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Interview with Frank Gaffney, John Abi Nader, John Street, Steven Milloy

Aired March 5, 2002 - 19:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: ...former assistant defense secretary Frank Gaffney and Jean Abi Nader from the Arab American Institute. And later, Philadelphia Mayor John Street and Steven Milloy from the Cato Institute.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. Eight American soldiers killed in action. Mountain peaks reduced to rubble by allied bombs. The war in Afghanistan rages hotter than ever. The Pentagon says it's confident of a military victory. But what about the other war? The war of perception? Is America winning?

Recent polls suggest a crushing defeat. Surveys taken by Gallup in nine Muslim countries show the United States less popular than ever, it's foreign policy despised, its pronouncements disbelieved. Asked if they consider the U.S. war in Afghanistan "morally justified," only 9 percent of those asked said yes. Nine.

America has an image problem. Should we care? Nearly a quarter of Americans say they don't. The White House does. Can it sell America abroad? Does the U.S. have to change its foreign policy? Do we simply need better marketing?

Speaking of, here's Bill Press.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Better marketing. Frank Gaffney, let's start by looking at those two polls back to back. The first one was a Gallup poll, which was December/January, released just about 10 days ago that surveyed residents of nine Muslim countries asking the question, do you think favorably about the U.S. or unfavorably, showed 22 percent only favorable opinion of the United States. 53 percent unfavorable.

And then just a couple of days ago, CNN conducted its own poll here in the United States of Americans. Our opinion of Muslim nations, favorable opinion, 24 percent, unfavorable 41 percent. They're the mirror image of each other.

So before you and I maybe tango about what we do about it, can we agree that this is a serious problem and we ought to be doing something about the spin war while we're fighting the military war?

FRANK GAFFNEY, FMR. ASST. DEFENSE SECY.: I think we can agree to that. It is a serious problem. I think the genesis of this problem, however, was not September 11. It certainly wasn't what we've been doing since September 11. I think it has its roots in fundamentally what most of the people of these countries have been receiving in the way of propaganda from government-controlled media, al-Jazeera and similar kinds of outlets that frankly, given the vitriol against America that is pumped out by these media sources almost 24/7, it's surprising the poll numbers aren't worse for the United States in most of those countries.

PRESS: Well, to which, and we might agree on this, too, I think you could add, what we're pumping out here in terms of the kind of Hollywood movies that go around the world and other things, the image of the United States we created which is not so favorable, it doesn't create such a favorable impression in those countries.

But now let's move to the second point, given that, and it didn't start 9/11, we know this has been a long problem. So let's see what's happened, right? Under Clinton, they just about destroy the U.S. Information Agency, USIA, right? George Bush hires Charlotte Beards, this Madison Avenue wizard. Haven't heard of her since. And the Pentagon sets up this office, ISI, for misinformation, which they mercifully shut down last week. So right now as important as it is, we're doing nothing, are we?

GAFFNEY: I don't think we're doing nearly enough. OSI, actually.

PRESS: I'm sorry, OSI.

GAFFNEY: The Office of Strategic Influence was shut down not because it was engaged in misinformation, but frankly because of a misinformation campaign run against it to ensure that it was shut down. It's ironic, at the same moment, literally, the same moment that Don Rumsfeld is announcing that we're going to shut down an office designed to tell the truth about the United States to people who don't otherwise get it, certainly not on a regular basis.

PRESS: In fact, the Pentagon said it was misrepresented.

GAFFNEY: He was being confronted, as we all were, with this poll data from Gallup, saying we've got a serious problem. It's a terrible mistake to shut that office down. They need to reconstitute the capability and mobilize in precisely the kinds of ways you're talking about.

CARLSON: Mr. Abi Nader, Bill is making a familiar, not entirely incorrect argument, which is different cultures, other side of the world, each mistrusts the other. That's understandable. But there's a lot more sadly than that going on.

I just want to read you the answer to one poll question. And that is, were the attacks of 9/11 in New York and on the Pentagon morally justified? 31 percent of Lebanese said they were morally justified. 39 percent of Pakistanis said the same. And 62 percent of Kuwaitis believe those attacks were "morally justified."

That's not misinformation. That's hate. Those are hateful sentiments held by those people. Will you admit that?

JEAN ABI NADER, ARAB AMERICAN INSTITUTE: No. Let me first get back to something Frank said, because in large part, I agree with a number of things he said. But I also think that we have to be realistic about the fact that if you go to any of these countries, Arab or Muslim countries, it's not America that's the problem. I mean if you look, for example, at the United States, in the six weeks following September 11, there were about 1200 hate crimes reported against Arabs, Muslims and Sikhs, for example, in this country. In the Arab world, there are over 100,000 Americans. Not one...

CARLSON: You have got to be kidding. You have got to be kidding.

NADER: You've got to understand...

CARLSON: Americans, if you polled them and you asked, Were those hate crimes, such as they were justified," they would say in no sense are they. Please answer my question. You say...


NADER: The point I'm trying to make is that it isn't America that people are upset with, it's American foreign policy. We've had issues in the Arab and Muslim world for 50 years now and we haven't been able to clean up that mess.


NADER: And until we do, we're going to have the kinds of numbers that we have.

CARLSON: I'm sorry, let me just restate the question here. OK? Osama bin Laden is shown on television throughout the Arabic world, speaking in Arabic, OK, to people who understand Arabic, bragging about being responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center. So you have the population seeing this, still believing that he is somehow lying about he wasn't responsible for it. Probably the Jews were responsible for it, which as you, a very common belief in these countries. And number two that it was justified if in fact he was responsible, that it was OK? That's not hateful?

NADER: We have three things going on here. One, Frank pointed out to already. We don't tell the story very well. If you think about what happened after September 11, we didn't even send an official representative to that part of the world to talk on satellite television.

CARLSON: But Bin Laden's telling the story very well.

NADER: The important part is that we need to tell the story. Bin Laden is a person who's obviously corrupt in his religion. He's got corrupt politics and he's got a death wish, for America and himself and for the people who work with him. So we've got to confront that kind of person.

GAFFNEY: We also want to try to get our so-called friends...

NADER: Exactly.

GAFFNEY: ...the Egyptians and Saudis...

NADER: Exactly, they should tell our story.

GAFFNEY: stop pumping out, through their government- controlled media, this hateful stuff that gave rise, I believe, to Osama bin Laden, in part.

NADER: They should be working with us to tell our story.

GAFFNEY: I agree.

NADER: What we did in Bosnia, what we did in Kosovo.

GAFFNEY: I agree.

NADER: But the way we've been working with the Arab countries for 30 years now to try to work economic and political and military development.

GAFFNEY: Including Kuwait.

PRESS: Let me suggest another way in which we are not helping our case, picking up on one of the points from Mr. Abi Nader said. And actually, I won't say it. I want to let Professor Shibley Telhami from the University of Maryland, the person I've always turned to for expertise in the Middle East, talk about one of the ways that we conduct foreign policy that contributes to this misunderstanding in the Arab or Muslim world. Here's the professor.


SHIBLEY TELHAMI, UNIV. OF MARYLAND: Most people believe the U.S. is acting on its own interests, not in the interests of its allies. That, I think, one has to understand is, in part, part of the role of a superpower of a hegemon.


PRESS: So it is part of our role as a hegemon. But when we -- the more we do it, the more we alienate other people, that it looks like we're just out there acting on our own, and we don't give a damn about other countries. You and I have debated this coalition before.

GAFFNEY: We have.

PRESS: Doesn't this prove why you have to build coalitions and act and can't act unilaterally?

GAFFNEY: Yes, I think, as I've said to you before, we should be building coalitions wherever we can, consistent with our interests. And that's the rub here. I believe that if we start saying, well what's your interest? And then we build the coalition around that, if it turns out that's not consistent with our interests, it doesn't net out in a way that's going to be satisfactory. And I believe, we may disagree about this, but I believe that by and large, what is in the American interest is in the interest of other freedom-loving people around the world. That's why I think American leadership is so important.

PRESS: Yes, but Frank, what you're really saying is we know what's best for the world and damn it we're going to do it and we're not even goign to -- we don't care if other people join us or not. Let me give you a specific example, axis of evil. Bush doesn't consult with anybody before he goes out and declares two Muslim countries and North Korea the axis of evil. Hello!

GAFFNEY: Right. We've had this conversation before, too. And I keep trying to figure out what isn't correct about that.


GAFFNEY: It is a network of countries that are engaged in acts of evil against their own people, and frankly, against us and our interests as well. I'm not saying that we need to tell the world what's best for the world. We ought to be acting on the basis of what's best for us. And by and large, I happen to think there's a high correlation there and we can bring others along with us in pursuit of those common interests.

NADER: I think one of the things we're going to see in the next couple weeks, with the vice president going to the Middle East, is whether or not picking up on what you said, Bill, is America going to listen or is it going over to hand out slips saying, "Here's your role."

CARLSON: No, wait a second, Mr. Abi -- who needs to listen here? Let me answer that...

NADER: The point is if you have a coalition...


NADER: ...or you don't have a coalition. If you have a coalition, you've got to listen.

CARLSON: Well, we all need to listen.

NADER: If you want Egypt and Saudi Arabia and those people to be supporting us and to be working with their media to say hey guys, stop the spewing and let's start telling the story straight. CARLSON: But some people...

NADER: Then you've got to start listening.

CARLSON: It's a special moral onus to listen. And I want you to listen to Charles Krauthammer, a columnist, who said this this weekend. I thought this was very telling. I think you'll agree with it. Here he is.


CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Who attacked who on September 11? Who ought to be conducting introspection into attitudes and hatreds? Who ought to be apologizing to whom? The idea that somehow we are responsible, we the most open society on the planet, with a huge influx of Islamic populations into our country to live in openness and freedom, that we ought to be apologizing, I think, is absurd.


CARLSON: Of course, that's absurd. Let me ask you this. Now the president met today with Hosni Mubarak, fairly moderate leader, relatively speaking, of a Muslim country. Do you think Mr. Mubarak, after being praised by President Bush, is going to go back to Egypt and tell his people in a public speech, "No, stop the terrorism, stop the extremism, the United States is actually not an agent of evil." He won't do that, will he?

NADER: He has done it. He's been doing it since September 11. And if you looked at the Egyptian press, Hosni Mubarak and the government have been about the only people in our favor over there. The foreign minister, Amur Mosta (ph), the Secretary-General who used to be foreign minister of Egypt and Mr. Mubarak, have been supporting America across the board.

CARLSON: Well, his people aren't buying it.

NADER: In terms of the global war on terrorism. The issue is different. The key trigger in the Arab world is the Palestinian crisis and what's going on with the Iraqi people. We have to separate out the global war on terrorism, which is a two -- is a six-month phenomena from the Palestinian crisis, which is a 50-year phenomena, which eats at the hearts of the Arabs and Muslim people.


PRESS: The Middle East is not going to be solved here tonight. Nor even addressed because we're out of time for this segment. Frank Gaffney, thanks so much for joining us again. John Abi Nader, good to have you here.

And speaking of wars, when we come back, the city of Philadelphia's declared war on fat. But why can't we pig out without government interference? When we come back, Philadelphia's mayor bellies up to the CROSSFIRE bar.


PRESS: CROSSFIRE, round two. Are you too fat? Well, if so, you're not the only one. The latest Harris poll shows that 80 percent of Americans are overweight. And according to men's Fitness Magazine, Philadelphia is one of the pork leaders. For John Street, the new mayor of Philadelphia, them were fighting words. So last year, he declared war on fat, challenging residents to lose 76 tons in 76 days. Did they do it? Not even close, perhaps because they refused to give up those delicious Philly cheesesteaks. Philadelphians only lost six tons, not 76.

Good for them. After all, this is America, and in those beautiful words written in Philadelphia in 1776, what do inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness mean, if not being able to pig out and get fat?

Tucker, looks like you picked up a few pounds last week on vacation.

CARLSON: I certainly did. Not on cheesesteaks, though.

PRESS: Of course, you did.

CARLSON: Thank you Bill.

Mayor Street, thanks for joining us. Now let me see if I get this right. Your city was criticized by a men's magazine. So in the year 2000, the year you took office, you start this citywide Weight Watchers program. That same year, you had 319 murders, 1,000 rapes, more than 10,000 armed robberies, and 11,000 violent assaults. I'm wondering, are cheesesteaks really the biggest problem Philadelphia faces?

JOHN STREET, MAYOR, PHILADELPHIA: Well, I'll tell you, in that same year we spent over $400,000 on healthcare costs. Approximately 25 percent of our population is obese. Approximately 10 percent of our population has diabetes. And almost a third of the population has hypertension. Those costs are enormous to the city of Philadelphia.

Our experts tell us about almost 10 percent of our healthcare costs are directly associated with obesity and inactivity. That means somewhere around $35 million, $40 million of those costs are associated with the fact that we're sitting on our, you know whats. And we're not getting out and exercising. And we're not -- we're just too obese. Maybe because one or two too many cheesesteaks.

CARLSON: Now Mayor Street, I wouldn't want to argue. You do, in fact have a tubby city, no argument there from me. But you also have a city in which huge -- city blocks are burned out. Whole sections of it are covered with graffiti. People don't have homes to live in. You have this considerable crime problem. And parts of the city have trash on the streets. I mean, shouldn't you be focusing our energies where they're really needed?

STREET: Well, we actually have. We have taken care of huge amounts of those problems. And I invite you to come back and visit us in a more concurrent time, so that you'll see that many of those conditions don't exactly exist in the proportions that you describe.

What we do have is a continuing healthcare problem. Our people are not exercising enough. They're not enjoying the quality of life that they deserve. And in addition to which, they're causing the state, local and federal taxpayers literally millions of dollars.

And we think investing $100,000 or less in a health and fitness program, encouraging people to adopt healthier lifestyles, drink water, reduce the amount of fat in their diet, exercise on a regular basis is well worth the small public investment.

PRESS: All right. Steven Milloy, I want to get your response to that. And you know actually, if you look at this Harris poll, it's pretty clear that Americans are getting fatter and not fitter. In 1983, it was 58 percent of Americans, by the same standards, overweight. In 2002, 80 percent.

And you know, I would agree with Tucker, that this is none of the government's business if it were not, as the mayor suggests, that this is a serious health problem. So we tell women to get a mammogram. We tell people not to smoke, they could get lung cancer. Why shouldn't we suggest to people, the government suggest to people, be it federal or local government, watch your weight?

STEVE MILLOY, CATO INSTITUTE: Well, the problem is, is that you're right, the government -- this is not the role for the government because this is not a public health problem.

PRESS: It is.

MILLOY: This is a personal health problem. This is something that people need to consult. If they feel they're overweight or obese, they need to consult with their doctors. They need to get a checkup. They need to get put on a diet and exercise regimen that they'll stick with and that is safe. I take a position of "The New England Journal of Medicine." There is no reason, it is completely unjustified, to go scaring people about being overweight and obese with bogus facts and figures, because what you're going to wind up doing is driving people to unsafe diets, crash diets, unsafe exercise programs. You're going to force them to diet pills. You remember fen-phen. And worst of all, for my consideration, is you're going to force adolescent girls to become anorexic and bulimi. Is that what you want?

PRESS: Yes, I'm all for anorexic girls. Look, don't give me that nonsense. Look...

MILLOY: What's that nonsense? It's true.

PRESS: No, it is nonsense. You say it's not a public health problem. It is. We had Dr. Satcher on here just about a month ago on CROSSFIRE, who told us, and I've seen the numbers repeated since, the United States spends $117 billion a year treating diseases that are related to obesity. So you get fat and I pay for it. Why that's a public health problem.

MILLOY: That's a ridiculous statistic. The way they calculate that, if you're a pound overweight, and you get heart disease or diabetes or cancer, they blame that on obesity. OK, that's not scientific. That's statistical malpractice. CARLSON: Now Mayor Street, let's pretend that those statistics were true. You know, as well as I do, that they're not. But let's just say they were. You claimed a moment ago that fat people, and I'm quoting you now, "cost taxpayers millions of dollars every year."

There's an easy way to solve that. The anti-tobacco nuts did the same thing. They pushed for a high cigarette tax. So what do you think the tax on a cheesesteak ought to be if it's actually costing society so much for people to eat it?

STREET: I don't think we ought to tax a cheesesteak.


STREET: What I think we ought to be doing is recognizing our obligations, at least locally in our city under our Philadelphia home well charter to care about the health and welfare and, in fact, take care of our people.

As a part of our preventive measures, what we're doing is aggressively suggesting to people, yes, that they should see their doctors and they should get on reputable programs. But we also have an obligation to provide outlets, whereby people will be able to be encouraged and get into structured exercise programs. I think we don't do enough in our schools.

CARLSON: Well, wait a second, Mayor Street. If obesity is really the problem you say it is, it's costing society untold millions, it's killing people, then why is it not the compassionate thing to do, to tax food that makes people fat, to create a disincentive to eat fattening food? Why now do that? You can.

STREET: Well, I don't know that we can do that locally or not. I mean, whether or not a tax can be imposed in some way, shape, or form and then the revenues go in some specific way to deal with healthcare costs is another whole different discussion that would have to vary around the country.

But I can tell you, I can tell you that it's an entirely appropriate thing for cities, states, and this country to do to intervene in the lives of these people in a responsible way, to try to get them to become more active.

PRESS: All right, Mr. Mayor, Steve Milloy, we're almost out of time. But you say, you know, obesity is not a problem here. According to Cornell...

MILLOY: I didn't say that. You said that. I didn't say that.

PRESS: It has nothing to do with these other diseases or other related illnesses.

MILLOY: I didn't say that, either.

PRESS: Cornell...yes, you did, sir.

MILLOY: No, I didn't.

PRESS: I'm going to play you the tape back. All right, let me go. According to Cornell University, OK, diseases associated with obesity: Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high blood cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, cancer, gallbladder disease, asthma. That's half the list.

MILLOY: Absolutely true.

PRESS: Let me ask the question. Why isn't it government's responsibility to tell people to stop getting fat, so we can save money treating those diseases?

MILLOY: Because you need to go to your doctor. OK, this those be done under a doctor's care. Now obesity is severe overweight. The fact that, you know, it's a different story when you get to moderate overweight. OK, those diseases are not clearly associated with being moderately overweight. The statistics are very much...

CARLSON: OK, Mr. Milloy, I'm sorry that we're going to have to cut you off there. The fad dieting Bill Press and I. Mayor Street, thank you very much.

STREET: Thank you develop much for having me. Don't forget to drink your water.

PRESS: I'll have to pass.

CARLSON: Eat your cheesesteaks. OK, up next, decision day on the left coast. Today's primaries in California turn out to be surprisingly surprising. Guess who we won't have to kick around anymore? Sigh. California dreamin' when we return.


CARLSON: Welcome back. Was it California dreamin'? In Gary Condits case, it must have been. Today's primary day on the West coast, also known as the last day in American history Condit's name will ever appear on a political ballot. Despite a last-minute hail Mary, Larry King appearance, Condit is all but certain to lose today's election.

And it's probably just as well. Condit has some reputation building to do, and not just because of a missing intern. Over the past year many of his fellow Democrats seemed to have forgotten that Gary Condit is, in fact, a lifelong member in good standing of their party, a political standard bearer, a model archetypal Democrat. Maybe now, they'll remember. If not, we on CROSSFIRE are always here to remind them.

PRESS: And if you think the Condit race is wild, the Republican primary for governor is a real roller derby. There are three candidates: Secretary of States Bill Jones, businessman Bill Simon, and former L.A. mayor Dick Riordan, who was asked to run by the White House. But the real winner may be Demoratic governor Gray Davis, who decided he didn't run against Riordan, a moderate Republican. So he spent $10 million in the primary destroying him. And it looks like it worked. Here's my prediction, Bill Simon wins the primary, but he loses to Gray Davis in November. And by handpicking Dick Riordan, George Bush proves that once again, he has zero political coattails.

And that's it for us. Thanks for joining us tonight. I'm Bill. We'll see you tomorrow night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again them for a terrific show. We'll see you then.


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