(Interview with CNN TV, Evans & Novak)
Hunt: I'm Al Hunt. Robert Novak and I will question the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Novak: He is Air Force General Richard Myers. While sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East, President Bush urged Israel to halt its military operations against Palestinians and called on Arab states to restrain Palestinian terrorists.
Earlier in the week, the Pentagon linked Iraq's Saddam Hussein to terrorism against Israel.
Rumsfeld: I am simply trying to let the people of Iraq understand what their leadership is doing, to let the people of the Middle East and the rest of the world, people in Europe, know what is in fact being done to arm young people and send them out to blow up restaurants and shopping malls and pizza parlors.
Novak: Secretary Rumsfeld also brought Iran into the U.S. war against terrorism.
Rumsfeld: There is no question but that al Qaeda have moved in and found sanctuary in Iran, and there is no question but that al Qaeda have moved into Iran and out of Iran, to the south and dispersed to some other countries.
Novak: Richard Myers joined the Air Force in 1965 as a second lieutenant through the ROTC program at Kansas State University. His experience as a command pilot included 600 combat hours in the F-4. He was commander-in-chief of the North American Aerospace Defense Command before coming to Washington as vice chairman of the joint chiefs in March 2000. President Bush made him the 15th JCS chairman last October, the first Air Force officer so named since 1982. We are interviewing General Myers at the Pentagon.
General Myers, in view of the comments by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld this past week about the support for the suicide bombers in Israel by other Arab states, can we say now that the terrorism in Israel is part of the entire global campaign by terrorists?
Myers: What we've said from the very start is that the goals on our global war on terrorism are against international terrorist organizations, those nation-states or others that support them, and against those who have weapons of mass destruction that could fall into terrorist hands. So those are the goals that have guided us from September 11 forward.
Novak: And would you say then that the Palestinian suicide bombers fall into that category?
Myers: I think what the secretary was saying is that that beautiful young lady that was the suicide bomber in Israel just recently didn't just wake up that morning and decide to go put on a bomb costume, that there had to be people supplying the finances to provide the explosives, to provide the device, the detonating device, and so forth. And that it was not just -- these aren't just things that people do capriciously, that there's probably a system of support there. I think that's what he was trying to say.
Novak: He also, Secretary Rumsfeld also indicated that the elements of the Al Qaeda have infiltrated into Iran, perhaps with the help of the government there, infiltrated out. Is the view here at the Pentagon that Al Qaeda is still a viable military force that could give us trouble elsewhere in the world?
Myers: Let me just rephrase that a little bit. I think it's fair to say that Al Qaeda is still a viable force. We know that are a very decentralized organization, very compartmented, no one person generally knows everything about every operation, very few key nodes, many nodes of operation.
So they're certainly still a viable force. We think inside Afghanistan that there are both pockets of Taliban and Al Qaeda that are a viable military force to be reckoned with.
Hunt: General, talking about Afghanistan, the U.S. hopes to train and build an Afghan national army, but most experts say that's going to take about five years before it's really successful. In the interim, who is going to provide the security, and how will we guarantee there won't be other terrorist groups in that country?
Myers: It's a very important point, and I think the first thing we need to say, as a follow-on to the other question, is that there are these pockets of Taliban and Al Qaeda that would love to create instability inside Afghanistan. They would do that by taking on any of the security forces that are in there right now, whether U.S. or coalition, and they would also go against the Afghan interim administration, trying to disrupt it, because they see that in their best interest. And that's why we'll continue our coalition efforts on the war on terrorism against Al Qaeda and Taliban.
In addition, as you know, there's a U.K.-led interim security assistance force in the Kabul area that provides security for the capital and for the interim administration right now. When Chairman Karzai of the Afghan interim administration came to Washington, and when I visited him later in Afghanistan, his number- one priority was to create an Afghan national army, because he realizes that, in the end, ultimately the Afghan people are going to have to provide for their own security.
Hunt: Well, yes, but again I want to get to the question of the interim. Former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke says we only have 10 percent of the peacekeeping force in Afghanistan that we had in Bosnia and that we're in danger, he says, of repeating 1989, of winning the war and losing the peace, if we don't increase that peacekeeping force.
Can you go along with a larger peacekeeping force?
Myers: Well, I think the issues that we're working, we have -- again, I'll go back. We have our coalition forces in there that are working the remnants of Taliban and Al Qaeda. We have the issue of ensuring that the warlords cooperate through this period as well. We have the interim security assistance force. And then we have this army. And I don't think I would agree that it's going to take us five years to train an Afghan national army -- which includes, by the way, the border patrol as well.
Hunt: General, let me tell you how it looks from far away. It looks like the Iranians are controlling much of western Afghanistan, there are some of the different elements of Islamic radicals controlling eastern Afghanistan, heroin and opium production is on the rise, and Chairman Karzai's control is limited to Kabul and the environs.
You just got back from Afghanistan. How would you disagree with that picture?
Myers: I would just characterize it slightly different. Nobody says this is going to be an easy environment or this is going to be an easy path to peace and prosperity in Afghanistan.
But I would say, due to our actions that started in October, that this is the best hope the Afghan people have for a more normal, a more prosperous life. An Afghan interim administration has been stood up because we provided the environment for which it could hopefully flourish. We have international attention on that. There are people that are dealing with the drug problem, the opium production. We know that's a serious problem.
So this an issue for the international community. I think it's being addressed appropriately across a wide range of fronts, to include nongovernmental organizations who are in there trying to provide services. They will probably either medical or schooling or whatever or relief aid.
And nobody says it's going to be an easy problem.
Novak: General Myers, Kenneth Adelman, who held some very important national security posts in the government in the past, close friend of Secretary Rumsfeld and of Vice President Cheney, has written that if the United States were to go into Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein, militarily it would be a cakewalk. And I asked Mr. Adelman about that a bit more recently, and he confirmed that's what he meant, a cakewalk.
Is that the view here at the Pentagon, that it would be a cakewalk?
Myers: Well, first, let's establish right up front that nobody has said that that's going to be a military mission, nobody has said we're going to do it, and certainly there's been no time frame set up for that.
As a military person, I think we'd have to look at that very, very carefully. When we put our young sons and daughters of this country in harm's way, I don't think you can every call that a cakewalk. And we've seen how tough it's been in Afghanistan. Tragically, we've lost some lives. And that was a country that did not have an organized military, per se. The situation is, you just can't overlay Afghanistan, that template, onto Iraq. And I would never refer to it as a cakewalk.
Novak: I understand, of course, that there has been no decision made on an operation against Iraq. But the other side of the coin, General Scowcroft, former national security adviser, says it would take 200,000 U.S. troops. Can you give us any idea, which is closer to reality, that we could need 200,000 troops there?
Myers: Well, what we know is that the situation since Desert Storm and today has changed dramatically, both for U.S. and coalition forces and for Iraqi forces.
The Iraqi armed forces are about 40 percent, in terms of numbers, of what it was in the Gulf War. And likewise, our forces, we have more precision weapons and so forth. For instance, we use 10 percent precision weapons in the Gulf War. We used slightly over 60 percent in Afghanistan. Our capabilities have grown; Iraqi capabilities have diminished over the same period of time. Sanctions being part of the reason, some of the reason their capabilities have waned.
Hunt: General, one big success we had this week is that U.S.-led security forces went into Pakistan and captured one of the top Al Qaeda operatives, Zubaydah. Will there be other U.S. missions in Pakistan to go after and capture Al Qaeda and Taliban who are hiding out there?
Myers: Let me recharacterize that. I think the mission was Pakistani-led with U.S. assistance, several agencies and some Intel agencies.
Hunt: "The New York Times" says that U.S. forces were essential, is that not right?
Myers: Well, I think everything we've done with Pakistan has been in a partnership. And I can't characterize it that way. It was not a military...
Hunt: Do you expect to see other such partnerships like that in Pakistan going after Al Qaeda and Taliban?
Myers: Absolutely, and not just in Pakistan. As we've stated many time, that this war needs to be fought with all instruments of national power, not just the military. And that was a perfect example of where civil agencies made a very big find in Zubaydah.
So sometimes it'll be military acts that will be very visible, sometimes it will be other agencies that will -- and not just in Pakistan, but around the world. That's the kind of cooperation we're going to need.
Novak: General, we're going to take a short break now.
But when we come back, we will ask General Myers about current U.S. military capability.
Novak: General Richard Myers, there has been testimony by generals and admirals before Congress that the U.S. forces, after the campaign in Afghanistan, are tired, overextended, depleted.
Do you think the U.S. forces have to take an extended rest period before being ready for a next phase of the war against terrorism if it's on a military basis?
Myers: First, let me talk about the statements that have appeared in some of the publications. I think, in several cases, they were just a little bit out of context and probably overplayed the issue of exhausted and tired and depleted, because I don't think any of our commanders think our forces are exhausted or depleted or tired.
The thing we have to realize, this is going to be a very long war, this war on terrorism. We are in maybe the first chapter of a many-chapter book. We do need to work our rhythm and our pacing to make sure that we have the forces needed to do whatever the president calls upon us to do.
But I can assure you and I can ensure the American public that we are as ready today as we were before September 11, and we'll be that way for the foreseeable future as far as I can tell.
Novak: Well, sir let me put it on a geographical basis. If continuing the mop-up operation in Afghanistan, if there was another Arab country we were in, could we do all that at the same time as perhaps dealing with the crisis in North Korea? Could we conduct a three-front war?
Myers: My belief is we could. That's well within our capabilities. If you look back at the defense strategy that was outlined in the Quadrennial Defense Review that came out last year, that was the strategy and those were the force sizing constructs that were used. And we have analyzed some of that to see how we can fulfill that strategy, and we're confident we can fulfill it.
Hunt: General, you and Secretary Rumsfeld in recent days have spoken frequently about the increasingly bad behavior of Iraq and of Iran. You were asked a question about North Korea the other day and you said basically not much has changed there.
And I guess my question is why is North Korea in the axis of evil? Was it affirmative action to say, you know, here's one non- Muslim country we're going to throw in?
Myers: I don't think that had anything to do with it. I think the reason that we worry about North Korea is, first of all, that they have developed missile technology. They have a thoroughly robust missile inventory, and they're willing to proliferate that to other states that perhaps wouldn't use this hardware responsibly. We also know that they're involved in weapons of mass destruction. So I think it's those two things that lead us to believe it's a country that we have to be concerned with.
Hunt: Well, you know, South Koreans had resumed talks with them on their weapons plans, and the North Koreans have said that they're willing to resume talks with the U.S. now. Former president Bill Clinton said that it would be a big mistake not to resume talks with the North Koreans.
From a military point of view, as the top military office in the United States, could you go along with resuming talks to North Koreans right now?
Myers: Well, I'd have to see if there's any quid pro quo here that's being requested. But clearly, the way to resolve the problem on the Korean peninsula is through diplomacy. And if talks can lead to that, and confidence building measures and so forth, then I think that's in everybody's best interest. The last thing we want to do is have a new Korean War on the peninsula.
Novak: General, it's been widely reported that we, the United States, has a lot of the available hardware into Afghanistan and the very special operation there. Is the need to replace those weapons; is that a real problem for the United States at this point?
Myers: It's not a problem, but it is a priority. And in both our -- the year '02 supplemental that's in front of the Congress right now, in the fiscal year '03 budget that's in front of the Congress, both of them have substantial resources to ensure our inventories are adequate. And so we're dealing with that.
Novak: So it's not a problem? You don't consider that a big problem?
Myers: I do not consider it a problem.
Novak: OK. The president, President Bush during his campaign for president, many times stated that the U.S. military was hollowed out under the Clinton administration. In the less than eight months between the time that the president took office and the terrorist attacks of September 11, had it been rebuilt sufficiently so that we had these successes, or perhaps was not in as bad of shape as was indicated during the campaign?
Myers: Well, I think you saw in the '03 budget that went in front of the Congress, there was a nearly $50 billion increase in the Defense Department's budget.
Myers: And what it funded was some health care that had been authorized by our Congress but hadn't been funded yet, pay raises and a lot of the readiness accounts, where we needed to get out of this pathology, as we called it, poised reliant on the supplemental appropriation to make up for readiness accounts, deficits in the fiscal budget that we would submit in February.
So we did all that, and there were some accounts that needed to be plussed up. And we still have some issues with modernization. We've got tactical aircraft that are aging. We've got tanks that are aging. And so, you know, I think that a lot of that has been worked in the fiscal year '03 budget.
But our readiness and we've always stated that our readiness for first-to-fight units has always been very, very high, and that's been true for many years now.
Hunt: General, going back to Middle East, given the incredible animosity between Arafat and Sharon, a number of experts think that if the Tenet plan were to be adopted and if there were to be a cease- fire, it only could be guaranteed with the presence of U.S. military forces in the West Bank.
Would you go along with that, if necessary?
Myers: It's a little bit more complex problem, I think, than just putting forces on the ground. We'd have to first of all, there's not been any requests that I know of or any proposal on the table that we've evaluated. So I can't give you a very good answer for that specifically.
But one of the things you have to consider when you talk about either peacekeeping or peacemaking is what will the mission be? Is it going to be a peacekeeping mission? Is it going to be a peacemaking mission? What are the rules of engagement you abide by? What are the command and control arrangements? What do both parties expect out of this? Duration? Lots of questions that we haven't even started to discuss.
So I think it's probably premature to say whether or not it'd be a good idea or not. It just hasn't come up as an idea yet.
Hunt: General, we're going to take another quick break now.
And when we come back, we'll have the Big Question for General Myers.
Hunt: The Big Question for General Myers: One embarrassment for the U.S. has been that, in almost seven months after 9/11, we still haven't captured Osama bin Laden. With the apprehension this week of one of his top lieutenants, have we gotten enough information to be any closer to maybe finally getting bin Laden?
Myers: Well, if you remember, if we go back to the beginning of this segment, the goal has never been to get bin Laden. Obviously, that's desirable.
Interesting, I just read a piece by some analysts that said you may not want to go after the top people in these organizations. You may have more effect by going after the middlemen, because they're harder to replace. I don't know if that's true, or not, and clearly we would like to eventually get bin Laden.
But I think the fact that we've been able to disrupt operations, get a lot of the people just under him and maybe just a little bit further down, has had some impact on their operations. We know have disrupted, you know, four, five, six, seven active operations that they had planned and probably more that we don't know about.
So we're going to keep the hunt on. Finding one person, as we've talked about before, is a very difficult prospect, but we will keep trying.
Novak: General, we have less than a minute before we take another break.
All the reports are that enlistments for the all-voluntary force have not risen, despite the obvious patriotism in the country since September 15, and they never did -- the enlistments never did rise. How can you explain that?
Myers: I don't know whether I can explain it. I do know that enlistments -- we're meeting our enlistment targets right now and our re-enlistment rates for most of the services (Unintelligible). I do know that the morale of the troops that I see in Afghanistan and the surrounding areas is very, very high.
Novak: So the enlistment rates don't bother you?
Myers: I think -- I think we're fine right now. And I just gave a presentation last night in a school where public service is what they teach. And they said their enrollment is way up because people are very much interested in public service, whether military or in the rest of government.
Novak: General Richard Myers, thank you very much. Al Hunt and I will be back with a comment after these messages.
Hunt: Bob, the general gave the official line on Afghanistan. But between the lines, I think you can sense a little bit of concern that picture there really is worrisome. Iranians in the west, heroin on the rise, Karzai really limited to Kabul. I think Holbrooke could be right. We could lose the peace after winning this victory in the war.
Novak: I was struck how firmly the general put down Ken Adelman's comments that it could be a cakewalk if the U.S. attacked Iraq. He says there's no cakewalk when you're going against a big army like that. But he also said that the Iraqi army is not what it used to be. The U.S. has a lot more weapons. He kind of indicated that General Scowcroft, talking about 200,000 troops needed was exaggerating a little.
Hunt: Well, yeah, and also in response to your question about the campaign 2000, charges about the hallowed army, I guess what we are really seeing is just incredible growth in eight months, Bob, it's a miracle, isn't it? The army is doing awful well.
Novak: We shouldn't be sarcastic, but I will say this, you know, we have all heard great speeches of Douglas MacArthur and George S. Patton Jr., and General Myers is not a MacArthur or a Patton, but he is I think a very articulate enunciator of the policy -- of the civilian policy, and I thought he was very effective.
I'm Robert Novak.
Hunt: And I'm Al Hunt.
Novak: Coming up at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on CAPITAL GANG, we'll debate Secretary Powell's diplomacy deployment in the Middle East, and what it means to the Bush administration's foreign policy strategy.
Hunt: That's all for now, thanks for watching