New York Republican Peter King and New York Democrat Charlie Rangel discuss the president's strategy in Iraq
ANCHORS: GABE PRESSMAN
April 18, 2004 Sunday
Representative PETER KING (Republican, New York): Good to be here.
PRESSMAN: It seems to me there are two vital areas that concern the American people right now very much: the progress or lack of progress in the war in Iraq and the events since 9/11 and whether President Bush and his White House or President Clinton and his White House handled these situations well.
First, I'd like to play a little bit of an excerpt from President Bush's statement at his news conference the other night, and then we'll hear from someone else, after this.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Above all, the defeat of violence and terror in Iraq is vital to the defeat of violence and terror elsewhere and vital, therefore, to the safety of the American people. Now is the time and Iraq is the place in which the enemies of the civilized world are testing the will of the civilized world. We must not waver.
PRESSMAN: And then there's another point of view, represented by a gentleman who's sitting right here on the panel. He said it the other day at CCNY when Senator John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, was speaking. Charlie Rangel.
Representative CHARLES RANGEL (Democrat, New York): How many of you saw that-the president's press conference last night?
(Excerpt from audience reaction)
Rep. RANGEL: That just shows you what we got to get rid of. I mean, that's inspiring. We got a job to do.
PRESSMAN: Well, there you are. Two points of view. What do you say in defense of that hatchet job, Congressman?
Rep. RANGEL: The best I can say is that I really felt embarrassed for the United States. It's one thing in differing with the president; it's another thing to see him incoherent. It's abundantly clear to me that the president intend to strike Iraq and to get rid of Saddam Hussein before 9/11. I don't want to say he deliberately misled the country because I don't know what Wolfowitz and Cheney and Rumsfeld told him. They had meetings before and decided they were going to do this. But when the president's bottom line is, 'Well, so what if they had no weapons of mass destruction, so what if it was not connected with al-Qaida, so what if there's no connection with 9/11? Aren't we glad we got rid of Saddam Hussein?' And we've lost close to 700 lives. If that was the question before the Congress, they never would have given him support.
PRESSMAN: What about Congressman Rangel's point of view as reflected in what he just said, and also in what he said in a political sense at CCNY?
Rep. KING: Well, listen, I-I-I have great regard for Charlie Rangel, and Charlie speaks with great authority, but I really disagree with him on this. First of all, I think the president did do the right thing in going to war with Iraq, and let's face it: On the weapons of mass destruction, I think it's important to point out that, first of all, the United States Congress in 1998, both parties, both houses, signed by the president, called for regime change in Iraq because it was such a threat to the United States. In fact, Bill Clinton attacked Iraq back in 1998.
As far as the weapons of mass destruction, every leading Democrat, including John Kerry, Al Gore-Al Gore said just several months before the war that when he was president-vice president he saw the intelligence showing that chemical and biological weapons were hidden all over Iraq. John Kerry, when he ran for re-election in 2002, said, 'Don't vote for me if you believe there's not chemical and biological weapon programs and weapons in Iraq.' So I think it's unfair to say that the president in any way misled the American people 'cause he was saying what two administrations have said and all the top officials themselves.
PRESSMAN: So where are those weapons?
Rep. KING: OK. Let me tell you the significance of this is if we have-to me, in the 9/11 world, if we have a hostile power who has said they have weapons of mass destruction and does not account for them and refuses to say what they did with them, we cannot give them the benefit of the doubt. When people talk about how the president should have acted pre-emptively against al-Qaida and bin Laden, there was a million times more intelligence saying that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction than anyone said that al-Qaida was going to attack the United States with planes.
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PRESSMAN: Do you think, Congressman King, that-that the president should fess up, should admit to making some mistakes?
Rep. KING: Always to the extent that every president makes mistakes. Every time someone is killed in New York, it's the fault of the mayor or the police commissioner, you can say. But no, let me get back to what Charlie was saying.
PRESSMAN: Yeah, but-but at his-at his news conference...
Rep. KING: No, the answer is no. The answer is no. Other than if you wanted Roosevelt to come in and apologize for Pearl Harbor, if you wanted to have Clinton come in and apologize for Somalia, we can go through the whole route. I think President Bush's behavior prior to September 11th cannot-should not be criticized, and I'll tell you why. Charlie talks about the August 6th memo. It was President Bush that asked for that memo. President Clinton never met with the CIA director. George Bush met with him six out of seven days, almost every week that he was president. The week that he-the time that he was in Texas, he was getting briefings all the time, not from Tenet but from the CIA. That particular briefing of August 6th was historical. The fact is most of the intelligence in there went back to the Clinton administration, 1998 uncorroborated report.
The other things they were talking about were the trial that was going on in Manhattan, and they were talking about explosives coming into the country; no explosives came into the country. It said that possibly US citizens would be involved; no US citizens were involved. And if you were told that the FBI is monitoring this and it is carrying out surveillance, I don't know why the president should be getting involved in the day-to-day operations, especially since the pre-the administration put the government on the highest possible alert throughout that summer.
PRESSMAN: But-but are-are you saying that the-that there were no mistakes made, no major mistakes?
Rep. KING: Not that warrant an apology. There's always mistakes made; there are mistakes made every day. Charlie and I make mistakes all the time, but no reasonable person, looking at what the Bush administration did, I think, can honestly criticize. And the fact is that the government was on the highest alert. Condoleezza Rice and Andy Card called a meeting on July 5th, and every agency was put on highest alert even though Tenet repeatedly told the president that the threat was overseas, not-not at home.
PRESSMAN: Is there any hope at all for lessening our involvement in Iraq in the near future, as you see it, Congressman Rangel?
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Rep. RANGEL: They're-they're saying that. 'We were right, you were wrong, give us some money, give us some troops.' That's no way to gain the respect of these countries. We lost more friends under George Bush than we've lost since the beginning of our republic.
PRESSMAN: That sounds-that sounds like a Democratic campaign statement. What about you...
Rep. KING: Well, first of all, in fairness to Charlie...
PRESSMAN: ...as a Republican?
Rep. KING: ...you know, I think Charlie genuinely believes that. I'm not going to say-you know, this isn't campaign politics. Charlie Rangel has felt this way throughout. This has been an honest debate we've had. I'm not going to ascribe any political motives to Charlie Rangel. This, I think, is an honest philosophical difference. But I would say that ...(unintelligible) John Kerry voted to have the United States go to war or to give the president the authority to take the United States to war. John Kerry said he's going to stay in Iraq as long as the United States has to. As far as international support, the fact is the president went to the United Nations. The fact is that, at every level, the French and the Germans, especially the French, obstructed the United States trying to get international support. As it is, we do have 17 NATO countries supporting us at varying degrees. The fact is even if they gave us their full support, you wouldn't get much more than that. There is no real NATO defense force.
PRESSMAN: So let me ask, as a political reporter, let me ask you: Do you think there's going to be fallout in the November campaign for president of the United States, from all that's been happening in the last dramatic week?
Rep. RANGEL: It's fallout now. It's fallout now. You know, we can't pass over the fact that it is not clear to me-and I hope Peter would-would share with us-why the attack on Iraq, which is not connected with 9/11, is a fight against terrorism. What ever happened to the idea that it was al-Qaida and it was supposed to be Osama bin Laden? Why-what justifies the loss of 700 American lives? Who are we fighting in Iraq? What does the enemy look like? What flag is there? Who do we...
PRESSMAN: Can you answer those...
Rep. RANGEL: ...want to surrender?
PRESSMAN: Can you answer those questions?
Rep. KING: Sure. In the post-9/11 world, you cannot allow a dictator who said he had weapons of mass destruction in the most volatile area of the world to go without any sanctions being taken against him, any action being taken against him. That's why John Kerry voted to give the president the authority to go to war. That's why Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton voted for it. This is-the overwhelming majority of the Senate, a strong majority of the House voted for it. And why did we back in 1998 in both houses overwhelmingly vote to have regime change in Iraq? It was looked upon as the main enemy. Bob Kerrey, who's on the 9-11 Commission...
Rep. KING: ...after the Cole was attacked in 2000, called for an attack on Iraq.
PRESSMAN: OK. Let's come back and talk about exactly what the voters are going to have to decide about these issues-the 9-11 Commission and the continuing war in Iraq-after this.
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Rep. KING: Well, there's-several things. One, the fact that we are getting some assistance, but we're not going to get a lot of assistance from the Arab world. We are getting some from Jordan, I'll say that. We're getting some assistance from Jordan, Morocco. But the fact is that Charlie says, 'Who is the enemy?' Well, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis want the United States to stay there. Every poll that's been taken-I think that the last poll was 8:1, they say their lives are going to be better because of what the United States has done. I don't think we can allow a small number, whether it's 5 percent, 10 percent or 15 percent, to be determining American policy. The fact is we've been there a year, and considering an occupation has gone on, there is very little resistance.
The US-what we're talking about here, Charlie, are gangs in certain countries. There was no insurrection or rebellion around the country. And for-Charlie say, 'Who's the enemy?' the enemy are people who are shooting at you. And if we're going to say to any country we go to or any country anyone else goes to that you can allow small groups to drive you out, then you're setting a terrible tone and you just encourage that type of terror.
Rep. RANGEL: But, Peter-Peter, assuming you're right and it's only 5 percent and the rest of them got rose petals thrown out because we're liberating them...
Rep. KING: ...(unintelligible)
Rep. RANGEL: ...how do we as a-the most powerful miti-piti-military force in the world identify who the 5 percent is? Is it the guy with the rifle, the guy who looks like he has a rifle? Is it because someone says, 'Watch out, they're in the mosque'? We don't know what we're doing. We don't have anybody speaking Arab to us. We don't have anybody helping us.
Rep. KING: No, that's not-sorry...
Rep. RANGEL: People-we got 700 people being killed...
Rep. KING: Sorry, I-I disagree with that.
Rep. RANGEL: ...and I bet you they'll get the Purple Heart, but when you read the citation, they won't be able to say who they were fighting and where the war was.
Rep. KING: No, they're fighting-is-they're fighting a combination. They were fighting the Ba'ath resistance; they're also fighting certain Shiites who want to have a theocratic state. But we are doing very good work in Iraq. The fact is there have been elections held in cities and towns throughout Iraq. We do have intelligence. We are working with Iraqis...
PRESSMAN: Congressman Rang...
Rep. KING: ...on the ground.
PRESSMAN: Congressman Rangel has suggested that this is a religious war, a Christian nation, the United States, vs. the Muslim world. Do you think there's some truth to that? You've written a book "Veil of Tears," a novel which would indicate that you might agree with Congressman Rangel on that.
Rep. KING: No, I don't think it's a religious war. I do think there are, obviously, Islamic fundamentalist forces that are arrayed against-not just against us, but against Western civilization and against moderate Islam. But as far as the Arab countries, President Mubarak, obviously, supports us. King Abdullah in Jordan supports us. King Mohammed VI in Morocco supports us. We've seen what's happened in Libya now; Qaddafi is turning over his chemical and biological weapons. So we can't be waiting for every country to line up; when you had a leader who said he had weapons of mass destruction, refused to account for them, and we would not have been taken seriously as far as going after other count-other terrorist groups in the Middle East. For instance, Yemen is giving us unprecedented cooperation. Sudan-Sudan is giving us...
Rep. RANGEL: It's totally unbelievable.
Rep. KING: ...it's unreal, Charlie.
Rep. RANGEL: No, no, What I'm saying, it's totally unbelievable. You're talking about these-these Arab leaders supporting us. I saw the president of Egypt on the "Charlie Rose" show three days ago, and he said-he told the president, 'Going into Iraq, you're walking into the jaws of...'
Rep. KING: Right.
Rep. RANGEL: '...hell.' And Charlie Rose played a thing that he had said a year ago that this would bring unity among all of the Arab nations; this would be a terrible thing to do. 'You'll be in a quagmire. You'll get in there; you'll never know how to get out.' And so Charlie Rose said, 'Well, you said that a year ago. How do you feel now?' 'It just proves that I'm right.' 'So you still think it's wrong...
Rep. KING: Right.
Rep. RANGEL: ...for us to be there.' Now he's saying, 'This is our buddy.' I'm telling you...
Rep. KING: But there's no...
Rep. RANGEL: ...I don't want to go to any war with buddies like we got in the Arab world...
Rep. KING: There is-there's...
Rep. RANGEL: ...especially the Saudi Arabians, which...
Rep. KING: ...well, I mentioned...
Rep. RANGEL: ...you talked about.
Rep. KING: ...I'd be glad to reference-I know. As far as the Egyptians, as far as President Mubarak, there's no country which has given us more cooperation against terrorism than Egypt. They're working with us...
Rep. RANGEL: How do you-what kind of coop-and, hey...
Rep. KING: Tremendous. Sharing intelligence...
Rep. RANGEL: ...700 people-oh, intelligence?
Rep. KING: ...arresting people, interro-yeah.
Rep. RANGEL: OK.
Rep. KING: They got-there's nobody doing more to help us fighting al-Qaida in the Middle East than Egypt. They are...
Rep. RANGEL: Well, I just wish...
Rep. KING: ...in every way. And let me get back...
Rep. RANGEL: ...how can it possibly get any worse than it is now?
Rep. KING: ...and lead back to Jordan. They are training police. They also ha-they're also giving us other assistance in Sudan.
PRESSMAN: What about Saudi Arabia? Have they not funneled a lot of money to terrorist groups?
Rep. KING: I'm going to be the last one defending Saudi Arabia. Since the attacks in Saudi Arabia last year, we're getting much more cooperation as far as intelligence, as far as going after al-Qaida. But, listen, I don't trust the Saudis as far as you can throw them. I think they are disgraceful the way the government has conducted themselves. They go to the highest bidder.
But now that al-Qaida-you talk about uniting people. Al-Qaida has turned the Saudi government against them by the attacks they made in Saudi Arabia last year, and we are-talk to anyone in the intelligence agencies-we're getting tremendous assistance from Saudi Ara-I bet they love us 'cause their own survival is on.
PRESSMAN: What can-what can Congress do? What can you do-you and Charlie Rangel and the others in Congress do right now to help ameliorate this situation or change the direction of the country?
Rep. KING: I don't think we should. I think the president is doing the right thing. I think we should stand behind the president and say we're going to stand together as one, and we're going to say what John Kerry has said, that he's going to stay in Iraq as long as we have to until the mission is done. It'll be a catastrophe if we pull out.
Rep. RANGEL: When the secretary of Defense says he doesn't know whether we're winning or whether we're losing-he doesn't know whether we're creating more terrorists than we're killing. He doesn't-we're in a quag. Sure, we got to stay there as long as we have to, and not one day more. Stay what course?
Rep. KING: Stay the course until there is a stable government in Iraq, until we have a situation where it is not going to be used as a breeding ground for terrorists and we establish stability in Iraq.
Rep. RANGEL: Listen...
Rep. KING: And ter-establish a government, as in many parts of Iraq there is full stability, they are supporting us. We're talking about 10 or 15 percent of an area of-of the country, and to allow small groups or someone like Sadr to drive us out, we're sending a terrible message, the same message they sent in Somalia where we had the wrong response.
Rep. RANGEL: Were the Iraqis safer before the war than they are now?
Rep. KING: The Iraqi people think they are. The Iraqi people wanted...
Rep. RANGEL: No, no, no. They think. I mean, how many Iraqis-Iraqi people have died since we liberated them?
Rep. KING: Far-far less than died under Saddam Hussein where hundreds of thousands were being killed.
PRESSMAN: Let's come back after this message.
PRESSMAN: Again, with Congressman Rangel and Congressman King.
I'd like to ask you very specifically, in view of the military situation in Iraq, should we be seriously considering reinstituting a draft?
Rep. RANGEL: I'm glad you said that. I'll tell you one thing. You asked what could the Congress do. Now we got 700 people killed, 3,000 wounded, and people are saying we need another 100,000 troops over there, which means that the reservists are going to have to go two and three times. We have National Guard people, we've got grandparents go over there. It's cruel what we're asking people who come from the poorest parts of our country to pay. People come from the rural areas, the inner cities...
PRESSMAN: So you're...
Rep. RANGEL: ...people with the highest unemployment. If we had a draft and members of Congress and the White House thought that their families were going to be subjected to being placed in harm's way, we will not be staying this course, believe me.
PRESSMAN: Are you going to propose a draft?
Rep. RANGEL: I've got a-legislation. I got people signing up for it. And I'm telling you, even Rumsfeld-Rumsfeld-is out recruiting volunteers for the selective service.
PRESSMAN: You mean you've got congress-congresspeople who have signed up on your...
Rep. RANGEL: Yes.
PRESSMAN: How do you feel about that?
Rep. KING: No, first of all, I don't see any need for the draft. In fact, most military people would say it's-they're against the draft. Military leaders would be against the draft because it takes so long to train someone, by the time they're finished training, then you have to recycle and start somebody else coming in. And, Charlie, as far as talking about, you know, these-all these poor and impoverished people, I just had a guy in my office who was in Iraq for a year; before that, he was in Guantanamo for six months. So he's back; he's done a year and a half of duty. He's not poor. He's not impoverished. The fact is he joined the reserve and he cared about his country, and there are a lot of people-I mean, I've been in Iraq. I didn't see these people all being poor and impoverished. Certainly the ones from New York I met were regular middle-class people, if you will. I mean, if you-if there was a cross section.
Rep. RANGEL: You take a look at the pictures of those who've been killed, and-and you can just look at them and tell what neighborhoods they came from.
Rep. KING: No, I...
Rep. RANGEL: And I-Skelton took a report...
Rep. KING: Correct.
Rep. RANGEL: ...he said 46 percent of the people killed in action come from rural areas of less than 20,000 population. You know, and there's a relationship...
Rep. KING: OK.
Rep. RANGEL: ...between those who enlist and unemployment.
PRESSMAN: OK, guys. Can I make-an economic...
Rep. RANGEL: There's no question about it. He's talking about the reserves.
Rep. KING: OK, yeah.
Rep. RANGEL: These are middle-income...
Rep. KING: No, we-OK. There's always been an opportunity...
Rep. RANGEL: ...pe-these are middle-income people.
Rep. KING: ...the fact is we can debate the draft on its own merits. The fact is Charlie wants to use the draft as a means to get out of Iraq, and I'm saying the president did the right thing in going to Iraq and supporting for our national security. It's important for the stability of the world, it's important for the war against terrorism. And if Charlie wants to debate the draft on its merits, that's one thing; we shouldn't be using it as a vehicle to achieve...
PRESSMAN: What about the...
Rep. KING: ...another goal.
PRESSMAN: What about the impact on families?
Rep. KING: It's terrible. I had somebody in my district who was killed just the other day. Every death is terrible. My God, anyone-doesn't mean because you are supporting the president's effort or the national effort in Iraq means that you don't-your heart doesn't break at the-everyone who's wounded or killed. But the fact is there'd be a lot more killed, I believe, just like we pull out of Somalia-it saved maybe American lives at that time, but then we saw, you know, 3,000 being killed on September 11th, and there is cause and effect, there is a nexus. And I think if we want to talk about saving American lives in the long run, that's why I believe that Iraq is important to our national security.
Rep. RANGEL: Why don't we find more members of Congress enlisting and-maybe not you and me, but the younger people.
Rep. KING: For...
Rep. RANGEL: I mean, America's being threatened by the terrorists...
Rep. KING: Charlie-Charlie, we could say that about every war. We can say it about-how about in Haiti? Did we ask members of Congress to go to Haiti when we went there? No, it was considered to be...
PRESSMAN: Very briefly.
Rep. RANGEL: Did 700 people die in Haiti?
PRESSMAN: We have 30 seconds left. One sentence. How is this going to affect the political campaign, as a Republican?
Rep. KING: We have no apologies. It depends on how the war is going. If the war is successful, if casualties are reduced, if the United States is achieving its purposes, we're going to do well.
PRESSMAN: And what argument do you give the voters as a Republican?
Rep. KING: That this is essential to our national security. The president's standing firm. He's setting a firm policy, which we didn't have in the past.
PRESSMAN: And what about on the Democratic side?
Rep. RANGEL: The more we see of President Bush either on "Meet the Press," talking with you or having a press conference, the more Democrats win. The man is like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. He's incoherent.
Rep. KING: The president's an outstanding leader and the American people are going to re-elect him.
PRESSMAN: Thank you very much, Congressman Rangel and Congressman King, for joining us this morning. I'm Gabe Pressman. Good day.