Gordon Mitchell Interview with Ann Devlin

Night Talk (PCNC/WPXI-TV)

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

October 11, 2004, 9:00 p.m.

Approximate transcript from audio recording


Ann Devlin (AN): Reports today are that Bush is way ahead at 51%, Kerry at 45%, Nader at 1%. Reuters reporting that challenger John Kerry has expanded a slight lead over President Bush to three points, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released today. Their earlier poll showed Bush with a six-point lead. That is from today's Washington Post. We are going to talk about the whole thing tonight. We're going to talk about foreign policy. We're going to talk about Iraq specifically. We're going to talk about the debate last Friday night. We'll talk about the debate coming up this week. And we're going to talk about some key provisions of the debate itself, the broader debate that has come up in this election, about what should be the role of the United States around the world. Welcome back Dr. Gordon Mitchell of the University of Pittsburgh. He's an Associate Professor of Communication and Director of Debate. He came and gave us some of the instant analysis after the first debate. But he also has some other appointments within the university that factor in here in our conversation this evening. He is a faculty associate with the Ridgway Center for International Security Studies and he is also chair of a Working Group on Preemptive and Preventive Military Intervention, and author of a book called Strategic Deception, which was about what?


Gordon Mitchell (GM): That was about the United States' ballistic missile defense program. It looked at the scientific data showing the feasibility of Reagan's Star Wars system, the Patriot missile defense system, and the Theater High Altitude Area Defense system. It was basically an analysis of how public statements about whether these systems could work did not match up with the scientific data.


AN: Well isn't this your time, then? There is so much going on in this war. For example, we saw Rumsfeld talking about a pullout and he told troops to expect an attack before the election during his visit to a town meeting over there this weekend. Today we see positive notes about some of the weapons being handed over in Iraq in the piece you just saw from Jim Maceda. That coming on the heels of Afghanistan holding free elections over the weekend. Give us the scorecard, if you will, for the administration, on the freedom-fighting front.


GM: This is a pivotal election because for generations the strategic doctrine of this country has been that we don't go to war unless we are being attacked. So we only engage in wars of self-defense. There's a caveat there, a loophole, in Article 51 of the UN Charter, that is called "anticipatory self-defense." That says it's okay to go to war if you can show that your enemy is an imminent threat to you. What we're seeing this election campaign is that that standard, that caveat, which is a small loophole in Article 51 of the UN Charter, is being obliterated. It's being replaced by something, but we're not quite sure what it is. It is a more permissive standard on the use of force. Some people call it preventive war, some people call it adapted or expanded preemptive war. The two candidates are wrestling with the challenge of trying to explain exactly what are their proposed criteria for going to war. In this last presidential debate, I thought two comments were particularly revealing on that point. One was President Bush's response to the Duelfer report, which was the Iraq Survey Group's conclusions regarding their search for so-called "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. Charles Duelfer came back and said there were no weapons of mass destruction. Kerry asked Bush why did you go to war when there were no weapons of mass destruction. His response was very revealing. He said the Duelfer report validated the decision to go to war because it showed that Saddam Hussein had the intention to build nuclear weapons. Regardless of whether the administration deceived the American public, if you simply take the president at his word and use his response to try and figure out exactly what he is proposing in terms of a doctrine, this answer suggests that a second Bush administration could go to war against any country that it can demonstrate has the intention of building nuclear weapons. Not that it has the weapons. Not that it has precursors to weapons. But that it might try, at some future time, to get weapons.


AD: So that raises a host of questions about North Korea, about countries that already have nuclear weapons and who we might not be on the best terms with, and possibly going to battle with them, to put it very simply. We'll pick up right there in just a moment. Thanks so much for joining us. Your calls are also welcome. We'll talk about the debate too and get your thoughts on who won, who lost, where these polls are, and where your candidate is. Join in the conversation. This is Night Talk.


[commercial break]


AD: Dr. Gordon Mitchell is our guest. He's from the University of Pittsburgh. He is an expert in debate; he's also an expert in foreign policy. He is here this evening and we are kind of taking it all on. Not just the situation in Iraq, but the presidential debates as well, how they are affecting the campaigns, and how much words matter and how some of these words have actually positioned the United States in a way that it has never been positioned before in the world. Again, thank you so much for taking the time to join us. Please call in with your questions if you have some thoughts about the situation in Iraq, about the campaigns, about the debates, your candidates, whatever you would like to talk about, we'll take your calls. So we've talked about Bush. Now let's go to John Kerry. What about John Kerry's footing, in terms of a worldview about who we take on and when we take them on. How is it different from Bush's?


GM: Let's focus in on what we just heard in the last presidential debate. The clear line of argument coming through from John Kerry is that invading Iraq was a big mistake. One of the arguments he uses to bolster that point is that he says it distracted us from North Korea and Iran. When he gets to developing his policy positions more on North Korea and Iran, he sketches a quite hawkish perspective, saying things like we're going to "get tough" with Iran, that he will "not allow" Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. But what does that mean? Does that mean that if IAEA inspections fail, he will invade? Does it mean that he will allow Israel to attack the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran if IAEA inspections fail? So it's a difficult issue to sort out. When you ask what are the criteria for going to war in a Kerry administration, his strategy of criticizing Iraq and then talking very tough on North Korea and Iran, but not adding very much by way of specifics, makes it difficult to see whether he is going to revise the traditional commitment by the United States to only go to war when there is an imminent threat. If he is going to revise it, he hasn't said much in terms of what the new criteria will be.


AD: Some of the columnists writing over the weekend were asking the question, one, who signed off on this, and two, that the lens of history might show that Bush already won if he wanted to reposition the United States in this way. Win or lose in this election, he's won in the sense that he has shifted the bearing of this country.


GM: Let me put an international twist on that. He has definitely shifted the world stance on this. For example, we recently heard President Putin of Russia pretty much copy the so-called "Bush preemption doctrine," saying that after the Beslan massacre, he reserves the right to strike first against countries that harbor terrorists anywhere in the world. That is an amazing overturn of this principle that countries only go to war in self-defense when they face an imminent threat. Similarly in Israel, we see a lot of the same rationales for striking first that the Bush administration has propounded being copied in strategy statements by Israeli officials. In the rest of the world, the Bush doctrine is having a major effect by providing a rationale for other states to be more liberal in the criteria they use when deciding whether to use force.


AD: I think people are saying well, if the bearing is changed, where are we going to get the troops from, if they are going to open up so many fronts for warfare, if there is going to be this progression of military actions around the world. Of course on the Internet for some time there has been this question of the draft coming back. The candidates are saying no, and the president in particular saying forcefully, no, there will not be a draft. What do you make of that?


GM: Let's go back to the debate because there are new elements to study in what we saw on Friday. About 30 minutes in there was a question by an audience member, I believe by a gentleman named Dan Farley. He said he wanted to know what the candidates will be doing to avoid a draft. It was a very tricky question. He didn't ask whether we were going to have a draft. He wanted to know what the candidates planned to do to make it unnecessary for us to have to have a draft. Bush answered for about a minute and a half saying that we're not going to have a draft, period. We're not going to have one. Near the end, he said the strategy that he has for making it unnecessary to have a draft is technological transformation of the military, to rely on things like unmanned aerial vehicles that can project force without using soldiers. Kerry had a similar reply. He was not as strong ruling it out, but he said he doesn't support a draft, and that we won't need one because under his administration, we'll have allies who will burden share so we won't need to use as many soldiers. It's a very important debate that is being laid out in response to this question, not necessarily will there or won't there be a draft, but what will the candidates be doing to ensure that a draft is not necessary.


AD: Why was that question tricky?


GM: It was tricky because it wasn't the standard "are we going to have a draft?" question. It asked rather about strategies to meet the manpower requirements of the U.S. military, given the very ambitious doctrines that both candidates are defending. There's a gap between this talking tough rhetoric, this almost unlimited war criteria being propounded by both sides, and that fact that both candidates insist that they will not turn to the draft.


AD: Let's go to the phones. Mike, thanks so much for standing by. Go ahead please.


CALLER: Yes you were talking about the so-called "rumors" on the Internet about the draft?


AD: Yes.


CALLER: Do either of you understand where these are coming from?


AD: Go ahead.

I believe two Democratic congressmen, one of them being Mr. Rangel, proposed this, because his issue was that poor people, you know the military people fighting this war, are not the rich men's kids, so therefore there should be a draft to ensure that everyone participates. But somehow this is being twisted around so that two of these candidates are proposing it, which I don't think they are.


GM: There was just an op-ed by Rangel that explains what he was thinking and why he was trying to do this. He actually wanted to have hearings about Dan Farley's question. He wanted to have hearings to discuss U.S. manpower needs in light of evolving U.S. strategic doctrine. He was foiled in that attempt because his resolution on the draft was brought up for a vote so quickly by the Republicans that there were no hearings. So this discussion that he was trying to stimulate never got off the ground. He wanted more public debate, more exposure of this gap between military doctrine and manpower requirements. That is basically the elephant in the room that popped up for a moment in last Friday's debate. The candidates really don't want to touch it because their solutions, technological transformation of the military and allied burden sharing, are frankly underwhelming, especially given Kerry's 40,000 troops to the army. Where are they going to come from? He hasn't really specified.


AD: Why hasn't anybody pushed him on that? That's a point of curiosity for me. But beyond that, I also want to add in here that it is a natural progression of thought for people to wonder where we are headed given that we are seeing individuals in military service being more than encouraged to re-up. ABC reported that across the bases in the United States, there were threats of troops being sent back to Iraq if they didn't re-up. We're seeing individuals over there being told they can't go home, even when their tour is up. And we've seen National Guardsmen, who thought they were in the business of rescuing flood victims, being sent over to Iraq and being utilized as full-fledged soldiers. So it's a natural progression of public thought for everyone to look around and say hey wait a minute, do we have a de facto draft now? And if that is in essence what we do have, if we continue on with this kind of policy, and we don't see that there's an end in sight to it, and that's Iraq alone, now there's talk about problems in Iran, what could this possibly lead to? A lot of people's suspicions have been voiced that a draft would be on the way, sometime in the next few years.


GM: One of the new developments in the news is that Paul Bremer has made comments that he was requesting additional troops to try and stabilize Iraq, and he wasn't granted those requests. Just in the last 24 hours, there is more information coming out about local commanders requesting troops they need in Iraq and not being able to get them, getting instead the response from up the chain of command that we simply don't have the troops to give. There is a shortfall right now in terms of the ability to implement strategic doctrine as the United States has laid it out. If you want to have an ambitious military policy, you have got to figure out how to pay for it, how to support it, how to implement it. Trying to do it on the cheap, saying we can build unmanned aerial vehicles, is not going to cut the mustard.

When we come back I want to ask you about what Rumsfeld said in reaction to what Bremer said, which was a curious little case of flip-speech as well. Back in a moment. Thanks so much for joining us. Your calls are welcome. This is Night Talk.


[commercial break]


AD: Dr. Gordon Mitchell is in the studio here, continuing the conversation. He's a debate expert at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also an expert on foreign affairs. We are talking about the language of this campaign, the language of these two candidates, and how language has changed the positioning of the United States with respect to the rest of the world. What you are saying is that the current shift in the footing is that before, we would only go to war, and everyone kind of agreed on this, was if?


GM: There was an imminent threat.


AD: So how did we end up going in to rescue Kuwait?


GM: That was defending an ally. The Bush administration was able to argue that Kuwait was an ally because of the importance of the oil supply. In that case an attack was already underway. Saddam Hussein had already crossed into Kuwait and declared war.


AD: And this doctrine of preemption, which sounds so stuffy, but essentially what the Bush administration is putting forward now is, we'll go to war when?


GM: If we take what the president said in the last debate, we reserve the option to go to war if we can prove that other leaders have an intention to develop weapons of mass destruction.


AD: Forget about that messy fact-finding business, and trying to come up with the proof, because that didn't fare so well in Iraq. It would be intention. So it would be intelligence, putting it back on the intelligence community, correct?


GM: Exactly.


AD: Here we go to the phones. Pat, thanks so much for standing by. Go ahead please.


CALLER: I'd like to know about your opinion of the United Nations, and why we should be concerned with them.


AD: You mean involved with them?


CALLER: Right.


AD: Thank you.

Why should we be involved with the United Nations at all? Ever?


AD: Why perhaps we should be consulting with them when there is a problem in the world. To add on to your question here Pat, I think you might be trying to raise the question about why we should be consulting with anyone from the United Nations if we are thinking about taking military action.


GM: There are a couple of angles on that. One gets back to the topic we were discussing before, in terms of John Kerry saying that one of the reasons why we might not need a draft is that we would hopefully enable our allies to shoulder more of the burden when we undertake our foreign policy missions. The United Nations is an important resource for pooling collective resources and taking up international challenges such that one nation does not have to go it alone and shoulder all of the burden. That's important both materially, in terms of providing firepower and military support that you need for let's say peacekeeping missions. But it's also important politically. We don't want to be seen as invading unilaterally, especially in the Middle East, as that will coalesce anti-American sentiment when we could be working with other nations multilaterally, through the UN, to make these operations more legitimate.


AD: Ed, go ahead. Thanks so much for holding.

Yes, I'd like to make a comment about the debates themselves. I think the moderators should have what I call a BS button. When the candidates do not respond to the actual question, but goes on with their programmed speech, a series of lights would flash and it would tell them either that they start answering or they are shut off.


AD: What do you think about that? Hold on the line with us here, Ed.


GM: Holding the candidates' feet to the fire. I tell you, I do feel for these moderators. The rules really constrain what they can do. You saw Charlie Gibson try to jump in and ask follow-up questions in the "extended discussion" period. There is the two-minute reply, then the minute-and-a-half comeback. Then the moderator has the option of the "extended discussion" period. But all they can do is say, "Extended discussion, begin now." They can't say, "Okay, President Bush, you've said x, y and z, let's explore it a different way."  What we saw in the debate on Friday is that when moderators start talking like that, the candidates just run over them. So yes, maybe a BS button, or some tomatoes to throw, would enable them to gain some control and help them push the discussion along.


AD: So with all the rules Ed, you still think the candidates are able to use the format to their advantage and not answer the questions but keep spewing out the campaign lines?


CALLER: Well they establish the format. And once you establish the format, you control the debate. This is not actually a debate, but an opportunity to air points of view on a national basis. It's not a debate. There hasn't been a debate on since I don't know when.


AD: The other thing is, and I would share with you, Gordon. You mentioned Charlie Gibson. That made me angry on Friday night when I saw him trying to press a point and trying to go for extended conversation, and the president just physically moved forward on him and kept talking. I don't know what strategic rule applied at that point. You are more familiar with the 35, 60, whatever pages of rules for this debate. I just have to say that as a viewer, I went, hmmmm, if everyone agreed to these rules, then why is the president pushing here, and talking over Charlie Gibson. Now who was doing wrong there? Who was breaking the rule format? Was it Charlie or the president?


GM: No one was breaking a rule because there are no parts of the rules that specify that the moderator is to say anything in that extended discussion period. The president was acting consistent with the rules. He wrote the rules. Poor Charlie probably wished he was in on those conversations when they drafted the rules. All three of the moderators that we've seen so far start off with this sheepish admission at the beginning of the debate, saying "These are not our rules. The candidates have made these rules, we are just going to enforce them."


AD: So Charlie was doing wrong then.


GM: He was. There's nothing in the format that gives the moderator the prerogative to ask follow-up questions.


[. . . commercial break]


AD: We are in conversation here with Dr. Gordon Mitchell here from the University of Pittsburgh, an expert in debate as well as foreign policy. We are going to go back to the phones here, but you wanted to make a point about aluminum tubes.


GM: If you remember, prior to the Iraq War, the big question was: Is Iraq constituting its nuclear weapons program. Exhibit A in the administration's case was that Iraq had imported aluminum tubes that were suitable for uranium enrichment, which is necessary to build a nuclear bomb. Last Sunday, we just heard National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice make an admission that was very startling. She was responding to newspaper reports that disclosed that there were major disagreements within the intelligence community about whether the aluminum tubes Iraq was importing were actually suitable for uranium enrichment. She admitted on Sunday that she knew that there was disagreement within the intelligence community, but she said that she did not know the nature of the disagreement. It turns out that the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Department of Energy were the two agencies within the official U.S. intelligence community that said these aluminum tubes were not built for uranium enrichment. They were not going to help Saddam Hussein reconstitute his nuclear weapons program. They actually conformed to specifications for Italian conventional artillery. They were not weapons grade, in terms of being able to help the nuclear program at all. The CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency disagreed, and there was a debate within the intelligence community. Condoleezza Rice said she knew there was some disagreement, but did not know exactly what the nature of that disagreement was. This is a major admission of a severe, severe shortcoming in terms of the National Security Advisor doing her job. This was a fact that she absolutely should have investigated more. She should have known more about the details of the disagreement before allowing the President of the United States to go to the rest of the world and claim with certainty that the aluminum tubes were suitable for uranium enrichment.


[. . . commercial break]


AD: Dr. Gordon Mitchell, University of Pittsburgh, debate expert, foreign policy expert is here. We'll go back to the phones in just a moment. Is it over now for foreign policy, now that the next debate is domestic? Has everyone gotten out what they want to achieve in terms of making their case to the American public? Will foreign policy and foreign decision-making now kind of slip from the voters' consciousness? And is there an advantage to either candidate if that happens?


GM: In the past week and a half or so, it has seemed like a two-on-one match up, with Kerry and world events against Bush. The Bush administration has been receiving all this bad news coming out of Iraq, and we've got administration officials such as Condoleezza Rice, saying that she knew about the aluminum tubes disagreement, Donald Rumsfeld saying he never saw strong evidence linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida. If that trend continues, even if we have a shift to domestic policy discussion in this next debate, foreign policy discussion may continue.


AD: Afghanistan a win? They had successful elections, Bush can say hey, this is what it's all about.


GM: That's an interesting case. The 10 million people registered to vote figure has been in dispute, but we may see the president starting to rely more on Afghanistan, especially because it plays into his strong theme about democracy and freedom transforming the world.


AD: Right, saying they are just further along in the process and we can get there after all. Possible?


GM: It is possible.


AD: And what if Osama bin Laden is captured sometime between now and the election?


GM: Put him in the same jail cell as Saddam Hussein and it could win the election. Who knows? Karl Rove has actually said he has a couple of surprises up his sleeve, so there's a lot of speculation on the blogs about what those surprises might be.


AD: And also, what is the speculation in the blogs about the bump on Bush's jacket?


GM: Some people are thinking that Bush wore a wire during the debate, that there was a disembodied voice telling him arguments. The evidence is that there was a rectangular bulge in the back of his jacket.


AD: Does anyone have a good telephoto shot?

There is a shot that shows there is a bulge. Was it actually a wire? I don't know. Are there aliens living in Roswell, New Mexico? Is Elvis still alive?


AD: Has anyone every done anything like that, cheating in a debate?

It is quite curious that wherever Karl Rove goes with a political campaign, there tends to be this shady intrigue that follows. For example, in 1986, when Rove was running Bill Clements' gubernatorial campaign in Texas, Clements' office was bugged. There were rumors that it was actually Rove who bugged his own office to create a distraction in the campaign. Clements ended up beating Mark White. Then of course there was the 2000 presidential debate fiasco where the Gore campaign received a video tape of apparently secret Bush debate preparations. There is speculation once again that it was Rove who sent the videotape to the Gore campaign to create the impression that the Gore campaign was somehow being flimsy with the rules.


AD: The president could have just had a bad tailor or a bad dry-cleaning job, kind of puffed out. More on that though in a moment. Thanks for joining us on Night Talk.


[commercial break]


AD: Thanks for joining us here with Dr. Gordon Mitchell from the University of Pittsburgh, an expert in debate, as well as an expert in foreign affairs and public policy. I was joking during the break and saying Gordon, how many books are you going to get out of all of this? There is so much to talk about the speech in this campaign, and the debate speech in particular. You said that you have a book in progress already at the Ridgway Center, correct?


GM: That's right. I'm joining with Bill Keller, who recently took over as Director of the Ridgway Center, to co-ordinate this Working Group on Preemptive and Preventive Military Intervention. The working group actually met this past weekend on the Pitt campus to hash out our research that will turn into a book in probably five or six months. In the interim, we are going to publish some of our early research findings in the form of policy briefs. The first one will be an analysis of the role of intelligence in preventive war decision making. Greg Thielmann, who was Director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research up until September 2002, is writing that brief. In a nutshell, he says that if you want to implement preventive war doctrine, there are inherent limitations on your ability to do it because of the intelligence community's inability to predict with certainty the intentions and capabilities of our enemies. The second brief is by Emory University's Dan Reiter. He's done a survey of all 18 preventive attacks against nuclear, biological, and chemical facilities in history. He concludes that the pinpricks, the ones that just go after facilities, don't work very well. And the regime change attacks, the ones that actually overthrow governments end up being very, very costly because post-war reconstruction ends up being very expensive.


AD: Which is where we are right now in Iraq. Let's go back to the phones Back to the phones. Gianni, go ahead.


CALLER: I'd like to expand on some of the comments made about the debates about some of the local candidates. I think it's a disservice when one of the candidates won't debate. As your one caller indicated, that's how people get information from these debates, instead of receiving it through the media where it might be churned up a little bit and the message might not come out. I think that the media, like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did, like filling out the NGO, like League of Women's Voters forms, and holding those candidates' feet to the fire when they are not getting that information. So I think that's what we need to do, to get the candidates' ideas out to the voters.


AD: I do think it is an outrageous position for a candidate so say, "I would like your vote, but I'm not going to talk with you, I'm not going to explain myself to you, and I will not engage in debate with my opponent." I think that's incredible, always have. Thanks so much for your comment. Gordon, when does that first policy brief come out? When can we look for that?

About two weeks.


AD: Before the election?


GM: Coincidentally, before the election. That's just when our work is concluding.


AD: Dr. Gordon Mitchell, thanks so much for coming in to join us. The next debate of course is on Wednesday night. We'll be back with you tomorrow night. And I should also say, on Wednesday night, Marvin Hamlisch. Thanks so much for joining us. This is Night Talk. Ten o'clock news coming up next.