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GOP Hopes Arnold Will Rally Moderates; Iraqi-American Speaker Praises Changes in Iraq; George Bush Speaks at American Legion National Convention

Aired August 31, 2004 - 10:30   ET


DARYN KAGAN, ANCHOR: Let's check what's happening now in the news. First, the Islam militant group Hamas is claiming responsibility for today's simultaneous explosions on two buses in southern Israel. At least 14 people were killed and 80 wounded. Israeli officials say the suicide bombers came from the area where the West Bank barrier has not yet been built.
An Islamic web site says 12 Nepali hostages have been executed by a militant group in Iraq. Last week the group claimed to have kidnapped the 12 for what was called their cooperation with the U.S. in fighting Islam and its people. If confirmed, the executions would be the most at one time for a militant group in Iraq.

A Florida Supreme Court decision will determine whether Terri Schiavo lives or dies. The court today hears arguments over whether a law designed to keep the brain-damaged woman alive is unconstitutional. This is the first time the state Supreme Court has taken up the 14-year-old case. The court has no deadline for issuing its decision.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is in New York for the Republican convention. There is an important piece of unfinished business on his desk.

Citing security concerns, Schwarzenegger has promised to veto a bill which would allow illegal immigrants to have driver's licenses. While Schwarzenegger's out of the state, however, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante has the authority to sign that bill into law. There is no indication whether the Democrat, Bustamante, has plans to do that.

Republicans are hoping Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's popularity within the party will muscle some votes out of moderate and independent voters, which is why many will be paying attention to his primetime speech tonight.

Our Kelly Wallace is live in New York City with more on that.

Kelly, good morning.


There is no question that Arnold Schwarzenegger's invitation here is not about base politics; it is about reaching out to those critical swing voters, especially in a very tight election. But this speech is also something else. It marks Arnold Schwarzenegger's debut onto the national political stage.


WALLACE (voice-over): He's the rock star of the Republican Party, the action hero...


WALLACE: ... turned California governor, still using those Hollywood one-liners.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Thank you. I'll be back. Thank you.

WALLACE: He's got sky-high popularity with Republicans, strong appeal with Democrats, as well, which explains why President Bush, who didn't exactly embrace Arnold Schwarzenegger during California's historic recall, is more than happy to share the stage with him now.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some accuse us both of not being able to speak the language.

WALLACE: But they do have their differences. Schwarzenegger, unlike the president, is a social moderate who supports gay rights, abortion rights and gun control.

And now he's following in the footsteps of another actor turned California governor who made his way to the national political stage, the late former president Ronald Reagan. The difference? Unless the U.S. Constitution is changed, Austrian-born Schwarzenegger can't make the leap.

SCHWARZENEGGER: When I came to this country 35 years ago, I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would be standing in front of you here as the governor-elect of California, introducing the president of the United States.

WALLACE: There are risks in this partnership. The governor could be identified with a president enormously unpopular in his home state. Mr. Bush risks getting upstaged by a man who loves to make a splash.

SCHWARZENEGGER: And this is why I'm going to run for governor of the state of California.


WALLACE: We remember that so well. And the broadcast networks will be carrying Schwarzenegger's speech live, opening up the possibility that, Daryn, you can say the Bush/Cheney team just doesn't want to think about the possibility that Schwarzenegger could get higher television ratings than President Bush.

KAGAN: And so how do they not try to counter that, but how do they -- does that explain where the governor takes place during the week?

WALLACE: Yes. I mean, no question. You have the television networks could have carried Monday night live, a big tribute to -- and reflection on the September 11 attacks, speeches by former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Arizona Senator John McCain.

The networks, though, thinking that Schwarzenegger is a bigger draw. And of course, also first lady Laura Bush. But again, everybody sort of downplaying this, really, Daryn. They don't believe that Schwarzenegger will really be upstaging President Bush, that these delegates, the American people they believe will be tuning in to hear what President Bush says Thursday night.

KAGAN: And Kelly, not so much as upstaging it, but how do they explain the differences, the drastic differences in some of their opinions? I mean, which one really stands for the Republican Party?

WALLACE: Well, you know, when you look at the general platform here, too, that there are differences within this party. The question, or the strategy by Republicans is that they can put people on this podium who might disagree with President Bush, but ultimately on the big issues, on security, on tax cuts, by and large, they agree with the president.

And they're trying to really portray sort of an optimistic message as well. No one really puts that forward better than Arnold Schwarzenegger. He'll be talking about the American dream, how he came here from Austria, worked his way up, now he's governor of California. And again, that is a message that plays out in particular to immigrants and also trying to reach out to Hispanic Americans, as well, Daryn.

KAGAN: Kelly Wallace in New York City. Kelly, thank you.

Well, the Bush/Cheney campaign is not only enlisting star power, but family ties. Last night, former President George H.W. Bush sat down for an exclusive interview with our Paula Zahn. Here's what the elder Mr. Bush had to say about his son's decision to go to war in Iraq.


PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": There is a perception out there among some American voters though, that in part, the president went into Iraq to finish off the first Gulf War.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's bull. I'll clean it up for you. That is erroneous. It's not true.

The Gulf War was finished off properly. Make no mistake about it. We had an objective. That was to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. We tried to do it diplomatically, tried to go to the U.N., tried everything. He wouldn't get out. We kicked him out and we came home.

Ten years later, eight years later after U.N. resolution after U.N. resolution was violated, the president felt he should take action. So it was a different circumstance. And I don't think the president feels that the -- you know, that the war was unfinished.

Now, the fact -- see, our goal was never to eliminate Saddam Hussein. That wasn't a goal. It wasn't to -- it wasn't to stay in Iraq. That wasn't a goal. It's not that goal today, incidentally. So it's different times that -- I hear that criticism made and that gets me really mad, that and "The New York Times."


KAGAN: Don't get him started on "The New York Times."

Well, one of the speakers at last night's Republican convention said Iraq is much better off now than it was before the war. Zainab al-Suwali knows what life was like under Saddam Hussein. She was involved in the 1991 uprising against him. She joins me now from New York City.

Welcome back to the program.


KAGAN: Good to have you here with us. How did this opportunity come up? Just because of the convention?

AL-SUWALI: Well, I was -- you know, I've been outspoken and talked a lot about Iraq and wrote many articles about Iraq, as well, before. And so I'm known in the field. And they contacted me and -- at the convention, and I gladly said I would be able to come and address the issue.

KAGAN: Are you a registered voter? Are you a citizen now of the U.S.?


KAGAN: And so are you a registered Republican?

AL-SUWALI: I am registered independent. And -- so...

KAGAN: But you thought this was a good chance to speak out. What was the exact point you were trying to make last night?

AL-SUWALI: Well, the exact point was that Iraq is much better off without Saddam Hussein. And right now, Iraqis are enjoying their freedom, and they are trying to build democracy.

KAGAN: And do you think you represent a majority view of what most -- let's start with Iraqi-Americans believe?

AL-SUWALI: Well, I represent -- I've been in Iraq in the past year and a half, working there. And most of the Iraqis there, I present their -- some of -- or most of them, I think this is their view. KAGAN: And what about the criticism that the Bush administration, the Pentagon, the military didn't do enough to think about post-war planning, and that that's responsible for all the insurgency in Iraq?

AL-SUWALI: Well, they -- in Iraq, they tried their best to do what they think was a good thing to do. And also, at the same time, I think right now, everything in Iraqi's government's hands, and they have to take initiative for that.

KAGAN: What was it like to be up there in front of that whole convention last night? What an interesting journey you've had, Zainab.

AL-SUWALI: I know, it's overwhelming. It was not easy to -- to prepare for that. But I think it was -- by the time when I get to the stage, everything is just -- all the nervousness was history. I talked about my -- I said my speech and that was it.

KAGAN: And did you feel welcomed?

AL-SUWALI: Absolutely. I mean, people, I thought they were very welcoming. And after -- after I finished my speech, I was walking on the floor, and everyone came in and shaking my hand. And it was a great feeling.

KAGAN: And just a real quick question, did you see this as an opportunity to speak, or was this an opportunity to express your support for President Bush?

AL-SUWALI: Well, this is an opportunity to talk about the views of the majority of the Iraqi people, who have no chance to talk, and most of the media do not cover these things inside Iraq.

KAGAN: Well, we're glad to have you on today.

AL-SUWALI: Thank you.

KAGAN: You've been back many times before, and we trust we're going to see you again in the future. Zainab al-Suwali of the American Islamic Congress, thanks for your time.

AL-SUWALI: Good to see you. Thank you.

KAGAN: And you can check out our special Web report on the convention. We have a schedule of events, CNN's convention blog, interactive guide to the convention areas and more. You go to

President Bush shortly speaking in Nashville, Tennessee, the American Legion national convention. You'll see parts of that speech live right here on CNN.

Right now we go to break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KAGAN: And there you have a live picture from Nashville, Tennessee, the American Legion national convention. President Bush in a very short while will be addressing that group. You'll see his comments live here on CNN.

But while we wait for the president to begin, let's go ahead and check in on the day on Wall Street. Fred Katayama has that news for us.

Hi, Fred.


KAGAN: Fred, thank you for that.

President Bush is traveling -- he is traveling to Nashville, Tennessee today. Addressing the American Legion national convention.

We're getting word that Senator John McCain -- we saw him there to brief the president -- he will be introducing President Bush. So you'll see Senator McCain's comments and President Bush's comments here live on CNN.

Our Suzanne Malveaux is also traveling with the president. She joins us from Nashville.

Good morning.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn. As you know, of course, this is a critical group for the president. It's the largest veterans group in the country. And the president delivering the central message that he is the better candidate, the stronger candidate when it comes to protecting the homeland, protecting the American people.

We are told that President Bush watched Senator McCain's speech yesterday. He also saw replays of Giuliani's this morning, through a spokesman, saying that he appreciates very much those strong words in the support for the war on terrorism.

And just to let you know how important this group is, Senator Kerry tomorrow is going to break with tradition of laying low while the other side's convention is taking place. He is going to be speaking before this group tomorrow, making the case as well that he is a strong leader in protecting the homeland -- Daryn.

KAGAN: All right. We will check in.

We'll take his comments live. Suzanne Malveaux is in Nashville, as we said, with President Bush. So is Senator John McCain. You'll see those comments live right here on CNN.

Right now we'll take a break. Be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KAGAN: Live picture from Nashville, Tennessee. President Bush will be speaking there in a few moments. Right now, though, we want to go live to Richmond, Virginia. Here's the governor, Mark Warner, talking about the storm damage. Let's listen in.

GOV. MARK WARNER, VIRGINIA: That's the GRTC bus where folks were caught for hours on end and literally had to be rescued out through a window of that bus.

The devastation in terms of a lot of businesses in the bottom is overwhelming. You know, I've seen a couple of the stores that have just been totally washed out. I -- I think about the folks.

I was down at Cafe Guttenberg about a month and a half ago and met the new owners. They were entrepreneurs. I think they just had actually -- I'd actually seen them earlier in the day at the BCU graduation. They were talking about living out their dream of trying to build this bookstore gathering place, eatery down here in Shacklebottom (ph). And unfortunately, it looks like the whole first floor is a total washout.

It's my hope and prayer, and one of the few folks that we did see that they're committed to rebuilding here. This city will come back. This area of this city will come back.

There are moments of incredible fortitude, too. We met Michelle and Michael Smith. Michelle's car had been caught in part of the floods last night. She's a DOE employee, Department of Education employee, she and her husband were actually walking through the debris. She'd lost her backpack with some very valuable personal -- personal items that had somehow floated out of the car. And she found it underneath the -- a couple of boxes of produce at the bottom of farmer's market.

We will -- as you know, I declared a state of emergency last night at about 8 p.m. That means that state resources are available for assistance. We have, as of this morning, there were still, I believe, 18 primary roads and 161 secondary roads that were out of commission.

The number on -- that viewers, our listeners can call to find out whether a road is back in operation is -- Ellen, what's the number on the roads? What's the number on the roads again? 800-367-ROAD.

In terms of -- I'm going to ask the mayor to make a couple of comments in a moment in terms of a number that he'll give out for businesses for local assistance.

What we will be doing now is small business assistance loans will be available to businesses that have been hurt. We will be calling in our partners from the federal level to help make a damage assessment and with our partners, we'll determine whether we reach the thresholds for a federal presidential disaster declaration. That assessment will be made over the next couple of days.

In the meantime, we have city, county and state officials going through, making sure we continue to shut off the gas, make assessments of what areas need to be condemned, the whole series of streets have been, and dwellings have been condemned here in the city.

This is -- this truly was an act of God. And while our hearts go out to those five known fatalities, we can also say a prayer that so many people were saved and so many people did heed the warnings not to go into these running waters. And it's real -- it's a remarkable blessing that more people weren't hurt.

With that, Rudy McCullough, I'll ask him to make a few comments in terms of city specific comments, specifics -- Rudy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much, governor.

KAGAN: We go from Virginia now to Nashville, Tennessee. President Bush getting set to address the American Legion national convention. Let's listen in.


Thanks for having me.


And thank you for the warm welcome. Thank you all.

I'm honored to be here at your 86th national convention.

There's another convention going on in New York you might have heard about.


Tomorrow they're going to choose a presidential nominee. I think I got the inside track.


I'm taking nothing for granted, however.


I'm taking nothing for granted, so Laura headed to New York this morning to make my case. But I do want you to know, she sends her very best regards.


I also want to let you know that America's veterans are the heart and soul of this nation. When freedom was under threat, you risked your lives in places like Omaha Beach and Okinawa, Khe Sahn, Kandahar and Baghdad.

Because you served, Americans live in freedom.

I'm proud to stand before you as your commander in chief and look you in the eye and say, America is grateful for your service.


And America is grateful for the service of Senator John McCain.


He gave a great speech last night in New York. He's a great American.


He's a great American who gave his nation some of the most difficult and distinguished service in the history of our military. He fought for America. He suffered for America. He returned for honor. And his service continues today.

I'm proud to have John McCain with us and standing by my side.


I have enjoyed working with the national commander, John Brieden. Maybe we got along so well because we both speak the same language: Texan.


But he served this august body with class and dignity.

And I'm proud of your service, John. Thank you, sir.


And I was pleased to be introduced by Katherine Morris as well. She too speaks Texan.


I want to thank her for her leadership as the American Legion Auxiliary national president.

BUSH: I'm pleased to be here with my friend Tony Principi, the secretary of veterans affairs. I want to thank Les Brownlee who is with us, the acting secretary of the Army.

I appreciate the mayor of this great city of Nashville joining us.

Mr. Mayor, thank you for coming.

I appreciate Congressman Cooper from the state of Tennessee for joining us.

Most of all, I want to thank the Legion members who have been so gracious in your hospitality. Thank you and the Auxiliary members for welcoming me. Since your founding, the American Legion has always been faithful to God and to country.


You served our nation in uniform, and you still serve today.

When Hurricane Charley hit Florida a few weeks ago, American Legion posts gathered food and helped neighbors in need.


In moments of crisis, Americans know legionnaires always come through.


Members of the American Legion and the Auxiliary are also serving your neighbors every day, volunteering in veterans' hospitals, sponsoring scout troops and youth baseball and collecting scholarship money for deserving students.

You've started a scholarship fund for the children of troops killed since September the 11th, 2001, in the war on terror.

Our country owes these families so much. And I thank you for showing the gratitude and the good heart of the United States of America.


The most important gift you give our country is the example you set for the men and women of our armed forces. In Afghanistan and Iraq and other fronts in the war on terror today, service men and women are carrying on your legacy of selfless service and courage under fire.

BUSH: I know you share America's pride in them. They are serving our country with pride and they are bringing honor to the uniform.


Our fighting men and women are serving America under a proud flag, and that flag should be cherished and protected.


When John and your national adjutant general, Bob, have come by the Oval Office, they always remind me about the Citizens Flag Alliance. I appreciate your leadership in that important alliance.


Like you, I support a constitutional amendment to protect the flag from desecration. (APPLAUSE)

I think John McCain put it best when he said, "American blood has been shed all over the world for the American flag and I believe it deserves respect."

Our nation's veterans have made serving America the highest priority of your lives, and that is why I have made serving our nation's veterans one of the highest priorities of my administration.

To make sure my administration fulfills the commitment I have made to America's veterans, I selected one really fine man in Tony Principi. I am proud of the job that our secretary is doing.


Thanks in large part to Tony's leadership, my administration has a solid record of accomplishment for our veterans.

When my 2005 budget request is approved by Congress, we will have increased overall funding for our nation's veterans by almost $20 billion, or 40 percent, since 2001.


We have increased funding for our veterans more in four years than the previous administration did in eight years.


We have increased VA medical care funding by 41 percent over the last four years. We're bringing care to more veterans more quickly.

Since 2001, we have enrolled 2.5 million more veterans in health care services. We have increased outpatient visits from 44 million to 54 million. We have increased the number of prescriptions filled from 98 million to 116 million. .

BUSH: We've reduced the backlog of disability claims by about a third; we will reduce it even further. We have cut the average time it takes to process disability claims by 70 days.

We're getting the job done for our veterans.


We have focused resources on veterans who need it most, those with service-related disabilities and low incomes and special needs. We've established a new scheduling system to make certain that veterans seeking care for a service-connected condition are the first in line.

For more than a century, federal law prohibited disabled veterans from receiving both their military retired pay and their VA disability compensation. Combat-injured and severely disabled veterans deserve better. I was the first president in over 100 years to sign concurrent receipt legislation.


My administration has launched a $35 million program to provide housing and health care and other support services to homeless veterans. No veteran has served in the blazing heat or bitter cold of foreign lands should have to live without shelter, exposed to the elements in the very country whose freedom they fought for.


We are modernizing VA health centers and building new ones, especially in the South and West where increasing numbers of our veterans live.

Since 2001 we have opened 194 new community-based clinics nationwide.


Through the CARES initiative we are providing $1 billion and have requested another $500 million for next year to modernize VA facilities and to provide better care for veterans in areas where the need is growing. When it comes to providing first-class care for our veterans, we are getting the job done.


Our nation's debt extends not just to the veterans who served, but to the families who supported them in war and depend on them today.

BUSH: So last December, I signed the Veterans Benefits Act, authorizing $1 billion in new and expanded benefits for disabled veterans, surviving spouses and their children.


We meet today at a time of war for our country; a war we did not start, yet one that we will win.


If America shows weakness or uncertainty in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy. This will not happen on my watch.


The world changed on that terrible September morning and since that day we have changed the world.

Before September the 11th, 2001, Afghanistan served as the home base of Al Qaida, which trained and deployed thousands of killers to set up terror cells around the world, including our own country.

Because we acted, Afghanistan is a rising democracy. I don't know whether you know this or not, but over 10 million Afghan citizens have registered to vote in the coming October presidential elections.


Because we acted, many young girls now go to school for the first time. Because we acted, Afghanistan is an ally in the war on terror. Because we acted, America and the world are safer.


Before September 11th, Libya was spending millions to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Today, because America and our allies sent a clear and easy-to-understand message, the leader of Libya has abandoned his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and America and the world are safer.


Before September 11th, the ruler of Iraq was a sworn enemy of America.

BUSH: He was defying the world. He was firing weapons at American pilots who were enforcing the world's sanctions. He had pursued and he had used weapons of mass destruction. He had harbored terrorists. He invaded his neighbors. He subsidized the families of suicide bombers. He and his henchmen murdered tens of thousands of his own citizens. He was a source of instability in the world's most volatile region.

Saddam Hussein was a threat.

After September the 11th, one of the lessons this country must always remember is that we must take threats seriously before they fully materialize.


So I went to the United States Congress, and members of both political parties, including my opponent, looked at the intelligence and looked at the background and came to the same conclusion: Saddam Hussein was a threat.

Before a president ever commits troops, we must try all other alternatives to deal with threats. And so I went to the United Nations. I said to the free world, "Saddam Hussein is a threat."

They looked at the same intelligence and came to the same conclusion with a 15-to-nothing vote in the U.N. Security Council. They said, "Disclose, disarm or face serious consequences."

The world had spoken, but as he had for over a decade, Saddam Hussein defied the demands of the free world. He ignored the demands of the United Nations.

As a matter of fact, when we sent inspectors -- or when the U.N. sent inspectors into Iraq, he systematically deceived the inspectors. So I had a choice to make: Do I forget the lessons of September 11th and take the word of a madman or do I take action to defend our country? Given that choice, I will defend America every time.


Even though we did not find the stockpiles that we thought we would find, Saddam Hussein had the capability of making weapons of mass destruction and he could have passed that capability on to the enemy.

BUSH: And that was a risk we could not afford to take after September the 11th.

Knowing what I know today, I would have taken the same action.

America and the world are safer with Saddam Hussein sitting in a prison cell.


We will continue to work with friends and allies around the world to aggressively pursue the terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.

You cannot talk sense to these people. You cannot negotiate with them. You cannot hope for the best. We must aggressively pursue them around the world so we do not have to face them here at home.


In this different kind of war, we may never sit down at a peace table, but make no mistake about it: We are winning and we will win.


We will win by staying on the offensive. We will win by spreading liberty.

We believe that liberty can transform nations from tyranny into peaceful nations. And so, we will keep our commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq. We will help them become peaceful and democratic countries that are allies in the war on terror.

Those countries are now governed by strong leaders who believe in the aspirations of their people. We will help them in the political process.

More importantly, we will train Afghan citizens and Iraqi citizens so they can defend their own country against the few who would stop the wishes of the many.

Our military will complete this mission as quickly as possible so our troops do not stay a day longer than necessary.

(APPLAUSE) We're doing the hard work of securing our country and spreading the peace, and those commitments are made by the men and women of our military. I've had the privilege of traveling to bases around our country and around the world.

BUSH: I met with those who defend our security. I've seen their great decency and their unselfish courage. I can assure you, ladies and gentlemen, the cause of freedom is in really good hands.


And those who wear our uniform deserve the full support of the government.

For the past years, my administration has strengthened our military. We've enacted the largest increases in defense spending since Ronald Reagan served as the commander in chief. We've increased military pay by nearly 21 percent. We provided for better housing, for better training, for better maintenance.

Last September, when our troops were in combat in Afghanistan and in Iraq, I proposed supplemental funding to support them in their missions. The legislation provided funding for body armor and vital equipment, hazard pay, health benefits, ammunition, fuel and spare parts.

It was important funding. We received a great bipartisan support for that funding. All but 12 United States senators voted to support our troops in combat.

My opponent chose to vote "no" on that vital legislation. When asked, he said, "Well, I actually did vote for the $87 billion right before I voted against it." When further pressed, he said he was proud of his vote and then he said it was a complicated matter.

There's nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat.


In the long run our security is not guaranteed by force alone. We must work to change the conditions that give rise to terror: poverty and hopelessness and resentment.

A free and peaceful Iraq and a free and peaceful Afghanistan will be powerful examples in part of the world that is desperate for freedom.

By serving the ideal of liberty, we're bringing hope to others and we're making our country more secure. By serving the ideal of liberty, we are making the world more peaceful. And by serving the ideal of liberty, we're serving the deep deepest ideals of American soul.

Freedom is not America's gift to the world. Freedom is the almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world. (APPLAUSE)

We have more work to do to defend freedom and to protect our country.

BUSH: For decades, America's armed forces abroad have essentially remained where the wars of the last century ended, in Europe and Asia. Much of America's current force posture was designed to protect us and our allies from Soviet aggression; a threat that no longer exists.

And that's why I announced the plan to transform our global force posture: the numbers, types, locations and capabilities of U.S. forces around the world.

This new plan will help us fight and win the war on terror. This new plan will help us deal with the threats of the 21st century. It will strengthen our alliances while we build new partnerships to better preserve the peace. It will reduce the stress on our troops and on our military families. It will save the taxpayers money as we consolidate and close bases and facilities overseas no longer needed to face the threats of our time and defend the peace and freedom of the world.

This plan was carefully crafted over more than three years in close consultation with friends and allies around the world. We will have a presence, but we'll have a smarter presence to promote the peace.

Within hours after I announced this plan, my opponent came out against it. And that's his right to do so. After all, it's a campaign. He's allowed to say what he believes. The only problem is that he endorsed the idea just 17 days earlier.



On August 1st he said, "I think we can significantly change the deployment of troops not just in Iraq, but elsewhere in the world. Korean Peninsula perhaps, Europe perhaps. There are great possibilities open to us, but this administration has very little imagination."

Well, it takes a lot of imagination to come out against the position you took just 17 days earlier.


This world has changed a great deal since many of you have worn the nation's uniform. Today, our troops have the most advanced technologies at their disposal. Weapons are more lethal and precise than any that were available for you.

BUSH: Yet their success in the war on terror is made possible by the same thing that made your success possible: personal courage, dedication to duty and love of our great country.


As our troops serve today in Baghdad and Mosul and the Hindu Kush Mountains and around the world, I know America's veterans feel a special pride in them. They're carrying on your legacy of sacrifice and service. They're determined to see the mission through.

America's proud of them. America will stand with them.


I want to thank you for standing by our men and women in uniform. Thank you for your idealism. Thank you for your example. Thank you for your dedication to God and country. And thank you for having me here.

May God bless you and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

Thank you all.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We've been listening into President Bush. He's in Nashville, Tennessee, today, leading up to his arrival at the Republican National Convention, today addressing the National Convention of the American Legion, the largest group of veterans in the U.S.

The president repeating some themes that we've heard him say in campaign speeches leading up to this one, justifying his decision to go to war in Iraq, saying that America and the world are both safer places now that Saddam Hussein is sitting in a prison cell. And most notably, also talking about the war on terror. Earlier this week in an interview, Mr. Bush said that the war on terror is not winnable. Since then, though, the Republican Party and the Bush administration changing that message and saying that he does believe that the war on terror is winnable.

By the way, Senator John Kerry will be addressing the same group tomorrow. And you will see his comments live right here on CNN, just like we showed you President Bush.

Right now, we want to get an alternate view of what President Bush had to say and bring in retired Air Force General Merrill McPeak. He is supporting John Kerry in the 2004 presidential contest, and he is here to give us an alternative view, just as we will have someone giving an alternative view when Senator Kerry speaks tomorrow.

General, good morning. And thanks for being here with us.


KAGAN: President Bush, as you heard, says that he believes America is a safer place now that Saddam Hussein is sitting in a prison cell. Do you agree or disagree with that?

MCPEAK: Well, I'm delighted to see Saddam Hussein in handcuffs. That's great for us. I disagree that America's safer. It's quite clear that we're -- we're making terrorist a lot faster than we're killing them.

So, in my judgment, the war in Iraq, as conducted by this president, has been a setback for the United States and the overall strategic war on terror. And in particular, it's hard to see how the president can come out praising his own resolution and strength and certainty, attacking others for weakness and uncertainty, when yesterday he pronounced that the war on terror was unwinnable, a mission impossible.

Clearly, it drove his speechwriters crazy overnight. So today he announced not only is it -- are we winning, but we will win the war on terror. So, you know, this is the kind of uncertain leadership that the president accuses others of, and he's right flat in the middle of it.

KAGAN: General, let me ask you this. There's a lot of accusations going both ways during this campaign of flip-flopping. You, yourself, in 2000, you -- you supported George Bush.

MCPEAK: I flip-flopped.

KAGAN: You flipped. So explain your flip, please, sir.

MCPEAK: Well, I believe the evidence of my eyes. I was a veteran for Bush in 2000, and almost immediately I saw evidence that this administration didn't know what they were doing. Not so much on domestic issues -- I'm with some him on some of those -- but in the area of international affairs, this has been a really careless administration, quite clumsy.

They've certainly reduced the number of friends we have and increased our enemies. Our standing in the world is at an all-time low. We simply have to get rid of him in order to get back on the right track.

KAGAN: Was that a big moment for you personally, not only to decide to switch...

MCPEAK: Yes, it is.

KAGAN: ... your party, but to come out publicly and support a different candidate?

MCPEAK: Yes, absolutely. Look, I haven't -- I am now a registered Independent in my home state in Oregon. But I'm -- I'm a kind of a conservative, you know, mainstream guy. And it bothered me a lot to -- to -- and I haven't gone all of the way to registering as a Democrat.

KAGAN: But you intend to vote for John Kerry on November 2? MCPEAK: I'm not only voting for him, I'm proud of it. Now, look, John Kerry is a veteran. You know, he qualifies to belong to the American Legion. It's really kind of sad to see people here in New York, where I am now, wearing Band-Aids with Purple Hearts on them.

KAGAN: Do you feel like they're mocking Senator Kerry's service?

MCPEAK: Of course they're mocking him.

KAGAN: Not just Senator Kerry, but all the many people who have earned Purple Hearts?

MCPEAK: Exactly. Look, the Purple Heart was invented by George Washington. It's part of our history, part of our heritage.

Almost 4,000 of them have been given to people in Iraq so far. Of course it's a mockery. And for the president not to renounce it means that the tone is being set at the top here. So he can talk about honoring vets, but he's dishonoring them here in New York City.

KAGAN: Well, retired Air Force General Merrill McPeak giving us a different view from what we just heard for about a half-hour of President Bush. General, thank you for your time.

MCPEAK: Thank you, Daryn.

KAGAN: And as we said, tomorrow, Senator John Kerry plans to address the same group. You will see those comments live and then we have will have an opposing view to follow that, bringing you all sides here on CNN.

Coming up next, we will take you live to Madison Square Garden for the latest from the Republican National Convention. We are back in a moment.



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