CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview With Dan Rather
Aired April 14, 2003 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Dan Rather, live in Baghdad, the first network TV anchor in the Iraqi capital, and of course, the last journalist to interview Saddam Hussein. We'll take stock of how this war's gone and what happens next with Dan Rather live in Baghdad for the hour. We'll also be joined later by General Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
We begin with Dan Rather. One reminder, though, that tomorrow night, General Richard Myers, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be our special guest. We're in Washington tonight. Dan is in Baghdad.
What was it like to go back?
DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS: Well, this has been an unusual, unique experience, Larry, to say the least, primarily because of the dedication of these young people, these young men and women who brought the United States this military victory. You know, you can say what you want to about the war. You can be for or against it. But once the war was committed, you know, the hope was that it would be at least fairly quick and the low casualties on both sides. It has been all of that, and primarily because of these young men and women down in the ranks, who have made it happen, with the result today Tikrit was taken by the Marines, and the U.S. command basically said, Look, the battlefield fight is primarily over, although there's still some fighting still to do.
KING: When you were there last and interviewed Saddam Hussein, did anyone there ever tell you they saw this coming?
RATHER: No. And I don't think they did see it coming, Larry. It's my opinion that Saddam Hussein and those around him made exactly the same mistake this time that they made the last time. And that is, they believed that they could sustain their own power against the power of the United States. And you can say, well -- in fact, Saddam Hussein argued that in 1990, '91, he actually, quote, "won" the war. You may remember from the interview, he did this incredible -- seemed at the time incredible argument that, Well, basically, I won the Gulf war because I'm still in power. That has to do with survival instinct and his whole id being about survival.
But this time around, the same mistake was made in that Saddam Hussein told me in the interview, he said, Listen, you know, I know the United States has all this power arrayed against me -- when I had asked the question about, How are you going to stand up to this, he said, But we can absorb their first terrible punch and their next terrible punch, in effect, and then we'll start to come back.
So I don't think anybody here had any idea of how much U.S. weaponry had improved since the last Gulf war, when, indeed, then it was devastating against them.
KING: Secretary Rumsfeld has said that the media has given an exaggerated picture of the looting and the lawlessness. What have you found?
RATHER: Well, I don't have any argument with the defense secretary. But I will say that I'm here. I try to be an honest reporter, be an honest broker of information. And I -- it's my judgment that if Secretary Rumsfeld had been here, he might have worded that at least in a somewhat different way. There's no question the looting has been rampant and widespread. It was for several days here. We were told that it began to taper off some today. And in fact, I think it did, but primarily because most things of value have been stripped out of most places where they could be.
But you know, it's not a time to argue. The defense secretary has his -- has his judgment, and if that's his judgment, well, he'll ride with it. But as a reporter, I can simply say that I don't -- I've never seen anything like the looting here. I don't think anybody else has seen anything like the looting here. It was widespread, and it did have a depressing effect on the population. To say that it was just, quote, "exuberance," unquote -- as I say, you know, the secretary of defense has to talk about a lot, and he probably would want to take back that word himself, if he had a chance to do so.
KING: How about, Dan, the continuing mystery of Saddam's fate and that of the inner circle? Do you and -- you're pretty -- your reportorial ears are pretty good. What do you hear?
RATHER: Well, you can hear just about anything on that, Larry. It's a mystery. Where Saddam Hussein is I don't think anybody knows. It's certainly possible that he has been killed in one of these attacks directed specifically at him. But as is the case with Usama bin Laden and has been since the United States toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, until and unless there's proof positive that Saddam Hussein is dead, then his ghost, in many ways, is going to prowl Iraq and Baghdad. But unquestionably, his regime is gone. It's out of here. And things will move on from there. Whereas, Usama bin Laden has this mystical, quote, "legendary" image in the minds particularly of Arabs but in people of many -- many people of Islamic faith around the world, Saddam Hussein had lost a great deal of that over the past several years. So in that sense, it won't be the same.
But I have no idea where Saddam Hussein is. You remember with Che Guevara, it took a long time for the U.S. government -- they chased him and finally got him, and as gruesome as it is to say, nobody really believed the U.S. government had, indeed, killed him or that he'd been killed until they brought back his hands and they matched up his fingerprints.
But you raise an interesting point, Larry, about what happened to those people around Saddam Hussein. For just a moment, let's set aside what may or may not have happened to Saddam Hussein. There's a deepening mystery about what happened to all those members of the Ba'ath Party directly around him. What you hear is, Well, some of them faded back into the population. Some of them went to Syria.
But you also hear -- and there's no confirmation of this whatsoever. You hear, Well, some deals were struck. Some people talk about a deal struck with the Russians to get some of the Ba'ath Party members out. And indeed, some of the Iraqis here -- I put very little stock in this, but some of the Iraqis here complain that they believe that the United States government protected some of those Ba'ath Party members. They talk about the Ba'ath Party members being put up for a while in the Palestine Hotel, from where we're broadcasting, or across the street in the Sheraton.
But all those things sort of waft through the air. But where those Ba'ath Party members are, I don't know.
RATHER: But I would suspect that we'll begin to hear from some of them fairly soon.
KING: Sounds a little bit like the Nazis at the end of World War II, heading to Paraguay, some going to Russia, some hiding out in the civilians and going elsewhere and the hunt going on. What about the hunt for weapons of mass destruction? What do you hear there?
RATHER: Well, that hunt is now widening and deepening, Larry. Understandably, when the U.S. forces first came into Iraq, they certainly wanted to find weapons of mass destruction, if they possibly could, for defensive purposes so they didn't get hurt by them, if anything else -- if nothing else. But there really wasn't time to do a thorough search of the countryside and every village and town and are of the country while the invasion force was piercing toward Baghdad.
But now that the major battlefield fighting appears to be over for at least the moment, with the U.s.-led forces controlling Basra, Baghdad, Tikrit and Mosul, I think that the hunt for the weapons of mass destruction will begin to really go in earnest. There is no question this is a high priority with the United States government. As you no doubt noticed, that the science adviser to Saddam Hussein was the first of the inner circle to give himself up the other day. But after he gave himself up, he still insisted they didn't have any weapons of mass destruction.
Obviously, it's very important for President Bush and for the United States government to find some weapons of mass destruction. Thus far and up to now, they haven't found any confirmed such weapons. But as I say, it's still early in the search. It may take many more months before we have anything close to a definitive answer about that.
KING: Dan, there's been an awful lot of talk in the media about the media -- print media writing about broadcast media, broadcast media talking about each other, media becoming part of the news. What's your overall assessment of this war and the media in general?
RATHER: Well, I'm going to answer -- try to answer that, Larry. But I think it is very important to point out that, you know, I'm not one of those reporters in there, very few of them, who sort of say, You know, I have found the story, and I am it. I mean, the media is not the story here. It never has been. It shouldn't be now. The story is what happened on the ground here, the military operation, what's going to happen to the country. So I just want to say that as a preface and get it out of the way because it's very important.
In terms of -- maybe -- frankly, I think the war has been covered, as best I can tell, at least reasonably well. I think the embed experiment turned out very well. And I was skeptical about it before it started, had my skepticism, which I hope never hardened into cynicism. But the embed program -- I think it was a plus for the press, the media. I think it was a plus for the military. But the most important thing is I think the whole embed program was a big plus for the American people.
After all, we're a country based on both the idea and the ideal that individual citizens are to get as much information as they possibly can, form their own opinion, and then the collective opinions become the will of the people. And never before in any war has there been anything close to the kind of real-time coverage, up-close, live television coverage in time, war presented as it happens, that happened in this war. Was it perfect? Of course, it wasn't perfect. But in terms of coverage of war, this was about the most important development I can think of certainly since the Vietnam war.
I thought the embed program worked well. I think most of the coverage has been pretty good. If anything, I think the American media may, when it looks back on this, say to themselves, Well, we didn't ask quite enough questions. We didn't ask quite enough tough questions. But that's usually the case in wartime.
KING: What was your skepticism about the embedded factor, and what changed? What did it do you didn't expect it to do?
RATHER: Well, my skepticism was -- well, given our experience in Afghanistan, when -- and I'll go ahead and say it, that the Defense Department made a big mistake in Afghanistan. They didn't even meet their own standards of maximum access and maximum information consistent with national security. So because they had been, frankly, so hard-walled about that in Afghanistan, had not let the press see some of the tremendous accomplishments of our fighting men and women in Afghanistan, I just thought, well, when it comes to this war in Iraq, they're going talk about the embeds having access and having information, but when it comes down to it, they won't. And about that, I was wrong because they did.
But my concern was -- and I stated it, was that it's a very fine line between being embedded and being entombed. And by that I meant that they could get in with these military outfits but not really get access and get information. But that did didn't turn out to be the case. And I think Torie Clarke and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and anybody else who was involved in that turnaround decision to give the kind of access they did, for whatever their motivation may have been, deserves applause for it. And I'll be surprised if the next time the American military goes to war that they don't try some version of it.
I repeat for emphasis, it wasn't perfect, Larry, that in some cases, you know, they put people -- they embedded people, but they didn't let them up with the far forward units. But overall and in the main, there's nothing to complain about, and there's a lot to applaud.
KING: Any of your thoughts on journalism's loss of life in this war?
RATHER: Well, because journalists were allowed to get up front with the fighting units and because there was access, so much access -- certainly, there were these loss of lives, and in the case of David Bloom, the great young NBC news correspondent who died of complications of an illness at the front, one will never know whether the war was even partially a cause of that. I myself think it was. Michael Kelly, a wonderful columnist for "The Washington Post," editor of "The Atlantic" -- you know, we could go on, but in war, journalists who take the risks know what the risks are, and they know what they're getting into. And you know, when you go into it, you just hope and pray that your number won't come up. Too many numbers came up for too many journalists in this war.
KING: Dan Rather's our guest. He's with us for the hour. We'll be joined later by General Hugh Shelton, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs. We'll be back with Dan, and we'll include some of your phone calls, too, if you want to get in. And we'll return right after these words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: U.S. soldiers are searching what remains of one of the biggest and most elaborate prisons in the world. Saddam Hussein never cut corners when it came to punishment. Abu Ghraib once held tens of thousands of human souls -- criminals, political enemies, and those who just happened to get in the way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was Dan Rather, reporting tonight on the "CBS Evening News." He's our special guest.
What did you make of what you saw today?
RATHER: Well, you know, everybody knew that Saddam Hussein had a lot of prisons. When you run the sort of regime that he ran, you knew he had a lot of prisons. He had almost as many prisons as he had palaces. But very few people really grasp, I think, Larry, the savagery that went on in some of these prisons, including the Abu Ghraib prison we went into today, that hundreds of people were tortured and killed in there. I'm tempted to say thousands, but hundreds of people are known to have been tortured and killed in those prisons. And there was one heart-breaking story after another. There was the story of a 12-year-old Iranian boy who had been captured during the Iraq-Iranian war. At 12 he was captured, and he was in that prison for 15 years. There was another man who was caught up in the Kuwait invasion, apparently had nothing whatever to do with anything other than he may have voiced some dissent about the invasion, and he'd been in the prison for 12 or 13 years and barely survived it. One could go on.
It was -- I think a lot of people believe that some of the horror stories were overstated and might have been the result of active imagination. But unfortunately, if anything, the horror stories of what happened in those prisons were understated until you actually got in to see and some of the records began to come out.
KING: Now, that story excepted, some critics claim the media sanitizes the war. Now, "New York Times" columnist, the veteran war correspondent Chris Hedges was on this show last week, and he wrote the following. I wonder if you would comment. "The narrative we are fed about war by the state and the entertainment industry and the press is a myth. War itself is venal, dirty, confusing. There's nothing glorious or gallant about it. The coverage of war by the press has one consistent and pernicious theme: the worship of our weapons and our military might."
What's your comment on that?
RATHER: Well, Larry, there's a big movement of armor behind us. I was having a little bit of trouble hearing the last part of that. Perhaps you can hear this roar behind us. There's a big, huge movement here in the dark. As you know, it's about 5:00-some-odd AM in the morning. And under darkness, they're moving that armor.
I didn't read the article, and I didn't even hear the end of it there. But from what I could gather from it, I don't have any argument with that. Look, the media deserves a lot of the criticism that it gets. But I will say that there is a limit to what the media can convey about the real blood, the real death, the real screams of the wounded and moans of the dying of war, that there's just a limit to how much we can convey.
And I hope that he included in his criticism, if he -- of "The New York Times," that -- you know, it's under the heading, Larry -- we all do the best we can. I do think that the public got a better sense of what war is really like in this war, in the hour-by-hour, day-by- day reporting than in any previous war. But on his overarching point, that the narrative never quite catches up with the real savagery of war, no one can argue. I don't. I agree.
KING: How about the big difference in coverage, they tell me -- I haven't seen the Arab media coverage -- between the Arab media coverage and the allied, for want of a better term, media coverage?
RATHER: Some of that's inevitable, Larry, that there were wide differences in the coverage. For most of the Arab media -- in fact, all of it, with the exception of Iraqi television -- that they did not have their countries at war. They did not have their young people on the front lines of battle. And because of that, and with no apology, there's a different undertow to coverage when that's the case.
But frankly, I think the U.S. coverage in the main and overall except my own and CBS's, if you must, was pretty good. The Arab media had its point of view and in -- again, I think without apology, the U.S. media, in some ways, had its own point of view.
Look, I'm an American. I never tried to kid anybody that I'm some internationalist or something. And when my country is at war, I want my country to win, whatever the definition of "win" may be. Now, I can't and don't argue that that is coverage without a prejudice. About that I am prejudiced. About that, there is an inherent bias in the coverage of the American press, in general. And with much of the Arab media, they have a bias in the other direction. They have a prejudice in the other direction. In their heart of hearts, down where they live, where they really live, they want us to lose. And therefore, two worlds collide.
In a perfect world, in an absolutely perfect world, of course, you would have complete and total objectivity in coverage of the war. But that's not possible. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't strive for as much objectivity as we can, but it does mean that we have to acknowledge some of the realities that I just outlined.
KING: Dan, now I'm going to ask you to be a reporter for CNN, something we always wished you would be. I don't know where you exactly are in Baghdad, but what is going on behind you?
RATHER: Well, as I say, Larry, this time of morning, this sometimes happens, but I have not heard it to this degree, that there's movement, a tremendous movement of armor here along the banks of the Tigris. We have had a very busy night in the air here, as well, that there were a lot of low-flying fixed-wing aircraft over the city, beginning sometime after about 1:00 AM, Baghdad time. And now we have this movement of armor.
I believe what's going on -- this is, I'd have to say, my guess, that I think that they are repositioning in the city. As you know, while the battlefield fighting is primarily over with, at least for the time being, that no one should kid themselves, and I don't think the Defense Department has and I think it's made a real effort to have Americans not kid themselves, there's still a lot of fighting going on. And here in Baghdad, you have some very ugly urban warfare that goes on from time to time. It kind of goes in bursts and spurts. And every time that happens, a smart commander, of course, seeks to reposition his equipment because sometimes what's happening is there's a probe. Snipers, zapper squads, they probe defenses.
So I think what's happening here is that some of the Marines who've had the responsibility of guarding this section along the east bank of the Tigris in virtually downtown Baghdad are probably repositioning some of their equipment. Now, it's also true that the 3rd Infantry Division, which, as you know, has plenty of armor, is going to be in the process over the next days and probably weeks, for that matter, of taking over here in Baghdad some of the positions that the Marines have been holding. And it could be that that armor is being moved in from the airport.
But it's pitch black here. It is dark as a crow's wing, and I can't, in fact, see what's going on behind me. But those are two very strong possibilities.
KING: Let's take a call for Dan Rather. Only with modern technology. Dan Rather's Baghdad, we're in Washington, the caller's in Knoxville, Tennessee. Go ahead.
CALLER: Good evening, Larry.
CALLER: Larry, my question for Mr. Rather is, do you have -- I would first of all, like to know your thoughts on Syria. And also, do you have any plans of interviewing President Assad?
KING: All right. Did you hear that OK, Dan?
RATHER: I did. And I...
RATHER: You know, in the context of the question, which I think everyone understands, is that the United States government has been increasing the pressure on Syria, calling them a rogue regime, because they think they may be hiding not only some members of Saddam Hussein's government but also weapons of mass destruction. While I appreciate both the spirit and substance of the question, I have no plans to interview President Assad. I'd like do that. But so far as I know, no one, certainly no one in television, has interviewed him any time -- I can't remember a time when they interviewed this President Assad. But as always with a story like that, you know, I'm always throwing at it, and stay tuned.
KING: Do you have any reportorial inkling about what might happen? Do you think the United States might turn towards Syria?
RATHER: Larry, I honestly don't know. You know, it's an answer that we reporters don't give often enough, I think, is I simply don't know. I've been somewhat surprised -- only mildly, but somewhat surprised -- at how quickly the United States has increased the pressure on Syria to this extent. Do I think the United States is about to lead some military incursion into Syria? I don't think so. But that's an opinion based on nothing but just sort of looking around and saying, well, I don't think they're quite ready to do that.
About this, I think the Syrians, Larry, if I may, should be serious and listening up, that President Bush and the people of the United States, you know, as a whole, made it clear after September 11 that if you harbor anything that looks like it could hurt us anywhere near as badly as 9/11, then you better stand by because we will rock you. And I think -- and a lot of people don't like that. There is a legitimate argument to be made that it's too strong as a national policy. But I think it's very clear that it is our national policy now. And for those who argue, well, there was never any direct connection made between Saddam Hussein and Iraq and 9/11, one must set that aside for at least the moment because whether anything was proven or not, that President Bush, who had the ultimate decision, believed that there was either some connection or that if he had the possibility to do that kind of thing, Saddam Hussein would have done it.
And so our national policy has become if we believe that you have done anything in the way of terrorism or that you're capable of doing it, that you have both the will to do it and possibly the means to do it, then one way or the other, we're coming after you. That's what U.S. policy basically is now. And if the Syrians don't have that message, they'll be getting it fairly strongly in the days and weeks to come, wherever that leads.
KING: Dan Rather's our guest. We're going to take a break and come back. We'll remind you that in a little while, we'll be joined by General Hugh Shelton, United States Army, retired, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Tomorrow night in these studios, General Richard Myers, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Kyra Phillips will have news headlines. Then we'll have a word or two, and we'll back with more of Dan Rather. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: One of the hallmarks of Baghdad these days are the wild swings of mood. It can flip in a second. Today many of these people have been shouting things like down, down, down, down with Bush, yea, Saddam Hussein. Yesterday some of these same people in the crowd of about the same size were shouting in effect, yea, America, help us get our cities started again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was Dan Rather reporting tonight amid the tumult and the shouting on the "CBS Evening News." And in that vain, Dan, with meetings scheduled today, how do you think this dangerous job of reconstruction is going to go, putting Iraq together again?
RATHER: Well, Larry, while emphasizing that noise you hear continues to be this tremendous movement of armor behind me, perhaps you can see a little bit of it out there, I'm not so sure just over my left shoulder, we counted about 100 vehicles, tanks and fighting vehicles, armor moving back here for about the last 25 minutes. But, Larry, on the reconstruction of the country, the situation now is what the Roman Catholic Church would call an interregnum. The old order is gone, the new order is not yet in place. And in that interregnum if you will has occurred all this looting.
It is going to be very hard to tell how the long range reconstruction of the country, that is reconstruction of the country's government is is going to go until a place like Baghdad, the capital gets its water back, its electricity back, its health care system, which is about to collapse back and gets its schools open. But I'm an optimist by experience and by nature. And there is certainly a chance here to build something, not only good, but something long-term, excellent.
But I will say, Larry, when you talk to the young soldiers and Marines, I'm not talking about their commanders, talking about the people down in the ranks, they continue to talk about "how thin we are" which is to say that as a military fighting operation, being flexible and moving with speed, really paid big dividends. But now when they're having to stand guard in the streets of Baghdad, they know how thin their line is.
And they very much are worried about it because they're asked to do so much. Just quickly, if I may, Larry, let's keep in mind what these young men and women are asked to do. First of all, they've been asked to fight in the battlefield and fight in the interior of a pretty big country, 400 or 500 miles deep in it. Secondly, in Baghdad now they have to protect themselves. Thirdly, they're being asked to protect other things, everything from hospitals to power plants. Then they're being asked to help get the water, the electricity going and in some ways to be sort of social workers on the streets, to break up fights.
It was a terrible knife fight the other day and Marines were, you know, they were forced into trying to break it up. So the burden on them is extremely heavy. And one wonders and to ask the questions, not to suggest I know the answer, whether those in command in Washington realize what a tremendous burden is being put on the U.S. military here, after such a very long run. Some of these troops are warn out and threw. They're not going to tell you they're tired. They're not going tell you they're sort of edgy.
But the fact of the matter is given what they've been through with this very fast, deep maneuver, some of them are pretty tired out. Now, it is not to create an everything is lost grim picture. It is to try to put in context this talk about how quickly the reconstruction and getting the country back on its feet can go.
KING: Let's take another call for Dan.
Richland, Virginia, hello.
CALLER: Good evening, Larry. My question to Dan Rather is with the fall of the Saddam Regime and the widespread looting, in the market place, is there -- what is the economic trading like in Iraq, and how does -- how is the Iraqi Dinar affected or will it even be current economic or financial stature.
KING: Good question.
RATHER: It is a very good question. I'm afraid I don't know the answer to very much of it. I can say that the economy is flat on its back. And that the local currency as best I can make out is literally not worth the paper that it is written on. But there say mad scramble for dollars here. This is common in the wake of war this kind of upheaval, economically, happens. But at the most fundamental level, the big problem in Baghdad, a problem in most -- well, a large section if not most of the country, is that businesses are closed. For example, even the undertakers are not operating here in Baghdad.
There is a terrible scene on the "Cbs Evening News" tonight where the family of the dead there to bury their own dead and they were angry about that. But businesses are simply not operating, and with that as the case, there is no economy. We're still in the first few days after the conquest of Iraq. And everyone is being assured, look, it will be all right.
But, Larry in answer to this question, I'm reminded the other day a man who said he was a banker, I had no reason to question that he was, came up and said, can you get some Marines to come with me because in my bank, the bank has been looted but they didn't get to the vault and we have a lot of money in that vault and I'd like to get to it. And of course, you have to tell him, I'm sorry, sir, I'm not capable of getting Marines to do anything. You probably ought to go and try to see someone in authority. But when I say the economy is flat on its back, that is the example of what I'm talking about.
KING: Riverside, California, for Dan Rather in a couple of minutes, General Hugh Shelton, United States Army, retired, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs will join us.
Riverside, go ahead.
CALLER: Yes, Larry, and Dan, I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to both of you. I have great respect for you.
Dan, I'm wondering will the U.S. and Russia pressure President Bush into letting them help with the reconstruction even though they stabbed us in the back?
KING: You mean France and Russia, right?
CALLER: : I'm sorry, France and Russia. Yes.
KING: OK. Dan.
RATHER: Well, another good question, Larry.
Over the long haul, perhaps. Short range, I have my doubts. I'm pretty far up field here because I honestly don't know. There is no question that the government of the United States and President Bush became irritated to say the least, especially with the French. Quite frankly I think the Russians might have a little better chance. But once this gets sorted out, I guess this is the best way to come at this, there is going to be some rethinking about who is going to be allowed to do what in Iraq.
And when that rethinking occurs, the United States may find it necessary as distasteful as they may find it, to say the Russians OK, we know that you had interest in the country before we came into it. We know that Iraq owed you a lot of money. We're going let you have a part of this. But, I think the central question, Larry, is whether and if so how much the United Nations is brought in to the rebuilding process here.
And on that may depend somewhat how -- what a great role or lesser role France and Russia have. But it's a really good question. I'm struggling with an answer and that must be obvious because I don't actually know.
KING: Someone in our control room, Dan, says they thought they heard gunfire behind you. Did you hear any gunfire?
RATHER: Yes, there definitely was several artillery barrages in the background, Larry. We couldn't hear some of it as clearly when all the armor was moving behind us as later.
But this is not unusual. The night here is punctuated by artillery fire and that fire was coming from the east. And in the east, I know in the outlying areas of Baghdad, there's some pretty serious fighting going on out there. I was out there three nights ago -- yes, three nights ago I think it was -- and spent the night with some members of the 3rd Infantry Division out there. They were a light force, again, a thin force that is checkpoint. And they had a difficult night because somebody was probing their perimeter, seeing how strong or weak they were.
When the U.S. military says as it did today it thinks the major combat in the war is over, no one should be misled by that. There's some pretty bloody stuff going on here in Baghdad and in this environs and I think that artillery in the distance probably had to do with somebody probing some perimeters out there.
The U.S. probably getting a fix on where they thought they were and trying to greet them with several artillery barrages. It may also have to do with how many aircraft we heard here tonight.
KING: Our special guest is Dan Rather. We'll take a break. And when we come back, we'll be joined by General Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
A reminder: General Richard Myers will be in the studio tomorrow night, the current chairman.
We'll be right back with General Shelton and Dan Rather. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER (voice-over): Baghdad has become a powder keg with a short fuse. Even the undertakers here are out of business. So these men carry their dead off to a cemetery themselves.
As it turns out, ousting Saddam from power was easier than destroying this statue. Erasing his imprint may take longer than anyone thought.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Dan Rather remains with us. He's the editor an managing editor "CBS Evening News." He's in Baghdad.
Joining us here in the studios, General Hugh Shelton, United States Army, retired, the 14th chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He was the commander in chief of U.S. special operations command and assistant division commander for operations of the 101st Airborne.
General Shelton, how had -- I know there can be clashes between media and military. How is Dan Rather analyzed this situation?
GEN. HUGH SHELTON, U.S. ARMY (RET.), 14TH JOINT CHIEFS CHMN.: Well I think tonight in particular and throughout the campaign Dan has done a great job, as has most of the media.
I think the embedded media has shown the American people what a great force that we have today, the great young men and women that serve active as well as our Reserve and National Guard. It has shown all branches of our services working together, these great complementary capabilities we brought together in the battlefield to make short work of Saddam Hussein.
And I think that that's been the big advantage of having the media on the battlefield with the troops.
KING: We're going to have Dan ask you some questions, too. One that we'll ask, Dan has reported that there always, or there continues to be skirmishes. You expect that?
SHELTON: You certainly do expect it. I mean I think the Defense Department today said we probably have seen our last major combat operation. But we're in for the long haul, the transition we're in is a very dangerous period. And we should expect skirmishes, we should expect those still loyal to Saddam Hussein to continue to resist. Certainly our troops on the battlefield will have to maintain a high state of alert for the full coming weeks.
KING: Dan, I know you're not used to be complimented by generals but that was a sincere form of one. Dan, do you have a question for General Shelton?
RATHER: Well, first of all, I want to thank the General very much.
By the way, Larry, if you hear a noise now, there is a Predator operating in one of those unmanned aircraft, there's a Predator operating in this area. So we've had pretty full complement of weaponry with all those tanks and armored vehicles moving the artillery bombardment and Predator over. For all I know the Predators are gathering information on this program. I don't know.
But, General Shelton, it's good to be with you. And I would like to ask you this: what has happened to all of Saddam Hussein's troops? Many of them just disappeared if you will, as did members of the Ba'ath Party. Does this or does this not raise the possibility of a protracted guerrilla war here in Iraq? Particularly given the long, thin supply line that runs from Kuwait now right up to Qatar, the country?
SHELTON: Well, Dan, I don't think it's any question about it, that that's something we have to be very concerned about. Just like in Afghanistan, not to draw a comparison between the two, but when the Taliban disappears and when the al Qaeda organization escapes into the country side, you have to worry about the possibility they could attempt to reconstitute, maybe start trying to fight us in an asymmetric way, you know, hit and run tactics, et cetera.
So that's something that I'm sure General Franks is working very hard on right now and doing everything he can to make sure we keep our troops safe. It also ties into the size of the force that was mentioned earlier tonight. In fact, I believe you mentioned it, that maybe required for the long-term. Because we also first and foremost have got to ensure that we provide force protection for our own troops as well as carrying out all that other myriad of responsibilities that you outlined so well earlier in the program.
KING: Before Dan asks another question, could Dan be in danger? Are reporters still in danger?
SHELTON: Larry, I would say anyone that's there right now is still in danger because you don't know what the next move may be for these guys. Certainly the real strong organized resistance has faded in the country side. Many probably killed, many that are in hiding, others have probably fled the country.
But you don't know that they aren't trying to get reorganized. You've got the possibility of sniper attacks or hit and run type tactics against Americans which include, of course, the embedded reporters. And so, I'd say it's still a very dangerous place as of this time.
KING: You're an anchor, Dan. Why did you go back?
RATHER: Because this is where the story is. That, you know, any reporter worthy of the name you want to be where the story is when you can. And so the answer is pretty simple, this is where the story is, that's why I wanted to come back.
I would like to ask General Shelton, if I may, Larry, you know you mentioned the most very dangerous period now beginning and that is the transition period, the transition from primarily a battlefield fighting force to a force of occupation, and one that may have to fight a guerrilla war at the same time.
Are we likely to do that with the forces now in the country, which is the 3rd Infantry, the Marines and the 4th Infantry, or is the transition and what's beyond the transition going to require different kinds of forces?
SHELTON: Dan, I think the troops that are there right now, given the period of time we're in, between combat operation and still in combat operations and will be for a period of time. And at the same time, starting to restore some of those basic functions. We're in a period of time now which means you have to maintain a basically, predominately combat-ready forces that are prepared to fight on a moment's notice. As we transition, and a part of that I'm sure they'll be bringing in additional civil affairs types units, and it will start to shift a little bit, but that will be downstream.
And I would say that as a rotation of these stability forces that are currently there, as we replace one unit with another type of unit, most of our troops have been trained very well and all of them trained in how to fight.
Many of them have also been through training programs at the joint readiness training center, our national training centers that also prepare them for this transition into a different type of force, one that can do peace stability operations or peace stabilization, become a stabilization force for the country as we try to restore some of those basic functions.
KING: Dan, what are those booms I'm hearing?
RATHER: That's gunfire in the distance. And it is punctuation exactly what General Shelton was saying, that while the major battlefield fighting may be over, there is still a lot of fighting to do. And what is happening in the night that those who want to creep around and cause trouble, use cover of night and they've been, what I take to be, some sniper fire, gets answered you can almost hear, you know, pop, pop, of the sniper and then the rata tat tat of a .50 caliber, and then something larger than that, rocket propelled grenades. This goes on every night here. As I say, we're in a situation where Baghdad is still chaotic, still teetering on anarchy. There was some improvement today but overall in the main, it is a very volatile situation. And U.S. forces are under fire here on a regular and continuing basis, although it pops up here and pops up there. It isn't all over the city, but there is a lot of it.
KING: This is for both of you. I made a note of things that didn't happen.
First we'll start you, General Shelton.
Didn't happen that this war. The Saddam regime didn't do a whole scale torching of the oil fields. The Saddam Hussein regime did not resort to chemical and biological weapons. The Saddam Hussein didn't dig in for bloody all-out battle of Baghdad, and the Iraqi public did not rise up and mass and fight the Saddam regime or whole heartily embrace the coalition. A lot of didn't happens, surprised?
SHELTON: Not totally surprised, Larry. Not totally surprised, Larry, the speed with which we were able to move early on. The way in which we fought the campaign this time I think caught them a little bit off guard. We don't know yet how effective the air strikes may have been. To decapitate if you will or certainly put them on the run or on the move, which makes it much harder to command and control when you take out the command and control facilities, et cetera. So, I think as this unfolds, the after action, the critique of the operation will reveal to us what did and did not happen. KING: Dan, are you surprised at the didn'ts?
RATHER: I can't say I'm surprised, Larry. Maybe some mild, but really not surprised that, frankly, I believe through the beginning that once the United States martialed its forces, and got its offensive order of battle that it would move swiftly and pretty well through the country and that's the way it worked out. I would like if we have time to hear General Shelton talk about the role of special operations, because under General Gary Terrell -- that's a pretty big burst back there hint us, big boom. The special operations played such an important role in this combat. But having asked the question, let me say Larry, I'm now convinced, for whatever it may be worth, that we've got some kind of special assault going on. This has been going on too long and also, a couple of smaller helicopters were moving back here behind us. We could clearly hear them at dawn's early light, even see them a little bit which indicates to me some special forces action. But you put it all together with a lot of helicopter stuff and fix wing stuff early, then you hear the predators, then you hear the smaller helicopters, somebody making a landing back there, we may have a story tomorrow of some assault going on tonight.
KING: You think maybe, Dan, out to get out of the way?
SHELTON: I think Dan is probably pretty safe with all the armor I heard in the background and the movement of troops behind him, he's probably in the best place right now.
KING: What about his question about special ops.
SHELTON: We have a tremendous special operations force. Basicly, what we have seen is the capabilities we have unfold in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq. It is kind of showcased what special operations can really do. A lot of special missions that -- you can't use them like a conventional force because they have niche capabilities that are tremendous combat multipliers for the component commander.
KING: How many of them are there?
SHELTON: Well, the total force number is less than 40,000. That's both active as well as guard and reserves. So -- but all of your civil affairs and psy-ops, for example is there in addition to your direct action types of forces, counterterrorist forces, et cetera.
KING: Dan, before we let you go, how long are you planning to stay?
RATHER: I don't know, Larry. I have no plans to leave right now. At some point I'll have to go back to the anchor desk in New York. But I don't -- I'm not going back anytime soon. I would, Larry, before we say good-bye, maybe you could discuss it with the general, that this is the deepest land penetration away from the sea I can remember, even in my history reading for U.S. Marines. And maybe get a chance and discuss that with him how deep inland the Marines are. Not of course the generally speaking is designed to fight this far inland, because they don't really have the logistics and communications generally speaking to do that.
KING: Dan, before he answers thank you so much, as per usual. We always love having you on.
RATHER: Thank you, Larry. Thank you.
KING: Don't get hurt. Dan Rather in Baghdad.
We have about a minute and a half left.
General, what about that, how far they've gone in?
SHELTON: It is a little bit out of their normal role as Dan said. However, certainly well within their capabilities as they have shown, and have done absolutely magnificent job along with the army, air force, navy and our special operations forces.
KING: Are you concerned about the aftermath of this war, putting it together?
SHELTON: Certainly that's going to be the tough part of it. We have got Iraq as a country filled with religious tribal and ethnic groups. The government, the repressive, oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein is now gone. That's what held a country of 23 million, the size of a state of California, together. And now it is gone overnight almost. And so putting it all back together is going to take some time. It is going to take a lot of work and it is going to be dangerous.
Re-establishing the rule of law, a court system, getting the commerce flowing again. All the things that it takes in a normal civil society to be put back in position will be a tough job but we're up to it. But we're up to it. We've done it before in the Balkans, in the process now in Afghanistan. It is something we have experience at, but as I always -- it is a lot easier to get in than it is to get out.
KING: It is always a great pleasure to welcome you.
SHELTON: Thanks, Larry.
KING: Your health is good, better?
SHELTON: Better and getting better every day.
KING: General Hugh Shelton, United States Army retired, 14th chairman of the Joint Chiefs. And the bulk of the hour, Dan Rather, managing editor of the "Cbs Evening News."
Don't forget, tomorrow night, General Richard Myers, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com