FTN Transcript - April 15, 2001

face the nation logo, 2009 CBS

SCHIEFFER: Today on "Face the Nation," American heroes back on American soil. But is the incident with China over?

We'll talk this morning with one of the pilots who brought the American plane in for a safe landing.

And we'll talk about the impact of all this on U.S.-China relations with two members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Chuck Hagel.

Then we'll step back from the headlines of the moment and talk about how the new administration is doing, with former Republican Senator Warren Rudman, former secretary of defense James Schlesinger, and two former White House chiefs of staff, Leon Panetta from the Clinton administration and Hamilton Jordan of the Carter White House.

But first, an American hero on "Face the Nation."

And we start this morning with one of those heroes, Lieutenant Patrick Honeck.
Lieutenant, welcome this morning.

HONECK: Thank you.

SCHIEFFER: You know, any of us who have been on an aircraft that's gotten into a little turbulence knows just a tiny bit of what you went through on that aircraft.

Did you all think you were going to die?

HONECK: Yes, there definitely was a portion there where, right after the impact, the kind of shock of the fact that it actually happened was going through everybody's mind. And then, once the aircraft started going out of control, I think pretty much everybody on the aircraft thought they were going to die at some point.

SCHIEFFER: Did it just flip over? Is that what happened when it went into this dive?

HONECK: It began a roll to the left after the initial impact bumped us a little bit to the right. And then, as it rolled past the 90-degree point, the nose fell through, and we ended up in kind of a semi-inverted nose-low dive.

SCHIEFFER: So what happened after that? What does a crew do in a situation like that?

HONECK: Up in the front - I can't comment what everybody was doing in the back of the aircraft - but up in the cockpit area, Lieutenant Vignery and Lieutenant Osborn were fighting at the controls. We had - both the flight engineers were immediately trying to shut the engine down and do emergency procedures, and I was grabbing parachutes for as many people as could I get up into the cockpit, once we decided we're probably going to be bailing out.

SCHIEFFER: Were things flying all over the aircraft, objects and equipment?

HONECK: Surprisingly, not a whole lot of that. It got real loud and windy from the holes we had in the nose and that being gone. And, of course, there was this severe vibration from the propeller being chewed up and out of balance. But the maneuver itself, going into the dive and such, I was able to stand up through most of it to get around and get parachutes and put my own on and that kind of thing. I didn't notice a lot.

SCHIEFFER: Well, now, when they finally got the aircraft rigted, and then brought it in for a landing, was that pretty hairy? I mean, were they able to control the aircraft then, or was that a very difficult thing to do, to get it down and get it on the ground?

HONECK: Once the aircraft was controllable and we got down lower, it was definitely a couple of handfuls of airplane to control, a lot more than normal.

(LAUGHTER)

And we had some very abnormal inputs in to keep it flying straight. But once we got it all set up and we knew the landing gear were going to come down, after that it was just kind of instinctual and training that got us able to bring it in and ...

SCHIEFFER: Once you knew that you survived this, what was your feeling?

HONECK: We basically - the whole crew really got together, and we decided that, you know, we got here with everybody alive, and that's the way we were going to leave. We wanted to get back to the United States as soon as we could, obviously, with everyone together and our honor intact, and that's what we did.

SCHIEFFER: Well, Lieutenant, we always think thank our guests for joining us, but I want to thank you for not only joining us this morning, but thank you for what you all did. We're all really proud of you.

HONECK: I'd like to thank America for their support and all of our leadership from George Bush and Colin Powell, all the way down to our ambassadors and chain of command. They did an outstanding job in getting us home. We never lost the faith, and the crew was able to hang together as a team. And we're glad to be back.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, they thank you too, and I do too.

HONECK: Thank you.

SCHIEFFER: And joining us now from Wilmington, Delaware, Senator Joe Biden. Here in our studio, Senator Chuck Hagel. Both members of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator Hagel, one of the pilots is from your home state of Nebraska.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, R-NE: Yes, and I'm very proud of that, as all of America is. We're proud of that young man that we just saw as well. Lieutenant Shane Osborn is from Norfolk, Nebraska. So, another Osborn takes center stage in Nebraska.

SCHIEFFER: Has this incident caused lasting damage to U.S.-China relations, Senator?

HAGEL: Well, I think that question still is out there. It depends, in my opinion, on how the Chinese react first at the Wednesday meeting. We have other major issues to deal with. We need to get our plane back. We've got other issues that we need to talk through with them.

This can be seen as, I think, a good reality test for future relations with China. But there's no question that this is going to have a residue of impact on our future relationship. Now, whether that's irreparable or not, I think it's too early to tell.

SCHIEFFER: Senator Biden, should the Chinese pay some price here?

SEN JOE BIDEN, D-DE: Well, I think they will pay. They'valready paid a price. You're going to find it harder going for them in the United States Congress, I believe.

But, you know, this is a country in transition and a relationship in transition. We are going to go through a lot of these bumps over the next 20 years. And the only question we have to face, it seems to me, is be clear-eyed about what our interests are and act on our interests. And I think that's what the president did here in getting these troops back . I think whatever we do now, we should do it based on our interests, not in terms of punishment, not in terms of retaliation, just on what is in our interest.

GLORIA BORGER, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Senator Hagel, very quickly, what if we don't get this plane back immediately?

HAGEL: Well, I think that will further exacerbate an already complicated problem that we have, dealing with the Chinese. There's going to be tremendous pressure from the United States, from the people of this country.

The Chinese illegally held 11 of our people over 11 days. And I think the sooner we can get this plane issue behind us, the sooner we can put this relationship back on track.

And just as Senator Biden said, we are going to hit many bumps along the way, but it's in the best interest of the United States to try and find a new center of gravity here, but also a realistic center of gravity in dealing with the Chinese.

BORGER: Senator Biden, let's talk about some options that Congress will be considering and the administration is going to be considering in terms of China. First thing is that some are now talking about selling Taiwan the very sophisticated Aegis missile defense system. Do you think that should happen?

BIDEN: Gloria, we should only sell that system if we think that is needed by Taiwan and in our interests. We shouldn't sell that system to teach mainland China a lesson.

And the thing that bothers me about the kind of discussion I'm hearing privately with my colleagues - I don't mean Chuck now. I mean I have been talking to some of my colleagues even though we've been out of session - is, you know, we are going to show them. We are going to teach them a lesson.

Well, if we are going to show them, let's do something that's in our interests as well as showing them, if that's what the desire is. But just to sell the Aegis to make a point to the Chinese, I think is a mistake. If the Aegis is needed to keep our commitment to Taiwan, then we should sell it. I have an open mind about that at this point. But it shouldn't be done to, quote, "show the Chinese."

They understand who we are. They understand our power. They understand their needs. That's why ultimately, notwithstanding the fact you have a growing nationalism and uncertain leadership in China, they decided they better get out of this.

SCHIEFFER: What about that, Senator Hagel? What's your side of that?

HAGEL: Well, I think Joe has it bout right. We should always focus on what is in our national interest and what's best for the long term as well as the short term.

We have to understand here that words and actions have consequences, and we have to deal with the consequences. But it is in the best interests of this country and the world to put this relationship with China back on a steady course.

Now a lot of that, as I said earlier, and I believe, is going to depend on how the Chinese respond here over the next few days.

BORGER: Another issue, Senator Hagel, is normalizing a permanent normal trade relations with China. That comes up for another vote in June. Some Democrats are now saying they're not going to vote for it. What are you going to do?

HAGEL: Well, I always hold my options open. But unless the Chinese really complicate this in some way, which they might do, I'm not sure that's in the best interest of this country is to start cutting off trade relationships with China. I'm not sure that in any way promotes America's interests or the interests of Asia or the world. So, I would right now vote to maintain favored nation status.

SCHIEFFER: Senator Biden, what about the idea that the president has now scheduled to go to China for a big conference sometime in the Fall. Do you think he ought to put off that trip?

BIDEN: No, I don't. I don't think - he can always change that depending on how things go.

Trade is in their interest as well as ours, more in theirs even than ours. I think when we talk to China they have to understand that we're going to draw - as one columnist said the other day, we should be building bridges but drawing bright lines.

And part of what the president's trip to China could do, assuming relations haven't deteriorated because of this meeting on Wednesday, or some other reason, draw some bright lines: You want to be treated like a major nation, act like a major nation. You have to play by the rules. You don't play by the rules; there will be consequences. Some of the consequences relate to our cooperation. We need us very badly, we need you too, but you need us badly.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask Senator Hagel, there are some on the right now who are saying that we lost, that somehow the United States lost here and we've been humiliated. What's your take on that?

HAGEL: I don't agree with that at all. We were able to get out of this with a minimum of downside.

There's no question that the behavior of the Chinese in this incident was wrong. They violated every international precept, but the United States certainly didn't lose here.

I mean, I'm amused a bit by some of my colleagues and others that I hear, why don't we just go take them, we'll just go take them. Those guys have never been in the military, I can assure you, and if they want to do that, maybe they should be on the first wave.

That's not realistic.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHIEFFER: Gloria?

BORGER: Senator Biden, there's another discussion that's going on in Congress right now about China and whether Congress should pass some sort of resolution to say that it would not like for the 2008 Olympics to be in Beijing. Is that something Congress should do?

BIDEN: No, I think that's premature. I think we should let the administration manage this. They've been doing a pretty good job of it. I thought they did a horrible job of it in Korea. I think they did a horrible job of it in Europe. They got it right here. They've got it right. We should stay out of the way.

You know, there use to be a song back when I was a kid, when I was a young man, a country song, "pride is the demise of husbands and wives."

(LAUGHTER)

Well, false pride is the demise of relationships, and the idea that we should act based on pride as opposed to what our concrete interests are, seems to me to be, like I said, those folks should be on the front lines as well.

I just think the president's got it pretty right so far. We should not hype this thing beyond what it is. We should draw some bright lines. If they cross the lines, then there are going to be consequences of the lines, they have a problem.

HAGEL: That's old country Joe. That's old country Joe Biden song.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHIEFFER: In all that, the disc jockey here is going to call for a break. Thanks to both of you.

BIDEN: The guy sells sausage now. I guess he makes a lot of money, I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHIEFFER: When we come back, we're going to talk with a distinguished group of former top presidential advisers.

Thanks to both of you, Senators.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHIEFFER: And joining us now from Monterey, California, Leon Panetta; from Watertown, Massachusetts, Warren Rudman; with us in Atlanta, Georgia, Hamilton Jordan; and here in Washington, James Schlesinger, a former secretary of defense.

Let me ask you first, Mr. Schlesinger. You have been through a couple of these crises. How do you think the administration handled this?

JAMES SCHLESINGER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: The administration handled it perfectly, almost perfectly. Calmly, there were a few ruffles at the outset, but they achieved the basic objective which is to get the people back.

SCHIEFFER: What will be the impact here? Is there a fallout from this?

SCHLESINGER: As Senator Hagel said, there will be a residue, and the residue is quite clear. What we saw in this case, and we should not forget it, is that the Chinese military sent to the top a blatant lie. And the senior leadership either accepted that lie at its face and broadcasted it to the Chinese people, or alternatively they did not know.

If the military proceeds in China without the support of the civilian leadership, we have problems.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this. Throughut this I heard some concern, expressed privately at least, that perhaps the administration was not quite clear on who was in charge in China right now. How stable is the leadership there?

SCHLESINGER: Well, we keep talking about the Chinese autocracy. But, it's really an oligarchy, a consensus. And it is plain from this episode that the military has more authority than we would like, and that authority is being exercised in the run-up to the choosing of the leadership next year.

BORGER: Let's turn to domestic policy for a moment, talking about Gorge W. Bush.

Leon Panetta, let me ask you first. We've just heard that President Bush has had what many people refer to as a foreign policy success. Will this affect his ability, do you think, to deal with Congress on domestic policy?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I'm not so sure. I think that, you know, although he handled the foreign policy issue well, on the domestic policy front, there are tremendous amounts of differences.

And there is a danger with regards to this administration overall of what I would call a credibility gap between what they say and what they do. They said they would be a centrist operation, and yet they pretty much are governing from the right, particularly when it comes to the environment and other issues. They said they would change the partisan tone in Washington, but if you look at Capitol Hill, it's still a pretty partisan operation.

And on foreign policy I think they took a hard-line initially, only to back off with a more diplomatic tone, which was right. But it also indicated there is a difference between sometimes what they say and what they do.

BORGER: Warren Rudman, do you think this administration has been playing, then, to its right-wing base as far as domestic policy is concerned? It seems like Leon Panetta feels that way.

FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN, R-NH: Well, certainly in terms of the environment, there are a lot of people who are unhappy with this administration. There are a lot of people who are happy with this administration. So it depends where your constituency is and where you're coming from.

But, frankly, as I look at the past three months, one thing comes through to me. I think the most important thing a new administration has to do is to make the American people feel that they're competent, that they're in charge; that they know what they're doing. And certainly they give that impression. The polls all indicate that's the way they feel.

President Bush, who was kind of in many ways put down by the media during and after the campaign, appears to be in charge of that White House, and he is delegating authority to the right people.

Obviously, the partisanship as Leon indicates is still there. That's because there are enormous disagreements on a number of issues, and I never really believed anyone saying that partisanship would be over. I think whathe president really was saying is, "We'll try to have more civility," and they're certainly having that.

SCHIEFFER: Senator Rudman, let me ask you this, because you're a Republican, you've been in there in the Senate. You know there are often disagreements within a party that are much stronger than the disagreements from one party to another.

Do you think the president was under enormous pressure from some in his party to take a much stronger line than he did? How do you think he did on this?

RUDMAN: Well, frankly, I don't only think, I know. I do continue to talk to many of my colleagues and their friends. And he was under a lot of pressure from many people to take a very hard-line. I thought he did a wonderful job.

I disagree that the administration spoke with more than one voice. I think, once they got it sorted out during the first day, it was obvious that the president would speak, but the work would be carried out at the ambassadorial level by our ambassador in Beijing and of course advised by the secretary of state.

I thought they did extremely well. And everyone I talked to, I have been in New Hampshire for the last weekend said, "Gee, he really did well for a fellow who is not supposed to know a lot about foreign policy."

I think what he has shown is that he is very competent and, frankly, cool, and I think the American people like that.

SCHIEFFER: Let's go now to Hamilton Jordan.

Hamilton Jordan, you were you there when President Carter went through some very severe crises abroad, the hostages in Iran and so forth. What is it...

HAMILTON JORDAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Seemed like it lasted a little longer.

SCHIEFFER: What was it like, what is it like in a White House when you go through something like this?

JORDAN: Well, there's a difference in dealing with the regime that I thought Jim Schlesinger accurately described and the Ayatollah Khamenei. And ours went on, as you know, for over a year.

But I believe that President Bush gets high marks for the way he handled the situation with China: ignoring extreme voices and fashioning a centrist result that I think serves the best interest of our country.

Out here in the countryside, away from Washington and the highly charged partisan atmosphere there, I think President Bush is comfortable in his own skin. And I think the American people sense that, and I think they're pretty comfortable with him. But as Leon says, there are real challenges ahead on the budget, on particular issues.

SCHIEFFER: But you know, one of the things that there's been some criticism on here in Washington is that perhaps the president's profile was too low, that he should have made more of this. He should have gone out and greeted the crew when they came back to Washington State. Do you agree with that?

JORDAN: I think that's just him. You know, I'm reminded of President Reaga as I see our new president. President Bush was under-estimated when he was a candidate for governor, under-estimated when he was governor, under-estimated when he was a candidate for president. I think people are probably under-estimating him a little bit now.

He has, I think he has - he may not have an intellectual curiosity that some people would like to see in the president, but he has a basic shrewdness about him that seems to serve him well, and there's something kind of attractive about him not jumping in the middle of the return of this crew from China to be seen as exploiting it politically.

So I think the American people are comfortable with him at this point, notwithstanding enormous challenges that face any president.

BORGER: Leon Panetta, let me ask you about that a little bit because you worked for Bill Clinton. Would he have been at Whidbey Air Base?

PANETTA: Well, you know, I think that I give a lot of credit to President Bush for the way he's handled the job of the presidency, and I think his sense that he shouldn't jump in the middle of this is probably pretty good sense of both the politics and, I think, the policy.

And I think if you're talking about Bill Clinton, you know, it's hard to say whether he would or wouldn't have. There's a likelihood he probably would have, because those are the kind of events that he felt he should be at.

BORGER: I just want to ask you one more question, Mr. Panetta, and then we'll go to Warren Rudman on this. You said on "Face The Nation" the day after the inauguration, that if President Bush pushed his whole tax cut up front, it would be a big mistake for him. Well, he did it. Do you still think it was a big mistake?

PANETTA: Yes I do, because I think you know, asking for a $1.6 or $2 trillion tax cut is going to eat up the rest of his budget, as we've seen. He can't afford to do the defense spending or the education spending or prescription drugs, and so the result is, very frankly, that we're headed probably towards another budget crisis this October because the budget is, frankly, not credible or enforceable.

SCHIEFFER: Jim Schlesinger, I want to ask you about this question about the profile of the president during all this. Are there times when a president ought to be low-profile rather than high-profile, and what is your take on that?

SCHLESINGER: The president was not low-profile. The president clearly was running these events, as Senator Rudman indicates.

The point is that this president does not feel that he has to be continuous in the limelight and will go to any event in which publicity is there to be had.

SCHIEFFER: Well, is there a danger when a president enters a situation in the public side of it that it raises that to a higher level than perhaps is manageable?

SCHLESINGER: Oh, absolutely. The tendency to intervene from the White House is frequently a mistake, in that ome things should be left to the department.

In this case, the Navy handled the return of the crew very well. Their superiors were there, their relatives were there. And that is the way it should have been handled and was.

SCHIEFFER: All right. I want to thank all of you, very insightful discussion this morning. Thanks to all of you.

I'll be back with a final word in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHIEFFER: Finally today, we spend a lot of time talking about our heroes, but most of the time we get it mixed up. We confuse heroism with celebrity. Oh, sure we can admire athletes and be awed by their physical skills, and sure, it's fun to see movie and TV stars in person.

But to say that hitting the home run that wins the game is not heroism takes nothing away from the skill required to accomplish such a feat. Nor does it diminish the fun of seeing someone famous to realize that celebrity sometimes requires no skill except personal promotion. But such things are not the stuff of heroism.

It was once said that real heroes are those who have the courage and the presence of mind to do in extraordinary circumstances what any of us would do in normal circumstances. And isn't that exactly what the crew on that navy plane hit by the Chinese fighter did? And did a lot of it while the plane was upside down in a dive.

I love movies and sports, but for heroes, I'll take that group of young Americans.

Thanks for watching. We'll see you here next week on "Face the Nation."



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