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CNN CAPITAL GANG

War in Iraq

Aired April 6, 2003 - 19:48   ET

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

MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I am Mark Shields with the full GANG -- Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and Margaret Carlson.
Al, with U.S. troops surrounding Baghdad and fighting to take control of the city, Iraqi weapons of mass destruction have neither been used nor discovered. Will the failure to find these weapons of mass destruction be a problem for the U.S.-British coalition?

AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: It would be devastating, Mark. The reason we waged this unusual war was to preempt Saddam from using weapons of mass destructions or from giving them to terrorists.

But I would note that right now, our priority is to fight a war and win a war. It has not been to try to find weapons of mass destruction over there. We've only -- we've looked at less than 10 percent of the suspected sites. We haven't interviewed the scientists, we haven't taken over Baghdad or Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, where we think most of those weapons are.

I don't know about nuclear, but I think an overwhelming probability that the next couple of months, they will find chemical and biological weapons.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: It seems to me if they weren't found, and I agree with Al, I think it is highly likely they will be when the coalition forces have a chance to really look and get the cooperation of Iraqi scientists, it would not just be a problem if they weren't found, in that unlikely event, for the coalition forces, it's the entire international world community.

Despite the bitter fights we had about what to do about Iraq, there was no disagreement on the part of the international community that Saddam Hussein clearly had weapons of mass destruction.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, if at the end of the day no weapons are found, however, that basically means the United States will have invaded -- attacked, invaded, and occupied a sovereign nation for reasons that are other than those stated.

ROBERT NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: Well, let me disagree with Kate that there was complete agreement in the international community that there were weapons. I think there was a lot of disagreement there were weapons. It was one of the reasons we didn't get a -- weren't able to get a majority for the second resolution in the United Nations Security Council.

But I have always felt that the weapons of mass destruction was a rationale for going to the U.N., and that the real reason is to get rid of a person that they felt was a dictator, was a threat to peace in the Middle East, was a threat to Israel, was a threat to any kind of a stability, and a long-range threat, no the -- for -- for becoming a nuclear power.

But I think -- I don't think the reason -- I think that was always a pretext rather than a real reason.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, who is right here, Bob Novak, or Kate O'Beirne?

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: Well, while President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney wanted to go in on the basis of a regime change, the rest of the world community, Kate's right, believed that the rationale was weapons of mass destruction. Whether or not they believed they were there, that is a rationale for going. And so it behooves us to find them.

However, the clock, I don't think, is running yet, because we are still fighting there, and places where they might be, we don't have control of. And it -- last time after the -- after Desert Storm, it took over a year to find the nuclear weapons. And that took a defector telling the International Atomic Energy Commission exactly where they were, a defector who, by the way, was later killed for it...

NOVAK: There were no nuclear weapons, there were some -- there were some nuclear...

CARLSON: And there was a nuclear program that was a year away from producing a bomb.

HUNT: What we ought to do, though, is, the minute we liberate and occupy Iraq, we ought to get those U.N. inspectors back, because that's what will have credibility when they ascertain their weapons rather than the American military.

CARLSON: I don't think President Bush is going to let Hans Blix back (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: I -- let me tell you this, that the senior officials in the administration are really nervous about this, because they think it is important that they we -- that they find some chemical weapons.

SHIELDS: It probably is. Let me just say, I mean, the doctrine of preemptive war was based upon the nation being placed in imminent peril by...

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SHIELDS: ... by (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Yes, imminent, imminent peril. I mean, that was -- they said they thought that it was an imminent threat... O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

SHIELDS: ... to the United States, and...

O'BEIRNE: ... time was not on our side, it was thought, given...

SHIELDS: That -- OK...

O'BEIRNE: ... he had access to weapons and terrorists.

SHIELDS: Let's come back home, then, from there to this past week. John Kerry, the putative front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president, said in a speech in New Hampshire, What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, we need a regime change in the United States, before a Democratic audience, and got some applause. But outside in the hall, it got a lot of criticism.

Margaret Carlson, is that criticism deserved from Republicans and some Democrats?

CARLSON: Well, I'm sure he wishes he hadn't said it. It was, you know, a flip remark. There are times -- I mean, a month from now, you might be able to say that in a flip way, but not right now.

But there's been entirely too much sensitivity to any remarks whatsoever coming from Democrats that don't seem to be cheerleading for President Bush, starting with poor Senator Tom Daschle, who said that it was sad that diplomacy had failed.

And you wrote a column, Mark, a brilliant column, listing all the times in which, you know, say -- Tom DeLay and Denny Hastert and Trent Lott had said things about President Clinton while we were bombing in Kosovo. They didn't trust him, he didn't have a plan, it wasn't working.

And I didn't hear Democrats coming back. And I think that actually we should tolerate some of this.

O'BEIRNE: Mark, Tom Daschle said far more than, It's too bad diplomacy didn't work. Tom Daschle said that this president had stumbled into unnecessary war, and he deeply regrets having said it, by all accounts.

And I think Senator John Kerry's made a big mistake here. He seems to think that because of his Vietnam service, which of course he deserves credit for, he is inoculated from any charge that he is weak on national security. And I don't think that that's the case.

And he also uses that service -- his past service as a sword that you can't criticize him. And I don't think that will wind up being the case when people object to comparing this presidency, while people are watching every evening, with how his regime behaves.

SHIELDS: I think the question of raising doubts about his patriotism is one thing. I think, as somebody said, that Phil Gayley (ph) put it in "The St. Petersburg Times," raising question about his political courage, whether, in fact, John Kerry was trying to have it both ways, Al, by having voted for the -- what they call the blank check for President Bush last September in the Congress, and then now trying to come back and criticize him.

HUNT: That's a perfect legitimate issue, but of course he's for regime replacement. Why the hell is he running for president if he is not? I have never seen a challenger to an incumbent come out for regime retention. That just goes without saying.

There are two questions. Can Kerry take a punch? In that sense it will be interesting to watch. And second for the press, see if they treat this the same way they treated Tom DeLay back in 1998 in Kosovo.

NOVAK: Let me just get a word in here that this was stupid on John Kerry's part. It's not that he's unpatriotic. It was a stupid remark. I've heard it a lot of times from Democrats, but not when there's a war going on.

SHIELDS: Last word, Bob Novak. That's it for THE CAPITAL GANG.

Now back to Paula Zahn in New York.

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