CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview With Dan Rather
Aired January 17, 2003 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, direct from Baghdad: Dan Rather.
A big find by weapons inspectors yesterday. Was it a smoking gun?
And today, a defiant speech by Saddam Hussein. America could be going to war any time now and the "CBS Evening News" anchor is right there in the middle of it. We'll get the latest from Dan Rather next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We always are proud to welcome Dan Rather to these microphones and cameras. Dan is reporting to us tonight as editor and managing director -- managing editor of the "CBS Evening News." He's on the scene in Baghdad.
Specifically where are you in Baghdad?
DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Well, we're not far from the famous from the Gulf War al Rashid Hotel. We're just outside the Information Ministry, Larry, which is where the Information Ministry wants these kinds of broadcasts to originate. And we're also just above one of the main thoroughfares. Perhaps you can hear the traffic. If you still had your radio program, this would be a good drive-time period to have it broadcast in Baghdad because there's a lot of traffic back there.
They had a demonstration tonight. As you know, this is the 12- year anniversary of the beginning of the American offensive against Iraq to end the war that Saddam had started with his invasion of Kuwait. So they've had various demonstrations, and some of this traffic is coming from a fairly large demonstration they had tonight.
KING: And for you, this is where you like to be, right? Where the action is, Rather likes to go.
RATHER: Well, that's true, Larry. I like to walk the ground.
KING: Would you like this -- if a war broke out, would you want to stay and report from there, if possible?
RATHER: Absolutely. This is where I would prefer to be. Whether that turns out to be the case or not, why, Dr. Andrew Heyward, who is the president of CBS News, will decide that.
When you're an anchor, it's natural that, frequently, once you're back in New York, to be sort of command control, if you will. But in answer to your question, certainly, this is where I'd want to be if the war breaks out.
But you know, I've been so lucky and blessed over the years as a reporter and anchor sometimes that I can't and won't complain. Wherever they want me, that's where I'll go. But you've asked me where I'd like to be, and this is where I'd like to be.
KING: When were you last in Iraq?
RATHER: I was here -- I think the last time was about eight years ago, Larry. It was some time after the Gulf War. I spent a good deal of time here (UNINTELLIGIBLE)say a fair amount of time in the late '80s, and then in the build-up to the Gulf War, we were in and out of here maybe 12 or 15 times.
KING: All right, Americans know, I'm going to guess this, very little about the people of Iraq. What can you tell me about that culture, what they're like?
RATHER: Well, I think that many Americans, understandably, may not understand that one way of looking at Iraq and one important way is its split into thirds. This is a country that was put together -- let us remind ourselves that the borders were put together by colonial powers -- the British, and then before that, the Ottomans, but primarily the British.
And the southern part of Iraq is more Shi'ite-oriented. As you know, the two great divisions in Islam, particularly in this part of the world, the Shi'ites and the Sunnis.
The southern part down near Basra, a great port city where Sinbad the Sailor took off from and "Arabian Nights" stories are built around, is more Shi'ite. The middle part of Iraq are primarily Sunni, and then the northern part, some northern parts of Iraq, with the Kurds. So it's a very fractured country.
It has its unity, Islam being the unifier, if you will. And during his long reign in power, Saddam Hussein being the top leader that holds it together. Now, that's the way the Iraqis see themselves.
The Iraqis are a very friendly people. I know at a time when we're on the brink of war, perhaps a lot of people don't want to hear that, but there's no way that you can drive around the country and not be struck by the general friendliness of the Iraqi people. And they do have a great regard for the United States.
This will, I think, also surprise some people, Larry, that, you know, given the Gulf War and the tight sanctions, frankly, I expected to find people more hostile toward the United States as a whole than has been the case, that you see young people here wearing Detroit Redwings sweatshirts and that sort of thing. And they do have a very high regard for the United States.
Of course, they will tell you in a heartbeat that they don't have high regard for President Bush and the American government, and they can quickly go into the conversation that says, Well, you know, it's the people of the United States that we like and the government that we abhor.
KING: And how do they regard, if they can talk to you of such things, their own government?
RATHER: Well, this is one other difference between now and the period just before the Gulf War, Larry, that -- I've done my best to get out and move around. You know, I like nothing better than to grab a pencil and a notebook and get out of the office. And I've done that here, and I've talked to people, young people, university students, and visited with people in their homes. And to a person, they are solid behind Iraq in standing up, as they put it, standing up to President Bush and the administration. They always put it that way, to "Bush, Junior," they call him, in quotation marks. And they don't talk badly of Saddam Hussein. That can be unhealthy in this country at any time.
Here's the point, Larry. Before the Gulf War, you could find some people -- not many -- who would say, Well, you know, maybe we shouldn't have moved into Kuwait, or Maybe we didn't make the case about moving into Kuwait well enough. But this time -- and I think it's a result of the sanctions, which in many ways have been effective -- and this is not an opinion anti-sanctions, as such, but partly because of the sanctions, which have cut deep in the country, particularly in the mid-1990s, that, frankly, this time, I think the country is united and the people are united in feeling that the United States is wrong in what it's doing and the United States long-range is making what they would describe as a catastrophic mistake.
Now, I separate out what the government says, Larry. I'm reporting to you as directly and accurately as I can what I believe to be the sense of the people here. They don't understand what the United States is doing.
KING: We'll take a break, and when we come back, we'll ask Dan if the people are expecting war. And if so, how soon?
Dan Rather reporting for us on the scene in Baghdad, Iraq. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "CBS EVENING NEWS")
RATHER (voice-over): All around this bustling capital scene, there are quiet preparations for yet another conflict. Twenty years of war and 12 years of sanctions have made digging in almost routine.
In gun shops, those who can afford it are buying weapons to defend themselves if need be -- not against an invasion, but the chaos that may follow.
But on nearly every streetcorner, from the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) soups of old Baghdad, to the fruit markets of Saddam City, talk of war is mostly just background chatter to the every day struggle to survive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "CBS EVENING NEWS")
RATHER: This president, I think many Americans, are concerned that there may be a war and the question they want to know is: Who is this man Saddam Hussein?
How would you describe yourself?
SADDAM HUSSEIN, PRESIDENT OF IRAQ (through translator): I don't think they would be as much interested in knowing who Saddam Hussein is as they would be interested in knowing the best way to avoid war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was Dan Rather interviewing Saddam Hussein, a rare occurrence, in August of 1990.
Before I ask about that, are the people thinking that war is imminent?
They're hoping that somehow, some way, the war can at least be delayed, if not avoided completely, but they don't believe it. The sense here is that they -- feel the earthquake rumbling in their direction. I think they expect to be attacked. In fact, I know that they expect to be attacked sometime in late February, possibly in early March. That's their expectation.
The defenses are going slowly into place, but it's sort of eerie, Larry, that before the Gulf War, the start of the Gulf War, you could see troop movements, anti-aircraft batteries going into place, radar installations hurriedly being made. You don't see any of this now.
However, there are what I consider to be accurate reports that Saddam Hussein is putting into place fortifications and defenses in towns and villages.
One wants to keep in mind that the last time, the Gulf War in 1990-'91, Saddam Hussein had much of his military deployed forward. That is, he had invaded Kuwait, and as a consequence, he had a lot of his troops in Kuwait. And when the Americans began building up, he had a lot of his military in the southern part of the country. This time, he's not deployed forward.
And I thought in his most recent talk, the one, in fact, today, that was broadcast here, that he was sending the U.S. Defense Department a message. He talked about if the invaders come, they will be committing suicide at the gates of Baghdad. You could read that as he saying, If you think you can fight the last war this time, you're kidding yourself, and suggesting that he might settle in for a siege of Baghdad. There's a lot of extrapolation from what he said in that, but I think that was his reference.
He also made reference, of course, to the Mongol invaders in the middle of the 13th Century that sacked Baghdad. And I wrote down one quote, which I hope I can find. He said that, "The people of Baghdad will repel the Mongols of this age to commit suicide on its walls" - unquote -- a reference to the Mongol invader Hulagu, who came here in, I think, 1258.
Now, so they do expect war.
KING: Now, you are a man who interviewed Saddam Hussein. Does this -- do you liken this as some sort of idle kind of threat or, We'll stand to the last man, or do you think it's playing back-and- forth pingpong?
RATHER: I think some of all of that, Larry, that Saddam Hussein, is above all else, a survivor. That's his very id.
When I interviewed him in August of 1990, just after he had invaded Kuwait, I came out of that interview in the old Baghdad palace, where the inspectors were earlier this week, and having been in his bunker down below ground in that palace, and then -- we saw a lot of the palace. I came away saying the most important thing to understand about Saddam Hussein is, No. 1, he sees himself as a survivor -- very shrewd, cunning, survivor mentality.
The No. 2 thing is -- and he didn't say this to me, but it's hard to come away from any conversation with him not knowing it, that he would like to be a modern Saladin, the great Arab conqueror. When he gets up in the morning, Saddam Hussein dreams of leading a victorious Arab army through the streets of Jerusalem.
Now, you can say, Well, you know, what a dreamer, this guy. His back is to the wall with an American military force just about to overwhelm him. It's very important, I think, to understand those two things about Saddam Hussein. So when he makes the kind of talk that he made today to his people, there's a certain amount of bravado in it, certainly, as there would be with any political leader under these circumstances. But I think he believes it for at least the moment.
Now, there has been, as I know you know, Larry, this talk of some of the Arab countries -- and it's more than talk -- Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey and perhaps Russia -- trying to get him to accept some arrangement in which he would have guaranteed asylum in another country, that he would go into exile. And while, frankly, I don't rule that out as a remote possibility, I have yet to speak with any Iraqi who thinks that it's even remotely possible. They scoff at it and say they are convinced, rightly or wrongly, that Saddam Hussein will stand to the last man and that he will stand with them.
KING: Is it easy for you to report out of there? Are you censored at all? Are you restricted in any way?
RATHER: Yes, we -- censorship -- I would not say censorship, but you can't go very many places of importance -- no place of importance without a minder, that access is controlled, very tightly controlled in terms of upper tiers of government in certain locations.
But by and large, I'm somewhat surprised at how we have been able to move around, always accompanied by someone, but move around, and also how many people we've been allowed to talk to. My recollection is before the Gulf War, it was much more restrictive in terms of the people we were allowed to talk to. So in that sense, this time, access has been somewhat better.
Now, no one has interviewed Saddam Hussein. He's not been seen in public places for quite some time. And while, naturally, I'd like to an interview with him again and I'm available -- I'd break off this program to do it -- there's no current sign that he's thinking of even doing that. He's in more seclusion now, perhaps for understandable reasons, because he does know that there's, in effect, a price on his head now.
But about exile, you can -- you pay your money, you take your choice. But I can only report that the Iraqis are convinced that he would never even seriously consider it, much less do it.
KING: All right, the inspectors on Thursday find 11 empty chemical warheads in an ammunition storage dump. The White House calls it "troubling and serious" and hasn't labeled it, though, a material breach. Iraqi officials claim they're an obsolete stock they forgot to include on the weapons disclosure report.
Who do you tend to believe?
RATHER: Well, it's not my job to tend to believe one or the other.
I can say that there's considerable skepticism at the upper tiers of the inspection teams themselves about this business of forgetting. For one reason, they've been told so many times, to hear them tell it, in the past that, Well, we forgot this or, We forgot that.
The inspection team people are emphasizing that these were warheads for delivering biological or chemical weapons, warheads capable of doing that, that they didn't find the biological or chemical weapons, what they found was a delivery system, 12 of these rocket shells.
However, one key point, Larry, that's a little unclear at the moment -- I think the inspectors are trying to straighten this out -- is whether the Iraqis included these in their declaration to the U.N. some weeks ago. The fairly strong indication is the Iraqis did not include them in that declaration. They are in clear violation of what the Iraqis had told the United Nations they are doing and have been doing. That is, to have them is in violation of that.
It's one of those things -- someone said, Well, it's not a smoking gun. It might be a smoldering gun. I think the inspectors put it more in the category of, Well, maybe not even a smoldering gun. It's more like we found some possible gunpowder.
To be very explicitly clear about this, Larry, the inspectors want more time. They consider this, you know, an important breakthrough, of a sort, but they don't consider it a break-over. And their basic argument is, We need more time, and we may need a lot more time. We'll see whether they get it. I have my doubts about that. KING: We'll be right back with more of Dan Rather from Baghdad, Iraq, after these words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "CBS EVENING NEWS")
RATHER: These agricultural spray helicopter shave been checked out several times by international inspectors, who took samples from these nozzles and the tanks on the side of the helicopters. They apparently found no traces of biological or chemical weapons. The Iraqis insist that all such weapons were destroyed, as required, after the Gulf War.
(voice-over): What was found today inside those ammunition bunkers may prove otherwise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Dan Rather.
"TIME" magazine is reporting that some Arab leaders are encouraging a scene whereby Saddam is Hussein is overthrow, exiled or possibly taken out.
What are you hearing about that over there, Dan?
RATHER: Larry, I've seen absolutely tee-totally, me-mortally no indication of that in traveling around Iraq, principally in and around Baghdad.
And every Iraqi I've spoken to, without exception, including some people that I know from previous experience have their differences with Saddam Hussein -- frankly, their attitude toward that is -- quote -- "ridiculous." And they will say things in a minute to you, such as, If the United States' leadership or anybody else believes there's going to be a revolution from below, some kind of explosion of opposition to Saddam Hussein, then they know less about our country than we even thought they knew.
It's those kinds of quotes -- I don't know what the source in the "TIME" magazine article is, but from inside Iraq, you can't spend time here and not come away, at least tentatively concluding, that some of that may be wishful thinking on the part of people who hope that it will happen.
It's always possible that somewhere in the country, and deep down in the bowels of the country, that there's a movement to try to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
But two things very quickly, Larry.
First of all, the Iraqis themselves don't -- they don't believe that for one second. Nobody I've talked to believes it.
The other is that it's essential to understand that Saddam Hussein is a very close student of Josef Stalin. And he has put together in Iraq a party apparatus, an intelligence, an internal police intelligence apparatus that would make it very, difficult to mount that kind of explosion from within because it's so tightly controlled.
You know, for years people would say, Well, there may be an overthrow in the Soviet Union. It never happened, and one reason it didn't happen is they had such -- a tight domestic, I would say, squealer society, in which people tell on one another. And the record doesn't indicate that one should be too hopeful about that.
I recognize there are people in the Defense Department and the State Department and elsewhere believe that it's not only possible but it's probable, and they may have information I don't have. But I'd be rather skeptical of placing too much hope on any kind of revolution from within.
Now, in the wake of a sustained and heavy military attack, what could happen? You know, who knows? But anything short of that, it would be just wishful thinking to believe that Saddam Hussein is going to be overthrown from within.
KING: Beyond going into exile, Dan, what can Iraq do to avert war?
RATHER: I don't know.
I think going into exile would do it, and that's one reason that about 5 or 10 percent of you, know, you have to say to yourself, Well, in the end, the ultimate survivor, Saddam Hussein, might say the only way I can survive is to get out of the country for awhile and hope to come back.
However, in answer to your question, I'm not sure, that one thing, if -- the Iraqi government would come forward and say, You know what? We have been hiding some weapons of mass destruction, and we have been developing some in secret places, and we will show you where those secret places are, and we understand -- quote -- "the game is up," and show them to you -- if they have the weapons and they did that, I suppose that might avoid war.
But quite honestly, Larry, the sense here in the region, rightly or wrongly -- and here I'm trying to be an accurate reporter. The sense in the region is that the momentum toward war is pretty far along and is accelerating by the hour. And there's a strong sense among Arab leaders outside of Iraq, and I'd have to say a pretty strong sense inside Iraq, that things either have reached or very soon will reach the point that President Bush has gathered such a large military force that almost nothing can stop an attack.
Now, things to look for -- there is the January 27 date on which the inspectors are due for another report to the United Nations Security Council. I can find no one inside or outside Iraq that believes that report is going to say, We've definitely determined that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, or that they definitely don't have. It's likely to be a "on the one hand, and on the other hand" statement.
And then I would keep my eye and ear very closely on President Bush's State of the Union address, which will come on January 28, right behind that report. A lot of people in the region are looking to that, saying that's probably going to be the definitive statement, and very well it may be.
And the other date to have in mind is February 15 because on or about February 15. That's when U.S. military leaders are expected to be able to say to President Bush, We have reached our desired military strength for any mission that you might want us to do. Of course, the military's ready to go at any time, but they have a general target date for the desired force levels to be reached, and I think that that's on or about February 15.
So those are three dates to watch -- January 27, January 28, State of the Union, and then on or about February 15.
KING: When we come back, we'll ask Dan Rather how he sees it -- and he's been in lots of war zones -- how this war will be fought.
Dan Rather's on the scene in Baghdad. We're with him, and we'll be back after this.
KING: We're back with Dan Rather, on the scene in Baghdad. He is, of course, editor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News."
What will the war be like?
RATHER: Well, Larry, I don't know. I had that pause because I wasn't sure there was something behind that. I don't mind talking to you about this. In fact, I love talking to you about it. But it's very important to understand that among the thousands of things about which I am not expert, military strategy is one of them.
However, it's pretty hard not to figure out in at least a broad, general way what the United States military would like to do. They would like to have this be primarily an aerial campaign, maximizing, leveraging the technology. And the technology, the weapons technology's advanced tremendously since the Gulf War. I wonder whether Saddam Hussein fully realizes how much it's advanced. But they'd like to leverage American air power as much as they could, pretty much as they did in Afghanistan, and then come behind that not with the kind of overwhelming, mass army with a big flanking operation that General Schwarzkopf so brilliantly put together for the last Gulf War. It'll be fought differently on the ground, I think.
Ideally, what the U.S. military would like to do is come through the gate that is Kuwait, up from the south, with whatever forces they believe they need, and at the same time move with a northern offensive, coming through Turkey. And therein lies a problem, which I'm sure you're aware of, Larry, and we may want to talk about later because it's very important, that the Turks have OK'd the use of their air bases for air strikes, but to the chagrin and the frustration of the -- President Bush and the administration, they have not -- at least, not yet -- given the OK to the use of ground troops.
But the U.S. would like to, at the same time that they launch something from the south, coming from the direction of Kuwait, have something come down from the north, for two reasons. One, to secure some of the oil fields and keep Saddam Hussein and his people from blowing up those oil fields and destroying them, and secondly, to make sure that nothing untoward develops between the Kurds and the Turks and to sort of settle it. So they would like a north-south movement, if you will.
It isn't to say that they can't effectively do what they want to do with and in Iraq if they don't get the Turkey bases. But boy, they'd sure like to have those bases in Turkey, and for ground operations, to get this northern offensive going.
Beyond that, Larry, my sense is that the U.S. military wants to avoid, and for good reason, having to go into cities and towns, much less a place as large as Baghdad, and have to engage in any kind of urban street fighting. I think the U.S. military believes that they would prevail in any such fighting such as that. They could do it, but they know that that's the kind of fighting in which, even at best, you're going to suffer heavier casualties. And they'd like to avoid it.
So I think, in sum, heavy air campaign, north-south pincer movement, if possible, trying to be highly mobile on the ground, not get stuck trying to take one city, town, just move on past them, and hoping that they will engender what they did the last time, and that is massive surrender on the part of Iraqi troops.
KING: Do you expect it will be the U.N. to declare this an action, or will it be the United States?
RATHER: Well, that's the biggest question today, Larry, and I don't know the answer to that. I think President Bush -- I know President Bush has made it clear -- it's hard to imagine he could make it any clearer -- that he would prefer to go with U.N. approval but that he's prepared to go now, having gotten the Security Council resolution. He's made it clear he doesn't think that he, we -- he and what allies the United States has, needs another U.N. security resolution. So the answer is President Bush is prepared to go, and he's prepared to go alone. He'd certainly like to have Britain and others go with us. There's been the request that NATO will help.
And I think, in the end, the administration thinks that they will have a coalition, nothing to compare with the coalition that we had during the Gulf War because so many of the Arab states around Iraq want no part of it. You've noticed, I think, that Hosni Mubarak, the long-time leader of Egypt, has been remarkably quiet publicly about this whole thing. The Saudi Arabians -- boy, they'd like to avoid this war.
But the general attitude among most Arab leaders who've been at least loosely allied with the United States in the past, seems to be, Larry, we don't think this has to happen. We really don't want it to happen, but -- to President Bush quietly -- since you've made up your mind, or if you've made up your mind it's going to happen, get on with it. Get it done, and let's move on to the next thing.
I've talked to several Arab leaders privately who have said, This business of maybe delaying the war until next autumn or next fall is, and I use the words of one of them, terrible. Their attitude is if it's going to happen, have it happen pretty quickly, and then move on to such things as trying to reach peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
KING: You mentioned Turkey. Where goeth Turkey?
RATHER: Well, right now, two things. Despite a lot of pressure and despite a lot of things offered to them, many of which we don't know, the Turks have -- they're very reluctant to allow the stationing of U.S. ground troops in Turkey and most reluctant to allow Turkey being used as a base for a northern offensive. As you know, General Myers, who's chairman of the military joint chiefs of staff, is due in Turkey early next week, certainly within days, and this is a kind of last-hour bid to get the Turks to change their mind.
Turkey has a new and more religiously Muslim government in power, and frankly, Larry, right now, it's hard to see how and when they're going to give their final permission for the stationing of those ground troops. They may do it, but time is quickly running out. Then behind that, Turkey is a leader in wanting to put together -- and I think they have put together -- a kind of Arab summit, with the Turks leading the way, saying, in effect -- and I mean no disrespect -- Boys, what can we come up with that will avoid this war?
Turkey suffered greatly economically in the wake of the Gulf War, and nobody in Turkey has forgotten that. And partly because of that, the economic downturn that took traction in Turkey after the Gulf War has resulted in the Turkish public opinion being, I would say, certainly strongly, perhaps even overwhelmingly against this war.
So for the Turkish government to say, in the end, OK, we don't like it, but we'll allow U.S. ground forces to operate an offensive out of here, is a very big step from them. And if General Myers is able to convince them to do that when he's in there next week, then he deserves a pretty high medal for that.
KING: We'll take a break. We'll be back with more of Dan Rather from Baghdad. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: It was a palace surprise today in central Baghdad, as a U.N. convoy pulled up to the gates of Saddam Hussein's largest compound.
This surprise visit by the inspectors was called, quote, "sensitive," and here's the reason. Back there is the main presidential palace, built in the late 1950s, elaborate, expansive, runs right along the Tigress river. Saddam Hussein used to at least live part of the time there.
Satellite imagery of the site tipped inspectors to two small buildings, surrounded by high walls and fences. Suspicious and of interest, say inspectors.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Dan Rather on the scene in Baghdad, Iraq.
OK, Dan, let's say this happens. There's a war. The United States, Britain, other allies prevail. Then what? Who runs -- who operates Iraq? Who's the head of the government? What -- do we have an Afghanistan kind of approach? What goes on?
RATHER: Well, first of all, I don't think it will be an Afghanistan kind of approach. Totally different country, totally different culture with totally different history. So I would encourage, on the basis of my experience, not to try to extrapolate very much, if anything, from the Afghanistan experience.
But at the core of your question, for the core of it -- I just don't know. "The Washington Post" has been doing some reporting which quotes administration officials as outlining one possible way along the following lines. The United States strikes with overwhelming military force. The Iraqis get overwhelmed. It's a short war with low casualties. And that Saddam Hussein either flees the country or is captured or is on the run to such an extent that he can't be effective and the war is, for all intents and purposes, over. The United States is triumphant.
And now, for at least the short to medium term, we become an occupation force inside Iraq, and that, ideally, as I understand it, one line of thought goes that an Iraqi general who, if not friendly to the United States, at least somebody that we thought we could put in charge, gets put in charge -- the United States as the enforcer, if you will, as an occupying force, puts somebody in charge. There might be an interim step of the U.N. being given a role, or someone with an outstanding international reputation comes in to oversee this.
I recognize this is getting wordy, but it's a complicated situation, Larry, that the U.S. military, for at least a short time and probably even longer than that, would be the occupying force and there'd be an effort to set in a semblance of what we did after World War II in Germany and Japan, but nothing quite that extensive, with the hope that the seeds of a new democratic system could be laid in Iraq.
Now, this is complicated stuff, as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld rightly said in his news conference this past week. And honest people can differ about what's going to happen in Iraq if and when the United States military does overwhelm the Iraqis. But I can find no one in the Arab leadership who believes that there aren't going to be difficult years -- they're not talking about months, many, many difficult years in accomplishing any kind of establishment of a new government and new forms of government inside Iraq.
Nearly everybody I talk to in the region just throws up their hands in saying, Frankly, we can't envision it, but we just hope the Americans have a plan.
KING: In your opinion, Dan, will that increase world opinion against the United States, which seems to be on the increase anyway, as the superpower, this giant that goes in and gets its way and runs things?
RATHER: Frankly, no way to tell, Larry. Again, I think if you had to bet it, you would bet that would be the case. However, there are people in and around the White House who make the argument -- and it's an argument worth considering -- that what the world understands, and particularly what's called the, quote, "Arab world" understands, is power and strength, and that in the wake of the Gulf War, there was a period where we had the best chance of reaching peace in the Middle East that we've had in our lifetimes.
And I'm quoting from these people in and around the president. And their view is that power unused is power lost, provided you use the power for good and decent and legitimate purposes, which they see getting Iraq rid of Saddam Hussein, getting the region rid of Saddam Hussein is a good use of that power. And there's no question that there are people in the upper reaches of the Bush administration who say, You know, we're going to continue -- we America -- we're going to continue to have problems with the world of Islam, and particularly the Arab world, unless we are able to bring some kind of reformation, unless we're able to bring modernity and secularity to Arab countries, that we're going to continue to have trouble.
And therefore, goes this line of thinking, Saddam Hussein is a bad guy. That's what they say. He will destroy everything around, if he gets half a chance. And this view goes along these lines. We establish that we're not afraid to use our power in Iraq, and we use Iraq as an example of what can happen in Arab countries when they're free and when some forms of democracy, the seeds are laid.
There is that line of thought around President Bush, and it's seen as, yes, risky, but not as risky as failing to use your power. And there is the sense -- there's no question, I think, Larry, when you listen carefully to what President Bush says -- the president believes that you can only bluff so far. You can only use diplomacy so far. There is a time when if you're a superpower, you have to behave as a superpower. You have to leverage your power. You have to take a risk with it in hopes of greater gain.
I want to make it very clear that these are not my opinions. I'm trying to report what -- what we know to be some of the arguments inside the White House.
KING: We have one segment remaining. We'll touch some other bases with Dan Rather on the scene in Baghdad right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: These are young Iraqis who all want to know more about the world, studying to be translators at Baghdad's Mustansaria (ph) University.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question is, is it required to go to the mosque?
RATHER: None of them feels the country will rise up against Saddam Hussein. All of them believe that war is inevitable and will be catastrophic.
But keep in mind that this is Iraq, and none of them could have felt truly free to disagree with the party line if they wanted to.
If you had the opportunity to speak directly with President Bush, what would you say to him?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Leave us alone. We don't want war.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He always says that we are terrorists. Let's look (UNINTELLIGIBLE) always a terrorist, let's look at his actions in Afghanistan and all over the world.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just want him to quit using the policy of violence, because, as you know, violence begets violence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Dan Rather. Couple of other bases we want to cover, Dan. Is bin Laden forgotten for the moment?
RATHER: Well, he's certainly been pushed into the inside of the papers, hasn't he.
One of the interesting things to read, when future historians write about this, is how, when, exactly why and on whose advice did President Bush decide to make Saddam Hussein and Iraq the first priority, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda a high priority but something behind that. That'll be very interesting to read that history. You hear no talk about Osama bin Laden in Iraq, except that the Iraqis will tell you very quickly -- and spend a lot of time telling you -- that they dislike Osama bin Laden and that Osama bin Laden dislikes them, that Osama bin Laden has seen the Iraqis as an enemy over the years, that -- that's their basic argument. They say, We had nothing to do with 9/11, and any suggestions we do have are ridiculous.
And they specifically deny that this man, Atta, had any meeting with Osama bin Laden's elements in Czechoslovakia. You know, there has been that consistent report. They just deny that flatly, for whatever it may be worth.
KING: Dan, are they talking in Iraq about North Korea?
RATHER: Yes. Always in the context of -- along this line: Listen, we don't have nuclear weapons. North Korea has nuclear weapons. So they -- the Iraqis will say -- they do say, Where is the fairness? We're being attacked because we might have nuclear weapons some time in the future. North Korea has nuclear weapons, and says straight out they're going to develop more nuclear weapons. But, say the Iraqis, President Bush says, Well, we can deal with the North Koreans and we'll try to work something out with them, but we're poised to attack Iraq.
They go -- the Iraqis go along that line pretty regularly and won't truck any arguments to the contrary. About that, they can get pretty hostile in a second. You can say, well, some of that is posturing, and perhaps it is, but that's their view.
I do want to say before we close -- go ahead.
KING: No, go ahead. I've got a few more...
RATHER: I do want to say before we -- OK, well, very quickly -- I'm just afraid we run out of time -- that there certainly is the sense here tonight -- and it's been building for some days -- that things are pretty close if not at the breaking point. And the fact that Secretary of State Colin Powell said today, somewhat in Germany, "we believe that at the end of the month, it will be convincingly proven that Iraq is not cooperating," quote, unquote, leads a lot of people here, not all of them Iraqis, to believe that things have reached a kind of breaking point and that by the end of January, it will be, OK, we're probably going to war. We only have a few days, and we'll find out. But it's worth noting that the sense of that is growing very strong in the last I'd say couple of days.
KING: How are you regarded -- we're in our final moments -- as an American walking around Baghdad? I mean, people look at your country is about to invade their country, and you're probably having dinner in one of their restaurants, how do they regard you?
RATHER: Gosh, I don't know how they regard me, but on the outside, they're very friendly. And it is strange, Larry -- and this I'll never get used to -- that you can -- when you go anywhere in Baghdad or the surrounding area, people are very friendly. They speak very well of the United States. There is a deep well, a very deep, broad reservoir of respect and admiration for the United States of America among the people of Iraq. I know that's very hard to understand, when, you know, war -- we're right on the brink of a war, but it's true. And the Iraqis have been very, very friendly. We haven't had any trouble here with rank-and-file Iraqis. With the government, they...
KING: We're out of time.
RATHER: ... they have control and for what they see as good reason.
KING: Thanks, Dan. Always great seeing you. Stay well.
RATHER: Thank you, Larry.
KING: Dan Rather on the scene in Baghdad, Iraq.
Tomorrow night on "Larry King News Weekend" -- on LARRY KING WEEKEND -- I keep saying "News Weekend," the show I used to host in Miami. I must be losing it. Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman will be with us. Sunday night, Orrin Hatch.
"NEWSNIGHT" with Aaron Brown is next. Thank you and good night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: In a televised speech today, Saddam Hussein made no mention of inspectors. Instead, he used the anniversary of the start of the U.S. bombing in the Gulf War to warn of another attack, saying U.S. troops would be committing suicide at the gates of Baghdad, if they choose to attack again.
Moments after the speech ended, protesters took to the streets of Baghdad again, at one point surrounding and delaying a U.N. convoy on their way to another inspection.
Pressure on this inspection process is coming from all sides.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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