<i>FTN</i> Transcript - Oct. 15

face the nation logo, 2009

Bob Schieffer, CBS
News Chief Washington Correspondent:
Today on Face The Nation, as the Middle East boils over and terrorists attack a U.S. ship, the president heads to Cairo for an emergency summit. We'll get the latest from Secretary of Defense William Cohen and Admiral Vernon Clark; Democratic Senator John Kerry and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel.

Then we'll talk with Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz about the upcoming presidential debate. Gloria Borger will be here, and I'll have a final word on Congress. But first, terrorism on Face The Nation.

Schieffer: We would report first that things are quiet in Israel this morning. Joining us here in the studio, the Secretary of Defense, William Cohen; Admiral Vernon Clark, the chief of naval operations. First, Mr. Secretary, let's get right to it. Are you convinced that this was indeed a terrorist attack and do you know who did it?

William Cohen, Defense Secretary: We don't know who did it, but it is inconsistent with anything but a terrorist attack, and so we're satisfied this was clearly an act of terrorism. I just want to take a moment to - to express our deepest condolences to the families. They should understand that their sons and daughters, these young men and women - and very young men and women - were doing their duty in protecting freedom, and that all of us sleep under this blanket of freedom because of their sacrifice. And when we talk about service and sacrifice, this is precisely what we mean. They do it every day, and we owe a great deal of gratitude to them. But I also want to assure them that we will be relentless in tracking down those individuals or groups that were responsible for this, and we will see to it that they are held accountable.

Schieffer: Admiral, there were reports that there was some kind of warning that there might be a terrorist attack in this port. Do you have any information on that, or what can you tell us about that?

Admiral Vern Clark, Chief of Naval Operations: Well, what can - what I can tell you is that in the past 19, 20 months since we started this program - the contract was put in place for refuelings in this port - we have refueled two dozen or so ships in Aden, and nothing with regard to the threat assessment has changed since we started that program.

Schieffer: Was there, in fact, any kind of a report that there might be trouble?

Clark: We did not get any kind of a report of an unusual circumstance that would cause us to alter the threat assessment.

Gloria Borger, U.S. News & World Report: Secretary Cohen, as you know, there has been a lot of criticism about whether you should, in fact, be refueling in Aden. Are you now reassessing whether you're going to be doing that in the future?

Cohen: Well, for the time being, there'll be no more refueling in Aden until we certainly clear up the circumstances uder which this happened.

Borger: Was this a bad idea, though?

Cohen: What we have to understand is that that entire region throughout the Middle East, most of the ports in the areas, they are all regarded as being a high threat region. So if we're going to remain as a source of stability and making sure that stability does prevail throughout the Middle East so that we can continue to call upon the resources of that region to fuel our economies, then we're going to have to be forward-deployed. So we understand it's a high-threat area. There are risks involved. We try to minimize those risks. But certainly, we can't prevent all types of acts of terrorism. We do our best, and we will find out through this inquiry as to whether there was any laxity, any failure to measure up to the very highest standards that we insist upon for force protection.

Schieffer: Is there anything to suggests that this was in any way timed with the turmoil that suddenly erupted in Israel?

Cohen: We don't know about the timing. It - it has the appearance of having had some period of premeditation. And frankly, you could make the argument that if there had been a successful conclusion of peace negotiations, those who are determined to continue to disrupt the Middle East would find ways of launching attacks against the U.S. and our - and our friends. I think it's just premature to try to draw any nexus or connection just yet.

Schieffer: Admiral, let me ask you - I know the recovery operations are going on out there. How is that going?

Clark: Well, we do have things to report. You know, it's - they're seven hours ahead of us, so there's a lot been going on today. And - and over the evening, frankly, we did have a minor setback.

Schieffer: And that was what?

Clark: What happened is that the ship lost power and the power - fuels - takes care of supplying power to the pumps and allows us to fight the damage and control the water levels and so forth. And in losing power, we did have then some additional flooding. The crew was doing what I have said from the beginning of this operation: they're heroes. They're fighting for their ship, and they have continued to do that. I'm happy to report just before I came to the studio, I talked to Admiral Moore, our theater commander for the Navy, and he reports that they have the flooding under control again. They're working to rig emergency power to re - reestablish communications and control the situation.

With regard to the - the rest of the situation in Aden, security has been strengthened. We've had additional security forces come to the ground. We have Admiral Mark Fitzgerald as the task force commander in there. We are bringing two, three additional ships into the region, and they'll be here within the next day or so. And so that - on scene, that we're making great process.

Borger: Mr. Secretary, the Yemeni president originaly described this as an accident. Now he has changed his mind. Can you tell us why he did that and whether he is, in fact, cooperating with the U.S. government?

Cohen: He has changed his mind, apparently. He has indicated to the president and the secretary of state and national security adviser that he now believes it was, in fact, an external act, a terrorist act as such. He is fully cooperating. He is doing everything that we have asked of him and his government. We have been in touch with our ambassador in Yemen, and she is satisfied that all that we are requesting they are now providing.

Borger: What are you asking for? Access to the inner workings of the harbor, for example? Why - wh - what do you need to get to the bottom of this from that government?

Cohen: Well, first, we have to make sure that we have security for all of those who are over there. There has been an influx of personnel, both civilian, military, investigative, also journalists. It's a very small city with only two hotels. And so the first thing we want to make sure is we have force protection for all of those who are there. Then we want to make sure that our investigators have as much access as conceivable to the site, to forensic evidence, to cooperation from personnel who are associated with the harbor, those responsible for having the ships go out for the refueling, and then try to make determinations of responsibility.

Schieffer: Let me ask both of you. There have been reports that there have been some kinds of Iraqi troop movements with - within Iraq.

Cohen: Right.

Schieffer: Is Saddam Hussein up to something here, and what's going on there?

Cohen: Well, we should never underestimate Saddam Hussein from trying to take advantage of any situation in the past. He has always managed to miscalculate the consequences of his actions. But we have followed it very closely. There's been some movement of his Republican Guard to the west of Baghdad. We follow it very closely, and we should forewarn him, as we have, that any move that he would make to attack his neighbors would be met with a very strong response from the United States...

Schieffer: And...

Cohen: ...and our allies.

Schieffer: Admiral, I - I want to ask you something because someone said this to me, and is - it is very much a layman's question. But he said, 'How is it that a small boat loaded with explosives can get this close to an American destroyer in a foreign port, especially in a country that's known as a haven for terrorists?' How did that happen?

Clark: Well, that certainly is one of the issues that will be addressed in - in the investigation. And I've been very straightforward on this. I've tried to be since I found out about this. By the way, we're just over 72 hours into this - since this egregious act occurred.

What I have said is that the ship is required to establish ver finite plans about the way they will deal with an entry into a port. They are required to submit those plans to the - up through the th - theater command structure. General Tom Frank says the unified commander in the central command - and those activities are under his command. And in his structure, he has a Naval component commander, and that's Admiral Willie Moore. This ship complied with - with that requirement. They submitted their specific plan for this particular port. It was approved by higher authority. What I have been - tried to describe to people is that in this circumstance, the ship is coming into port. It's tying up. It needs support to do that. Line handling boats come out, a tug - a tugboat might come along, a - a - a pilot comes aboard.

And when this happens, the - these units are working in support of the ship. It's clear from the reports that I've had from the chain of command that the captain of the ship clearly believed that this boat was part of that support structure. That's - that's how it got in that proximity.

Borger: Well, Mr. Secretary, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney has used this incident as an opening to question our military preparedness, as well as our dependence on that foreign oil. How do you respond to the former defense secretary?

Cohen: Well, first, I - I didn't hear his comments, but I prefer to look to Governor Bush. Governor Bush said that this is an incident that we all ought to join together in facing. This is a - this has blown a hole in the heart of the American people, as well as that ship, and we ought to join together in finding ways in which to deal with the investigation and to bring justice to those who have perpetrated it.
I would only say, in terms of the readiness issue, that these young men and women who are serving on that ship were at the very highest levels of readiness and capability. The fact, as Admiral Clark has just indicated, after having the trauma of being attacked in this cowardly fashion and the destruction that was done and the death that was caused, for them to continue to carry out their mission under extraordinary circumstances of fatigue, nonetheless dedicated to preserving that ship, it tells me something about the ca - the caliber and the quality of the people who are serving us. And they are the very highest and the very best.

Schieffer: Are you confident you're going to find out who did this?

Cohen: We are determined we're going to find out who did this and make sure that they pay a penalty for it.

Schieffer: Mr. Secretary, Admiral, thank you so much. When we come back, we'll talk to two key members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about all of this. When we come back.


Schieffer: Joining us now from Boston, Massachusetts, Senator John Kerry; here in our studio, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel - both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Getlemen, has the United States been too neutral in this—in this affair so far in the Middle East? Senator Hagel.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.): Which affair are - are you speaking of there?

Schieffer: I'm talking about what's happened in Israel and the uprising there.

Hagel: Well, we're in a difficult spot, Bob. One, if we are to play the role of the honest arbiter here and mediator, that's one role. We have always been a strong ally of Israel - since the formation of Israel in 1948. We'll continue to be a strong ally of Israel. So to fulfill both roles puts us sometimes in a delicate spot. I - I think it - there will be a lot of evaluations made here over the next few weeks as to what has happened and what led to the events - tragic events of the last three weeks.

But I think one of the things we did learn, that you - you can't force events. And that Camp David event, I think, is becoming clearer and clearer that it was a forced event. And I don't believe Barak and Arafat were prepared politically, or in any way, to put themselves in the position they were.

Schieffer: Let - let's get Senator Kerry's take on that, quickly. Should the United States have come down harder on the Palestinians, Senator Kerry?

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.): I'm not sure what you mean by 'come down harder.' I think we tried very hard to be an honest broker, as - as you just described the term, at Camp David. I think you have to understand that - that - and I think you do, Bob, and most people do - this is an extraordinarily complicated, incredibly deep-rooted problem. And Arafat has forces around him, underneath him, close by him that don't want peace, that are working against what even he is doing. The same is true of Prime Minister Barak. There are terrible forces, regrettably, that are simply steeped in - in centuries, a millennium, of - of - of religious and political mistrust, hatred, misunderstanding. And it's very, very complicated to try to move that.

The leadership in the Middle East - President Mubarak, King Abdullah, Prime Minister Barak and even Arafat himself have an understanding, I think, of the need to try to move to a different place. But their populations are subject to these other forces. And, indeed, on the Palestinian side, even while Arafat has been, quote, 'at the peace table,' there are lieutenants and other forces underneath him that continue to vilify Israel, the Jews. They continue to preach and teach children how to hate, that refuse to change history books, that build a culture of - of extraordinary confrontation.

Schieffer: Yeah. Let - let's bring Gloria in.

Gloria Borger, U.S. News & World Report: Senator Hagel, I just want to switch to the situation in Yemen. You heard what the secretary of defense had to say here this morning. Do you believe that the U.S.S, Cole should have been refueling at the port of Aden which some say harbors terrorist actions?

Hagel: Well, I think, first of all, we must accept the fact that that is a very dangerous part of the world. This is not a risk-free business. I think General Zinni, being the architect of this concept a couple of years ago, was - was correct. You cannot allow the tip of the Arabian Peninsula to - to be essentially written off. That is far too dangerous both for short-term and long-term interests for the world and for this country. So as we get into this and find out what really happened and why, hopefully we'll be a little smarter about it. But, again, it reminds us, as the secretary and the admiral said, this is a tough business. It is a very dangerous part of the world. Until we know more from our intelligence sources as to what happened, then - then I - I think we - we must support the president and must support his efforts and our armed forces and our men and women.

Schieffer: Now, Senator Kerry, they're about to convene this summit in the Middle East at the invitation of President Mubarak of Egypt. Should the Russians be a part of that? They sort of volunteered that they'd like to be there. Do you - do you think we should invite them in? I mean, we're not doing the inviting but could they be a part of it?

Kerry: Well, yes, they could be part of it and I think it would be helpful. I mean, the foreign minister was part of the shuttle diplomacy of the last weeks. They have the ability to play an important role, par - particular with respect to other voices in the Arab community. And those voices are critical to helping Arafat to come to a point of recognizing what reality is and the direction he should move. So would I say it would be helpful.

Schieffer: Senator Hagel?

Hagel: Oh, I think y - you must have the Russians included. I don't see any way that you have any peace without the Russians being involved. Obviously, we have to understand that the Russians have their agenda; we have ours. But in the common mutual self-interest of both countries in that part of the world, the Russians need to be part of that.

Borger: Very quickly let me ask both of you - both of you, first Senator Hagel, what - Dick Cheney has raised the question of military readiness in regard to what's occurred in Yemen. Do you think that's legitimate?

Hagel: Well, Gloria, I didn't hear exactly what Secretary Cheney said. I - I - so I'm at somewhat of a loss to respond. But I can tell you this. I - I do know what Governor Bush has said. I think Governor Bush has been exactly right in this. And we'll have enough time to sort this out as we - as we get further down the line.

Schieffer: This must be the most unheard comment issued on the campaign trail. Nobody seems to have heard it.

Borger: How about Senator Kerry?

Schieffer: Go ahead. Senator Kerry, what - what did you have to say about it?

Kerry: I - I think that while there are leitimate questions always about military readiness in the context of a campaign, Yemen and what happened to the U.S.S. Cole is not one of them. And I think it is entirely inappropriate to try to suggest that a refueling that has been taking place now for 19 or 20 months, some 24 ships, without incident, suddenly is an example of non-res - readiness. I mean, really any terrorist can attack anywhere in the world at any time. And it is inappropriate sort of after the fact to say, 'Well, you know, why were we pursuing this policy when, in fact, a ship almost anywhere in the world is vulnerable...'

Schieffer: All right.

Kerry: '...particularly in port.'

Schieffer: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Most informative.

Hagel:: Thank you.

Kerry: Thank you.

Hagel: Thank you.

Schieffer: Thanks for being here. Back in a minute to talk about those presidential debates in just a second.


Schieffer: With us now, I think the most prolific reporter in all of journalism, Howard Kurtz, who's the media writer of The Washington Post. Howie writes his column and I think about half the stories in The Washington Post every day. He has also written this new book, which is called The Fortune Tellers. It's a terrific read. And it's a story of Wall Street and the impact that all of the reporting, the channels that report nothing but financial news and so forth, are having on the market itself. And as you say in the book, Howie, these are talking heads who really count.

Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post: Financial journalists have unbelievable impact on stocks. Real-time information can move stocks 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent. The most important political reporter in the country, even someone like you, Bob, doesn't have as much - have 1/100th of the influence that some of these financial journalists have.

Schieffer: I - I - and I tend to agree with you. It's a - it's an excellent read, by the way.

Kurtz: Thanks.

Schieffer: So I highly recommend this book. What we want to talk to you this morning, Howie, is the impact of the media on these debates. How do you see the way the media has played these debates so far? Are - are the two sides getting a fair shake here?

Kurtz: Well, the Gore campaign doesn't think so.

Schieffer: Really?

Kurtz: You might not be shocked here. Well, after the first debate, I mean, Al Gore just got hammered by the press for a full week, not only over his overbearing, some would say, annoying demeanor, but over the earth-shattering misstatements he made, such as whether he'd been to Texas with the director or the deputy director of the federal disaster agency. In the second debate this week in North Carolina when Governor Bush made a couple of errors, such as misstating the number of people who'd gotten the death penalty in that James Byrd racil murder case in Texas, it was a one-day, inside-the-paper story.

And I think this reflects, Bob, the media image or stereotype that has been created around each of the two men: Gore as the fibber and Bush as the dim bulb. Ridiculously simplistic, but any piece of evidence that plays into those images tends to get played up by the press.

Schieffer: All the networks this year, including CBS, I might add, seem to be doing these instant polls at the end, where you go out and sample immediately after the debate to see who, quote, 'won or lost'. Do those have any impact?

Kurtz: I'm a little dubious about these instant polls. And, in fact, the post-game commentary that the - that the press and the politicians and the partisans all engage in, I think tends to overtake that. For example, the instant polls all show - all showed that the vice president had won that first debate, but because he got so much criticism over both his style and his exaggerations, by a week later, it seemed like he had l - lost the debate. And I think that changed his whole game plan going into this week's debate, where he seemed, oh, so polite. I mean, 'Hope I'm not misstating your position here. It appears according to a newspaper story I read - but I could be wrong.' You know, I think that had a real impact on taking the vice president out of his game in debate number two.

Schieffer: But I wonder, you wouldn't in anyway blame that on the media, would you? I mean, it's - it's the vice president who would - would decide how he is going to respond to that.

Kurtz: Oh, sure. But campaigns and candidates read the papers and watch television like everybody else. And if you have a perceived weakness, as Gore clearly had - I mean, also he brought a history of exaggeration to this campaign going back to the Buddhist temple fund-raiser that wasn't a fund-raiser. So I think he didn't want to repeat the Saturday Night Live parody of himself, and was very, very subdued in that debate, whereas Governor Bush, obviously, did himself a lot of good in debate number two.

Schieffer: Who do you think's going to show up next week, the kinder, gentler Gore, or the Gore attack man?

Kurtz: Well, I think the vice president's people realize he's got to get his edge back and got to turn the conversation to some of the issues that were working for him before. Governor Bush, if he does as well as he did in debate number two, he will be in pretty good shape.

Schieffer: All right. Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post. Thank you, Howie.

Kurtz: Thank you.


Schieffer: Finally today, Congress is about to adjourn. I alert you to this because Congress does so little anymore you may not have realized it's been in session. You can count this Congress' accomplishments on your nose, which ranks it on the wonderful chart at about the same place as the Congress before it Which leads me to a cartoon I saw in The New Yorker. Two dogs are talking and one says to the other, 'It's not just that dogs must win, but cats must also lose.' Well, that's our modern Congress. It has become so partisan that neither party will do anything if it means sharing credit with the other. Or unless it can be done in a way to discredit the other. So neither side gets anything done. Non-partisan investigations have become impossible, bipartisan projects non-existent.

Georgia's former senator Sam Nunn, who is probably responsible for passing more significant legislation than any lawmaker of modern times, was in town this weekend and it reminded me of something he said when he retired from the Senate four years ago. 'In all my years here,' he said, 'I never accomplished anything without the help of the other party.'

Well, people don't around here just don't say things like that anymore, and come to think of it, Congress has accomplished virtually nothing since he left.

That's our report. We'll see you next week right here on Face The Nation.