The Candidates’ Stance on the War on Terrorism
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GWEN IFILL: So whose approach can best stem the tide of terrorism? For that we’re joined by Morton Halperin, who’s held various Pentagon and State Department posts, his last being director of policy planning at the State Department under President Clinton; and Kiron Skinner, assistant professor of history and political science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She also sits on the Defense Policy Board, which advises the secretary of defense.
Kiron Skinner, could you describe for us in general President Bush’s vision for his war on terror?
KIRON SKINNER: His vision actually I think, first of all to, answer that we have to start with what is his big objective in the international system. And he’s said it in the 2000 campaign, actually in his inaugural address quite clearly, and that is to spread freedom and democracy around the world. I think he’s extremely Kantian in that way. He believes fundamentally that if you increase the zone of free states in the world that there will be less war, that there will be more peace and stability.
Now, to get to that, the tools and the strategy that he has put forth, after 9/11 in particular, is that first he sees the global war on terror as a fundamental challenge, the way that Communism was during the 20th century, the way that Fascism was during World War II. He sees a global threat. And I think he’s different from Kerry on that.
To this end, he has spent a lot of time, this administration, under Bush, focusing on both the non-military and military sides of getting to peace and freedom. We have focused on Iraq and the problems on the ground in the after-war aftermath actually, and we’ve talked about the insurgency and so forth, but what we’ve not spent much time talking about is the nonmilitary dimensions of getting to this global war that he sees which is a multi-front, not just Afghanistan but Iraq and other places; that includes fighting the forces of despair, HIV, AIDS, unemployment, lack of education and opportunity through the millennium challenge account and so forth.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. I just want to -
KIRON SKINNER: So I think he sees a great challenge.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. I want to bring Mr. Halperin in for the alternative vision. Is there an alternative?
MORTON HALPERIN: Well, I think that President Bush has really tried to have it both ways in explaining his position and Senator Kerry’s position. He says, as you heard the ads, that everything changed after Sept. 11, and that’s because he doesn’t want to be criticized for his failure to act effectively against terrorism during his first nine months in office. Then he turns around and all of his criticisms of Senator Kerry are for things that happened before Sept. 11. Now, a lot of them are exaggerated. A lot of them are wrong. But the main point is that either the president should be willing to have a debate about what he did before Sept. 11 and then we could argue about what Senator Kerry’s positions were then, or to say, as he wants to, that the world changed on Sept. 11, and then the question is, what is the difference between what Bush did after Sept. 11 and what Kerry would do.
And they both see this as a worldwide threat. They both believe that it involves military elements and nonmilitary elements. They both believe, contrary to what the president has said, that you don’t sit and wait for attack, you go after it.
The fundamental difference is that the president did not understand that it was not Iraq that attacked us, it was bin Laden, and that the point was to defeat him in Afghanistan and not to quickly move our military four Iraq where there was no immediate threat to the United States. Now that we’ve gone into Iraq, I think everyone, including Senator Kerry, agrees that we have a to win that war because it was started, but the question was: was this the right place to go?
GWEN IFILL: Well, that’s the question I want to direct to Ms. Skinner. The president spoke today in his speech about opposing violence and fanaticism at its source, and that if we don’t win the victory in the war on terror, he said requires victory in Iraq. Why is that? What is the reasoning behind that?
KIRON SKINNER: I think that that’s an excellent question. I’ll answer that. Then I want to come back to something that Mort said. Victory in Iraq, and this has been such a difficult issue in a campaign season to really talk about in any kind of rational way, but the campaign against Iraq was really specific, and this administration’s understanding of a multi-front conflict; it’s always said that it’s not just Afghanistan and it’s not just those that attacked us on 9/11, that this is a broader conflict that has many fronts and that Iraq was important because Saddam Hussein was unique among dictators. He’d used WMD, and let us not forget this, on his own people, on his neighbors. He had… he was, in fact, in a state of war with the world. He had violated more than a dozen of U.N. resolutions, in effect violating the ceasefire agreement, ending the Gulf War. He was in violation of international law. The U.S. reentered, in fact, what was a conflict that he himself had started.
So I think that you have got to look clearly at the Iraq case, and what has been said about it, we have just ignored Iraq’s role. There’s kind of an amnesia going on.
Now, onto this point about what the Bush administration had done before Sept. 11, I asked you to look back at the 9/11 Commission report that was recently published. Nowhere does it state that the Bush administration is responsible for 9/11, that it made such missteps that it made 9/11 happen. This is an entity that spent a lot of time studying very closely in a powerful narrative how 9/11 happened. So I don’t think the issue…
GWEN IFILL: Let me just interrupt because I want to ask Mr. Halperin if that is what he was actually saying.
MORTON HALPERIN: No. What I was saying is that — the question is whether we did all the things we might have done before 9/11, and I think one can argue that even if we did everything we should have done, that it still might have happened, but my point is that the president is criticizing Senator Kerry for what Senator Kerry did before 9/11 while he wants us not to criticize his own behavior before 9/11, and he can’t have it both ways.
GWEN IFILL: If you’ll just let him finish, I’ll come back to you. I promise. Finish.
MORTON HALPERIN: I want to get to the question of Iraq, because everything that was just said about Iraq is true. It was in violation of its U.N. commitments and it needed to be confronted, but it was not part of the terrorist attacks on the United States. It was a separate problem, just as Iran is a separate problem and North Korea is a separate problem. And, as Secretary Powell pointed out, before the administration decided to go to war in Iraq, Iraq was contained. And the reports that we now have after the war show that, in fact, it was contained. Yes, it was hoping to end the sanctions, and if it ended the sanctions, it might have gone to try to develop weapons of mass destruction, but if an effective diplomacy would have not ended the sanctions, would have done what Secretary Powell was trying to do, which was to strengthen the sanctions, to make them more effective so that we continue to contain Iraq and could focus our main energy on dealing with the terrorist threat.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. Ms. Skinner.
KIRON SKINNER: Okay. I have a couple responses to that. If you read Duelfer’s testimony, which I think gives another powerful narrative, he says it’s not just an issue of containing Saddam Hussein through sanction, that the sanctions were badly eroding and in fact in the abuse of the oil-for-food program, the revenues, that millions of dollars were going into the very military commission that was where WMD had been developed before the sanctions had been imposed and that there was this… it wasn’t just an issue of sanctions keeping the pressure on. They were eroding badly. And where the money was going, from oil-for-food was very troubling toward a weapons program. And he also suggested, if you read his testimony, that if sanctions were, in fact, lifted, Saddam Hussein might be able to extremely…
GWEN IFILL: I’m going to stop you. Wait, wait, wait. I’m going to stop you both because we have gone way off topic. We can talk about Iraq and we can fight the Iraq War; but what I really want to focus here on is what these two candidates have opposing in the war on terror and whether terrorism is going to continue to be a factor in our lives. To that point, Ms. Skinner, and I’ll continue with you, what is it that — when Senator Kerry talks about the nuisance and when the president talks about this is a war that cannot be won necessarily, how does, what does that tell Americans about the future of this so-called war on terror?
KIRON SKINNER: Thank you so much for bringing us back to that fundamental point. I think the president’s vision of how to get to peace and freedom in the world is that we’re now in a global conflict, and I think that’s where he may be different with Kerry in some fundamental ways, that was as powerful as what we saw in the 20th century with Communism and Fascism. It is multi-front, which means we’re going to be in many places. It is not a nuisance; it is something where we can’t just stamp it out one day. It’s across borders, many countries, it’s multifaceted.
The objectives of the terrorists and the tools they use are going to be varied. And I think he sees a very stark challenge to democracy and freedom and the way of life that we’ve come to see as one holding universal values…
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Halperin, is it a winnable world?
MORTON HALPERIN: It’s a total distortion of Senator Kerry’s position. He said the goal was to get to the point where terrorism is only a nuisance, because you carry the war to the terrorists, you defeat them where they’re training; you defeat them where they’re trying to operate; and you eventually reach the point where they cannot effectively challenge you, and you also have to build democratic institutions and deal with the problems of poverty.
There is no fundamental difference between what Senator Kerry is proposing and what the president is proposing except for Senator Kerry’s view, which I think is clearly correct, that Iraq was a diversion which took us away from the fight. But they both believe that it’s a worldwide fight. They both believe it’s going to be very hard to win. They both believe you need military and nonmilitary means to fight it. And they both agree that you’re never going to have a final victory. The president said this is a war you can’t win. Senator Kerry said the goal is to get to the point where it’s a nuisance. And I think it is a total distortion on the president’s part to try to suggest that there is a fundamental difference between the two of them about how to fight the war other than whether we should have gone into Iraq in the first place.
GWEN IFILL: Ms. Skinner, is this necessarily an open-ended conflict, this war on terror?
KIRON SKINNER: I think that President Bush sees it as an open-ended conflict that will not eventually or anytime soon get to the point of a nuisance. I think there is a fundamental difference in how they see this war, and I think there is a fundamental difference in how they also put forth a plan. I think Mr. Kerry has spent more time criticizing instead of laying out a grand strategy for the U.S. And I think that Bush has and I think what he has not done, President Bush enough in this campaign, is talk about in detail the grand strategy he has, in fact, put forth, the millennium challenge account I refer you back to that; also the G-8 Summit in Sea Island, Georgia in June.
I thought it was an historic moment when the industrialized nations were engaging the leaders of African nations on the issues of poverty, AIDS, opportunity, lack of education and so forth, and this is part of changing the international system… and make it inhospitable for terrorists.
GWEN IFILL: We have just enough time for Mr. Halperin to have a final word.
MORTON HALPERIN: And I’m sure you’re aware that Senator Kerry, in fact, was pushing the administration before and after Sept. 11 to do a lot more on the AIDS problem in Africa than the president has in fact, been willing to do. There is a worldwide challenge. I think everybody agrees with that.
The fundamental question for the American people is who will make them safer; and I think Senator Kerry has laid out a plan for both protecting us more effectively at home to protecting chemical plants and the nuclear plants to deal with the loose, fissionable material which is in the Soviet Union, and to take the fight to the terrorists where they are and where they were and not to divert our energies to the Iraq invasion.
GWEN IFILL: All right, Morton Halperin and Kiron Skinner, thank you both very much.
MORTON HALPERIN: Thank you.