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Is the Bush Administration Being Too Politically Correct in the War on Terrorism?

Aired November 19, 2001 - 19:30   ET


BILL PRESS, HOST: Tonight, is the Bush administration being too politically correct in the war on terrorism?

Are officials too concerned about civilian casualties? And should the president be hosting a Ramadan celebration at the White House? This is CROSSFIRE.

Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. For Afghanistan's Taliban, the days are numbered. They have lost control of two-thirds of the country. Their troops are defecting and their leader Mohammed Omar is reportedly negotiating his own surrender. But that's not good enough for some critics of the war.

It could have been over a lot sooner, they say, if President Bush hadn't tied the hands of the military by insisting on, quote, "low collateral damage." Sunday's "Washington Post," in fact, cited 10 times when U.S. forces believed they had Taliban leaders in the crosshairs but were refused permission to fire for fear of killing civilians in the process and turning public opinion against the war.

One general on active duty even called conduct of the war so far, quote, "military amateur hour." So who is right? Is the Pentagon fighting a vigorous yet carefully calibrated war in Afghanistan? Or are we prolonging the war by trying too hard to be politically correct?

Former Assistant Defense Secretary Frank Gaffney says, "Win first, worry later." Arab-American institute President Jim Zogby counters, "Win, yes. But win it right." Tucker Carlson.

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST: Jim Zogby, welcome. You probably read the "Weekly Standard" today. If you did, you must have caught Fred Barnes' piece.

Let me read you an excerpt. He said, "This is not a war for the hearts and minds of the citizens of the Muslim world and it doesn't really matter if they believe the U.S. is fighting against Osama Bin Laden and not Islam. What matters is what happens on the battlefield."

This is true, is it not? That the Taliban didn't begin defecting when the U.S. starting putting officials on al Jazeera. They began defecting when the war started going against them. JIM ZOGBY, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN INSTITUTE: Let's thank God that Frank Gaffney and Fred Barnes aren't running this war and that President Bush and in fact Secretary Powell are, because in fact we are winning on the ground, number one, and number two, we are working hard to win the hearts and minds of the people in the region.

This is a broad war, as the president said. We don't want it to become a clash of civilizations. In fact it is not. It is a fight against terrorism with a global reach. That's the fight that we are fighting and we're doing very well at it, so what is Fred Barnes' gripe?

CARLSON: Well, let me try this again. Let me...

ZOGBY: One more time.

CARLSON: One more time. Exactly. I want you to listen to David Forte. He's an Islamic scholar and he went on "Late Edition" this weekend. He was asked something along the lines of, what works when you are dealing in this region of the world, the region he studied most of his life. That's what he said.


DAVID FORTE, ISLAMIC SCHOLAR: In the Middle East, especially in tribal wars and in wars of -- where -- where extremists attempt legitimization, the worst thing you can do is look weak.


ZOGBY: So we look weak? I mean, what are we talking about?

CARLSON: We don't look weak now. And the point is...

ZOGBY: What are we talking about? The hosting a dinner at the -- at the White House is a bad thing, to respect Muslims and Ramadan .

CARLSON: I suppose the point is that when you are attacking terrorism in Afghanistan, it's fine to get good images on television. But what the people of Afghanistan respect is strength and that's what they respond to. Not propaganda.

ZOGBY: There's a little bit of racism involved in that.

CARLSON: Racism?

ZOGBY: Yeah. It's the old colonial -- it's the old colonial "all they understand is force." What the president is trying to do is build a broad coalition.

We need allies in the broader region to root out terrorism -- not just in Afghanistan -- but to root out the al Qaeda network that exists elsewhere in the world.

In order to do that we need friends. In order to do that, we need to work with our allies and respect our allies and their concerns so that we can build the broad -- the broadest and strongest coalition in this effort. It's working. What's the gripe?

PRESS: Frank Gaffney, if this is a PC war, there's no doubt who set the tone. From the beginning President Bush said this should be a war with quote, "low collateral damage." Now my question to you is, what's wrong with that? Shouldn't the United States be expected to conduct war in the most humane way possible?


PRESS: So you agree with it? No beef?

GAFFNEY: I don't have any problem with trying to do that. I have a problem with missing targets of opportunity that could shorten the war -- maybe even end it -- and prevent a lot more suffering for the people of Afghanistan, and for that matter people elsewhere in the region who are now deluged with refugees coming across the borders because of the war, by taking out people who we put in our crosshairs when the opportunity present also itself.

There may be be collateral -- you know, that's such an antiseptic septic term. There may be some additional loss of life. But my guess is that, by and large, people who driving around with Taliban leaders are not all that innocent. And if their lives are lost as well, so be it.

ZOGBY: I hope we are not basing this discussion on some unnamed military people who spoke to the "Washington Post" who I may not know and you may not know whether or not they even know what they are talking about. I think that what we have to look at is the war as it has been conducted. Of course you avoid collateral damage. Of course you go after the targets that you can. The fact is is that the national -- the national effort has been unified behind the president and it's working so far.

PRESS: Well, first of all, I would point out that President Bush is not an unnamed military person, and neither is the next person I would like to you listen to because on your point, Frank, that these occasions when they have been told "hold your fire because there may be civilians," the fact is, they weren't sure what the target was.

And there may have been civilians who might have been there not of their own free will, actually, which is a point made by assistant defense secretary -- maybe it's deputy -- Paul Wolfowitz -- deputy, in fact -- Paul Wolfowitz, a man I don't think I have ever agreed with on anything. This marked the occasion. Here is Mr. Wolfowitz. Secretary.


PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: We have said from the beginning that one of the major concerns in this campaign is to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties. And that we have said from the beginning and apparently that's what these people are complaining about. But it is part of the strategic success here, I think, that we have in fact been very careful not to kill civilians. Not that we have always succeeded. But we worked hard at it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: And just adding, isn't that why we have a civilian commander in chief and a civilian defense secretary? To rein the generals in?

GAFFNEY: Yes, but this assumes that generals want to kill innocent civilians, and I don't think there's any evidence of that. The point that I would like to make is not that we are necessarily holding back too much. It's that I think we need to be clear that war entails casualties.

We have fought this war so far, I think, to the great credit of the U.S. military and the civilian leadership -- many of whom I am happy to say are my dear friends and close colleagues -- with incredible precision and an absolute minimum loss of civilian life.

And that is despite the efforts of the Taliban. Taking a page from good old Saddam Hussein's book of putting their forces, their leadership and other assets in places like hospitals and mosques and perhaps using civilians to screen their military targets.

This is a tough business. But all I'm saying is -- and I don't fault the administration. I think it's doing a splendid job overall. I do think that we need to have a streamlined system that allows targeting and decisions about whether to pull the trigger to be made in the shortest possible time, because when you are in this kind of game you want to get those guys before they are off and hiding again.

CARLSON: Amen. Jim Zogby, we have been very careful -- the United States military -- in not killing civilians. One wonders sometimes if we have been too careful.

Sunday's "Washington Post" -- the piece you referred to -- points out than in October at one point, the United States had identified a Taliban convoy moving north to resupply forces fighting the Northern Alliance.

They were going to bomb it until they were called off by a person in fact named in the story -- in answer to your question, -- named Shelly Young, who's a Navy lawyer who said, "This may be a trick. There may be civilians in that convoy." I guess my question to you is, if it's a trick and there's civilian in there, whose fault is that? That's the Taliban's fault. Why should that rein us in?

ZOGBY: The overall conduct of this war has been designed to avoid as many civilian casualties as possible. To accomplish the objective of, number one, rooting out al Qaeda. Number two, destroying the Taliban leadership. Number three, creating a very different environment in Afghanistan.

My point to you is, it's working. What's the gripe? What are we talking about?

CARLSON: I'll explain you what the gripe is. There's a cost to it. I mean, those soldiers were on their way to the battle front. Now, they made it there. Once they got there, they killed -- hold on -- they killed our allies. And they civilians.

ZOGBY: You're second guessing every judgment that was made in this war. And I don't think that pays any of us right now to be doing it.

CARLSON: And -- and that may be true. But there's still a thematic question here that I think is worth mulling over, and that is, you know, how much do we err on the side of caution, here, in the middle of a war? And to what extent can we control the Taliban's behavior?

ZOGBY: Frankly, I don't know what we are talking about. I really don't, Tucker, because the fact is...

GAFFNEY: Let me give you an example, Jim.

ZOGBY: The fact is...

GAFFNEY: There is a good example of not pulling the trigger when Mullah Omar was in the car because there was an innocent civilian, so called, sitting next to him, according to -- apparently -- this same JAG lawyer. That's a case where had that been done on day one of our going into Afghanistan, who knows how much shorter the war might have been? Again, this isn't to second guess every judgment. Because I don't feel...

ZOGBY: It is, though. That's what you are doing, Frank.

GAFFNEY: I don't feel comfortable doing it any more than you do.

ZOGBY: This is coming close to an end.

GAFFNEY: I think what we are looking at is if these guys survive the battlefield, it isn't necessarily coming to an end. It's going into the hills and fighting the kind of war that the Afghans have fought from time immemorial.

ZOGBY: I can't figure you guys out. You wanted a clash of civilizations from day one. You wanted us to start with Afghanistan, go to Iraq and bring in as many Middle East countries as possible.

GAFFNEY: Let's talk about the topic. Let's talk about the topic.

ZOGBY: You didn't get there. You didn't get there. This war is almost coming to an end, and we are going to see the United Nations and a host of other countries coming in and helping Afghanistan.

PRESS: All right.

GAFFNEY: This is why -- this is why, Jim -- you don't -- you don't get it. This war is not coming to an end with Afghanistan. And the problem is going to be with you and your pals who are going to say, "Whoa, stop! The coalition will fall apart if we take the war to the next terrorist-sponsoring government."

ZOGBY: You are not only really good at second-guessing the military, but you are second guessing me.

GAFFNEY: I can hear you setting it up. The war is supposed to be over.

PRESS: Let me jump in here. Let me jump in here with a question, because both you and Tucker are building from a phony premise, which is that you are sure this is a military convoy. You both said it. You don't know. May I remind you...

CARLSON: I never said that.

GAFFNEY: I didn't say that.

PRESS: May I remind you, just -- I thought you did. If you didn't, then he did. You get -- as you go down the road, I mean, let's -- let's -- we have been down this road before, is what I'm trying to say.

Remember Kosovo. There was -- there were cases where the pilots -- our pilots -- said they were sure this was a military convoy. They ended up hitting trucks filled with civilians who were trying to flee the city.

Remember that train? The train was crossing the bridge. We all saw that video, over and over again. There's the pilot. There are 14 civilians killed in that train. Was sure it was a military target. Frank, you don't..

CARLSON: Frank, listen...

GAFFNEY: And remember the bunker in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein had had innocent civilians sitting on top of his command bunker.

PRESS: My point is...

GAFFNEY: This does happen in war. The question is ...

PRESS: Wait. Whoa, whoa.

GAFFNEY: you bring it to an end as quickly as you can and accept some of those casualties...

PRESS: No. No.

GAFFNEY: And sometimes you do.

PRESS: No. That's -- that not the question. That's not the question. With all due respect, I ask the questions.

GAFFNEY: Oh, you ask the questions.

PRESS: And the question is, don't you have to admit you can't be sure? And if we are not sure, it's worth taking time to be sure.

GAFFNEY: It depends on who is going to get away if you could get him. And that's the judgment call. And again, I'm not going to make the second guessing. I'm just saying -- as I think Tucker is -- this is the hard part of war. And generally speaking, war is not good for civilians. That's why we don't like to fight them.

PRESS: But if it takes -- if it extends the war by another three weeks, so what? What's your hurry?

GAFFNEY: If it's your kid that got killed in that three week time, maybe you'd feel different.

PRESS: No American has been lost yet.

CARLSON: Mr. Gaffney and Mr. Press and even Mr. Zogby, we have a lot more to talk about. We begin second guessing in the second half. But first, it's a tradition in Washington right before Thanksgiving for the president to pardon a turkey. This year President Bush pardoned two. Here he is doing it.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By custom, an alternate is always on hand to fill in if needed. This one right here, his name is Liberty. And the other turkey, the alternate, his name is Freedom. And Freedom is not here because he's in a secure and undisclosed location.




BUSH: I appreciate your support of our objectives in the campaign against terrorism. Tonight that campaign continues in Afghanistan so that the people of Afghanistan will soon know peace. The terrorists have no home in any faith. Evil has no holy days.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. As American special forces scour Afghanistan for Osama Bin Laden, the Bush administration wages its own war from Washington: a propaganda offensive for the sympathies of the Muslim world.

Today the U.S. government announced it will send millions more in food aid to Afghan citizens. Tonight the president hosts a Ramadan feast at the White House for Muslim diplomats. The message of both: we care. We are not insensitive and this is not about Islam.

Is the message getting through? Does it matter? Is it even counterproductive? Are PR considerations getting in the way of the shooting war? Joining us at CROSSFIRE tonight, James Zogby, who is president of the Arab-American Institute, and Frank Gaffney, who is a former assistant secretary of defense. Bill Press.

PRESS: So, Frank, two other -- well, one we just mentioned. There are two -- two other things I want to ask you about, where the president has been accused maybe of being too politically correct. But I want to give you an easy one first, which is tonight's dinner -- historic dinner at the White House.

The President hosting 50 ambassadors from Muslim countries to celebrate Ramadan. There have been Thanksgiving feasts at the White House, christmas feasts. Never a Ramadan dinner. Don't you think that's a lot more than just PR? I mean, that that is like an important part of showing that we do have a broad coalition and that this is not the United States versus the Muslim world?

GAFFNEY: Well, I think it depends. I -- It depends on who is in the company. Is it the Sudanese ambassador? Is it the Iranian ambassador to the U.N? Is it the Iraqi ambassador to the U.N? These are people -- these are people who we are talking about trying to have in our broad -- now, maybe not the Iraqi yet -- yet -- but the Iranian, the Syrian, the Libyan, the Sudanese. These are people who, frankly, are on the wrong side.

The president said there's no good terrorists and bad terrorists. But there are a lot of people in the administration who have been trying say -- excuse me just a second -- have been trying to say...

PRESS: Let him finish.

GAFFNEY: ...have been trying to say we can make common cause with those people. I think as long as the president is meeting with Muslim Americans who are not in favor of terrorism or meeting with diplomats from countries that are genuinely on our side and not sponsoring terrorism or harboring terrorists, there's no problem with it at all. To the contrary, I think it's a good thing. I would like to see the guest list before I certify it it as absolutely OK.

PRESS: And I thought that was the easy one.

ZOGBY: We go from political correctness to Gaffney correctness. Listen, Frank. The fact is that whether there was a war going on or not, it is important for the president to honor Ramadan in the way he did it.

This has been an evolving practice, as you know, from the Reagan administration when they first began to recognize the eid and Ramadan. The Bush administration upped the ante. The Clinton administration hosted eid dinners and it was a marvelous event, although folks in your crowd went through the checklist and saw who was there that you didn't want to be at the dinner.

The fact is, however, is Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions in America. It's a very important statement that this administration is making that we are in fact a Judeo-Christan, Muslim, and other society and we are taking steps to recognize that. Very important. If we are going to start worrying about...

GAFFNEY: Let's just get into that a little bit.

PRESS: Go ahead. GAFFNEY: Because there's a difference between Muslim Americans who are Americans who practice the Muslim faith, and Islamists who are, I believe, unfortunately closer to the camp of Osama Bin Laden or to wahhabis in Saudi Arabia.

ZOGBY: Frank, we're talking about ambassadors. A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, Frank.

GAFFNEY: No, no, no. No, no, no. We are talking -- we are talking about a series of meetings that the president is.

ZOGBY: You don't know what you are talking about.

GAFFNEY: Excuse me.

ZOGBY: You don't.

GAFFNEY: The president has had a series of meetings at the mosque, at the White House and now with Muslim ambassadors.

ZOGBY: Right.

GAFFNEY: Some of the people in that room...

ZOGBY: Right, the Saudis and the...

GAFFNEY: The president shouldn't have been dignifying. The president shouldn't have been dignifying. Some of the people in the room. The president shouldn't have been dignified.

CARLSON: Thank you. Thank you, Frank.


PRESS: Tucker, I just want to follow up. If you had...

GAFFNEY: We ought to be able to look at that list. I don't think the president wants to dignify people who don't want you cooperating with the FBI.

PRESS: Let...


PRESS: Let the White House do its business, Frank.


PRESS: One at a time.

GAFFNEY: They should do the business of checking some of these people and I don't think they did that.

PRESS: And it's my turn. My turn. You mentioned the ambassador from Iran. I mean, of all the Muslim leaders in the world that I have heard condemn what happened on 9-11 and indicate solidarity with the United States in wiping out terrorism, it's the President of Iran. So you say he shouldn't be there. That's fighting the last war, Frank.

GAFFNEY: Well, I couldn't disagree more. The president of Iran doesn't run Iran. The mullahs who run Iran are still supporting terrorism and they may want to us kill the folks in Afghanistan that are their enemies too, but let's get back to the basics here.

The war doesn't stop with Afghanistan, and Jim -- and I suspect some of the people maybe at dinner tonight -- will want it to stop there and pretend that we have taken care of terrorists the world over. We won't unless we deal with them in Iran and Iraq and Sudan and elsewhere.


CARLSON: Now, let me -- Jim Zogby, by the way, it's your birthday and I want to wish you a happy birthday.

GAFFNEY: Oh, happy birthday.

PRESS: Now don't you feel bad?

CARLSON: And now I want to spoil it.


CARLSON: Because I want to get to what -- part of what Frank Gaffney was saying...

ZOGBY: Right.

CARLSON: ...that this isn't just a Ramadan dinner. Nothing wrong with a Ramadan dinner, of course. But this is part of an ongoing campaign by the White House to make the point that we are religiously tolerant society. I think it's a -- of course it's a valid point. It's a nice point to make.

ZOGBY: More than tolerant. Religiously respectful.

CARLSON: It raises another question.

ZOGBY: Right.

CARLSON: And I -- and I want you to read something that Charles Krauthammer -- doubtless one of your favorite columnists...

ZOGBY: No doubt.

CARLSON: ...wrote a couple of weeks ago about this campaign. Said, having, you know, coming up with pen pals in the Islamic world et cetera.

Listen to what he said. Quote, "After the carnage of September 11, should not our Muslim allies be urging their people to seek out American pen pals. We were the ones attacked by Muslims invoking Islam. Why are we the ones required to demonstrate tolerance?" It's a fascinating question, and yet it's totally true. I don't notice -- I don't the Islamic world demonstrating tolerance for other religions.

ZOGBY: Well, Tucker, you're wrong. I just came back from the -- from the Arab world, from three countries where in fact the discussion was how do we reach out to Americans and how do we make ourselves better understood and how do we better understand them? It's a very -- it's a deep and growing concern in that part of the world among leadership, among academics, among religious leaders. They in fact want to do exactly what you are talking about.

CARLSON: Is that right? Well, hold on. Wait.

GAFFNEY: I don't see any Christians in...

CARLSON: Let me -- let me ask you that question.

ZOGBY; In fact -- in fact, we are moving in that direction.

CARLSON: Are we really? We were in Saudi Arabia, I think, and in Saudi Arabia, as you know, it's illegal to practice Christianity, for instance. And Muslims in Saudi Arabia can be beheaded for converting to Christianity. This is, if not the norm in the Muslim world, then certainly not unusual. In Pakistan, a non-Muslim's court testimony is given only half the weight.

It's outrageous. This is not religious pluralism. And yet the United States, again, the onus on us to prove that we are accepting of the rest of the world. It's outrageous.

ZOGBY: No, that's not true. We are in fact a different society.

CARLSON: That's for sure.

ZOGBY; And thank God we are. And that's why my parents came here and that's why I'm very proud to be an American. But the fact is is that we are reaching out and they are reaching out. And we have a lot to learn from each other. And I think that the process of doing what the president is doing, we are gaining knowledge.

But also understand, they are gaining knowledge about us. And hopefully in the process of doing this, we can create a leavening force in that region that will be very positive. Now, if this discussion is going to be about how do we kill civilians and how de we disrespect Islam, then in fact I guess...

CARLSON: How about, why doesn't Islam respect us? That's the question.

ZOGBY: Frank -- well, the fact is...

GAFFNEY: Let's just talk about al Jazeera for a moment.

ZOGBY: I don't want to talk about al Jazeera.

GAFFNEY: Communicating as -- communicating as a government- controlled media...

ZOGBY: What are you doing? What are you -- what are you doing?

GAFFNEY: ...a very hostile image of America. I mean, this is all nice. But it doesn't...

ZOGBY: Look, Frank, I work for other...

GAFFNEY: ...doesn't track with reality in the region and more generally in the Muslim and Arab world.

ZOGBY: I work in that region. I work in the region and I know it well. I work in the region. I work in the region and I know it well. And there is an ongoing debate there as there is an ongoing debate here. If you want to read some of the right-wing columnists, some of the colleagues, I'm sure, in American papers, you would get the impression that Americans hate Arabs and Muslims. Just like you can listen to some TV shows and some radio shows in the Middle East and think all Arabs hate Americans.

GAFFNEY: It's a governmnet-controlled medium...

ZOGBY: The fact is -- is that there.

GAFFNEY: It's what the government puts out, Jim. That's the difference.

GAFFNEY: The fact is, Frank, is that there's an ongoing discussion in that region about how to reach out to Americans and how to reach out to the rest of the world and understand them. I think it's a very salutary development and we ought to be thankful for it.

PRESS: My final question. Knowing that al Jazeera is seen in every home in the Muslim world that has television, isn't the answer for American voices and Muslim voices that support this country and this war to be on al Jazeera rather than just attack it the way you are doing?

GAFFNEY: I don't know. I think it again depends, Bill, because if the rest of the programming other than the -- the sound bite or the minute or two of interview of an American is unadulterated vitriol aimed at undermining America in the region, then I'm sorry. It's not the same thing. It's not an opening...


ZOGBY: ...the cable that you did with me at one point. Understand there are 12 competing cable networks in the Arab world and they all of them reach different niche audiences. We ought to be talking to all of them because that's the way to reach that society.

GAFFNEY: I do agree on that.

PRESS: Thank you. Frank Gaffney, Jim Zogby, thank you very much for coming in. We have closing comments coming up and I'm glad, because I will have one more opportunity to prove that Tucker Carlson is wrong. Stay tuned.


PRESS: Now, Tucker, I don't want to appear too radical, but I'm going to go out a limb and say I am for avoiding killing civilians to the extent that we can, even in war.

CARLSON: Absolutely. I'm totally for that too. But I'm also for religious pluralism. But I'll tell you what I'm against. It's pandering to people who hate us, who will never like us, who will only respect or fear us, and only then when we win. That's why I think we should focus on winning rather than appeasing or public relations or other ludicrous, kind of pathetic efforts to make everyone like us. It'll never work.

PRESS: No, Tucker. You're wrong. It's not just winning the battle on the ground. We're going to do that. There's no doubt. We have such military superiority.

CARLSON: And when we do, they will respect us.

PRESS: No. We have to...

CARLSON: Until we do they won't.

PRESS: No. We have to win it right. If we don't win it right, we are going to lose the war.

CARLSON: Well, of course we are going to win it right. We are Americans. We're not going to go kill civilians on purpose. If a few die accidentally, that is what war is about.

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow might for yet another edition of CROSSFIRE. See you then.




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