December 23, 2003 | Broadcast

American Morning

Hey, Cliff, good morning to you.

CLIFF MAY, FMR. RNC COMM. DIR.: Good morning, Soledad.

O’BRIEN: Also Democratic strategist Julian Epstein is with us.

Good morning to you.

Julian, nice to see you both.


O’BRIEN: All right, let’s get right into it. Cliff, we’re going to start with you. Why do you think Colonel Gadhafi decided to give up his weapons of mass destruction? And I guess I mean when I say why, why now?

MAY: Because he was frightened, and we know that, and it’s not just analysis. The prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, his spokesman said that the prime minister spoke to Gadhafi, and Gadhafi said, frankly, he was afraid, he saw what was happening and what was going to happen to Saddam Hussein. He saw that we have an administration now and a policy that is simply not going to tolerate rogue dictators who consort with terrorists developing weapons of mass destruction. This is still a bad guy. This is still a guy who oppresses his own people, this is still a guy who has supported terrorism in the past, was responsible for things such as the Lockerbie atrocity. But it is useful that he’s now willing to do the kind of things that Saddam Hussein never was going to do, which is show us what he has.

By the way, let me say this, we are now finding out that he was closer to developing nuclear weapons than intelligence analysts had believed.

O’BRIEN: Julian, interestingly enough, there are some analysts who say, there was pressure, but it wasn’t the pressure that had, in the end, the final decision making for Moammar Gadhafi, that actually it was diplomacy that was important here. What do you think?

EPSTEIN: Well, first of all, I think it’s a major victory for the Bush administration for which the Bush administration should get credit. I think it’s proper that the Bush administration takes a very tough stance with thugs like this.

On the other hand, one has to remember that it wasn’t just the diplomacy to which you refer, Soledad, this was years, if not decades, of isolations and sanctions against Libya, that kind of made Moammar Gadhafi a bit of a paper tiger. So to say that this is a mandate for the Bush foreign policy I think is a bit of a stretch. Remember, it is the Bush foreign policy that has also at the same time left the situation in Iraq pretty chaotic, that has walked us into a buzzsaw on the ground in Baghdad for which we were unprepared, and that has failed to really muster the kind of international resolve that we need against international terrorism.

So to say simply that is a mandate for the Bush foreign policy is wrong. In fact, this is notable by how seldomly a — the Bush administration has been able to achieve this kind of diplomatic victory. So I applaud it, but again, I hardly think it’s a mandate for the Bush foreign policy.

O’Brien: Cliff, do you expect to see Iran, and Pakistan and North Korea sort of to follow suit?

MAY: Look, none of this is going to be easy. I think we have seen some progress in terms of Iran. We haven’t yet with North Korea. But there’s still a possibility of that. We’ve got a lot of very hard work to do with a lot of rogue regimes that are very dangerous to us, because in the 21st century, when we’re talking about weapons of mass destruction and terrorists, 9/11 could look like just the beginning if we don’t do it right.

I would say to what — to Julian, look, what we really need here is a foreign policy that has both a carrot and a stick, and for too long we only had carrots and no sticks. I would say it was under both Republican and Democratic administrations. I mean, yes, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but if you don’t have a fly swatter handy, all you’re doing is serving lunch.

EPSTEIN: I’m not quite sure I follow the metaphor there.

I think the point of the matter is this, look, you didn’t even mention the elephant in the middle of the room, which is Pakistan. You’ve got major problems with nuclear proliferation today in Syria, in North Korea, in Iran, and elsewhere. The Bush — what the Bush administration, seems to me, needs to do is to be able to have an international alliance, they have to deal with this issue multilaterally. The notion that I don’t think the Bush administration has even contemplated the notion of going in there kind of guns ablazing. So I think that the lesson here is that there are major problems, but…

O’BRIEN: No, no, Cliff, I’m not going to let you answer to that, because I want a quick question on the national security and the wake of the terror threat level being raised. Give me a sense of the job both of you that Secretary Ridge is doing so far? Weigh in on it.

MAY: I think he’s doing a good job. We haven’t had the alert level raised in six months I think. I guess it was last May that it was done before. I think when they have credible information and there is a possibility of a terrorist attack, they need to inform the American people, vigilance can be helpful. Look, Richard Reid wasn’t captured because the FBI knew where he was or the CIA; it was rather a flight attendant who saw him trying to light his sneaker, and decided, we’ve got to do something about this, this is a problem.

O’BRIEN: That’s going to be our final word this morning.

Gentlemen, thanks to both of you. We are out of time. Appreciate it. And happy holidays, too.