February 9, 2004 | Broadcast

Market Call


PRESIDENT BUSH: They had the capacity to have a weapon, make a weapon. We thought he had weapons. The international community thought he had weapons. But he had the capacity to make a weapon. And then let that well fall into the hands of a shadowy terrorist network.


SCHAFFLER: The question coming now from Democrats and other critics is whether the president’s reflexes on pre-war intelligence were reassuring. John Kerry says the president is suffering from a credibility problem, one that could have powerful ramifications in the event of another global crisis.


SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I want are the facts. I think the American people are owed the facts. Look, our security is at risk today. If in one month North Korea presented a major problem and the president went to the U.N., would the U.N. believe what he says? I think there’s an urgency to finding out precisely what happened in that evidence?

SCHAFFLER: So did the president make a case that he made a wise choice by going to war in Iraq and has his credibility suffered? Joining us, Cliff May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Cliff, good to see you once again.


SCHAFFLER: It’s been a day after day of headlines about weapons of mass destruction and intelligence either there or not involving those weapons. Did the president make enough of an impression Sunday that will dismay or please?

MAY: Well, I think you have to make these arguments more than once, more than in one interview. I think over and over again it’s very important the president say, look, before 9/11 we had a policy of waiting for the terrorist to come to us and they did, not just on 9/11. And we had no warning of that, but in 1993 when they hit the World Trade Center in New York for the first time, or in 1998 when they hit two of our embassies, or in 2000 when they hit the “USS Cole,” or 1983 when they hit us in Beirut.

Now post 9/11 the president’s saying, we have a different policy. We are going to take the fight to the terrorists and those who support them. I think that’s the right policy but I think he has to make that case over and over again as persuasive as he can. I think it is going to become part of the election campaign this year.

SCHAFFLER: And, of course, we saw that already with some of the comments we played with John Kerry saying that this could be an issue if there’s another global crisis. Is that a fair criticism?

MAY: It’s an odd criticism in a way for this reason. British intelligence, French intelligence, the U.N. inspectors who said there was plenty of weapons that were unaccounted for. They all had the same intelligence we had about Saddam Hussein. They all believe that Saddam Hussein still had these weapons. It’s not a question of whether he had them, it’s whether he still had them and what he did with them. We still don’t know.

Nevertheless, the French and others said, well, we don’t care what the intelligence says, we don’t think he’s enough of a threat. And, you know what, he may not have been as much of a threat to France, especially while the French President Jacques Chirac was out there defending him. He was a threat to the U.S. He vowed revenge against the U.S. He trained terrorists in such terrorist training camps as Samanpac (ph) south of Baghdad. And he told those terrorists to target Americans. He was a threat to us.

So the question is, do we need better intelligence? You bet we do. But I don’t think that has anything to do with what’s going on in the world. Because even when French intelligence say that Saddam had these weapons, the French still were not with us in terms of doing something about the threat Saddam represented.

SCHAFFLER: Let’s bring in now Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Good to have you on the program, as well.


SCHAFFLER: Talk a little bit now about the credibility of intelligence gathering then. We’ve focused in a lot on the president here the last couple of minutes. Is the credibility issue with the Bush administration, the president or somewhere else?

LIEVEN: I think the credibility issue is both with the Bush administration and, obviously, the Blair government and with British and American intelligence. But what makes this issue so extremely important is the question of preventative war. The national security strategy of two years ago set out preventative war against threats as a key aspect of American security doctrine.

Now we find that a war has been launched on the basis of extremely faulty intelligence. Now that renders the entire strategy, not just questionable, but in the view of many people, and certainly most Europeans, almost insane, frankly. And that, I think, is what we’ve really got do be focusing on.

The president should not have issued that strategy in this first place. It undermines international law. It greatly undermined American legitimacy and credibility in the world. And now we find that, frankly, British and American intelligence are simply not up to providing the basis for such preventative wars.

SCHAFFLER: Anatol, I don’t have a lot of time left but how does one recover from this then?

LIEVEN: Well, we need a really searching investigation, both in Britain and in America, of the intelligence failings. And then, frankly, we need a very much more modest and restrained attitude to the use of force in the world.

SCHAFFLER: Anatol Lieven fo the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Cliff May, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Thanks for joining us as we make the “Tough Call” on this issue. Appreciate it.