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American Morning

Cheney Makes Administration's Strongest Case Yet For U.S. Strike Against Iraq

Aired August 27, 2002 - 09:45   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Vice President Dick Cheney has made the administration's strongest case yet for a U.S. strike against Iraq. In Nashville yesterday, Mr. Cheney made it clear that the Bush administration thinks a strike against Saddam Hussein is needed now, and not later.
So why is the administration pumping up the volume on Iraq?

Well we wanted to know from Jeff Greenfield. He has been reviewing the rhetoric and he joins us now.

Good morning, sir.


KAGAN: First of all, we have a vice president, how about that. We have not seen him in quite a few months.

GREENFIELD: I think what you saw here is the administration being very conscious of the fact there is a lot of feeling that a lot of prominent Republicans, people that should be on their side, are hesitant about this war with Iraq. You had Dick Armey making a statement. You had Brent Scowcroft in a very visible op-ed piece.

So by the sending the vice president out, who is the most powerful vice president ever, former secretary of defense, clearly a guy who is as close to the president in every way as you can be, they may have well been saying, look, folks, and particularly Republicans, this decision effectively has been made, one way or another, we are going in. And the reason you do not send the president out, is you save the president for when the actual stuff starts.

There is still, in other words, enough plausible deniability, so that the president can say, I am still thinking, I am still wondering, but it is a clear signal, I think, to a lot Republicans saying, you may want to...

KAGAN: Better get on board?

GREENFIELD: You may be thinking about wandering off of the reservation, but we are pretty much committed to one way or another getting this guy out if it takes military action. Take a look at that speech. Cheney went through every point that particularly the Republican naysayers have said, and said, it's wrong, we can't wait, we may not have him contained, deterrents may not work; we are going to have to take preemptive action. KAGAN: But even just having to do that, to kind of reign in the troops, reign in the Republican troops, and you are not talking even about liberals or other kinds of opposition, that's a new thing for this administration.

GREENFIELD: Relatively new.

You back a year and a half to their tax fight, not that it's the same, and every single Republican, I believe, in the House, almost everyone in the Senate, was on board with him.

This -- I think in politics the most dangerous thing, it comes from when you used to play stick ball in the streets of New York, we had no umpire, and we argued all the time. You're own man says so. When you're team says, yes, the guy was out, that ends it.

So you've seen this array. It may not be as much as the critics think, but you've got former national security adviser, you've got general particularly. You've got combat veterans, like Senator Hagel, being very personal, saying about people like Richard Pearl and Paul Wolfowitz, high Bush administration officials who didn't serve, nor did Cheney -- he took deferments -- listen, guys, it's one thing to talk this game, but you've ever been in combat, Senator Hagel said maybe Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Pearl would like to be the first wave to hit Baghdad.

And another little known one, just Friday in Florida, General Anthony Zinni, retired Marine general, their envoy to the Middle East, said the same thing. He said all the generals are hesitant and all the civilians that never saw a shot fired in anger want to go in. So that, I think, was what Cheney was trying to stem.

KAGAN: And you also have Arlen Specter going to the issue of, how much you involve Congress in this decision? Which is also kind of sticky.

GREENFIELD: A lot of Republicans, conservatives, institutionally, say you can't do this without at least bringing us in, and preferably even getting us on board, and that's not a liberal, conservative issue. That is more like congressional prerogatives versus administration.

KAGAN: So the idea that they're having to reign in these Republicans, is that either a situation where the administration is changing, becoming less powerful, or is that because the issue is so big and undefined in terms of what the U.S. will actually do that there are so many opinions out there?

GREENFIELD: I think when it comes to war and peace, you can't go on partisan lines. You remember Vietnam, remember the first dissenters were the Democrats, against Lyndon Johnson's own policy. This one, people tend to be a little bit less willing to say, OK, we will go along.

KAGAN: What the heck? GREENFIELD: Yes, and it's also why the administration and why its supporters are being so determined to look at the press coverage, particularly one paper, "The New York Times," and saying, you know, their front page is awfully slanted. We heard that from conservatives for decades about the liberal press. Here they are saying look at "The New York Times" front page and all the critical stories, how much the war is going to cost.

The fact that the administration 15 years ago sided with Iraq against Iran, even though it was using chemical warfare. They claimed that "The New York Times" misrepresented Henry Kissinger's position in an op-ed piece in "The Washington Post." Clearly, there is a feeling that every opinion maker reads "The New York Times," and we need to counteract all of those arguments.

KAGAN: Other opinions out there, September 12th, President Bush is to address the United Nations. Do you expect that will be the first time we will hear him talk publicly in a huge speech about this?

GREENFIELD: Yes, I mean, it would be pretty silly to trump a speech at the U.N. when the general assembly opens with a speech to say, a veterans group in Illinois, but what I don't expect is that by September 12th, he will in anyway go to the U.N. and announce specifically the United States is taking pre-emptive action. I think it will be much a speech saying why Iraq is a danger to the international community and why something must be done.

Clearly, they'd rather have supporters rather than go in unilateral. That was the point of former Secretary of State Jim Bakker. So the U.N. speech is one where I'm -- they haven't called me in on it.

KAGAN: The White House is on the phone, Jeff.

GREENFIELD: No, no, no, we don't do that.

But I strongly suspect that will be the appeal to say it is in the international community's interest for us all to stop whatever Iraq is up to and get that guy out of here.

KAGAN: More layering and making the case.

GREENFIELD: Yes, Jeff Greenfield, thank you very much for your insights.