CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS
Navy to use Missile Firing Warships From Mediterranean to Gulf Region; Struggle to Compromise U.N. Resolution May Stretch Into Next Week
Aired March 13, 2003 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Showdown: Iraq. Prelude to the next Persian Gulf War. Are missile-shooting warships moving into place?
And diplomacy degenerates into trench warfare. Second thoughts on a U.N. vote.
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: All the options, we're keeping them, as you know, before us.
BLITZER: Desert storm. U.S. troops are already fighting, against the elements.
One is a political activist. The other is politically incorrect. Neither is known for pulling punches. "West Wing's" Ron Silver and HBO's Bill Maher in their own showdown over Iraq.
A "CNN Exclusive". Osama bin Laden like you've never seen him before.
And in grim times, a ray of sunshine.
ED SMART, ELIZABETH SMART'S FATHER: I'm so thankful -- I'm so thankful and feel so blessed to have this miracle happen to us.
BLITZER: Details of Elizabeth Smart's first day of freedom.
BLITZER: It's Thursday, March 13, 2003. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Here are the latest developments we're looking at this hour in the showdown with Iraq.
The order could come today putting the final pieces in place for a war. Sources say the U.S. Navy plans to use missile firing warships from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf region. All of the ships can launch satellite and guided Tomahawks, which can find targets from a thousand miles away. A U.N. inspector with a chemical weapons team died when his car collided with a truck after a mission south of Baghdad. The U.N. says there was nothing suspicious about the accident, which came a day before Iraq reports on its disposal of a nerve agent.
And the debate over a new U.N. Security Council resolution continued behind closed doors. The increasingly bitter struggle to find a compromise may stretch into next week. We'll have a live update.
We are also just now receiving these new pictures, pictures of the so-called MOAB, that 28,000-pound conventional bomb that was test fired at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. These pictures, released by the Department of Defense. They show the enormity, the mushroom cloud, as you just saw, of that conventional bomb.
We'll have much more coming up, the breaking developments unfolding this hour in the showdown with Iraq, in just a moment.
But first we're also getting new pictures of the emotional reunion between Elizabeth Smart and her family and we're learning more about the couple suspected of kidnapping her.
Our Jeanne Meserve is live in Salt Lake City and she has the latest -- Jeanne.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Elizabeth Smart's grandmother calls this Thanksgiving in March for her family, and the pictures really do tell that story. You see the joy and the happiness as this girl reconnects with her family after nine months.
Meanwhile, police are continuing their investigation. This afternoon they're trading fingerprints with the San Diego County sheriff's department. A man was picked up there who had a striking resemblance to Brian David Mitchell back in February after burglarizing a church. He was held for six days before he pleaded guilty to vandalism and was released. They are trying to determine if in fact this was Mitchell.
Now, at that time in February the Smart family had gone public and said they were looking for a man who had done some work for the family. A man who they knew as Emmanuel, but the Salt Lake police had not identified him as a primary suspect at that point in time.
There was no national warrant for his arrest. The people in San Diego had no idea this was an individual who was being sought. And so if it was Mitchell, he was let go at that point in time.
Meanwhile, questions still persist about her time in captivity. Today we caught up with a woman who is a clerk in a store that was frequented by Mitchell. She noticed something unusual about his relationship with the two women who sometimes accompanied him to the store.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ERIN JOHNSON, CLERK: He has this really strange power over them, because they never look up and they will never speak. Because it's, you know, our job to greet customers when they walk in and they will never say hi to you, ever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: But we spoke to another person who frequented that store. That person said that Elizabeth, she thought, was trying to make eye contact, was trying to establish some kind of communication with her.
Also word today of another encounter, this one between an aunt of Elizabeth, Angela Smart Dumke. She says that within a day or so of Elizabeth's abduction, she was at a Kinko's copy store picking up copies of a flyer that they were going to use in the search for Elizabeth when she was approached by a panhandler who she now believes was Mitchell.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANGELA SMART DUMKE, ELIZABETH SMART'S AUNT: He was with a woman and her hair was tied back in a little white scarf and they were in the garb. I mean, they were in full (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: So if they took Elizabeth, Elizabeth was somewhere else. Someone else might be involved in this matter? Because she wasn't there?
DUMKE: She wasn't with him.
MESERVE: Police, meanwhile, are trying to reconstruct what happened during those mine months. Today we've seen a lot of helicopters going up here into these mountains that you see behind me. This is behind the Smart home.
Officials believe that Elizabeth may have been held about three and a half miles up into those mountains for about three months after her abduction. One of her uncles said that searchers came so close that Elizabeth recognized the voice of one of her uncles calling her name while she was in captivity.
Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Jeanne, what are we hearing from family members? How was Elizabeth Smart doing 24 hours after she was saved?
MESERVE: They describe her as being well. They describe her as being happy. They describe her as being quiet. They say last night that the family watched a video, one of her favorites. They urged her to play the harp and she did so.
Today she got together with some of her cousins, as well, and they celebrated her birthday, which took place while she was in captivity. They sang her a song, they cut cake. So a lot of joy, a lot of emotion. But they all describe her as being the same girl they knew before. Quiet and very sweet -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's good to hear. Good news. Thanks very much, Jeanne Meserve, for that report in Salt Lake City.
And a beaming and sometimes emotional Ed Smart talked to reporters this afternoon about his daughter's return. And he shared some of what he's learned about her ordeal. Here's some of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
E. SMART: It's real! It's real!
I can't begin to tell you how happy I am, what an absolute miracle and answer to prayers this has been. God lives. He is there. He answers prayers.
QUESTION: How has she changed today?
E. SMART: How is she changed today? Well, she is really a young woman. She's really a young woman.
Last night when we got her home, we did a few things. Everyone was pleading with her to get on the harp and she struggled through a couple of pieces and said, well, it's been nine months! But it was absolutely wonderful to hear her play.
We spent some time together watching her favorite video, which was -- is "Trouble with Angels," and it's just -- it's unbelievable.
QUESTION: What has she said about her ordeal over the last nine months?
E. SMART: You know, I think you've heard me in the past with Mary Katherine that I have not tried to, you know, force things out of her, question her to pieces and I -- I feel the same way.
I think that what is going to come out is going to come out and I just -- I don't have it in me to try and make this harder than it is for her.
QUESTION: What has she said, perhaps, on her own?
E. SMART: She said -- She said that she had spent months right up here in the mountains through August. I can't believe it.
QUESTION: Ed, does she know how many people were searching for her?
E. SMART: She had no idea. Absolutely no idea. She saw a few pictures and she'd heard that there had been one harp recital, but I just -- I am so grateful to have her back.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) did she hear anybody calling out for her? Did she hear any...
E. SMART: She absolutely did. She heard people calling out for her and as you probably heard, it wasn't a gun that was there that night. It was a knife and he did come through the screen. The screen was cut from the outside!
The screen was cut from the outside, and Emmanuel came through that screen into the house and he left by way of that door and apparently he had been watching her for quite some time.
QUESTION: Ed, how do you feel about this man that you befriended and you hired and he came into your house? How do you feel about him right now?
E. SMART: You know, I'm not even trying to go there, because it hurts. I know that his family have been there, trying to help us and I appreciate that so much.
QUESTION: At any point does she try to escape?
E. SMART: You know, I haven't even gone there yet. I don't know what her mindset was. I don't know what kind of hell she went through.
QUESTION: Did she see any of the media reports, Ed?
E. SMART: She didn't really see any media reports. She saw a few flyers. I asked her at one time, apparently after August he had her all over the place. They were in San Diego for awhile and I said didn't you see any of the big posters on the freeway? And she didn't.
E. SMART: There's no question. There is no question that Elizabeth -- or that Mary Katherine is our hero.
BLITZER: Mary Katherine, of course, the younger sister of Elizabeth Smart.
In his news conference, Ed Smart also called on Congress to pass legislation for a national AMBER Alert system. The Senate approved it in a stand-alone bill last year, but it hasn't cleared the House Judiciary Committee, where it's part of a larger bill on crimes against children.
Smart was quite critical of the chairman, Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who responded this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
E. SMART: I am asking all of the constituents of Wisconsin to call Jim Sensenbrenner to know that this has got to come stand-alone legislation, that it is not something that can wait one more day. Lives are lost and the blood of those children is on someone's head. REP. JIM SENSENBRENNER (R-WI), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: I am not prepared to let go of the doubling of the money available for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is the clearing house for families who have been victimized or exploited by people who wish to commit crimes against children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Thirty-eight states use AMBER Alerts, quickly issuing bulletins on kidnapped children. They're named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old Texas girl who was abducted and murdered.
Finally this, President Bush today offered best wishes to the Smart family. He called Ed Smart this afternoon to say he and the first lady were heartened by the news. The president said millions of Americans were praying for them.
Later this hour we'll return to Salt Lake City for the latest developments in this emotional story that's captivated so much of the nation.
Let's move on now to the showdown with Iraq. Two-hundred-fifty- thousand strong, a U.S. force is now just waiting for the word to go to war.
Final preparations are being made for a first night of terrifying strikes. Planners hope they'll be so terrifying that Iraqi surrender will be quick. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has this report.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, the first wave of B-2 stealth bombers on their way to the Persian Gulf.
Ten warships expect orders to move into the Red Sea from the Mediterranean. In the opening hours of the war, shooting hundreds of satellite-guided Tomahawk cruise missiles across Saudi Arabia towards targets in Iraq.
The aircraft carriers Harry Truman and Theodore Roosevelt are likely to stay in the Mediterranean, their fighters flying over Israel and Jordan on their way to drop hundreds of precision-guided bombs.
In Kuwait sand storms rage, but ground units remain in staging areas near the Iraqi border. Twenty-eight-thousand troops of the 101st Airborne Division now ready to launch assaults to protect oil fields and chemical and biological weapons sites. Small numbers of Iraqi opposition troops are there, as well.
Air crews know action may come quickly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are very ready. Everybody's had enough time it get settled, get familiar with the area both here in Kuwait. STARR: General Tommy Franks, now at his desert headquarters in Qatar, is watching Iraqi forces make their final moves. Sources tell CNN Iraq has moved troops and anti-aircraft artillery capable of firing chemical munitions closer to the Kuwaiti border.
(on camera): Military sources tell CNN there may be an 11th hour series of very aggressive air strikes against Iraqi troops and weapons in the southern no-fly zone, rolling back the Iraqis just as the U.S. begins to move on Baghdad.
Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.
BLITZER: On the diplomatic front, angry allies are playing a bitter game of brinksmanship. Let's go live to our State Department correspondent, Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it seems every day brings new twists and turns to this diplomatic drama.
KOPPEL (voice-over): Diplomatic disarray: for the first time, Secretary of State Powell saying the U.S. might not call for a U.N. vote after all.
POWELL: The options remain go for a vote and see what members say or not go for a vote.
KOPPEL: Just last week President Bush insisted that Security Council members, including those opposed -- France, Russia and China -- would all have to show their cards.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, we'll call for a vote. No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for a vote.
KOPPEL: The White House defended the sudden shift.
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: What you are seeing is the president going the last mile on behalf of diplomacy.
KOPPEL: Among the reasons for the mixed messages: the U.S. is still at least one vote short of the nine necessary to pass a second resolution. Chile and Mexico remain undecided.
A desire to accommodate British Prime Minister Tony Blair who desperately wants more time to get U.N. cover ahead of any war with Iraq.
An explicit threat of a French veto no matter what, including a French rejection, ahead of Iraq, of the latest British proposal to offer Baghdad benchmarks to test its willingness to disarm.
POWELL: Instantly, one member of the council, one of the permanent members, dismissed it out of hand and said they'll veto anyway. They're going to veto anything, any language. Anything that comes along, they said they will veto and then shortly thereafter Iraq rejected it.
KOPPEL: But Powell also indicated the U.S. isn't sold on the British proposal either.
Now with only days away from that March 17 deadline, diplomacy is at a fevered pitch. French officials say there was no breakthrough in a phone call between the French foreign minister and Secretary Powell on Wednesday evening, last night.
But nevertheless, both sides hoping to keep council unity, hoping to avoid a veto and a showdown in the council both, though, Wolf, for very different reasons -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Andrea Koppel at the State Department. Andrea, thank you very much.
Feuding U.N. Security Council members find themselves between Iraq and a very hard place. The United States and Britain insist they're open to a compromised resolution. Their main antagonist right now, France and Russia. They say they're, too, willing to be flexible, but comments today offered little sign of wiggle room.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN, FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We cannot accept the British proposals because they exist within a logic of war, a logic of automatic recourse.
IGOR IVANOV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): If a draft resolution directly or indirectly opening a way to war Iraq is put to the Security Council, Russia will vote against it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Here's your chance to weigh in on this story. "Our Web Question of the Day" is this: are you angry with France over its opposition to U.S. policy on Iraq? We'll have the results later in this broadcast. Please vote at cnn.com/wolf.
A developing story right now. A U.N. Security Council meeting behind closed doors. When we come back we'll check in with Richard Roth. He's in New York. He's watching these developments.
Also, Osama bin Laden like you've never seen him before. An exclusive look at the birth of a terror mastermind.
And is a war against Iraq going to create more problems than it solves? Prepare to get politically incorrect. Bill Maher and Ron Silver will debate it live.
You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: After hanging out lots of dirty laundry, members of the United Nations Security Council are back behind closed doors right now as they debate what to do about Iraq.
Let's go live to our senior U.N. correspondent, Richard Roth, for the latest -- Richard.
RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Security Council has been meeting for nearly two hours right now. We can take a look live outside the council chAMBER. The flags are there. Inside, one U.N. official said the room, the consultation room, is packed to, quote, "fire hazard levels."
Inside, the British still pushing those benchmarks for tough terms for Iraq's lead tore disclose weapons of mass destruction.
Before this Security Council met -- here you see Chile, Mexico, two key undecideds, the uncommitted six, there's Angola and Cameroon all part of the puzzle and they are expressing their opinions inside the meeting about the benchmarks.
We are told by one source, France and Russia are leading the charge against the British benchmarks. It's still unclear how these benchmarks are going to fit into this resolution. The British seem to be willing to wipe away that March 17 deadline -- or any deadline -- in an effort to get more support for this second resolution -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Word, Richard, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday? When is this going to wrap up at the Security Council?
ROTH: Chile says it has new ideas, speculated on weekend meetings. Monday seems to be the big day to put up or shut up, but, of course, we've seen many deadlines overrun.
BLITZER: Richard Roth with the latest at the U.N., thanks Richard, very much.
No matter how carefully planned or skillfully executed, any war involves serious risks. Former Senator Sam Nunn, once head of the Armed Services Committee, he is now co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
I spoke with him about the dangers associated with a new Gulf War and its aftermath.
SAM NUNN, FORMER SENATOR: Well, first of all, I think we have to have unity. That's absolutely crucial. And the fact that we don't have unity with our allies like Germany and France and Russia and our friends in China, the fact that we're not unified makes war more likely.
It makes the ability to achieve war with -- achieve the goals of disarming Iraq without war much less likely and it makes the aftermath of any war much riskier and much more dangerous.
BLITZER: So what you're suggesting is that a war with Iraq would exacerbate the potential for terrorists using some sort of crude nuclear device right here on U.S. soil?
NUNN: Well, I would say that the coalition required to keep weapons of mass destruction and materials out of the hands of terrorists is a coalition that has to be promoted. And if we do not have unity on Iraq, it makes it much harder to promote that kind of coalition, which is absolutely essential to protecting the American people.
BLITZER: Former Senator Sam Nunn on the risks associated with going to war.
Lou Dobbs will have much more on the risks associated with war at the top of the hour on LOU DOBBS MONEYLINE.
For the first time, new pictures of the Smart family reunion. We'll return live to Salt Lake City when we come back.
Also, the most wanted man in the world without much direction in life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Osama bin Laden did not seem to be committed to any cause when this -- when the whole thing started.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLTIZER: An exclusive look at Osama bin Laden's younger years, how he stumbled into terror.
Also, Bill Maher and Ron Silver fire off over Iraq. The gloves come off as the two go head to head. They'll join me live.
And blinding sand storm, some marines spend the night in the desert under a blinding cloud.
BLITZER: He's the object of a worldwide manhunt with a $25 million price on his head. He sows terror and fear and sparks hatred for many. He's evil personified, to some he's a hero.
We now go beyond the myth for an exclusive look at the early days of Osama bin Laden.
BLITZER (voice-over): On the day the world changed, so did our perception of the man behind September 11. Osama bin Laden was not just the world's most wanted man. He was the very face of modern terrorism. Symbol of the divide between religions and cultures. Cult figure to the Muslim world's most disaffected.
But the bin Laden myth had, in fact, been created almost 20 years earlier during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, when a wealthy, somewhat directionless young man basically stumbled into religious conflict.
MARY-JANE DEEB, ARAB WORLD SPECIALIST, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS: Osama bin Laden did not seem to be committed to any cause when the whole thing started.
BLITZER: In those harsh Afghan mountains where loosely organized bands of Mujahedeen fighters, backed by CIA-supplied weapons, were deadly effective against the armament of Soviet invaders, Osama bin Laden had his earliest experiences as an Islamic militant.
Not much is known about that period in his life, but some clues can be found here in an obscure journal kept at the Library of Congress in Washington. Written in Arabic, the title reads, quote, "The Battles of the Lion's Den of the Arab Partisans in Afghanistan."
Compiled at the height of the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s, published in 1991 by Elminar al-jadeed (ph), publishers in Cairo, it's a chronicle of interviews with Osama bin Laden, his top lieutenants and the young Arab fighters under his command, accompanied by some fascinating, rarely seen photographs.
Library officials do not know what became of the journalist who put the book together, an Arab named Isam Daras (ph).
Mary-Jane Deeb, Arab world specialist at the library, has analyzed the book and finds much of it striking.
DEEB: It gives a lot of insights into the thinking, into the beliefs, into the way those young Muslim saw the world, see the world today. It shows how, really, al Qaeda was set up.
It started quite accidentally, if you want. It was not set up as an international organization.
BLITZER: In fact, these pages depict undisciplined, homesick young men who were idealistic, but seemed to lack that one emotion that would come to define the classic al Qaeda soldier.
DEEB: Despite the fact they are really fighting the Russians, the Soviets, who have invaded Afghanistan, there's very little hatred for the enemy. It seems almost that the enemy is not relevant.
BLITZER: Bin Laden's own statements in the book recall how he first hears about the conflict while visiting Pakistan. He sent some money to the Afghan resistance, but it takes several more visits to the region before he even gets into Afghanistan in the mid-'80s. Bin Laden is drawn to the war, but only gradually. DEEB: He finds the Afghanis weak. They need support, according to him, moral support. And then he sees that the Arab young man who have volunteered want to fight.
And so the training camps are set up for young men, but even then it doesn't seem to be very serious.
BLITZER: As it gets more serious, so does Osama bin Laden. In the book he describes battles and begins to create his myth. Quote, "There were only nine brothers and I facing 200 Russian soldiers; however, because of fear, they were not able to tell the strength of our forces."
In that same passage, "During this sudden attack the commander and around 35 soldiers and officers were killed and the rest fled."
DEEB: Again, very unlikely scenario. On the other hand, that's the stuff that makes legends.
BLITZER: A legend with surprising vulnerability. Even then, in his late 20s and early 30s, there are accounts of health problems. Bin Laden himself describes his incapacitation during a mountaintop battle.
Quote -- "It was difficult for me to walk on my feet for even a short distance."
There is this bizarre picture of bin laden getting an injection. The caption reads that he's being treated after a poison gas attack.
But she says all of this, the inability to walk, the injection reflect bin Laden's dangerously low blood sugar level.
DEEB: He has an Egyptian doctor who comes gives him injections and he needed glucose and to revive him.
BLITZER: A fragile militant with a pension for exaggeration, leaving small bands of fighters in the mountains of central Asia. Hardly a menacing figure even to his enemies then. But the evolution had begun.
BLITZER: And my special thanks to our producer, Brian Todd, for putting this piece together, discovering this book at the Library of Congress and giving it to all of us.
We'll continue to watch developments in the showdown with Iraq. We have much more coming up.
Also, there are developments in the Elizabeth Smart story. We'll have an update coming up.
And a star-powered debate on Iraq. Former "Politically Incorrect" host Bill Maher goes head-to-head against actor Ron Silver.
You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.
BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN. I'm Wolf Blitzer.
Coming up, a first look at Elizabeth Smart reuniting with her family, plus new details about her abduction.
BLITZER: More now on our top story, the return of Elizabeth Smart after a nine-month kidnapping ordeal. We have new pictures this afternoon of the emotional reunion yesterday. Elizabeth has been in seclusion with her family and her father says she won't be talking publicly any time soon. But he had quite a bit to say to reporters this afternoon.
CNN's Eric Horng has more.
ERIC HORNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One day after the search for his daughter came to a stunning conclusion, Ed Smart offered some details about Elizabeth's nine-month ordeal. Smart said after she was abducted from her bedroom by knife point, and taken to the nearby foothills, Elizabeth could hear searches calling her name, but was unable to answer them.
Smart said he believes Elizabeth was brainwashed by her captors and after several months taken to the San Diego area and possibly elsewhere before returning to Utah.
E. SMART: Elizabeth is happy. She is well. And we are so happy to have her back in our arms.
HORNG: Elizabeth was found Wednesday in suburban Salt Lake walking with two people, Brian Mitchell and his apparent wife, Wanda. Mitchell, a drifter and self-described prophet of God, once did some handiwork on the Smart home.
E. SMART: I never could have guessed. He was so soft-spoken. He was so, so quiet I would have never guessed that such an animal could exist behind a person that looked so reasonable.
HORNG: Smart also reiterated his call for the U.S. House to pass stalled legislation that would create a national AMBER alert system.
E. SMART: That it is not something that can wait one more day. Lives are lost and the blood of those children is on someone's head.
BLITZER: That was CNN's Eric Horng reporting from Utah.
For more on this story, please tune in tonight to "LARRY KING LIVE." His special guest, Elizabeth's father, Ed Smart. That's at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 p.m. Pacific.
The debate dividing the world. Bill Maher and Ron Silver -- they're ready to weigh in on Iraq. They join us live immediately when we return.
BLITZER: Welcome back. Joining me now two high-charging entertainers with strongly different views when it comes to the showdown with Iraq. Bill Maher, the creator of the hit TV show "Politically Incorrect" and now the host of the new show, "Real Time With Bill Maher" on our sister network HBO.
And Ron Silver. He's a guest star on the hit NBC show "West Wing". In addition, he's appeared in 45 movies on the big screen. Thanks to you both of you for joining us.
First to you Ron. What's the rush? Why can't you let diplomacy go on even if it takes a few more weeks or months. What's the rush with Iraq contained apparently as it is?
RON SILVER, ACTOR, "WEST WING": Well obviously I don't think it's been a rush. Bill Clinton spent less time at the U.N. before he went to bomb Kosovo without U.N. approval than George Bush has spent in the last six months trying to get the international community behind us.
I don't think 12 years is a rush. I don't think 17 resolutions looking for compliance is rush. And the last six or seven months has not been a rush. So I disagree with the term rush.
BLITZER: Let's let Bill respond. Go ahead, Bill.
BILL MAHER, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": Well, it is a rush if you consider why we're going in there. What did they do to us exactly? You know, this whole thing strikes a lot of us as kind of like when the cops can't find a criminal, they have a high-profile case. So they just pull a thug off the street who they know is a bad guy, but they know he didn't do this crime.
And I think to the world that looks rotten. I think we got to go after the people who hit us which is bin Laden, which is al Qaeda. They're still trying to make this dog hunt about how he's in league, Saddam Hussein, with al Qaeda and bin Laden and it just doesn't. He's just not that guy.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Ron.
SILVER: Bill, let me ask you a question. In 1998 Bill Clinton said the following, "What if Saddam fails to comply and we fail to act or we take some third ambiguous route that gives him a more opportunities to build up his arsenal of mass destruction?"
What will happen the international community will the lack to see this through to the end. And if he develops that arsenal, he will, I guarantee you, some day use them. The president, Clinton at that time, signed the Iraq Liberation Act calling for regime change in Iraq and within a year, 78 days, he bombed Serbia.
The night he was bombing Serbia, many entertainment figures were very supportive of that bombing, outside the purview of the U.N. And the reason we were not in the U.N., Bill, is because France and Germany felt that Russia would veto it so they said let's do it outside.
BLITZER: Let's let Bill respond to that. Go ahead, Bill.
MAHER: OK, but, you know, when you keep comparing Saddam Hussein to people -- let's think about who Saddam Hussein really is and what's really going on in this country.
I hear him compared to Hitler a lot. Except Hitler was taking over a lot of different countries in the '30s. Saddam Hussein doesn't even have all of his country. He doesn't have the North, he doesn't have the South. He's basically the mayor of Baghdad is what this guy is. We have him boxed in there. I don't know why we can't follow that line of reasoning to...
SILVER: I'll tell you why. Because that line of reasoning in a post-9/11 world is irrational. We were attacked on 9/11 not because Mohammed Atta was upset about greenhouse emissions. There was something else going on.
MAHER: Excuse me. Excuse me, we were attacked by a squad of Saudi Arabian hijackers working out of Spain, Germany, Pakistan and Kabul and by, that of course, I mean Iraq, right?
SILVER: Yes. Well let me explain to you something else. We were faulted for not connecting dots prior to 9/11. Well now it is incumbent upon us to connect the dots. We have an ideological enemy. It is a swamp that goes all over the world and it is feeding Islamic fascism. And that is one of the prime places where that gets fed and...
MAHER: But that's just the point.
SILVER: Saddam Hussein...
SILVER: ... certainly has the intention to harm us. And what he would like to do is develop the capability, and I don't think we should let him do that.
MAHER: Well, he may have the back to the Hitler analogy, you said 12 years. If in 1938, when Hitler took over the Sudetenland, or tried to, i mean he did because nobody stopped him.
What if we stopped him in 1938 and then he had done nothing else until 1950? And then somewhere else in the world a bomb went off -- would we have attacked Hitler in 1950?
SILVER: You know, Bill...
MAHER: I don't know...
SILVER: ... I think you're going down a very dangerous route with a historical analogies particularly in the '30s because a lot of people, many of our colleagues and many people around the world...
MAHER: I'm not the one who compares Hussein to Hitler. It's you guys who do it.
SILVER: Hold on, I don't think I brought up Hitler. But you are putting yourself in the same position who by 1937 was exactly where Stanley Baldwin was, where Neville Chamberlain was. And let me tell you, if you had stopped Hitler in 1937, it's far preferable than having to stop him in 1945.
BLITZER: All right.
MAHER: Except the difference is that we did stop Saddam Hussein in 1991. We did put him into that little box where he is now.
SILVER: No, no, no, no. No, containment will unravel. You see it already that they want international sentiment to lift sanctions. They will -- the inspectors will be fooled again and they will be kicked out again and within several years he will have the capability.
BLITZER: Gentlemen, hold on. Hold that thought, Bill, for one second. I want to take a quick break, I want to continue this debate. But we have to take a quick break. Much more with Bill Maher and Ron Silver. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Let's continue the debate now. Back with us, the "West Wing" star Ron Silver and Bill Maher, formerly of "Politically Incorrect", now with the new program "Real Time With Bill Maher".
Bill, why do you think President Bush, who's privy obviously, to the top national security intelligence information, wants to go to war against Iraq?
MAHER: Well, I think it's an obsession. I think it's a leftover obsession in that administration. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they didn't get bin Laden. And if they would just be honest about that and a few other things like the cost of the war I'd be more ready to go along with it.
If they would call it -- you know, Thomas Friedman keeps calling it a war of choice and I keep saying what the hell is that? What is a war of choice? Isn't war always something that you should only do when it's absolutely necessary?
So we are essentially fighting a war of choice. We're saying we didn't get the guy we really wanted to get. And we said at the beginning that we weren't going to lump all the Arabs and the Muslims together, but at the end of day that's what we're doing. We're lumping...
BLITZER: Ron, go ahead.
SILVER: I just find it very interesting that the Bush policy of preemption and what the president is doing now is merely a continuation of the humanitarian interventions that were embraced by liberals in the '90s. Nobody complained about it then, nobody complained when President Clinton bombed Iraq, nobody complained. And they saw that laying the foundation...
BLITZER: Is this just politics? The Democrats seeking to score points against the Republicans?
SILVER: I believe that if President Clinton was still the president today, or Al Gore were the president with the same policies it would be a very, very different opposition worldwide...
BLITZER: If Bill Clinton were in the White House, Bill, would you be supporting this war?
MAHER: I'm wondering what's going happen to Ron at the next Creative Coalition dinner. I don't understand where all his liberal credentials have gone. I mean he's going to get kicked out of the organization. What is he going to do Tuesday nights?
SILVER: You know what Robert Frost once said, defined a liberal as? Somebody who was too broad minded to take their own side in the quarrel. So, don't worry my credentials.
BLITZER: Well, your position, obviously, Ron, is not necessarily very popular in Hollywood. Is that a problem for you?
SILVER: You know what? No, but I find it very interesting because there's been a lot of talk about being anti-war and people perhaps suffering for their views, and it's really just the opposite.
Being against going in and using force to get rid of Saddam Hussein, is without question, the majority view in much of California, certainly in my community and on the other side...
MAHER: Wait a second. We're not all left-wing, nut-wings out here, Ron. I'm for the use of force, absolutely. And I am for fighting terrorism, absolutely.
I just think this is the wrong way to do t. We're just having a debate about technique, really. We're having a debate about strategy. We're having a debate about some guys attacked us, like I say, based in Kabul, Afghanistan. And we're going after a religious-based, jihad-type organization by attacking Iraq. The one country that was never involved in that sort of true believer jihad...
SILVER: First of all, we don't know that. And so I'm not prepared to argue that...
SILVER: The French and Germans have made it clear that under no circumstance will they comply with the use of force and changing it. They may have good reasons for it.
I have a feeling after this war is fought and won and Hussein is gone, you're going to find a lot of French military spare parts. You will find out how they violated sanctions over the years.
I think they have a lot -- if you want to impugn motives, why don't you impugn the motives of the French, the Germans, the Russians and Chinese? Because I could give you...
MAHER: Because I care more about this country. I don't care so much about France or Germany. I don't think they're good guys either and I don't think Saddam Hussein is anything but...
SILVER: But why are so and so many of colleagues of ours unwilling to admit that the president's policy is simply what he says it is? Because after 9/11, it's not the economy anymore, stupid, it's security, stupid. Oil id going to take the hits...
MAHER: Yes, it is.
SILVER: There will be no economic benefit to this.
SILVER: Perhaps the president really means what he says, and I believe he does, that this is part of the security matrix.
MAHER: I agree. I don't think the president is insincere about going into Iraq, I just think he's wrong to do it. I think it's the wrong method. It's the wrong approach.
I mean, you mentioned President Clinton. What's worse? To lie about sex or to lie about war?
SILVER: That's what I'm saying, you're impugning the president's motives.
MAHER: I am not impugning his motives. What I'm saying is that Bush administration is doing with this war what they do with everything. They operate on two tracks. Here's what we really want to do and here is what we say to sell it to them.
I can't believe you of all people are so easily sold on this war that doesn't add up and doesn't make sense. You have to find three things...
SILVER: You really think I'm easily sold on the war? That I kind of just instinctively follow the administration's policy on this? You know better than that, Bill.
MAHER: I thought I knew better than that. But I don't understand when you have to...
SILVER: Why is it that people on the other side of this issue find it so hard to believe that the other person, the opponent's motives might be one of integrity, something really thought about and reflected upon and a deeply held feeling?
BLITZER: All right. Bill, just answer that question because we're almost out of time.
MAHER: Well, excuse me, but we're the side that -- being having our integrity impugned. We're the side where people are saying, well, I'm not going to call them traitors which, of course, is a way of actually doing it when we want to preserve the integrity and security of this country, just as much as you do...
BLITZER: Ron and Bill, unfortunately, I have to cut it off because we are all out of time. I'd like to invite both of you back. Next week we'll continue this. These days are going to be critical, obviously, as we all know. Hopefully you'll be able to continue this discussion next week.
Bill Maher, he's got a hit new show all of us are watching Friday nights at 11:30 p.m. on HBO, a great new show.
And by the way, Ron Silver is going to be co-hosting CROSSFIRE right here on CNN tomorrow night, Friday night. We'll be watching you, Ron, on that as well.
SILVER: Thank you.
BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: There you see the results of our "Web Question" today. Pretty closely matched. Not a scientific poll. LOU DOBBS MONEYLINE is up next, and Lou Dobbs is here to tell us what he has -- Lou.
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