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Interview with James Steinberg, Richard Perle

Aired November 21, 2001 - 19:30   ET



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Afghanistan is just the beginning on the war against terror.


TUCKER CARLSON, HOST: If Afghanistan is just the beginning, what's next? Should Saddam Hussein be worried? This is CROSSFIRE.

Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. It won't be long now. The Taliban have agreed to surrender Konduz, one of only two cities in Afghanistan they still control. For the Taliban, it appears to be the beginning of the end. But for America, President Bush said today, it is only the end of the beginning of the war on terrorism.

What's next? Saddam Hussein is likely to be wondering the same thing. On to Baghdad, say some in the administration. Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. He'd like to use them. Why not take him out before he does?

Not so fast, say others. Afghanistan must be restabilized first. And members of the coalition must be convinced before America strikes again. After Afghanistan, how do we fight a war on terrorism? That's our debate tonight.

Joining us, former Clinton deputy National Security Advisor, James Steinberg, and Richard Perle, who is the former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. And here's Bill Press.

BILL PRESS, HOST: Richard Perle, we all know that this war on terrorism doesn't stop here. But I still think it's very unclear as to what does come next. So I'd like to begin by listening, if we can, all of us, to the president -- that little bite we started at the top -- the rest of what he said, and then get your response. Here's President Bush today talking to the troops down in Kentucky.


BUSH: Afghanistan is just the beginning on the war against terror. There are other terrorists who threaten America and our friends, and there are other nations willing to sponsor them. We will not be secure as a nation until all these threats are defeated. Across the world and across the years we will fight these evil ones, and we will win.


PRESS: Now, we are fighting a military war in Afghanistan. Is what's next that we are just going to keep sending our bombings -- bombers from one country to the next?

RICHARD PERLE, FORMER ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, I think once we dispatch Saddam Hussein and liberate Iraq from that tyrannical regime the others will fall into place.

If we first destroy the Taliban regime and liberate Afghanistan, and we then go on to do the same in Iraq, when we then approach the syrians and the Sudanese and others, we will have a very convincing argument for why they should stop supporting terror because they could be next.

PRESS: So here's the list, according to the State Department, that they've identified seven nations as being state sponsors of terrorists. The list is: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Cuba, North Korea, Sudan. Those seven to which some would add Yemen and -- and Somalia.

You're asserting or suggesting that once the Taliban is gone, all seven, all nine of those countries are going to say, "Here are our terrorists. We surrender. Here they are?"

PERLE: No. I think we have to demonstrate a second time that we are prepared to get serious about terrorism and we are prepared to take the war against it.

PRESS: Which one do we go after next?

PERLE: Well, I -- my candidate is Iraq, because Saddam Hussein is very dangerous. He has weapons of mass destruction which he's used in the past. He's killed people -- civilians -- with nerve gas.

There's no reason why he can't do that again. Probably will do it again. So we ought to take action before it's too late and it will be too late if we wait until he distributes anthrax and other biological and chemical agents to any terrorist that is willing to come to Baghdad and pick up a consignment.

TUCKER: Now, Mr. Steinberg, it seems to me that the case for taking out Saddam Hussein is pretty straightforward. He has, as Mr. Perle said, weapons of mass destruction. We know he would like to use them against us. Why wait until he does?

Consider it this way. If you had a neighbor who was heavily armed, a gun nut, and he was making threats against you and you called the police and said, "My heavily-armed neighbor is making threats against me."

They wouldn't say, "Well, he's popular with the other neighbors. We're going to leave him there." No, they would arrest him immediately. They would take preemptive action. Why shouldn't we do the with Saddam?

JAMES STEINBERG, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Clearly Saddam Hussein should -- what we have to remember is first our efforts thus far have prevented him from using these kinds of weapons. He's had these capabilities for a long time. There's no evidence that he's given them to other terrorists.

But second, the question is what's the most effective way to stop this? Now, if we are going to try to do this militarily we need the support of other countries. We've had to have the support of other countries in Afghanistan against a far less capable force, and we aren't going to have that support unless we can build the coalition to go after Saddam. And that means having the support of others.

What we can do now -- we have a unique opportunity to put new pressure on him. The Russians have said they want to work with us. Let's get them to change their position in the U.N. Security Council and really put the pressure where it works. We may need to use force in the future. But right now let's take advantage of the strong coalition that we've got.

TUCKER: Well, I think you're making my argument for me that we have the -- more support from the rest of the world perhaps than we've ever had, certainly had in a long time. Russia and China, as you said, are much friendlier than they were months ago. Strikes me that for that very reason it's time.

But also consider this fact. Demonstrations against the United States and outcries against the bombing have subsided since the war has turned in favor of the Northern Alliance and us, which is to say our victory brings us support from the rest of the world. Strike now. Why not?

STEINBERG: There have been very few demonstrations against us because the world has supported us in Afghanistan. We laid the groundwork. We demonstrated to the world why we need to act.

What we need to do is the same now vis-a-vis Saddam. We cannot do this unilaterally because we don't have the military capability simply to go in by ourselves without incurring enormous cost to the United States and creating enormous turmoil in the region. We don't gain much by getting rid of Saddam and destabilizing the region, because there are others who could become a threat us as well. And that could strengthen them.

PRESS: Well, wait a minute. I think there's something missing here. The reason we have this coalition, the reason we have the worldwide support against Afghanistan, against the Taliban, against Osama Bin Laden is because there's direct evidence of a connection to 9/11.

There's none with Saddam Hussein. What is the evidence connecting Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and without it, what justification do we have to go in and bomb him?

PERLE: The justification -- first of all, I'm not suggesting that we go in and bomb him. That's too simple. The justification is simply that he poses a threat to the United States. He poses a threat to our civilian population.

And we can wait. We can hope for the best. We can do what Jim counsels and try to engage other countries to support us. I'm not quite sure what they would do to assist us, but we can wait and hope that Saddam doesn't hand anthrax to an al Qaeda terrorist.

We know that his intelligence agents have met with al Qaeda terrorists in the past. We know that he's been involved in acts of terror in the past and we know that he has brought his country to the brink of ruin rather than allow U.N. inspectors to have a glimpse at his programs for developing biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

I don't want to wait and take the chance. We did that -- we did that with al Qaeda, we did it with Bin Laden. We waited. We knew what he was up to and we waited until it was too late.

PRESS: Well, look. With Saddam Hussein the first time, he invaded Kuwait. There was clear justification for going after him and with we had the allies with us. Again, with Osama Bin Laden supported by the Taliban, there was clear and -- clear justification for taking some retaliatory measure to clean them up and the world was with us.

I mean, what authority do we have just to go after a country just because we think that they may be a threat to the United States? China is a threat to the United States. Where do you start, where do you stop?

PERLE: Well, I'm quite willing to start and stop with Saddam Hussein. We have a right under the United Nations Charter to act in our own self defense. It is undeniable that Saddam poses a threat. Jim agrees he poses a threat. He just wants to wait and hope that there's a better way of dealing with it than taking direct action.

STEINBERG: What I want to do is take the kind of action that would make a difference here. What we need to do, as Richard has suggested, is to make sure the terrorists don't get weapons of mass destruction. That means destroying the terrorists. That means we need the support of others.

We've seen where the terrorists are operating. It's not in Iraq. They're operating in Germany. They're operating in Spain. We need others to work with us to -- to break up those cells, whether they're in Europe, whether they're in the Middle East, whether they're in East Asia.

We are working effectively now. We've got a group strong enough to do that. We've had -- we've made real progress. We need to build on that.

TUCKER: Should we bomb Germany, Mr. Perle?

PERLE: No. Of course we shouldn't bomb Germany. Germany is assisting us in trying to root out the terrorists. Saddam isn't. Saddam harbors terrorists. Abu Nidal is living today in Iraq, protected by Saddam Hussein.

The president has this one right. From the very beginning he said we will not distinguish between terrorists and the countries that harbor them. Iraq is a country harboring terrorists.

STEINBERG: I'm curious, Richard, what you would do about Iran, which we all recognize is the most serious supporter of terrorism, has the most active program right there.

PERLE: I think we have to deal with Iran as well. Iran is a different situation.

With the right encouragement, the people of Iran are going change their government. There are significant demonstrations in Iran today in support of the United States, which is popular in Iran. The government of Iran is not popular.

And happily, the efforts of your administration to cozy up to the -- to the Iranian leadership didn't get anywhere and so we have a reasonable prospect now of encouraging the revolutionary forces in Iran that are going to turn...

STEINBERG: I'm not -- I'm not sure how you can say we cozied up to the Iranian government when we imposed the deepest sanctions that have ever been imposed on any country and we've had the strongest program against Iran. The fact is although there may be some political change there, we've seen no letup in Iranian support for terrorism.

PERLE: Wait, you think that...

STEINBERG: I think it shows why we need (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the rest of the world.

TUCKER: Wait. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) something you said earlier, a few moments ago. You seemed to suggest that going after Iraq would bring in retaliation more terrorist acts in the United States, that our act of aggression would bring acts of aggression down on us. But we weren't at war with anyone when September 11th happened. I mean, it came out of the blue. It wasn't a reaction to military action...

STEINBERG: Tucker, what I said was that if we tried to do this action against Iraq without building support in the international community, what we will do is we will not be as effective in getting al Qaeda.

TUCKER: Wait a second. But wait a second.

STEINBERG: We will not be as effective in getting al Qaeda, which is the people who are conducting those terrorist acts.

TUCKER: But there's no twisting history as recent as the past two months. We all know that the Taliban, in the process of being defeated, are not being defeated by a coalition but by the Northern Alliance and the United States and to some degree Britain, but not by Saudi Arabia and not by Iran, not by some coalition run by us. STEINBERG: That's wrong. Because what we have is we have access to bases throughout the region. We have access to airspace. We would have a much, much, much more difficult time conducting this operation if we didn't have the support of Pakistan and others.

PRESS: All right. I see you want to get in, but I want to ask you a quick question. If we are talking about nations that support terrorists, why isn't Saudi Arabia on the list?

I mean, we know that's where the Bin Laden family made its fortune. The money is flowing, as we read almost every day in the "Wall Street Journal" from Saudi Arabia to -- to Bin Laden. There is anti-American, anti-Israel stuff in the -- in the official government press in Saudi Arabia every day. Why do we leave them off the list?

PERLE: Well, the -- the Saudis would claim that they do not support terrorism.

PRESS: But you don't believe that.

PERLE: Well, I think they've been doing some very foolish things. They have been dispensing large of amounts of money in the support of institutions that are preaching a vitriolic hatred of the United States and the West.

I think they did that to keep terrorists quiet right in their own country. They've been exporting their troublemakers and that has become a real problem for us and ultimately it's going to be a real problem them.

PRESS: But isn't the truth that we -- we have a double standard when it comes to Saudi Arabia and we always have because of the oil, because Dick Cheney has got the oil connections and Poppy Bush has the oil connections...

PERLE: Oh, please.

PRESS: And that's why we always look the other way no matter what the Saudis do.

PERLE: I think frankly we didn't fully understood how seriously the Saudi support for a particular, virulent brand of Islam was contributing to the -- the terrorist threat that we now face.

Now we understand that. And I expect that we will be having serious discussions with the Saudis about it. We should have had them years ago. It took far too long. We waited. The lesson is, you can't wait in these situations and expect that you're going to get home free. We know.

PRESS: Gentlemen, we're going to take a break. And when we come back, the all-important question that noone else is asking. As American forces move into Afghanistan, can flush toilets be far behind?


PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: There is still a lot of work to be done in Afghanistan and a lot of work beyond Afghanistan.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Another day, another key city surrendered by the disintegrating Taliban. It won't be long before it's over. That's clear.

But then what? What country's next on the list? And even before moving on to other countries, what happens inside Afghanistan itself? Is there a plan? If so, what is it? And should the United States go it alone from here on?

Former Clinton Deputy National Security Adviser James Steinberg says, no, no, no. Former Reagan Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Perle says, go, go, go. Tucker.

TUCKER: Mr. Steinberg, there's a lot -- when you hear people talk about the coalition, it's as if it's this sacred thing we don't want to tamper with.

I just want to point out how reliable how our coalition stands. First we have Pakistan, which of course created the Taliban. Then you have Saudi Arabia, where Idi Amin now lives.

Think in '96, quick (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you worked for the Clinton administration. '96, Sudan wants to turn over Osama Bin Laden to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis say no.

The Clinton administration decides that we don't have the evidence to indict him and so he gets expelled to Afghanistan. Two years later, the bombing in Tanzania and Kenya. If Saudi Arabia can't even accept Osama Bin Laden, just temporarily, for our sake, what will they do for us? And why are we paying attention to what they think?

STEINBERG: We're paying attention to what they think because we need to work with them if we are going to be effective against Iraq and against others.

That doesn't mean we should give them a free pass. We ought to be concerned about what's been going on. We ought to be concerned about the fact that they have been supporting a kind of fundamentalism that's very dangerous to them and to us. I agree with Richard on that.

So we have a very important set of issues to deal with Saudi Arabia, but that doesn't mean we just simply turn our backs. There's a reason why we've had engagement there, and we don't want to lose the influence we've had because of that.

TUCKER: Well, now that we're on this -- on the topic, I can't resist asking you, why did the Clinton administration let Osama Bin Laden go?

STEINBERG: We didn't let him go, Tucker. You have to have a reason to hold him.

TUCKER: It sounds like you did.

STEINBERG: We had to have a reason to hold him. We could have brought him to the United States and have a federal judge order him free. That wouldn't have helped us in the cause against terrorism. It would have -- you need to have a law here.

That's what they used to do in the Soviet Union is execute people without laws. That's what they do in China. But that's not what we do in the United States. And we worried about it, do we do it then, and I don't think anybody would be like to see us do it then.

TUCKER: We wait for them to do it to us. Richard Perle, what do you think?

PERLE: Well, I think we could have held him. I think we could have found charges on which to hold him. Tax evasion. There are all sorts of ways -- Al Capone.

PRESS: Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. Tax evasion for Osama Bin Laden in the United States?

PERLE: Sure.

PRESS: He's not even an American citizen. What are you talking about?

PERLE: He had money -- he had lots of financial dealings in the United States. Look, if we...

PRESS: He wasn't paying his taxes? Richard, that's absurd.

PERLE: Financial crimes, OK? If we had recognized the danger he posed, I don't think there's any question we would have done it. Ask Jim now. In retrospect, would we have been wrong to bring him in?

STEINBERG: We didn't have any basis to hold him. You know, Mary Jo White, our prosecutor in -- in New York, is one of the toughest prosecutors around. She's been working on this case for a long time. If there had been a way to hold him, she could have indicted a ham sandwich. But she didn't have anything to -- that she could hold him on.

We got him out of Sudan. We broke up his base. And we had to keep doing what we could do.

PRESS: I want to ask you, if I could -- before we move on to other countries which we've been talking about, isn't it true that the number one objective and goal is not what happens outside of Afghanistan, but what happens inside of Afghanistan?

There's no doubt we are going to win. I mean, this is like a Pop Warner team playing the NFL. But do we have a plan on the ground in Afghanistan when we win, and what is it?

PERLE: Well, I think we are hoping that some government will emerge that is reasonably stable and that the Afghan people, freed from the tyrannical reign of the Taliban, will achieve some kind of civil order. I hope they do, and we can encourage it. We can't create it it for them. They've got to do that for themselves.

PRESS: But I know -- the question I have is, what is the United States planning on doing to supplement the military victory? I'm going to -- let me point out to you this week's "New Yorker" magazine has an article about former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is very critical of our operation. I mean, he supports it but he's critical of it.

One of the things he's critical of, and he says it's clear that we have no plan about what are going to do next. Let me just read a quick quote from that "New Yorker" article.

He says there ought to be a planning team. And, "that planning team should be producing real product that is changing the lives of people in liberated so it's live on television, so al Jazeera can go and interview people who are saying, 'God, I'm glad the Americans won.'" Here it is. "My kids have a flush toilet."

Now, that's kind of silly, but shouldn't we be in there with, I don't know, color TVs or food or blankets or whatever?

PERLE: Well, we've already done a lot. We've already liberated half the population of Afghanistan. Women can now go outside unaccompanied. They no longer have to cover themselves in veils. They can get an education. They can work. We've done a tremendous amount just by what we've done so far. I think we can and should do more.

PRESS: Isn't that campaign more likely to win the hearts and minds of people in the Arab world and put the best positive message about the United States out rather than considering a military campaign against another country?

PERLE: Hearts and minds and messages are fine. I want to get Saddam Hussein before he gets us. You know, we are not going to protect this country by winning hearts and minds when there are people like Saddam Hussein. No one suggests we are going to win his heart or his mind.

TUCKER: Get him before he gets us. Mr. Steinberg, that, though well expressed by Mr. Perle, I think was put another way even more profoundly by Donald Rumsfeld today. Listen to what he said at Fort Bragg earlier today.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: You cannot defend against terrorists. You simply must go after them. You have to find them where they are and root them out and stop them.


TUCKER: There's no way to defend against terrorism he said. If you're going to end terrorism you have to end the terrorists themselves. The risk is in not acting.

STEINBERG: And that's exactly what we are doing, because we are going against the terrorists. And what we need to is we need to finish the job in Afghanistan.

We need to make sure that the -- the fighters who are there, the terrorists who are there don't get out, that we pursue them relentlessly and that we follow them across the globe.

That's where we are working with other countries. What we need to do is to make sure that there aren't terrorists out there who are going after us. We've been able to contain Saddam Hussein. Now we need to deal with the terrorist threat.

TUCKER: But you've said again and again that we can't go into other countries without somehow the agreement of the international community, the U.N., the coalition, whatever that is. Why can't we move unilaterally to eliminate terrorists where we find them?

STEINBERG: We can do whatever we think is in our national interest. But the question is, how do we do that? If you're going to mount a military operation, you've got to answer the question, how do we do that without bases in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf? How do we do that the without the support of Turkey? How do we put that together kind of military operation?

Unless you've got answers for that, it's wishful thinking to say that we're just going to get rid of this because we've got a military answer to all our problems.

PERLE: Let me -- let me give you some answers. You're assuming that we won't get help from anyone. I don't see why you assume that. Why do you assume that -- that our friends in the region cannot be persuaded?

PRESS: Tony Blair has already said he will not support the military action against Iraq.

PERLE: Well, then we'll do it without Tony Blair.

PRESS: But then you're saying we're going to go it alone.

PERLE: No, not necessarily we are going to go it alone. I think Jim knows that every one of those governments in the region would be delighted if Saddam Hussein were to be driven from office. Every one of them.

Now, they're not going to stand up and say that until they are convinced that we are serious about bringing him down. If and when we're serious, we will find the support we need. And the idea that the coalition is automatically against us is pure assertion without a shred of evidence to support it. PRESS: Let me -- let me question how serious we are. Last week the Congress offered $8 million more for the opposition forces inside of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. The Bush State Department turned it down. How serious are they about change there?

PERLE: Well...

PRESS: It doesn't sound like they're serious at al.

PERLE: I think we need some changes at the State Department first.

PRESS: This is a Bush White House.

PERLE: It's -- there is a clear examination now of how to change the policy of the last eight years. The last administration refused to do anything to support the opposition.

PRESS: Mr. Perle, this is the Bush White House.

PERLE: And there's been a lot of...

PRESS: They've been in office for 11 months.

PERLE: Give them a little longer. They'll get it right. I'm confident they're going to get it right. But they have got to overcome some pretty entrenched opposition at the Department of State, at the Central Intelligence Agency. They are now reviewing this. And I'm pretty confident that when this review is over, we will not have another eight years of the Clinton policies.

STEINBERG: That's certainly not the line that Secretary Powell took when he went out to the region and he consulted with the other countries in the region. That's why I think we do have to take that seriously.

I think Secretary Powell had the right idea. There are ways to move this forward. We need the support of others to do it, but we -- he's got a right strategy and we ought to pursue that. We have got a better opportunity now precisely because people do want to move forward on this.

PERLE: The -- if -- if Secretary Powell goes back to the region and says, "Gentlemen we are determined to remove Saddam Hussein from power. We want your help," he will get help.

STEINBERG: If that's your assertion, then we need to see what the reality is and talk to leaders in the region who know what the potential destabilizing effects of that kind of policy would be.

TUCKER: Mr. Steinberg, Mr. Perle, thank you both very much for coming on CROSSFIRE. We appreciate it. Bill Press and I will be back in just a moment with our closing comments, but first we go to CNN's Christiane Amanpour, who is in Kabul, Afghanistan. Christiane?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TUCKER: You know, Bill the frightening thing about September 11th was we didn't see it coming. We didn't know where the threat was coming from.

The difference between that and the situation in Iraq now is we know that there's a threat in Iraq. We know Saddam Hussein has the weapons and plans to use them. I think it's negligent and to allow it to happen.

PRESS: Look, Tucker, there is no love lost between me and Saddam Hussein. But we do not have the evidence. The world is with us so far because of 9/11. We go after Iraq next, it's the biggest mistake we could make. We would have to go it alone and it's going to be the United States versus the Arab world.

TUCKER: We don't -- we don't have the evidence?

PRESS: Not even Tony Blair would be there.

TUCKER: Where have I heard that before? We heard that -- or rather, we didn't hear that...

PRESS: What is the evidence? What is the evidence?

TUCKER: I'll tell you this. We heard that in 1996...

PRESS: What is the evidence?

TUCKER: ...when the Clinton administration said we don't have the evidence to try Osama Bin Laden so we are going to let him go to Afghanistan.

PRESS: What is the evidence? Answer the question.

TUCKER: The evidence is that our inspectors have concluded that he has chemical and biological weapons. And they're not there for (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They're there for killing us and people we...

PRESS: Scott Ritter says no...


TUCKER: Well, look. Evidence is what screwed up the Clinton administration. Oh, we don't have the evidence -- we don't have the evidence to try Osama Bin Laden. Let him go to Afghanistan.

PRESS: You know...

TUCKER: Thousands of Americans have died in the wake of that. That was a terrible decision. They ought to repent for that. They ought to be ashamed of that.

PRESS: This is the United States Tucker. But let me say, you talk about what our action ought to be. Osama Bin Laden, this idea that, you know, as someone said we ought to -- if we find him we ought to kill him, big -- another big mistake, if you ask me. I think what we ought to do is...

TUCKER: But we should be killing...

PRESS: ...bring Osama Bin Laden back here, put him on trial in a federal courthouse in downtown New York, a show trial and show the world.

TUCKER: Absolutely. That is absolutely right. And Johnny Cochran can be his lawyer and I'm sure he'll find a jury and get him off. That's right. That's great. That's a real -- that'll be a triumph for Western civilization.

PRESS: Well, if we don't think -- if we don't think that we have got the evidence against Osama Bin Laden and can try him and find him guilty, then what is this all about?

TUCKER: At what cost? He goes on trial. The jurors are killed. People are kidnapped, more terrorist acts are committed in the name of freeing him. He has a platform for spewing his garbage for months if not years? It's ludicrous. He doesn't deserve a protection. He doesn't deserve a jury trial or protection of our Constitution.

PRESS: You know what the cost is? The cost is we show the world who we are. We show the world that we have a system of justice that depends on evidence.

TUCKER: That we are stupid and naive and soft hearted and worthy of their attacks.

PRESS: No, no, no. The American system of justice is not stupid. It it is what we are all about.

TUCKER: That is absolutely ridiculous. He doesn't deserve it.

PRESS: Hey, guys. Have a happy Thanksgiving. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

TUCKER: And from the right I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again Friday after Thanksgiving for another edition of CROSSFIRE. See you then.




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