sustain this operation, it's going to fall apart. We'd better be cautious.

PRESS: All right. Colonel Maginnis, Frank Gaffney, we are going to send you to the Pentagon to take charge, straighten this thing out. But thank you for starting out right here on "CROSSFIRE" tonight. Bob Maginnis, Frank Gaffney, good to have you back. Bob Novak and I, two armchair generals, will give you our take on how to run this war in our closing comments. We'll be right back.


NOVAK: Bill, I don't know if we are on schedule in Afghanistan. I'd like to see the schedule one time and then -- then I could judge. But one thing I would like to ask you, as a representative of the left, when things get bad, are you going to cut and run like you did in Vietnam or are you going to feel that America -- America's prestigious is at stake and we ought to try to get this right, even if we are not getting it right now?

PRESS: Well, I'm not going to support anything the administration does. So far I have supported this effort there. I just have real questions about whether we know what we are doing, Bob.

NOVAK: There's nothing wrong with that.

PRESS: I want to know where are all the major defections from the Taliban, right? And what about, "we ran out of targets?" That was said like the second day. Bob, I hope we succeed. I'm just beginning to have less confidence that we know what we are doing in Afghanistan and that we know what we are doing here with anthrax.

NOVAK: Bill, you may not know this, but the CIA used to have a paramilitary capability. Ran a company -- ran a very nice paramilitary war in Laos on a low expenditure. And that was all dismantled thanks to people like you so that when I was saying, are you glad the CIA is on the scene, they just don't have the capability to run this kind of war.

PRESS: The CIA did some evil, horrible things, Bob, and they should not get away with them any more.

NOVAK: There you go again.

PRESS: But they can give us intelligence, which they are not. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.




Back to the top