December 25, 2003 | Broadcast

News From CNN

Here with their top picks, from Washington, Cliff May, founder of The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and Norman Solomon, executive director of The Institute for Public Accuracy. He’s in San Francisco.

Gentlemen, happy holidays.



PHILLIPS: Happy Kwanza. Happy everything else.

MAY: Happy Kwanza, everything else.

PHILLIPS: There we go. Let’s talk terror alerts.

Cliff, this is definitely a way of life now. We’ve just got to start getting used to it, right?

MAY: Yes, that is probably the case for a while. We haven’t had a heightened terror alert since last May. But I think it’s very clear that there has been credible sources that are talking about something that people are trying to do to us probably because of the holidays. And yes, from time to time, we’re going to have this. And sometimes we’re going to be successful, and I’m afraid sometimes we’re not.

PHILLIPS: Resources, have they been in the right places, Norm?

SOLOMON: Well, I think they’ve been misdirected. Many Americans, according to polls, understand that to wage war in Iraq, a war based on deception, it really undermines the access to resources that should be devoted to the legitimate conflict against terror. If you will, the war on terror that should take form of using our resources in the right places.

PHILLIPS: All right. We’ll get to security, terrorism threat. Let’s talk other hot topics; obviously, the war in Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Cliff, you’ve talked a lot about this over the past few months.

MAY: Yes. I mean, look, the big story of this year and the big story probably of the first quarter of the 21st century is the war we are fighting against the enemies of the free world. The most dramatic part of that is that we secured regime change in Iraq. But the number two story, I think, is that we are doing what Norm suggests we should do, which is addressing the root causes of terrorism and the root causes of these ideologies, which is the absence of freedom and democracy in a large part of the world, and in particular the Muslim Middle East.

We are trying very hard to help the Iraqi people develop the first democratic and free society in that region. Hopefully, it won’t be the last.

PHILLIPS: Let’s talk about the root cause of terrorism, Norm. You know there’s been so much concentration on Iraq and Operation Iraqi Freedom, also Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom. But when you get down to it, it is so much bigger than that when we start talking about this war on terror.

SOLOMON: Well, absolutely. I mean, most people in the world don’t see a window on the world that’s tinted red, white and blue. They understand that the U.S. has been supporting and unfortunately continues to support regimes that are torturing political prisoners, are big recipients of U.S. aid. Egypt, for instance, torturing people who are in prison just because of their political view points.

We should be challenging that, rather than taking a pro status quo position. I think, also, it’s important to recognize that underneath every triumph is a tragedy. And every ballyhoo success of this administration’s war in Iraq, for instance, can’t hide the underside.

You know, in the last day or so, several U.S. soldiers have been killed, Iraqis continue to die, and underneath a war that seems to be at some level successful is the specter of 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq for a war based on lies and deception in the first place.

PHILLIPS: Do you agree with that, Cliff? Lies and deceptions?

MAY: No, I don’t know at all what Norm means. Or, I’m afraid I do. Look, you can’t fight a war without people getting killed. You couldn’t have displaced Saddam Hussein, who filled mass graves with more than 300,000 people without the use of force. The Iraqis would have liked to do that by themselves, but it couldn’t have happened.

We have to fight this war and we have to win this war. And it’s not going to be easy. I mean, war is not a day at the beach. If Norm is suggesting that we’d be better off and that the Iraqis would be better off if Saddam Hussein had not been toppled, and if we weren’t trying to give freedom and democracy to this part of the world, I just think he is so badly mistaken.

SOLOMON: You know, Cliff, we can’t have it both ways. If history matters, then history matters.

Twenty years ago, Donald Rumsfeld, representing the Reagan administration, went to Baghdad, had a cordial meeting with Saddam Hussein, shook hands with him while he was torturing people, while he was engaged in a horrendous campaign to slaughter those opponents in Iraq who he feared might challenge his power. How can Donald Rumsfeld engage in that activity, and now we’re told it matters what happened in the 80s when Saddam Hussein did it, but we are not supposed to open the box and look at what the U.S. government was involved in, in supporting that tyrant at that time.

MAY: You know, your animus towards these individuals is just so striking…

SOLOMON: It’s not animus. It’s history.

MAY: … at a time like this. Look, two things. One, I’m not going to debate history with you, but your history is off. Two, to the extent to which…

SOLOMON: No, it’s not off. It’s fact.

MAY: The extent to which this government, the United States, supported Saddam Hussein, we have all the more responsibility to do something about him. If we created Frankenstein, then he’s our monster. And then we were right to do what we did.

I agree with you that those who had faith in Saddam Hussein, because he was secular, because he was a socialist, that faith was very badly misplaced. President Bush has said what are you saying, but you won’t give him any credit for it.

He said for 60 years we put stability ahead of liberty. Let’s not do that anymore. It’s what Bush said. You agree with that, surely, don’t you, Norm? Stability is not ahead of liberty?

SOLOMON: It’s really a copout. It’s really — you know, it’s like Mark Twain said…

MAY: You can’t answer my question, can you?

SOLOMON: … you can quit smoking. I’ve done it thousands of times. Here, time after time, the U.S. government has been supporting tyrants, and then turns around and says, we have a responsibility to overthrow them because we made a pact with the devil beforehand.


PHILLIPS: Let me ask you both — let me ask you both — let’s talk responsibility just for a moment. So many critics saying, OK, we are fighting so many wars overseas, we’re taking down Saddam Hussein, we’re taking down the Taliban. But what about here in the United States, where we have tremendous unemployment rate, we have a lot of homeless people? We have Americans struggling daily. Why are tax dollars going overseas, Norm?

SOLOMON: Well, I would say…


PHILLIPS: Yes, Cliff? Go ahead. Sorry.

MAY: We absolutely have to do both. But the idea that we’re going to put up more homeless shelters without worrying about whether there’s another 9/11, strikes me as counterproductive. We absolutely have to do both.

SOLOMON: Well that’s really — Cliff, that’s a false hope.

MAY: We have to give back the peace dividends. Look, during the 1990s and before that, we took a holiday from history. We made believe we had no enemies. Even when the World Trade Center was attacked in ’93, when Hezbollah attacked our Marine barracks in 1983, now we’re finally fighting back against people who want to destroy every one of us, those with homes and those without.

PHILLIPS: Norm, go ahead.

SOLOMON: Well, Cliff, let’s address the question. More than a billion dollars a day being spent on the military, while here at home, manufacturing jobs are going through the floor, social services are being destroyed in community after community through a lack of resources.

We have that reality. And no amount of Mr. Magoo policies will get us around that fact.

MAY: You want to take the money away from the military?

SOLOMON: It’s like believing the Bush administration or your own eyes. That is the choice that many people face.

MAY: Norm, you’re suggesting…


SOLOMON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) economic strength…

MAY: Norm, no speeches. Norm, it’s a discussion, Norm. Norm, it’s a discussion. You’re saying we should take the money away from the military at this point of war and put it into social services? That’s your plan?

SOLOMON: What I’m saying is, the emphasis on pouring huge amounts of money into military action at the expense of people in this country is absolutely wrong. And our economy.


PHILLIPS: All right. Norm, Cliff…

MAY: Norm wants to take money away from our soldiers in Iraq.

PHILLIPS: Hold that thought, gentlemen. Hold that thought. Here we are on Christmas day, oh boy, and I am creating a firestorm. Hold those thoughts. All right?

We’re going to continue our hot topics discussion with a look ahead. We might do a little bit more on the military here, but we really want to tackle 2004 when we return.

Also, I wonder if this is how Norm and Cliff shop. When these guys go shopping, they take it as a sport. You won’t believe how quick or quickly they get their Christmas bags filled.


PHILLIPS: Well, getting into the holiday spirit and agreeing on absolutely nothing, our guests on this Christmas day, Norman Solomon with the Institute for Public Accuracy, and Cliff May, from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Guys, we’ve got to get right into it, and the stories we’re going to be talking about next year, the presidential election.

Norm, North Korea and Iran have got to be on the agenda.

SOLOMON: Yes, absolutely. And I think the foreign policy focus with Iraq is crucial for the Bush’s reelection hopes. Of course, we also fear about the economy.

I would add a third factor, which is coming just in the last two days, and that is the mad cow disease issue. There is a “New York Times” story this morning documenting that seven months ago, when Canada discovered its mad cow disease problem, Nobel Prize winning neurologist, Dr. Stanley Christener at UCSF Medical School here in San Francisco, tried to no avail to meet with the U.S. secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman. She refused to meet with him for six months until November.

He pointed out that the danger of mad cow disease was massive in his country. The administration has failed to do the kind of testing necessary to nip this in the bud. I fear now that we are looking at multi-billion-dollar losses next year and a big threat to human health in this country.

PHILLIPS: Interesting. Cliff, what do you think? And I also want to ask you, Cliff, about Osama bin Laden, too.

MAY: Norm is such a grinch here. Look, I would say that the president — I think the president has some big decisions to make in regard to areas of the world where there are no freedom, no democracy. North Korea developing nuclear weapons; wants to share them with anybody. Iran, same story.

Also, our relations with Saudi Arabia, very troubled. Syria is still a problem. And Pakistan increasingly is something we have to focus on.

The economy is basically a good news story overall, despite 9/11, the bursting of the tech bubble, the corporate scandals. The resilience in the American economy is astounding, and that is due to workers, entrepreneurs and investors who are just different in America than probably anywhere else in the world.

As far as Osama bin Laden, he is going to be tough to catch. I think we know where he is. He’s in what’s called the tribal areas, the wild areas of Pakistan, not Afghanistan. And it is difficult for the U.S. to go in there in force because it’s a friendly country. But the Pakistanis don’t want to do it themselves.

It is possible to get him, but it’s not easy. Remember how long it took us to get the unabomber or that guy down in north Carolina who was wanted for bombing abortion clinics.

PHILLIPS: Norm, go ahead.

SOLOMON: You know, I think — I was going to say I think it would be very important to have a foreign policy that really helps to drain the swamp that a mass murderer like Osama bin Laden feeds on. And to do that, you need international cooperation, you need solidarity with other governments that move in both directions, and you need a consistent policy on human rights, something that this administration has failed to implement.

PHILLIPS: Interesting.

MAY: We absolutely — look, there is no question that we need solidarity with other governments. We have 63 working with us right now in Iraq. We don’t have the French, but they may be coming along. They see that they’ve been left out of the loop in terms of the progress we’ve made with Libya.

We did that in concert particularly with Britain and Italy, as well. Gadhafi is still a terrible oppressor of his own people. I don’t know that he has stopped supporting terrorism and dictatorships in Africa. But at least he is giving up his weapons of mass destruction, because we have a foreign policy that includes sticks as well as carrots.

PHILLIPS: Will we see a domino effect? We’ve got Gadhafi coming forward, obviously playing smart politics now, North Korea, Iran. Could we see a domino effect, Norm?

SOLOMON: Well, I think it is problematic, because there is no much hypocrisy in the Bush administration’s policies. It’s developing, for instance, a whole new generation of what are called mini nukes, tactical nuclear weapons. Other weaponry that flies in the face of its own under obligations under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

So this policy that essentially says to the world, do as we say, not as we do, will not wash well when the U.S. government relies on these weapons of mass destruction for its foreign policy and implements violence to solve problems, and then tells other people, don’t use violence to solve problems.

MAY: It’s amazing. Norm cannot understand the difference between good guys having weapons and bad guys having weapons. You know…


SOLOMON: I get it, but it’s only this hypocrisy.

MAY: We’re the good guys — no, it’s not hypocrisy for a democracy like the United States to have weapons to protect itself, and also to say, North Korea, which is a total dictatorship, you can’t have nuclear weapons and you can’t proliferate them. It’s a threat to us. You don’t seem to understand the difference between us…

PHILLIPS: Guys, I have to be the bad guy now. I have to be the bad guy now. I am getting the famous wrap.

MAY: Kyra, you are never the bad guy.

PHILLIPS: OK. Well, you guys are my good guys, and you came in on Christmas. Thank you so much. Norman Solomon, Cliff May, always a pleasure.

SOLOMON: Thank you.

MAY: Happy holidays, both of you.

PHILLIPS: Happy holidays. Bye, guys.