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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Interview With William Bennett

Aired March 25, 2002 - 08:26   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Now on to the Mideast now. Violence continues as U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni fails to get the Palestinians and the Israelis to agree to a cease-fire. Israeli soldiers yesterday killed three Palestinians they say were planting a bomb near a Jewish settlement in Gaza. And near Ramallah, an Israeli woman was killed in a drive-by shooting attack on a bus.

And just today in the face of the escalating violence, there is a published report that Israel is getting ready for a major military assault on Palestinian territories. The "Washington Post" reports Israel might launch new incursions into Palestinian territory if the current truce talks fail.

Our contributor Bill Bennett, who has been a vocal critic of the Bush administration's efforts in the Middle East, joins us now from Washington. Welcome back.

WILLIAM BENNETT, EMPOWER AMERICA, CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: First off, your reaction to this report that Israel has what appears to be a pretty aggressive military plan in mind?

BENNETT: Well, I suspect they would. I'm not surprised. And the question, Paula, is what will the United States do? They certainly have had provocation. They certainly have been given plenty of reason to respond. As you know, they have lost many more people proportionately than we have in the terrorist attacks on Israel. Over the years they have lost a much larger number. They have acted with, I think, great restraint. I would not be surprised to see a very strong retaliatory action by Israel and I just hope that we will not try to hold them back if they do that.

ZAHN: You wrote a pretty pointed op-ed piece last week in the "Washington Post" and I want to read a very small part of this, because it certainly got the current administration's attention. You wrote that, "We pressure Israel and make no demands on our Arab allies to cease the dissemination of medieval, terror inspiring propaganda. The Arabs' conclusion? Speak platitudes in English, foment terrorism in Arabic and the United States will apply pressure to fellow democracies over and against those who rule by bullets rather than ballots."

Now, here is what the vice president had to say about that yesterday on our air. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bill gets to write a column and be, draw sharp distinctions. But the fact of the matter is I think what we're doing there is the right thing to be doing and it's totally supportive of our historic commitment to Israel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: So, what do you think of what the vice president had to say yesterday on "Meet The Press?"

BENNETT: I love Dick Cheney, his boss, Don Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice. This is the A Team. I'm glad they're there. But I do think that we have sent the wrong message, this administration, on this issue. Dick Cheney criticizes me for drawing a sharp distinction. But it was his boss, the president of the United States, who said you are either with us or you are with the terrorists. The president had said from this day forward -- you remember that speech in the fall -- from this day forward those who support terrorism will be regarded as a hostile regime.

Now, does Arafat and do the Palestinians -- does the Palestine Liberation Organization support terrorism or not? Of course it does. We refuse to make the fundamental moral point, moral distinction that we have made so eloquently in our, in defense of our own actions. We refuse to apply that to the situation in Israel. Again, they have suffered much more than we have proportionately. Our response was not to wait for a second attack, was it? It was to go to the source of that attack. We have to live by the principles that we have announced.

ZAHN: All right, I just want to quickly change gears here and get your reaction to what Cardinal Egan had to say in a pastoral letter to parishioners yesterday about the raging sexual abuse scandal. Did he go far enough?

BENNETT: I don't think so, Paula. It was a logical document. He's a lawyer. That's OK. But it needs to go further. This thing is a, is the biggest crisis in the church in 30 years, probably, and you will see, you will see the church shaken in the next few months and years. I think the debate is engaged between the traditionals and those who want the church to give up things such as celibacy and the rafters are going to shake. The debate is really engaged right now.

ZAHN: Do you see celibacy being debated away?

BENNETT: No, I don't think it will be debated away. I think there will be a lot of advocates for it. Bear in mind that most of the incidents we're talking about were incidents of men on boys and you're not going to, I think, improve things by doing away with celibacy. If a man is attracted to boys, pre-pubescent or post- pubescent, saying that he can get married isn't much of an answer.

But this is a complicated issue, a deeply divisive issue and we will see, I think, much debate in the church. What you have seen so far, I think, is just prologue.

ZAHN: All right, Bill Bennett, thank you for weighing in on so many different subjects this morning.

BENNETT: Yes, thanks.

ZAHN: Always glad to have you with us.

BENNETT: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: Take care.

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