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Debate on Saddam, Gay Bishop

Aired August 4, 2003 - 12:15   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: More now on our top story: the hunt for Saddam Hussein. A new and intensive round of raids underway right now searching for the former Iraqi dictator.
How close are U.S. forces to capturing Saddam Hussein? Joining me here in Washington to discuss this, other issues involving Iraq, as well as Liberia, other issues of the day, the syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams and Peter Beinart, the editor of "The New Republic." Thanks to both of you for joining us. Is it both of your senses that -- or are we overly excited that Saddam Hussein's days may be numbered?

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Overly excited. I think the deaths of his sons gave the American military lots of hope. But, I mean, trying to find Saddam Hussein is like trying to find a needle in the haystack. He knows the country much better than anyone will know it. I mean he had so many disguises. And he's very good at this. He likes this game and he plays it very well.

I don't even think it's imminent when they will find this man.

BLITZER: Really?

WILLIAMS: Oh, I think they have to be very patient.


PETER BEINART, "NEW REPUBLIC": I think I'm a little more optimistic than that. I mean it seems to me even if the don't find him, when you get someone on the run like that it makes it harder for him to direct a guerrilla operation. So even if we don't find him, it seems to me he's less effective in targeting attacks at our troops, and that's a good thing.

BLITZER: We got this e-mail from Rick in Nova Scotia. "With reports that we are closing in on Saddam there is debate over what to do with him. People are not thinking when they say Saddam should be taken alive. If he is captured, there will be retaliation against Americans. He is a legitimate military target and should be taken out."

I guess the question is should he be killed or should he be tried to captured alive?

WILLIAMS: I don't even think his forces will allow the Americans to capture him, he's already shown us that he's a coward. He did little participation in the war on Iraq. He's shown himself -- they have no back bone. And I think before they will allow the Americans to capture him, because I think he's spineless, he will either assassinate himself or he pull another Hitler.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BEINART: I think if we can we should capture him because...

BLITZER: Capture him alive?

BEINART: Capture him alive. It will be instructive for the Iraqis for them to put him on trial, for them to have the catharsis of going through this and of getting justice for all the...

BLITZER: Well why shouldn't he have a international war crimes tribunal like Slobodan Milosevic in the Hague?

BEINART: I think he should but I think it should be in Iraq because I think Iraqis should be able to see it and there should be Iraqi judges there because they're the ones who suffered.

WILLIAMS: I think you're asking for terminal in (ph) Iraq, I mean if you had a situation like this. But as I said, i don't think it will come to that.

BLITZER: All right, let's get another e-mail. This is from Fidel in Atlanta. "How long will it take Bush to make genuine decisions on U.S. troops moving into Liberia to restore peace? the African peacekeepers moving need U.S. support. All Liberians in the U.S. need to mount pressure on President Bush to help Liberia. Our people are dying."

WILLIAMS: I think President Bush got a very strong message when he was in Africa recently, especially from President Thabo Mbeki in South Africa who advised the president not to commit troops there, that this was an African problem and it should be solved by sub-Sahara Africa.

I think the president is listening. I think the president has shown his presence there in that part of the world, and obviously there's a great connection between us and Liberia,. But in terms of what people are looking for I don't think the...

BLITZER: So you don't even want the U.S., the Marines to support, to provide logistical support?

WILLIAM:S Yes do, that. But in terms of what they're asking Nigerians and other African nations to do, I don't think so. I think what we're doing now is where we should limit it.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BEINART: I couldn't disagree more. The Liberians want Americans in there. Why? Because they know what happened when Nigerians alone went in there -- west African troops earlier in the 1990s. And in fact those troops behaved very badly. They will not behave as a professional, decent peacekeeping force unless they're lead by Americans. The Liberians need us.

WILLIAMS: But America can't save the world, Peter. At some point we've got to allow people to learn...


BEINART: The French have stepped in the Ivory Coast, the British have stepped in Sierra Leone. Why won't we live up to our responsibilities?

WILLIAMS: Eventually we may, but the time is not just yet.

BEINART: We don't have time to waste. People are dying every day.

WILLIAMS: That's why we have peacekeeping forces which were just approved by the U.N. and Kofi Annan and we should give that process a chance.

BEINART: But the Nigerians are not a disciplined force.

WILLIAM:S It's not just the Nigerians.

BEINART: They did terrible, terrible things in there when they were in there that -- the other troops from west Africa are not a Western force unless they have some -- unless they're led by the Americans like the British did in Sierra Leone. They will not do the job.

BLITZER: All right, let's take a caller from South Carolina, go ahead.

CALLER: Hello, Wolf. I can see no reason for not confirming Bishop Robinson other than homophobia and intolerance of gays all over America. Signs hanging around the Episcopal Church constantly say the "Episcopal Church welcomes you." That message is deluded by this entire debate.

BLITZER: All right, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- Peter couldn't hear the question about the whole Episcopalian Church. An openly gay bishop. I'll read to you this e-mail we got along the same lines. "Gays should" -- but it's different, obviously.

"Gays should not be bishops in the Episcopal Church or any Christian church. A bishop is supposed to be a righteous example for others to follow. the Bible speaks against unnatural affections; therefore, being gay is against Jesus' teachings. If homosexuals want to be in a position of authority in a church, they should start their own."

Armstrong, what do you think?

WILLIAMS: Well, listen. I think Mr. Robinson is being very selfish. Obviously, he has a right to choose whomever he wants to. But to bring this in the church, to cause this chasm in the church and this kind of division, I think he should rethink this. I think this e-mail is exactly right, whether it's Judaism, whether it's Islam, whether it's Christianity. None of our faiths support this kind of action.

BLITZER: But it looks like he's got the support of the majority of the bishops and the members.

WILLIAMS: It's not enough though. But (UNINTELLIGIBLE) majority. The majority of the people do not want this and they should respect the majority. It will divide and destroy the church and I don't think we need that.


BEINART: Well I'm not Episcopal so it's not for me to say what that church should do. But I would only say this: historically, it seems to me, churches have often split over important moral issues. Many churches split over the civil rights movement, over slavery. I don't see anything wrong with...

WILLIAMS: Are you are comparing them?

BEINART: Yes, in fact I am. I think this is a successors to the African-American and female struggle for equality. It's part of the American narrative for groups that are historically oppressed to seek equal rights.

WILLIAMS: Oppressed?

BEINART: Historically oppressed.


WILLIAMS: You're putting them in the same context as the civil rights movement. This is a choice.


BEINART: I don't think that being gay is a choice either and neither do most scientists.

WILLIAMS: No one is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) homosexuality but they...


BEINART: You just want to say that they should be second class citizens. They should not have the same rights as other people/

WILLIAMS: No, no, no. The churches have laws and guidelines, Peter.


BEINART: ... the Episcopal Church want to make that decision, the Episcopal Church can split. You have one that believes in full equality for all people and one that doesn't. That's fine. (CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: ...the wrong moral example to have someone who's a bishop who's openly gay.

BEINART: That depends on your reading of scripture.

WILLIAM:S No, our reading.

BEINART: Who's we?

WILLIAMS: You ask any scholar on this issue and they will tell you.


BEINART: There's a wide diversity of views...


WILLIAMS: There is no misinterpretation of whether a gay bishop should be leading a church or not.

BEINART: No, you can see the Episcopal Church is very divided on this. There are people with a deal -- and scripture has been interpreted differently as historical events...

WILLIAMS: It is the eroding away of one of the most critical institutions since the beginning of time is the church. That's what you're talking about here.

BEINART: No, it's the creation of new and different churches with different beliefs. Why don't you have -- let...


BLITZER: I'm going to have both of you stick around because, obviously, this is an issue that's resonating at least with the two of you. I assume with a lot of our viewers. I also want to get into the whole issue of Colin Powell and his future. I know Armstrong's just spent time with Colin Powell on that.


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