CNN TALKBACK LIVE
President Bush Takes Case Against Iraq to American People
Aired January 29, 2003 - 15:24 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ARTHEL NEVILLE, HOST: Today on TALKBACK LIVE: The president takes his case against Iraq to the people. You heard the list of horrors, but, without the hard evidence, is it enough to declare war? Also, find out what the didn't president didn't tell you about the plan for Medicare.
Then, are Mr. Bush's tax cut plans going to put more money into your pocket? An what was that he said about a hydrogen-powered car? War, economy, health and environment: Did the president strike a chord with you?
The talk starts now.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to TALKBACK LIVE. I'm Arthel Neville.
Did President Bush tell you what you wanted to hear in his State of the Union message last night? Its impact is global. And while we're going to talk about his plan for tax cuts and Medicare, I want to start by asking you, did the president make his case against Iraq? And does it matter if the U.S. goes it alone?
The president is out today reinforcing his message and further linking Saddam Hussein to terrorism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have thought long and hard about this. The risk of doing nothing, the risk of assuming the best from Saddam Hussein, it's just not a risk worth taking. So I call upon the world to come together and insist that this dangerous man disarm.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NEVILLE: OK, and here to talk about the fallout from the president's State of the Union message are CNN contributor and former Congressman Bob Barr; also Gareth Schweitzer, news director and White House correspondent for Talk Radio News Service.
And I want to welcome both of you to TALKBACK LIVE today.
NEVILLE: OK, Gareth, I'm going to start with you today.
Has the president made the case for war? GARETH SCHWEITZER, TALK RADIO NEWS SERVICE: Well, I didn't hear anything new yesterday, Arthel.
And, in fact, he's now put it down the road to February 5, until he says Colin Powell is going to provide new evidence against Saddam Hussein. The question I have is why, last night, with the entire nation watching and the biggest forum of the year, does the president not use that moment to president evidence that he has?
I think pushing that down the road makes me think that perhaps the evidence isn't as strong as he says it is and that they are still unable to prove to the American people conclusively that Iraq presents an immediate threat to our security. They all haven't been able to say, Arthel, why the cost of inaction is greater than the cost of -- the cost of action is greater than the cost of inaction.
We want to know why, if this war destabilizes the region, causes a rise in Islamic militancy, that that is not actually a greater threat to American security.
NEVILLE: Bob Barr, should the president have presented those specifics last night?
BOB BARR, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, if, in fact, the president believes it necessary to lay before the American people, in a public fashion, the evidence that will cause people to rally, then, yes, he should have.
But I'm not sure that's the most appropriate way to proceed here. The president believes and his top national security advisers and Cabinet officials believe, and he has made the case to the American people that they believe that Saddam Hussein and his regime is supporting, actively and significantly, al Qaeda and other terrorists. They do possess weapons of mass destruction. They are in violation of the U.N. resolutions.
And it is necessary for us to act. So, I don't really know what more the American people need to know than the fact that their commander in chief has laid out a very clear and convincing case, notwithstanding that there isn't quite as much detail as some would like.
SCHWEITZER: I always wonder why people think that, because something is said 100 or 200 times, it's necessarily true.
The president has said that al Qaeda is related to Iraq. They've presented no evidence that that's the case. They've also said that Iraq is a threat to the United States. They've presented no evidence for that. The things that they're talking about about suspicion -- and this is suspicion or harboring al Qaeda terrorists -- also apply to Syria and Iran. We have no war talk with them.
The possibility that they have biological and chemical weapons also apply to those two nations, which are known to also harbor terrorist and support Hezbollah. But we have no such military plans against that. Those discrepancies need to be addressed.
NEVILLE: And, of course, as Bob Barr was saying, last night, the president again linked Iraq, Saddam Hussein, with terrorism.
And with us now is a man who isn't making that connection. Ben Cohen is co-founder of Ben & Jerry's ice cream and the man behind an anti-war campaign that's outlined on the Web site TrueMajority.com. We're going to take a look at the ad that's a part of that campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, TRUE MAJORITY AD)
SUSAN SARANDON, ACTRESS: Before our kids start coming home from Iraq in body bags, women and children start dying in Baghdad, I need to know, what did Iraq do to us?
EDWARD PECK, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: The answer is nothing. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, nothing to do with al Qaeda. Its neighbors don't think it's a threat. Invading Iraq will increase terrorism, not reduce it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NEVILLE: OK, Ben. Do you believe that more time for the inspectors would avoid a war?
BEN COHEN, CO-FOUNDER, BEN & JERRY'S ICE CREAM: Absolutely. War is failure. It's a last resort. As long as the inspectors are in there, there's no chance that Saddam can do anything to the United States.
The inspections are working. I say let them continue. Let's keep the inspectors in there. And we can make sure that Saddam is going to be harmless and that he's not going to effect the security of the United States.
NEVILLE: Now, in fact, last night the president emphasized that Saddam is doing harm. He's causing harm to his own people in the form of torture and various forms. And I ask you, again, is that enough for the U.S. to invade Iraq?
COHEN: You know, Saddam is a bad guy. But the reality is that there are a lot of bad guys around the world. And we can't go to war and kill hundreds of thousands and wound hundreds of thousands of people, both our own and the people in those countries, any time there's someone around that we don't like.
It's going to create more terrorism. It's going to make it less secure for us in the United States.
NEVILLE: And Ben, speaking of terrorism, do you believe that there is no link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein?
COHEN: You know, as far as I can understand, al Qaeda is all over the world. And my other understanding is that al Qaeda is fundamentalist. And Saddam Hussein is a secular leader. They have a real conflict between them. They don't like each other. NEVILLE: OK. Listen, Ben, I have to take a break right now. But if you will, stick around with us, because we've heard what you had to say about the war. We're going to ask our panel to respond when we come back.
And of course you can get in your thoughts as well. Go ahead and give me a call or e-mail me right now. And we're back right after this break.
NEVILLE: Welcome back, everybody. Has the White House convinced you there is a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda?
With us now is Deborah Perry, a political commentator and co- author of "Unfinished Business: A Democrat and A Republican Take on the 10 Most Important Issues Women Face." She's the Republican; Julianne Malveaux is the Democrat. Deborah joins us, along with former Congressman and CNN contributor Bob Barr; Gareth Schweitzer, news director for Talk Radio News Service; and Ben Cohen, founder of TrueMajority.com, and the co-founder of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream.
Now before we get to Deborah, Dan (ph) here in the audience has something to say to Mr. Cohen.
DAN: Well, Ben, I said off camera and I'll say it to you in your face, you offend me. You're just spending your money. You don't have any real knowledge that any of us here in the audience have. You just have a position, and you're using your money to make that position, and that bothers me.
COHEN: Well, I hear what you're saying, but we have a board of military advisers, including Admiral Jack Shanahan, Admiral Stansfield Turner, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Larry Korb, and we have a whole set of business people that are our supporters. It's not my money; it's a lot of people's money.
And we are making the views heard that you don't hear because the media keeps on covering what the administration is saying. So our ads give you the views of a former ambassador to Iraq, an expert; a formal admiral, an expert; a bishop and...
NEVILLE: So Gareth, do you think the media is just spreading the propaganda of the White House?
SCHWEITZER: Well, I don't think it's that bad. But when the president, of course, has a bully pulpit, and it's his message that gets across quick enough, you know he sets the agenda and the tone for what the American people listen to. Which is why last night I was so astounded that out of a 12-page typed speech he spent exactly one paragraph discussing al Qaeda. This, a year ago, was the primary topic of all the news and all the policy coming out of the administration.
I find it very hard to believe that most Americans think in that year the al Qaeda threat has been minimized so much that the president can virtually neglect it in a State of the Union speech.
DEBORAH PERRY, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But I don't think that's the case at all. My blood is about to boil here, Arthel. I've got to jump in. I've got to tell you where my bias comes from.
Back in '92, I worked in the first Bush administration, when we were back then just watching the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. We are at the end of our rope. He is making the case.
When you talk about inaction here, all we have to do is look over the last decade, during the first World Trade bomb scare back in '92, the destruction of the World Trade Center, the USS Cole in Yemen, and also our U.S. embassies in Africa. This is what happens with inaction. We're at a very fragile stage.
NEVILLE: So Deborah, on that note then, do you believe there is a connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein?
PERRY: Definitively. We know that there is evidence out there. We know that there is intelligence that is not shared with the public. And part of the reason for that, and why Colin Powell is now first going to the United Nations Security Council, is you also don't want your enemies to know what you know, because it's for the protection of American people in the way that they can best put military operations forward.
NEVILLE: And Bob Barr, I want to bring you in here now. Talking about Dan (ph) here in the audience, his response to Ben Cohen's ad, this is America. There is freedom of speech.
BARR: Well, certainly, and that's not really the issue. But the ad is absolutely laughable. Ben didn't mention, among all his many ex-admirals and generals, that the primary purpose of the ad is to put Susan Sarandon before the American people, who knows absolutely nothing about what's going on here. She may be a fine actress.
And the point of the ad is absolutely ludicrous. It said, let's not rush into something. Heaven knows nothing's being rushed into here. I think there are a lot of us, including myself and many in the Congress, and many American citizens all across this land, that believe that action ought to have been taken already. That if in fact there is, as I believe very clearly, connections between this regime and Iraq and terrorist organizations that are out to do very substantial harm to this country, we should have moved a long time ago.
I don't think anybody with a straight face can say that Bush is rushing into something. Although Susan Sarandon certainly tried.
NEVILLE: Let me give Ben a chance to respond -- go ahead, Ben.
COHEN: I would like to know what the imminent threat is to the United States.
BARR: The imminent threat to the United States is that there are, we know, many hundreds if not thousands of weapons that he has, weapons of mass destruction. We know that he has a network and substantial amounts of money. A network around the world of operatives that are very actively seeking ways to harm this country.
SCHWEITZER: Which puts him in the company of virtually every country in the world. You know I'll add one other thing, which is that last summer we had the administration trying to make this argument solely on basis of whether or not Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the United States. At that point...
PERRY: But we already passed that imminent threat. We already passed that imminent threat.
SCHWEITZER: ... the United Nations was irrelevant. When we couldn't make that point, all of a sudden we used the U.N. resolution as our provocation for war. You can't have it both ways. The U.N. can't be both irrelevant and have its resolutions be the justification for military action.
NEVILLE: And here's where I'll jump in with a break. I'm sorry, Deborah.
NEVILLE: Abbreviated show here. We don't have a lot of time. We do have to take a break right now.
Up next: the president's plan to cut taxes. Who benefits, who doesn't? And why weren't the Democrats cheering last night? We're going to find out when TALKBACK LIVE returns after this break.
(BREAKING NEWS: 15:45:45)
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Miles O'Brien at CNN Center in Atlanta. We're tracking a breaking news story for you in Kinston, North Carolina, about 75 miles southeast of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Looking at a pair of pictures from two of our affiliates, WTVD to the left and WRAL to the right. A couple of aerial shots. And what you're saying are the remnants of the West Pharmaceuticals facility in an industrial park on the outskirts of Kinston, a town of about 25,000.
About 1:30 PM today an explosion apparently internal to the plant rocked the facility and really the whole area around. Numerous injuries reported. The possibility of numerous fatalities, although we have nothing confirmed just yet on that front. We do have reports of burn victims being treated at area hospitals. You see the fire still raging there. This particular facility made, among other things, the plungers used in IVs. Lots of rubber on that site. Many of the witnesses reporting smelling the thick, acrid smoke, smelling an awful lot like a tire fire or rubber burning.
We're tracking this story for you. We'll keep you up to date on it. As details come in, we'll bring them to you. I'm Miles O'Brien in the newsroom. Let's send it back to Arthel Neville and TALKBACK LIVE.
NEVILLE: And thanks a lot, Miles.
We have a developing story coming to you now out of Washington. We're going to go now there, where Jonathan Karl is standing by. He's CNN's congressional correspondent -- Jon.
JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Arthel, this is on the war with Iraq. Here in the United States Senate you are about to see the Senate's two most senior Democrats and two of the most powerful Democrats here in Washington, Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy, go to the floor of the United States Senate with separate resolutions very critical of the president, requiring specific action of the White House before going to war against Iraq.
First, Senator Byrd will go forward with a resolution saying that the United States should go to the U.N. Security Council for another resolution specifically authorizing the use of force before going to war against Iraq. The resolution, which we've just gotten hold of from Senator Byrd, reads, "Before initiating any offensive military operation in Iraq, the United States should seek a specific authorization for the use of force from the U.N. Security council."
Now, on the other side, something we've been talking about as late as last night. Senator Kennedy has his own resolution saying that the president should come to the Congress once again for authorization before going to war against Iraq. Senator Kennedy will introduce his resolution after Senator Byrd. They will both go to the floor at 4:00 Eastern time in just about 10 or 15 minutes.
Now, as far as Senator Kennedy's resolution goes, as you know, Arthel, as we covered extensively last October, the Congress did authorize the president to go to war against Iraq. But what Senator Kennedy is saying is that a lot has changed since then and the president should come back to the Congress, present the evidence he has, and make the case once again for why it's necessary to go to war now. Both these resolutions introduced here in just a short while -- Arthel.
NEVILLE: And Jon, do you think there is a strong possibility of a 100 percent stamp of approval?
KARL: There is certainly a 100 percent possibility that there won't be a 100 percent stamp of approval. You know Senator Kennedy's resolution has some opposition from top Democrats. Many Democrats, including, by the way, the majority leader here in the Senate, have been very critical of how the president has handled the war with Iraq. Have said he is rushing this, alienating our allies. But they are not willing to go the next step Kennedy is going to say that they need another vote here in the Congress.
Senator Byrd's resolution, perhaps there will be more support from. Because, first of all, it's what they call a sense of the Senate resolution, so it would not be binding. And it also requires simply another vote from the U.N. And a lot of Democrats have been saying just that, that the president should get another vote from the U.N.
NEVILLE: OK. Jon Karl, thank you so much. Nice to see you.
And listen, that's some developing news coming from Washington. Going to Deborah Perry now. What do you think about this? Should the president get further approval from the U.N. and from Congress?
PERRY: What was the point of having approval back in October? I mean why is the Congress going to continue wasting time?
NEVILLE: Would you admit, though, a lot has changed, though, Deborah?
PERRY: No, I wouldn't. I mean, I think a lot has changed in terms of progress, in terms of what we're learning that Saddam Hussein has currently in his weaponry system. But you know, let me just say, this is not limited to Iraq. This is definitively a sign to North Korea as well that we will not tolerate tyrants.
We are not going to sit back and take and lose over 3,000 Americans like we did during the World Trade bombings and the destruction of the World Trade Center. Now is the time to act. It's something we should have done a long time ago. So now we're paying for those repercussions. There's no reason that the Congress has to continuously get involved other than hearing the progress that the president is making on that front.
NEVILLE: Bob Barr, these are your former colleagues. What do you think about the proposals by senators Byrd and Kennedy?
BARR: Well, don't pin this on me. They're not my former colleagues. I lay no claim to these characters. I'll tell you, Senator Byrd, he has this...
NEVILLE: You were in Washington together is the point there.
BARR: You know Senator Byrd has this great myth about him that he's such a great constitutional historian. This proves to everybody that he has no idea what the Constitution stands for. To go to the well of the Senate and introduce a piece of legislation that undermines everything this nation stands for in terms of its sovereignty and constitutional power and separation of powers, shows him for what he is, and that's somebody who doesn't understand the first thing about the Constitution.
This resolution has no place in the United States Senate. If we allow this sort of thing to happen, then we will be saying that the United Nations and resolutions emanating there from is more important than our national sovereignty. And I don't know how any American can stand for that.
SCHWEITZER: Well, you know I would hope we wouldn't go too far overboard. I don't want to say this is going destroy the Constitution or the Senate. And I would urge Deborah also to be very careful about saying Iraq and 9/11 in the same sentence. I think that's a little bit of fearmongering, and there's no real evidence for that.
I think what a lot of these senators are feeling is some reluctance and perhaps wishing that they hadn't signed on so readily to the previous agreement. They feel that the president is not upholding his end of the bargain to work with Congress to move forward on this. And now they're trying to take a step back and put on the brakes and say, hold on a second, we're an equal partner in this.
COHEN: Well I think the polls have shown conclusively, time and time again, that the United States people only want to go to war if the U.N. sanctions it and if it's a multilateral action with the rest of the countries in the world. And it doesn't look like that's the way it's going.
BARR: That is not true. The American people stand behind their president. And the polls indicate that the American people believe that we ought to go to war or engage in hostilities when our national security interests are at stake, not because a bunch of bureaucrats at the U.N. think that theirs is.
SCHWEITZER: Well apparently we're all reading different polls. Because the one I've seen said that 70 percent of Americans now say they want us to go back to the United Nations before we move forward against Iraq. I think that's the most definitive poll. And it shows that Americans are apprehensive now too.
BARR: The most definitive poll was the one that put George Bush in the White House. And I know that opens...
COHEN: There was about 25 percent of the population that put him in the White House.
BARR: Well, I know you all wish that Al Gore were there, and maybe you and Susan Sarandon would be in the cabinet, and then you could be making these decisions, Ben.
SCHWEITZER: Now don't tie me in with Susan Sarandon. That's going the other way.
NEVILLE: Not that this matters, but her names is Sarandon. Anyway, listen, though, just overall, before I go to break here, I have a little bit of time. Just wanted to know overall, Deborah, going back to you. I think you seem to be convinced that the president made his case. And so apparently he didn't leave anything out in your opinion. PERRY: No. I was going to say earlier that we all must be reading different polls, because he did convince 20 more percent of the population that this is the right step to take. And I think just by the fact of sending Colin Powell to the U.N. Security Council next week proving the evidence that it's out there and connecting the dots for so many Americans -- again, there was no reason for us to know everything going on.
NEVILLE: OK. Music is there, which means I have to take a break. Coming up next: our "Question of the Day." Did the president make his case for war with Iraq? I already asked Deborah that question. We want to hear from you as well now.
That's the "Question of the Day." Give me a call now at 1-800- 310-4CNN, or you can e-mail me at email@example.com. I'll take your comments after this break.
NEVILLE: It is time for our "Question of the Day." Did the president make his case for war with Iraq? Going to Bob Barr now to answer that question.
BARR: Not only did President Bush make the case last night, but he's made it repeatedly over the last year. And I say let's back him.
SCHWEITZER: I think he didn't make it last night. He hasn't made it before. Even the White House said he wasn't going to do it last night. Absolutely not.
COHEN: No, he has not made his case. This would be a preemptive war, something that the United States has never done before. And the CIA has said that the security of the people in the United States will be better if we don't go to war than if we go to war and create more terrorists.
NEVILLE: OK. We have an e-mail coming in right now I want to share with you, coming in from Lou in New Jersey. "The president stated a case against Iraq last night. More evidence is soon to come. He made it clear that this nation's resolve is strong."
Thank you so much, Lou, in New Jersey. And thanks to Gareth Schweitzer, Bob Barr, Ben Cohen, and Deborah Perry. Thank you all for joining us here today on TALKBACK LIVE.
That is all the time we have for today. We're out of time. Thanks so much for watching.
I'm Arthel Neville. I'll be back again tomorrow 3:00 Eastern, 12:00 Pacific, with more TALKBACK LIVE. Judy Woodruff next on "INSIDE POLITICS."
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