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America Responds

September 19, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: I am joined by four former Senators with long experience in foreign policy and intelligence matters.

Democrat George Mitchell was Senate Majority Leader from 1989 until 1995. Last year he chaired an international commission that produced a blueprint for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Democrat Gary Hart was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee until retiring from the Senate in 1987. Most recently, he co-chaired a commission that earlier this year warned of an increasing threat of terrorist attacks in the United States.

Republican Connie Mack served on the Senate Intelligence Committee until his retirement last year.

And Republican Gordon Humphrey, who left the Senate in 1991, was a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and its terrorism subcommittee. He founded the Senate Afghan task force to support the Mujahadeen rebels against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Welcome, gentlemen.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Humphrey, starting with you, you know Afghanistan better than anyone else I think on this panel or myself.

Today the Taliban suggested that it would like to talk to the United States about surrendering Osama bin Laden. The White House response was: Forget about talking — turn him over or else. Do you think the United States should talk with the Taliban before leading a coalition into some sort of military action?

FORMER SEN. GORDON HUMPHREY: Well I don’t — not this early in any event. It could be a trap. They could be out simply to humiliate us. They’re the most unreasonable group in that part of world. I don’t think we should.

I think instead we should prevail upon our erstwhile ally, Pakistan, to act as an intermediary and that seems to be moving forward. I think the President is on the right track in that respect and in every respect. I think he’s doing a remarkably good job in a measured, calm but determined response to this crisis.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you see it Senator Mitchell, do you think there is any that could forestall the need for military action?

FORMER SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL: Obviously if the government of Afghanistan decides to turn over bin Laden and others that may forestall it for some time but that does not appear likely based upon the reports of the day. I think the important thing that the president and the Secretary of State have done is to make it clear that this action will move in parallel, many nations not just the United States, we can’t go it alone on something like this.

Secondly, many areas of activity, not just military. That will be a component, but it has to be diplomatic, economic, financial, legal, and other; and building the broadest possible coalition among as many nations as possible based on what they can and are prepared to contribute.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Mac, I’d like to explore with you — everyone says it’s important to have a coalition for all these various reasons but the question is at what price.

For instance the last couple of days several would-be coalition partners — people the United States would like to include — have said, for instance, President Mubarak of Egypt, the President of China, that the United States have to come forward first and present irrefutable evidence that say Osama bin Laden and his network were responsible.

Today the White House — both Ari Fleischer and Condi Rice seemed to say – you know — that isn’t our plan. How do you feel about that? Does the United States need is to really lay out a public case?

FORMER SEN. CONNIE MACK: Well, I think it’s important that there be a coalition, if possible. But I guess what I would say is, that I think that the United States needs to be prepared to do what it must in order to make those who carried out this horrible act, in fact, are punished for it. It would be helpful to have a coalition.

And I would kind of divide it into two areas: I don’t think that there is any reason that we should allow another nation to keep us from moving forward on the front to pursue those who created or who attacked the United States. On the other hand, long term, it seems to me that it is in the best try of our country to develop as broad a coalition as we can. But I also think that I we have to be… President Reagan had a great saying he liked to state over and over again, trust but verify.

Any nation who wants to come forward and tell us that they have got information or ways to help us I gradually would accept that. But I do have real reservations about some of those who have indicated that they’re prepared to help us and come forward to help us in the development of this coalition. I think we want to see people — nations act and not just state that they’re with us.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Hart, what’s your view of how far we should go to satisfy the – demand is maybe too strong a word – but these sensibilities or considerations of these would-be coalition partners to get them on board?

FORMER SEN. GARY HART: We’re trying to do two things at once and we should be doing a third. We’re trying to find the people that perpetuated this Satanic act and punish them — bring them to justice or retribution of some kind. At the same time the President has announced we’re trying to root out — root and branch — terrorism worldwide.

In the first we may have to go it pretty much alone or seek what help we can wherever we can in our determination. The second, I think we do need the broadest coalition possible. I hope it’s not just a replication of the Persian Gulf group, our allies in Europe for example and a few others. I think for example, Russia and China could be very helpful to us here. We ought to have a military delegation in Moscow now meeting with the commanders of the Afghan War finding out what to do and also what not to do. They have some experience there.

The third thing we ought to be doing – it seems to me — is not focusing so much on the retribution and the punishment that we neglect protection and prevention of the next act. We ought to be concerned that this is not just the beginning of terrorism — I mean not the end of terrorism; it’s the beginning. And if we put all of our effort and all of our energy into punishment and we have another attack because we weren’t building up our own defenses at home, then I think that’s the worst possible thing that could happen.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Humphrey back to the beginning of what Senator Hart said about seeing this indifferent parts because the White House seems to be saying that – this too, that is there is this sort of retaliatory action which the administration seems to be saying and Condi Rice just said it half an hour ago – we reserve the right to act in self-defense…period. And then they also want cooperation on all this financial and every other way in getting the network.

Some coalition members or people we’d like to have again are trying to set down conditions for the first as a condition for coming in with the second – again, Mubarak, other leaders saying, for instance, don’t kill any innocent civilians in the first phase, in a retaliatory phase, and I guess I’m still going back to my original question, which is: to what degree does the administration need to tailor the way is responds in the interests of getting as big a coalition as possible?

FORMER SEN. GORDON HUMPHREY: Well, I think that’s necessary. I think it’s important that we do a number of things furthermore that we can do unilaterally. There was a discussion about the airline industry a moment ago. We need to reassure airline passengers; we need armed marshals on those airplanes tomorrow. We need to appropriately arm and train cockpit crews. I speak as a former airline pilot, by the way. We need to give them real barriers to trespass in the form stronger cockpit doors.

Then we need to in the intermediate term – we need to move out and infiltrate on the model of the Israeli intelligence services — these terrorist organizations all around the world – we’re too Afghan focused here; this is a worldwide phenomenon crisis; we need to infiltrate these groups and frankly we need to take out the leadership when indicated. We’re describing this as a war.

It is a war. In wars people get killed unfortunately. Better them — namely these terrorist leaders – than us. So we need to infiltrate these groups and get after that their leadership and break them up. We also need to put together the kind of coalition that President Bush is doing. But I think that the things we can do ourselves frankly are more important in the final success, the final outcome of this war, the final victory in this war against the evil empire of the 21st century, which is terrorism.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Hart, would you call this the evil empire of the 21st century, terrorism?

FORMER SEN. GARY HART: The phrase hadn’t occurred to me but I suppose it’s satisfactory, yes. I think to repeat a point, the nature of warfare changed historically on September 11.

The distinction between war and crime was eliminated. War is now by conducted by civilians against civilians — un-uniformed people against un-uniformed people using weapons of mass destruction — not playing according to the rules of war of the 18th, 19th, and 20th century. Until we begin to adapt to that we’re not going to protect this country. We have no organized system of defending this country.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Mitchell, back to you and we’re jumping a around a lot here, but building a coalition — some other states setting other kinds of conditions or things they’d like the U.S. to do – one of them for the Arab states is for the U.S. to do more in the Arab-Israeli conflict – the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There’s been some movement on that front. What connection do you see between the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and this war on terrorism?

FORMER SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL: Well it’s obviously not exclusively related to that — but it is a factor. If I could go back to the earlier point just make one additional point, the United States can chew gum and walk at the same time.

We can create a coalition in which we bring people along without giving every single country a veto power of what we’re going to do. That’s the challenge of leadership. It isn’t an either/or situation. And I think the President is he going down the right road and can do that successfully.

Now, with respect to the Palestinians and Israelis, there is a glimmer of hope and perhaps a moment of opportunity here. When I last met with Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Sharon, strikingly they both said to me almost exactly the same thing using the same words: this must end because life has become unbearable for our people. And it has become unbearable, and I think both have been looking for a way out of the very difficult circumstance in which they found themselves in which their societies are suffering so terribly.

And I think this may create that opportunity. And I’m pleased at least what I hope is the beginnings of a movement toward adopting the recommendations of the report we made in May, and although we all ought to be cautious about Mid East cease-fires — many of them come and go without taking effect I’m hopeful that this time it will be real.

MARGARET WARNER: And Senator Mack, go back to this question of to what degree the United States should, can the United States walk and chew gum at the same time to use Senator Mitchell’s phrase — to what degree should the United States be willing to tailor its response in this matter and in other foreign policies matters to keep a coalition together?

FORMER SEN. CONNIE MACK: Only what it has to. Again, the fundamental point here is that we must act; we can’t allow ourselves to be so tangled up by the demands of potential coalition leaders who are making public statements to address problems that they have at home. We cannot allow that kind of language to keep us from what we must do.

And I agree, it’s what I indicated I think at first, there is really two aspects to this: What do we do initially? What do we do in pursuit of those who we appear to have no question as to their role, how hard do we pursue them? Do we clearly expand those who we are pursuing to those, who, in fact, supported them, that have given them cover, that have aided them financially, provided intelligence information?

Again, I think we go back to the basic premise, that those engaged in terror cannot hide. We’ll track them down. And we will do that in any way and with whatever means are necessary. But long term, it is to our advantage, obviously, to have as many different nations around the world engaged in support of this effort to eliminate terrorism. But initially I don’t see that we should allow ourselves to get tangled up.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Senator Mack, I’m sorry to interrupt you but our last conversation was actually taped in Denver. We have to leave it there. Thank you former Senators very much.