The following is a transcript of a segment of NBC’s “Meet the Press” program from Sunday, March 2, 2003.
TIM RUSSERT: And we are back. With us now, former Republican senator from Tennessee, now currently starring on NBC’s “Law & Order,” Fred Thompson. Joining us from California, the co-chair of Artists United To Win Without War, actor Mike Farrell.
Senator Thompson, let me start with you. Martin Sheen, who plays President Bartlet on “West Wing,” has recorded a television commercial. Let me show it to you and our viewers and give you a chance to respond.
Announcer: You can help prevent war in Iraq. March on Washington without leaving home. Use your computer, your phone, your fax.
MR. MARTIN SHEEN: Don’t invade Iraq. Inspections work. War won’t. The virtual March on Washington will allow every American opposed to the war to stand up and be counted by calling, faxing and e-mailing the U.S. Senate and the White House.
Announcer: Please help prevent a war. Log on to MoveOn.org today.
MR. SHEEN: Join us online and thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, you’re doing an ad for Citizens United. The head of that group put out this press release. “While Martin Sheen…and other Hollywood leftists are airing television commercials attacking our President for his courageous stance against terrorism, Citizens United has teamed up with Sen. Thompson to produce and air commercials in defense of our President and the country. It’s ‘Law & Order’ vs. ‘The West Wing’ and millions of Americans need a voice to combat the left-wing propaganda they have witnessed over the last several weeks.” Is that appropriate? Is Martin Sheen a Hollywood leftist?
MR. THOMPSON: Accuse Hollywood of being left wing? Is that what you’re saying?
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah.
MR. THOMPSON: Whoever heard of such a thing? Those are not my words. The people are entitled to have their own assessment. I don’t look at it as a Thompson vs. Martin Sheen deal. I must say that it was in response in part to a lot of the ads and a lot of the conversation that I saw coming out of Hollywood. Their opinion on these issues always seems to be pretty much unanimous. And there wasn’t a lot of diversity out there. This is an area I worked on for years when I was in the United States Senate. I didn’t leave it at the door when I checked out. I’m still a concerned citizen, just as these gentlemen in Hollywood are. And I thought that not only did I want to, I felt maybe I had some kind of an obligation to weigh in and provide another part of the story.
MR. RUSSERT: Why/how is Martin Sheen wrong?
MR. THOMPSON: Well, in various ways. Number one, inspections don’t work. We had inspectors up before the Governmental Affairs Committee who were in there in 1991; say it’s virtually impossible to go around and find, you know, casket by casket these items, weapons of mass destruction, without cooperation of a person that is in control of the country. We were about to give them a clean bill of health on nuclear. We couldn’t find any nuclear evidence until we got defectors who came out and showed us where it was. And come to find out, they had a virtual Manhattan Project. This is the description that David Kay, one of the inspectors, put on it. He said Thompson, “You’re from Tennessee. You know about Oak Ridge and all. They had a virtual Manhattan Project in terms of their nuclear capability.”
If we went down the inspections path, the logical result would be that we would fan out across this country the size of California. He would continue to resist. We might find bits and pieces. Our allies once again, Russia and France and others, would continue to trade and open up those contingent oil contracts that they have with them right now, which has helped Saddam really avoid and evade the sanctions on him. They’d pick that back up again. The will that we have–as it was pointed out earlier, you know, we have the majority of the NATO countries and the majority of the European Union countries, including the ones that are coming into the European Union, are all with us. That would fade. That would dissipate. Our troops would move from the area and Saddam would throw them out again just as he did in 1998.
MR. RUSSERT: The inspectors?
MR. THOMPSON: The inspectors. And we’d be right back where we started from again. All the time, he would be enhancing his capability.
My bottom line concern is that all of these points that those on the other side make–let’s say many of them are valid points. I think there is concern about what he might do, how he might react. I think there is concern about the aftermath. You’ve got to acknowledge that. But what trumps all of that is my belief from my experience in working in this area for some years, is that it’s just a matter of a fairly short period of time before Saddam will have nuclear capability to go along with his biological and chemical, which he has tons of still hiding. And then when that’s the case, all bets are off.
The second part is that we are in danger of our international institutions of becoming irrelevant. If after 17 resolutions and trying for a dozen years we say we didn’t really mean it and back off, all these other nations–people talk about North Korea; there are going to be others coming in succession. The forces of order in this world, as Tom Friedman would call them, are going to have to get together and find a way to work together to prevent these futures. If we back off now, the forces of disorder will conclude we do not have the will anymore to address and confront this situation and it will continue to proliferate.
MR. RUSSERT: Mike Farrell, let me bring into our conversation, and out of equal time to Martin Sheen, provide you with a viewing of Senator Fred Thompson’s commercial. Let’s watch:
(Videotape, “Citizens United” Ad):
MR. THOMPSON: With all the criticism of our president’s policy on Iraq lately, Americans might ask what should we do with the inevitable prospect of nuclear weapons in the hands of a murderous and aggressive enemy? Can we afford to appease Saddam, kick the can down the road? Thank goodness we have a president with the courage to protect our country. And when people ask what has Saddam done to us, I ask what had the 9/11 hijackers done to us before 9/11?
MR. RUSSERT: Mike Farrell, what’s wrong with that commercial?
MR. MIKE FARRELL: Well, other than the–Fred disavowed the name-calling and then used it. You know, this whole business of leftists and appeasers is really an insult to patriotic Americans who believe that this administration is on the wrong path and choose to say so. The idea that we’re tying Saddam Hussein to 9/11 by inference is another of the propaganda ploys, if you will, that are being used by the administration. There is no connection, there’s been no demonstrated connection. It is clear that there is no connection between Iraq and Saddam Hussein and 9/11. The 9/11 attacks were carried out by al-Qaida. We understand that. Everybody understands that. And that is the threat that should be being pursued by this administration, which has chosen instead to propose a $97 billion expense to mount a war against Iraq and mount a $13 billion expense against the war on terrorism. It seems to me that the priorities are misplaced and one ought to actually find out why.
Fred also indicates here that Saddam Hussein has nuclear weapons, which, of course, Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA, has said is simply not the case. The inspections have worked in the past. The early inspections, the UNSCOM inspections destroyed, as we now know, over 90 to 95 percent of the weapons that Saddam Hussein had at the time. The new inspections have a toughened mandate, and as well, they have more technologically sensitive equipment. They have U-2 overflights. We have, hopefully, the addition of U.S. intelligence, provided not only by spy satellites, but other sources. We have the country surrounded by hundreds of thousands of troops. We have the ability to destroy it, should we choose to do so. But why not let these inspectors, who are doing a very fine job, continue to do their job, and if we need more, have more inspectors there? We can do this job without wasting the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians, without endangering the lives of our troops, and it seems to me we can do it far cheaper than we can by invading and occupying a country that has done us no harm.
MR. RUSSERT: But follow along with Senator Thompson’s scenario–that, in fact, we cannot keep 200,000 troops in the region forever. It’s very costly and very destructive of morale to them, that the…
MR. FARRELL: Well, my…
MR. RUSSERT: Let me just finish. The trading partners will continue to…
MR. FARRELL: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: …engage in trade with Saddam, and eventually, the will within the United Nations will dissipate, as it had in the late ’90s. Saddam will then say, “No more inspections, I’m tired of this.” And the testimony of David Kay that but for the defector in the mid-’90s, Saddam today would have 20 nuclear weapons. How do we deal with that and how do we insist that the inspections are still going? We lost Mr. Farrell? All right.
MR. FARRELL: I don’t know.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Farrell, how can you say inspections…
MR. FARRELL: Yes?
MR. RUSSERT: How can you say inspections are working when here we are 12 years after the Persian Gulf War, VX, anthrax, mustard still unaccounted for and inspectors have not been in Iraq for the last four years? We don’t know what the state of a potential nuclear program is.
MR. FARRELL: Well, in fact, we do, according to Dr. ElBaradei. But let me back up here a minute. The inspectors were not thrown out by Saddam Hussein in 1998. They were pulled out by President Clinton. That was a choice that President Clinton made. The inspectors that have been put back in have been put back in under a different, more stringent and more muscular, if you will, mandate. The inspectors have more highly sensitive and highly technologically developed instruments at their disposal. The inspectors have found, with the cooperation, let me just add, of Saddam Hussein, these al-Samoud missiles, which technically violate the U.N.-imposed standards and, therefore, are being destroyed.
What is happening is, whether we like to admit it or not, there is a degree of cooperation from Saddam Hussein, but because of the sophistication and capability of the inspections team, cooperation is not necessary. What is necessary is to keep the inspections teams in the country, expand them to the degree necessary, and continue their operations so that we can strip this man of all weapons of mass destruction, and otherwise, that are unacceptable to the international community. To insist that what we need to do is invade this country, killing, as the government has now admitted, thousands of Iraqi civilians, endangering the lives of our troops, expending horrendous amounts of money and, if former Senator–forgive me–Thompson is concerned about the 200,000 troops now on the ground around Iraq, let me suggest that General Shinseki says it’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of troops in the country to maintain the occupation that we will be required to uphold. And that is something that has not been budgeted for, and the American people haven’t been told about the expense of it.
None of this is necessary if we can simply–this man is incarcerated, Saddam Hussein, by the surrounding troops, the overflights, the inspectors, etc. He can do no harm to anyone. Let’s keep him that way at a cost much less than the war, and at a cost of much less bloodshed, and let’s keep him that way while we go about pursuing the real villain in this who is Osama bin Laden, who some now call Osama bin Forgotten.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Thompson?
MR. THOMPSON: Oh, my goodness, where do you start? As far as saying that Saddam doesn’t need to cooperate, that really still continually surprises. All of our inspectors say that it will never work unless he does. The U.N. resolution, which I thought we were trying to enhance and be supportive of as a country, and those on the other side were–1441 says last chance, you’ve got to prove to us that you have done what you said that you would do as a condition for our not going to Baghdad in 1991. So, of course, he is supposed to do that and he must do that. And to let Saddam Hussein off the hook because he is a little less of a tyrant than Osama bin Laden is bizarre, to say the least. The inspectors were thrown out in 1998. I wonder why they think that President Clinton chose to bomb Iraq for four days at that particular time? And, by the way, I didn’t see anybody taking to the streets at that point protesting innocent civilians.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, let me just give Mr. Farrell a chance to respond to that, because I’m almost out of time.
MR. THOMPSON: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Farrell, quick response.
MR. FARRELL: Yes. Saddam Hussein has been cooperating, according to Hans Blix. My point was that it is not necessary for him to cooperate for us to get the satisfactory results of the inspections. The al-Samoud missiles are the best example of it. As far as the possibility of his continued maintenance of V.X., or chemical or biological weapons, you know that the defector who claimed that they were there also claimed, according to Newsweek this week, that they were destroyed. There is no evidence that the man possesses weapons of mass destruction.
MR. THOMPSON: Even the French and Germans believe that he has weapons of mass destruction.
MR. FARRELL: And it seems to me that what we ought to be doing is allowing the inspectors to continue to do their jobs, to determine whether or not that is the case, and, if it is the case, as they have already demonstrated the capacity to do so…
MR. THOMPSON: Right.
MR. FARRELL: …to destroy those weapons that are a danger to anybody. In the meantime, let’s go after Osama bin Laden.
MR. RUSSERT: I’ll give you 10 seconds rebuttal.
MR. THOMPSON: Saddam has destroyed four missiles out of 100. The bulldozer didn’t work. He got off a little slow. They came back. You know, they refused to blow him up as they were instructed. And now he is at the last second. But this evidently satisfies those who object to his being deposed. If he destroys maybe one missile a year, you know, we can go on this way for a few more decades.
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. Fred Thompson, Mike Farrell, thank you very much. The debate will continue across the country. And we’ll be right back with our MEET THE PRESS Minute, Jane Fonda from 1979.