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Analysis: Bush Administration Talking Up War With Iraq

Weekend Edition Saturday: August 17, 2002

Week In Review



STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Dr. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (National Security Adviser): This is the threat that will emerge and will emerge in a very big way, and history is littered with cases of inaction that led to very grave consequences for the world.

INSKEEP: National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in a Thursday interview with the BBC, making what she described as the moral case for military intervention in Iraq. Our senior news analyst Daniel Schorr joins us to talk about this story and other news of the week.

Hi, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Delighted, Steve.

INSKEEP: I suppose one of the most interesting things about that statement that Condoleezza Rice made is that she's making the case for an attack on Iraq while speaking to an audience in Britain, speaking to the BBC.

SCHORR: Well, of course it was part of a larger interview she gave connected with the 9/11 anniversary, but it was released early because I think they need to try to convince the British, who seem not to be caring very much about the idea of an invasion of Iraq, that it's a good idea to do. It's interesting that in that speech, however, Condoleezza Rice said `If he gets weapons of mass destruction, then he'll be a big threat.' I think the administration needs more than the moral case that Rice talked about if it's to have any kind of significant support for armed intervention. You know, I don't know why there is that uncorroborated report about an Iraqi meeting with a hijacker five months before September 11th in Prague. I don't know why the Navy has suddenly changed the status of pilot Scott Speicher, who was shot down over Iraq on the first day of the Gulf War and they changed his status from missing in action to prisoner of war. The administration needs some kind of convincing casus belli, cause for war. It doesn't have one yet, but it's looking.

INSKEEP: You mentioned that key word `if,' indicating that the Bush administration doesn't necessarily have concrete proof, and at the same time you have some leading Republicans, more leading Republicans, appearing to break with the administration in saying the case hasn't been made yet.

SCHORR: It's quite remarkable. There are several of them, but the one that interests me most of that group is Brent Scowcroft, who was a national security adviser and who was as close to President Bush Sr. as anybody in the official family. And he comes out, not with a little letter to the president, but out in public in the papers saying that to go into Iraq at this point would divert us from the war against terrorism. You know, one reason for people like Scowcroft and Kissinger, why they're so dubious about the invasion of Iraq, is that they basically are worried about what will follow after Saddam Hussein is brought down, as supposedly he will be brought down. I think that the Bush administration summoned Iraqi opposition leaders to Washington, but then the principle one of those, the Kurdish leader, Massoud Barzani, didn't come.

Now the administration is reportedly getting ready to have a big international conference of opposition leaders to talk about what a new regime would look like. It would be a conference like the one that was held on Afghanistan in Bonn, but that was after the Taliban government had been overthrown. I think the administration for the moment seems to be shifting its emphasis from bringing down Saddam Hussein to what happens if and when he is brought down. President Bush says he'll consult, but he says he'll be guided by the latest intelligence, whatever that means.

INSKEEP: Now if there is a war against Iraq, we're told it will certainly not be launched from Saudi Arabia...

SCHORR: No.

INSKEEP: ...and I gather the developments of the last week have not made relations between the US and the Saudis any better.

SCHORR: Well, not just the past week. Things have been going downhill between the United States and Saudi Arabia for some time. There is the simple fact that of the 19 hijackers, 15 of them were Saudis; the simple fact that Osama bin Laden himself was a Saudi Arabian. So there was some sense that there is a lot of hatred for us welling up somewhere in Saudi Arabia. But Saudi Arabia is in a state of transition. The ailing King Fahd doesn't show much strength. It is hard to know what's going to follow him. The fundamentalists there seem to be very strong, and so there is a question of how much even the royal family is in control of the situation, and so the United States says, `Yeah, we're not always happy with you people, but we still call you allies.'

INSKEEP: Dan Schorr, I want to ask about another development in the past week that should have been on its face good news for the United States. Iran's president, Mohammad Khatami, came to...

SCHORR: Yeah. Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...Afghanistan, first time an Iranian leader has done that in decades.

SCHORR: Yeah.

INSKEEP: But when he gave a speech, he ended up denouncing the United States for going too far in the war on terrorism.

SCHORR: Well, denouncing, saying the United States abuses the situation, and he does denounce, he does criticize, but it's a strange kind of criticism. He says, `Iran has a lot more experience than the United States has in fighting terrorism, so you really need us to help you,' and so on. It was altogether a critical but not what you'd call a bellicose speech. What he was basically saying was, `We want a little respect.'

INSKEEP: Closer to home, President Bush, of course, is talking about the war on terrorism. He spoke this week in front of Mt. Rushmore, putting his face, as some presidents occasionally do, in front of those four very famous faces on that mountainside in South Dakota, demanded that Congress move a little more quickly and give him a little more freedom as they set up the Department of Homeland Security.

SCHORR: Yeah, not only the four famous faces, but an almost equally famous face, Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota was there.

INSKEEP: Was also there, wasn't he?

SCHORR: Since the senator is the one who's making trouble for him in Congress in getting the kind of bill he wants on homeland security, he's holding it up. This basically is an issue of who controls the budgeting, who controls the personnel of this giant new department, if there's to be one, and there probably will be. President Bush said he needs his hands free so he can do a number-one job, he says. Senator Daschle says that Bush wants to be a dictator, and there we are.

INSKEEP: Now the rules of this war on terrorism at home are being fought out, so to speak, in the courts right now. The Department of Justice found out this week that it can keep secret names of people that it's detained over the last several months, at least for a little while?

SCHORR: Yes, Steve. It's very interesting that the executive confronts not only the Congress in this matter, but also the judiciary. The right of the administration to keep secret the names of the many detainees has been argued in the federal district court, is now being bumped up to the appeals court. The trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the one person who's actually been charged in all of this, is now being postponed until next January while he files various kinds of strange motions. And now a federal district court judge has repeated that he's still not persuaded that Yaser Hamdi, American born, is an enemy combatant who is not entitled to see a lawyer.

INSKEEP: In the couple of minutes we have left, Dan Schorr, I want to ask a little bit about the economy. People continue to be concerned about that, and President Bush a few days ago attempted to show his concern at an economic forum outside of his ranch at Crawford, Texas. This was in Waco, Texas. What did you think?

SCHORR: Well, I think he put it very well himself when he said at one point, `This is a great show.' It's a great show. The president wants to tell people, `The country's fundamentally all right. Don't worry about it. We are having a few economic problems,' and so on. What else is there to say about it? It didn't change anything. He's talked about the $5 billion appropriation that he doesn't want to sign 'cause there are some things he doesn't like in it, but he talked to all those people, most of whom were his supporters, very few of whom were critical, and all I can say is I didn't hear any new ideas.

INSKEEP: There was a deadline over the weekend as well. The SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission, told corporate chiefs that this was the deadline to certify, to sign on a legal document to say their accounting was accurate.

SCHORR: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Is that just a show, too?

SCHORR: Well, I don't know. It was meant not to be a show. It was meant in case there were any more Enrons and any more companies which had fudged their accounting and all the rest of it, they would now be forced on penalty of jail to come out and say so, so they set that date. You have until that time to tell us once again what your balance sheet shows. And there have not been any big new cases, at least not so far. Some asked for extensions.

INSKEEP: NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr. Dan, thanks very much for joining us.

SCHORR: My pleasure.

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