How Successful Was Cheney's Mideast Visit?

This partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, March 19, 2002 was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.

Other guests and topics for March 19, 2002 included:
• Bret Baier: CIA director George Tenet suggests a link between
Saddam Hussein and Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terror network
• Greg Palkot: Major Gen. Frank Hagenbeck, commander of U.S. ground
forces in Afghanistan, declares Operation Anaconda over
• Jim Angle: President Bush presses the Senate to act now on a bill that deals with border security
• Jennifer Griffin: U.S. special envoy Anthony Zinni meets with Yasser Arafat in the West Bank town of Ramallah
• Carl Cameron: Republicans are poised for revenge for the Democratic defeat of one of President Bush's judicial nominees
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For answers, we turn to Fox News contributor Bill Kristol, who is also editor of our sister publication, the Weekly Standard.

Hi, Bill. Welcome back.


HUME: So what do you think the net effect of the Cheney trip as any visit in all this is on the outcome of this — I mean, in terms of the contest between Israelis and Palestinians? Who gains, who loses? What do you think?

KRISTOL: Well, you mentioned that Zinni sat with Arafat while Cheney had the press conference with Sharon. Here's one news tip that I heard from someone in the administration. Late last night, they actually prepared time on Cheney's schedule for him to meet with Arafat. This was a request of Arafat's. Apparently, local U.S. government people in Israel — I think particularly our ambassador there — wanted Cheney to meet with Arafat. That went back to the White House. That was vetoed. And Cheney, as you know, did not meet with Arafat, though he said he would meet with Arafat conceivably as early as next week if Arafat curbs the violence.

HUME: Well, it's — Cheney made — was quite specific in his news conference, as we heard there with Sharon about what he wanted Arafat to do, and it sounded like the administration policy had reverted a bit back to where it was before the tough statements of last week about Israel.

KRISTOL: I think that's right, and I think that is actually George W. Bush who — remember this, three months ago, the Iranian government shipped all those arms in that ship, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), which the Israelis intercepted, to Arafat. Arafat assured Powell personally on the phone, by phone, and then assured Bush in a letter that he knew nothing about it. Bush and Powell had intelligence showing that Arafat personally knew about this shipment of arms. I don't think George W. Bush likes to be lied to. I think he thinks Arafat is a terrorist. And even though he sent Cheney on this mission because he thought they thought they had to make — look like they wanted to work with Arafat to calm things down in Israel and in the Palestinian areas, I don't think Bush has fundamentally changed his view that Arafat is not, over the long term, a real partner for peace. So if you talk to anyone in the administration, they will privately say this was tactical, this was to keep the Arab countries on board.

They don't have great hopes over the long run for, you know, a Sharon- Arafat peace agreement. They do hope that the violence will subside for a while.

HUME: Now, so the question then arises is whether the principle reason for the Zinni mission and for the stuff Cheney's been doing in the past couple of days has been for the credibility that Cheney seems to have needed to make headway with these Arab governments that he visited. There's no public sign of that. Speculation has been that privately, it might have gone a little better. What's your take on all of that?

KRISTOL: Well, there's no public sign of it. On the other hand, the invitation to Abdullah, Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, to visit the president in Texas, apparently, some time in May, June, is interesting. And it does show, I think, on the — confidence on the administration's part that the end of the day, they're going to do Iraq, and America's friends or so-called friends in the Arab world aren't going to stand in the way. It's inconceivable that that Abdullah would come to Texas publicly say, what, "I don't want you to do Iraq, " go back home, and then we would do it? That would be a humiliation for him. So I think they're going to begin, over the next few months, developing a rationale, these Arab leaders will, in the Arab world, for why they can go along with a U.S. attack on Iraq.

HUME: Now there's always been this interesting question about the Arab countries and their attitudes toward Iraq and toward action against Iraq. The question being whether they didn't want it because they didn't want it, or they didn't want it because they were afraid that we would shoot the kind, so to speak, and not kill him or not get rid of him. What's your sense of that?

KRISTOL: Well, I'm sure that Cheney has assured them that this time we're in to get rid of him. Now that scares some of these Arab leaders. They're dictators, too. They don't really like the idea of democracy in the Arab world. They're a little nervous about an Iraq where people discover, "Hey, let's govern ourselves." So I think the Saudis have very mixed motives and a mixed view of the idea of the U.S. promoting freedom of democracy in the Arab world.

Having said that, I'm convinced — I think the CIA director, George Tenet's testimony today, which you led the show with, is very significant. He didn't have to say that today just at the same time Cheney's finishing this trip. And when he says that there's a connection between Iraq and terrorism, he is, I think, further laying the groundwork for an attack on Iraq. And the president's statement yesterday...

HUME: Speaking of that, let's listen to the president's statement yesterday in which he picked up a phrase he hadn't said in a while.


BUSH: We will not allow one of the world's most dangerous leaders to have the world's most dangerous weapons and hold the United States and our friends and allies hostage. That's just not going to happen. What I said about the axis of evil is what I mean, and I can't get anymore plain about it.


HUME: And that's important because...

KRISTOL: Well, Iraq's the — one of the three nations in the axis of evil, the one that's the first candidate for military action. And I think the president is saying there, "We're going to do it." I'm very struck by the use of the term "evil" in which he sticks with. Why is that significant? Well, if you're evil, you can't be changed by persuasion or you can buy carrots and sticks, right? I mean, evil is a deep, predisposition in people or, in this case, in regimes, which really has to be addressed by being gotten rid of. And I think that is George W. Bush's view.

HUME: But the intermediate policy seems to be that weapons inspectors must be accommodated. What if, to some extent, weapons — and you heard in this meeting with Cheney, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt saying that, well, he believes that Iraq will go along and weapons inspections will occur and whatever. What about all that? How does the administration address that matter?

KRISTOL: Well, they need to make sure that if they can't handle it, Saddam can't buy endless amounts of time by pretending to be interested in weapons inspectors. Again, I come back to Tenet's testimony today where he connected Iraq with terror. Now if Iraq is connected with September 11th, then weapons inspectors are irrelevant. Then we have to make — we have to punish...

HUME: Or if there's a continuing relationship with Al Qaeda, and it might not have involved September 11th specifically, but ongoing.

KRISTOL: Exactly. Yeah, well said, exactly. So I think we are not going to be deterred. We may, as a soft to the countries and to Europe do a little bit of a dance with weapons inspections.

HUME: But in that sense, though, Bill, aren't the whole weapons inspection issues a possible obstacle?

KRISTOL: It is a possible obstacle. And people like me who are hawks on Iraq would kind of prefer that we don't have to bring it up in the first place. But as for the Cheney trip, the Bush administration wisely or unwisely has decided they need to make some gestures to the Europeans, they need to make some gestures to the Arab nations. And maybe it would have been better to kind of just bull ride ahead and do it quickly and not worry so much about this. But I guess on the other hand, it's a little hard to blame them for trying to win over these countries.

HUME: Not because these countries could be won over so much as possibly for domestic political consumption, that you want to say that you reached it, consulted, sought acquiescence and so on?

KRISTOL: I think it helps with Democrats and skeptics here in the U.S. And look, we do need friends and allies around the world, and it makes a certain amount of sense to make some effort to bring them along, and that is what the Cheney trip was about.

HUME: Bill Kristol, always a pleasure to have you. Thanks for coming.

KRISTOL: Thank you.

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