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Government Response

September 11, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: Joining us are Lawrence Eagleburger, who was Secretary of State in the first Bush administration; James Woolsey, who was CIA Director in the Clinton administration; and David Boren, who was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee during the Gulf War.

He is now president of the University of Oklahoma. Larry Eagleburger, beginning with you, how do you read the President’s speech? What was he saying do you think in terms of his intentions and this country’s intentions in the way of responding to this event?

LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: He said one thing that was absolutely critical, and that is that we are not going distinguish between the terrorists and those who have harbored them, protected them, trained them, financed them. And that to me is absolutely critical. And if he means what he says, and I think he does, it means first of all that this is the beginning of a long siege against these people. It’s about time.

We have to face the fact that either terrorism now is faced and faced heavily and hard, or we have to understand that this is the beginning of something that is going to go on for a long, long time. And I think finally the terrorists have made a massive mistake because they have gotten the American people thoroughly, thoroughly angry, and I think we will show and in this sense it’s like Pearl Harbor, I think we will show when we get attacked like this, we are terrible in our strength and in our retribution. And I hope that is going to be the case.

MARGARET WARNER: Jim Woolsey, how did you read what he said in terms of his intentions?

JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, on the whole good, but there are a couple of implications. First of all he talked about no distinction between those, as Larry said, who harbor the terrorists and the terrorists themselves. If this was bin Laden, that suggests blaming Afghanistan, and fine, but he also said that we would use law enforcement and intelligence to bring them to justice.

Now this was the Clinton administration approach to assume that terrorism was largely a law enforcement matter, and if you found the people who perpetrated the act and convicted them, you have done the job. There’s I think a substantial body of opinion that is starting to rethink that.

A number of people are starting to suggest, for example, as did the FBI agent we were talking earlier – who headed up the first part of the World Trade Center investigation in 1993 – that there may have been Iraqi government involvement behind Ramsey Youssef, the mastermind of that plot as well as the plot to bomb a number of American airliners in the Pacific, which is what led to his being caught. Now, if there was Saddam Hussein behind the screen – like the Wizard of Oz — pulling the levers, it’s much more important both in ’93 and now than even the people who harbor the terrorists or even the terrorists who carry it out.

So first and foremost our intelligence agencies, I think, have to go back into some of this material that was not looked at in ’93, ’94, ’95 because it was under grand jury secrecy because it was solely in the possession of the FBI and Justice Department — and we need to decide whether or not we may have ourselves in a situation of being at war with a country. I think it’s possible, it’s certainly not proven, but we need to find out.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. David Boren, how did you read our previous guests here pointed out two difference sentences — did you read the President as saying there is going to be a new policy here or did it sound more like a continuation though perhaps intensification of the old?

FORMER SEN. DAVID BOREN: Well, I don’t know whether you call it old or new policy; I thought the President was very clear. I applaud what he said. I think he spoke for all Americans without regard to party. I thought he was extremely effective tonight. He showed the kind of strength that we need from a leader at a time of crisis like this.

He said very clearly — and I agree with Larry Eagleburger — we are going to hold both those terrorist organizations themselves, those individuals accountable and we’re going to hold the nations, if it is a nation state, those that harbor them accountable. And they will be brought to justice. And when he said brought to justice, I interpreted him as meaning they will be punished. And that includes perhaps a possibility, the strong possibility of military punishment; infrastructure of those states will be punished militarily.

There will be very strong retribution. And I think that’s so important because if we don’t act now, as Larry Eagleburger has just said, we’re going to continue to ask for this kind of thing. You know, Qaddafi tonight, I thought it was so interesting; he expressed his disapproval of the action and his condolences. But what was he really trying to do? He was trying to make sure that he took himself off the suspect list and he took Libya off the suspect list.

We must be so firm in what we do and so forceful in our retaliation that no country in the world will want to be on the suspect list in the future.

And I hope this will also give us the opportunity for our President to take the lead in bringing together the leaders of the dozen or so leading nations of this world to form a compact to work together – not alone to share intelligence – but to establish inspection teams that will have the backing of the leading nations of the world to go in anywhere in the world where we suspect there are terrorist operation centers, training centers, and otherwise.

It’s time for us to mobilize not only our national effort, but it’s time for us to lead an international effort.

MARGARET WARNER: Larry Eagleburger, how would you describe the U.S. Government’s position or posture in the past towards the states that sponsored terrorism? David Broder, a few moments ago, used the phrase the term “squeamish” – that we haven’t really been willing to put it to these states; how would you describe it?

LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: I would describe it the same way – squeamish, cautious, careful. Look, I think what you need to understand, Margaret, is if we do what I think we should do and I think Senator Boren clearly thinks we should do, this is asking for a long-term hard line rather unpleasant time for us.

This is not something we can react to for two weeks and then give it up. It means that it’s a major effort on our part including if necessary attacks, if you will, on sovereign states. And under those circumstances we ought to understand that we are biting off a lot. I hope we can chew it. But I think we have to understand before we go into this that it’s not short term.

It could be very unpleasant and it can cost us some resources. But short of that I think we’re not going get by with this and I think one of reasons we’re faced with this now is because we were all so cautious before in part because we always seem to have to insist that we know who did it.

MARGARET WARNER: When you say attacks on these states to what purpose? Are you talking about retaliatory strikes, or are you talking as Bill Kristol was earlier about trying to change the government’s in these states? What are you really talking about?

LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: Well, you know, too many people think we are capable of changing governments in these countries. I’m talking about retaliation, retribution — indicating to these people that the price of supporting these terrorists is simply too high for them to pay.

And if that means we succeed in getting rid of a government, it will probably be replaced by another one we don’t like anyway. I don’t care much about replacing governments, I do care about making them understand they have to behave themselves or the costs are going to be horrendous.

MARGARET WARNER: Jim Woolsey, do you think the rest of the world would support us in that kind of an all out attack, assault?

JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, if we go attacking anyone, we should be sure that we’re attacking the right people. I mean, we didn’t do that quite right in Sudan, for example, in 1998. But it seems to me if we find that there is state-sponsorship behind here — Iran is possible — I think Iraq is more likely — then we’re at war with that country. This was an act of war against the United States. This was Pearl Harbor.

The difference is in December 7th of 1941 we saw those rising suns on the wings of Japanese aircraft and we knew who had attacked us. Now we need to be careful and be sure – but if we are sure not only I think military action, but particularly things like supporting the democratic opposition in Iraq, there are a number of steps that we can and should take very much along the lines of what we did against the worst nations that we were opposed to during the Cold War and more because we would be involved in military action. We have to get, I think, very serious now.

MARGARET WARNER: David Boren, the United States has had trouble in the past getting international support against terrorism.

FORMER SEN. DAVID BOREN: Well, we have but I think that the magnitude of this particular incident is going to be so shocking, not only to Americans but to the rest of the world that I think this is the time for us to really act. We do need a policy, as Larry Eagleburger has said, that is long term. Sometimes we Americans, we take action and then we kind of forget about it. We’re short-term in our thinking.

This must be long term; it must be relentless; the President used the world “unyielding.” This must be a long-term policy – that the costs are so high. You know, that’s one of the things that Ronald Reagan understood when you had the Reagan Doctrine. And he said when the old Soviet Union tried to expand anywhere in the world, we should make them pay such a price for it that they would stop these attempts to expand. He understood that.

That’s the kind of unified effort we need now — relentless effort against terrorism. And you know, I do think other countries may be more ready to join us. I had a very interesting conversation with the President of Russia, President Putin in Moscow just a few weeks ago. We were talking about the missile shield.

And he went beyond that and he started about the fact, you know, we talk about a missile threat, but really these terrorist groups are more a threat, they are more likely to use car bombs, airplanes even mentioned, in terms of weapons that are more conventional; they’re easier to get their hands on to use against us.

And we were talking about the need for more intelligence sharing and more joint efforts because they too, for example, Russia today has a real concern about some of their border areas being used as launching pads for terrorism against their system.

I think even the Chinese need to be made to understand that stability in the world — if you’re a nation very much involved with the rest of the world, world stability is an interest to all of us. This is the time for us to be very strong, relentless in terms of American policy and also really attempt to reach out to the other nations in the world to join us in this long-term effort.

MARGARET WARNER Secretary Eagleburger, when we talk about price, there has also been a lot of discussion tonight about that the U.S. has to be willing to pay more of a price just financially. Do you see money or lack of money at the root of any of this, whether it has to do with the way we supported intelligence or the way we spend our defense dollars? Do you see a reordering of priorities coming, or should it?

LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: The answer to that I think is yes, I think probably and again, others could comment on this better than I, but I suspect our money to some degree and the intelligence side has been spent too much on technical facilities and too little on human activity, human intelligence, and I think we have already begun to try to change that.

We have recognized that as a problem. I personally believe that the defense budget is woefully under done and that the Defense Department needs substantially more money to get itself back into a better state of readiness. That isn’t to say that they aren’t prepared at this stage to handle some of this but, again, if it’s a longer term effort, I think it’s going to cost more money.

Let me make one other comment, if I may. I think Senator — President Boren, excuse me David, is I hope right when he says that we’ll get the support of our allies. I’m less confident. I think we’ll get some – we’ll certainly get it from the British; we will get it grudgingly from the French for a little while. I personally am not that hopeful that we’ll get sustained support, which I think is going to be necessary. I think we’re going to have to do everything we can to organize our allies in this regard, but I’m not at all sure we can count on that too much.

I would say one more thing, if I may, and that is I agree that we need to know who did this, but at the same time that’s not to me the only compelling point here. We know who a lot of these terrorists are that one way or another do not wish us well. We know the governments that have harbored them in the past and I think we need to be a little bit broader in our look at this whole issue than simply trying to define specifically who committed this particular act.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Larry Eagleburger, David Boren, Jim Woolsey, thank you all three.