Cheney's Mission in the Middle East

This partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, March 18, 2002 was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.

Other guests and topics for March 18, 2002 included:
• Bret Baier: Operation Anaconda is over, but U.S. and coalition forces are not finished engaging enemy fighters
• James Rosen: Vice President Cheney says that peace between Israelis
and Palestinians is not only possible, but necessary
• Jim Angle: President Bush talks to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf early about the terrorist attack that killed five people, including two Americans
• Catherine Herridge: Pentagon officials say they're reevaluating combat air patrols
• Steve Brown: Are tariffs and subsidies, designed to protect farmers, actually hurting them?
Order the complete transcript

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll continue to call upon Chairman Arafat to live up to his commitments to renounce once and for all the use of violence as a political weapon, and to observe a 100 percent effort to stamp out terrorists.


BRIT HUME, HOST: Now, you'll note that in that same session, Dick Cheney had something to say about the Israelis, too. He talked about how they needed to do a better job for their part, of making life better economically for the Palestinians. Joining me to discuss all that and much else is Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard. Jeff Birnbaum, Washington bureau chief of Fortune magazine and Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio. All are Fox News contributors.

The Cheney mission seems to be two-fold, to try to do something about the situation in the Mideast, with General Zinni having gone ahead of him, and to try to somehow get the allies, or at least the so-called moderate Arab states to acquiesce, participate, help, whatever, in action against Iraq.

How's it going, Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, I think that it's not going as well as they would have liked. First of all, they certainly are not getting acquiescence on Iraq. They're getting every other Arab leader saying you must solve the Palestinian-Israeli problem. And on that front, I think the United States, for the moment, is not completely in control of the agenda.

I mean, Cheney is still reported to be pondering a meeting with Arafat. It sounds like if he didn't go there knowing whether he would meet the guy or not, now whether he meets with him or not becomes a very crucial distinction. If he leaves without meeting with him, he looks less than evenhanded. If he does meet with him, well, it looks like he's rewarded Arafat for not making any progress. I think it's not going that well.

JEFF BIRNBAUM, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: I get the sense about this whole trip that we're seeing only the crust, the thinnest veneer of what's going on. That almost everything that the Arabs say is entirely for public consumption. That is, they can't say they want to attack their neighbor, Iraq, even though some may be sending signals that it would be fine with them if the U.S. works closely with Iraqis to overthrow that country, which is probably what Cheney is hinting at very heavily.

In addition, the Middle East actually has gotten better, the situation between Israel and Palestine. Israel has actually withdrawn from some Gaza Strip places and elsewhere. And I think that's progress. So it is going better, I think, than the publicity in the newspapers would make you suggest.

HUME: Or than the public statements of Arab officials would suggest. Fred.

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Yeah. I'm sure those statements were drafted even before Cheney got there. They were always going to say it will be destabilizing for the U.S. and others to attack Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein.

As far as the meeting with Arafat goes, that is very touchy, as Mara said. You don't want to reward Arafat. So far, in the fighting between Israel and the Palestinians, it looks like Arafat is going to win, because he's given up nothing. He hasn't stopped terrorism. Rather, we know now the people who work for him have publicly declared their committing terrorism.

He hasn't arrested terrorists and locked up the ones that have been requested. He's done nothing, and now he's rewarded with General Zinni going over there. And then, perhaps a meeting with Dick Cheney. I think that would be a huge mistake.


HUME: If a cease-fire comes out of it, what will Arafat have gained?

BARNES: He will have gained intervention again. He will have been saved from being driven out. And Sharon will have proven to be a failure. I mean, Sharon — what Sharon needed to do, if he was going to fight at all, his strategy was completely wrong. His strategy was, as he defined it himself, was a body count strategy. We're going to kill more of them and we'll kill as many as we have to, until they finally give up. Well, that's never going to happen. That's not the right strategy.


BARNES: What you have to do is, and what Netanyahu would do if he were prime minister, I assume, would be to go in and destroy the entire Palestinian Authority infrastructure, reoccupy the West Bank and exile Yasser Arafat, and then start some negotiations.

LIASSON: I think what the U.S. has done is, they're not willing to go all the way into coming up with a political agenda and trying to force it on the parties, which some people believe is the only option left now They're also not willing to go back to the original stance, which is hands off. They're somewhere in the middle.

They're making these trips. They're calling on both sides to have a cease-fire, but beyond that.

BIRNBAUM: America cannot resolve this. Just think about what a boon is would be for the U.S. if there is some cease-fire negotiated as a result of this trip. Our expectations are so low...

BARNES: I don't think that's a boon.

BIRNBAUM: No, I think it...

BARNES: They've had dozens of cease-fires.

BIRNBAUM: Well, one in which the violence is actually damped down, with the approval of Sharon and Arafat.

LIASSON: And they both start talking to each other. But that's negotiation...

BARNES: What we need is a cease-terrorism, not a cease-fire.

BIRNBAUM: Yeah, but the chances of that happening, I think, have increased over the last week, in part because our vice president is there. That's a very high ranking official.

BARNES: Well, one thing we know for sure, these other countries in the region, these Arab countries, could care less about the Palestinians, and peace there, either. They have done nothing. I mean, they're the ones, some of them, that helped finance the Palestinian Authority. Have they done anything to get Arafat to quell the terrorism, which is the real source of trouble with Israel in the first place?

They've done nothing. They did nothing when Arafat turned down this tremendous offer from the Israelis when President Clinton was there at Camp David. Did they push Arafat to accept that offer? No, they didn't do anything. So we can forget about their hypocritical concerns.

HUME: But you have to be worried about their concerns if you need their acquiescence for an attack on Iraq.

BARNES: Except we don't need their acquiescence.

HUME: Apparently some people in the administration think we do. Will we get it, eventually, Mara?

LIASSON: Eventually we'll get some — something like acquiescence, if it's silence.

BIRNBAUM: We'll get it if we say we're going into anyway.

BARNES: Right.

HUME: All right, last word on that.

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