Editorial Views on Iraq
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TERENCE SMITH: Joining me now for a sampling of editorial opinion around the country are four editorial page editors: Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bruce Dold of the Chicago Tribune, John Diaz of the San Francisco Chronicle, and Rachelle Cohen of the Boston Herald.
Welcome to you all. I want to ask all of you to explain briefly, if you will, what stance you’re paper has taken editorially on this whole issue on the use of force and the administration’s position. Cynthia Tucker, go first.
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Well, Terry we agree wholeheartedly that Saddam Hussein poses a grave threat, particularly to the Middle East. But we are very skeptical about President Bush’s rush to war. Saddam has been contained for a decade. It seems that the United States and the U.N. can do a lot more to contain and disarm Saddam Hussein without invaded Iraq.
TERENCE SMITH: John Diaz, in San Francisco, what position have you taken in terms of either support for the administration’s approach?
JOHN DIAZ: Well similarly, Terence, there is no question that said is a menace not only to his neighbor but potentially down the line to American interests. So we certainly have been clear eyed about that but nevertheless I think the administration has really been in a rush to try and build support for use of force before it’s really laid out the case that one, there is either an imminent threat to the United States or we can build the kind of international alliance to be critical to making this effective in the long term.
TERENCE SMITH: All right Bruce Dold, I understand you have had some audio problems there but if you can hear me what’s been your position?
BRUCE DOLD: Yes I can.
TERENCE SMITH: What’s been your position in your papers?
BRUCE DOLD: We have been skeptical about unilateral action but you know what the President has done is what exactly what this newspaper and a lot of newspapers asked him to do, which was to go to Congress and ask for approval and go to the United Nations and ask for its support. Our editorial tomorrow is going to support the President’s for a resolution from Congress using the argument that he has moved this debate, he has moved Iraq through the threat of military action and if Congress were to bind his hands now, all that progress would be lost.
TERENCE SMITH: Rachelle Cohen round it out for us. What’s your position and that of the Boston Herald?
RACHELLE COHEN: Well, tomorrow morning’s Boston Herald will contain an editorial that also will support speedy Congressional passage of the resolution that President Bush put before Congress today. We think action ought to happen sooner rather than later. We definitely think Congress ought to take action on the resolution even before the U.N. does what the U.N. may or may not do. And in the last week following the President’s address to the U.N., we urged that body to also take speedy action and indicated that in many ways it’s the U.N.’s future and the relevance of the United Nations that is on the line in this entire debate.
TERENCE SMITH: Cynthia Tucker, you have just heard the Senators discussing the resolution that’s been put before them with a phrase in it, that the President is authorized to use all means, as he shall determine, what do you think of that and should Congress act on it as Rachelle Cohen says speedily?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: No, absolutely not. I think the key word here is patience. Secretary of State Powell used the word “patience;” Senator Joe Biden repeated that word, emphasized the need for patience. There is absolutely no rush.
Before September 10th, President Bush rarely mentioned Iraq. He was concentrating on building Star Wars, Iraq wasn’t perceived as a immediate threat, now suddenly there is this need to immediately invade. But what’s changed? Iraq has not been tied in any way to the events of September 11. Again, Saddam Hussein certainly represents a grave threat, particularly to the Middle East.
But there is absolutely no reason to rush and the resolution that President Bush wants passed, the one that he sent to Congress, gives him carte blanche and i think Congress should take its time, debate the issue and give him power to act only, only if Saddam Hussein doesn’t in any way cooperate with the United Nations.
TERENCE SMITH: John Diaz, what’s your view of that? There is time, of course certainly before the U.N. acts. What should be the sequence and substance of these resolutions?
JOHN DIAZ: There is time and I’m really concerned that in the current political atmosphere with the November elections on the horizon there may be some kind of rush to give the President a blank check on Iraq. We need a debate that goes far beyond the question of just whether Saddam Hussein is a threat in the Middle East. We need to talk about what the long-term plan is for Iraq. I thought in your previous segment Senator Lugar made a good point, that we need to think about what the next regime may be. Remember we are not likely to get a regime that’s going to come into Baghdad endowed with Jeffersonian ideals. We’re going to have some of the same problems that we had with Saddam potentially in the long term. Remember there was a long time he was an ally of the United States in that region.
TERENCE SMITH: Bruce Dold do you want to see a resolution from Congress speedily and do you want to see it even before the U.N. acts?
BRUCE DOLD: Well, I think it has to be before the U.N. acts because I don’t think the U.N. will act if it’s unclear that Congress is fully backing the President on this. I mean, time – you know — we have had ten years, ten years of sanctions that haven’t bothered Saddam Hussein one bit. You know, France is happy to do a billion and a half dollars in business with Iraq each year, Italy is happy to do a billion in business with Iraq each year and everyone seemed happy to ignore the fact that Iraq was thumbing its nose at the United Nations until the President jumped up on this and now the U.N. seems like it’s willing to take some kind of step but I don’t think if there is… if it’s unclear that U.S. Congress is going to support the President, I think the U.N. would be very happy to go back to sleep.
TERENCE SMITH: Rachelle Cohen, what’s your view of that, if the U.N. indeed takes longer and Congress feels the need to go out for the elections, what should they do?
RACHELLE COHEN: Well, I would love to get back to Cynthia’s points, because on September 10th I would have agreed with her completely. But… and editorial writers — some of us prone to cliches I suppose — have always said that September 11 changed everything; it certainly did in this instance.
And it certainly woke us up to the fact that al-Qaida is operating in Iraq. We know that there are terrorists in Iraq. We know Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and chemical weapons and biological weapons. It is going to come down to what if anything we decide to do about them. The other point is there is a certain irony that Congress is even as we speak revisiting what we knew, what we didn’t know prior to September 11. At the very same moment, we are still looking at a situation with the same kind of potential. I mean, now is the time to do something about that — not hold Congressional hearings after an incident.
TERENCE SMITH: Cynthia Tucker, respond to that. Has September 11 changed everything has Rachelle Cohen said?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: It hasn’t changed anything about Iraq. The simple fact of the matter there is absolutely no evidence that linked Saddam Hussein or Iraq to al-Qaida. The CIA has dug insistently looking for that connection, because the Bush administration wanted to make the connection. The fact of the matter is it would make more sense to invade Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, because that’s where al-Qaida is getting its support from. But there is no link the CIA has found no link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.
TERENCE SMITH: John Diaz do you…
JOHN DIAZ: I have an argument — I’m sorry that was an argument made in the very resolution that was sent up to Capitol Hill today that there are al-Qaida operatives in Iraq today.
And Saudi Arabia is generally not in the business of handing out weapons. They may have given substantial final support but they’re not handing out weapons of mass destruction.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. John Diaz, how should we rate all of this in terms of relative importance of the factors?
For example, the President didn’t make the case of a connection to al-Qaida before the U.N. He made a case of U.N. resolutions not fulfilled and of rules not… doesn’t the issue turn to what is the threat against the United States and has that threat been made credible and to your satisfaction?
JOHN DIAZ: I think it has not been made at this point. I think long term we know that there is a potential threat because of Saddam Hussein’s interest in nuclear weapons and his possession of chemical and biological weapons. But the real question here and I think it goes to the question that Rachelle was addressing of September 11 changing everything; it did change everything; on September 11 we were attacked and this country went to war. That war is incomplete at this point and the critical to finishing off that war against terrorism is one getting the support of the international community and maintaining it. Remember, just in the last week we’ve had arrests not only in Pakistan but in Buffalo, New York, and Indonesia. It’s vitally important that we keep our eyes focused at this point on the war that we are fighting.
TERENCE SMITH: Bruce Dold what about that, the case has been raced or the question has been raised, will an attack on Iraq actually subtract from the war on terror or divert and distract from it, what’s your view?
BRUCE DOLD: I think we have the greatest military in the world and they’re fully capable of fighting two. I think there is an assumption made that there’s going to be a war because Congress will pass a resolution. It’s often thrown at President Bush Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite line, “Speak softly and carry a big stick” — look what Roosevelt did, you want to talk about regime change — when Roosevelt wanted the Panama Canal built, he essentially put a government into Panama and the government got religion there and built the Panama Canal. Roosevelt talked about speaking softly but he asserted that U.S. doctrine was that the U.S. could intervene militarily in the western hemisphere if there was something like chronic troubles, not necessarily a military threat to the U.S. And Teddy Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize. You know, Bush is using the threat of force because that’s what Saddam Hussein understands and I’m coming to the thinking that that threat is the best way to keep peace in that region.
TERENCE SMITH: Rachelle Cohen, should we give the U.N. a chance to get inspectors in there? Should we give Saddam Hussein a chance to in fact, allow them unfettered access, what’s your view on that?
RACHELLE COHEN: It would be a nice… excuse me, it would be a nice thought that that might actually happen, but I doubt there is anyone in Congress likely not anyone even in the United Nations who actually thinks that it will happen in the way that needs to happen.
TERENCE SMITH: But is it important to go through the steps?
RACHELLE COHEN: It’s… to a point if that can be done in a very brief period of time, if the U.N. could have inspectors on the ground within days and actually call their bluff. But the Iraqis have already back tracked. You read one part of their statement of Saddam’s statement of the other day and saying, yes, our doors will be open to inspectors and by the time you get to the end of the letter, he’s already backtracking. I think his minister’s remarks before the U.N. today were certainly fuzzier than, yes, our doors will always be open to inspectors. I think it is not going to happen and we would be kidding ourselves to think it would.
TERENCE SMITH: Cynthia Tucker, very briefly at the end here, the steps that you want to see taken before such action?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Play the string out on Saddam Hussein’s offer to allow the inspectors back in. There is absolutely nothing to be lost by playing it out and seeing what he does. I don’t trust Saddam Hussein. I don’t think he’s really going to give inspectors unfettered access either but play out the string. If he’s playing games, the entire world will know.
TERENCE SMITH: All right, thank you all four very much.