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CNN "Larry King" - Transcripts


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KING: We're back discussing terrorism and the return of the president from vacation. In Clute, Texas is Congressman Ron Paul, Republican of Texas. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was a candidate for his party's presidential nomination in 2008.

Here in L.A. Is Tanya Acker, political analyst and contributor the

In D.C. is Peter Beinart, senior political writer for The Daily Beast, professor at City University of New York and author of "The Good Fight: Why Liberals and Only Liberals Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again."

And in New York is Andrea Tantaros, conservative columnist and Republican strategist.

All right, Congressman Paul, how's -- how has the president dealt with this terror thing, do you think?

REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: Well, I think in about the way I would expect -- nothing too special, nothing bad, nothing real good, because I don't think we're getting to the bottom of it, because everybody is talking about war on terrorism and -- and a lot of us have come to the conclusion that terrorism is a tactic and you can't declare war on a tactic and just what are we doing?

And too often what I hear Obama saying is that we have to expand the war. You know, we're in a lot of countries over there and -- and we're using these drones to drop them on people. And to me, that's an act of war.

And we've done that in -- in Yemen. And we've done it in Pakistan. We've done it this -- this week. And I think that's the -- the real issue -- how -- how far do we expand this when -- when the declaration of war against terrorism and radical Islam -- I mean it's endless.

KING: Yes.

PAUL: It has to be more darrow -- narrowed down. We have to have a target and understand what's going on and we have to try to understand why there are people who are incent -- incentivized to come here and -- and try do us harm.

KING: And Tanya...

PAUL: And I don't think we're doing that. I don't think they did it in the Bush administration and I don't think they're doing it in this administration, either.

KING: Tanya, the president has talked about accountability at all levels.


KING: How is he doing? ACKER: Well, look, I -- I think that Congressman Paul actually just raised a number of very, very good points, because when we're talking about this war on terror, we do have to be more precise about what it is we're doing. Yemen is a very different from Iraq, which is a very different place from Afghanistan. And until we try to get our handle on some of these internal problems and why these situations are so combustible, then we're going to simply be declaring war on a tactic without any resolution.

So I think that in terms of what you're seeing on the president's approach in Yemen is, well, we can't simply drop bombs. We can't simply launch missile strikes. We do have to look at some of the -- the situation on the ground. It's a civil war. And we need to give the president...

KING: Andrea, do we...

ACKER: ...the president of Yemen some cover.

KING: Andrea, do we do enough here of cause and effect?

ANDREA TANTAROS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. I mean I -- I just want to go back to what -- what Ron Paul and Tanya said.

To say that we need to take time to get a better understanding that this is a civil war, that is -- that is completely the rhetoric that we can't hear right now. And I'll tell you why, Larry. A man almost blew up 300 people on a airplane. Now, they seem to know that they're at war with us by declaring jihad. We don't seem to be acknowledging that, at least in our administration now. And we have an opportunity to learn from the mistakes that the Bush administration made.

Look, Obama bungled the initial response. We know that. Especially, you'd think he would have learned from George Bush's visual on the golf course, but he didn't. And the biggest mistake was that he can fix it. The biggest mistake was trying this guy as -- not trying him as an enemy combatant. That was a missed opportunity.

Now we're in negotiations with him, as Brennan said. And he has an opportunity to not send these 40 Yemeni men back to Yemen. That would be the -- the best thing he could do to immediately stop the threat, because we cannot perpetually be on duty. We have to strike them...

KING: All right...

TANTAROS:'s (INAUDIBLE) that we strike them before they can even craft these attacks.

KING: Before -- before I get a break, I've got to take -- Peter, what your thoughts?

PETER BEINART, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, what does it mean by -- by to strike them? You know, we -- if we kill a couple terrorists and we kill hundreds or thousands of innocent people who then become sympathetic to terrorism?

That's why I think, ultimately, war, at least in -- in the way that the other guest is suggesting, it doesn't really make any sense. This is not primarily a military conflict. It's primarily an ideological and economic conflict.


BEINART: And the military should be used sparingly.

KING: And we're going to take a break and come right back.

Dick Cheney has been on the attack over President Obama's handling of terrorism. The White House strikes back in 60 seconds.


KING: Former Vice President Dick Cheney has been harshly critical of President Obama's handling of national security issues for months. In the aftermath of the thwarted Christmas Day bombing attack, he accused the president of trying to pretend the United States is not at war with terrorists.

Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan countered Cheney comments during a series of Sunday talk shows.



JOHN BRENNAN, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: And either the vice president is willfully mischaracterizing this president's position, both in terms of the language he uses and the actions he taken -- he's taken -- or he's ignorant of the facts. And in either case, it doesn't speak well of what the vice president is doing.

The clear evidence is that this president has been very, very strong. In his inaugural address he said we're at war with this international network of terrorists.


KING: All right, Congressman Paul, what about -- he's in -- he's in your party.

What about Dick Cheney's complaints?

PAUL: Well, I think he had his eight years and he's caused a lot of trouble for our country and he perpetuated a war in Iraq that was unnecessary and wrong-headed. So I would say that it would be best he not be so critical right now.

But I'm still not only critical of that policy -- I think the policy remains the same and we've hear it on the show tonight already. They -- they are going to attack us and they've declared war against us. And it's always they and them.

But -- but who are they?

You know, after 9/11, 14 or 15 of the terrorists came from Saudi Arabia. I mean we didn't attack Saudi Arabia, we attacked Iraq. So it -- it doesn't make sense.

And those individuals were trained -- or at least planned -- in Germany and Spain. Some of them even got trained here in the United States.

So you don't declare war against these countries and say that we have to go in and start bombing Pakistan and bombing Afghanistan and bombing Yemen. They happen to be there. That's true. But they're there because we stimulate them. We follow them to the hands of Osama bin Laden by us going there and causing people to get some angry, it helps his recruiting efforts.

He has written about this. He has said this. He says, I want the Americans to go over here and get bogged down and bankrupt their country, and besides, it will help my recruiting efforts.

KING: All right, let me...

PAUL: And we're doing exactly...

KING: We'll be...

PAUL: ...what he had planned.

KING: We'll be right back.

By the way, tomorrow night, Michael Chertoff, the former secretary of Homeland Security, will be with us.

Will the renewed focus on terror shift attention away from health care reform and other issues?

We'll talk about that after the break.


KING: Tanya Acker, is all this terror talk causing us to shift away from other things?

ACKER: Well, to some extent it is, because we're actually not talking a lot about how to fight terrorism. You know, we're listening to the folks like Dick Cheney level these extremely partisan criticisms, which I think that people on both sides suggest may be inappropriate and we should really be thinking about new tactics.

But the interesting thing is, you know, when you hear folks like Cheney and those partisans, you know, part of the problem with that critique is that it suggests somehow that that administration, you know, was infallible, that they got the terror fight right when a lot of people know that they didn't.

You know, they cut terror funding for New York City. They opposed overseas screening of cargo shipments, even after they said, you know, let this Dubai company run six U.S. ports.

So the notion that they're infallible is what I think is really rubbing some people the wrong way right now.

KING: Andrea, if this is a war on terrorism, is it wrong to criticize the commander-in-chief?

TANTAROS: No, absolutely not. And Democrats didn't seem to have a problem with it when George Bush was in office. So I guess if it's good for the donkey, it's also good for the elephant.

I mean, we absolutely need to be looking look at strategies going forward. And I hope the administration starts to look at this as priority number one.

But, Larry, given the fact that over the last year, that a majority of the American people believed that the economy should be issue number one yet Democrats continued to focus on health care, tells me that they're still going to pursue other issues, like climate change, immigration, card check, when they should be focusing on this as their number one priority when they go back to Washington.

BEINART: But, you know, Larry, this is (INAUDIBLE)...

KING: Peter -- Peter, hold up.

Peter, isn't the economy and health care intertwined in a sense?

BEINART: Well, I think they are. And, also, the economy and the health care happen to be massive of issues for tens of millions of Americans who don't have jobs and who don't have health care. And climate change also happens to be a massive peril threatening the world.

Of course terrorism is a significant issue. But, you know, what you tend to find with Dick Cheney and -- and -- and other -- other Republicans is they -- they make terrorism seem as if it's the only threat that America faces.

Let's -- let's put this in perspective. This was a much smaller attack then the one that was attempted on 9/11 -- and it failed. And I think what it -- everyone, after 9/11, thought that the -- that Al Qaeda would have much bigger attacks that were 9/11 plus, plus, plus.

It turns out they can't even execute, eight years later, a 9/11 minus.

Yes, terrorism is a threat, but we don't need to be hysterical about it.

KING: Andrea, were you laughing?

TANTAROS: Unbelievable that we shouldn't be hysterical about it when the foreign minister of Yemen...

BEINART: Yes, we shouldn't be hysterical about it.

TANTAROS: When -- when -- when the foreign minister of Yemen -- yes, until one of your family members is on a plane.

When the foreign minister...

BEINART: Actually, no, ma'am...

TANTAROS: ...of Yemen...

BEINART: ...I have close friends who died from terrorism...

TANTAROS: When the...

BEINART: I don't need a lecture about it from you.

TANTAROS: When the...

BEINART: Thank you very much.

TANTAROS: As -- as do I.

But when the foreign minister of Yemen comes out and says that there are hundreds of more men plotting attacks in Yemen on U.S. soil and we've decided to lawyer this guy up, that we've captured, and not try and get as much information from him about saving the lives of Americans and preventing future attacks, well, that's just plain stupid.

BEINART: No, no. That's called...


BEINART: ...that's called having...


BEINART: That's called having a Constitution and believing in due process, which is what makes us different from them.

TANTAROS: You can still get information...

KING: And Tanya...

ACKER: And -- and -- and but...

TANTAROS: ...with due process.

ACKER: You know, but -- but see...

KING: Hold it.

ACKER: ...the interesting thing is, because what Andrea is doing right now is what you're seeing happen on the right more generally. They're really suggesting that we've got to make this false choice between our Constitution and our values and being safe. And that's just not true. We have tried terrorists in the United States soil before. We tried and convicted Ramzi Yousef here. We tried and convicted Timothy McVeigh. We tried and convicted Richard Reid.

So now, you know, you're hearing these folks suggest, oh, well, you know, if you believe in the Constitution, you don't believe in safety, like that's just false. That's a false price...

TANTAROS: Tanya, I think...

ACKER: ...that Americans don't have to pay.

KING: Ron...

TANTAROS: I think that a majority of Americans don't give a fig about the rights of a radical Islamic extremist that we had...

ACKER: I care. No, I think a majority of Americans...

BEINART: Well, then...

ACKER: about...

BEINART: Then they're...

ACKER: ...the Constitution.

BEINART: Then they're wrong.

ACKER: I think they care about the Constitution.

KING: All right, Ron, you want to get in on this?

TANTAROS: I think they care about their lives and their families (INAUDIBLE).

PAUL: Well, how does everybody...

KING: Ron?

PAUL: How does -- how is everybody able to convict?

I mean in this country, it used to be that you were suspects and, you know, you had a -- had a -- had a trial. But now, the -- the idea -- she's advocating torture.

Can you imagine how much harm those torture pictures did to us?

Boy, I am absolutely positive that there was a great deal of harm done in the Muslim world to radicalize thousands because that was the image of America. From the little bit of information they might have gotten by waterboarding and undermining the goodness of America that we are now the torturers of the world. Now we -- both parties accept the Bush Doctrine that you have preventive war and you go out and you start wars and march around and attack countries and torture people. That -- this is not what America is all about.

This is what we have to change. We were supposed to have some change, but unfortunately, we're maintaining the status quo. And we have to address the subject of the Bush Doctrine of preventive war, because if we continue to do that, we will be bankrupt our country. This costs a lot of money.

KING: All right, let me get a...

PAUL: And it is related to health care...

KING: Let me get a...

PAUL: When you put a trillion dollars overseas, there's a trillion dollars less here to help people at home.

KING: Let me get a break.

We'll talk more about the president's return right after this.


KING: Let's get in a call for our panel. St. Petersburg, Florida, hello.

CALLER: Yes, thank you. I have two questions basically. The one is, first, has there been an official declaration by Mr. Obama in the case of Afghanistan? Then, second of all, what are we going to do when we start trying all these terrorists after two years, three years? The numbers get up to 1,000, 2,000? How many are we going to put into the criminal justice system then?

KING: Peter, we haven't declared any war in Afghanistan, have we?

BEINART: In fact, Obama has said we're at war several times.

KING: We haven't declared war through Congress?

BEINART: No, although some people refer to the September 14th, 2001 declaration of war that ultimately -- after 9/11, and soon after that we went to war in Afghanistan. I think it pretty clear we are at war in Afghanistan.

PAUL: Larry, may I interject?

KING: Go ahead.

PAUL: There was no declaration after Iraq. There was some authority given. As a matter of fact, I thought it was important. I thought that would restrain us from getting into these unnecessary, unwinnable wars. Because in the committee I brought up the amendment that says, this amendment is to declare war. If you want to go to war, vote for it. Nobody voted for it, including myself. But the point was that if you're serious, declare war, get the people and the Congress behind it, and then you're really into it. They don't want that. They don't want the responsibility of that. The Congress doesn't even want to do it. They want to give it to the administration. And if it doesn't go well, they can criticize the administration. That's one of our biggest flaws; we don't declare ware and we're in war all the time.

KING: Andrea, do you think the president should have come back sooner?

TANTAROS: Yes, I do. I think he should have. As I had before, Larry, George Bush faced so much criticism when he was on the golf course that day. We all remember those images. You'd think Obama would have learned from that lesson, but he did not. I think from a PR perspective, on optics perspective, it looked really bad.

Now he needs to come back and take this issue extremely seriously. I think one of the mistakes he also made was almost running a campaign, a PR campaign and messaging through press release and sending out the surrogates on his behalf. When he did come out, we know that he bungled his statement by saying this is one isolated extremist and he looked ignorant.

But it's my take that because Janet Napolitano and Robert Gibbs said that the system works, that this was a collective message strategy on behalf of the White House, that they absolutely got wrong.

KING: Tanya?

ACKER: What's interesting is that Michael Chertoff said on Sunday, along with the last head of CIA -- they talked about that response that Janet Napolitano made. One of the things is that most folks know -- she's recanted it. I find it so interesting this need to seize on that to sort of suggest that the administration doesn't care about the war on terror. Most people know that there have been a number of foiled attacks this year. I think this attack certainly --


ACKER: One second. There were lapses. There should have been better screening mechanisms. By the same token, by and large, our system has worked in terms of foiling some of these other attacks. So I just -- I think we have to be careful about trying to use this in order to, you know -- again, I disagree with Andrea. I don't think we should get hysterical.

TANTAROS: Janet Napolitano is the one who said to call it an overseas contingency operation.

ACKER: We need to have an important, coordinated, concerted strategy. But that doesn't mean we have to react disproportionately to what happened.

KING: We have certainly not heard the last of this. The view from inside US security experts. We'll meet Secretary William Cohen, Fran Townsend and Jack Rice next.


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