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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Showdown Iraq: Should Diplomacy be Given a Bigger Chance?

Aired October 18, 2002 - 12:34   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Time now for our "Sound Off" segment on Iraq. Is war the answer in Iraq, or should diplomacy be given a bigger chance?
Cynthia Tucker is joining us today from Atlanta. She is the editorial page editor of the "Atlanta Journal Constitution." And Michael Smerconish is in Philadelphia. He's a lawyer, columnist for "The Philadelphia Daily News," and he is a radio talk show hosts as well. He is often seen here on Sunday mornings on CNN.

Now thanks to both of you for joining us.

Cynthia, let me begin with you. Condoleezza Rice saying, look, there is a fundamental difference with how the United States should deal with North Korea as opposed to Iraq. Do you accept that?

CYNTHIA TUCKER, "ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION": What is the difference? I don't see the difference. The leader of North Korea is at least as dangerous as Saddam Hussein, maybe more dangerous. He is extraordinary unpredictable, and he was belligerent in finally admitted to U.S. intelligence agents that they're developing not only nuclear weapons, but things more powerful, he said.

HEMMER: So I'm not surprised why diplomacy is the right approach to North Korea, but immediate invasion is the answer on Iraq.

TUCKER: Can you help her out, Michael?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, I think we've given diplomacy more than an ample opportunity to work in the case of Iraq, but not necessarily in the case of North Korea.

I'm distressed, Wolf, but the turn of events in the U.N. with this language, this compromised language that the Bush administration seems to be going for. The proper message would have been to say to Iraq, this is your last shot, but now, we're bowing, it seems, to the French of all people, and probably have to go back to the U.N. after this process repeats itself.

BLITZER: It's a two-step resolution. Is that a bad idea, Cynthia?

TUCKER: I think that the best news we've heard lately is that the Bush administration seems to be at least considering some kind of compromise. It's not clear how far the Bush administration is willing to go, but clearly, Secretary of State Colin Powell has been pressing, making diplomatic inroads inside the administration, trying to get them to understand that they need the backing of our allies, and it is prudent of us to press for a two-step resolution that says, if Saddam does not cooperate, we will come back to the U.N. later. And there is no reason not to give inspections a chance.

The CIA has said, it is far more likely that Saddam Hussein will launch his chemical or biological weapons if we do invade, and nothing to suggest that he will use them if we don't invade. So there is absolutely no reason not to give diplomacy a chance.

BLITZER: Let's give some e-mailers a chance right now. Michael, this is for you from a viewer in Vancouver. "Now that North Korea has confessed to having nukes. Surely North Korea, a part of the 'axis of evil' that definitely has nuclear capability, is a more clear and present danger than Iraq."

Which is more dangerous North Korea or Iraq?

SMERCONISH: I think probably Iraq is a more danger zone, because I think Saddam Hussein is probably crazier than the North Koreans, and more apt, because he's used weapons of mass destruction on his own people to use them on others outside his own perimeter. I place Iraq at a higher level of warning. But it's a dangerous world, Wolf. They're both bad situations.

BLITZER: We have another e-mail for you, Cynthia, from Jacksonville, Arkansas. Ramona wants to asks you this question: "How many more years are we going to allow Saddam to increase his arsenal? If we don't act now, it will become so large and deadly that we won't be able to defend ourselves once he decides to use it."

TUCKER: Well, if we're going to go around invading every country that is developing nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destructions, we're going to have a lot of invading to do. We're going to invade North Korea. We're going to have to invade China. We're going to have to invade even Pakistan, which is allegedly our enemy, because there are a dozen to 20 countries out there with nuclear weapon programs, and perhaps even programs for chemical and biological warfare. So we have a whole lot of invading...

SMERCONISH: Can I respond to that?

BLITZER: Go ahead, Michael.

SMERCONISH: I think the lesson after 9/11 is we're not going to sit back and let somebody hit us on the chin before we do something about it. We're going to initiate a first-strike capability if we need to, because we've learned that to sit back and to wait to be attacked before we do something is not the right answer. It's a whole different situation post-9/11 than it was pre-9/11, and this is a good example.

BLITZER: There is absolutely no connection between September 11th and Iraq.

TUCKER: Not sure about that either. TUCKER: The bush administration has been busy trying to make a connection, but even our CIA says, first of all, there is no evidence of a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Secondly, the CIA says there's nothing to suggest Saddam Hussein will use his weapons of mass destruction if we do not invade, but every reason to believe he will use them if we do.

BLITZER: Ten seconds. Michael, you got the last word.

SMERCONISH: I don't want the United States to sit around and wait to be attacked. If we have an enemy of the United States with weapons of mass destruction, threatening to use them against us, we take him out first. That's the lesson of 9/11.

BLITZER: Michael Smerconish and Cynthia Tucker, an excellent debate. Two very strongly held positions. We'll have you back.

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