RAY SUAREZ: Tonight we talk with Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland, Ohio. He's 56, a graduate of Case Western Reserve. He was 23 when first elected to Cleveland's city council in 1969. Eight years later, he was mayor of the city in severe economic distress. Within a year, Cleveland became the first major city to default on its debts since the Great Depression. Kucinich lost his re-election bid, but he staged a political comeback in 1994 with his election to the Ohio State Senate, then two years later, winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He joins us now from the House gallery. Dennis Kucinich, welcome.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Hello.
RAY SUAREZ: Last night Pres. Bush laid out his vision for disarming, liberating, and rebuilding Iraq. Did you hear much in the speech that you could agree with?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, certainly I think all Americans want to see Saddam Hussein disarmed. I think the inspections can work, and certainly America has a powerful deterrent force. However, the administration has not made a case for attacking Iraq. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, with al-Qaida's work in 9/11, with the anthrax attack upon this country. Iraq does not have missile technology, which can strike at this country. U.N. Inspectors have not found that Iraq has useable weapons of mass destruction, which constitute a threat to this country. So I think that the administration can be best advised to continue to support the United Nations' efforts and inspections, and that leads to containment.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, all along you have been calling fire solution to the Iraqi crisis within the context of the U.N. What if the Security Council approves this latest resolution, which would seem to give an opening if there is not Iraqi cooperation for military force?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: We want to work with the U.N., but it's no secret that the United States is using every lever at its disposal to try to gain votes in the United Nations, whether it's through threats or wheedling or cajoling, or even outright buying the sport of a nation. The United States is doing everything it can to gain the support of the world community. I don't think that's the right path. I think that to try to gather support in that way for a war is taking this nation and the world in the wrong direction. Think instead of how powerful a force the United States could be if it proceeded to gather the support in the world community for continued containment and inspections. This war is not necessary, but the Bush administration is determined to have the war any way.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, do you consider Iraq or its president a threat to its region or to the security of the world?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, not if the United Nations continues inspections. I mean, that's the whole thing. We need to find a way at some point to reintegrate Iraq into the world community. However, the policies of this administration will not do that. The policies of this administration will continue a path of war and will continue to plunge this nation into conflicts throughout that region and perhaps in other places in the world. I mean, look at the national security strategy, which is a doctrine of preemption and unilateralism, the nuclear posture review which calls for the first strike use of nuclear weapons. Those doctrines are not a way to keep peace in the world.
RAY SUAREZ: You're an experienced politician, but not someone who is thought of, I think, as a foreign policy experienced politician. How you would translate the work you've done so far to the oval office?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: The work that I've done in the congress includes serving as the present ranking Democrat on an oversight subcommittee that has jurisdiction over international defense, the Department of State, and international relations. In that capacity, we cover the range of matters relating to security and international affairs. Furthermore, I'm also a board member of Parliamentarians for Global Action, which is one of the largest group of parliamentarians in the world, and I meet regularly with world leaders from countries throughout... around the globe.
I'm no stranger to the complexities of international affairs or to working with people from other countries, and I think what we can do as a nation is have leadership which works to reinstate the nuclear posturing, which works to reinstate the nonproliferation treaty, which will eventually do away with all nuclear weapons, which works for the biological and chemical weapons conventions. The landmines treaty, small arms treaty, the national criminal court are all as a way of assuring international security. The president of the United States can lead the way in that, and I think I can make a major contribution in international relations towards taking that approach cooperation as opposed to unilateralism.
RAY SUAREZ: There are tens of thousands of sailors, airmen, soldiers already in the Persian Gulf region. Their weapons are there. Their equipment is there. Do you that this can really be stopped sort of war, or are you starting to feel that this country is on a path that will lead it there?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: War should not be inevitable. Peace should be inevitable. The United States could still pull back. We do not have to bomb Iraq. We do not have to invade Baghdad, to occupy that city in the country, to reconstruct it after we ruin it. We can save the American taxpayers over a trillion dollars, which... money which would be surely needed for health or education or retirement security. We can spare the people of Iraq untold suffering and misery and death. We can pull back and we should. We do not have to launch into war. The president can say, stop.
RAY SUAREZ: This may be over one way or another before the first primary voter steps out into the snow to head for a polling station somewhere. Is foreign affairs going to end up being a centerpiece of this campaign, whatever happens in Iraq?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I think it's unavoidable. When you consider the fact this administration has in its national security strategy articulated a policy of unilateralism, of preemption, this is sure to continue. The administration is prepared to give a trillion dollar tax cut to the rich, spend a trillion dollars for war, and yet we do not have money for health care, guaranteed health care for all in this country. We do not have money to guarantee the retirement security of the people of this country. We do not have money for jobs programs or to rebuild our cities, but we have money for war and for tax cuts for the rich? I think that the foreign policy of this country is inexplicably woven into the fabric of domestic policy, because if we're going to war, we can't take care of our people here at home.
And that's why I say it's time for America its effort toward unilateralism and to cooperate with the world community on matters of world security and to not waste our money waging war aboard, and instead address the needs of the people here at home.
RAY SUAREZ: Several times you've called this unilateralism, but the United States Government, the Bush administration, has been actively seeking and trying to locate allies around the world so this country won't be going into this alone. Why still refer to it as unilateralism?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, because the energy and drive of the United States is what is the catalytic factor in moving this country and the rest of the world from a condition of peace to war. And we have to remember the powerful role the United States plays in the world, so the extent to which we have some nations joining us in an effort to go to war in Iraq is a statement of the power that we have in the world. It's not a state of the rightness of our cause. So let us hope that we can develop new policies, which can avert from war, which can create global security without war. We have to do that, because in a technologically complex society with so many nations possessing various weapons of mass destruction, we must learn to settle our differences without war, or we will surely find ourselves involved in war on a scale that perhaps this world has never seen.
RAY SUAREZ: Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, thanks for being with us.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Thank you.