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The Late Show with David Letterman
Monday, September 17, 2001
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 )
How are you, Dan?
Well, it’s not our best time, David.
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?
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.
No, he looked the camera straight in the eye, unblinking, and
said, "Osama, dead or alive."
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.
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.
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
got a weekend. Let’s go. Let’s do it Saturday.
we… Is that a mistake to be too e… can you make a mistake
by being too eager?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
How long were you in Afghanistan?
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
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
Bush is the President, he makes the decisions, and, you know,
as just one American, wherever he wants me to line up, just tell
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
But what does that mean?
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?
Dave: Or will this produce lasting and satisfying results?
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.
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.
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.
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.
it do anything, and do we have the determination to make sure
it does something? I guess that’s what you’re talking about.
I think the people of the United States do.
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?
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.
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.
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
they say, well, it was great during World War II, yeah, but this
is a new generation, and they’re all spoiled.
It better change, it better change.
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 )
Okay, I’ll tell you what…
Well, I can finish it.
No, no, no, Dan. Take care of yourself.
We’ll be right back here with Dan rather.
[Back From Commerical]
( Band playing )
( applause )
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?
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.
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…
Well, what the hell are they up to, then?
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
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.
But why? Why? Why?
They don’t get cable? What’s the problem?
They don’t get cable. Who can explain madmen, and who can explain
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…
And that really is it? That’s why we have 5,000 people dead in
We have 5,000…
Envy. It’s just envy, jealousy, bitterness?
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.
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
Yeah. I mean, I’m listening to what you’re saying, but do you
know anybody alive today who is capable of that?
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?
I don’t have the answer to that question. I come back to, some
evil is just… It can’t be explained.
Are these people happy? Are they joyous now?
Are they celebrating?
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.
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
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.
think about the CIA, you know, they can’t even find the drinking
mean, have we made mistakes that we should not have made?
Absolutely. And you’ve touched on some.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
a new… It’s a new place now, and we’re headed to a new place,
"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
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…
that way. David, you’ve been terrific to have me tonight. I’m
so sorry for this.
Dave: It’s fine.
The hour grows late.
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 )
Thank you very much.
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?"
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.
Well, two points.
Did that make any sense to you, Dan?
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.
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.
when you mentioned Vice President Cheney, and, you know, President
Bush has around him some very experienced people: Donald Rumsfeld,
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.
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.
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.
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?
I have no way of…
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."
"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.
And with that in mind, can you give us an estimate… An estimation
of when we might see something?
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?
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.
Is that right?
I think we will see something soon, but again, it isn’t going
to be one strike and that’s it, well okay.
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
All right. Listen, Dan, thank you very much.
Thank you, David.
I know you have to get back to running CBS News.
been a pleasure to have you here. God bless you. Keep up the good
work. Dan Rather.