July 11, 2003 | Broadcast

Live from the Headlines

I’m joined now by Ian Williams, U.N. correspondent for the weekly magazine “The Nation,” and Stephen Schwartz for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Gentlemen, thanks for being with us.

Ian, let’s start with you and talk about, what’s the most disturbing part of this revelation for you?

IAN WILLIAMS, U.N. CORRESPONDENT, “THE NATION”: It’s not so much a revelation, because we knew several months ago, Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the Atomic Energy Agency, got up and said that this was not true. Much of the package is being rubbished in advance. Firmly enough, all over the world, people used to think the CIA was the sort of watchword for reactionary. Gung ho Americans are now praising it because the CIA has been warning all along that a lot of the information used to justify the war was not well founded.

I think the really disturbing thing is that it seems the advisers, the circle around the president, seem to filter out any information that does not fit with their preconceptions. In the end, they come out as true believers.

PHILLIPS: Stephen, do you agree? Is the president only as good as the information he receives, and do you think certain information is funneled out for a specific purpose?

STEPHEN SCHWARTZ, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: I think the idea that the obvious truth that Saddam Hussein was an extremely bloody and evil fascist dictator that had to be removed was a preconception, and that the vast majority of people in the world, certainly in the Arab and Islamic world, who understood that and recognized that, certainly the overwhelming majority of the popular of Iraq that understood that and recognized that, that this is somehow some form of true belief only on the part of fanatics is an insult to the presidency, it is an insult to the American people, it is an insult to the Iraq people. No, I don’t accept it at all.

I think that, first of all, the liberation of Iraq is not independent upon one line in the State of the Union Address. I think furthermore that what we’re seeing here is that people who were fanatical to prove that Saddam Hussein was a nice little guy handing out cookies are still trying to make the same fanatical case, true believer case and extremist case that somehow the president of the United States lied to the American people, that somehow all of this was done out of nothing except a group of fanatics. It is they who are the fanatics. They are fanatically attempting to convince the world that the United States went to war in Iraq unjustifiably. That is absurd, and history is against them when they make those claims.

PHILLIPS: Ian, just because one mistake was made, does that necessarily mean Saddam Hussein is clear of any ties to weapons of mass destruction?

WILLIAMS: This wasn’t one mistake. The stated reasons for the war against Iraq was Iraq’s failure to comply with the United Nations requirements for disarmament. That has been the stated reason all along.

The president briefly mentioned the fact that he was a blood thirsty dictator during his speech to the United Nations, but he omitted to mention that the United States was giving him full support at the time that he committed most of those murders back in the ’80s and early ’90s.

So it’s sudden conversion now that that’s what the war was about. That’s not what the war was about. The was about weapons of mass destruction and the disarmament of Saddam Hussein, not a small detail. This is precisely why Tony Blair is in trouble, because the British public and the European public know that that’s what the war was about. The British were prepared to back Tony Blair on those grounds, because that’s what he said, and now he’s in trouble, because it’s not one small lie; the whole legal basis, the tenuous legal basis for the assault. Regardless if Saddam Hussein’s perfect — and yes, he is an evil dictator, and no, I’m not sorry to see him go, except I wonder where he is.

PHILLIPS: Let’s talk about the weapons of mass destruction.

WILLIAMS: … Saddam Hussein supporters were people who are saying that we were lied to.

PHILLIPS: Well, let’s talk about the weapons of mass destruction. Although no actual weapons have been found, proof that programs existed, that proof has been found. I mean, there’s records, there’s documents, there’s bookkeeping that, indeed, there were weapons of mass destruction programs, and now there were certain things missing when, indeed, inspectors went back in there. So is that a strong argument? I mean, finding proof of programs versus finding actual weapons — Stephen.

SCHWARTZ: Well, you know, there’s a magazine called “The Atomic Scientist” that, unlike “The Nation,” which was once a liberal magazine, and it is now a radical magazine. “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist” is a liberal magazine. In the year 2000, “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist” warned that there was a great deal of evidence that Iraq was buying uranium and nuclear technology from Serbia, a country then ruled by Slobodan Milosevic, another dictator that people like Mr. Williams claim that they were opposed to but didn’t want to do anything about.

The fact is that Iraq had relations with North Korea, which has a bomb, and everybody knows that. The fact is that the mass murders committed by Saddam’s regime did not simply take place at the time of the war with Iran. They were continuing. The fact remains that the Saddam regime threatened its neighbors, threatened its own people and threatened the peace of the world, and above all, it threatened to take the weapons of mass destruction and proliferate them to others, including terrorists, and the fact is that this gigantic corpus of evidence doesn’t seem it affect people like Mr. Williams. Mr. Williams is not the judge, and it’s not up to Mr. Williams to decide whether the war was justifiable.

PHILLIPS: Let’s not talk about the war.

SCHWARTZ: … the Arab Islamic world agreed that the liberation of Iraq was justifiable.

PHILLIPS: Ian, with the point that Stephen brings up — misleading or not?

WILLIAMS: The best point that I want to make set the record straight, since he shouldn’t characterize magazines he obviously doesn’t read, “The Nation” and many editorials, which I had wrote, actually called for much stronger action against Slobodan Milosevic much earlier, because there were very strong humanitarian grounds for intervention there. In the case of Iraq, that was not the issue that was raised by the United States government or the United Kingdom government. I personally am very surprised that there wasn’t more evidence of weapons of mass destruction. I thought there would be some.

But since then, the U.N. inspectors who could have carried on inspecting, they were doing every bit as good a job as these guys they have in there now, and they would be believed if they found something.

Certainly after all of these months, where said that the U.N. inspectors couldn’t do the job properly and we have to invade, we are now in the position of telling the U.N. inspectors that they can’t go in, and then blaming them, because they weren’t effective, and we can’t find the weapons of mass destruction. There’s a huge credibility here.

PHILLIPS: You’re talking about years where these inspectors did not have complete, unfettered access, and a lot of years to move, and sort things out and hide and destroy — Stephen.

SCHWARTZ: Well, you know, first of all, I published an article on a completely separate subject in “The Nation” in the year 2001, so I mean, it’s not like I don’t read “The Nation” or don’t know what’s in “The Nation” magazine.

The issue remains that, one has to ask the question, what would people like Mr. Williams have said about Nazi Germany when the International Red Cross came out and said, there’s no evidence they’re going to kill all the Jews. What would he have said about the Soviet Gulag If there had been a situation where some so-called inspection body had came out and said, there’s no evidence of the Gulag. In fact, what did the nation say about the fact that inspectors said that the Serbians were massacring the Albanians in Kosovo, but magazines like “The Nation” did not want to take a firm stand in order to prevent that from happening.

WILLIAMS: I would have been in favor of intervention in Central America.

PHILLIPS: All right.

SCHWARTZ: East Timor is a completely separate deal. All of East — people like Mr. Williams always have all these other things that supposedly didn’t happen, and blah, blah, blah — that’s not the issue. The issue is the whole world knows that Iraq was dealing with North Korea, Iraq was dealing with Serbia, Iraq was dealing with Libya, Iraq was going all over the world, trying to find the technology, trying to take these weapons of mass destruction, and to set up an industry to reproliferate all these weapons of mass destruction, to corrupt regimes, to evil dictators and to terrorists.

WILLIAMS: But not the last two or three years; there’s no evidence of such a program.

SCHWARTZ: Let me make another point. There’s another point I’d to make.

PHILLIPS: All right, it’s got to be quick. We’ve to wrap it up, Stephen.

SCHWARTZ: OK, intelligence agencies are not prosecuting attorneys. The reason you have spies is because there’s certain things that are difficult to get confirmed. The idea that all these partisan politicians and unethical people, pseudo-journalists, are now claiming that somehow the CIA is supposed to be infallible and you can’t use any information by the CIA unless it’s been published in 58 newspapers and unless Saddam Hussein himself admits it is ridiculous. This is why they’re called spies, because they go in and find things that are hidden and things that can’t be confirmed.

PHILLIPS: Meanwhile, the CIA is somewhat being blamed here. I think we’ll have to continue the conversation as it unfolds.

Stephen Schwartz, Ian Williams, always plenty of energy and plenty of points well made, gentlemen. Thank you.