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PAULA ZAHN NOW

American, Iraqi Forces Join in Falluja Assault; Reservist Sues to Keep from Returning to Iraq

Aired November 8, 2004 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening and welcome to what promises to be another busy week for PRIME TIME POLITICS.
Tonight, the battle for Falluja; 10,000 American troops fight to clear the city of Iraqi insurgents.

Plus, the making of a Republican family feud. The religious right takes credit for the president's victory. Now they want their agenda to be his priority.

And the outspoken former Senator Bob Kerrey on the war, the Republican majority and how to heal his own Democratic Party.

But we begin tonight with a dose of reality, the new reality in Washington. Republicans rule. The Democrats will just have to adjust to that. But when it comes to setting priorities, some Republicans may have to adjust as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): President Bush is back for another term in the White House, but he faces a lot of pressure from some of his strongest supporters. Conservative Christians and evangelicals want action on a broad social agenda, including a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The White House says that takes time.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president remains committed to doing everything he can to protect the sanctity of marriage. He believes very strongly that it is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. With that said, the president during the campaign outlined a very comprehensive agenda focused on big priorities.

ZAHN: Big priorities in the short term are getting next week's lame duck session of Congress to raise the debt limit, so the government can keep borrowing money, finish work on spending bills, and pass intelligence reforms inspired by the 9/11 Commission. Longer-term priorities include tax simplification, reforming Social Security, and education, plus Iraq and the war on terror. Where does that leave issues like the marriage amendment?

MCCLELLAN: It's a priority. He'll continue to talk to members of Congress about it.

You have new members coming into Congress as well. He's already reached out to some of those, on both sides of the aisle, and he'll continue to do that on priorities. No, I'm talking more broadly, not specifically this issue.

ZAHN: Democrats are also adjusting to the new political reality in Washington and some may be questioning the value of staying in the minority. Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer of New York, Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Jon Corzine of New Jersey could be tempted by upcoming races for governor in their home states.

New Jersey votes next year. Governor Jim McGreevey said goodbye to his staff today. He is finally resigning after announcing back in August that he is gay and had an affair with a man, a man who happened to be on his payroll.

GOV. JAMES MCGREEVEY (D), NEW JERSEY: To be clear, I am not apologizing for being a gay American, but rather, for having let personal feelings impact my decision-making, and for not have having had the courage to be open about whom I was.

ZAHN: McGreevey lamented that, in his words, dogma has replaced thoughtful discussion between people of different views.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And joining me now, a Democrat who has served as both a governor and U.S. senator. Bob Kerrey also was a member of the 9/11 Commission and is now president of the New School University here in New York.

You better not do much more, because I can barely get that all into the introduction.

BOB KERREY (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: That's it. That's it.

ZAHN: Welcome back.

KERREY: Thank you.

ZAHN: I wanted to start off tonight by talking about the role that faith and the evangelical vote played in the reelection of President Bush.

And one of your former colleagues, Senator Hart, wrote quite pointedly about that issue in an editorial today. And he said -- quote -- "It should concern us that declarations of faith are quickly becoming a condition for seeking public office. Declarations of faith are abstractions that permit both voters and candidates to fill in the blanks with their own religious beliefs."

He thinks that's dangerous. Do you?

KERREY: Well, it can be if you don't understand the importance of keeping the government secular, so that you can practice whatever religion you want.

(CROSSTALK) ZAHN: Do you fear that's going to happen the second go-round of the Bush administration?

KERREY: Well, I think it's not likely, but it's potentially there.

When the president stood up at a faith-based initiative program and said, we don't need a rule book, we just need the good book, and held up a Bible, that was a mistake. That sends a signal that the New Testament is going to be the rule of law. And it cannot be. We have got to keep that separation, so that we can practice our religion, whatever our religion is. Or if we choose not to practice a religion, we can choose that as well in this country.

ZAHN: So what do you think is going to be the defining moment for the president when it comes to whether in fact he rules by the good book or rules more...

(CROSSTALK)

KERREY: Well, I think it actually could become this same-sex marriage amendment.

Look, my religious belief causes me to conclude that homosexuality and heterosexuality are both natural states, that God put gay and straight on this Earth alike. And it's taken us a while to come to terms with that, but that's my religious belief. It's an article of faith. It's not based on science or a political calculation.

And, as a consequence, I find myself saying any church that wants to deny a right for a man and a man to get married, that's fine with them. The Catholic Church won't let me get married in the church, even though I would prefer it, because I won't have my first marriage annulled. But marriage is a legal issue as well. And just as the government shouldn't tell the church what to do, the church shouldn't tell the government what to do.

And I fear that's what this is all about, as well as people not really understanding that homosexuality is a state that people acquire at birth. It's not a choice that's been made.

ZAHN: Well, a lot of Americans don't think it's an article of faith according to their own religious convictions.

(CROSSTALK)

KERREY: They need to hear Democrats say -- this isn't a political calculus. This isn't us trying to put together a coalition.

It's just as important a religious belief of mine as it is those who say I'm uncomfortable with same-sex marriage. I think it is in fact a natural state. It was a question that was asked during the debate and I think answered improperly. That was the one where John went on about the vice president's daughter. That set off a wave of anger, etcetera, rather than focusing on the question, which is, do you choose it or are you born that way? And Americans need to understand that. I think the president understands that. The question is, will he push that as a religious issue?

ZAHN: The former president, President Clinton, in a piece over the weekend suggested John Kerry lost for a number of reasons, particularly because he didn't think John Kerry connected in rural America with voters, particularly on moral issues, including the issue of gay marriage, and went on to say the Republicans had a clear message and a great messenger, that they used a culture war to leave the Democrats -- quote -- "demonized, cartoonized, as aliens."

Did they not understand the culture war going on in this country?

(CROSSTALK)

KERREY: President Clinton never faced an opponent as tough as George W. Bush. His father wasn't as tough and Bob Dole wasn't as tough.

George W. Bush is a very tough campaigner. He is an intuitive politician. He's an incumbent president. And he was an exceptionally difficult person for John Kerry under the best of circumstances.

ZAHN: Was John Kerry an intuitive campaigner?

KERREY: He's not as intuitive a politician as George Bush is. I mean, George W. Bush's father isn't as intuitive. I'm not as intuitive.

George Bush knows when to kiss the baby. And that's a hard thing to teach. In fact, it's an impossible thing to teach. He's very good on the street and he's good with the message. His message was, I will keep you safe, and the other guy won't. And when you are the incumbent, it's a much higher standard for an opponent to prove that you're wrong. So...

ZAHN: The American public, by and large, didn't think John Kerry was the guy to do that.

KERREY: That's correct, because the president had a case, a very simple case to make: I am the commander in chief. I won the war in Afghanistan, even though John Kerry supported it, even though, by the way, there's a credible case that the president's own negligence prior to 9/11 at least in part contributed to the disaster in the first place.

ZAHN: How so?

KERREY: Well, the 9/11 report says in chapter eight -- now that it's beyond the campaign, so the promise I had to keep this out of the campaign is over.

The 9/11 report in chapter eight says that, in the summer of 2001, the government ignored repeated warnings by the CIA, ignored, and didn't do anything to harden our border security, didn't do anything to harden airport country, didn't do anything to engage local law enforcement, didn't do anything to round up INS and consular offices and say we have to shut this down, and didn't warn the American people.

The famous presidential daily briefing on August 6, we say in the report that the briefing officers believed that there was a considerable sense of urgency and it was current. So there was a case to be made that wasn't made.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: But what we continue to hear from this administration is that the threat was much too diffuse. There was no way you could zero in on the fact that al Qaeda was going to use jets as bombs and ram them into buildings.

KERREY: That is a straw man.

The president says, if I had only known that 19 Islamic men would come into the United States of America and on the morning of 11 September hijack four American aircraft, fly two into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and one into an unknown Pennsylvania that crashed in Shanksville, I would have moved heaven and earth. That's what he said.

Mr. President, you don't need to know that. This is an Islamic jihadist movement that has been organized since the early 1990s, declared war on the United States twice, in '96 and '98. You knew they were in the United States. You were warned by the CIA. You knew in July they were inside the United States. You were told again by briefing officers in August that it was a dire threat.

And what did you do? Nothing, so far as we could see on the 9/11 Commission. Now, that's in the report. And we took an oath not to talk about it during the campaign, I think correctly so, to increase the capacity of that commission's report to be heard by the people's Congress.

But the report, I think, it's difficult for a challenger. If I had been the challenger, it's difficult to make that case when you are running against an incumbent. He can stand back and say, oh, you're just grousing.

ZAHN: Oh, we couldn't connect the dots is what we heard.

Final question for you sir. In Falluja...

KERREY: Yes.

ZAHN: There are some Democrats that suggest that this incursion was delayed until after the election because of the vulnerability of the U.S. troops and this could be a very bloody campaign. Where do you stand? KERREY: Oh, I think it's likely it was delayed until after the election. And it's probably a smart thing to do. This is as much a political battle inside of Iraq as it is a military battle. And everybody knows that who has talked to people that's over there. So I think it's likely that it was.

ZAHN: Bob Kerrey, thanks for dropping by.

KERREY: You're welcome. Nice to see you.

ZAHN: Always appreciate your perspective.

Still to come on PRIME TIME POLITICS, it's the next great divide, but it's not between Republicans and Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): With Democrats on the sidelines, the president's toughest critics could be fellow Republicans.

Iraq, the deficit, conservative judges. Tonight, the Republicans divided by victory.

And the battle of Falluja, turning point or just another step in a long, hard slog?

And tonight's voting booth question: Does President Bush have a mandate to implement his agenda? Go to CNN.com/Paula and vote. The results and much more as PRIME TIME POLITICS continues.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: A president with a mandate, a 10-seat majority in the Senate, at least 25 seats in the House. So everything should be smooth sailing for Republicans, right? Well, maybe not. Now they are facing battles among themselves.

Here's our congressional correspondent Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter symbolizes the tug of war between conservatives and moderate Republicans in the Congress. Long thought to be the next Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, conservative groups are rising up against Specter because he said judicial nominees who oppose abortion might have a tough time to getting confirmed. But he said there is still time to work with the president.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: He and I have worked very well together. He doesn't expect me to agree with every last point. We've had differences. But on judicial nominations, he is relying upon me to have prompt hearings. JOHNS: What some conservatives can't forgive is Specter's opposition the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert Bork during the Reagan years. Specter helped get Bork rejected.

BRUCE FEIN, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW EXPERT: It's hard to conceive of him giving the full support for a Bush nomination that a chairman of a committee ought to.

JOHNS: Conservative legal expert Bruce Fein says the Bush agenda would be in jeopardy if Specter gets the job.

FEIN: Senator Specter clearly falls short of the mark. He may well be able to say with some conviction and truth, well, I won't oppose the president, but that is not, it seems to me, a satisfactory answer.

JOHNS (on camera): But moderates and conservatives can disagree on more than just judges, From gay marriage to the Patriot Act to creating private accounts in Social Security, to tax cuts to tax reform, the math in the Congress works in the president's favor to stay the conservative course.

(voice-over): Grover Norquist is a leading voice from the right on tax fairness issues.

GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: With 55 Republicans in the Senate, one or two guys don't get in the way. And there are two or three Democrats who are up for reelection in two years who need to be for tax reduction. So the folks who thought they could be in the middle or one foot on either team don't find themselves in the catbird seat now.

JOHNS: Still, the president has said a new term is an opportunity to reach out to the whole nation and some of his colleagues are hoping he can do that regardless of the numbers.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: We have got big issues domestically, internationally. I think the president understands that we cannot, we, the Republican Party, even though we control the Congress and the White House, can't do this alone.

JOHNS: Republican leaders are expected to take their cues from the White House, which said Monday that no one should be surprised the president is pursuing exactly what he talked about on the campaign trail.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And that was congressional correspondent Joe Johns.

Joining me now from Lynchburg, Virginia, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, founder of Liberty University, and from Washington tonight, Austin Ruse, president of the Culture of Life Foundation, a conservative Catholic group.

Great to have both of you with us. Welcome. AUSTIN RUSE, PRESIDENT, CULTURE OF LIFE FOUNDATION: Glad to be with you.

ZAHN: Reverend Falwell, I know you are astute enough politically that you know you are not going to get everything you want from this president, but what does he have to deliver to keep his conservative base happy?

JERRY FALWELL, CHANCELLOR, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY: Well, first of all, I have never and religious conservatives in this country have never distrusted this president. He has led the way. He is the guy who introduced the federal marriage amendment. He is the man who said he wants to get good strict constructionists on the Supreme Court and on the federal benches and he is the guy who wants to have a flat tax, etcetera, etcetera.

I'm here to help him. We put 30 million people at the polls and we don't regret a moment of it. And, yes, Arlen Specter does give me pause. We got rid of Tom Daschle. We don't need a Republican Tom Daschle. And if he cannot give the president total and loyal support, then somebody else should be chair. But that's a minor bump in the road. And Bill Frist can take care of that. And I'm sure he will.

ZAHN: But you still haven't addressed the question of what he has to deliver to you. I think I understand what you're saying in a judicial sense. So you want a flat tax.

(CROSSTALK)

FALWELL: We want some pro-life, pro-family, strict constructionist judges. We have enough of the other side right now.

I have a little problem with Mr. Specter. Robert Bork was maybe the most qualified member of the Supreme Court ever to go up there, and Specter is one of the guys who shot him down. I have a hard time forgetting that. I want to see the federal marriage amendment passed as early next year as possible. I am not talking about stopping the war to do that, but I am saying that we waited a long time and this -- we didn't start this battle, but these are the people who helped put 55 senators in place and a majority in the House.

And the president is a fine, committed Christian who I trust will do just what he has said he will do.

ZAHN: All right, Austin, we just heard the reverend say what would be a priority in his mind, but if you listen to what was laid out with his agenda today, moral issues were barely even touched. The issue of tax reform came up and Social Security. How quickly do you think the president needs to address this issue of a federal marriage act?

RUSE: Well, this president has been the Middle East pro-life and pro-family president that we have had. But we believe that he will move forward on all fronts that are important to us.

ZAHN: So you weren't let down today? RUSE: No, not at all, not at all.

FALWELL: Nor I.

RUSE: Of course, we want the president to lead us publicly on these issues, but he spoke about these issues in the campaign, both the federal marriage amendment and also abortion judges and the whole panoply of conservative social issues.

And we absolutely believe that he will come through on each and every one of them.

ZAHN: Reverend, I heard in your first answer how strongly you support the president, and yet I am left with the very distinct impression from other conservatives I've spoken with there was a great disappointment in the president when it comes to the issue of war, and many of them said they held their criticism, they held back their tongues, because they didn't want to hurt his reelection bid.

You can't be satisfied with what's going on in Iraq right now, can you?

FALWELL: I believe the president has done the only thing that a good president whose primary responsibility is the defense of freedom, defense of the citizenry, could possibly do.

I believe the war in Iraq was as just a war as World War II with Adolf Hitler was. I believe that what the president is doing is the right thing. I believe the assault on Falluja today -- my only regret was, we didn't finish it last April. And I hope that this war on terrorism, not only Afghanistan and Iraq, but wherever else the president needs to pursue terrorism -- I believe the only way to solve this problem is with force.

Negotiating with the bin Ladens and the Saddam Husseins of this world is futile. I do support the president 1,000 precent.

ZAHN: Austin, I recently spoke with Reverend Pat Robertson. And he got scorched by many conservatives for what he said on the air. He recalled a conversation he had with the president. He said that he warned the president that this was going to be a war we shouldn't enter, the there were going to be tremendous American casualties. He said the president didn't think there would be any casualties.

Am I talking with conservatives on a different planet here? Because the conservatives I have spoken with are adamantly opposed to this war and they hate these deficits.

RUSE: I can't speak for other conservatives, and my organization does not work on this particular issue.

But it seems to me that the situation in Iraq is a transformative experience for the Middle East. Certainly, things haven't gone perfectly after Baghdad fell. But I also think that a lot of the news coming out of the Middle East is skewed. I think a lot of the news is much better than we see in the media here in America. And I think, in the coming weeks and months, something very important is going to happen there, namely, an election, which they have not had before.

And I say let's wait and see.

(CROSSTALK)

FALWELL: And, Austin, three million women voted in Afghanistan recently, and that is something phenomenal in the Middle East.

ZAHN: Gentlemen, we are going to have to leave it there.

Reverend Jerry Falwell, Austin Ruse, appreciate both of you for joining us tonight.

RUSE: Thank you so much.

ZAHN: My pleasure.

And, over the weekend, the president's adviser Karl Rove made it clear the administration wants to change the Constitution to ban gay marriage. Yet the president has said he's OK with civil unions for gays. And with Christian conservatives feeling their power, can Republicans find a compromise? We'll look at that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Lots of talk today about the president putting more conservative judges in federal court.

Here's a sample from talk radio's G. Gordon Liddy.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE G. GORDON LIDDY SHOW")

G. GORDON LIDDY, HOST: Political power talks. And you have shown it. You got out and you voted and you put the president over the top and you added to the power of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives and critically in the Senate. That's power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree wholeheartedly in the agenda that should be met. We need the right judges in place. And...

(CROSSTALK)

LIDDY: Yes. What we need is judges who will judge and not legislate. The liberals are all whining and sniveling and carry on and giving various excuses. The people of faith expect their positions to be honored.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ZAHN: It is the talk of talk radio, the Bush agenda and the conservative Christian agenda, that is, and how closely the two might mesh over the next four years.

Before the break, we heard from the conservative Christian side.

Joining me now from Washington, Ann Stone of Republicans For Choice, and Patrick Guerriero, executive direction of the pro-gay rights Log Cabin Republicans, which retracted its endorsement of President Bush earlier this year.

Good to have both of you with us.

PATRICK GUERRIERO, DIRECTOR, LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS: Good to be with you, Paula.

ANN STONE, REPUBLICANS FOR CHOICE: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: Thank you.

So, Ann, tonight, I want to start with something that Senator Arlen Specter had to say on CNN earlier today, when he seemed to distance himself from the pro-life position. And we should make it clear before people listen to it that he is next in line to assume -- the pro-choice position -- excuse me -- next in line to assume the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The facts are that I have supported all of President Bush's nominees in the committee and on the floor and I voted for strict constructionist who are pro-life judges.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Do you think the senator is trying to save his confirmation?

STONE: I think he's telling the truth. And, in fact, I would say the Christian right deserves to give Arlen Specter this chairmanship. He has bled for them. He bled for them on Clarence Thomas.

And if they are still bringing up Robert Bork, I'll tell you, they need to get over it, because he really bled on Thomas. As well, I think Republicans need to stop and remember that it was Arlen Specter that stopped Hillary's health care plan. Remember that famous diagram he did?

ZAHN: I do remember that diagram, but do you think his nomination is in jeopardy right now, Ann? There seemed to be an awful lot of backlash based on some of the comments he made last week. And then he later softened those comments.

STONE: Yes. I'm on a lot of e-mail lists for the Christian right and there is a real firestorm.

And it just seems that here they won tremendous victories or victories that they perceive, and yet they still have to go on to the attack. What ever happened to do unto others is what I want to know. And at some point they are going to have to realize they won some stuff. They need to come up with a proactively positive agenda and stop with the savaging and personal character assassination they are doing, especially with somebody like Arlen, who really has been a good soldier for Republicans.

While he is pro-choice and he votes pro-choice, he has come through for the president on more than one occasion.

ZAHN: Do you think he'll end up heading up the Senate Judiciary Committee?

STONE: I would hope so.

This is a test for the Bush administration, in fact, to see whether or not they are going to be able to be an administration for all of the people or they're going to simply represent a small vocal minority. You know, if you look at the exit polling, if you believe that 22 percent voted on moral values, not all of them were conservative moral values, but even if you say most of that was, there's still 80 percent of the people voting on other things.

ZAHN: Patrick, how big of a setback was this election for gays?

GUERRIERO: I think it was certainly a wakeup call for gay and lesbian Americans.

I was just thinking that, in listening to Reverend Falwell a few moments ago, I have now seen two things over the last few weeks I never thought I would see in my lifetime. As a Red Sox fan, I have seen them win the World Series, and I actually agreed with much of what Reverend Falwell said. Conservatives deserve credit.

Despite my disappointment in some of the tactics used, they delivered people to the polls. And anyone who says otherwise is lying to you. And, second, the American people trust Republican leadership more now when we talk about protecting their families during a war on terrorism and dealing with issues likes Social Security and tax reform.

ZAHN: But how about the issue of gay rights and gay marriage?

GUERRIERO: What Reverend Falwell will -- where we separate ways is, Reverend Falwell and others won't tell you or want to talk about the fact that, even in this election, where a lot of people did vote around issues relating to moral values, two out of three of the voters support civil unions for gay and lesbian families in America.

And while the marriage debate was new, and it drove some people to the polls. And most of the country is just navigating through this issue, under the surface is a real movement to realize we need to do something for part of the American family that doesn't have hospital visitation and other basic things that most Americans agree on. A short setback, a good wakeup call, but I think a great hope for the future.

ZAHN: Patrick, we just have 30 seconds left. Do you think in this administration, there will be a big push for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. GUERRIERO: The president has made a promise he would aggressively move in that direction with, while Log Cabin will stand with the president on a series of issues, we will not stand with him on trying to right discrimination in the constitution. It's something that won't be good for the country and we shouldn't mark up our nation's founding document doing that.

ZAHN: Patrick Guerriero, Ann Stone, thank you both for joining us.

GUERRIERO: Good to be with.

STONE: Thank you.

ZAHN: Thank you. And while the Bush administration plans it's domestic agenda, it's in the process of executing an important and long-delayed military goal.

American and Iraqi troops launch a massive assault on Falluja. The latest on that coming up.

And please remember to weigh in on today's booth voting question, does President Bush have mandate to implement his agenda. Click onto our Web site cnn.com/paula. Give us your opinion.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: At least 10,000 American and 2,000 Iraqi forces have begun the fight to take Falluja from Iraqi insurgents. The outcome is critical to President Bush's hopes of holding elections in Iraq just two months from now.

Here's senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the long threatened offensive finally kicked off, U.S. trooped were pumped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to smack the crap out of them. That would be nice.

MCINTYRE: With more than 2,000 Iraqi troops, and more than 10,000 American soldiers. The Pentagon is confident the estimated 3,000 insurgents can be routed. But Pentagon officials downplaying any suggestion the battle for Falluja is a final show down with the insurgents.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I would not think of it that way. And I think it would be a mistake for anyone. Listen these folks are determined. These are killers. They chop people's head off.

GEN. RICHARD B. MYERS, JOINT CHIEF OF STAFF: If there were a silver bullet, we've would have shot that long time ago. There's not a silver bullet. This is very challenging work.

MCINTYRE: The U.S. is highlighting the Iraqi in retaking Falluja. Even dropping the Pentagon's name for the operation, Phantom Fury, for one picked by Iraq's interim prime minister, Operation Dawn. There have been some reports of Iraqi troops deserting or failing to report for duty, but the Pentagon insists it's an isolated problem.

RUMSFELD: What one ought to expect from time to time, we're going to see this type of thing. And on the other hand there have been commando units, and some rad control elements and some regular Iraqi forces and police forces that have done a very good job.

MCINTYRE: The other big question is whether the insurgents and their leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi will melt away and regroup somewhere else.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And Jamie McIntyre joins me now from Pentagon tonight. So, Jamie, how strong was the resistance from the insurgents in this initial battle?

MCINTYRE: Well, we don't have a real clear picture of it, but here's a good indication of it, we have no reports at this point of any U.S. or Iraqi casualties. And That's Probably an indicator that the strongest fighting is yet to come. If you take a look at a map of Falluja, you can see that the objectives that they've taken so far are sort of on the outside of town. The -- that little red dot over there, that's the hospital to the left hand side of the screen. That's where the Iraqi commando's went.

Those two bridges over the Euphrates River, they've been -- they've been secured by Marines. Very little resistance there. And the Jolan District, that's where they believe the bulk of the insurgents are holed up. There's been fighting, but it looks like the big push into the center of the city and the strongest most deadly combat is to come. But they have encountered is a lot of booby traps -- road side bombs have been rigged to go off. And they have been spending a lot of time neutralizing that threat.

ZAHN: So if the belief is the strongest attack is yet to come, what might that look like.

MCINTYRE: Well, it could be some pretty nasty street to street fighting as they move into the area, depending on whether the insurgents stand and fight. But again, they're well aware of the insurgent tactics. They want to make sure they don't walk into any traps, and they want to make sure they have the upper hand.

ZAHN: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon thanks for that late report tonight.

And now joining me from Washington, Dan Senor the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and until recently an adviser to the Bush/Cheney campaign. Welcome back, good to see you, Dan. DAN SENIOR, FMR. SPOKESMAN FOR COALITION PROVISIONAL AUTHORITY IN IRAQ: Good to be with you, Paula.

ZAHN: Thank you. So, the administration is making a big deal about Iraqis forces joining Americans forces working side by side. But we can't ignore the fact that half of an Iraqi balion (ph), battalion failed to even showed up for duty. What is the discrepancy in the battle readiness for the American troops and the Iraqi troops.

SENOR: One army -- one military has been fighting wars for a couple hundred years. One has been basically training and equipping and organizing for a few months here, just over a year, and really ramped up in the last six to eight months.

ZAHN: Are they ready?

SENOR: Sure. I think the incidents of none participation are isolated, far fewer than we saw last April. I think, the professionization of the Iraqi security services is are more sophisticated than it was eight, nine months ago. Look, there'll be isolated incidents, but I think that the morale of the Iraqi troops is high. I think they are very committed, they're very serious, they're very patriotic group of young men. And I think what's most telling with regard to their commitment is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been targeting them. There's been some dreadful, awful, tragic attacks against the Iraqi security forces over the last couple of months. And yet each day there's a bombing in a military training facility or recruiting facility, the next day Iraqis are lining up to serve. So I think the commitment and as I said, the patriotism is there, it's just a matter of constantly upgrading, modernizing, professional.

ZAHN: But Dan, you and I understand that there's a big difference between a sense of commitment and patriotism and the issue of reliability.

How reliable are these Iraqi troops?

SENOR: Well, look, as I said, I don't think you can do a one to one ratio at this point and compare the professionization and the modernization with American troops. But that's OK. They can still play a prominent role in the operations and have a significant impact, even if they haven't been fighting wars like our military has been for a couple of hundred years.

Here's the important point, Paula, when insurgents are being confronted by a military in a the Jolan District of Falluja, are they being confronted by American Marines alone or are they also being confronted by Iraqis?

Our capacity to break the back of the insurgency and kill the morale of the insurgency is dramaticly enhanced when you have Iraqis being confronted by Iraqis. Not just Iraqi's being confronted by Marines. At the end of the day that's one of the most significant contribution that these Iraqi security forces make.

ZAHN: Help me understand that, Dan. The insurgents will see that there are Iraqi troops at the -- in front of the Marines? How will they distinguish that on the battlefield?

SENOR: The -- the insurgency we face in Iraq basically has two groups. There are the domestic Saddamists, remnants of the former regime who stuck around and are fighting another day.

And then there are the foreign terrorists that have come into the country, the professional terrorists, people like Zarqawi and the al Qaeda element.

And what we've seen in recent weeks is a little bit of a rift emerging here, between the foreign fighters, the foreign professional terrorists and the domestic insurgents.

And that's for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the domestic insurgents don't want to go head to head against their fellow countrymen in uniform. There's a -- there's a real sense of national pride in this country. There's a real sense of connection.

And when they see Iraqis defending their country, the insurgents have a much different attitude than when they're confronted by Marines, U.S. Marines who they could in their own minds justify as, oh, they're occupation forces and we're fighting against occupation forces.

ZAHN: Of course, only time will tell.

SENOR: But fighting against Iraqis has a far different psychological effect.

ZAHN: You're telling me they're going to recognize that from a couple of hundred yards away? Or half a mile away?

SENOR: But this is -- this is classic urban warfare, Paula. I mean, there's going to be face-to-face, hand-to-hand combat here. I mean, Iraqis will be engaged by troops in some way, shape or form in many cases in very close proximity.

ZAHN: Secretary Rumsfeld has made it very clear he doesn't view this as the final showdown against the insurgents. What are the possibilities that more American troops will be required to really tamp down this movement?

SENOR: You know, I think at this stage right now, now that this operation is just getting under way, it's premature to have a speculative discussion about troop leads going forward. Let's let this process play out here for a few days.

I would say, though, that -- that success in Falluja, while it will not necessarily be the final battle, it is -- it is a key decisive battle, because it is -- it is the center of the insurgency. It's the headquarters. It's the base of the operations.

And if we and the Iraqis are successful in confronting that centerpiece there, it will make operations in the surrounding areas much easier. ZAHN: Dan Senor, as always, good to see you. Thanks for your time tonight.

SENOR: Good to be with you.

ZAHN: Thanks. And many of the troops fighting and risking their lives in Iraq are reservists. Some fought in the Gulf War. Others have been ordered to Iraq more than once.

When we come back a soldier who served, then sued to keep from going back. He'll tell us his story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: The military calls it stop loss. Others say it amounts to a back-door draft. Either way, some American reservists are going to court over the military's attempts to keep them in the ranks longer than they thought they signed up for.

Maria Hinojosa has one soldier's story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You wouldn't know Captain Jay Ferriola if you saw him on a street. You wouldn't know that he sued the U.S. government, saying he was a victim of involuntary servitude.

This former Army captain could have been the face of a new generation of Iraqi war veterans, veterans who have completed their tour of duty and now refuse to go back.

That's less likely now because last week, in an out of court agreement, the Army did what Captain Ferriola wanted: they let him go free.

JAY FERRIOLA, FORMER ARMY CAPTAIN: It wasn't more of a fear of going over, it was that, you know, I completed my obligation. And I was continuing my career in the civilian world and didn't want to give up 18 months, or lose 18 months of my life, whether I was going to Iraq or if I was going to Paris.

HINOJOSA: His lawyer, Barry Slotnick, had been preparing for a legal battle against the government, trying to prove that the Army had breached its contract with Captain Ferriola.

BARRY SLOTNICK, ATTORNEY: This is someone who served out his contract, served his country, resigned properly and was a meritorious soldier. Others that stand in Jay's shoes will be relieved by what happened in court today.

HINOJOSA: Slotnick says he has already received numerous messages from soldiers who want to challenge their deployments, all, he says, because the Ferriola case proves you can fight the military in court and win.

SLOTNICK: You sign up. You do your time and you're unavailable. We do not have a draft in this country.

HINOJOSA: This is new terrain for a new generation of lawyers, judges and soldiers, who may choose to fight in court rather than serve in this war.

The Army says it has only one case pending, but veterans in anti- war groups say they're getting a lot of calls from desperate soldiers who want to fight what many describe as a backdoor draft.

Congressman Charles Rangel believes one solution is reinstating a national draft.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: I, for one, believe if we had a draft we might take a different look at our foreign policy. And it might be if that we were talking about kids of Congress people, kids of the CEOs, kids of those in the Pentagon and the cabinet, then maybe some adjustment in thinking about using troops and the military as the main thrust in our foreign policy.

HINOJOSA: On the streets of Harlem, there are fears that a draft could be more than just talk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the time comes to me to go to war, I would go to war for my country.

HINOJOSA: Two weeks ago, Alberto Arcy (ph) returned from the front lines in Baghdad. He should have served a year but was ordered to stay 16 months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to come home, but the way I look at it I'm a soldier. So I had to do what I had to do, you know? Whether I serve -- I made that commitment to serve the United States of America.

HINOJOSA: And even women here are talking about a draft in extreme terms.

(on camera) You've heard people say this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

HINOJOSA: They'd rather go to jail?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

HINOJOSA: Than get drafted?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

HINOJOSA: What do you think about that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To be honest, I would, too.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That was Maria Hinojosa reporting for us tonight. And for all the talk of politics and military strategy, war is a store that is probably best told by those who fight it and those who die fighting. When we come back, some final letters home that will move your heart.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: There is nothing more precious than letters sent home from a son, a daughter, a husband or wife at war, and if that loved one is killed, nothing is more heart breaking.

Well, on Thursday, Veterans' Day, our sister network, HBO, premieres a documentary called "Last Letters Home: Voices from the American Troops of the Battlefields of Iraq." And Life Books, which is also owned by Time Warner, has just published a book of these letters.

Listen to these touching words read by the relatives who received the letters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I look around me at the people that I've spent the last five months with, lived, slept, ate, fought with. They don't know my whole story, about my loving family and wife, and I don't know their complete story, either.

Everyone knows, however, that each one of us have a story and a home and a mother. And for that reason we share an unspoken kinship that carries us together through each day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am not an idealist who thinks I can change the world, but I can still be doing some sort of good. I want to be able to believe in what I am doing. I could never do that just working an ordinary job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been a little depressed lately, but I'm trying to keep my chin up. I really miss home. Tomorrow will be exactly three months since I got deployed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He called me the Friday before he died and told me there was a letter in the mail. I promised I wouldn't read it, but he knows me. I'm nosy. I'm going to read it.

And when he was killed the letter didn't come, and didn't come. And I needed it to come. When I got out of the hospital from having Carson four weeks later and I checked the mail. And it was there.

And it was the hardest and best thing I ever read, because I know exactly how he feels is about us. But at the same time I know I lost the love of my life and the father of my children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you and I miss you, and we're going to Olive Garden and D.Q. the day I get back. Tell everyone I said hi and one day I'll get home. Your loving son, Robert Wise, just in case.

And then he put, "There's no place like home," parentheses, "click," "There's no place like home," parentheses, "click." And in capitals, "There's no place like home," parentheses, "click. Damn, it didn't work again."

The day that he died, I did expect to hear from him that day, because it was my birthday. But I got -- I got a knock on the door instead.

And no matter what anybody tells you, when they knock on your door, they don't have to say a word, because when you open the door and you see two uniforms and a chaplain, nobody has to say anything.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Powerful reminder of the cost of war. "Last Letters Home: Voices of American Troops from the Battlefields of Iraq," a poignant documentary that debuts on HBO this Thursday.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Now onto the results of tonight's "Voting Booth" question. We asked, "Does President Bush have a mandate to implement his agenda?" Thirteen percent said yes; that is 87 percent said no.

Remember this is not a scientific poll but a sampling from our web site. Always appreciate your logging on.

And that wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for dropping by. Tomorrow night, Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelosi walks a perilous tight rope between Republican power and her party's values. She'll tell us about the reality of that walk. She is my guest tomorrow.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Jerry Lewis is his guest for the full hour.

From all of us here at PRIME TIME POLITICS, again thanks for joining us. Have a great night.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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