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Interview with Ken Duberstein

Aired October 7, 2002 - 12:32   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to "Showdown: Iraq." Tonight, President Bush takes his case to the American people in his first prime time speech devoted exclusively to the situation involving Iraq.
Joining us, now, to talk about what the what president needs to accomplish with this address to the nation, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, the retired general Wesley Clark. He's a CNN military analyst, and the former Reagan White House chief of staff, Ken Duberstein.

Thanks to both of you for joining us. Ken, let me begin with you. What does the president need to say tonight to win over any skeptics that may still be out there?

KEN DUBERSTEIN, FMR. WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Wolf, it's very simple. He has to use bully pulpit of the oval office, even in Cincinnati, to make a clear, compelling case that the danger to the American people, since 9/11, has to be related to the weapons of mass destruction from Saddam Hussein. He has to talk about the desire, the commitment to disarm, not to talk necessarily about regime change, but why the weapons of mass destruction are so fundamentally dangerous to the American people and to world peace.

General Clark, a lot Americans out there, if you read the polls, are not convinced there's a clear and present imminent danger to the united states from Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime. What do you believe the president has to do tonight in order to convince them?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER (RET.): Well, I think first, as Ken says, it's the connection between weapons of mass destruction and the threat to the United States. Not the U.S. interests in the region, but to the United States. And secondly, what is the immediacy of this threat? How urgent is it? Everyone talks about he's been working for a decade to do this, he's had these weapons. The president's going to have to try to convey a sense of real urgency. Why now? That's the question many people will have. And finally, is force being used as the last resort? Is there anything else we could possibly do? The American people I've talked to all across this country don't want war. They're resigned to it if it's absolutely necessary. But they want to be convinced it's absolutely necessary.

Go ahead, Ken.

DUBERSTEIN: What president is doing is building blocks. He's going to get a congressional support this week. He's going for a U.N. resolution. He's rallying the American people to rally behind his policy. And what he has to do is energize them and give them something to hold on to, in the sense of why the danger and why we have to act now.

A lot of people still not convinced. We're getting swamped with e-mail from our viewers in the United States, indeed, from around the world. This is for Ken Duberstein from David in Springfield, Missouri. "Why won't the administration show us what evidence it has against Saddam Hussein? I don't buy the protecting our intelligence sources line. I think the president's Monday night speech would be the perfect venue for him to lay out all the evidence against Iraq."

DUBERSTEIN: I think you're going to hear the president tonight, in fact, lay out an awful lot of evidence, not intelligence sources but the evidence to make that clear and compelling case that the weapons of mass destruction are fundamentally dangerous to the American people.

BLITZER: General Clark, this one is for you. If we attack Iraq, this country will learn to what extent we have been infiltrated by terrorist cells. They will strike in response to the war we start and turn our homes and neighborhoods into a war zone. Is that is fear legitimate?

CLARK: I think that fear may be a little overstated, Wolf. I think our intelligence agencies, our FBI and local police forces are much more alert and better prepared than we were a year ago. Saddam Hussein tried in the 1990 period to set up a terrorist network. He wasn't effective at it. It was broken. It never took place during the gulf war. There may be some people who are sympathetic to his cause, and if we were to have done this by ourselves, without fully explaining it, without bringing others on board, it might super charge the al Qaeda recruiting machine, but I don't think we're going to be swept by wave of violence in this country. I think it's going to be a relatively brief operation. I think that Saddam Hussein's military's going to come apart from the outside in. I think most of the fighting will be over within two weeks or less. And I think, then, the real question is what happens after that.

BLITZER: Ken Duberstein, a lot of people accusing the president of engaging in politics. This is only a month or so before the elections. They think the president may be trying to use this to the advantage of republicans who are running for election or for re- election.

This view expressed by this e-mailer who says, "Before going to war with Iraq, we should answer these questions: what happened to Osama, what happened to the stock market, what happened to the anthrax investigation, what really happened on 9/11?"

DUBERSTEIN: I don't think there are any politics in national security and certainly not in this whole question of weapons of mass destruction.

BLITZER: But there are political operatives, republicans, who do sense, you have to admit, that this whole issue of national security plays to the strength of the republican party.

DUBERSTEIN: You are going to see 375 or 400 members of the House of Representatives in a strong bipartisan vote endorse the president's resolution. You're going to see an overwhelming vote in the Senate. You're going to see an overwhelming vote in the United Nations security council, I believe. What that is saying is national security is not republican or democrat. That is something that America has to follow. Every one of the skeptics who talked about the need to not go unilateral, to be bicameral, bipartisan, and reach out in a multinational way. All that stuff is what George Bush is now doing. Whether it's the congress in consulting or the United Nations. This isn't a political fight. This a fight for the safety and security of America in light of 9/11.

BLITZER: General Clark, let me wrap up this section with your final thought. Go ahead.

CLARK: I think it's very important that we focus on what the issue is here. It is the issue of Iraq. It's the issue of how can we take a problem, a security problem, that has been more than a decade in developing and bring it to a resolution that is satisfactory in view of our larger strategic aims in the world, the fight against al Qaeda, our relationship with other nations and somehow, pull all this together. This is the president's chance to make that case. He's done a wonderful job working through the United Nations. The United Nations, I think, is going to come together and support the United States in this. And so this is the chance. This is what the American people want to hear. They want to hear how it all fits together.

BLITZER: And we'll be watching and listening tonight, 8 p.m. Eastern. General CLARK, Ken Duberstein, thanks for your insight, as usual.

DUBERSTEIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: And today, in our GUNS AND AMMO segment, we're taking a look at the nation of Qatar and the role it will play in any potential military action against Iraq. Our Marty Savidge is joining us now live from Doha in Qatar. He's on our videophone. Qatar's going to be a pretty significant player in this war if, in fact, there is a war, won't it, Marty?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf, for two reasons. One of them which you can see, and one of them which you cannot. First of all, we should tell you that access to the Al Udeid air base, which is located about 20 miles to the south of the capital, Doha, here in Qatar is very restricted, both by the Qatari government and also by the U.S. military primarily because it is a military base. Now, in talking about what makes this such a strategic location, if there is a conflict with Iraq. Number one, that air base is massive. I'm talking about the air field itself. It stretches for about 15,000 feet. That is nearly three miles, so it's capable of handling anything with wings, which means any sort of aircraft any sort of heavy aircraft the U.S. wants to bring in could be based here.

Then on top of that, there's the part you can't see. And that is the relationship between the emir, which is Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (ph) and what he has basically said the U.S. government can do. Now, this what is we've been told. And that is that he has not put any restrictions on the use of the air base. The official stance on the part of the Qatar government is that no, they do not want to see war with Iraq. But they have also told the United States that if they want to use the base, they can use the base however they wish. Unlike Kuwait, unlike Saudi Arabia that have said only unless there is a mandate from the United Nations demanding military action can the bases be used. So, that is key to the United States. It basically means they can do with that base as they wish -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And what's the status, Marty, of General Tommy Franks. He's the commander of the central command, which oversees the U.S. military operations in the Persian Gulf area, south Asia, the Middle East, most of the middle east. What's the status of moving his headquarters to Doha?

SAVIDGE: That's what is referred to as operation internal look, and essentially, what they plan to do is around the end of November through the middle of December, move about a quarter of central command from Tampa, Florida. That's about 600 officers and bring them here to Qatar specifically at al Udeid. It's an experiment to see how the forward placement of central command will work, bring it closer to an area of potential conflict. The belief is here that even after that exercise comes to an end, many of those officers, much of central command will remain right here in Qatar just in case there is military conflict with Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And our viewers, of course, most of them will remember that during the Persian gulf war, 11 years ago, then General Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of the central command, moved the headquarters to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. That's unlikely to happen this time, although one never knows what the political situation is going to be. Qatar, obviously, will have a significant role to play in any possible war between the United States and its coalition partners, on the one hand, and Iraq on the other. Marty Savidge in Qatar. Thanks so much for that report.


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