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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Fred's Q&A From the 2004 Panetta Conference (revised)

Leon Panetta: welcome, both of you, to the Monterey Peninsula. Let's begin by talking a little bit about the broad subject of leadership in the 21st century.
Last century we defeated fascism and communism. In order to do that, we had to build a strong defense. We had to build strong alliances. We built NATO, helped create the U.N.. This century, the threat is obviously terrorism.
We have a strong defense, but can we win without building strong alliances? Has Iraq hurt our credibility, or our ability to develop those kinds of alliances?

Fred Thompson: Leon, we shouldn't have to worry about whether or not we could go it alone if we had to. Hopefully it doesn't come to that. We should strive to avoid that, if for no other reason because in any democracy, I think the people's willingness to sustain protracted hostile and unpleasant activity is limited, and I think that when there is a lack of national support, it's more difficult to maintain the support inside your own country, when people see that. However, it's not exactly like we're in the habit of doing that. I think we've gotten a bit of a bum rap because of that.
We certainly had a coalition in 1991. We went to Iraq. We were part of a group with regard to Kosovo. There are over 30 countries involved in Iraq today, so it's not like we're going out and looking for ways to become unilateral. The real issue is, we're the world's leading power and the world's leading target. What about those instances when try as we must -- and admittedly we could have done better in our diplomacy this time around, but let's say, try as we must, we see a situation that we think is of vital importance to us, and we cannot get the French and Germans, for example, to go along, or the united nations, who is usually, you know, relying upon the United States to be the end of the spear when we agree on activities to do together.
What about it then?
Obviously none of us will want to give anyone else a veto over United States actions, that it feels like it needs to take in its own self-interest, so the question becomes instance by instance, what is really in our self-interest and what is worth going it alone for. We've been given a lot of blame recently. I think some of it justified, a good deal of it is not, but you have to look at the other side of that equation.
Why is it that some of the European countries try every way they can to not cooperate with us?
Why were the French and Germans and Russians trying to get economic sanctions lifted from Saddam?
Why were so many leaders around the world apparently in on the food for peace scandal that we're seeing now?
So there's some blame on the other side. Why were so many countries doing deals with Saddam for oil before all this broke?
So there are two sides to it, and it all comes back to situation by situation, and our need to properly evaluate each situation as to what's in our legitimate self-interest and how far we're willing to go in protecting it.

Leon Panetta: Let me ask you about -- the President has said, the Solicitor General said in arguing before the Supreme Court, that we are a nation that is at war and admittedly we are losing men and will on the battlefield, but we are also a nation that when we are at war has demanded shared sacrifice by the American people. But we have not been asked to pay for this war and we're looking at a price tag that could run anywhere from $150 to $200 billion. Most of that's borrowed money. We have not been asked -- we have a military force that's deployed almost everywhere in the world. You're talking about a deployment of 130 to 150,000 troops in Iraq for an indefinite period of time, but we've not been asked to institute a military draft.
And we are asked not to pay attention to the pictures of caskets that return from Iraq. Can we be a nation at war and somehow pretend that that war is not real, and demand sacrifice?

Fred Thompson: well, I don't think anyone is trying to avoid recognition of the caskets that are coming home. But I agree that we have not been treating this as it is, a war. I don't think the average person feels that way. I think we could have done more to spread the burden. I think, for example, this would have been a great opportunity early on to say ok, we don't want to do it, but now we're going to have to have a tough energy policy.
The source of a lot of this is our dependency on oil from that part of the world, so we're going to have to give something, business is going to have to give something, and we're going to need a better energy policy.
So yeah, I think we could have done a lot better in terms of sharing the sacrifice. So it makes it very important that we have some fiscal policies, in order to carry on those things.
Let's take, for example, that this was a just endeavor in Iraq, which I happen to agree with. But it's going to be extremely expensive. Homeland security, we just merged 22 departments of homeland security. It's going to be extremely expensive.
We don't realize how much we're going to have to do in terms of protecting our infrastructure. Most of it's in private hands in this country, all the railroads and rail lines and highways and bridges and things of that nature, nuclear plants and things of that nature.
The cost is going to be tremendous. When a long drawn-out protracted war that our leadership has not properly explained to us yet, we've had war declared Against us back, the first time was 1996 and then 1998 again by Osama Bin Laden. Nobody paid much attention to it.
We're going to have to pay for it.
That means we're going to have to have very sound fiscal policies to keep our economy churning, and that's why George and I will launch into another debate as to what sound fiscal policy is, and the right mixture of taxes and spending. Our non-defense discretionary spending from 2001-2003 went up, what, 15%. We cannot sustain the spending side. Others say we can't sustain the tax cuts.
Whatever, we've got a big deficit, and it's going to get bigger when the retirees retire, so it all mixes together.
We've got to pay for it, it's going to be extremely expensive, but we're not doing the things on the fiscal side that are necessary to put us in the economic position, strength wise, in order to get the job done.

Leon Panetta: I'm well aware of the Ted Koppel controversy. But, don't you think we are entitled to share in the pain of those losses?

Fred Thompson: yes. But I think it's a waste of time and energy to have a big controversy over that, but the question gets into motivation and I don't know what's in Ted Koppel's mind.
I tend to be a little bit skeptical myself, but it's not enough to, you know, tear the sheets up over, in my opinion. I think we need to all recognize that what's happening there, and the full picture of what's happened, and the reason we're there, as well as the difficulties we're having while we are there.
Leon Panetta: let me ask you about Iraq. We've had a rough few weeks in Iraq.
We've had the bloodiest month that we've ever had, in April. We obviously have now these pictures of abused prisoners. That isn't going to help our situation with regards to the Arab world. In Fallujah, we are now beginning the process of turning power over to former members of Saddam's army, some of whom have been members of the Republican Guard.
We fought this war to get rid of Saddam Hussein and those who supported him and now we're returning power to his generals. What's wrong with this picture? Where did we go wrong, and what do we need to do to fix the situation?

Fred Thompson: I'm very concerned about this. There's a lot wrong with this picture. Was it napoleon who said if you say you're going to take Vienna, you'd better go ahead and do it, and we are looking weak right now.
I don't know what's going on there, what the strategy is, why they're doing what they're doing, bringing in a former Saddam general, television cameras, people applauding and so forth, and the next day I hear, well, this guy is probably not going to be the guy anyway.
The whole situation is a great challenge. You've got to make a decision between two very bad choices. It looks to me like if they take Fallujah, that it's going to play Al-Jazeera, you know, forever. And it's going to be rough and it might cause uprisings in other parts, and it might prove to be disastrous.
On the other hand, in my opinion, if they do not take Fallujah, that is guaranteed -- and bring in Saddam's old generals, that is guaranteed to prove disastrous.
A fellow who spent time down there and whose opinion I judge, I value highly, has said that the one thing we need to remember is that we must keep the Shi'ites on our side, and I just don't see how that does that. They are talking tactics as well as strategy, I guess, in terms of battle situations down there, but mistakes have been made. Sound like Nixon, don't I? I think -- it seems to me war is a succession of mistakes. Mistakes were made in the Korean war, mistakes and setbacks came about in world war ii. Certainly here, we probably went in without enough troops in retrospect, certainly now it seems like a no-brainer, although that's still debated. Some people think that running off the old Saddam military was a bad idea. As conventional wisdom, maybe that's true.
I don't know.
Underestimating the difficulty of pacifying the place clearly was a mistake, although I don't remember that many commentators and experts before the fact predicting that this was what's going to happen.
A lot of people thought we shouldn't go. A lot of people thought we were going to meet more resistance than we in fact did. We made a mistake as to the strength of the resistance to start with. It was easier than what we thought, turned out to be. But regardless, if you're carrying out this operation, it's your responsibility not to make mistakes, if they can be avoided, and that was a mistake. So we can spend a lot of time looking backward, but looking forward, I believe that over a period of several years now, we have slowly but surely developed a reputation, not as a country that's looking for a fight or looking to unilaterally invade folks for the fun of it, but if we pull out when things get tough, as we did in Somalia, as we turned around in Haiti, the port there, as we did in Lebanon, a lot of people interpret our leaving when we did in Iraq in 1991 in retrospect, as weakness. The many times we've been attacked from African embassies to the attempt in the airport in Los Angeles, the following year, to the following year of the world trade center before, and our tepid responses to all that. All of that has led us to a situation where people are expecting us to do that again and if we do that again, it's going to make for a much more dangerous situation.
That's a fear for us.
That's a theater of war there. If we got out of war tomorrow and had no involvement forever, it would be a terrible blow to us, but it would just simply change the theater to another one.
Or several more, including the possibility of a very real possibility -- and I think probability, of a theater of war in this country, many cells are here already.
Some think, you know, waiting to be activated. I do not know. So it is a problem. It is a mess.
But it is not one that I think we asked for. It is one that we're struggling to come to the right answer to, and I think pulling out of there and running and not doing what's necessary to be successful there -- and at least give those people an opportunity, ultimately they've got to be the ones to decide what kind of country they're going to have, but giving them an opportunity to live in a different kind of society now that Saddam and Uday and Husay, how soon we forget, now that they're not running things anymore.

Leon Panetta: let me ask you on the weapons of mass destruction, because we all -- when I was in the white house, we were briefed on the existence of weapons of mass destruction. I'm sure you had briefings that were very similar to that, and Bob Woodward's book, George Tenet says when the President even raises a question about it, that it's a slam dunk, that weapons of mass destruction are there. And that obviously we found out that they were all wrong. How could our intelligence, how could our intelligence be so wrong about something so important?

Fred Thompson: I agree with George. I think it's a matter of lack of adequate human intelligence and lack of adequate analysis. We let down our guard after the Cold War in many respects.
Intelligence was one of them, especially human intelligence. Our military budget, our military personnel cut back and so forth, all for some years, led up to September 11. It takes a lot sometimes to get our attention. Osama had declared war on us. We'd been attacked several times, abroad usually, weren't paying that much attention. That's the intelligence background in a nutshell.
On the weapons of mass destruction, the people who thought there were weapons of mass destruction include, besides President Clinton, our C.I.A. The business about Saddam being capable of reconstituting his nuclear program came from a national intelligence estimate. That was not made up by Dick Cheney.
All the foreign intelligence allies that we have came to the same conclusion. All of the members of the Senate select Committee on intelligence that I served on, that I know of, came to the same conclusion. Some of the President's most vigorous critics now said at that time that Saddam posed an imminent threat at that time, including myself.
We were apparently all wrong about that. The jury is still out and maybe he hasn't had them for a while, maybe they're in Syria, who knows. But the significant thing is, I believe, is that if we had left Saddam alone, he still had his infrastructure.
He still had his scientists. He still had his capability. He still had his desire.
I can't prove this, but in my opinion if we had not gone in there, there's no question, in my opinion, in a few years, Saddam would have had nuclear capability to go along with what he admitted in terms of having chemical and biological.

Leon Panetta: Senator Thompson, the U.S. did a pre-emptive strike in Iraq because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction. How difficult will it be for the U.S. to ever get support again for a pre-emptive strike against another country?

Fred Thompson: Well, I still think it depends on the circumstances that the United States is faced with and how effective we make our case about those circumstances.
I think part of our problem in this case was that so many of our European friends as well as other people around the world did not be appreciate or believe the nature of the threat, that terrorism essentially was our problem, we were the number one target, and we didn't make an effective enough case as to the nature of the situation.
I think unfortunately, the war will be seeing that play out, in other ways, as the Spanish have. I think that had more to do with their support than just their support of us in Iraq.
And Bali -- other places, of course, we've already seen. But I think there are two parts to it.
First, our allies, as I was alluding to earlier, I think we've got to make the case, we've got to have much better intelligence, and as you pointed out earlier, intelligence is never perfect. It's an imperfect science, and ours is certainly not where it should be.
There are all kinds of scenarios in the future that would present terrible quandaries for all of us. We're all focused now on this one place.
It will be resolved one way or another before long. What kind of world are we going to live in afterwards?
Are we going to have a situation where we cannot act unless we have 100% intelligence that is unassailable, which I think probably virtually never happens.
Suppose someone comes in and tells the President that they have information of something that's about to happen and particular place and location of the most severe consequences.
But the source, there's only one source, and the source of that has a spotty record, sometimes he's been wrong and sometimes he's been right.
What do you do in a situation like that?
Those are the tough decisions we're going to be required to make more than anybody because we're the number one target and we're the leading nation.
So we're going to have to work effectively and try to make our case as best we can to our allies.
On the other hand, I think that some of our allies have to have a different attitude themselves about things. I think there was certainly mixed motives and most of them not very laudable in terms of some of our European friends with regard to Iraq. I think they had self-interest, self-dealing. I think that they were more than happy to kind of stick it to the United States.
They had been chafing for a long time because of -- chafing for a long time because of everything from our turning down the Kyoto Treaty to back even before the Bush Administration. There's been talk of American arrogance and that sort of thing. So hopefully, they will see what Thomas Friedman wrote about in the "New York Times" a while back.
He said, this is a war between the forces of order and the forces of disorder, and if the forces of order do not understand this and pull together and come together and get over their petty differences, we're going to be in deep, deep trouble, because the forces of disorder are everywhere. They're organizing, and they can be tremendously destructive and a handful of people can get their hands now on the technological resources to kill thousands and thousands of people. We don't even talk about weapons of mass destruction anymore, out of the context of Saddam Hussein.
But they're still out there, they're proliferating, we're always finding new countries and rogue nations that have stuff that we didn't know that they had, so that's the kind of world that we live in, and the United States and our allies, better learn how to work together and confront this problem jointly, because as I say, it is everybody in the free world's problem.

Leon Panetta: You're both lawyers, and you're a former Judge. What are your feelings about holding American citizens and denying them basic rights in the name of fighting terrorism? I think there was a case that was argued within the last few weeks that involved holding a U.S. citizen and declaring him an enemy combatant and therefore depriving him of right to counsel, right to a hearing, et cetera. Is the executive branch justified in doing that in the name of war?

Fred Thompson: That of course begs the question, what is his constitutional rights? I think the history of warfare and our judicial system, from what I recall, weighs in on the side of the President in this case. I think that President Roosevelt, for example, exercised these prerogatives under the war making powers and the constitution given to the President.
The real question is whether or not this is a typical kind of situation. Obviously the President can't violate any citizen's rights as such, or whether or not this is a wartime situation, where the rules of the game are totally different, and if someone can be detained just like a prisoner of war, until the hostilities are over.
Incidentally, if they were tried here and sentenced, they would probably wind up serving a lot more time in confinement than under their present circumstances even though hostilities are probably going to go on a long time, they'll probably get out sooner. The situation involving the Chicago case is Mr. Padilla. His parents were, I believe, citizens of Saudi Arabia.
They were in the United States briefly and this is not relevant legally, but he was born in the United States. He'd just come back from Pakistan. The allegation is that he was planning to -- he and others, to set off a dirty bomb here in the United States.
I think the resolution to this -- the problem that I have with it is that there needs to be a procedure to cover situations where someone is captured and held in error.
Everyone ought to have the right, like I think article 5 under the Geneva Convention, ought to have the right to come before a judge and say you've got the wrong guy and I can prove it.
And I think that's where the Administration made a mistake and I think hopefully that's what they're gravitating toward. But simply showing some threshold, not as in a regular criminal case where you have to prove a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt, but at least some kind of prima facie showing that ok, we got him, here is where we got him, here were the circumstances and we got a right to keep him, and at least press that threshold.
I'm uncomfortable with anybody, even under wartime circumstances, if they're not in an active combat situation abroad, being held indefinitely without some kind of judicial review, but I don't think it's required to have the same kind of judicial review that you have in a typical criminal proceeding.

Leon Panetta: Let me ask you, there is a lot of money obviously involved not only in the Bush campaign, but Kerry is out raising the same kind of money. We've got television ads appearing. They're beating the hell out of each other.
They're accusing each other of virtually being unpatriotic, that both have not served this country well, and I think it was John McCain who finally said, you now, the Vietnam War is over, for goodness sakes, let's move on.
If they're beating each other up this badly now, I mean, in six months, what is the impact of that in terms of the American people's attitudes towards the Presidential race?

Fred Thompson: The American people have shown boundless capability to absorb unprecedented onslaughts to their sensibilities in politics. And I guess this will be no exception.
I don't know what -- obviously, what they're doing is -- you know, the thing that bothers me most about presidential politics and the mud slinging, I'm sure before it's over with, they'll have enough -- each side will have enough money to sling about all the mud they want to, so that doesn't -- but it's that we have to wait until the presidential campaign is over before we can have some serious discussions about serious problems.
A presidential campaign is the last place in the world you're going to have a serious discussion about a serious problem. We're sitting here watching ourselves walk off a cliff, you know, in the out years, past the projections that we're all talking about now in terms of entitlements and what's going to happen when the boomers start to retire, and just as one example, there are others, but everybody is afraid to talk about it, and the common statement each year is that well, we can deal with that as soon as the election is over.
That's what elections are supposed to about. And that has to do with leadership, and it has to do with not just being a sponge and receiving what you're getting out there and your poll numbers tell you, but actually leading and I think that politicians underestimate the ability of the American people to appreciate something like that, and I think the precise answer to your question, I think most people will turn it off, will turn most all of it off, and probably until sometime after the world series and the important things are over with. And then they'll see who's standing and the election will actually depend upon things that haven't happened yet.

Leon Panetta: Let me ask you both, if there were another -- god willing it won't happen, but if there's another terrorist attack, what will be the impact between now and the election?
We saw what happened in Spain. What is the likely impact of another September 11 on the race between President Bush and john Kerry?

Fred Thompson: That's a very good question. I think there will be two competing factors if that happens, and one is the feeling that oh, my god, all this wouldn't Have happened if we'd not been so energetic abroad, obviously working to bush's detriment. The other one would be we're not going to show the people of The world that we're like the Spanish.
They're not going to decide who's going to be our President, these terrorists are not. I think you'll have those two competing things. I also think, it depends on when it happens. I think if it happened real close to the election, people would rally around the flag and that would benefit Bush. I think if it happened somewhat out from it, that that would probably work to his detriment.

Leon Panetta: what is the appropriate role of the federal government when it comes to outsourcing of jobs overseas?

Fred Thompson: I think that the recent rise of protectionist sentiments are very detrimental potentially to our economy. I agree with Senator Mitchell 100% on what he said about free trade and the benefits, and it helps our people buy cheaper products. It helps other people in other nations who aspire to be economically successful, to lift their standard of living. And we gain in the process. Nations that trade openly are by and large successful nations.
Nations that do not, by and large are not successful. That's the whole thing for me. I do think that it would be a mistake to impose environmental and labor standards on these fledgling, some younger countries or small countries or poverty stricken countries, because I think the best thing we could do as a condition for free trade with us, the best thing we can do to alleviate those kinds of problems is to have free trade, and it's only helping lift them out of poverty that free trade will bring about that they will improve their environmental conditions, for example, not because of any mandates we lay on them.

Leon Panetta: President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney testified before the 9/11 commission with no press coverage. Should the public know what was said and why?

Fred Thompson: I think that there's something to be said for a certain amount of informality in a situation like this. They're trying for -- in a way, I would like to have had a transcript of it, but I think the main thing is to impart information, and if they're really interested in information, on having a frank back and forth and give and take as they did with the President and Vice President as they did with President Clinton and Vice President Gore, I think this forum and this format with regard to this commission, which I think is a bipartisan commission and nobody is going to get away with anything of any substance, I think, is a decent format to do that in. And I incidentally think that from all the turmoil that they've had from time to time and controversies that the commission has had, that a couple of important things are going to come out of it.
One is that the American people now know what those of us who have been in the Senate, especially those of us who have been on intelligence Committees, and the American people, if they have been paying attention, should have already known, and that is that we have a great deficiency in terms of our intelligence capabilities and what that leads to, and I think President Bush has now said that we need reform, we need to do some things differently. He has somewhat of an excuse, I think, in a way seven months, how much can you do it, takes longer and longer to get a team together, each succeeding President it takes longer and so forth.
Up to a point. But it became obvious some time ago that we had great deficiencies there and it had to be done. I think he's making that statement now, one that's long overdue, quite frankly, and I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that now everybody has seen how bad the situation is and what the consequences are. The other thing that's coming out of the 9/11 Commission is the consensus, it seems like by the Commission, that sometimes, sometimes pre-emptive action is something you have to do. We can debate over when and where and so forth, but the President is taking a lot of criticism, by the majority of the Commission, it seems, for not having done more before September 11 in terms of -- it could only be described as, pre-emptive terms.

Leon Panetta: Let me ask Fred: how did a person who was a counsel become a movie actor? And then become District Attorney on "law and order"?

Fred Thompson: First of all, I appreciate the compliment. I once pointed out, I said I just happened into this thing, I never took an acting lesson.
They said we know, we saw it. We've seen your work. No, it's like most things that have happened of any importance in my life, total serendipity. I was practicing law, they made a movie about a case I had and I played myself in the movie, so it was a terrible mistake that they made, letting me in on the inside there, because I wouldn't turn them loose, so I did 18 features and then for the Senate, and I often say that with all of the political activity in Hollywood, that I had to leave the Senate and go back into show business to get my points heard again.



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Fred Thompson

Fred Thompson
Former U.S. Senator (R-TN)