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The Late Show with David Letterman
Monday, September 17, 2001

 

Dave: All right, good. Our first guest, of course, is the anchor of the "CBS Evening News." Here he is, Dan Rather. Dan, come on out.

( cheers and applause )
( band playing )

Dave: How are you, Dan?

Dan: Well, it's not our best time, David.

Dave: No. What... Do we know anything new? Anything that I'm not aware of? Anything that you have heard in the last eight, ten, 12 hours that we should discuss?

Dan: Well, some very interesting things happened this afternoon. President Bush made what I think is his strongest statement yet when he went to the Pentagon this afternoon. He was Giuliani-esque. I don't think he would mind my saying that.

Dave: No.

( Applause )

Dan: No, he looked the camera straight in the eye, unblinking, and said, "Osama, dead or alive."

( Applause )

And he also underscored, David... Which I think is very important to understand two things, and the President made this extremely clear. One, this is for the long haul. Wars are won by, in no particular order, firepower, willpower, and staying power.

And what President Bush was talking about today-- I don't think he could have made it any clearer-- is we have the firepower, we've mustered the willpower, and unlike the Gulf War, we will have the staying power. That's the message you got out of that.

( Applause )

Dave: How do you answer the question of why didn't it happen already? Why hasn't there been some kind of a kind of a strike now? Everybody was hoping... Maybe not everybody, maybe I'm speaking for myself, thinking perhaps, you know, Saturday, let's do it Saturday. Why not Saturday?

We've got a weekend. Let's go. Let's do it Saturday.

Are we... Is that a mistake to be too e... can you make a mistake by being too eager?

Dan: Well, David, I think we've talked about this before. As a one-time private in the U.S. Marine corps, with perhaps the least distinguished record in the whole history of the corps, I never know what to say about strategy. I don't mean to make light of it. I don't know the answer to that. I think the answer is, one, when we strike the President wants to make sure it's an effective strike, and with what we're dealing with here, which is not one man, it's a hydra-headed operation that's in 55 countries around the world.

Now, granted, the focus is on, and we should understand, not just Afghanistan-- Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Now, the first strike has to be a very effective strike, and I think the answer to your question is, one, we want to make sure that the first strike actually accomplishes something.

And then secondly, Colin Powell... Who is not to be underestimated in this, because Colin Powell is from that school of military thought that says you don't move until you first have your defensive order of battle in place.

That is, let's get our stuff in this country all squared away, and then you don't move until you've got your offensive order of battle into a position where you can move with overwhelming force.

There are other schools of thought: guerrilla warfare, flanking operations. That's not Colin Powell. Colin Powell is, let's don't make the mistake we made in Vietnam. If we're going to go, let's really go with force. So I think that's the answer why we haven't struck.

Now, it's certainly true that even in Afghanistan, which is a terribly impoverished nation, and it's... You know, it's people, they most of them are as fearful of the Taliban as you are. But in Afghanistan...

Dave: How long were you in Afghanistan?

Dan: Well, I was there in the 1980s a couple of times, and we walked in and walked out-once for, I think, 18 days. I'm not an expert on Afghanistan, but no one should be mistaken, to put even a small number of ground troops in Afghanistan is extremely, extremely dangerous. But they could have... Yeah, they could have Tuesday night. They could have knocked out... They could have turned out the lights all over Afghanistan. They could have turned off all communication.

Why they didn't do that, we'll have to see later. But I couldn't feel stronger, David, that this is a time for us... And I'm not preaching about it.

George Bush is the President, he makes the decisions, and, you know, as just one American, wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.

Dave: Yeah.

Dan: And he'll make the call. I do think we'll see something reasonably strong soon, and strong because President Bush and those around him know that America seethes, and there are an awful lot of people asking the question you did. What are we waiting on? Let's get them.

Dave: You mention the multi-headed, multi-armed whatever in 55 countries, you said. How many people does that represent? How many people make up our enemy now? What are we talking about? Thousands?

Dan: No one knows. No one knows. They specialize in so-called "sleeper agents." Come into a country, or are perhaps reared in a country, and the whole idea is just to seem like everybody else, maybe be there for a year or two or longer until you get the call, or until you move on your own. This is, as president bush has described it, the first war of the 21st century.

It's a twilight war. It's a war to be fought in the shadows. And secretary of defense Don Rumsfeld has been underscoring that we Americans raised on, you know, movies of World War II and the television of the Vietnam era, and the great triumph that was the Gulf War-- although we didn't have the staying power to finish and get rid of Saddam Hussein-- this is different.

This is not kind of war we've ever fought before, and we need to think of it that way, because this is in the shadows.

Dave: But what does that mean?

And I'll tell you, I think I speak for other people when I say the Gulf War, you describe it as a great triumph, but then you qualify it, and I think that's why people are skeptical.

Can we expect another Gulf War, where, you know, a day or two later, everything over there is fine and back to normal?

Dan: No.

Dave: Or will this produce lasting and satisfying results?

Dan: I don't know the answer to the last question, but it will be different in this regard. This will be long. The casualties will be greater.

Let's face it, we've already had more casualties-- I mean, 5,000 of our fellow Americans have been killed already. When we talk about casualties, we've suffered casualties, but there will be more when we send our sons and daughters into this kind of war, into this twilight zone that they're going. There will be great casualties.

Now, it remains to be seen whether we have the staying power. That's basically up to you and me and everybody in the audience and every American, whether we have the staying power. Whether we have the will to stay with it is the big question.

But you say, you know, will it do anything? I certainly think it can, but what will we think of ourselves if we didn't try?

Dave: Well, that's the point.

Will it do anything, and do we have the determination to make sure it does something? I guess that's what you're talking about.

Dan: I think the people of the United States do.

Dave: You're saying the commitment, because everybody second-guessed the commitment in the Gulf War, and then we went back again and had another little mop-up operation, but nothing really substantively has changed there, has it?

Dan: No. But look, no. There's no question we made a big mistake, as a people, as a nation, as a society. We now know it.

Dave: Right.

Dan: Another few hours, and Saddam Hussein might very well have gone to Yemen or the Sudan. But the decision was made to stop it. We all know now it was made to stop it too soon.

But that's in the past. This is going to be much longer. This will take years. This may very well take another four, eight, ten years. And Americans are noted the world around for having great courage, having a great military, but the world's view of us in many places, with many people, is we just don't have the stomach to stick anything out.

And they say, well, it was great during World War II, yeah, but this is a new generation, and they're all spoiled.

Dave: It better change, it better change.

Dan: So we're now going to... We're now being put to the test. But I'll tell you this, if they could go down to ground zero here in lower Manhattan-and you referred to it earlier-and see the following, see those fireman...

( Gets choked up )

Dave: Okay, I'll tell you what...

Dan: Well, I can finish it.

Dave: No, no, no, Dan. Take care of yourself.
We'll be right back here with Dan rather.

( Applause )

[Back From Commerical]
( Band playing )
( applause )

Dave: Dan Rather is here. I was talking earlier. These are questions from a dumb guy, so help me out. Zealots motivated by religious fervor-- am I accurate to think that, and is it impossible to reconcile, but is that what we're dealing with?

And if so, what are the events, really, that have pissed this guy off? What did we do here?

Dan: Well, first of all, David, I want to apologize. You know, I'm a pro, and i get paid not to let it show, and I'm sorry about that.

Now, in answer to your question, again, this is so important to understand. No, I don't think it's about religious fervor, because this has nothing to do with Islam. This is not Islam. Osama Bin Laden...

Dave: Well, what the hell are they up to, then?

Dan: Well, they hate America. They hate us. It isn't... This is one thing that makes this war different. They don't want territory. They don't want what we got. They want to kill us and destroy us.

You know, it's a heavy statement, but it's true. They seek to accomplish our death-- death as a people, as a society, and a culture.

Dave: But why? Why? Why?

Dan: Well...

Dave: They don't get cable? What's the problem?

( Laughter )

Dan: They don't get cable. Who can explain madmen, and who can explain evil?
They... They see themselves as the world's losers. They would never admit that.
They see us, and we have everything, we win everything; this is their view of things.

They see themselves as, "we should be a great people, but we're not," and it drives them batty. That's the only explanation...

Dave: And that really is it? That's why we have 5,000 people dead in this city?

Dan: We have 5,000...

Dave: Envy. It's just envy, jealousy, bitterness?

Dan: Deep, abiding hate, which it's very difficult for anyone in western civilization, much less our United States of America, to understand this kind of hate.

You have to see it firsthand. You have to have been among it to understand. There's no rationality to it, by our standards. There's no trying to explain it. But I keep coming back to the point, David, it's a mistake to believe this has anything to do with the Islamic religion.

These are crazy people. They are haters. They hate us for who and what we are. They don't want anything except to see us dead and see us destroyed.

Dave: Yeah. I mean, I'm listening to what you're saying, but do you know anybody alive today who is capable of that?

I mean, it's so aberrant and so far outfield of what we regard as a human experience, how can it exist at a level large enough to be of any consequence, for God's sake?

Dan: I don't have the answer to that question. I come back to, some evil is just... It can't be explained.

Dave: Are these people happy? Are they joyous now?

Dan: No.

Dave: Are they celebrating?

Dan: Oh, absolutely. They're celebrating. There's one report... This has not been confirmed, but there are several reports that there was a cell, one of these cells, across the Hudson River, and they got on the... This is the report-- and I emphasize I don't know this for a fact, but there's several witnesses who say this happened-- they got on the roof of the building to look across. They knew what was going to happen. They were waiting for it to happen.
And when it happened, they celebrated; they jumped for joy to see this happen. It was a great triumph.

It's inconceivable to me and to you, but, David, this is what we have to understand as a country. We're not dealing with the kind of thing we dealt with any war we've ever fought before, because we've never dealt with these kinds of hateful-to-the-core, evil people.

Dave: Have... Did this country, years ago or currently, make some kind of mistake that made us more vulnerable than we knew? Has there been any kind of... I think about the FBI, it's run like a high school volleyball team.

( Laughter )

I think about the CIA, you know, they can't even find the drinking fountain.

I mean, have we made mistakes that we should not have made?

Dan: Absolutely. And you've touched on some.

Look, we spend in excess of $25 billion a year for alleged, supposed intelligence. There's been virtually no accountability for one intelligence failure after another.

Sure, everybody has excuses why we weren't allowed to do this or that.
It's a total, abject failure in this case, and one-- you mention mayor Giuliani-- one of the things that made the Giuliani administration go is accountability.
The mayor's attitude was "I'm going to give you responsibility, but you've got accountability."

Now, the FBI and the CIA-- nobody wants to talk about this, but law enforcement people know it-- they barely talk to one another. The CIA keeps things from the
FBI; the FBI keeps things from the CIA.

No doubt they'll deny this after this is over, but everybody in law enforcement knows this, and there's kind of a "keystone kops" aspect to this which has to... Mistakes we've made.

I've mentioned before, look, we ended the gulf war probably 24 hours too soon.

Dave: Right.

Dan: We now know that Saddam Hussein, we mentioned, you know, if he isn't connected to this, he's connected to any other things. He's part of this "hate America" thing.

You have to understand that Saddam Hussein is somebody I have sat this close, eye to eye. When his feet hit the floor every morning, he dreams of leading a victorious Arab army into Jerusalem, and he sees himself as the new Saladin.

And his hate is deep for us. I don't even like to use the word "hate," but, you know, this is what we're dealing with, and we have to wake up.

It's a new... It's a new place now, and we're headed to a new place, David.
"Time" magazine had a wonderful essay this week, and said, you know, "we're going now to a new place where, you know, even the songs we sing will have a completely different meaning."

For example, you know, "America the Beautiful": Who can sing now, with the same meaning we had before, one stanza of that that goes "O beautiful, for patriots' dream, that sees beyond the years, thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed
by human tears." We can never sing that song...

( Sobs )

...Again that way. David, you've been terrific to have me tonight. I'm so sorry for this.

Dave: It's fine.

Dan: The hour grows late.

Dave: Yeah, yeah. You're fine. You're a professional, but good Christ, you're a human being, and my God, to not see this...

( Cheers and applause )

Dan: Thank you.

( Applause )

Thanks. Thank you very much.

Dave: I don't...

( Applause )

Now, the other day, Dick Cheney-- who to me seemed like the real deal-- Dick Cheney was talking about how counterintelligence and espionage is dirty business, and maybe now we were going to have to get down in the mud with these people. And I thought, "well, Holy God, wasn't that the way it was supposed to be?"

Why aren't we down there with the bad guys, you know? Why don't we? And he said, "okay, all that, the rules are different; now we are." Well, you only know what the bad guys are up to if you're pretending to be a bad guy yourself.

Dan: Well, two points.

Dave: Did that make any sense to you, Dan?

Dan: It does.

( Laughter )

Two things: Number one, when did we get our first clue that dealing with these people is a dirty business? But if we behave the way they do, then we've lost. We've lost completely.

But, look, if you're in a street fight, you know it's different than if you're in the golden gloves. In the golden gloves, you've got a referee, you've got bells sounding, things and rules. This is an alley fight. This is a street fight. It doesn't mean we have to fight completely dirty all the time, but it also means that we can't behave as choirboys.

And when you mentioned Vice President Cheney, and, you know, President Bush has around him some very experienced people: Donald Rumsfeld, Defense; Dick
Cheney, Vice President; Colin Powell, the Secretary of State. In "Time" magazine, he had a cover a few weeks ago, you know, "where are you, Colin Powell?" Well, we now see him front and center, and he's rising in influence because he has battlefield experience in Vietnam. He helped carry us to the victory we had-- which was incomplete, but nonetheless had in the Gulf War.

And you talked earlier about "well, let's do something," and when I talk to people, this is the strain that runs through everybody, is "let's do something." But there's a saying in the far east: "Revenge is best served cold," which is to say, wait your time.

Dave: Mm-hmm.

Dan: Take your time. It's also... Rudyard Kipling wrote that the law of the jungle is, "you never lose your temper." Well, we're past that. We've lost our temper, and you know what... I'm sorry it's showing so clearly here tonight, but there's a rage within all of us that has to be sort of tempered while we take care of business.

Dave: I asked you earlier if any of these people who were responsible or connected to the responsible parties might be celebrating. Are any of them nervous? Is Bin Laden, if this is the guy, is he nervous now, or are these guys just oblivious to that?

Dan: I have no way of...

Dave: Did they invite that? Do they want it? Do they want to be killed in this cause?

Dan: Some of them do, as was evident aboard these aircraft. But their basic attitude seems to be, "okay, big guy, come and get us."

Dave: Yeah.

Dan: "Come and get us." And they're looking to entrap us in some ways. That's a reason this business of waiting a bit, patience, get our stuff in order, may turn out to be very prudent.

Dave: And with that in mind, can you give us an estimate... An estimation of when we might see something?

I mean, I know there are signs of fuel being moved, reserves being called up and so forth. Is there a best guess when it might happen, something might happen?

Dan: I wouldn't give you a best guess if I had one, to tell you the truth, because I feel so strongly about this. Let them do their work. But I'm a little nervous being here, because I think a strike could come at any second.

Dave: Is that right?

Dan: I think we will see something soon, but again, it isn't going to be one strike and that's it, well okay.

But I'd be surprised if we don't see something very soon. And if the Osama Bin Ladens of the world aren't nervous, they soon will be, because we do have-- with not just our military; we have other resources-- we do have a terrible, swift sword, and it'll be striking fairly soon.

Dave: All right. Listen, Dan, thank you very much.

Dan: Thank you, David.

Dave: I know you have to get back to running CBS News.

( Applause )

It's been a pleasure to have you here. God bless you. Keep up the good work. Dan Rather.

( Applause )