JIM LEHRER: This past weekend, 344 citizens from around the nation gathered in Philadelphia for the national issues convention. They met in small groups, alone and with experts, to discuss foreign policy questions and the possibility of war with Iraq in particular. Here is an excerpt from one of those small group sessions, led by moderator Jean Ambrose.
JEAN AMBROSE: I'd like to start the conversation by asking, do you think that taking action, military action against threats is going to make us safer or is going to make the world a more dangerous place?
MANUEL HERNANDEZ: Well, I think we have to have a stand where we have to at least let other people know that we're not playing any games, and take a stand for what we believe, you know, as far as living the freedom we deserve to have. And I'm not saying that military action is always the answer, but at least to make some kind of approach to let them know that we're not going to stand for the games that you guys are playing.
PETER RHINEHARDT: The question that keeps coming back to my mind is, where is the world community in all these events? We have terrorist attacks all across the world, it's not just the United States. When is the world community put its foot down and say no? And in our arrogance, we have acted unilaterally, and to some benefit, and at times I completely agree. But my concern is that arrogance is going to grow with our continued go-it-alone decisions. And I'm wondering why aren't we pushing more for a world involvement? I'm thinking Americans need to push their leaders to include the world, you know, to go more towards united nations and empowering them to take a more effective role in the world.
SHELDON ABRAMOWITZ: We shouldn't stand alone, because the American people are the ones who are going to foot the bill, the Americans are going to be the ones to get killed in the end. My son's in the military, I worry every day about him -- where he's going, and what he's going to do, because we don't know.
CHARLES BROWN: Sometimes the preemptive strike is going to hurt news the long run, but you have to remember we have to think about us first. It's always going to be about us first, and then we look out for the world. Because if we just let things go and we take world of take care of the world and we don't take care of ourselves, then where are we going to be left at? Unprotected, because if we can't be protected, who is going to protect us?
DENNIS THAXTON: You've got to consider preemptive strikes. But the repercussions that have already been mentioned, they're going to follow us forever. After 9/11 when that Saudi prince came over and offered Mayor Giuliani a check for $10 million and then added that we brought this on ourselves, I agreed with that, but his timing was terrible. Though our Middle East policy has come home to roost, I'm afraid.
FLORENCE NADLESON: I may be a hawk, but I am quite, quite sure that Saddam Hussein is capable of bringing over biological warfare. And having been in the medical profession for many years, I have seen the ravages of things that can happen. Ebola virus, smallpox, anthrax, any one of these, and he's had absolutely no compunction to using these things. And if we don't prepare ourselves, and he feels that we're weak, he will just send one person with smallpox into the New York subway system, and then what do we have? I think that we have to show him that we are in control.
DENNIS THAXTON: But yet, none of Saddam's neighbors want us to wage war against him, none of them.
FLORENCE NADLESON: They may not, they may not.
DENNIS THAXTON: None of North Korea's neighbors want us to take action.
FLORENCE NADLESON: North Korea is a real threat too definitely.
DENNIS THAXTON: But Saddam has no means, I mean, other than, as you said, sending an individual with... infected individual into our midst. I really don't think he has any effective means of using his weapons of mass destruction against us.
DAVID SALINAS: Though I think the thing is safety, feeling safe. I have a 14-year-old at home, and September 11, we're sitting there watching on this TV and we're terrified. And he was asking, you know, at 14... we live in San Antonio, we have three major air bases -- four major air bases right there. I mean, it's like a big target. And at 14, he was asking me, "Are we next?" And I was, you know, the only thing I could think to tell him was, "There comes a time when we have to trust." We trust our government, we trust our president, and we trust our military.
ELAINE CLOUD GOLLER: I have to ask you, did you not have those same feelings when Oklahoma was bombed? We had terrorists in our own midst, us, you know, to say "oh it's them, they're the bad guys." Careful. Be careful, because it's us, too.
JEAN AMBROSE: Are the democratic principles that we value so highly always appropriate for other countries?
BONNIE MICHAEL: We think democracy is the best way, because that's how we were brought up. That's our culture, that's our heritage, that's what has been ingrained in us. So we think democracy is the perfect answer. But that doesn't mean that other people feel that way, because they weren't brought up that way. We think human life is wonderful, we cherish life; other people don't. They think it's wonderful to die for their cause. And I don't know anybody that, I mean, I personally wouldn't want to go out and die for the cause, because I like life, you know, and that's the way we've been brought up, and it's our culture, and there are so many different cultures in the world, that you can't tell them democracy is the answer for you.
OWEN McNALLY: But I think it's fair for us to ask ourselves as a civilization, what should we accomplish with all this power that we have? And if we're in a position where we have this kind of leverage over much of the rest of the world, which is never absolute and should never be absolute, but nonetheless we have an unprecedented opportunity to make positive changes, and we have to look at our own history and see where we haven't made positive changes: Where we've supported dictators, where we've supported regimes that treated their people unjustly, or where our own corporations were exploiting other people around the world and we can say we should come to grips with our own history. We have to, you know, call ourselves, you know, into account, and then move forward, and it's high time to do so.
JIM LEHRER: Yesterday, all the delegates convened for a nationally televised PBS broadcast to ask questions of former national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Amb. Richard Haass, the current director of policy planning at the State Department.
KIM SCHUL: Hi, I'm Kim Schul from Sparks, Maryland, and my question is, what was the logic behind the preemptive strike policy?
AMB. RICHARD HAASS: The idea that on certain situations now, the United States, working hopefully with other members of the international community, rather than simply exercising a right of self defense-- to respond after we've been attacked-- might actually have to act before such an attack is launched. Now to some extent this is not new. We've always had this option in our kit bag. What's raised this so much now, what brought this issue to a head now is really a couple of things. One is weapons of mass destruction. The cost of now being struck by surprise with weapons of mass destruction-- by that I mean chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons-- the costs have risen astronomically, it would be truly catastrophic. Secondly, what we've now seen is many governments, or several governments, are carrying out production programs of weapons of mass destruction secretly. So we don't know any more when this might happen.
So what we are suggesting is that in certain cases when governments have a record of supporting terrorism, have a record of aggression, they are developing weapons of mass destruction, that in certain occasions, we may actually have to strike first in order to prevent or preempt such an attack from hitting us. This will still remain an exception, because we do not want to live in a world where countries start preempting one another as somehow the regular way of doing business. So this will be an exceptional tool, but it is one we may very well need in this world that we're moving to.
MELISSA FRIEDLANDER: Hi, I'm Melissa Friedlander from Camarillo, California. And our question is, what and why would preemptive force be justified and what other options would be available?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I would think preemptive action would be justified if we knew that we were facing an imminent attack. In fact, that has been the doctrine of the United States, even during the many years of containment. We never excluded the possibility of a preemptive response if we were about to be attacked, if we knew that the opponent was in the process of getting his military forces in motion and directed at us. What is new, lately, is that we have now announced that as a doctrine, and I think that is unfortunate, and quite unnecessary. It doesn't deter anyone from attacking us or planning an attack against us, but it might encourage-- as some members of the group have already pointed out-- other countries more openly to adopt the notion of preemptive attacks on their neighbors, and that points us in the direction of greater international disorder, greater reliance on force. I don't think it's a wise step.
JIM LEHRER: This broadcast marked the start of the "By the People" project. Later this spring there will be a series of local community activities, some sponsored by public broadcasting stations.