August 27, 2003 | Broadcast

News from CNN

Good to have you both with us.

ELEANA GORDON, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Thank you.

O’BRIEN: What a great name for an organization.

All right. Eleana, let’s talk about Iraq for just a moment. First of all, the casualties keep coming and there seems to be no end in sight. Are we in the early stages of a very long-term occupation here that will cost just billions and billions of dollars?

GORDON: I think this is going to be a very long war. I think we’ve taken the war on terrorism to Iraq. We’re on the offensive right now, and there are a lot of attacks because al Qaeda, the anti- democratic portions of the region understand the stakes in Iraq.

If we win there, if we can bring stability, if we can leave Iraq a better place than it was before and we can bring democracy, it’s the beginning of the turning of the tide for the anti-democratic forces. So that’s why they’re going to fight back really hard. But I would rather we have the fight in Iraq than have the fight in the United States against our civilians here. So, yes, it will be long and it will be costly.

O’BRIEN: Peter, I guess the point is, why wait for the terrorists to strike us here on our shores? Let’s bring the fight to them. Is it worth the cost?

PETER BEINART, THE NEW REPUBLIC: Yes. Well, the problem is I haven’t seen evidence that the fight against the terrorists in Iraq is actually making it less likely that we’re going to have them.

O’BRIEN: It could make it more likely, really?

BEINART: Well, we don’t know. The point is, there’s an assumption that there are a finite number of terrorists. In fact, it may be there that there are many more terrorists who come out of woodwork, because America now has a large occupation in the middle of the Middle East.

And the problem — I agree, we need to stay there, we need to spend a lot more money. The question is, everybody who looked at the situation knew it would cost a lot of money beforehand. The only people who wouldn’t admit that consistently were the Bush administration.

It kept on saying preposterous things like Iraq’s oil revenue will pay for its reconstruction alone. We now know that was a lie.

O’BRIEN: All right — go ahead.

GORDON: I wouldn’t say that that was a lie. I think it is that there are a lot of resources in Iraq that could pay for this. There is human capital and there’s natural resources that we’re not tapping into.

My criticism of the administration would not be that they lied. My criticism is I think they’re pennywise pound-foolish right now. We should be spending a lot more money right now to get the security situation under control so that we can start stepping into the oil revenues and we can start using the Iraqis and Iraqi police force and Iraqi intelligence. Iraqi youth should be rebuilding the country right now. But when a translator in Iraq has to fear about being killed because he’s working with the United States and the coalition, we have a problem there.

O’BRIEN: All right. Let’s get a phone call in. Cassandra is on the line from Colorado. She’s been patient — hello, Cassandra.

CASSANDRA: Hello. I just wanted to ask if Iraq — if it’s going to take so many billions to rebuild Iraq, how long are the United States taxpayers going to have to take and pay through the nose for that? Also, why are the other countries not helping us? This country cannot afford to take on the whole load of the whole world.

O’BRIEN: Good questions, Cassandra. First let’s take that first point. How long? Do you want to bring your crystal ball out and make a prediction?

BEINART: Well, most people think it’s going to be very long. If we want to do what Eleana rightly said we should do, which is actually try to create a democracy in Iraq, it’s going to take a long time.

The Bush administration is by no means willing to spend nearly the amount of money necessary. They’ve put tax cuts ahead of spending on Iraq. So we need other money from other countries. The problem is we’re not going to get it unless we give them some stake in the pie, unless we give them some contracts in Iraq, which the Bush administration has been unwilling to do.

O’BRIEN: Eleana, what about that thought, that notion that going it alone at the outset has set the United States up for being alone for picking up the pieces here?

GORDON: I think it would be great to have more financial support from other countries. I agree with Peter. But I don’t think it’s as simple as giving them a piece of the economic pie. It’s not just contracts.

The problem is that we would have to give them a piece of the whole control over what we’re trying to achieve in Iraq. And if we’ve had one problem right now in Iraq, it’s been a lack of leadership from the United States, not less leadership. We’ve had infighting between the State Department and the Department of Defense.

Bremer is starting to make that clear. If we start bringing in other countries, worry there will be more confusion and we’ll be less effective in the short term, when what we really need to do is have a much stronger American hand. The Iraqi people don’t want less American presence, they want more so that we get the job done faster so that we leave faster.

O’BRIEN: All right. Ted in New Jersey has an e-mail I want to share with you. “While I do not think we should trivialize soldiers who die in Iraq, I personally think it is remarkable, in fact a miracle that many more are not being killed considering the hostile situation they’re in.”

Ted, you definitely get the half-full award for today. What do you think, Peter? Is the fact that we’re seeing one or two casualties, losses per day, that should be enough to worry a lot of people, I would think?

BEINART: Sure. I think Americans are willing to stomach these casualties if they see that there is a coherent effective effort that’s being made to make this Iraq thing work. The problem is, although it would be nice if America was willing to sustain that load, as Eleana says, there is simply no evidence in the world that this administration is going to spend the money or put the troops necessary to do that. We have no choice but to go to the rest of the world if you want to have any prayer of making this thing work.

O’BRIEN: Eleana?

GORDON: I’m not sure that there is an alternative to the administration that has a better or more coherent plan for rebuilding Iraq. But I do agree we have to make it much stronger…

(CROSSTALK)

GORDON: Actually, a lot of them are calling for us to leave, or they think that there’s wishful thinking…

BEINART: Not a single (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

GORDON: They have wishful thinking that somehow if you bring the U.N. in that the U.N. is going to know how to fight terrorism when it can’t even define what terrorism is. Or that the U.N. somehow has the magical formula that’s going to make all these problems go away.

(CROSSTALK)

BEINART: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

GORDON: Fair enough — well, fair enough. I think there’s a lot of wishful thinking though on the part of how easily it would be to make this all be smoother if suddenly you had the U.N. come in. I think they’re underestimating the task. The task is a difficult one.

But I agree with you. Unless the administration is much clearer about the big picture, why Iraq is necessary, why this is part of a very long war on terrorism, which we — September 11th, President Bush said this is very long and we have to be patient. He has to show how this is all part of it and that confronting all these forces right now in Iraq, these are forces we’ve been fighting for 20 years. It started in Lebanon; it’s the same story that keeps repeating itself.

O’BRIEN: Eleana Gordon, Peter Beinart, thank you both very much. I think we opened up a little can of worms that we won’t be able to finish hashing out here today. We’ll have you back some other time to do it.

Thanks very much.

GORDON: Thank you.