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CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN

The Brink of War: Will Iraqis Surrender?

Aired March 18, 2003 - 22:00   ET

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

AARON BROWN, HOST: Good evening, everyone. We are in the CNN Center in Atlanta tonight, and we will be here for some days to come, it seems.
Tomorrow at this time, the nation may very well be at war. Tomorrow at this time, tens of thousands of young American men and women may be in danger. So too will many innocent Iraqis and some not so innocent ones as well.

That's where we are. It is at simple as that. Tonight, for the most part, at least, it's not a night to debate the wisdom of the decision. We've done plenty of that before and we may again. But tonight, on what may be the eve of war, we look at the country, its preparations, and its worries as it approaches the next 24 hours.

So we begin The Whip starting at the White House, and our senior White House correspondent John King. John, the headline from you, tonight.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, 22 hours until that ultimatum deadline expires. The White House heard Saddam Hussein say never would he go into exile. Today, the White House says perhaps still a little time to reconsider or face a penalty for what the White House calls his final mistake.

BROWN: John, thank you. Back to you at the top tonight.

The Pentagon now. The latest on the strategy. Jamie McIntyre, of course, is there again tonight. So Jamie, a headline.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, in the days or hours or whatever's left before the war starts, the Pentagon is focusing on the psychological campaign. The idea is to win this war not by killing as many of the enemy as possible, but by killing as few as possible -- Aaron.

BROWN: Jamie, thank you.

So what are the people of the country saying on the eve of war? What is our national mood? A long, tall assignment for Jeff Flock today. And Jeff is with us tonight. A headline from you.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CHICAGO BUREAU CHIEF: Indeed, Aaron, we have been talking to folks all across the country today and tonight. Many of those who have been opposing war in the hopes of heading it off say they have finally given up. We'll tell you what they are saying and doing now.

BROWN: Jeff, thank you. Back to you and the rest in a moment.

Also coming up tonight on NEWSNIGHT, we'll talk to former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, we'll look at the heightened security that is visible across the country tonight, how people are coping with the fear of a possible terrorist attack tied to this war with Iraq.

And correspondent Jason Bellini tonight with one private's honest assessment of himself on the eve of war. A young man who believes he may not be up to the fight. That's "Segment 7" tonight. All of that to come in a busy hour. The private comes at the end.

We begin with the commander in chief. Sometime soon, maybe 22 hours from now or 26 or 36 or 48, but soon, the president of the United States will issue an order. He will tell someone, who will tell someone else, who will tell yet another person, and all of a sudden, a war will begin.

History perhaps will answer questions like, what is the president thinking tonight on this night before? What will his thoughts be when he issues that order? We'll have to wait for those answers and many more. Tonight we can only report what we know about the president and his day, and that is plenty enough. Here again, our senior White House correspondent, John King.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): It was 34 hours and counting when the Pentagon brass arrived to brief the president on the war plans. Near the 33-hour mark when they emerged, knowing Iraq already had rejected the U.S. ultimatum.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Saddam Hussein, if he doesn't leave the country, will make his final mistake.

KING: Senior U.S. officials say the president and vice president were told the troops are ready. And these officials say an order to attack could come as early as Wednesday. Only Great Britain and perhaps Australia are slated to directly join the fight, but the administration listed 30 countries it says are part of the U.S.-led coalition.

From Italy, Iceland, Spain, and South Korea, to the Czech Republic, Nicaragua, tiny Albania, and the impoverished east African nation of Eritrea. Mr. Bush called presidents Putin of Russia and Hu of China, voicing hope long-term relations would not suffer despite profound disagreements over war in Iraq. White House anger at France and Germany runs deeper, even more so after fresh criticism of Mr. Bush's march to war.

PRESIDENT JACQUES CHIRAC, FRANCE (through translator): There is no justification for this unilateral resort to war.

GERHARD SCHROEDER, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): There is no reason to end this disarmament process now.

KING: Dissent at home as well. Leading Democrats accused the president of botching diplomacy and say his domestic agenda is at odds with the country's wartime footing.

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We should not have a tax cut until we are going to pay for the war in Iraq, pay for the occupation in Iraq, and also pay for the return of the troops.

KING: The Treasury and Commerce secretaries are telling the president the economic impact of war should not be all that severe. And the White House hopes a short conflict will boost not only financial markets but also Mr. Bush's clout on Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Twenty-two hours now and counting. And the White House says the president could act any time after that deadline expires, 8:00 Washington time tomorrow night. Though two senior administration officials telling CNN tonight that the president might wait a little bit if his military planners tell him that would be best for them.

And even if Saddam Hussein agrees to exile, suddenly the White House U.S. troops would still go into Iraq to destroy its weapons and protect its borders. But as the deadline approaches, no one here at the White House expects the Iraqi leader will go peacefully -- Aaron.

BROWN: So where is the president? Is the president in the White House tonight? What do we expect his next 24 hours to be?

KING: Much of it in private, and we will not see it. We are told more meetings with the military planners, more reaching out over the phone as well. He made some phone calls today, including one to Tony Blair, his close ally, of course.

The one meeting we do know on the president's schedule, he will sit down tomorrow with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg to discuss their efforts to prepare the country and its major cities for the possibility that the prospect of war overseas could bring terrorist attacks here at home.

BROWN: John, thank you. it seems strange to say it, but I think it's true that it is possible that the next time you and I talk, the country will be at war. Thank you.

KING: Very possibly.

BROWN: John King tonight from the White House.

On to the Pentagon next. The final preparations, the psychology of the moment, if you will. In addition to polishing the war plan, there's an effort underway tonight to win a war without actually having to fight one. To scare Iraqi troops, essentially, into not fighting. That's a best case scenario, of course. But even something short of the very best could mean a lot, better in the end. So there are head games being played out there, and there are 300,000 troops, give or take, just to enforce the point. Reporting for us, CNN's Jamie McIntyre.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): Between now and when the war begins, the Iraqi military will be showered with U.S. propaganda aimed at convincing Iraqi troops to keep their guns pointed down and to give up without a fight.

BUSH: I urge every member of the intelligence...

MCINTYRE: President Bush's message is being broadcast in Arabic into Iraq by a U.S. military airborne radio station. Sources say the clear instructions to avoid attack promised by President Bush tell the Iraqi military to lay down their weapons, park their tanks or other military vehicles, and remain in their barracks until U.S. forces arrive.

If the Iraqi troops don't resist, and technically don't surrender, that could reduce the number of POWs the U.S. military is responsible for. And in turn, that could allow ground troops to leapfrog over Iraqi regular forces in the south and more quickly move against the Republican Guard, which has dispersed around Baghdad and Saddam Hussein's ancestral home of Tikrit.

In addition, sources say, U.S. and British troops in Kuwait are hoping to score a quick victory in the southern part town of Basra, which has a Shiite population that tends not to support Saddam Hussein. Pentagon strategists theorize early reports of jubilant Iraqis in Basra could prompt other Iraqi units to fold.

The two big unknowns in the war plan: Will the Republican Guard fight if it's clear Saddam Hussein's fate is sealed? And will they carry out orders to use chemical weapons? U.S. intelligence indicates a Republican Guard unit near Al Kut, south of Baghdad, may have been issued gas-filled artillery shells.

Another indicator of possible plans to use chemical weapons, Pentagon sources say, is Saddam Hussein's appointment of an Iraqi commander in the south who's been nicknamed Chemical Ali because of his role in the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in 1988.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: And, Aaron, as you've noted, by tomorrow night at this time, it's possible the war might have begun. But Pentagon sources say, in any event, barring unforeseen circumstances, the war is definitely less than a week away at this point. And, by the way, this war now has a name, according to Pentagon sources. They settled on the name Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Pentagon cautions that until the president or the secretary of defense actually announces that, it's a working name. It could still be changed -- Aaron. BROWN: I remember how much trouble they had coming up with a name for Afghanistan. As briefly as you can, how similar are theses Pentagon warnings this time, this year, to 12 years ago? Were they saying essentially the same thing about chemical weapons and the like?

MCINTYRE: Well they were very concerned then about chemical weapons as well. I mean it's very similar in the sense of the timing. Although I should say that I wasn't actually at CNN back in the 1991 Gulf War. I was watching as a viewer. But having studied the war in retrospect, this phase of it, this part of the timing, very similar to 12 years ago.

BROWN: Jamie, thank you. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

Once again tonight in Baghdad, no sign of any give. Instead, there are signs we do remember from 1991 and 1998 as well. If Saddam Hussein had political handlers, this would be the stage of the game called letting Saddam be Saddam. Today he was Saddam, the military leader. Here's CNN's Nic Robertson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the image Iraq wants the world to see: defiance on the eve of war. A hastily organized government demonstration showing support for President Saddam Hussein.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We came here to say to Bush we all Iraqi people want peace and they are against war.

ROBERTSON: Gun-toting civilians imply defense of every household should U.S troops arrive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Let him try his bad luck here. We are ready for him. Ready with sticks, anything.

ROBERTSON: Pictures of the same demo were carried on Iraqi television, implying for anyone here who may doubt it, President Saddam Hussein is firmly in control. Meeting top politicians earlier in the day, the Iraqi leader was seen in his military uniform for the first time in two years. He denounced President Bush's ultimatum as debased and flawed.

Indeed, his elder son, Uday Saddam Hussein, in a statement on his own television station, said it was President Bush who should leave office. The defiant language echoed at a news conference by Iraq's foreign minister, who called President Bush an idiot and said Iraq has done all it can to avoid war.

NAJI SABRI, IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER: The radical, I think, solution to keep this window open is for the two despots in Washington and London to leave office. Once they leave office, they can open the window for diplomacy all over the world, solve all the disputes away from the cowboy policy.

ROBERTSON: Sabri also described the Iraqi leader as sure of victory.

SABRI: He is relaxed. He has good. And he is sure of beating this evil aggression against Iraq.

ROBERTSON (on camera): While there is exceptions here among Iraq's leaders that war is a certainty, there is some satisfaction that the United States and Great Britain do not have strong U.N. backing to conduct it. Nic Robertson, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Another sign of where things are headed tonight, a last- minute diplomatic effort by the Arab League has apparently fizzled. Christiane Amanpour is following that strain of the story from Kuwait City. Christiane, it's good to see you tonight.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, you know the Arab countries have been remarkably on the sidelines of this whole diplomatic effort, and of course they are so divided. I'm sitting in Kuwait, one of several Arab countries which is being used as a staging point for U.S. and other troops. Others are out and out against a war.

Having said that, over the last couple of days, Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, tried to go to Baghdad. Apparently there was some plan that he would go to Baghdad and convey some kind of message. Now although many of the Arab countries quietly say they would like to see Saddam Hussein leave, nobody is willing to say that in public.

So everybody says, no, we don't go there to ask him to leave. That's not our job. But apparently some people have tried to do that, and Saddam Hussein has rejected that.

Also, the Tunisian foreign minister was in Baghdad over the last couple of days, and the Tunisian press has been full of speculation. In fact, they have out and out suggested that the foreign minister went and asked Saddam Hussein to take that ultimatum for exile, and indeed the Tunisian press suggesting that Tunisia had offered to take him in itself.

There are any number of countries which could take him in. As you know, Saudi Arabia floated -- again unofficially -- a few weeks and months ago the notion that Saddam Hussein should leave. Of course when you ask the Saudis officially, they say, no, we never asked him to leave. But Saudi Arabia does have several exiled despots there holding out since they have left their various countries over the last several years, and that has been one possibility.

But it does seem that at this late stage there is no hope that there will be any kind of diplomatic breakthrough that forces Saddam Hussein or gives him some kind of opportunity to leave Baghdad -- Aaron.

BROWN: Christiane, thank you. And should war break out, Christiane will be spending a lot of time with us here at this time of the night, helping to report the stories that play out in the Persian Gulf.

Ahead on the program tonight, we'll talk with former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger about what's going on behind the scenes as the White House prepares for war, perhaps just 22 hours or so away.

Up next, a look at preparations around the country as the threat level goes to orange. And later tonight, "Segment 7", quite a powerful story. The story of a private who couldn't shoot straight, more or less, and how the Marines are trying to quickly whip him into shape. This is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: The signs of an impending war are all around. They're not just military. There is increased security all around the country tonight and a concern that stretches well beyond U.S. borders. The fear of a terror attack led Major League Baseball today to cancel its season opener between Seattle and Oakland that was scheduled to be played in Japan.

Here at home, dozens of Iraqis thought to be sympathetic to Saddam Hussein are being detained because of concerns over what they might do in the event of a war. Clearly, there are nerves tonight, and just as clearly, there are plenty of reasons for those nerves. Here's CNN's Jeanne Meserve.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the bridges of the West Coast to the subways of New York, threat level orange was evident. Even in places where there had been a lot of security, there was more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This city and other cities across America have really goosed it up, if you will.

MESERVE: The looming likelihood of hostilities with Iraq and intelligence assessments that retaliatory attacks are a near certainty prompted the change.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: While al Qaeda and those sympathetic to their cause are still a principal threat, the principal threat, Iraqi state agents, Iraqi surrogate groups, other regional extremist organizations, and ad hoc groups or disgruntled individuals may use this time period to conduct terrorist attacks against the United States and our interests, either here or abroad.

MESERVE: Under operation Liberty Shield, as the new national security plan is called, patrols on waterways and ports are being stepped up with security zones around critical infrastructure. Law enforcement is more visible at airports, and new flight restrictions are being put in place at certain U.S. cities, plus Disneyworld in Orlando and Disneyland in Anaheim.

The plan also calls for increased security at chemical facilities and increased vigilance in food production. Just as the General Accounting Office released reports saying the extent of security precautions in food processing is unclear and the vulnerability of chemical plants unassessed and largely unaddressed.

Meanwhile, on the National Mall, a standoff continued with a man who claims his tractor is loaded with explosives. It snarled traffic, shuttered buildings and diverted security assets and attention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One cop became three cops. And then three cops. It was like this whole situation right now.

MESERVE: While it doesn't appear to be a terrorist act, that it happened at all raises the question: Is security even in the nation's capital what it could or should be? Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Well, we admit that sometimes in the news business we get caught up on the extremes of any argument, and Iraq has been no exception. We've seen all the people in the streets bashing President Bush, and we've seen people dumping on France, while dumping out French champagne. The fact is it's easier to cover the extremes. They make the most noise.

The rest of America makes less noise. They're less certain of things. And in that way, it makes them more compelling, a most compelling voice. Even if it's not always so easy to hear it. Voices from across the country tonight, reported by CNN's Jeff Flock.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN BLAKE: If our troops can see pictures of their hometown streets, streets that they know, with yellow ribbons of support for them, that picture is worth a thousand words.

FLOCK (voice-over): In Naperville, Illinois, there are streets with yellow ribbons on every tree. One is for Susan Blake's son in the 101st airborne.

BLAKE: And I'm not taking my yellow ribbon off. Garrett (ph) will take it off when he comes home.

FLOCK: Wanting the troops to come home safe is something everyone can agree on, but on the wisdom of war, it is a nation divided.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's something that's been needed for a while.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think that it's a ridiculous thing.

FLOCK: What we hear from the streets of L.A. to State Street in Chicago to the streetcars in San Francisco is concern.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It probably needs to be done, but it scares me. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am praying for my country and its president. And I think the decision is his, and he's made it. And so I think everybody should support him.

FLOCK: But not everyone does.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bush should think with his brain not with his heart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a former officer in the United States Army, so I'm no pacifist.

FLOCK: Chicago lawyer Ken McNeil (ph) says this war is not justified.

KEN MCNEIL, ATTORNEY: I for one have noticed that since September 11th nothing has blown up. I think the threat is greatly exaggerated.

FLOCK: This is Atlanta, skepticism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not our country. We can't simply tell somebody else how they're going to run their country.

FLOCK: This is New York. Support for President Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody else doesn't want to step up. He stepped up to the plate, and he's doing what he should do.

FLOCK: This is Miami.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think he wants to be doing what he's doing, but I think he really believes this is what we have to do.

FLOCK: Like it or not, most everyone agrees war is about to happen, even this Chicago woman with an impeach Bush button. We asked her what the U.S. and Iraq should do instead of fight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kiss and make up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FLOCK: Aaron, I guess it's fair to say it's too late for that, although there may be some kissing and making up to do among Americans, particularly the ones who criticized their fellow Americans for speaking out against the war. The ones who were criticized say that, after all, is what the nation was founded on, and to criticize them is un-American -- Aaron.

BROWN: Well, again, we're in one of those times, and tempers are tight. Jeff, thank you. Jeff Flock in Chicago tonight on the mood of the country.

Every American, like we suppose every Iraqi, has a stake in what's about to unfold. To the president's mind, the long-term safety of the country is at stake. In the short term, as Jeanne Meserve reported earlier, it is certainly possible that we are at greater risk. In the most practical terms, it's likely that the cost of the war would mean there's less money for a lot of things we value, from better schools to prescription drugs for the elderly.

So we all have an interest in this. But for hundreds of thousands of families, the stake is far more direct, and the risks are far greater. They are the families of those men and women who will fight this war. And while we wish it were otherwise, certainly not all will come home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): It will be a war fought with the most modern of weapons, the most sophisticated of tactics. But for many tonight, the anxiety and tears are as old as time.

ROGALIN ANTONIO, BOYFRIEND IN KUWAIT: He just tried to make it seem like he's not worried, but I know he is.

BROWN: Whether it is Travis Air Force base in northern California, or here in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, the families of those soldiers all know the dye has been cast, that their child, their brother, their sister, or their cousin, they are going to war.

THELMA LEWIS: It's very hard right now. It's the first time we've ever been separated. So it's very hard.

BROWN: In Hamilton, Alabama today there was a parade as the state's largest National Guard unit left its base. In Wisconsin, the National Guard armory was practically empty as more soldiers left. Out west in Oregon, the parents of Alyssa Garrett (ph), now stationed on the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Persian Gulf, were in a strange way happier.

JEANNE GARRETT: It's scary, but in another way it's a relief, because now we kind of know, have a little bit more of a timeline.

MONICA CARTER, U.S. ARMY RESERVE: I'm 72 hours on alert at this time. So I don't know when, don't know where, don't know how long.

BROWN: Monica Carter is an Army nurse on standby to be deployed at any time. It will be an extra burden on her 9-year-old daughter, whose father is also on duty overseas.

SARAH STAFFORD, FATHER OVERSEAS: He tells me that he misses me a whole bunch and he can't wait until April to see me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what did you tell him?

STAFFORD: And I say I can't wait either and I miss him too.

BROWN: So, yes, we all have a stake in what is about to unfold. But for some, the stakes are simply higher than others.

LAURA BARNES, WIFE OF DEPLOYED SOLDIER: While people try to understand and be supportive, unless you're going through it, you really don't have any idea of the anxiety and the stress and the fear that a family's going through.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Coming up on NEWSNIGHT, we'll talk with former Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. He joins us from Washington.

Later, we'll hear the British Prime Minister Tony Blair's impassioned defense of his position before the House of Commons. From CNN center in Atlanta, this is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: At the top of the program, we talked -- we said that we may never know precisely about all that's going on inside a president's mind. We are joined tonight by someone who can at least shed some light about what's going on inside the president's inner circle in these moments like this one.

Sandy Berger was the national security adviser to President Clinton. He joins us tonight from Washington. It's nice to see you.

SAMUEL BERGER, FMR. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Good evening.

BROWN: I guess a mechanical question. How, in fact, will the order be given?

BERGER: Well, the president will either in one or a series of orders give an order to go forward. That may not determine the precise moment or even exactly how military action begins. That may be a matter that is decided by the commander in the field. But, ultimately, the commander in chief has to give the go order.

BROWN: Is it that a legal document is signed, or does he pick up the phone and call his secretary of defense and say, I hereby give the order? Is there...

BERGER: Well, again, this has been an unusual beginning, in a sense, Aaron, in the sense that there already have been, as we know, military actions inside Iraq in the last -- in the last few days at a lower level.

But, presumably, there will be a communication, either directly from the president and the secretary of defense or through the national security adviser, at the appropriate time. Or that decision may have already -- effectively, that authority may have already been given to the secretary of defense or to General Franks, under circumstances to be determined -- as specified to go forward.

BROWN: And no moment is precisely the same. And your time with President Clinton is not precisely the same as this time. But I do believe human emotions are the same.

Is the White House a different place in moments like this? Is it more quiet? Is there a greater sense of history? What's it like?

BERGER: Well, I think, interestingly, as we sit here tonight on what is probably the eve of war, after the last intensive days and weeks for everyone at the White House and the president, it's a bit of a calm before the storm.

The big decisions have been made by the president: whether, how, when. The action has moved from the White House to the two battlefields here, in this case, the theater out in Iraq and in Qatar, with General Franks, reporting up through the Pentagon and, because this is a two-front war, to the Department of Homeland Security. So, in a sense, the action is out there. This will all change, of course, when the battle starts, because, after the first bullet is fired, any battle plan changes.

BROWN: And if you're sitting in the White House after that first missile is launched or bullet is fired, is there -- and you're the national security adviser and you're responsible for communicating to the president, is there a constant flow of information coming in that you have to weed through and figure out, the president must know this, but he doesn't need to know that?

BERGER: Yes. That's part of the job.

There's a constant flow coming in through the direct channel, the situation room in the White House, which is getting its information from the Pentagon, from the intelligence, from the agency and others. But there's also CNN. And some of the most difficult moments are moments when things are reported, with all responsibility and consciousness. Before you may know that fact is true or not, you have a press corps that is extraordinarily anxious to know what your reaction is.

And separating out the wheat from the chaff is a constant effort during the confusion of conflict.

BROWN: This is self-evident, and I apologize for that, but this must be a fascinating, intense place to be in these historic moments.

Sandy, it's nice to talk to you again -- Sandy Berger, the former national security adviser, in Washington tonight on what very well may be, as he said, the eve of war.

A win today for Prime Minister Tony Blair only in the strictest of literal terms -- Mr. Blair got the backing for a war with Iraq from the House of Commons. But he still faced a considerable rebellion from members of his own party. The prime minister stands opposed to many in his party and many in his country and even in his own Cabinet.

But if anyone thought this would be dull, this argument that was presented today, or passionless, they were very much mistaken. So here is how it played out in the House of Commons today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The key today is stability and order. The threat is chaos and disorder. And there are two begetters of chaos: tyrannical regimes with weapons of mass destruction and extreme terrorist groups who profess a perverted and false view of Islam.

At the moment, I accept fully that the association between the two is loose. But it is hardening. And the possibility of the two coming together, of terrorist groups in possession of weapons of mass destruction, even of a so-called dirty radiological bomb, is now, in my judgment, a real and present danger to this country, to Britain, to our national security.

Let us recall, what was shocking about the 11th of September was not just the slaughter of the innocent people, but the knowledge that, had the terrorists been able to, there would not have been 3,000 innocent dead, but 30,000 or 300,000. And the more the suffering, the greater their rejoicing.

And I simply say to my honorable friends, America did not attack the al Qaeda terrorist group. The al Qaeda terrorist group attacked America. They didn't need to be recruited. They were there already. And unless we take action against them, they will grow. And that is why we should act.

Just last week, someone slandering Saddam was tied to a post in a street in Baghdad, their tongue cut out, mutilated, and left to bleed to death as a warning to others. I recall a few weeks ago talking to an Iraqi exile and saying to her that I understood how grim it must be under the lash of Saddam.

"But you don't," she replied. "You cannot. You do not know what it is to live in perpetual fear." And she is right. We take our freedom for granted. But imagine not to be able to speak or discuss or debate or even question the society you live in, to see friends and family taken away and never daring to complain, to suffer the humility of failing courage in the face of pitiless terror. That is how the Iraqi people live. Leave Saddam in place and the blunt truth is, that is how they will continue to be forced to live.

We must face the consequences of the actions we advocate. For those of us who support the course I'm advocating, that means all the dangers of war. But for others opposed to this course, it means -- let us be clear -- that the Iraqi people, whose only true hope lies in the removal of Saddam, for them, the darkness will simply close back over. They will be left under his rule without any possibility of liberation, not from us, not from anyone.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: The debate in the House of Commons went on for 10 hours today.

Still ahead on NEWSNIGHT: criticism of the president on the eve of war from Capitol Hill. The Democrat Tom Daschle says he is sticking by what he said -- that story and more as NEWSNIGHT continues around the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: And next on NEWSNIGHT: Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader in the Senate, takes on the president, and Republicans fight back.

A short break first. This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: That little bit of business there grows on you, doesn't it?

Even if politics don't really stop at the water's edge, presidents have normally enjoyed a good deal of leeway when it comes to foreign policy, even when it comes to wars that aren't especially popular. Certain rules have evolved over the years about the right and wrong time for lawmakers to speak out against the president, the unspoken rule being, when a war is imminent, the time for dissent is over.

Here's CNN's Jonathan Karl.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Republicans lashed out at Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle for criticizing the commander in chief on the brink of war.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: I think it is counterproductive in that our men and women literally are in a countdown before fighting is initiated. And any remarks that their lives in some way have been compromised by the President of the United States is irresponsible.

KARL: Senator Daschle provoked the reaction by saying in a speech Monday that he was saddened the president has failed so miserably at diplomacy and ...

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country.

KARL: The normally reserved speaker of the House Dennis Hastert said in a statement, "Those comments may not undermine the President as he leads us into war, and they may not give comfort to our adversaries, but they come might close."

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: It was unfortunate. It was disappointing and it was uncalled for. And I hope he thinks better of it and retracts his statement.

KARL: But Daschle is not backing down.

DASCHLE: Well, I stand by my statement. I don't know that anyone in this country could view what we've seen so far as a diplomatic success. As a veteran,, there is no question that I stand strongly with the troops. I always will. I feel very strongly about our obligation to support the troops. And I have said in every way, shape and form that will continue. KARL: Well, most Democrats in Congress have restrained their criticism of the president on the eve of war, Daschle is not alone. In a statement after the president's Monday night speech, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said, "President Bush has clumsily and arrogantly squandered the post-9/11 support and goodwill of the entire civilized world."

(on camera): With the country now on the brink of war, most Democrats have been far more restrained than Kerry and Daschle, as even some of the toughest critics of the president's policy toward Iraq are now resigned to the fact that war is inevitable and, for the time being, anyway, there is not much for them to say.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: A couple of other items to get in tonight, a bit of it from around the country, much of it grim, starting in Buffalo: a judge there finding James Kopp guilty of murder in the sniping death of a doctor, Barnett Slepian, who performed abortions. Mr. Kopp says he was only trying to wound the doctor when he shot him. That was almost -- a little more, rather, than four years ago. He now faces 25 years to life in prison and federal charges as well.

Salt Lake City next and the Elizabeth Smart case: prosecutors today formally charging Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee with aggravated kidnapping and sexual assault. The details here, frankly, are vile. Mitchell allegedly forced himself on the 14-year-old in the woods shortly after kidnapping her. His wife, Ms. Barzee, allegedly helped in the act. At some point, prosecutors say the pair tied cable around Elizabeth Smart's foot, tethering her to a tree, so she couldn't flee.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police today said a graduate student at LSU is the fifth known victim of the serial killer stalking the area. Carrie Lynn Yoder disappeared from her home two weeks ago. Her body was found in the same area where another victim was discovered eight months ago.

Ahead on NEWSNIGHT from Atlanta, we'll check tomorrow morning's papers for you from around the country and around the world.

Later, segment seven: from the front lines, a story of a private in the Marines, scared and under fire.

This is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Next on NEWSNIGHT, we check morning papers -- and I'll get that part right -- from around the country and around the world.

A break first.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: Time to check morning papers. There are some fabulous -- the headlines are fine. Some great pictures on the front pages.

"San Francisco Chronicle": The headline, as you can see, we hope, is "Bush Ultimatum." OK, you're over there. Does this help? I want you to see the picture here. Come down a bit so you can see the picture. I'll hold it up. It is a young soldier sitting in a tent out in the desert of Kuwait, and he is holding a teddy bear. That's an AP photo, so it's very possible that will show up in your newspaper, if you're not in San Francisco. It's a terrific picture from the "San Francisco Chronicle." Soldiers are young.

"USA Today": "Saddam Rejects Ultimatum." But their big feature story, their cover story: "Commando Force Poised to Track and kill Saddam." It's what we've been training 24/7 to do. The plan is to go get him, it sounds like. And that's "USA Today"'s story.

"Boston Herald" tomorrow morning: "War Clouds," their headline. And they put Elizabeth Smart's story up at the top on the front page as well.

"Chicago Sun-Times," this is a great headline, I think. And I hope you do, too. "Come and Get Me, Saddam Taunts U.S." Well, "Dictator Rejects Bush Ultimatum to Leave as Clock Ticks Toward War." That is also a great picture. If you're in Chicago, you'll see it better. There you are over there -- "Chicago Sun-Times."

"Saddam's High Noon" is the way "The Australian" bills this. There may or may not be Australians who join the coalition forces when this actually goes down. But John Howard, the prime minister, has been very supportive of President Bush, and the newspaper headline there.

Now we go to the British papers, because it was such an extraordinary -- it really was an extraordinary day in Parliament. "The Guardian" does it this way: "Blair Tries to Hold Line on Day of Drama." And also, again, a very nice picture on the front page of "The Guardian" of Tony Blair, who is -- I think we've said this before -- to us, at least, one of the most interesting characters in this drama. And their sidebar story is out of Baghdad, Suzanne Goldenberg reporting: "Suddenly, the War is Very Real."

OK, the last paper. I think this is the last one. And to say this is hot off the press is about right, because, clearly, they didn't finish. "Clock's Ticking" -- you can't read this, not for live viewing, OK? But "Clock's Ticking" is "The Columbus Dispatcher." We appreciate their efforts in trying to get it to us.

And we'll take a break. Segment seven is next.

This is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Notice what comes first in the phrase "the few, the proud, the Marines." Few of us are cut out to be a Marine, so there's no shame in the fact that a young man may not be up to being a Marine about to go to war. But not being up to it, not facing up to it, could cost lives, his included.

But Private Polanko (ph) and his platoon have done the right thing. They're facing up to it, which doesn't make it any easier.

Jason Bellini is embedded with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Force.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Private Polanko arrived at the officer's tent on a stretcher after telling his platoon leader he was feeling faint and couldn't carry his pack any further.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at me. Are you done? Are you done?

BELLINI: Medics say his pulse was normal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've had this discussion before.

BELLINI: His superior officers say that they would have been more concerned about him if this hadn't become such a frequent affair: Polanko not keeping up, not finishing the hike, refusing to carry the same weight as his platoon mates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's just certain things that I know that I can't do. And I can't change it, you know?

BELLINI: With war perhaps just days away, Polanko's problems are pressing for 1st Sergeant Jimmy Sweet (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, where we stand, is it a liability? I'd have to say no. This is still training at this point. But should we be called upon to cross the border, in his current actions, could that be a liability there? Yes, it could. It could be very detrimental, not only to him, but to the Marines that surround him.

BELLINI: The politics of Polanko are the subject of daily debate here. Some of his superiors want him sent him back to the ship, 1st Sergeant Sweet resisting, saying he is not ready to give up on Polanko yet, his platoon mates divided on whether or not he's fit to serve.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that, if he can't deal with what he's going through right now, he's just going to have to do what Marines do and adapt and overcome and realize that he's here to fight, fight for his country, and he's going to have to do what he has to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's just kind of having a hard time right now. He's probably going through some tough times thinking about home, but he'll pull through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's just nervous right now and he's having some stress and he's dealing with it. But we're all here for him as a corps of brothers. And we're going to take care of him.

BELLINI (on camera): What's so stressful? What's so difficult? You're a Marine. That is what you came for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. The stressful part is basically my family. I haven't got contact of them. I haven't been able to hear about them from when I left.

BELLINI (voice-over): The Polanko matter intrigues us, as outsiders, because it seems to cut to the core of this institution's values and offers insight on its sacred mantra: Leave no Marine behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as certain family members doing the wrong thing, I'm one of the few that graduated out of high school coming out of my block in New York City. So I decided to just go this way, so I could go the right way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to send him up there and nobody is going to send him up there when we know that he could end up taking himself out or a fellow Marine. That's not going to happen. So that's where we have got to make a real tight call, sometimes a tough call. And if he's going to make it here, great. We've still got him in the fight. If he's not going to make it, then we've got to send him away.

BELLINI: And that, for Sweet, would be a loss, even before the fighting begins.

Jason Bellini, CNN, embedded with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Kuwait.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Isn't that a great story?

We'll see you tomorrow at 10:00 Eastern time. We'll see what the day brings. Good night.

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