May 14, 2003 | Broadcast

CNN Live from the Headlines – Topic: State of the War on Terrorism

MILES O’BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it didn’t take long in this political mean season for the terror attacks on Westerners in Saudi Arabia to turn into a bit of a donnybrook. Lots of Democrats criticizing the president, the administration, for its war on terrorism, specifically Bob Graham, who has his eye on the Oval Office, took off the gloves and said the anti-terrorism campaign to go after Saddam Hussein is not doing its job. But is it really?

Joining us now to debate the issue, Cliff May, former Republican National Committee official, now director of the Foundation of the Defense of Democracies, and Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now” on the Pacifica Radio Network. Ladies first.

Amy, the war on terrorism, is it being won?

AMY GOODMAN, HOST, “DEMOCRACY NOW”: Oh, I think there’s no question that Bush has increasingly destabilized the world, and what has taken place in Saudi Arabia is a key example. What Graham has raised is very important. He’s former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he, together with Porter Goss, who, in fact, is a former CIA agent are quite infuriated that the Bush administration, rather than deeply investigating what happened on September 11 are actually preventing information from getting out, and this is of grave concern. He also said that the invasion of Iraq is a distraction from the war on terror, and I think what we’re seeing this week in Saudi Arabia with these deadly bombings is a good example of that.

O’BRIEN: Cliff May, last week, the president said al Qaeda is on the run. The group of terrorists who attacked our country slowly but surely being decimated. They’re not a problem anymore. Maybe not so?

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Well, I don’t recall the president saying not a problem anymore. I would say the truth of the situation is that al Qaeda is alive but not well. It is a wounded animal, but as anybody knows, a wounded animal can still be very dangerous. I think that what Senator Graham is doing is a mistake. I can see why campaign consultants would advise him to take this point of view, but it’s not consistent with reality. I think people understand at this point that Saddam Hussein was one of the leading terrorist masters in the world, and if we’re going to successfully wage a war against terrorism, we need to cut the connection between terrorists and between those rogue dictators who support the terrorists with money, with weapons, with territory, and in other ways, and that’s still going on.

One thing to take away from what happened in Saudi Arabia is the fact that it did happen in Saudi Arabia. That may not have been for strategic reasons, but for convenience. The fact of the matter is, Saudi Arabia is probably one of the few countries in which al Qaeda is still able to operate relatively freely, and it’s time the Saudis did something about that, and I hope we’re going to press them very hard to do so. Keep in mind also the way we fought the war in Iraq with the military is different than the way we fight terrorists, which is basically through clandestine means.

O’BRIEN: Well, and I suppose, Amy Goodman, it might be very difficult to measure this war on terrorism, because after all a victory is an attack we never hear about. Perhaps there might have been dozens of attacks that didn’t occur because of the efforts of this war on terrorism? How can you say for certain that it’s being lost?

GOODMAN: Well, I think we see right now in Saudi Arabia how grave the situation is, and I think the U.S. has to be very careful about its policies. I also think we have to look at what happened in Saudi Arabia. Very grave terrorist attack, a number of Americans and others killed. One of the companies that was targeted was basically a U.S. executive mercenary group called Vinnell Corporation owned by Northrup-Grumman, formerly owned by President Bush Sr.’s Carlisle Group. This is a mercenary organization that trains the Saudi Arabian National Guard that is simply there to shore up the undemocratic Saudi Regime, and the U.S. should be looking at what U.S. corporations are doing, profiting from war and instability.

O’BRIEN: All right. Cliff May, let’s talk about the war on terrorism here for just a moment, though. You know as well as I do, you live in Washington. It’s kind of a one-topic town, and the focus was Iraq. Clearly, the attention was on Iraq. The president’s briefings, everything was aimed at Iraq, and isn’t it possible that the — some eyes were taken off the ball?

MAY: Maybe in terms of media, yes, but the war on terrorism is not being fought primarily in the media. It’s being fought by the CIA. It’s being fought by Homeland Security. It’s being fought by the FBI. It’s being fought by what we’re doing to try to disrupt the financing of terrorists.

During the war in Iraq, we arrested quite a few and stopped quite a few very important al Qaeda terrorist leaders, and have them now for questioning. And that’s very vital that we did that. We can do both things at once, though I understand it’s difficult for broadcast media, necessarily, to cover both things at once. But it is going on.

GOODMAN: But the fact is the Bush regime has…

MAY: The Bush regime…

GOODMAN: The Bush government — and I would say regime right now — that the Bush government right now in Washington, when it comes to Saudi Arabia has loosened its demands on its connections to al Qaeda so that it could gain an alliance with the attack on Iraq, and this is what has really weakened the war on terror.


GOODMAN: The fact is there are many more connections between the Saudi government and al Qaeda than were ever proven between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.

MAY: There’s no question that there are connections between the Saudi government and al Qaeda. The question is what we do about it. Yes, go ahead, Miles.

O’BRIEN: That really wasn’t what we started out to do to talk about the Saudis here, so let’s just leave it at that.


O’BRIEN: … pick it up. Go ahead briefly.

MAY: I just want to say that I think Senator Graham would just — would just find it terrible that he’s defended by Amy Goodman, who clearly doesn’t share the senator’s beliefs that we have to wage a war on terrorism, and not try to tailor our policies in order to be inoffensive to the terrorists, which is really what Amy is saying here.


MAY: Our soldiers are getting out of Saudi Arabia right now. The fact that they were in Saudi Arabia was the prime reason that al Qaeda committed — said it committed the act — the atrocity of 9/11. So what we have to do is fight terrorism, not try to have policies that Amy would have that the terrorists are more approving of.

GOODMAN: I think Senator Graham has raised some key issues around why the Bush administration is preventing the investigation of what happened on September 11, and that is a key question to ask of the Bush administration.

O’BRIEN: All right. We do have to leave it at that. I’m very sorry, folks. I know we could go on for quite some time. Cliff May, Amy Goodman, thanks very much for sharing your views with us in a very polite and civil way. We do appreciate that.