July 7, 2003 | Broadcast

News from CNN

Franks insists U.S. forces are playing offense, at least as much as defense. The same could be said of our debaters, Peter Beinart of “The New Republic” and Cliff May of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Joining us from Washington, D.C. Gentlemen, good to have you with us today.



KAGAN: We’re going to put Iraq first on the agenda here. And, Cliff, we’ll start with you. Three more U.S. soldiers dead. A total of 28 since May 1. How much long will the U.S. put up with the loss of lives of American soldiers?

MAY: As long as is necessary. We’re there for the duration. This is one we absolutely have to win. The loss of life is tragic.

Remember back in 1983, we lost 250 men and women in uniform in one single day of terrorism. That caused us to leave Lebanon and the result was 20 years of terrorism, increasing over that time.

It’s got to be seen by the people of Iraq and by the world community that we are there to win this war against the Ba’athist thugs and the outsiders who are intervening from Saudi Arabia, from Syria, from Iran, from whatever. And that we cannot be forced out. The Ba’athists are not coming back to power no matter what. We are going to win this. We can’t go wildly.

KAGAN: Peter, will there be a war of attrition here, what appears to be, to some, a coordinated guerrilla warfare?

BEINART: Unfortunately, I think we are in a war attrition.

And while I agree with Cliff that we have to stay the course, we can’t turn around leave, the real scandal here is that the United States is involved in the most ambitious peace keeping effort in it’s history now in Iraq with an administration has systematically refused to train American troops for peacekeeping. They have dismantled the American peacekeeping institute, and we were leaving our troops out there unprepared, untrained for the very, very difficult work they have to do.

KAGAN: Well on that note I want to bring in some e-mail from listeners because we’re going to involve them in this debate.

And, Cliff, I’m going to direct this one at you. It comes from Elizabeth in West Virginia. And she writes, “Our soldiers can’t fight or keep peace unless they have the right tools. Since they’re in it for the long haul they need if basic necessities like decent food and living quarters and clearly defined long-term mission and plan. Without these, moral will fade and the operation will suffer.”

MAY: Basically, I think she’s absolutely right. And let’s understand what we’re in Iraq to do is something very ambitious. It is nation building.

I don’t think we’re in Afghanistan for nation building. It’s stabilization and liberalization. I don’t think we’re going into Liberia for nation building. We didn’t succeed in nation building in Haiti. And we haven’t done it in many other places where we’ve attempted it.

But Iraq is important. We want to help Iraqis create the first free and Democratic country in the Arab world. If we do that, the rewards will be immense. If we fail to do that, there will be tremendous consequences as well.

KAGAN: And looking at live pictures (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that we’re getting from Baghdad. They’re not live, they’re just tape we’re getting from Baghdad.

Let’s move on to Liberia right now and, Peter, bring you back in here. Should the U.S. be sending troops, peacekeeping troops to help the situation in Liberia?

BEINART: Yes, for two reasons. First of all, Liberia’s not just a threat to itself. Charles Taylor is Slobodan Milosevic of west Africa. And like Milosevic, he has destabilized three or four of his neighbors. The whole of west Africa a can’t get on its feet until Taylor is out in Liberia and that country is stable again.

Second of all, the United States bears a real blame for what’s happened here. It’s the United States which supported dictatorship for year after year after year Liberia in the 1980s, helped to destroy the civil society of that country. And we’re now reaping what we sew. We have a moral obligation here.


MAY: … Peter — I want to make sure Peter understands that Charles Taylor does not have weapons of mass destruction. That’s not why we’re going in there.

BEINART: He does has ties to al Qaeda.

MAY: He does have ties to al Qaeda…


MAY: He has ties to al Qaeda in that help sell them diamonds when they wanted to take their cash and put them into a commodity. He also has ties to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and has had for years who helped.

So actually I agree with Peter that we should be in Liberia. But all of those people marching against the war in Iraq, I wonder if they’re going to be out there saying no war against Liberia. War is not the answer…


BEINART: … why are so many conservatives who supported the war in Iraq on explicitly humanitarian grounds now opposed…


BEINART: … online on their site has had things against it. A lot of conservatives have…

MAY: Let’s understand that there are more reasons than humanitarian reasons and some national security reasons why we should be involved in Liberia at this point. But I disagree with your kind of blame America first analogy here. We were not in favor of Samuel Doe when he staged the coup…


MAY: No, we tried to engage with a dictator rather than…


KAGAN: … getting a little thick. So let me bring this e-mail in form J.T. in Chicago who writes, “Thanks to the U.S. stickling its nose into Liberia’s civil war Charles Taylor has now been offered asylum. Now he will not be able to be prosecuted for the war crimes he has committed.”

This is still a little bit unclear. The offer is to go to Nigeria, but do you give him immunity from the war crimes he has committed in order to do that? Do you just set him free in the world to make mischief elsewhere?

BEINART: No, absolutely not. There’s no deal which would be acceptable which would keep Charles Taylor from justice. What this man has done to hundreds of thousands if not millions of people in west Africa is one of great crimes of modern times and he has to be held accountable.


KAGAN: … do whatever you have to do just to get him out of town?


MAY: I don’t think — it’s not that difficult. He’s evidently willing to go. And I think it’s certainly easier to take over that country if he’s not there than if he is there.

He is a mass murderer, he is a killer, he is a bad guy. Not as bad as Saddam Hussein in terms of numbers that he’s killed. But, sure, he should be brought to justice if possible.

KAGAN: What happens to Nigeria? Those leaders have spoken out and said, Hey, don’t come after us if for harboring somebody that you consider a terrorist if we get Charles Taylor out of Liberia.

MAY: This has to be an international deal about how the United States wants to do it. If the United States wants Nigeria to give him asylum because Bush wants him out of the country, then fine. But this has got to be brokered with in the international community.

By the way, while I’m in favor of the U.S. going in there, wouldn’t it be nice if all the multi-lateralists and Kofi Annan brought together a multi-national force maybe lead by Belgium, may be funded by the Saudis to do this. And by the way, it should also be held accountable for the international court of justice.


BEINART: … the British are in Sierra Leone, the French are in Ivory Coast. People are looking to the United States saying, When are you going to step up to your responsibility?


BEINART: … people’s response is, Well let’s get the Belgians in. In fact, this is America’s historic relationship with Liberia. The Liberians are asking for us, they’re not asking for the Belgians.


MAY: I’m in favor of it even though there’s been no U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing it. Nonetheless, I am in favor of it.

I just want to point out the hypocrisy of Kofi Annan, of the Europeans…


BEINART: There are a lot of people who made humanitarian case for Iraq who are turning a blind eye on Liberia…


KAGAN: And with that, we will call it a day. Gentlemen, thank you, Peter Beinart and Cliff May. Appreciate your input and thanks for the lively discussion. As always, great to have you along.