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CNN CAPITAL GANG

Bush Challenges U.N.; Are U.S. Forces Closing in on bin Laden?; Bush Promotes Reforms for Medical Malpractice, Prescription Drugs

Aired March 8, 2003 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANNOUNCER: THE CAPITAL GANG.
MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG.

I'm Mark Shields with the full GANG, Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and Margaret Carlson.

President Bush, in his first prime time news conference in 17 months, challenged the United Nations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This issue has been before the Security Council, the issue of disarmament of Iraq, for 12 long years. The fundamental question facing the Security Council is, do its words mean anything?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: On the next day, U.N. weapons inspectors reported to the Security Council.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

HANS BLIX, CHIEF U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: We have faced relatively few difficulties, and certainly much less than those that were faced by UNSCOM in the period 1991 to 1998. We are able to perform professional, no-notice inspections all over Iraq and to increase aerial surveillance.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY: There is no indication of resumed nuclear activities in those buildings that were identified through the use of satellite imagery as being reconstructed or newly erected since 1998, nor any indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities at any inspected sites.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

SHIELDS: Opposition continued inside the Security Council.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN, FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Is it a matter of regime in Baghdad? This is not the objective of Resolution 1441, and force is certainly not the best way of bringing about democracy.

BUSH: No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote. It's time for people to show their cards.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, does this mean the United States will go to war despite a rejected resolution at the United Nations?

ROBERT NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: Yes, that's the case, and it's a problem for the U.S. and the world. This was the course that Secretary of State Powell took the president on to -- instead of just going on and bombing them, to go to the United Nations, which I certainly approved of.

But they have to get a resolution through now, and looks like now they're not going to be able to avert a French veto. I don't even know (UNINTELLIGIBLE) have to get nine votes. In that case, do they pull the resolution and bomb? That'll look bad. Or do they bomb, as the president said, what, even if they lose the resolution? That'll look bad too.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: Well, I have thought that they had a real shot at getting nine votes, and, frankly, we'd be at war a week from today. I think the report that we just heard from Hans Blix and the nuclear report, I think, changed the dynamics in the short term.

I think it's important whether they get those nine votes or not, even if there is the almost-certain French veto, because I think, while there's a compelling case for regime change in Iraq, to go in there with eroding international support and seeming to slap the U.N. in the face, I think really augers poorly for a post-Saddam period, Mark, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, irony that 1991, President Bush I had total U.N. backing, and his own problem resistance was the Congress. Now the Congress seems totally pliant. And why the resistance to this President Bush at the U.N.?

KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: Well, I think they've made it perfectly clear that they didn't take themselves seriously last fall with the 1441 resolution. It called for -- it was the final chance, couldn't be more explicit, immediate, and complete disarmament. They clearly haven't done that.

This week, Hans Blix said, "The student shows improvement." But the student still flunks the 1441 test.

Look, I think it's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) more damage is being done to France here than the United States, Bob. France is not going to prevent a war. They're only going to prevent the U.N. from ever being taken seriously again. And that should matter to France. The only place on the planet where they have any clout is at the U.N. That's a big loss for them. SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: You know, it should matter to France that they are undermining what stands between, you know, the allies and a world body that operates as the primary way of keeping the globe at peace. But the costs of war have gone up for the United States as well, because if we do it without the U.N., we're causing this body to splinter at a time when the United States may need it, in North Korea, in Iran, in other places.

And that cost is very high, and what Hans Blix did was to -- not to show that the -- that the student's getting an A, but that the student is improving, and even though...

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: ... not playing well with others yet. And he said it's a matter of months, not years. And should he be given that month?

SHIELDS: To follow up on what Margaret said, the president dismissed North Korea and the looming nuclear crisis...

NOVAK: As a regional, a regional...

SHIELDS: ... there as a regional problem, and, you know, every day -- do you think the president carried the day, did his position carry the day on that?

NOVAK: I didn't think it was a very effective press conference, and a lot of people, Republicans, tell me they thought he was extremely effective. I thought he was not at -- on his best game. I didn't think he was very compelling in his arguments.

I think the problem is that from the very beginning, the people in the administration who wanted this attack on Iraq wanted it because of regime change. They want to change the regime, you know, but they can't make that argument to the world, so they go on this weapons disarmament question, and when obviously, Kate, Iraq is so far behind Iran and not to mention North Korea in nuclear development, that's just a hard case to make.

SHIELDS: Kate.

O'BEIRNE: They're not focusing on just the nuclear case, Bob, although the nuclear international inspectors have missed his nuclear program in the past. They're focusing on, as the president has said tirelessly again and again, the nexus between a rogue state armed with the weapons to know him to have -- even France admits he's got these weapons of mass destruction -- that could be slipped to terrorists.

And as the president said, he will not run the risk of that happening now that, as he reminded us, the United States itself is a battlefield.

Three thousand Frenchmen weren't killed on September 11, 2001.

HUNT: I want to just say...

CARLSON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

HUNT: I want to pick up on what Bob said. Bob, I think if anything, you're too charitable to his performance. I thought it was a positively dreary presidential performance. I was at the Radio Television Directors dinner that night. If there ever was a group that really was interested in what he had to say, it was that group. They watched the first seven or eight minutes. You could watch a pin drop. It was on two big screens.

After about 10 or 11 minutes, people started to talk, and by 12 or 13 minutes, they just turned it off.

It was not a very compelling case. He can't just memorize a couple lines and repeat them no matter what the question. This is someone who's going to have to lead America in a time of war...

O'BEIRNE: Well, all...

HUNT: ... and that wasn't very encouraging.

O'BEIRNE: ... these news guys missed the news out of the speech.

HUNT: It was terrible reporting.

O'BEIRNE: The news was, the news was that he's going to ask the U.N. to declare themselves, to be on record. And that's something that a lot...

NOVAK: That's news?

O'BEIRNE: ... of these crackpot...

NOVAK: That's news?

O'BEIRNE: Regardless of whether he's going to win or lose, Bob...

NOVAK: Yes, but (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

O'BEIRNE: ... people wondered whether or not they were going to call for a vote.

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

O'BEIRNE: And I think it's terrific that he's demanding it, so that these countries not standing with us can't avoid that kind of accountability.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, your own sense, do you think he made the case on North Korea? Do you think he made the case -- did he move public opinion by his first, what, prime-time press conference in 17 months?

CARLSON: You know, his best qualities didn't come through because he was so subdued to show that if he's a cowboy, he's a very reluctant one, and he wanted to prove how serious he was. Wrong format for what he had to do. Just too -- almost comatose, it's like Al Gore in the second debate, after being shown the jumping-up-and- down tape in the first debate. He was just overly subdued.

NOVAK: Beyond the dramatic criticism of the president, isn't the problem that this preemptive doctrine, that we are going to preempt people that we think are dangerous, is not a very good doctrine for a democratic country?

HUNT: I'm very worried about a doctrine of preemption. As I say, I think there is a case to take out Saddam Hussein that does not rest on a doctrine of preemption. I think a doctrine of preemption is terribly dangerous because who are we, then, to turn to the Indians and say, it applies for us but not for you, if they don't like what the Pakistanis are doing?

CARLSON: And disarmament is a better road to go down than regime change.

HUNT: It doesn't mean you don't engage in preemptive strikes on occasion. But as doctrine...

O'BEIRNE: Look. Look...

HUNT: ... as a policy...

O'BEIRNE: ... that's not why France and these other countries are objecting. They object because they don't feel as though lethal threat is aimed at them, is why they're objecting to us taking any action.

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

O'BEIRNE: And as the president said, we don't need world approval to defend ourselves.

And if they're wrong, if they're wrong about whether or not he could be contained through inspections, the United States will be the one to pay the price. We'll have to...

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

O'BEIRNE: ... clean up after them...

NOVAK: ... I don't...

O'BEIRNE: ... just like we had to do in Kosovo.

CARLSON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

NOVAK: I don't think it's that cynical, Kate, I really, I really don't believe that (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

O'BEIRNE: The French aren't cynical, Bob? NOVAK: Well, I -- yes, but the idea, we'll just have the United States have a holocaust, and we'll be safe. I don't, I don't think that's what they're talking about.

O'BEIRNE: It's not their problem.

NOVAK: I think, I think there's people in this country who are conservatives, a lot of the conservatives don't say the things I say, who are, who are heartsick about this prospect.

CARLSON: But the one thing our allies are right about is that 1441 was about disarmament, not about regime change.

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: And Bush brings that -- that Bush brings up when Hussein starts to destroy the Al Samoud missiles shows that there's no amount of disarmament, that he wants regime change first and foremost.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, as of today, 40 of the Al Samoud missiles of the 100 have been destroyed.

THE GANG of five will be back with stepping up the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

The capture by Pakistanis last weekend of a top al Qaeda operative led to optimistic statements about the war against terrorism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed by Pakistani authorities in coordination with the CIA is a severe blow to al Qaeda that could destabilize their terrorist network.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: But rumors of progress in the search for Osama bin Laden were knocked down by Pakistani authorities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHEIKH RASHID, PAKISTAN INFORMATION MINISTER: There is no operation going on. There is no such going on. And we don't know where is Osama and where he is. And if somebody knows, let us know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: On Capitol Hill, a senior Republican senator criticized the FBI director.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: There has to be a sense of urgency on these matters, and we're dealing with life or death, and there was a gap of time when your people didn't know the standard.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: Every night I go to bed, senator, understanding that every day in this job, I deal in life and death.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, do we now have the terrorists on the run?

O'BEIRNE: Mark, I think it's important to give credit where credit is due. The capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the top al Qaeda operative, is huge. And the material captured with him should give our intelligence agencies even more to work with.

Look, Pakistan cooperated. It's no longer safe harbor, if al Qaeda used to view it that way. The swamp is being drained. There've been major arrests with the financiers, so their financing has been disrupted.

I think it's fair to say, given that we haven't had another attack, that we have been successful to this extent in disrupting their cells, and they are on the run.

SHIELDS: Is the swamp being drained, Bob Novak?

NOVAK: I have always had confidence that we're having a good operation in tracking down the terrorists. How -- whether we're going to find Osama bin Laden, I have no idea. What I do know, however, is that the FBI (UNINTELLIGIBLE) looks (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to me, I've been following for many, many years, like the same old FBI. There's arrogance, it doesn't answer requests. Coleen Rowley, the whistle- blower, sends an e-mail to the -- to director Mueller, and he doesn't answer it.

Can you imagine not answering...

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I could imagine not answering...

NOVAK: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

O'BEIRNE: ... that idiot, those idiot suggestions she had. I could imagine ignoring it.

NOVAK: Well, well, if you think it's an idiot suggestion, I guess you know more than a special agent in the FBI, Kate.

But the idea of somebody who is a whistle-blower, person of the year in "TIME" magazine, to ignore it, and that's what Arlen Specter, the senator, was so upset about. They just ignored him for months. It's -- and that, I think, is symptomatic of the FBI really not being up to speed on this fight against terrorism. SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, progress being made?

CARLSON: No, no one on the cover of "TIME" magazine as a whistle-blower should be ignored. Thanks, Bob.

Well, the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is so huge, and it will lead, probably, to Osama bin Laden.

You know, Donald Rumsfeld jokes that when he wakes up in the morning, Joyce says, Where is he? Meaning, you know, you got to get this guy because of the symbolism of it. And, you know, you don't have to march him down Pennsylvania Avenue, once captured, to say that the war on terrorism will be, you know, largely won symbolically if we get the guy.

On the other hand, bombs dropping in Baghdad has sent jitters through the CIA and FBI, because it is going to set off probably a wave of terrorism and suicide bombers.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Well, I think it was a tremendous achievement, and I think they deserve enormous credit for capturing this guy. I accept the fact that the al Qaeda swamp may well be in the process of being drained. I'll be shocked if they don't get bin Laden soon. Of course, I thought they'd get him well over a year ago. If Al Gore were president and hadn't gotten him, they would have impeached him by now.

But what worries me, Kate, is that that's going to create a false sense of security. We're going to be lulled into thinking our problem is over. There are other terrorist groups that some of which are more dangerous, like Hezbollah, than al Qaeda...

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

HUNT: ... and they're entrepreneurial terrorists. And if we don't handle the next couple months with skill and sensitivity, I think we're going to produce hundreds if not thousands of other Osamas.

SHIELDS: Is that, I mean, isn't that really the problem? I mean, the question of draining the swamp, which is appealing, I mean, are we in any way fostering further encouragement, further recruitment for the next generation of al Qaeda, or Hamas, or Hezbollah by...

O'BEIRNE: Well, the lesson...

SHIELDS: ... unilaterally...

O'BEIRNE: ... the lesson of the...

SHIELDS: ... going in?

O'BEIRNE: ... '90s would tell us that to let their attacks go unanswered, not to crack down -- we had an opportunity to capture Mohammed in the mid-'90s -- certainly invited 9/11, because we looked weak and irresolute, and they were getting away with it.

As long as they're there, Mark, and they have the kind of murderous designs on us they do, we have no alternative, obviously, than go over there and get them before they come here to get us.

Among Coleen Rowley, who has no background in counterterrorism, I might add, among her terrific advice to the director of the FBI was, why not negotiate with Saddam Hussein like the FBI negotiated with David Koresh? That was a piece of her brilliant advice. Thank God he's not taking it.

NOVAK: Well, I don't, I don't know if negotiation is all that bad, compared to what we have in store for us. I just find, Kate, a lot of Republican senators I talk to who are concerned about the way the sort of confusion in this fight. All of a sudden, we're sending troops to the Philippines. What are we doing...

O'BEIRNE: Oh, listen, listen...

NOVAK: ... in the Philippines?

O'BEIRNE: ... will anybody please say those critics in the Senate who were telling us the president couldn't wage a war on Iraq, couldn't hold Saddam Hussein accountable, while also waging war on al Qaeda, has any one of them been admitted they've been proven wrong with this major al Qaeda arrest within the past week?

Apparently this administration can do both.

CARLSON: But could he please, please do something in North Korea?

SHIELDS: Yes, I mean, isn't that, I mean, that really is -- everybody I talk to in uniform who's had any combat experience says North Korea is far more pressing, urgent, and potentially cataclysmic.

NOVAK: The problem, the problem with North Korea is, there's no good options.

HUNT: There are no good options. The other problem, which I think we all can agree on, we have a military that's stretched, and that is really something to worry about (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SHIELDS: And undermanned too, Al.

O'BEIRNE: Hollowed out...

SHIELDS: Underpersoned, underpersoned, I'm sorry, Margaret.

O'BEIRNE: ... hollowed out during the Clinton years.

SHIELDS: Last -- Oh, ho, ho, oh, geez. Hey, Kate, why don't we blame...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: ... you could blame, could you blame...

O'BEIRNE: One last point...

SHIELDS: ... the Washington...

O'BEIRNE: ... one last point...

SHIELDS: ... snowstorm on Bill Clinton?

O'BEIRNE: ... one last point...

SHIELDS: Next on CAPITAL GANG, Bush on health care. And later, direct from Baghdad, CNN's Nic Robertson reports.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

President Bush promoted his reforms for medical malpractice and prescription drugs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: There are too many frivolous lawsuits against good doctors, and the patients are paying the price.

I propose we issue a discount card that will reduce the cost of prescription drugs for every senior by 10 to 25 percent. We will provide an annual $600 subsidy to low-income seniors to pay for prescription drugs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Democrats took up the challenge on both issues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

REP. JOHN CONYERS (D), MICHIGAN: The attack on lawyers, as well as the capping of damages of people, is just incomprehensible.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: I am concerned that once again the president will coerce seniors out of Medicare and into HMOs.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, has the president at least challenged the Democrats for the high ground on the issue of health care?

CARLSON: No, because it's a marketplace solution that will enrich insurance companies and not help old people with their prescription drugs at all, and jeopardize Medicare, which is the most efficient delivery system in the world of benefits. There's the lowest administrative cost. And why would you want to tamper with it? It is a gem. Secondly, on this medical malpractice, there are lots of reasons for these insurance premiums, one of which is that the insurance companies are trying to recover costs that they're losing in other areas on the back of raising premiums to doctors. And when you look at all the reasons for these -- this insurance going up, claims by people like the parents of the 17-year-old who got the wrong heart and lungs is the least of it.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, Medicaid does -- Medicare does provide coverage for rich and poor, the healthy and unhealthy. The president's moving to a system that is going to reward health, isn't he?

NOVAK: Medicare is in very bad shape. It needs reform. The only people who like it are the people who believe in the economics of Josef Stalin, because it's priced...

CARLSON: Me?

NOVAK: ... they have a picture -- they -- that's, that's their (UNINTELLIGIBLE), their saint, there, of having fixed prices. You need, you need...

HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

CARLSON: I'm a Stalinist?

NOVAK: ... you need reform of Medicare, and you certainly need to get the trial lawyers toned down a little bit. But they're the big (UNINTELLIGIBLE) cash cow for the Democratic Party. I thought this was an excellent proposal that the president made. They have to be fleshed out. But the House Republicans are a little chicken to mess around with Medicare, because they're afraid of the demagoguery that Margaret had will be spewed out into the campaign.

CARLSON: Did you call me a Stalinist, Bob?

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, the president's talking about deductibles from $4,500 to $7,500, which represents more than a third of the median income of people who are 70 years old. I mean, isn't that -- that really isn't a solution for the problem of prescription drugs, is it?

O'BEIRNE: He's far closer to it than the liberals are. This gem Margaret talks about is heading towards bankruptcy. The Democrats' answer is, Let's pile a hugely expensive new benefit on a program headed towards bankruptcy, which the president, to his credit, refuses to do.

Now, he hasn't acquiesced in a universal new benefit, and there actually -- you could have a targeted benefit on the elderly who really do have a problem. They're not going to buy Medicaid and they're not going to buy private insurance. But the Republicans have signed on to the universal benefit, unfortunately.

But at least they're looking to make the kind of fundamental reforms that'll keep Medicare a solvent system before adding new benefits.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Well, both sides are for a benefit. The question is, do you want to have Medicare or HMOs? That's a debate we ought to have across the country.

O'BEIRNE: It's not the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HUNT: That is a -- that is the debate, and it's great debate to have. You want to talk about Josef Stalin, that's fine.

On the medical malpractice, look, there are sleazy trial lawyers just as there are sleazy doctors and sleazy business executives. There are non -- there are no non-sleazy insurance executives, I don't think. That's who he -- he's trying -- what he first proposes is to partially immunize bad doctors and really sleazy insurance companies from any accountability.

Margaret's example is right. I want the people who are defenders of what Bush is proposing to defend the specifics. This little girl got a wrong blood type, 17-year-old girl, and she died because of that. Somebody made a terrible mistake. Should she -- should her family be limited to $250,000? If the answer is yes, say so.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: ... OK, fine, that's a great debate.

NOVAK: That's more money than they ought to make anyway.

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: But I want to, I want to...

HUNT: Sure would be, pain and suffering, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: ... that's pain and suffering...

O'BEIRNE: They get all their economics (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: ... they could make, they could (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: One at a time, please.

HUNT: Seventeen-year-old doesn't have any economic value.

O'BEIRNE: Yes, she does.

HUNT: No.

CARLSON: No. O'BEIRNE: Yes, you do.

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

HUNT: Not her.

O'BEIRNE: Parents do.

NOVAK: Could I just say quickly that I know you want to be accurate, but under the president's proposal, the elderly get their choice whether they go into an HMO or stay on the...

O'BEIRNE: Just like congressmen.

NOVAK: ... other system.

O'BEIRNE: Congress (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

NOVAK: Just like Congress.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: It's a Hobson's choice.

HUNT: That's a good choice. WE ought to have that debate, Bob.

SHIELDS: Last debate -- last word, Al Hunt.

We'll be back with a CAPITAL GANG Classic, revisiting the fight over prescription drugs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Three years ago, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a prescription drug bill, on its way to an eventual veto by President Bill Clinton.

Your CAPITAL GANG discussed the story on July 1, the year 2000. Our guest was Senator Harry Reid, Nevada, Senate Democratic whip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, July 1, 2000)

O'BEIRNE: House Democrats are convinced that prescription drug -- the new prescription drug benefit is key to winning back the older voters the party's been losing, and in turn, winning back the House.

They have to be able to say, though, that House Republicans oppose a new prescription drug benefit, and now that the House Republicans held together, passed their own plan, the Democrats can no longer accuse them of that.

NOVAK: The whole question of the seniors and rugs is, they don't want to pay any money for their drugs, not even those who can afford it. The people's -- people go to Miami, they go to play bingo, they do all these things. But what they don't want to do is, they don't want to pay any money for the drugs, and they want the government.

So they (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the Republicans understand the mood of these seniors.

HUNT: Eighty-seven-year-old people more interested in bingo.

NOVAK: Yes.

HUNT: Look, the Republican game, which Bob is close to -- is close to getting here was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) when they had a pollster come and talk to the Republican conference three weeks ago, Glen Bolger (ph). And you know what he told them? He said, Mark, it's more important to communicate that you have a plan than what's in it.

That's exactly what they've done.

SHIELDS: The Republican urge to privatize Medicare is so transparent and so obvious, I just think they're going to be in political trouble.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: Let's have a prescription drug benefit that we can agree on. There should be a bipartisan bill. It would be easy to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, what has changed about this issue in the last three years?

HUNT: Virtually nothing.

SHIELDS: Virtually nothing at all.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, do you think anything's changed?

NOVAK: Well, let me give a little -- not much has changed, but let me give a little critique. Harry Reid says that it's easy to do a bipartisan bill. Harry Reid's idea of bipartisanship is a Democratic bill with Republican sponsors.

And you were wrong too, Mark, when you said that this was -- that the Republicans were going to really suffer on this issue in 2000. Whatever happened in 2000, it wasn't fought on prescription drugs.

SHIELDS: I think my thought processes were interrupted by talking about the 87-year-old going to the bingo game in Florida rather than getting their prescription filled.

CARLSON: Right, these bingo-playing geezers who are Stalinists for wanting some kind of prescription drug benefit. A compassionate conservative, you, Bob, before it was cool.

NOVAK: Did I ever call myself that?

SHIELDS: Kate. O'BEIRNE: I think one major change is, prior to September 11, 2001, domestic policy was everything and Republicans were clearly on defense. I think now the Democrats are on the defense on priority issues like fighting the war on terrorism and national security, and these domestic issues matter less politically.

SHIELDS: If Republicans were smart enough for the Republican Congress, Republican president to pass a universal prescription drug plan, it would absolutely be a devastating blow to the Democrats. But thank goodness, the Republicans aren't, believe me.

CARLSON: Well, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), wither on the vine...

SHIELDS: Coming up in the second half of CAPITAL GANG, our "Newsmaker of the Week" is Middle Eastern specialist and former diplomat Edward Djerejian. "Beyond the Beltway" goes to Baghdad with CNN's Nic Robertson. And our "Outrages of the Week." That's all after the latest news following these messages.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.

SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG.

I'm Mark Shields with the full GANG, Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and Margaret Carlson.

Our "Newsmaker of the Week" is Edward P. Djerejian, director of the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

Edward Djerejian, age 64, residence Houston, Texas, bachelor's degree from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, joined the U.S. foreign service in 1962.

Deputy White House press secretary for foreign affairs under President Reagan, assistant secretary of state and ambassador to Syria and Israel under Republican and Democratic presidents.

Our own Al Hunt spoke with Ambassador Djerejian from Houston earlier this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: Ambassador Djerejian, as war with Saddam seems virtually inevitable, next door is another in President Bush's axis of evil, Iran, bigger and, some believe, a more lethal long-term threat than Iraq.

What role will Iran likely play in the months ahead?

EDWARD DJEREJIAN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: I think immediately, Iran will be looking at its own national security interests, Al. I think, first of all, they will be taking military measures on the border with Iraq to handle any refugee outflows. They'll also be playing a political role in terms of the groups that they have supported.

But this is all speculative in terms of how the war actually evolves.

HUNT: The view of Paul Wolfowitz at the Defense Department basically is that regime replacement in Iraq and a move towards a more democratic country there is going to help the so-called moderates in Iran.

DJEREJIAN: I think the tremendous demographic characteristic of that country, a very high percentage of young people who never knew the shah, never knew the beginnings, even, of this clerical mullah-led regime by Khomeini, you have a tremendous surge from within Iran amongst the youth for change, the dynamics of what happens within Iran itself, and not interposed from the outside.

HUNT: Iran is trying to acquire nuclear capability. Can you logically dissuade the Iranians from trying to go that route, or is the only way to stop them through force?

DJEREJIAN: Well, I think the Iranians consider themselves to be a regional power. But when it looks at the region as a whole, when you see India, Pakistan, Israel, and it -- and Saddam's nuclear ambitions, the Iranians have plans for obtaining a nuclear capability.

How you stop that, either through a military action or, ideally -- ideally -- through a region-wide weapons of mass destruction-free zone.

HUNT: You co-authored a study a few months ago that warned that we could lose the peace after we win the war. What's your biggest fear?

DJEREJIAN: Well, my biggest concern, as we reflected in this joint Baker Institute-Council on Foreign Relations report, is that the day after we feel that U.S. military has to play a very critical and strong role to reestablish law and order, resume humanitarian assistance, and disarm Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, but that concomitantly, and as speedily as possible, we have to bring in the Iraqis, in terms of their own political governance and in terms of managing their own economic infrastructure, and especially the oil sector.

That's going to be a very difficult challenge.

HUNT: What is your best estimate as to how long American forces will have to be in Iraq after the war?

DJEREJIAN: A correct answer on that -- there's no way of judging. What we assumed in our joint report is that the United States will have to be there for at least two years.

HUNT: Assuming that it is a relatively swift and successful war, what effect will there be on oil prices in the next year, in the year ahead?

DJEREJIAN: Well, if it's successful, I think that what we're going to see is an immediate spike in the price of oil. But then I think you're going to see oil prices stabilizing at a relatively high level. But I think you're going to see oil prices eventually come down to the -- anywhere in the range of $22 to $28 a barrel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHIELDS: Al, was Ambassador Djerejian quietly contradicting the Bush administration's claim that war in Iraq will make Iran less threatening?

HUNT: Well, Mark, this was part of a longer interview. But I think that what he does feel, as he said, is that any change in Iran will be indigenous, and he's cautiously optimistic about that, rather than external, that Iraq won't have much impact on that.

I do think that we ought to think about Iran a lot. It is -- compared to Iraq, it is bigger, it is stronger, it is a more cohesive country, and, I think, a bigger threat if we don't have good relations with them (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they're clearly developing nuclear, a nuclear capacity.

SHIELDS: Bigger threat, Bob Novak?

NOVAK: Yes, I think so, and I think North Korea is a bigger threat right now. Sometimes some people are talking about North Korea being able to produce one atom bomb a month in the near future. That raises some questions of why we're bombing Iraq. But somebody will explain that logic to me someday.

O'BEIRNE: Well, it's a threat to handle differently. The one way to make Iran less threatening, because they, of course, are a threat, they're the mother of all terrorism, is to help the millions of Iranians who are anxious to overthrow that repressive regime. And we ought to be helping them internally any way we can.

SHIELDS: Margaret.

CARLSON: But we're not, as best I can tell, helping them internally.

When the ambassador said that it would be two years in Iraq, and if we're only two years in Iraq, and the United States is there alone without its allies, it's going to seem like 100 years, and it's going to destabilize the whole region.

SHIELDS: Last word, Margaret Carlson.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the situation in Baghdad with CNN's Nic Robertson reporting directly from the Iraqi capital.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

As Iraq awaited the coming U.S. attack, the country's ruler was defiant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. SADDAM HUSSEIN, IRAQ (through translator): Iraq is not easy morsel, it is a harsh one that will harm the mouth of the one who likes to eat. And it is too difficult to be swallowed.

But by God, if they dare to attack Iraq, they will see days during which they wish they don't attack us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Joining us now from Baghdad is CNN's senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson.

Nic, do the ordinary people in Baghdad buy into Saddam Hussein boasts?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's impossible to see any different. Whenever we go out here, we go out with government officials, whenever we go out with a camera. So it's impossible to catch on camera any difference. Behind the scenes, privately, people indicate that while they may be happy for change here in the leadership, they're very concerned that that change will come at the hand of what they see as an invader.

So there's a very sort of mixed feeling a lot of people have here at this time.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Nic, do you feel that the military in Iraq and the government in Iraq really feels that they can inflict some serious damage on the U.S. military machine?

ROBERTSON: That's not clear. One doesn't see huge, tremendous military preparations in this city, so it's very difficult to gauge exactly how they're going to make themselves ready for such a determined resistance here around the capital. And that's what we expect to happen.

So it's very difficult to see how they would expect to inflict serious damage. But that's what they say, every -- all these appearances on television are morale-boosting, to rally people behind the leadership, perhaps try and push down any sentiment that might grow there that it's time to get rid of this leader and to play towards the Arab sentiment that this is an invader coming into your country. The country has seen this in its history, and it's not to be repeated.

That's what people are repetitively told here.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson. CARLSON: Nic, the Pentagon says that the Iraqi military is not what it once was. But there's still fear of the Republican Guard around Saddam Hussein and an attempt to try to crack them. Is there any legitimacy to the stories that Saddam Hussein is just counting on the Republican Guard in Baghdad to defend him in Baghdad and not too concerned about the Iraqi military and how they perform?

ROBERTSON: It's very, very difficult to get an informed assessment of that driving around the capital and the limited times we've got into the countryside. What it is clear to see here that at some locations, particularly the presidential primary locations, the officers and men guarding those locations are better equipped, are better uniformed than they are elsewhere around the country.

We've seen these volunteer armies out on the streets at some of the mass rallies. None of them have been issued ammunition. The only people with the ammunition we see are those guarding the rallies.

But it's very difficult to know exactly which way people will turn. But if you look at the majority of the military people that we see in the city here, they are better armed and in better uniforms and appear to be better equipped and appear to have better discipline than perhaps those that we've seen elsewhere.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Nic, some international volunteers headed to Baghdad at the urging of the government to act as human shields. How have they fared? Is there any thought they're going to be the least helpful should war start?

ROBERTSON: You know, a lot of those human shields are still living in a government-paid hotel in the city. Some of them have been allocated to go to power stations, to water treatment facilities. There are about a list of 60 different sites Iraqi officials wanted to send them to.

There was resentment within the ranks of those human shields. Some of them left to go back home. They didn't want to be allocated locations.

There are still some human shields here, and some of them do say that they will stay to -- at those places that they've been allocated to, choosing the ones that they'd rather go to.

However, whenever you ask the human shields here, Are you being used by the government? they always say, Absolutely not, we're doing this for our free will, not for the government but for the people of Iraq. Very much one senses from them a strong empathy with the people from Iraq. They do not want to see these people being hurt. That's often what we hear.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Nic, there's been a great deal of comment here in Washington about how the press is going to cover this war, with far more access to the military than we enjoyed during the Persian Gulf War.

Will the Western press be able to stay in Baghdad, as they did in 1991, or is it different this time?

ROBERTSON: That's a very interesting question. From what we can see at the moment, the government here seems to think that this war, if it happens, when it happens, will play out like 1991.

They're expecting to apply the same set of conditions that they applied at that time, that they will let people stay here, that they want them to work at this location, the Ministry of Information, that they want the journalists to stay in the al-Rashid Hotel a few blocks away within this government -- very much a government type of area in the center of Baghdad.

That's their plan. They say at this time that they're not shifting from that plan.

But it does -- the plan does include allowing journalists to be here, and, as far as we know at this time, report from here.

SHIELDS: Nic, your familiarity with and knowledge of the region is probably second to none. And the question keeps coming up, the United States after the war, if there is a war, and it is victorious, as the first Western Christian pro-Israeli invading and occupying army of a Muslim nation, what is the dynamic that you see?

ROBERTSON: It's not going to sit well in Iraq, that's what people tell us at this time. They have seen, and one remembers that the news that the majority of people get here is filtered through the state broadcasters.

That's -- they get the government view, and that is that this is an invasion, if you will, to take control of the region, that they have seen -- the government tells them repeatedly how the United States plays the situation in Israel to make Israel stronger than the Palestinians.

People here are concerned, because they wonder, you know, can an invading force maintain law and order, so civil law and order doesn't break down, so the many complicated things that bind society here don't break down.

They're concerned because they think that an invading force will come here and act in a way to suppress the people of the country. And they're concerned of the nature that that -- what they see an invasion would happen. The United States, from what hear to people here, are not a welcoming force in this country. Of course, one has to measure that against when we go out, we go out with government officials.

But that is the view we hear, and it is a view we hear privately from people as well.

NOVAK: Nic, is there any sense in Baghdad, either among the Iraqis or among the Western media, that it'll be different this time? The sense we have here in Washington that there won't be restraints on the bombing, that the al-Rashid Hotel will be in bounds and other places that were out of bounds, that it will be a much tougher ordeal this time, is there any sense there of that?

ROBERTSON: Absolutely. There is a larger number of journalists here than there were in 1991, and they are very concerned, the journalists are very concerned about where they'll be able to operate safely.

I think it's safe to say the safety really is people's primary concern at this time. I think the journalists are under no illusion what a bombing campaign that would shock and awe the regime here, what impact that could have on one's ability to broadcast, particularly from government locations.

So the journalists are very concerned about how they're going to do it, where they can go, can they get permission to be located in these other locations? These are the sort of issues that are running through everybody's mind at this time. People are trying to make contingency plans so that they can have food, water, and generators and a transmission equipment at different locations.

But in this system and this environment, that isn't easy.

SHIELDS: Nic Robertson, thank you so much for being with us.

THE GANG will be back with the "Outrages of the Week."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Now for the "Outrage of the Week."

The Armed Forces Tax Fairness Act straightforwardly provided that families of American military personnel killed in combat would pay no taxes on the small $6,000 benefit they'd receive.

But the legislation became so loaded with tax breaks for special interests, including amnesty for tax-dodging, unpatriotic corporations, which moved their legal addresses to Bermuda just to avoid their fair share of U.S. taxes, that an embarrassed House Republican leadership was forced to pull the bill off the floor.

Keep an eye on these guys.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: William Jefferson Clinton never knew how to act as a president, neither does he know how to act as a former president. He was signed up for a -- he has signed up for a reported $1 million to debate Bob Dole on CBS'S "60 Minutes."

Never before has a former president of the United States descended to my level. As a television talking head, Bill Clinton doesn't see anything wrong with this. But, of course, he didn't see anything wrong with the outrages that he perpetrated as president.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson. CARLSON: Vice President Dick Cheney's lawyer declared war this week on the First Amendment and a Web site with a threatening letter from counsel insisting that it could not make money off his wife's image without her consent.

The now-famous site, whitehouse.org, responded by adding a clown nose to Mrs. Cheney's likeness.

In Albany, a 60-year-old shopper was arrested by a security guard for refusing to take off his T-shirt, which said, "Give Peace a Chance."

Ah, homeland security, one mall at a time.

Let's leave denying people their civil rights to John Ashcroft.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: President Bush rightly called 44 Democratic senators voting to continue their filibuster against judicial nominee Miguel Estrada a disgrace. "The Washington Post" calls their unprecedented attack extortion.

After weeks of falsely claiming that Estrada hadn't answered the questions, the White House offered written responses to any submitted questions, and got none.

Two Democratic House members, Representatives Velasquez and Serrano, are actually engaging in racial profiling, complaining Estrada hasn't belonged to the right minority groups. I guess he fails their judging while Hispanic test.

Disgrace is right.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Mark, candidate George W. Bush in the last campaign equivocated on gun control. On one issue, however, he was clear. Quote, "It makes no sense for assault weapons to be around our society," end quote, Mr. Bush declared during that campaign.

But this week Attorney General Ashcroft raised questions whether the administration would support an extension of the assault weapons ban when the law expires.

Great, just what we need, more AK-47s and Uzis in the streets.

It's obscene to even consider pandering to the gun lobby in such a dangerous matter.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.

Coming up next, "CNN PRESENTS: Captured -- Inside the Army's Secret School."

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com



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