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How to Respond?

September 12, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: And now, a discussion about response and options among former Clinton Secretary of State Warren Christopher; Samuel Berger, National Security Adviser in the second Clinton term; and Warren Rudman, former Republican Senator of New Hampshire. He co-chaired a commission that warned in February of a major terrorist attack on the United States. And was what happened yesterday what you had in mind, Senator?

FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Precisely. We talked about two kind of attacks. One…the one that we all worry about, attack using weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical biological, and weapons of mass disruption, which is what we saw yesterday and we essentially said that these are the number one threat to this country today and we laid out a whole series of things for Congress and the new administration to find ways to respond and to prevent and to prepare.

JIM LEHRER: Did anything happen after you turned in your report?

FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Things are happening, whether they’re happening at a fast enough pace is hard to say. I don’t think anything could have been done quickly enough to prevent today. But there are those in Congress who are proposing legislation to deal with the things that we talk about and the Vice President is supposed to report in October as to what the administration’s response will be to what we put forth.

JIM LEHRER: Well, Secretary Christopher, word today from President Bush and others was that, yes this was a terrorist act but it was also an act of war. Do you agree this was an act of war and should be seen by the United States as an act of war?

WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Yes I don’t think there is any point, Jim, in quibbling over the word. It’s an act of war and a particularly ugly kind of war because the rules of war don’t apply here. It’s a long and difficult road ahead, very complex. I think we have to be calm and disciplined and very relentless about it, Jim. If it turns out that there is a Middle East connection, then I think we have to take very strong decisive action, but when we do so, we have to understand that some of our erstwhile friends in the Middle East are likely to be very unhappy about it.

I have had a lot of experience with Middle Eastern leaders who claim that there are some ugly people down on their border they just can’t quite control although they control the country completely. So I think we can expect some opposition; that kind of opposition may have economic consequences, as well as military consequences. So we’ve got to be in for the long course, we have to stay the course, and my money we certainly shrink from it in any way.

JIM LEHRER: But we should not be lulled into any kind of immediate aftermath comments that the whole world is going to support whatever we do if we take action against somebody, right?

WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Absolutely. There will be an almost — great likelihood if it’s a Middle Eastern connection there will be doubters and complainers about whatever we do and that may have some real consequences. But my advice is we have to stand up to those consequences.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Mr. Berger, that if anybody thinks this is going to be easy, forget it?

SAMUEL BERGER: Absolutely. The stakes in the fight against terrorism were raised to an entirely new level yesterday. And I certainly agree with Secretary Christopher, the American people have to be prepared now for a long-term enterprise here. This is not going to be resolved with one single swift and even punishing strike. We need….

JIM LEHRER: Why not, why not? Let’s say that this group of terrorists is identified and part of identification reveals where they’ve been, where they are, what country has been supporting them, why can’t we just go in there and wipe them out?

SAMUEL BERGER: Because the objective here is not simply retaliation at this stage. The objective has to be a long-term effort by the international community to attack this terrorist network and if not take it down reduce it in substantial ways. If in fact, for example, if in fact, what was assembled around the Gulf War was a coalition of the willing that was organized for a single purpose, what we need now is a coalition of will that is organized for a long term purpose. And that long-term purpose is to attack this terrorist network not only in Afghanistan but in fifty or sixty countries where there are elements here.

And that will take a sustained period of time, as Secretary Christopher points out, each action will have its own reaction. And we need to support the President in a long-term undertaking here joined by as many allies as will summon the will to deal with terrorism in their own country as well as to cooperate in dealing with the center of gravity of this particular threat, if it is in fact, in Afghanistan.

JIM LEHRER: Well, Senator, your commission looked at all of this. How you would rate the prospects of there being an international effort just the way Sandy Berger just outlined — to really do something seriously finally about international terrorism?

FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: I think that all depends what the state of the diplomacy is between this country and its allies both in Europe and Asia and as Secretary Christopher points out in the most difficult place of all and the most important place of all the Middle East. I think it will be very difficult to get some of those Middle Eastern leaders who I have had some limited experience with to agree with massive American action against people they consider their friends for a number of reasons. They have their own domestic politics, which in many cases these governments could be easily destabilized. But — having said that — I totally agree with what President Bush said last night, I think we have to identify the particular perpetrators of this act and those who harbor them and make them pay a very severe price for what they did, however, as Sandy Berger has said, this is only the first step.

There are so many of these shadowy organizations around the world that the American people have to understand and the thing that we tried to bring out in our report, this is a new era in American security. This is not the first or the last act of terrorism against the United States. It’s the most horrendous, but we have to be prepared for other things, which is why we hope that the government will do more to prepare for response and prevention.

JIM LEHRER: Secretary Christopher, why has more not been done about this before now? There has been all kinds of commissions, in all due respect Senator Rudman and there have been all kinds of statements by secretaries of state including you when you were Secretary of State, Mr. Christopher, and by presidents and all of that and nothing ever seems to happen. Why not?

WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Jim, I think yesterday’s events are a wakeup call — not just America under attack it’s the world under attack. So whatever the failings of the past I think that we’re in a different situation right now. And I go even a slight step beyond where Senator Rudman just was — I think we have to go against not only the perpetrators and those who harbor them but also those who support them. I think that’s been the failure in the past. We’ve seen bombings where we, I think, have tried to get the perpetrators but we have fallen shy of going after those who supported them or probably supported them. And I don’t think we can do that in this situation.

We have to dig very deep here. I think the Osama bin Laden solution is too glib and too simplistic for me. This particular enterprise was so sophisticated that it’s hard for me to believe that there wasn’t some larger organization like a nation state behind it. And so we shouldn’t accept any easy solutions to this particular problem.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Berger you had to deal with Osama bin Laden when you were National Security Advisor or deal with the ramifications of what he allegedly did, do you agree with Secretary Christopher that it’s too glib to say, okay, we’ll get him and put him out of business, and that’s the end of this?

SAMUEL BERGER: Well, we can’t reach any conclusions at this point as the president said.

JIM LEHRER: I know.

SAMUEL BERGER: But there is obviously the always the potential here that there was some state behind this. But I also don’t think we ought to underestimate the sophistication and global reach of bin Laden and his operation.

JIM LEHRER: Give us a feel for that based on what you discovered when you were there.

SAMUEL BERGER: He operates in 60 countries.

JIM LEHRER: 60 countries?

SAMUEL BERGER: There are 5,000 to 10,000 operatives who have been through his training camps. They have obviously now learned to operate in a sense under the radar screen of our intelligence. In a way it’s a sophistication by being more primitive, by not using some of the communications techniques that we can easily detect. And we saw multiple attack in Africa. This is….

JIM LEHRER: At our embassy?

SAMUEL BERGER: This is qualitatively different. My point earlier though, Jim, is that this is not going to… It may go beyond a single organization, but that’s I suspect going to be a part of this. And Afghanistan, if that is in part we’re talking about, is a long way from nowhere. It’s 1,000 miles from the nearest body of water. It’s got Iran on one side, Pakistan on another side, Russia on another side, and Tajikistan on another side. Cruise missiles are not rifles. The last army that went into Afghanistan was the Soviet Union who lost. Now, we have to I believe take decisive action, as Secretary Christopher and the president said. We should have no illusions here that the choices facing the president are difficult ones, and we have to be prepared for difficult options here.

JIM LEHRER: Flesh that out Senator Rudman, from your point of view. What difficult things lie ahead not only for the president — he makes the decision — but also for Congress to support it and the American people to support it and our allies?

FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Well, let me lead off with the first one. If anything thinks at the kind of thing that’s being talked about here tonight is something to be done with a low casualty rate amongst U.S. forces, they’re thinking the wrong way. As someone who has served in combat myself, I will tell you if you want to undergo an operation to severely limit not only Osama bin Laden if he turns out to be culpable but other organizations that are clearly identifiable and well-known to Sandy Berger and the U.S. intelligence community, it is going to take a huge American effort involving many people….

JIM LEHRER: How many people?

FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: I believe – and if you’re going to move against some of these terrorist organizations, you’re talking about several wings of aircraft, a substantial naval presence, and possibly ground troops. We are not talking surgical strikes against these kinds of operations. If we’re going to do this right, if we’re going to really roll these people up as the American people would support, it’s not going to be an easy operation and nobody should sell it as such.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Secretary Christopher?

WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Yes, I certainly do, Jim. I would like to make one other point about it. One of the real difficulties is that we have to remember what we’re protecting and what we stand for. If we go beyond that, if we violate our Constitution, as we did in the Alien and Sedition Acts, and when we took the Japanese prisoners — Japanese American prisoners then we will have really undone ourselves.

We make a terrible mistake if in effort to protect democracy we let the terrorists goad us into doing some that robs of our own democracy. That’s on the other end of having to take extremely decisive strong action. I agree with Senator Rudman about that. We also I think need, as Senator Rudman said, to he rebuild the coalition — we have to remember now above all we need our allies and friends around the world. This intelligence business is not a single nation operation. There is no unilateral intelligence that really works.

JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, thank you all three very much.