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President Bush Set to Announce End of Combat in Iraq; Clinton Stays Away From Fight Between Kerry, Dean

Aired May 1, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Turning the tide. The president lands on the high seas to announce the close of major combat in Iraq. But will he keep the war on America's radar until election day?

The presidential pivot, from war to the economy. Top Republicans are joining in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But now we need to pivot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The focus and the pivot will be ...

ANNOUNCER: But is that easier said than done?

Bill Clinton in the middle. Why won't he get involved in a fight between two White House contenders?

Now, live from Washington, Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS.


JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

This may be one of the crowning examples of a White House trying to say it with pictures. From the dramatic jet landing of an aircraft carrier on an aircraft carrier just about 45 minutes ago, to the live televised speech Mr. Bush will make on board tonight. The images all say wartime leader. Even as the president prepares to announce the end of the major fighting in Iraq.

Let's go live now to CNN's Frank Buckley. He is aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. Frank, the president made quite a dramatic arrival there a few minutes ago.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He did, indeed. Everyone eagerly anticipating the arrival of President Bush, concerned, of course, that the aircraft did make it in safely. It's always a potentially -- well, it is a dangerous event when an aircraft makes a landing on an aircraft carrier. The president arriving aboard an S-3 Viking, that's an aircraft that is primarily a submarine hunter, and most recently a midair refueler used in -- when aircraft launch from the aircraft carrier and need some additional fuel, or as they're coming back in and their fuel state is low. They get some additional gas from the S-3 Viking. The president getting on the Viking in San Diego and making the very short trip over the water here to the aircraft carrier and landing aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. The Viking was piloted by Skip Lucier (ph), the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Squadron VS-35, the Blue Wolves. And the president, when he landed in that aircraft, was sitting in the copilot seat and they hit the four (ph) wire and made a successful landing. Let's go ahead and listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Recovery (ph) complete.


BUCKLEY: And that's now Navy One arrived aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. "Navy One" just painted on to the aircraft. "George W. Bush commander in chief" also painted aboard the aircraft. After the president got out of the Viking, he then proceeded to work the crowd here. Many, many young men and women, sailors out on the flight deck to greet the president who came aboard, shaking hands, spending quite a bit of time. The president shaking hands and taking photographs with the young people on the flight deck.

Now he is inside where he's going to take some tours. We're expecting him to watch some flight operations with the three squadrons of F-18s leaving the Abraham Lincoln and then, Judy, he'll be overnighting. Before that, of course, he'll be making a major speech to the American people tonight -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: It is quite a photo op. All right, Frank Buckley on board the USS Abraham Lincoln. Frank, thank you very much.

CNN, of course, is going to carry the president's speech tonight at 9:00 Eastern on board the Abraham Lincoln. And just a few moments ago, I spoke with former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, about what the president will say tonight, declaring an end to major combat operations in Iraq. And I started by asking him if this is the right time for that to happen.


RICHARD HOLBROOKE, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: I think so, and it's great to see those pictures of our victorious troops with the president. I think it's very important for all Americans, whether they opposed the war or supported it, whether they're liberals or conservatives, Republicans, Democrats or independents to be able to say with pride, we won, and embrace the victory, even as we begin to discuss the very difficult decisions that lie ahead.

WOODRUFF: I guess it's been said so often, Ambassador, that it's obviously important for the United States to have won the war. But it is even more important now for the U.S. and other countries in the coalition to win the peace. What exactly are the challenges going ahead now in Iraq?

HOLBROOKE: The reason this statement you just made appears to be a cliche is because it is so profoundly true. A war is only as good as the peace that follows it. In Afghanistan, the last year has not gone so well, notwithstanding what Secretary Rumsfeld said today in Kabul. The warlords have fractionalized and fragmented the country. And Karzai is only as safe as he is because he's protected 24/seven by American security guards. We don't want to repeat that problem in Iraq. And it's going to be very tough.

Iraq's international borders were created very artificially 80 years ago by Winston Churchill, incidentally. And they were a mistake. The country really is three different countries. And you aren't hearing a lot about democracy building in Iraq these days from administration officials who said a lot about this before the war for a very good reason. A vote right now would result in the country tearing itself apart. I think Americans need to prepare themselves for a post-Saddam American presence in Iraq that's going to be longer, more expensive and more difficult than anyone anticipated.

WOODRUFF: You mentioned Afghanistan. We heard Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is there today, pronouncing the end of major combat operations there as well. We heard him saying today, in effect, that Afghanistan is a secure country now. Are you saying that's not correct?

HOLBROOKE: I don't know what he said exactly, but he couldn't possibly say that Afghanistan is secure. Americans are being killed there rather regularly. I say with deep regret. The warlords have fragmented the country. Karzai needs 24/seven protection from Americans. And the country is increasingly unsafe. And those terrible warlords that we never should have put back into control of the other cities in the country are also the drug lords who send 90 percent of the heroin to the U.S.


WOODRUFF: Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke talking to us moments ago.

Well, as we have been telling you, President Bush tonight will make a speech to the nation declaring the bulk of combat operations over in Iraq. For his part, the president may feel constrained about boasting about the military success in Iraq, but Vice President Cheney has come closer to saying I told you so. Today, Cheney praised the war plan again and he compared it to Operation Desert Storm back when he was secretary of defense.


RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By their skill, by their courage, they've made our nation and the world more secure. Having been involved in planning and waging the Persian Gulf War in 1991, I can say with some authority that this campaign has displayed vastly improved capabilities that we did not have a dozen years ago.


WOODRUFF: Vice President Cheney spoke at the annual meeting of the Heritage Foundation here in Washington.

And now, to borrow a new buzzword from the president, we are going to pivot from the war to the economy. That's exactly what the White House and Congressional Republicans are trying to do, and to reach a compromise on a tax cut along the way.

Our congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl, has a progress report.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the president shifts the focus the war with Iraq to economic troubles at home, the battle over the domestic agenda is front and center on Capitol Hill.

DON EVANS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: We are going to continue to fight for all elements of the president's plan, which includes the 100 percent abolition of taxation on dividends.

KARL: But the president and his economic team are waging an uphill battle as Republican hopes that the president's post-war popularity would help his domestic agenda have faded.

STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: I think the Democrats have decided that there's no need for them and, indeed, they ought not to cooperate with the president on domestic issues. There are some moderate Republicans who think the president is reaching too far too fast on things like the tax cut.

KARL: Those moderate Senate Republicans aren't budging. And Democrats who gave the president all he asked for on the warfront will make their political stand on the home front.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: The situation is worse than we thought. I think the economic circumstances we face today are more aggravated, they are far more dangerous than we thought just a couple of weeks ago.

SEN. DON NICKLES (R), OKLAHOMA: We realize the economy is flat. It's not growing as strong as it needs to be. It has slow growth. We want more rapid growth. It's not growing to its potential. We can and want to do better. Right now, the main thing is the Democrats are standing in the way.

KARL: All week, the president's top economic advisers have been scurrying around the Capitol meeting with key lawmakers, but their efforts have been hampered by news from the treasury department that the slumping economy has meant lower tax revenues and higher than expected deficits. So much so that Congress will be asked to vote on raising the limit on government borrowing just as they are voting on the tax cut.

DASCHLE: That juxtaposition ought to be an embarrassment to those advocating a tax cut of the magnitude they're talking about today. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: And, Judy, just a short while ago we saw a rare flash of anger from the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, expressing frustration at the ability of the Senate to pass a tax cut. As you know, Judy, the House is working on a tax cut of $550 billion. And it looks like the only votes here in the Senate are for $350 billion. Hastert was asked about this and reacted this way.


DENNIS HASTERT, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You know what? I'm tired of trying to fit the Senate. We have moved in the house. We have done what the president says. We have compromised from 726 down to 550. And if the Senate can't get its work done that's too bad.


KARL: Harsh words from the speaker of the House. So, Judy, even as the Republicans work to get the tax cut passed through in the House and in the Senate, get ready for a major collision a couple of weeks down the road when the two sides have to reconcile those two potentially very different tax plans.

WOODRUFF: No question about it, Jon Karl, it is unusual to see the speaker lose his cool a little bit.

KARL: Yes.

WOODRUFF: All right. Jon Karl reporting from the Capitol.

Well, our Chris Burns who has been covering the White House for us has gotten hold of some of what the president is going to say in his prime time address tonight to the nation on the closing of the war in Iraq, so to speak. Chris, what have you learned?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, the speech, the first by a president on an aircraft carrier on the high seas, this 20 minutes, billed as a 20-minute speech will include a number of items, including that the president would like to say that the major combat operations have ended in Iraq but the war, the effort there is not finished yet. The president thanking the armed forces for their role in this war. "Our nation and our coalition are proud of the accomplishment," he says, "And it is to you, the members of the United States military, who achieved it."

But he also says that, in his words, "We have difficult work to do in Iraq." That Iraq remains dangerous. He says we are pursuing and finding leaders of the old regime, and they want to track down chemical and biological weapons. They'll be checking hundreds of sites that will be investigating in the coming weeks. He says, "We are helping to rebuild Iraq, where there is a difficult transition," he says, "from dictatorship to democracy." And he also says there's a broader war on terror. That fighting in Iraq was only part of that, but there are other places in the world, from Pakistan to the Philippines, to the horn of Africa, where they are hunting down, in his words, "al Qaeda killers."

So, the effort is not over yet. The president making the point that even if in the last three weeks we saw after the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad, where the U.S. tanks went in, that the war is not over, that there remains a lot to be done in Iraq. In part, justifying the continuous effort of tens of thousands of U.S. troops there, $2 billion a month. That has to be justified in the eyes of many Americans.

WOODRUFF: All right, Chris Burns, interesting what you say in particular about the weapons of mass destruction. I think a number of people wondering what the president is going to say, because, of course, they have not yet been able to locate those weapons.

The major fighting may well be over in Iraq. But coming up, keep an eye out for more pictures of the president in commander-in-chief mode. Will political concerns keep the war going? I'll ask Donna Brazil and Bay Buchanan about that.

And about a Saturday showdown featuring the Democratic presidential candidate. Who is likely to look like a winner?


WOODRUFF: In a flight suit and with his arms around smiling service men and women, President Bush got a campaign reelection photograph today that no amount of money could buy. And he seemed to take the part of the political backdrop to a whole new level.


WOODRUFF (voice-over): George W. Bush is building a library of presidential moments from the somber ...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have made a sacred promise to ourselves and to the world.

WOODRUFF: To the uplifting.

BUSH: May God bless our country and all who defend her. Semper fi.

WOODRUFF: A collage of emotionally charged, hard to forget images designed to emphasize the president's role as commander-in- chief. Ronald Reagan set the gold standard in Normandy on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. Bush echoed Reagan's words on the same shores in 2002, words given new meaning in the wake of 9/11.

BUSH: And in all those victories American soldiers came to liberate, not to conquer.

WOODRUFF: Powerful, searing images and a new one may well be created tonight.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WOODRUFF: And we can expect the White House to put the president and other war-related settings in the coming weeks and months. As our colleagues at "Time" magazine put it, there will always be the shadow of guns just behind him.

Well, with me now former Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile and American Cause president Bay Buchanan. Is the president, Bay, by standing on the aircraft carrier tonight, as he makes this speech, and in any other war-related setting, going to be able to keep national security matters front and center as we move closer to the election?

BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CAUSE: There's no question if he chooses to do that, he will be able to do it. Tonight is going to be just an incredible evening. You have the president on USS Abraham Lincoln surrounded by troops returning from a victorious war overseas. It does not get better than that, Judy. And now, would he go out of his way to try to come up with areas where he can go and speak to the military? I think he will. He feels very close to him. It's very natural. He is a president during a wartime. And I think it will be extraordinary difficult for the Democrats to beat this fellow, to be quite honest.

DONNA BRAZILE, FMR. GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, that remains to be seen in terms of whether or not the president is beatable in the next 540-some-odd days. However, I do believe that tonight he's going to set the right balance, the mood of celebration which I think the entire country feels relieved that this phase of the war is over with, as well as caution in terms of what's next, rebuilding Iraq. The seeds have been planted, but, of course, they must take root in the soil in Iraq, as well as I think the American people are counting on some of our allies now coming on board to help us to rebuild that nation.

BUCHANAN: But by his going on the ship and making this announcement a lot of people say it's politics, it's great photo op. All those things are true. But also what he says is I give these troops the credit for this war. He doesn't take it himself, in essence. And I think that's something that just endears him to the American people.

BRAZILE: I agree. I believe the ocean tonight should be a no- gloat zone, and that the president should set the right tone by paying tribute to those soldiers, as well as remembering the sacrifice of those who did not come home.

WOODRUFF: Let me quickly move you both to the debate coming up this weekend. Nine Democratic candidates for president are going to be debating in South Carolina. Is there anything that we should look to come out of the debate? First of all, who is watching, Donna, and how important is it in the scheme of things?

BRAZILE: Well, you know, if it's not on CNN, I doubt very seriously if I'll be able to grab it. But I must tell you, this is a great opportunity for Democrats, once again, to show their stature, that they have what I believe, the right stuff to lead the country in the 21st century. So this is going to be more than a collision in Columbia. It's going to be a very exciting moment for those who tune in. I'm sure Bay will be watching with that bowl of popcorn.

WOODRUFF: Does anything get resolved at this early stage?

BUCHANAN: The only thing that could happen, Judy, if one of them makes a mistake, a faux pas that is going to be rerun on all the stations, somebody can get hurt. But I don't believe anything happens, and they would be fortunate if no one covers them too much, because they are going to be juxtaposed against the president of the United States tonight. And everybody is going to remember them and feel that good feeling. And they are going to see these guys all up there.

WOODRUFF: Saturday night.

BUCHANAN: Saturday night in this debate. And I just think that they're fortunate that nobody's covering it live.

WOODRUFF: But there will be a lot of political coverage. The insiders are going to be watching.

BRAZILE: The folks in New Hampshire will be watching, as well as in Arizona, and all the other early states , the activists, the donors and, of course, the media. So I believe that they will get a lot of coverage. This is a great time for the Democratic Party because the party is finally pushing an agenda to secure America's future. And I think this is a great opportunity for those Democratic candidates to show they have the right stuff.

BUCHANAN: The thing is, though, just like you said about the Republicans, it's a long time before election day. None of this really means anything.

Our Candy Crowley will be covering it and she'll tell us about it on Monday. But great to see both of you. Donna, Bay, thank you for coming in.

BRAZILE: Tell her to bring us some peaches back.

WOODRUFF: OK. All right, in South Carolina.

Well, it is a new push for peace in the Middle East. But will old issues between Israel and the Palestinians and politics back here in Washington detour the drive towards peace. Our Bill Schneider takes a look when we come back.


WOODRUFF: One day after the United States-backed road map for Mideast peace pass introduced, Secretary of State Colin Powell says that the U.S. needs to be to see progress from both the Palestinians and the Israelis. At a meeting in Madrid with Spain's foreign minister, Powell said the two sides must move beyond the period of suicide bombings and retaliations.

With me now, for more on this latest effort at Middle East peace is our senior political analyst Bill Schneider. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Judy, there is a new road map to peace in the Middle East, but the old bumps in the road are still there.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The success of the Middle East peace process depends on the commitment of the president of the United States.

ROB MALLEY, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: The question mark really is whether the United States is going to be able to have the determination, commitment that it's shown, for example, in waging war on Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: Why is that a question mark? Because President Bush has given mixed signals. Last June, the president gave a Rose Garden speech in which he delighted Israel's supporters by taking a strong, pro-Israel line.

BUSH: And the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.

SCHNEIDER: Now the U.S. has published a road map that calls on Israel to start making concessions.

MORTON KLEIN, ZIONIST ORGANIZATION OF AMERICA: I think he's really now ignoring his June 24 speech and has decided to put more pressure on Israel to make concessions up front.

SCHNEIDER: President Bush is under intense conflicting pressures from two sides. The diplomatic pressure is to push the peace process forward. It's coming from the Arab world, which is suspicious of U.S. intentions in the Middle East. It's coming from the British, who want a payoff for their support on Iraq.

BUSH: Prime Minister Blair and I are determined to move toward our vision of broader peace in that region.

SCHNEIDER: The political pressure on Bush is not to push Israel for concessions yet.

KLEIN: Virtually every major Jewish organization and lots of the large Christian organizations are extremely upset.

SCHNEIDER: If President Bush pushes Israel too hard he could pay a political price. But if the president does not keep the pressure on, the road map will lead nowhere. And he could have a diplomatic price to pay.


SCHNEIDER: Some conservatives are asking, why is Bush listening to Tony Blair on this? Didn't Blair meet with the devil himself, Bill Clinton, at the same time he was supporting President Bush in Iraq? Judy.

WOODRUFF: Some pretty tough thinking going on here. All right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Well, we have more now on the Democratic hopefuls in our "Campaign News Daily." Senator John Edwards is standing by statements in a letter that we told you about yesterday where he criticized Senator Trent Lott's praise of South Carolina's Strom Thurmond. The state newspaper reports state officials from both parties in South Carolina were not happy with the Edwards letter. A spokeswoman says that Edwards continues to believe that Thurmond's past views on race do not represent most southerners today.

Former President Bill Clinton has no desire to get in the middle of the ongoing spat between Senator John Kerry and former Vermont governor Howard Dean. The Kerry camp has criticized Dean for recently saying America will not always have the world's strongest military. Dean's camp says the comments are not much different than Clinton's comments last year that America's role as the preeminent world power won't last forever. Mr. Clinton tells the "Washington Post" he's not getting involved in the dispute. Maybe the safe thing to do.

Well, that's it for today's INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks you for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff.

"CROSSFIRE" starts in two minutes.


Clinton Stays Away From Fight Between Kerry, Dean>

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