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Will Osama bin Laden Be Found?; Will Arafat's Speech Break the Cycle of Violence in Mideast?; Will Congress Agree on Economic Stimulus Package?

Aired December 16, 2001 - 20:30   ET


MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to a special Sunday edition of CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak, and Karen Tumulty of "TIME" magazine. Good to have you here, Karen.

The Eastern Alliance today claimed victory at Tora Bora, the last Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden had been reported surrounded, but U.S. officials on today's television interview programs told a different story.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We don't know where Osama bin Laden is, but we do know one thing. He is on the run. We're going to keep after him until we bring him and the al Qaeda leadership to justice.



COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Our mission was to go after him, but really after al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is being destroyed in Afghanistan. Now we have to destroy it wherever it exists around the world.



DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, we don't know what the number is. We know what we're killing and we know what we're capturing.


SHIELDS: On route to Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told reporters of evidence that al Qaeda may have developed chemical and biological weapons.


GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: It is frightening. Our list now has grown to something a bit over 50 installations inside Afghanistan that we want to take a look at.


SHIELDS: Al, if Osama bin Laden has in fact slipped away, what would that mean for the war against terrorism?

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Oh, that would be really bad news, Mark, but it's not going to happen. He's not going to slip away. That noose is too tight. The only issue is, does he, is he, do we get him or does he kill himself or have one of his own people kill him. I just don't think he can slip away.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that once that occurs, that that means the war on terrorism is over and we have triumphed. I mean, the first thing you have to understand, as I think you do, is that these, these terrorists, I hate to use this term because they're so dastardly and evil, but there's almost an entrepreneurial quality about them. They do things years in advance. They approve projects. They send people out. There are cells all over the world. And just because Osama bin Laden is killed does not mean that the terrorist threat has ended.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak?

BOB NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": That's right, but I'm not as optimistic as you are about Osama bin Laden. I certainly hope they have gotten him, but there is all the signs coming out of there that he has slipped into Pakistan. That's a strong possibility.

Does that mean that he has the same effectiveness he had when he had the freedom of a whole country in Afghanistan with the Taliban government supporting him? Of course not. He's greatly diminished and the al Qaeda is greatly diminished, but it is a problem when they don't know where he is.

It's an added difficulty, and even without Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda continues to be a real threat, even if the Afghan war is over. With him, it's just that much more difficulty.

SHIELDS: I know you're a great boxing fan, Karen Tumulty. And Joe Lewis, the great heavy weight champion said of Billy Pawn (ph), a challenger once, he can run, but he can't hide. And that really seems to be the position of Osama bin Laden now, isn't it?

KAREN TUMULTY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: The problem is, in these mountains, there are lots of places to hide and that's why we keep hearing from our top military officials that we're going cave to cave on this.

So, when they catch him, how they catch him, who knows. But the fact is, he's been the face of this war from the beginning, from the moment that the terrorists attacks happened through President Bush talking about getting him dead or alive, and certainly the release of this tape last week is all the more going to whet the publics appetite to get the guy's hide. SHIELDS: One thing that struck me was the Marines are now building a POW camp, and it's to hold 300 prisoners. I mean, this is not exactly the battle of Bull Run, is it? I mean, in terms of numbers. I mean, it just, really, it truly, isn't. You think of the concentration of attention, energy and effort, but, I mean, there really aren't that many troops engaged.

NOVAK: It's a very small number. There are very few casualties. But, let me add something else here that bothers me. It probably bothers very few people who aren't in the business of journalism, but this is shaping up as the worst reported war since World War I. World War I didn't have television, didn't have very good communications, they still don't know what happened in World War I, there was so much lies told about things that were going on.

Because they didn't -- after the first few weeks, they didn't allow any reporters, but what we have right now is, today, we have the eastern, the eastern alliance, which are, I think you're very close to some of those people, but I don't know them. But the eastern alliance, the eastern alliance says that they have captured Tora Bora. The U.S. government says, well, they might have, they might not have.

The problem is, we are relying on officials who said that Osama bin Laden earlier in the week was surrounded, now he may be gone. We're relying on officials to tell us what's going on instead of reporters. Reporters in Vietnam would have told what the truth was. They're not able to tell the truth here.

HUNT: Amen. Amen, Robert Novak. You are absolutely right, and I think what's going to happen, we're going to find out later that the government didn't tell us -- that they lied to us about some things that went on, and I think that's going to eventually backfire on them, and it really, really bothers me a lot.

And I think Bob would agree that when we say it's the worst reported war, it's not because of the reporters, the reporters -- some reporters over there, including particularly those at CNN, are showing tremendous courage and doing great jobs. But there is a government effort to clamp down. There is a government secrecy, and it doesn't have to do with the national security reason.

SHIELDS: Karen Tumulty, I think if it's going to come back and bite somebody, that somebody most likely will be Don Rumsfeld, who has had the reputation of this kind of straight shooter, straight from the chest, talk direct, Mr. Encourage, Mr. Command. If it turns out the United States government has been dissembling, I think Rumsfeld will be one of the main casualties, politically.

TUMULTY: The question though, and you look at these poll numbers, you look at these approval numbers, whether even if the government is found out to have been dissembling, to have not been telling the truth about...

SHIELDS: It's OK with the people.

TUMULTY: At this point, it's hard to see, you know, as long as it looks like we're winning and people are still this angry, I think the benefit of the doubt is going to be on the side of the military.

SHIELDS: It was interesting, yesterday "The New York Times" reported that the reason we knew the Delta Forces and the special forces were even there is that we found Poland Springs bottles left behind.

HUNT: Mark, it's not just there. There are 500 people being detained here. Maybe it's justified, but when you ask who are they, where are they being held, what are they being charged with, the government says we're not going to tell you. Now that's secrecy...

NOVAK: Well, what's going on in the war, it pretty much, of what we know, I mean, I know these people are risking their lives and journalists are being killed, but what we know is what Secretary Rumsfeld, who I think is doing a perfect job, gives out a couple of days in the Pentagon in the briefing room. That is what the press' information is, isn't it, pretty much?

TUMULTY: And it's all the more important in a war like this, when who knows what victory is, when somebody can surrender and change sides on the same day. It's -- that calls for all the more hard-nosed and accurate reporting.

SHIELDS: Last word, Karen Tumulty. The gang of four will be back with a move by Yasser Arafat.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. After being declared irrelevant by the Israeli government, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat tried to position himself against terrorism.


YASSER ARAFAT, PRESIDENT, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY (through translator): All sorts of armed activities should be halt, should be stopped, and there should be no more attacks, especially the suicidal bombing attacks that we have always condemned. And we will arrest all those who plan these attacks.


SHIELDS: Will this break the escalating cycle of violence in the holy land?


EPHRAIM SNEH, ISRAELI TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: No doubt that he said important, very important things. I do not underestimate or belittle their importance, but Arafat will be tested with the results, deeds and not by declarations.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NABIL SHA'ATH, PALESTINIAN INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION: I did not hear Mr. Sneh say anything about what Israel intends to do in stopping assassinations and stopping the closure and stopping the bombing of our very police, which is supposed to be pursuing those actions that President Arafat is talking about.


SHIELDS: Karen Tumulty, does Yasser Arafat's move now open the way for negotiations?

TUMULTY: Well, Mark, if there's a pattern to Yasser Arafat's history, it's that he doesn't deliver until his back is up against the wall, and then usually he does. What is significant about this speech is not only the tone, which was much stronger than anything we've heard over the last 15 months of violence, but the fact that he dropped the conditions. He is no longer arguing there's nothing I can do as long as Israel keeps up these attacks.

He said very explicitly, you know, it doesn't matter whether Israel implements a cease fire or not. We have to deliver. And we'll know very soon. We'll know if they start arresting people who have been responsible for these suicide bombings, and arresting the high level ones, not the low level ones, and not just letting them out of jail the next day. And whether the suicide bombings stop.

So, this is -- you know, he is very much in danger of becoming irrelevant if he can't deliver now.

SHIELDS: But the attention this speech gets, Bob Novak, suggests that if anything, Yasser Arafat is not irrelevant.

NOVAK: Of course he's not irrelevant. And that's what's very interesting, that the Israeli government, under Prime Minister Sharon, now see's the irrelevance, so we're not going to have anything to do with him?

He makes a speech, and we have the minister of transportation on CNN this morning saying that's a good thing. We really encourage that. Well, I think there are some divisions in the Israeli government, but it's all a little bit disingenuous, and it's a question of, Karen, can he stop these attacks? The instrument for stopping the attacks is the Palestinian police force.

Of course, obviously Hamas and the Jihad are against him, so why is it then that the Israelis are bombing the police stations and that they've actually created a lot of them, brought them down to rubble.

So, I think the Israelis are playing a very clever game, which is to divide the Palestinians and to Balkanize into a lot of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or little homelands, the Palestinians in the West Bank.


HUNT: Well, Mark, there's two issues. Number one, Arafat's will. And number two, his capacity. And I think the -- this is an encouraging speech, as Karen suggested. Overdue, but it is nevertheless encouraging.

The question of the capacity, though, is harder. I think Arafat has less capacity to control this than he did a year ago, or five years ago, certainly. And as long as these groups are getting help from other states, even, like Iran, our new friend the Iranians, you know, as long as the terrorist are getting help from them, it seems to be that Arafat is not going to be able to stop them.

So, I think to some extent, American is going to have to say, all right, put up or shut up to some of these so-called new friends.

SHIELDS: Let me ask you this. The recall of former Marine General Anthony Zinni, U.S. peace envoy to the Middle East. Is that evidence that the United States has just failed in this whole process?

TUMULTY: I think that that's the United States trying to put more pressure. The United States has vetoed another resolution in the U.N. Security Council. The rhetoric coming out of Colin Powell and Condy Rice has been very -- I think it's all, it's all part of a piece of the United States trying to put pressure on Arafat to do what the United States obviously still believes he can do.

NOVAK: But the pressure is on him, it isn't on the Israelis. Last night, on the CAPITAL GANG, we had former senator George Mitchell, author of the Mitchell Report. The Mitchell Report, which he says is still a good idea, which everybody says is a good idea, I suppose...

SHIELDS: The president didn't.

NOVAK: The president -- calls for unconditional cease-fire. Now, the Israelis have said no to an unconditional cease-fire. They've put all kinds of conditions on it. But do you see the United States government pressuring the Israelis to go with the Mitchell Report? All the pressure is on one side, and that's a message heard around the world.

HUNT: There'll be no peace in the Middle East without an active American involvement. We've learned that -- if there's anything we've learned over the last 30 years, it's that. Active.

NOVAK: What about that unconditional cease fire question, though? What -- the Israelis reject it, but I don't see any kind of criticism by the U.S. government.

HUNT: Eventually, they're going to have to be more even-handed, Bob, if they want to move forward with the peace process.

NOVAK: They're going to have to what?

HUNT: They're going to have to be more even-handed. I don't think there's any question on it.

SHIELDS: Last word, Al Hunt. Next on CAPITAL GANG, economic stimulus, to be or not to be?


SHIELDS: Welcome back. Congress is enjoying a Friday through Tuesday weekend, that leaves at most four days to agree on a compromised economic stimulus bill before adjourning for Christmas.

Congressional leaders in the administration were not talking compromise on today's interview programs.


REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT, (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: The problem here is, frankly, house Republicans have been out of step with everybody else. Their idea is to give $25 billion to corporations for tax, an alternative minimum tax they've paid over the last 15 years. It would cut a check for $1 billion to Ford, $1 billion to IBM, for doing nothing.



REP. DICK ARMEY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: We have, we have conceded a great deal of ground to the Democrat's priorities. I think they're misplaced priorities.



SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: We haven't seen any movement on the Republican part on any of the benefit proposals that we've had on the table.



MITCH DANIELS, OBM DIRECTOR: Senator Daschle has got a tough job. He's got to retain the support of some tax-and-spend extremist in the Democrat Senate caucus, people for whom taxes can't be high enough and we can never spend too much government money.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, does that sound like curtains for an economic stimulus in 2001?

NOVAK: Mark, as I'm sure you are well aware, they go on the Sunday shows to give commercials, not to negotiate. That's all blather, saying the other...

HUNT: Not this show! No, no, oh, OK.

NOVAK: It's the interview shows, talking about how the other people won't agree.

I'll tell you what's going to happen. The administration is going to come up with a watered-down proposal, they'll water-down the president's original stimulus proposals and what the Republican's wanted, they'll have a watered-down proposal, which I don't think Senator Daschle will accept.

He may accept it, but I don't think so. There's a question of whether they can get 60 votes in the Senate. I think at some -- I thought it was about 50/50. I think it's maybe a little bit less than 50/50. But the dirty little secret is, this stimulus bill isn't going to stimulate our huge economy. This is all politics, people trying to protect themselves in case there's a deep recession next year.

SHIELDS: Karen Tumulty, is Bob Novak right?

TUMULTY: Oh, I agree. It's a political stimulus bill. Politics was essentially in a coma after September 11th, and this has brought it back. And everyone has an interest in seeing it not pass. If it doesn't pass, the Republicans then can blame, help spread the blame around for a bad economy. And if it doesn't pass, the Democrats can use it next year to say this is the difference between our two parties: these guys love the corporations, we love the little guy.


HUNT: Yeah, I think that's right, it is mainly, it is mainly political. But I also think, and Bob and I disagree on most of this, but I think we do agree that there's a great effort to take care of K Street rather than to take care of anybody else.

SHIELDS: Meaning the lobbyists?

HUNT: Right. Whether you want to take care of the investors or whether you want to take care of workers, that's been the main push. And I that there has been a great hypocrisy there. And I'll tell you, whatever feelings Bob and others may think Tom Daschle is, he's going to offer them some deals this week.

He's going to offer, for instance, remember charitable choice, the thing Republicans sold out earlier? He's going to offer them charitable choice and reduced -- Daschle is, and not as big tax cuts for businesses, and for wealthier individuals. And I'll bet you they turn it down. Because what they really want to do, they want to take care of K Street and the wealthy.

This middle income tax cut they're pushing right now would give nothing to the $50,000 a year teacher and given $1,300 to the $500,000 a year lawyer.

NOVAK: Al, I hope you're not associating me with those remarks. You said I think Al will agree with that. I certainly don't agree with that at all. In the first place, they are not -- they are not -- I don't agree with any of that. I don't think they're going to negotiate -- I don't think they're going to negotiate with Tom Daschle. I think they're going to give Tom Daschle a take it or leave it thing.

This is all a game, and Tom Daschle, I hate to disillusion you, is no purer than anybody else on there. They could have had a good supply side capitol gains cut. They could have had a lot of good things to help the economy, but nobody had the guts for that, so this is all politics.

I'll tell you why it's all politics. When Dick Gephardt gets on television and talks about the retroactive payments for the alternative minimum tax, which I've been against, I've written against it, I've talked against it, that's been out for ages. That's gone. That's not in any of the versions. It isn't.

HUNT: No, no. Bill Thomas is adamant about it. No, Bob, you're wrong.

NOVAK: It's gone.

HUNT: He's -- you've got to have something. He wants a compromise of that. You should have nothing, and basically what they want to do is give -- for instance, I -- charitable choice or K Street?

NOVAK: Did you hear what I said? I said retroactive.

TUMULTY: They're sticking with the repeal of it...

NOVAK: That's right! They are -- they should repeal it, but the retroactive...

HUNT: For corporations, not for individuals. For corporations, Bob, that should not be part of the stimulus package right now.

NOVAK: Well, wait a minute, just a minute. Let's get the facts, please, let's get the facts correct. What Dick Gephardt was talking about, the payments to IBM and so forth, that's the retroactive grant. That's gone. And so that's what he was talking about.

SHIELDS: All right, let me just get one thing straight. The Republican House passed the retroactive...

NOVAK: It's gone.

SHIELDS: They passed it. That's the only legislation that's been passed. The president has endorsed -- the president said the House enacted. Let me just make two political points here. There's a difference between the two Bush recessions, ten years apart. This time, and one of the reasons there isn't the urgency for the stimulus bill -- ten years ago, Americans were really concerned that the American economy was heading south. I mean, Japan was ascendant and there was a sense that the United States was really in big trouble.

There is not that sense now. There's a sense the United States economy is still the dominant economy in the world, and it's just going to take a little while to get back. That takes some of the urgency out of it. The second political reality is, and conservatives like my friend Mr. Novak have to confront it, and that is we had two elections in 2001 where the tax cut position of Republicans in Virginia and New Jersey were both rejected the voters.

NOVAK: Oh, please. That's nonsense. That's really ridiculous.


TUMULTY: Well, but the fact is, if most people think the economy is underlying still pretty healthy, they don't care if there's a stimulus bill, because they understand that a stimulus bill is all about politics. Even a good one would only add a fraction of a percentage point to GDP. This isn't about stimulating the economy.

HUNT: Republican Senator Pete Domenici offered a payroll tax holiday, something you have not been unsympathetic to. That's real stimulus. He's got some problems, but in the House Republicans said not interested. Doesn't help a single lobbyist. Doesn't bring in a single contributor. Off the table.

NOVAK: I like (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It is not a stimulus. You see, what the -- the Democrats don't learn anything, because they are trying all the things that Franklin Roosevelt tried and failed, failed totally in the New Deal to revive the economy.

SHIELDS: Roosevelt failed. And I didn't realize that.

HUNT: Neither did the American people, Bob.

NOVAK: Well, they were fooled.

SHIELDS: They were fooled. Who succeeded, Bob, Calvin Coolidge?

NOVAK: He sure did, and we had a great economy under Coolidge.

SHIELDS: Karen, do you want to comment on that, or do you just want to let it go?

TUMULTY: I'm just still trying to run back over the high points of the Coolidge time.

SHIELDS: Karen Tumulty, the last word. This is Mark Shields saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG. Up next, "LARRY KING LIVE."




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