January 9, 2003 | Broadcast

CNN Talkback Live

And here to talk about the showdown with Iraq is Adam Eidinger, a Green Party activist and anti-war demonstrator. Also here is Eleana Gordon, policy director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

I want to welcome to you both.

All right, Adam, Blix says no smoking gun, gaping holes in the report, Iraq fails to answer numerous question. Is this ammunition for war or not?

ADAM EIDINGER, GREEN PARTY: It’s definitely not ammunition for war.

And what we have to look at is, the Iraqi inspectors are on the ground — sorry — the inspectors are in Iraq. And it’s important for Americans not to be trigger-happy here, not to rush into a war. But if you ask most Americans what this war is really about, they think it’s about oil. They think it’s about U.S. interests.

ELEANA GORDON, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Well, before we go into oil and what this war is about, I’d like to answer the question as well.

And I think this is a case for war. It’s the same case of war we’ve had since 1991, which is, Iraq remains in material breach of the U.N. Security Council resolution and the cease-fire. What the inspectors are telling us is that, once again, Iraq has not come clean on its weapons.

And when we talk about questions that have remained unanswered, let’s talk about what these questions are. These are about biological and chemical weapons that Iraq admitted to having once and now cannot prove what they’ve done with them and can’t account for. These are biological weapons that could destroy the world three to four times over. We’re talking about 150 bombs with biological weapons.

EIDINGER: That’s a complete exaggeration.

GORDON: Their job was to come clean, tell us what they have done with these weapons. And the job of the inspectors was to verify these declarations. The inspectors are coming back and saying, we have still not answered these questions. Therefore, the case for war remains.

EIDINGER: There’s just no case for war. I think what you have to look at here is, is Iraq a threat to the region? They are not.


GORDON: Absolutely, it is a threat.

EIDINGER: Let me get a word in.

There’s not one country in the world, besides Great Britain, that is anxious to go to war. Turkey, which is a key ally if we were to go to war, is saying, we don’t want U.S. troops on our soil; 90 percent of the Turkish public doesn’t want us there. Public opinion does matter. Iraq is not a threat to its neighbors. They’re paying billions of dollars in reparations to the Kuwaitis. They’ve apologized to the Kuwaitis.

I think the only country that really wants this war is Lockheed Martin and the defense contractors. They have a great interest in seeing a war in Iraq. And they want to get the oil in Iraq. That’s what this is really about. It’s not about weapons of mass destruction.

GORDON: That is not true.

EIDINGER: Let me say one more thing.

When it comes to weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, Russia, are the two countries that possess more than anyone else. And we’re not having inspections here. And we’re not disarming either. We have nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert.

GORDON: When you have a country that has violated 16 U.N. resolutions, that are binding under the rules of the U.N. and that should be enforced and that every member of the U.N. is obligated to enforce, and we do nothing after 10 years, this does severely test the integrity of the international system.

So, we have a duty to make Iraq comply. And to argue that we don’t face a threat with a country that has aggressed its neighbors twice, that has engaged in genocide against Kurds, that has ethnically cleansed a million people in its country, that is trying to development missiles today that can reach Russia, that can reach Turkey, and that can reach Iraq, that has an ideology of regional domination, and to argue Iraq is not a threat is outrageous.

There are arguments you could use to say that we shouldn’t be trigger-happy. But to argue that Iraq is not a threat is not the right argument.

EIDINGER: It’s not the country that brought about 9/11. That was brought about by al Qaeda. And I wonder why the Bush administration hasn’t mentioned Osama bin Laden since the summertime.


GORDON: “The Washington Post” reported that V.X. nerve agents have fallen into the hands of al Qaeda. And we believe that Iraq is likely to have funneled them. We know that Iraq is a source of instability in the region right now. It supports Hamas. It supports Palestinian terrorism. To argue that it is not a threat is outrageous.

EIDINGER: The instability to the region will be us going to war in that region. That will bring about instability.

GORDON: That’s not true.

EIDINGER: And it will also justify, in the eyes of Iraqis and other Arab countries, attacks against U.S. citizens abroad and in this country. So, we’ve got to ask ourselves, is it really worth it? It’s not.

NEVILLE: Let me go to California and talk to bill.

Does the U.S. now have ammunition for war or not, Bill?

CALLER: We didn’t hear about going to war against Iraq for a year and a half when Bush was president, until his buddy Kenny boy Lay at Enron was caught stealing billions of dollars.

Then, to deflect attention from that and from the fact that he never got Osama bin Laden, Bush promising he was, OK, he says now it’s Iraq, it’s Iraq. And ask the young lady if she’s ever been to war? I was in Korea in ’51. Where were you in war, young lady? Where?

GORDON: Well, you can already tell that I’m too young to have been in war.

CALLER: You’re too…

GORDON: The issue is whether you believe it is right for Iraq to continue to tyrannize its people and to have the potential to tyrannize its people. Iraq has led a war in Iran where a million people were killed. And Iraq has the potential to lead more wars, if we don’t stop it.

I don’t think war is something to engage in lightly. I understand that it is horrible. But it can even be more horrible. And I would ask you, when I look forward at our future, what kind of a world do we face if Iraq is in a position to take control of all the supplies on which we rely, Iraq which has an ideology which is very similar to Nazism and believes in Arab regional supremacy. That this country should be able to gain the power to blackmail the world presents a danger that I think is unacceptable.

NEVILLE: So, Eleana, what about the idea of the U.S. going in and just taking out Saddam Hussein? I don’t mean take out literally. I mean remove him from the country.

GORDON: I think it would be a good thing for the Iraqi people. I think that we’re forgetting, when we talk about war, that this will leave the Iraqi people in a much better place. They have been suffering under Saddam Hussein’s regime

EIDINGER: They’ve been suffering from the economic sanctions.

GORDON: It’s one of the most tyrannical regimes in the world. And I think we should have gone and finished the war in 1991. And I can understand the anger of the Iraqi people, to the extent


GORDON: … that we betrayed them. Let’s not betray them again.

NEVILLE: Let me get in there, because I have to go to break right now.

When we come back: Can we talk? Find out why a Democratic governor from New Mexico may be playing peacemaker in the standoff with North Korea. Andrea Koppel joins us next with the details.

And we’re back after this break. Stay right where you are.


NEVILLE: Welcome back, everyone. I’m Arthel Neville.

Let’s turn our attention to North Korea right now, where diplomats have been sent to visit the United States. But it won’t be anywhere near the White House.


And we’re going to bring Adam Eidinger and Eleana Gordon back into this conversation.

Adam, so do you think the White House administration has finally heard the cries of those in South Korea, those in Japan, people saying, listen, we need to talk; let’s avoid a nuclear disaster?

EIDINGER: I hope they’re hearing it. I’m not sure if it’s clear yet that they have.

Richardson going to North Korea, speaking to the North Koreans is a wonderful thing. Diplomacy is so much better an alternative than war. And Richardson has the experience at the United Nations that I think maybe the North Koreans respect. And that’s why they’ve chosen him or picked him as someone to talk to.

I jut don’t understand why the United States doesn’t take the same approach to Iraq, or, for that matter, Iran, a country that is going to be developing nuclear weapons shortly as well, if we don’t get involved.

GORDON: Here’s the key difference with North Korea. North Korea does have nuclear weapons today. Iraq does not yet have nuclear weapons. North Korea has soldiers that are lined up 35 miles from Seoul. It has the ability to reach any target in Seoul. It has the ability to reach Japan. It is developing weapons that could even reach the United States.

What happens is, we are in a much more difficult situation.

NEVILLE: But, Eleana, you just finished mentioning before the break about how Iraq is depressing and suppressing, oppressing its own people.

GORDON: Right.

My point here is, Iraq is not yet where North Korea is. And, therefore, military action is a much more feasible option. It would not be as costly to civilians, by any means. It’s a much more feasible war. We can win it. When we’re talking about war…

NEVILLE: Why, because North Korea has such a big, a large military?

GORDON: It has an army and it’s three times the size of Iraq’s. It has two to six nuclear bombs. It’s very powerful.

Now, that doesn’t mean we have to completely exclude the military option. But when we are talking about being concerned about the cost of war, now, here’s a situation we should be. And I think the lesson here is, we cannot afford to let Iraq get to the same stage as North Korea. And the reason we’re in a situation where we’re not immediately talking war is because it is a much — they have a lot more leverage against us right now.

On the other hand, when we talk about diplomacy being the most effective way, you have to remember, diplomacy can only work — it should be the first tool, but it can only work if you also have the means to enforce what you’re saying. You have to have military or other sticks available to you as a last resort. So, the two have to go hand in hand. You have to work on them together.


NEVILLE: Go ahead, Adam.

EIDINGER: All right.

The Bush administration is playing a double standard here. And what they’re doing is actually giving an incentive to other countries to develop nuclear weapons, meaning, we will respect you once you have nuclear weapons.


GORDON: So, do think we should go to war, Adam, then?


EIDINGER: Absolutely not.

I’m saying that what we’ve done is, we’ve backed ourselves into a corner. A year ago at the State of the Union, when George Bush said that Iraq, North Korea and Iran are the axis of evil, what he was doing was, is setting up a situation where we had to treat all of them the same. We should have been engaging in diplomacy then. We should never have been calling them names. We picked a fight with North Korea and we’re going to lose this fight.


GORDON: We did not pick a fight with North Korea.

EIDINGER: Sure we did. When the president called the country evil and


GORDON: Now let me tell you why we didn’t.

North Korea picked a fight with us when, in 1994, after signing an agreement in which it said it would no longer engage in development of nuclear weapons, it immediately started on a secret uranium-based nuclear program. And did it for seven years.

In 1999, before this administration came into power, a committee to Congress reported North Korea is a greater threat than ever. Our policy is failing. It is because North Korea is aggressive that North Korea has picked a war with the whole world. It’s because it’s a regime


NEVILLE: On that note, I’m going to break.

What do you think is the bigger threat, Iraq or North Korea? We’re going to get to that next.

Don’t go anywhere. TALKBACK LIVE continues after this break.


NEVILLE: Welcome back.

We’re talking about whether New Mexico’s Democratic governor, Bill Richardson, can help solve the North Korean nuclear standoff.

In the meantime, we’re going now to Maryland, where Dan has a specific question for Adam.

Go ahead, Dan. Dan, what’s your gentlemen?

CALLER: Yes, Adam, I have a question for you.

You say that the way we are treating the North Koreans is good negotiation, and, if we were to approach the Iraqis in the same way, negotiate with them, it would be good, too. Well, if we step off Iraq, won’t we at least be giving them the possibility of a nuclear weapon? And in the past, they’ve proven — they gassed the Kurds. They invaded Iran. They invaded Kuwait.

I was on board the USS Stark. That ship was attacked by Iraqis. At what point do we call it a line? At what point do we just let them have a nuke?

EIDINGER: Well, first of all, the gassing of the Kurds took place when we were allies with Iraq. And our secretary of defense, Don Rumsfeld, traveled to Iraq a year later and met with Saddam Hussein. And it was a nice visit with him.

GORDON: Well, we were wrong. We were wrong.

EIDINGER: We seem to see ignore countries like Iraq when they’re our allies and when they do brutal things for their own people. But when it’s convenient for us to trot that out like that’s some sort of excuse to go to war, we do it.

When it comes to negotiations, you have got to offer an incentive for countries to participate. The only way to eliminate nuclear weapons on this planet is for the countries that have them to reduce them and to promise the rest of the countries that they’re going to reduce them. This is what the centerpiece of the Nonproliferation Treaty is.

The U.S. right now is violating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which is exactly why
the North Koreans are going to get into an arms race with us. They’re going to build nuclear weapons and missiles to attack the United States and try to overwhelm any defense shield that we build. It’s an arms race.


GORDON: The reason that North Korea is developing weapons is because North Korea has no industry, no economy to speak of, except for weapons sales. So, it can do one of two things. It can sell the weapons. And today, it is selling them to Middle East countries like Syria.

EIDINGER: Weapons sales are a huge things in the United States.


GORDON: But we are not selling them to rogue states. This undermines the very nuclear proliferation system that you’re defending, which is, when the international community decides that a regime is not responsible, it is not abiding the proliferation, and should not be sold arms, and a rogue state like North Korea…

EIDINGER: Like Israel?


GORDON: Israel is not selling weapons to rogue states.


NEVILLE: OK, both of you you’ve made your points.

GORDON: And Israel did not sign any nonproliferation treaty. So, it’s not breaking any treaties.

NEVILLE: Let me get Mike in here.

Mike, you say war is not the answer.

MIKE: War is not healthy. It’s not healthy for humans and other living things. I’m a Vietnam vet, 1966 to 1968. And we don’t play war with chess pieces. We don’t play it on a board. People get hurt.

NEVILLE: Thank you, sir.

We have a veteran from the Korean War in our audience as well.

And, sir, I’d like your thoughts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think, after spending all this money and sending our children, sons and daughters, over there in harm’s way, he’d better find some smoking guns or he’s in deep doo-doo.

NEVILLE: Thank you very much, sir.

Listen, we do have to take a break right now. I want to go ahead and thank Adam Eidinger and Eleana Gordon, both of you, for joining us.


NEVILLE: We’d love to have you back.