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Interview with Joe Klein Of "TIME" Magazine

Aired September 3, 2003 - 20:30   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Bush administration's policy in Iraq is evolving. Some of the president's opponents say it is failing and what the voters think could have a major bearing on next year's presidential election, is President Bush in any political trouble. "TIME" magazine senior writer Joe Klein is here to discuss that and other political matters.
I asked Trent Lott a short time ago whether he saw Colin Powell going to the U.N. and asking for help from multinational forces in his mind suggested defeat in anyway. And he said no. What do you think?

JOE KLEIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE SENIOR WRITER: Well, I think the first step in a 12 step program is to admit that you have a problem. And what the president and Colin Powell are doing now is admitting that we have a really serious problem in Iraq. The U.N. step is part of it. We're going to have to ask Congress for a lot more money. The president will. And also, you're going to have to get a lot more Iraqi troops on the ground, protecting the borders of the country, protecting the electrical power lines and the pipelines and all the rest.

This is probably the most serious foreign policy crisis this country has faced since Vietnam. And none of the answers that are out there are perfect. This is a very, very difficult task the president has ahead of him over the next couple of years.

ZAHN: Well, let's talk about, first off, the challenge of getting troops rotated in there. The hope was to get a lot of these troops out of there by March, right?

KLEIN: Right. Well, we're not going to be able to do that. We'll have to rotate some other American troops in. But it's interesting what the General Joulwan was saying before to you he'd like to see a lot of NATO troops come in.

My sources that U.N. and our government say that France and Germany and our traditional allies don't have very many troops to give us because they're stretched thin as well in Bosnia, in Kosovo, the French are very active in Africa, the Russians have problems of their own. Most of the troops that would come through the U.N. would be Asian troops. They would be Indians, Bangladeshies, Pakistanis, Turks. And a number of those countries are having serious political problems within their own country.

The Turks and the Indians live in democracies and those are democracies that may not want to put their troops into such a difficult situation. ZAHN: Come back to the cost on issue, even Senator Trent Lott, a member of the president's party, saying the president has to be very forthright with the American public about what this might ultimately cost. We just learned about 15 minutes ago that the White House is going to have a full-court press, sort of a PR strategy to explain some of these things to the American public. Will it help?

KLEIN: We have this wire copy here that says they're planning a campaign style strategy. We don't need a campaign. We don't need public relations. I think that what the American people are looking for at this point is exactly what Trent Lott just said. It's a very straight forward speech from the president of the United States, saying what the problem is, how long we're going to be there and how much it's going to cost.

What I'm hearing is the administration is going back for a supplemental budget appropriations to the Congress and they're going to ask for at least $60 billion additional, $40 billion for the military and 15 to $20 billion for the reconstruction projects.

ZAHN: I want to turn our attention to California now and this scene that Arnold Schwarzenegger faced a little earlier today when he got pelted with an egg at a campaign stop. You don't see him yet. You going to have to imagine what that might have looked like but...

KLEIN: That was great shot. They nailed him.

ZAHN: Well, he actually made a joke of it saying where's the bacon later, something along that line. He handled it pretty effortlessly. It seem he's was very much on the minds of the debater. Here it comes, Joe. You'll have to relive with it us.

KLEIN: We've seen things like that before. At least it wasn't a pie in the face.

ZAHN: No. Exactly. This is how he came up tonight, in which context, at the debate of the candidates, some of them, in California tonight.


RANDY SHANDOBIL, KTVU-TV POLITICAL EDITOR: Over the past couple of weeks we've extended several invitations to Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger and up until today, we even kept a seat open for him. During our negotiations, his campaign never said that he had a scheduling conflict, nonetheless Mr. Schwarzenegger declined to participate today.

ZAHN: Ouch!

KLEIN: Ouch! Well, look it's nice that Arnold Schwarzenegger is a moderate. We need more moderates in politics. But the campaign he's conducting is insulting to Californians. I mean it's a demagogue campaign saying he's not going to raise the taxes and he's going to somehow balance the budget and he's going to somehow cut spending, no details. If he's going to be a politician he's got to do the things that politicians do. He's got to talk about the issues. He's got to meet his challengers in debate. One debate isn't going to be enough.

ZAHN: Now he says he doesn't want the questions at the debate at...

KLEIN: That's right. The initial plan for the one debate he was going to be in he'd get the questions in advance. Now, he's backed off of that because it's such an embarrassment.

I suspect that if this sort of behavior continues from Schwarzenegger. If he keeps on playing the movie star and spewing platitudes left and right but no details, then his standing in the polls is going to go down and you may see some other Republicans, like Tom McClintock, who is a serious conservative and Peter Ueberroth who is running as an Independent but Republican background, you may see them rise up.

ZAHN: We'll be watching alongside you. Joe Klein. Thank you.


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