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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Mowaffak Al-Rubaie; Interview With Seymour Hersh

Aired November 27, 2005 - 11:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 11:00 a.m. in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4:00 p.m. in London and 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
We'll get to my interview with the Iraqi National Security Adviser Dr. Mowaffak Al-Rubaie in just a few minutes. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Tony.

We begin in Baghdad where the trial of Saddam Hussein is scheduled to resume tomorrow. Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is joining us from the Iraqi capital. He has details. Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: The former U.S. attorney general, Ramsey Clark has come here to Baghdad. He said he's come to help the defense team.

It's not clear if they're going to let (ph) him into the court, but I spoke with one of Saddam Hussein's defense lawyers today. He says he wants to use Ramsey Clark on the defense team, use his legal skills.

And he says if he's not allowed to bring him into the courtroom as part of the defense team, he will use him as an adviser.

Now, the lawyers say that they have agreed to go into this court hearing despite their concerns about security fears -- two defense lawyers have been killed since the court last sat about 40 days ago.

They say that they don't feel that they can leave their client in the court with court-appointed lawyers. They say they don't trust those lawyers to do a good job.

Now, they do say -- the lawyers have said -- once they get into court, they will be asking for a three-month delay.

The reason they say they want that delay, not just because their security concerns have delayed their legal work, but, they say, because the court hasn't provided them with all of the documents they want -- for example the death certificates, they say, of the people their clients are alleged to have killed.

And they say the many witness statements the court have given them are unreadable and don't even have the names of the witnesses on them, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Baghdad. We'll check back with you, Nic. Thank you very much.

In three weeks, Iraqis return to the polls to elect a new national assembly. But the unrelenting insurgency and alleged human rights abuses by segments of Iraq security forces are major concerns in the run-up to the December 15 vote.

Just a short while ago, I spoke with Dr. Mowaffak Al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Dr. Al-Rubaie, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to "Late Edition."

Let me get to the immediate issue. A quote from the former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, in "The London Observer" today suggesting this -- let me put it up on the screen -- "People are doing the same as [in] Saddam's time and worse...It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things."

He's alleging that the brutality underway in Iraq right now is the same, if not worse, as it was under Saddam Hussein. What's your reaction?

MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I certainly do not agree on that. I think these are ridiculous accusations and they are meant to be for election campaign.

I believe we have a very, very good training curriculum, training for our Iraqi security forces, be it Iraqi police or border guards or Iraqi army.

We have a very good -- in our curriculum for training these people, we have a very strict human rights standards. And we teach them these new -- which is totally new for Iraq -- this observation of human rights.

And I believe the violation of human rights in some of these corners of this huge country is the exception to the rule.

The overwhelming majority of the procedures -- we have very good procedures and implementation of these procedures and policies by our Iraqi security forces in place and we vet these people very, very carefully. We teach them how to observe human rights standards.

Remember, Wolf, we are between the devil and the deep blue sea. We're not in a very enviable situation here. These people, the terrorists and the Saddamists, are slaughterers. They don't kill mercifully, these people. They slaughter people.

BLITZER: But...

AL-RUBAIE: And I can tell you, our Iraqi security forces are doing a brilliant job, top job. And of course, we -- it's appalling to see the bunker, what happened in the bunker. Of course it's wrong. But I think...

BLITZER: But how did that happen, Dr. Al-Rubaie...

AL-RUBAIE: ... it is the exception to the rule.

BLITZER: How does that happen, though -- those dozens of bodies, those torture victims that we saw in that bunker. Presumably, that's what Ayad Allawi is referring to, among other things.

You know Ayad Allawi. He's a respected politician. He's a favorite of officials here in Washington as well as in London. How do you explain these very, very tough words from him today?

AL-RUBAIE: I certainly do not agree on this accusation. And I'll tell you something, Wolf, that there are so many hundreds of the non-government organizations.

The international community -- the heavy presence of the international community in Iraq and in Baghdad -- and some of them, they are embedded in the Iraqi security forces.

And I can tell you something -- that it's the Iraqi security forces which discovered the bunker first, with the help of the multi- national forces.

And we are very pleased to discover this bunker and we have the right measure in place now. We have launched an intensive campaign of investigation of all jails all over the country.

And, in this bunker in particular, we have a very high investigation team, led by the deputy prime minister and members of several ministries in the government. So, we're taking this very seriously.

BLITZER: There's a rare interview published today in "The Washington Post," with Abdel-Aziz Hakim, the spiritual leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution, one of the Shiite leaders, the main Shiite leader in Iraq, in which he says this: "The Ministries of Interior and Defense want to carry out some operations to clean out some areas... There were plans that should have been implemented months ago, but American officials and forces rejected them... This has led to the expansion of terrorism."

BLITZER: His bottom line is that the United States, the U.S. military, the political leadership are holding back his forces from going forward and killing the insurgents. What's your reaction to those comments from Abdel-Aziz Hakim?

AL-RUBAIE: I can tell you, Wolf, that people are blaming us and criticizing us. Our ordinary citizens are criticizing us because we are not hard enough on these terrorists.

And they sometimes ridicule the government by saying that you're observing the human rights standards while our people are getting killed every day by hundreds, and this is the dilemma we are in.

But we are never going to be derailed from the right side of getting the security and the stability of Iraq along with the observation of the human rights standards.

And let me go back to the tactics of fear. This is the tactics of fear used by Saddam Hussein before. Saddam Hussein used to tell the outside world that until and unless I can carry the stick on the head of the Iraqi people and make them fearful of the outside world and of the other United Nation organization or the United States or the Western powers, then I can't rule Iraq.

Now, this is exactly the same. They are trying to use the same fearful or the same phobia of -- they used to say on the United Iraqi Alliance, the UIA, which is the ruling party in this country, they used to accuse us of being an Islamic fundamentalist. They were proved to be disastrously wrong in this.

They were saying and accusing us of being stooges to Iran. They were proven to be wrong again.

Now, they're using the same tactics of Saddam Hussein, making the outside world fearful of the United Iraqi Alliance, and I think this is going to prove again wrong.

BLITZER: The Cairo declaration that was released a few days ago representing almost all of the political factions in Iraq had two aspects of it that raised some questions. One -- and let me go through both of them. One, it's suggested that resistance is a legitimate right for all nations. Resistance to what? Resistance to the U.S. military occupation? Was that what you were referring to there?

AL-RUBAIE: The government did not subscribe to this final statement. The government only took part in the opening session of that meeting, of that conference. And Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, the national security advisors, the ministers, they took only in the opening session, they took part in the opening session of the Arab League conference, and they left...

BLITZER: Because as you know, that was...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... that was seen, Dr. Al-Rubaie, excuse me for interrupting, because our time is limited, that was seen as a slap at the United States and its coalition partners for continuing its military occupation, if you will, military operations in Iraq.

AL-RUBAIE: We will not slap our strategic partners. We are partners with the United States. We are partners with Great Britain. We are partners with the multi-national forces and the coalition and this country. We are a partner in this process. And they are helping us a great deal in this country, and we would never turn our back to our -- our friends and those who have looked after us and helped us during the difficult times.

BLITZER: Well, you know, I've read the whole declaration from the Cairo meeting, which was issued at the request of the Arab League. There was no statement, at least I didn't see any statement, expressing anything that you just mentioned: appreciation to the United States and its coalition partners for liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein. That was missing from this declaration.

AL-RUBAIE: The reference to the resistance in that declaration is for the peaceful resistance. The peaceful resistance of speeding up the process of -- for the foreign forces to leave the country, and speed up through the -- speeding of the training of the Iraqi security forces, and increase the Iraqi security forces in number and in the readiness, to be -- to stand alone and to be sort of competent in their fighting terrorism in this country.

BLITZER: When will U.S. forces be able to leave Iraq? Because this declaration calls, in the words, for a withdrawal of foreign forces upon a schedule. That sounds like you want a timetable for the removal of U.S. forces.

AL-RUBAIE: I don't think we are interested in a timetable. We're not discussing the timetable.

We are -- we've been discussing condition-based agreements between the Iraqi security -- between the Iraqi interim government, or Iraqi transitional government, and the multi-national forces.

Basically, we want to create the right conditions in the urban areas for the Iraqi security forces to assume the responsibility of securities in these cities and towns. That's what we are doing.

And I can tell you, probably in the region of 30,000 American troops will pull out from Iraq by the first part of next year and another 30 by the end of next year. And we will probably be down to a two-digit number by the beginning of next year.

BLITZER: So by 2007, you're saying it will be under 100,000, is that what you're saying?

AL-RUBAIE: Exactly. Exactly.

BLITZER: By 2007. All right. We don't have a lot of time, so let me get to the Saddam Hussein trial. It's scheduled to begin tomorrow. Will it?

AL-RUBAIE: It will begin tomorrow as scheduled, and you will see the man will have -- we will implement justice on Saddam Hussein to show the outside world what is the new Iraq is all about and also to show the region and the Middle East that what is the new Iraq is all about.

Now, this is number one. And number two, it's an integral part of a psychological healing for this traumatized, heavily traumatized community in this part of the world.

BLITZER: How long will this trial last?

AL-RUBAIE: Well, I'm sorry, your guess is as good as mine. It is totally independent. It's going to be -- the judiciary system in this country is independent. We have absolutely no influence whatsoever on the judges who are trying Saddam Hussein now.

BLITZER: Are you any closer to capturing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?

AL-RUBAIE: I can disclose one thing to you, Wolf, that we sometimes feel that we are so close to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, we are apart from him two days. Sometimes we go to places, and we find out that he has left this place or this location two days ago.

BLITZER: So what are you...

AL-RUBAIE: I think we are very close to him.

BLITZER: You're saying that you think you're getting close to him.

AL-RUBAIE: I think we are very, very close to him.

BLITZER: Why is it so hard to find this guy?

AL-RUBAIE: Well, this is a huge country. We are talking about just under 30 million population, with valleys, mountains, heavily populated country. And he can blend in very easily.

BLITZER: Dr. Mowaffak Al-Rubaie, we have to leave it there, but thank you very much for joining us.

AL-RUBAIE: Thank you very much, Wolf. Thank you for having me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just ahead, with pressure growing here in the United States to withdrawal American ground troops from Iraq, is the administration considering a new military strategy, namely an air war?

We'll get answers from Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh. He has new information.

Then, how can President Bush rebound from his second-term slump in the polls? We'll talk with author and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan.

And later, different perspectives from a U.S. Marine and from an American journalist who were at the so-called tip of the sphere involving the invasion of Iraq.

"Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The Web question of the week asks this: Are Iraqis ready to take control of their country? You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results at the end of our program. Straight ahead, The New Yorker magazine's Seymour Hersh.

He'll reveal what he's learned about the Bush administration's plans for a stepped-up air war in Iraq. You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. We must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war against the terrorists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush resisting, for now, calls to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Welcome back to "Late Edition." Joining us now is The New Yorker magazine staff writer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh.

His new article details where the Iraq war might be heading next, as well as what motivates President Bush in the war on terror. Seymour Hersh, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome to "Late Edition."

SEYMOUR HERSH, "THE NEW YORKER": Glad to be here.

BLITZER: All right. Before we get to some of the specifics, Ayad Allawi, these comments he makes in the new issue of "The London Observer" basically saying some of the torture, some of the issues that are going on in Iraq today are as bad if not worse than under Saddam Hussein. In this new article, you report that he has emerged as what you call the favorite of Washington in the run-up to the elections in Iraq.

HERSH: And of England and Tony Blair. Yes, absolutely. I think he's the dark horse. We'd like him to take control.

He's a secular -- I think the worry is obvious that everybody's getting aware more and more that we're on the edge of a civil war if we're not in one already. And he's seen as somebody that can support or get some support from the Sunnis, and also because he's a Shia, he can also get support there, secular, not religious.

BLITZER: He's popular in Washington and London. But the question is, is he popular in Iraq? Because he didn't do well in the last elections.

HERSH: Despite our best efforts, we pushed hard for him both legally and illegally, as I wrote earlier. And I think we're prepared to go all the way again. One doesn't know. One doesn't know, by the way, whether these elections have much meaning anyway in terms of what's, you know, what's really happening around the edges. I say it is a civil war there. And it's not in our hands, I think, very much.

BLITZER: Well, if they could get a lot of Sunnis to participate in these December 15 elections, as well as the Shia and Kurds, who are already participating, that would be a welcome, that would be a positive move.

HERSH: The biggest "if" in the world now. If.

BLITZER: You're skeptical that the Sunnis will come aboard.

HERSH: I just think -- I think it's really bad out there. I think it's, you know, if you look at the -- it's just real simple. You don't have to be much of a genius to figure it out, we're almost -- it's Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving of '04, it was much worse than at Thanksgiving of '03.

It's now Thanksgiving of '05, and it's much worse there than it was last year. How is it going to get better next year? What magic is there?

BLITZER: Well, we'll see what happens with these elections. Listen to what the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, told our correspondent John King earlier this week. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I suspect that the American forces are not going to be needed in the numbers that they're there for all that much longer because the Iraqis are continuing to make progress in function. Not just in numbers, but in their capabilities to do certain functions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Pretty upbeat statement from her.

HERSH: Well, you know, what I was writing about in The New Yorker this week is our plan is to pull out American troops if we start to do that. And I think the president probably will next year. But the war is not going to slow down. We're going to increase the pace of air operations. There's going to be more bombing in direct support of Iraqi units now.

BLITZER: Let me read to you what you write in The New Yorker magazine, the article entitled "Up in the Air." "A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units."

Explain what you're hearing from your sources. HERSH: Oh. It's very simple. That we have a lot of units in Iraq that are not very good. And if we're going to put...

BLITZER: Iraqi units.

HERSH: Yes. Right. American -- not American.

BLITZER: Ground troops.

HERSH: Absolutely. Not very competent. Very weak. And if we must -- many of them Shiite, many of them controlled by militias. I mean, they're not necessarily loyal to any particular regime. And if we pull away the American ground support and the American air support, they're in trouble.

But if we -- we can take out troops if we increase air. In other words, the temple of air bombing, bombing's sort of the unknown story right now. We don't know how many bombs are dropped, where. Nobody reports publicly as they did, Wolf, in Vietnam.

During the Vietnam war, we got a daily total of how many missions, sorties per day, how much tonnage. We have no idea here how many bombs are actually dropping every day and where. But the idea is, you increase the pace of the bombing. And that will make an inadequate Iraqi unit be able to stand up a little bit, certainly against the insurgency. That's the thinking.

BLITZER: And then you go on to write this: "The prospect of using air power as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused great unease. For one thing, Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis eventually will be responsible for target selection. 'Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of your own sect and blame someone else?' another senior military planner now on assignment in the Pentagon asked."

Your concern, specifically, is that American air power, which can be decisive, clearly, is going to be used for untoward, for bad purposes.

HERSH: It's not my concern. It's the concern of many senior generals in the air business, you know, in the Air Force. And planners, because they say, this is, you know, the power of American air is enormous. And the idea, it's, and it's, this is a skill.

People talk in terms, to me, the Air Force planners, of the exquisite nature of air bombing. The idea that you're going to turn over this control, this kind of force, to Iraqi units who can be penetrated by the insurgency, that have a lot of internal battles, as I say, many are militias. And they have problems that other people and other militias -- who knows what will motivate them?

BLITZER: So your concern is the spotters on the ground, the people who are going to be targeting, finding targets are going to be Iraqis as owe opposed to Americans. HERSH: It's the concern of a lot of people in the Pentagon. They'll tell you no, that they're going to be joint units. The Pentagon will officially say there's going to be joint units, Iraqi and Americans together. But eventually we know it will evolve into Iraqis calling in targets.

And it's not just spotting. We use a lot of sophisticated laser guided weapons and you have to have somebody on the ground to actually do a strike or illuminate a target with a laser beam for the plane to come in. And as I've had people in the Air Force say to me, what are we going to be bombing? Barracks? Hospitals? You know, who knows who's going to be telling us what to do?

BLITZER: So what you're hearing is that the U.S. air power, the U.S. Air Force, they're getting jittery even thinking about the fact that they may be called in to launch air strikes based on what they're getting from Iraqis on the ground.

HERSH: It is good to know there is a lot of ethics in the Air Force. There's a lot of guys that are, that drop the, they know the force of the weapons they have, and they don't want to be responsible for bombing the wrong targets. They don't want non-Americans telling them what to do. This is a real doctrinal issue that's being fought right now in the Pentagon.

BLITZER: In this new article you have in The New Yorker, you also write this about the president: " 'The president is more determined than ever to stay the course,' the former defense official said. 'He doesn't feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage, "People may suffer and die, but the Church advances." ' He said that the president had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney. 'They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,' the former defense official said."

Could you be more specific on this former defense official?

HERSH: Sure, in this day and age, Wolf. No. I mean, that's -- we're having a war over sourcing right now.

BLITZER: But this is someone who had day to day or contact, direct contact with the president?

HERSH: Suffice to say this, that this president in private, at Camp David with his friends, the people that I'm sure call him George, is very serene about the war. He's upbeat. He thinks that he's going to be judged, maybe not in five years or ten years, maybe in 20 years. He's committed to the course. He believes in democracy.

HERSH: He believes that he's doing the right thing, and he's not going to stop until he gets -- either until he's out of office, or he falls apart, or he wins.

BLITZER: But this has become, your suggesting, a religious thing for him? HERSH: Some people think it is. Other people think he's absolutely committed, as I say, to the idea of democracy. He's been sold on this notion.

He's a utopian, you could say, in a world where maybe he doesn't have all the facts and all the information he needs and isn't able to change.

I'll tell you, the people that talk to me now are essentially frightened because they're not sure how you get to this guy.

We have generals that do not like -- anymore -- they're worried about speaking truth to power. You know that. I mean that's -- Murtha in fact, John Murtha, the congressman from Pennsylvania, which most people don't know, has tremendous contacts with the senior generals of the armies. He's a ranking old war horse in Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. The generals know him and like him. His message to the White House was much more worrisome than maybe to the average person in the public. They know that generals are privately telling him things that they're not saying to them.

And if you're a general and you have a disagreement with this war, you cannot get that message into the White House. And that gets people unnerved.

BLITZER: Here's what you write. You write, "Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the president remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding."

Those are incredibly strong words, that the president basically doesn't want to hear alternative analysis of what is going on.

HERSH: You know, Wolf, there is people I've been talking to -- I've been a critic of the war very early in the New Yorker, and there were people talking to me in the last few months that have talked to me for four years that are suddenly saying something much more alarming.

They're beginning to talk about some of the things the president said to him about his feelings about manifest destiny, about a higher calling that he was talking about three, four years ago.

I don't want to sound like I'm off the wall here. But the issue is, is this president going to be capable of responding to reality? Is he going to be able -- is he going to be capable if he going to get a bad assessment, is he going to accept it as a bad assessment or is he simply going to see it as something else that is just a little bit in the way as he marches on in his crusade that may not be judged for 10 or 20 years.

He talks about being judged in 20 years to his friends. And so it's a little alarming because that means that my and my colleagues in the press corps, we can't get to him maybe with our views. You and you can't get to him maybe with your interviews.

How do you get to a guy to convince him that perhaps he's not going the right way?

Jack Murtha certainly didn't do it. As I wrote, they were enraged at Murtha in the White House.

And so we have an election coming up -- Yes. I've had people talk to me about maybe Congress is going to have to cut off the budget for this war if it gets to that point. I don't think they're ready to do it now.

But I'm talking about sort of a crisis of management. That you have a management that's seen by some of the people closely involved as not being able to function in terms of getting information it doesn't want to receive.

BLITZER: Seymour Hersh writes in The New Yorker magazine, and we have to leave it there.

Thanks very much, Sy, for joining us.

HERSH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan talks about her new book, "John Paul The Great," and what she thinks made the late pontiff such a special leader.

But up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including an update on this weekend's earthquake in China.

Stay with "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

It may be the start of the holiday season, but the mood here in Washington is more like the "Grinch who stole Christmas."

Joining us now from New York with some perspective on why the political debate has turned so sour and the potential impact on the country is Wall Street Journal columnist, Peggy Noonan.

She's also the author of an important new book, "Pope John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father."

Peggy, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome to "Late Edition."

PEGGY NOONAN, WALL STREET JOURNAL COLUMNIST: Thank you, Wolf. Thanks for letting me be on.

BLITZER: We'll get to the book in a moment. But let me throw out a couple of poll numbers from our recent CNN-USA Today Gallup poll: "How is Bush handling his job as president?" Thirty-seven percent approve; 60 percent disapprove.

And then, this other questions: "Is Bush honest and trustworthy?" Forty-six percent say yes; 52 percent say no.

He's got some major second term problems. You're a former White House speechwriter in a Republican administration. What does he need to do to turn these numbers around?

NOONAN: Oh, I think sometimes you have to just realize you're in a bad time. The start of handling reality is understanding what the reality is.

Yes, he's in a bad time. He's -- we all know about the second term doldrums. We know about the specific problems this president has with regard to everything from an act of war to some sense, in the past nine months or so since his reelection, that the government doesn't run as well as people hoped it would.

It is big. It is behemoth. It seems to me, Wolf, the beginning of turning things around for the president is proceeding successfully on the war, speaking to the American people with a very calm and fact- based voice about what is happening there and what can happen and exactly where we are, what progress is being made.

And I think he has to give a lot of time to looking at the government itself and making sure it works -- making sure Homeland Security works, making sure that our emergency preparedness is up and operative and healthy.

So, I think -- I guess, in a way, I'm saying narrow the focus a little bit. When he started out this term, he was talking about 15 different things and Social Security and we're going to democratize the world.

Narrow your focus, deepen your focus. Pick a few things you can be successful at and go.

BLITZER: It seems like Iraq is hovering over almost everything. Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a Democrat, said this the other day and I want your take on this. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D) PENNSYLVANIA: Public is way ahead of me. The public is way ahead of Congress. The public is way ahead of the news media. The public is out there, saying to me -- I said in August -- one reporter said, when he came back in August what did you talk about? Iraq. That's all he talked about back at home.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: He wants the U.S. out of Iraq, militarily, at least, over the next six months. Is the public ahead of the administration, ahead of the news media now?

NOONAN: I think the public is watching. You know, we often think that the American people are very romantic about the world and get carried away on crusades.

The American public will move and support you with stern, tough action if they think you are right and they think something achievable can be gotten. They will sacrifice for that.

If they think this is going nowhere, or, even worse, if -- I think, if the public begins to think that Iraq itself is becoming just a political game, between Democrats and Republicans who are fighting over who is winning today and who is losing, that will be a very bad thing.

The president has to be above that. I like Jack Murtha's comments because I thought they were serious and well-meant and thought-through.

BLITZER: Let's get to your new book, "John Paul the Great." And I want to read to you this passage from the book: "One of the reasons I came to love this pope is that I began my journey to serious Catholicism, to deepened belief, during the time that he was the leader of the Catholic Church. And so I watched hum more closely than I had any previous pope; I listened to him, learned from him. I took his observations as advice and his actions as inspiration."

You've always been a Catholic. But I think you called yourself a lapsed Catholic until recently. What happened?

NOONAN: Oh, until the past decade or so. I just decided I had to. Life was difficult and I had to get serious about my faith. And the funny thing about getting serious about your faith, whatever it is: you need people to really teach you and really guide you along.

It occurred to me after a while that no one could give me guidance better than this pope, who was a great public practitioner of and explainer of Catholicism and who loved the fact that he lived in the media age and who was out there all the time, Wolf, telling people what it is he believed, why he believed it, how to show belief.

So, even as he was awfully important to the world and awfully important in the history of the church, I think he'll be called John Paul the Great because of his gigantic stature within the church.

Even as those big things were happening, in a very small way, for me, he became a leader and a guide.

BLITZER: You met with him in June of 2000. And write this in the book: "I sort of curtsy-bowed like an awkward person. And then as I held his hand, I leaned forward and kissed his thick old knuckles. I think I said, 'Papa,' or 'hello, Papa.' He looked at me and pressed into my hand a soft brown plastic envelope." What was in the envelope?

NOONAN: What was in the envelope was a pair of inexpensive and infinitely touching rosary beads with the pope's private crucifix upon it -- you know, that broken Christ on the cross he always carried on the staff before him -- I looked at them and I thought, gee, this is really nice.

I put them away. It took me a few years to get serious and think, oh, you know what, maybe when the pope gives you rosary beads he intends for you to say a rosary.

But I had to learn how to do that. So, I found out on the Internet how to do it. But they were very important to me. I have them near me every day.

BLITZER: How has your life changed as a result of this pope?

NOONAN: Well, I'll tell you, this pope helped me understand what I believed and why I believed it.

And that belief has made me -- has given me -- I hope and think -- a deeper appreciation of life, a deeper love for it and a deeper happiness within it even when I'm unhappy.

BLITZER: Peggy Noonan is the author of the new book, "John Paul the Great." Congratulations on the book, Peggy.

Thanks for joining us. And we'll have you back.

NOONAN: Thank you, Wolf, very much.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

Coming up next, in case you missed it, our highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And now, "In Case You Missed It," let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

Iraq was topic "A" on all of them.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner, commented on assertions that President Bush deliberately hyped prewar intelligence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA): Our president would not intentionally take any facts and try and mislead the American public in my judgment. What was before all leaders of the world at that time were facts that gave rise to Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction and some potential for nuclear weapons. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On "Fox News Sunday," the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, and the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, weighed in on the Iraqis' readiness to protect their country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI): I think everybody is aware of the fact we're much too much of a target, and we've got to transfer the responsibility to the Iraqis and put some pressure upon them to take that responsibility.

U.S. SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R-IN): I accept Carl Levin's point that we need to put pressure on the Iraqis to perform. I would put a lot of pressure on the Iraqis to perform, but the fact is that we are going to try to train them to perform, and the question is how well they do so, whether they mop up on each other or whether they have unified country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And on ABC's "This Week," Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin said it's time for the United States to look for other options in Iraq. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D-WI): This is not a war that we should really think in terms of winning or losing. What we tried to do there was to go in and make sure that the Iraqi people could get rid of Saddam Hussein. Now it is a political matter, and the military mission, in my view, needs to come to an end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

Don't forget our web question of the week, "Are Iraqis ready to take control of their country?"

You can log on to cnn.com/lateedition to cast your vote.

We'll be right back, but first this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michael Scanlon, what's his story? The powerful D.C. lobbyist struck a deal with prosecutors that has powerful players in Washington trembling.

Scanlon pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe a member of Congress in exchange for his cooperation in a wide ranging probe of his former partner Jack Abramoff.

Some say the investigation could ensnare other lawmakers, including former House majority leader Tom DeLay and Ohio Republican Congressman Bob Ney.

Scanlon and partner Jack Abramoff are accused of defrauding several Indian tribes they represented and allegedly tried buy off members of Congress with trips and campaign contributions.

The 35-year-old Scanlon was DeLay's hard charging press secretary in the late '90s.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's read some of your e-mail.

Richard in Florida writes this, "We should plan an exit strategy to get out of Iraq within a reasonable and set period of time that is fair to the people of the United States and Iraq. How will the Iraqis ever learn to stand up for themselves if they always have our troops to fall back on?"

But Mallory in Pennsylvania has a different view, "Setting a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq would be like letting a burglar know when you are not going to be home. The troops should withdraw when the job is finished and Iraq's government is a stable democracy."

We always welcome your comments. Our e-mail address: lateedtion@cnn.com.

There is much more ahead on "Late Edition," including President Bush on the world stage in recent weeks.

But are concerns over Iraq undercutting U.S. prestige? We'll get insight from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Then the road to Baghdad, a Marine and a journalist recount their personal stories during the early days of the war in Iraq.

"Late Edition" continues right at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll talk with Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

In Iraq, the trial of Saddam Hussein is set to resume tomorrow. The former dictator is getting some legal help from a former United States attorney general.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is in Baghdad. He's following the story for us. Nic, update our viewers on what's going on.

ROBERTSON: Well, Wolf, Ramsey Clark arrived about noon today. He said he's come to Iraq to help the defense team, particularly in light of the fact, he says, that they have been -- various members of the defense team -- have been attacked, two killed and one wounded in targeted assassinations.

Now, Saddam Hussein's defense lawyer, one of his defense lawyers I talked to today said they want Ramsey Clark on the defense team, they want him in the courtroom as a lawyer.

They say, if they can't achieve that, then they're going to have him as an adviser. They haven't met with yet, or at least they hadn't earlier in the day.

They said they hoped to meet with him this evening or Monday morning before the trial gets underway. The defense lawyers, for their part, have agreed to turn up in court.

They have been offered additional security. I asked Saddam Hussein's defense lawyer if he was concerned about his security.

He indicated that he was but he wasn't going to give away any clues about the security that he was taking. But he said, regardless of his own security, it was important for him to turn up in court because, if he doesn't go, the court is going to replace him with a courtroom lawyer. And he said that lawyer is not going to be as able as he is to defend Saddam Hussein. Nevertheless, he is still going to call for a three-month delay along with the other defense lawyers when they get into court.

What they want, they say, is more documents from the court. They say they haven't been given the death certificates of the people Saddam Hussein and his other regime allies have been accused of killing.

And some of the witness statements they say they've been given unreadable and don't have witness names on them. So, there is a lot they want to get from the court, Wolf.

BLITZER: As far as Ramsey Clark is concerned, do we have a sense from the legal defense team of Saddam Hussein what exactly Ramsey Clark's job is going to be, how long he'll stay there?

ROBERTSON: Well, they seem to think that having him on their team will give them more credibility, perhaps provide better insights on how they should handle the case.

I was talking to Tariq Aziz's lawyer -- a former deputy prime minister here -- I was talking to his lawyer a couple of days ago and he said, look, we don't have experience in in these cases.

He said, the prosecution lawyers have been taken out of the country. They've been given training on these types of cases outside of Iraq. We don't have that. So, perhaps they're looking to Ramsey Clark to sort of give them that advice, that information, that legal expertise that they feel that he has, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nic Robertson in Baghdad, thanks very much.

While debate over how and why the U.S. went to war in Iraq isn't dying down by any means, the critical question remains: what defines a successful mission in Iraq?

Joining us now with some perspective are two guests. In Connecticut, Henry Kissinger. He served as secretary of state under former presidents Nixon and Ford.

Here in Washington, Zbigniew Brzezinski. He served as president Carter's national security adviser.

Gentlemen, welcome back to "Late Edition."

I want to get to all those questions in a moment. But your quick reaction to Ramsey Clark, Dr. Kissinger, a former U.S. attorney general showing up in Baghdad today to be a legal adviser to Saddam Hussein's defense team: What do you make of this? s

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I think Saddam should be entitled to have any lawyer he wants. Ramsey Clark has to ask himself the appropriateness of a former American attorney general appearing as a defense lawyer. I could have imagined a better combination. But it should go ahead.

BLITZER: Dr. Brzezinski, what do you make of it?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: If he was invited to be part of the defense team, I think it's perfectly appropriate for him to accept. If he's going there to grandstand, then I think it's somewhat embarrassing.

BLITZER: So, we'll just have to watch and see. There were some amazing comments today from Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister, Dr. Kissinger, quoted in The London Observer as saying that what's going on in Iraq right now, as far as torture and atrocities are concerned, by members of this government are as bad as what was going on under Saddam Hussein's regime.

He says this: "People are doing the same as [in] Saddam's time and worse... It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things."

Ayad Allawi is a serious guy. For him to be making these statements, pretty remarkable -- would you agree?

KISSINGER: I agree that it's a remarkable statement. And I can't believe that the steps that are being taken are exactly comparable to Saddam Hussein's which was systematic and aimed at whole groups of populations. But systematic torture should not be part of our strategy and there's basically no excuse for them.

BLITZER: Dr. Brzezinski, the suggestion is that a lot of these groups, these military groups, part of the government, are really militias, Shiite militias, Kurdish militias and that they're basically doing whatever they want as part of this war against the insurgents.

BRZEZINSKI: That's probably true, unfortunately. And this is why I fear that kind of a situation is going to persist as long as we're there in a force which is insufficient to really establish order but is sufficient to keep the violence percolating.

This is why I favor a scaling down of our definition of success and a fairly prompt U.S. disengagement.

BLITZER: All right. Define prompt.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I don't want to give you a precise number of months because one really has to know much more than I to make that judgment. But I would say, roughly in the course of a year.

And, in fact, I suspect the administration willy-nilly in spite of what it is saying publicly, is inching that way. That is to say, by election time, 2006, we'll be down in a very significant degree.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that prediction, that assessment, Dr. Kissinger?

KISSINGER: I think, to look at withdrawal from Iraq strictly in terms of our own election cycle could lead to a disaster. We have to keep in mind what our objective should be.

And if we leave Iraq under conditions at the end of which there will be a radical government in Baghdad or that parts of the country become havens for terrorism, it will have turned into a disaster that will affect the whole world because the terrorism is not confined to Iraq.

It has gone from Bali in Indonesia to Central Europe, across many countries, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Spain, in some respects, India.

And, therefore, we should ask ourselves very thoughtfully what the political situation will be that will allow us to withdraw troops and not simply put it in terms of the training of Iraqi troops because their level of training is not alone going to determine the issue.

It will also determine what they think they're fighting for.

BLITZER: Dr. Brzezinski, Seymour Hersh, who was on this program in the first hour, writes in the new issue of The New Yorker that the U.S. ground forces are going to pulled out -- he's hearing from his sources at the Pentagon and elsewhere -- and, as a result of that, U.S. airpower will intensify to bolster Iraqi ground forces, who have no air power of their own. BRZEZINSKI: Well, he may well be right and probably the use of helicopters and so forth will be something that we'll keep providing to the Iraqis.

But fighting insurgents -- air power is really not a decisive weapon. It can help mobility. It can engage in specific strikes.

But to crush an insurgency you have to have political support from the society. And if the courts and the Shiites and some elements of the Sunnis are in charge, they're far more likely to establish the kind of intelligence that makes possible the effective crushing of the insurgency.

But the point that I want to make is a slightly different one, namely, when I said that I thought we'd be scaling down very significantly, both our goals and our presence, I was making a prediction.

And I really do not think that our stay in Iraq is preventing international terrorism. The examples that Henry cited of terrorism in Bali, in Madrid and so forth, first of all, they occurred, and our presence in Iraq didn't stop them.

If anything, perhaps our presence made them more likely because it has created a wider coalition of enemies dedicated to their hostility toward us.

BLITZER: And that's an argument this has been made, Dr. Kissinger, repeatedly, that this huge American footprint, this military occupation, if you will, of Iraq is generating a lot of opposition and creating the kind of terror that you think -- that you think it's preventing.

KISSINGER: First of all, we have to remember that there was a lot of terrorism before the United States intervened in Iraq, and I cannot believe that if the United States in effect couldn't -- which has led the fight against terrorism because we were the target at it 9/11, if the United States quits in Iraq under conditions which really leave all the political questions open, that this will not affect the confidence and the assurance of the various terrorist groups around the world, and it will diminish our capacity to resist it.

So that what we should attempt to do and hopefully on a bipartisan basis is to see whether we can come to some understanding of what kind of political solution is needed, what kind of military assistance is required for that because even if we withdraw tomorrow, the balance within the region -- how to contain the influence of Iran and other potentially radical countries in the region will still be with us.

And simply to do this in terms of training of troops and in terms of a decision that is geared to Pentagon criteria is not adequate to the gravity of the situation.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break but we have a lot more to discuss with Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Among other things, the Vietnam experience. Is Iraq becoming another Vietnam right now? We'll talk about some other global hot topics, as well.

And later from the front lines two perspectives on the war in Iraq. We'll hear from a Marine captain who helped lead the invasion and the journalist who was embedded with his unit. Now, 2 1/2 years later they look back and look ahead.

"Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's still time to weigh in on our web question of the week, "Are Iraqis ready to take control of their country?" You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition.

Straight ahead, Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski assess U.S. policy in the world's hot spots.

You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're talking about where things stand in Iraq and the war on terror among other subjects with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Listen to this exchange, Dr. Brzezinski, that I had with Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the ranking Democrat on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, normally a hawk, very close to the military, but he's now saying get out of Iraq within the next six months. Listen to this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: In 1963, Senator -- or Secretary McNamara predicted that we'd be out of there in two years. We had 2,200 casualties in 1965, two years later after he made that prediction...

BLITZER: You're talking about Vietnam?

MURTHA: ... From that time on -- I'm talking about Vietnam. From that time on we had 53,000 casualties. I'm trying to prevent another Vietnam. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is he right? Is he making a good point?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, he is making a good point in the sense the present policy is leading nowhere, and the previous definition of success is evidently unattainable. We're not going to get a Democratic, secular, pro-western Iraq on the basis of the policies we're pursuing.

BLITZER: Well, how can you say that? The elections are scheduled for December 15th. It's possible the Sunnis will participate in big numbers, and there would be a Democratic, secular government that would emerge, no?

BRZEZINSKI: No, the elections are not really elections the way we think of elections in the west: the choice between parties and programs.

They're essentially an affirmation of the stake of different communities in the kind of power-sharing arrangements they seek.

In other words, the Shiites feel they're about to get the majority of the power. The Kurds feel they're getting control over their region. The Sunnis are trying to salvage some of their previous privileges. But it's not an election of our style.

And whatever emerges after we leave, sooner or later is going to be a partially clerical Shiite-dominated regime in a coalition with the Kurds and with a partial accommodation with the Sunnis. And that's the best we can get.

BLITZER: Are you as pessimistic, Dr. Kissinger, as Dr. Brzezinski is?

KISSINGER: I agree with Zbig that the voting will be along ethnic lines and not along parties with programs on the Western model. And I think the outcome will be some combination of Shiite, Sunnis and Kurds all (inaudible) varying degrees of autonomy.

But within that constellation, it will make a great deal of difference what influence the United States possess, and it is against our interest to have a totally theocratic regime emerge and a civil war between the various groups, and our objective ought to be to a government with some power sharing between these groups and with a possibility of cooperation with the United States, not necessarily as a pro-Western government, but one that is aware of the outside forces that are going to press on this region, which is after all one of the key economic and ideological regions of the world.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, going back to your experiences during the Vietnam war, Congressman Murtha basically is suggesting, to paraphrase another lawmaker from that era, declare victory and bring the troops home. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MURTHA: Our military has done everything that has been asked of them. The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It's time to bring the troops home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All these comparisons with Vietnam. Are they applicable in your mind, Dr. Kissinger?

KISSINGER: Well, in Vietnam we reached a point in which all American combat forces were withdrawn, and the Vietnamese forces resisted a major Vietnamese offensive with only the support of American air power, and in which there was a government that was in control of its country. We finally lost in Vietnam, and I know that's a disputed point, when the Congress cut off, in effect, military aid to Cambodia and economic aid to Vietnam, reducing it to a third of its previous level, and prohibiting any assistance against violation of the agreement.

The lesson we should learn is that we must be willing to maintain the political situation which we are trying to create, but we also have to be able to define a political situation that is attainable. And in that respect, I agree with what Zbigniew said.

BLITZER: Let me again bring in this other issue, Dr. Brzezinski, the prewar intelligence which said that there were weapons of mass destruction, stockpiles, he was working on all sorts of chemical and biological capabilities. David Kay, the former U.N. weapons inspector and U.S. weapons inspector, went to Iraq on behalf of the CIA and the administration after the war. He was on CNN earlier this week. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID KAY, FORMER WEAPONS INSPECTOR: It was all for a multiple of reasons, most of which is sheer incompetence in the intelligence community. The U.S. had no agents inside Iraq. It grew dependent on defectors who told stories that were untrue but served their own purposes. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: This debate over prewar intelligence, it's now coming down -- did the president deliberately distort the intelligence or was he the victim of bad intelligence?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, you know, it's very hard to be a judge, but I'll hypothesize. My sense is that I don't think the president deliberately distorted. In other words, I would not say that he lied.

But I do think that in the kind of closed group atmosphere of the presidential leadership circle -- in which pretty much everybody was saying, let's go after Saddam, let's get him. Let's get him. Let's do it, irrespective of what -- there developed a tendency to hype, and I think that is pretty well documented.

In other words, there was some hypothesis, some hypothetical evidence that he might have these weapons, and the way this was presented to the public was as a fact. I remember attending a meeting with Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser...

BLITZER: Before the invasion.

BRZEZINSKI: Just before the invasion -- Rice. And I said to them, do they have weapons of mass destruction? And I was struck by the answer. They didn't say we believe they do or we are convinced that they do. They said, we know that they have weapons of mass destruction. Now that, retroactively, to me was hype, because obviously we didn't know. We had reasons to believe, but some parts of the intelligence were skeptical.

BLITZER: What do you think, Dr. Kissinger, on this debate over prewar intelligence? Did the president -- was he the victim of bad intelligence, or did he cherry-pick, did he distort, did he mislead the American public deliberately?

KISSINGER: I was actually at the same meeting that Dr. Brzezinski is referring to. And they presented the intelligence to themselves and to a number of outsiders like Zbig and myself, and they were absolutely convinced, as Zbig mentioned, of the accuracy of their intelligence.

And in fairness, one must point out that President Clinton, when he justified the bombing of Iraq in 1998, gave substantially the same figures for biological and chemical weapons that the Bush administration used. There clearly were mistakes in intelligence collection, but part of these problems occurred because we have been -- there have been attacks on the CIA, and especially on the operational branch, in which in the '90s most of their human intelligence was dismantled.

And you cannot just recreate intelligence after you've dismantled your essential group. So I think this was a case where there was a mistaken assessment. It was honestly believed. It was believed by foreign countries. It was believed by previous administrations, and I think we should get together and decide what purposes we can now achieve, because the consequences of the debacle in Iraq will be with us for a long time.

BLITZER: We have to leave it there. Dr. Kissinger, Dr. Brzezinski, thanks to both of you for joining us on "Late Edition."

Up next, are U.S. troops in Iraq being short-changed by their political leaders? We'll have a special interview with a Marine captain who led the 2003 invasion and a journalist who was embedded in the march toward Baghdad. But up next, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now. Stay with "Late Edition."

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Two years after the invasion of Iraq, what did the United States do right, and what mistakes were made? I recently spoke with two men with different insights.

Nathaniel Fick is a retired Marine Corps captain who led the first reconnaissance battalion into Iraq in the spring of 2003. He recounts his experiences in a new book entitled "One Bullet Away." Rolling Stone magazine contributing editor Evan Wright was embedded with Nathaniel Fick's unit. His account is in the book "Generation Kill."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Nathaniel Fick, Evan Wright, thanks very much for joining us. We're going to talk about these powerful books you've both written shortly. But let's talk about some stuff that's in the news right now, including Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, himself a retired Marine. Listen to what he said the other day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MURTHA: It can't be won militarily. The commanders say -- there's nobody closer to these military brass than I am, Wolf. I listen to these guys all the time. They don't tell me what -- they say what they have to say. But when I talk to the troops, I get a different story. I get a story that we need to have a plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Both of you were there at the beginning when the war started in March of 2003. Nate, let's start with you. Can this war in Iraq right now be won militarily?

CAPT. NATHANIEL FICK, USMC (RET.): Not militarily, Wolf. The military has done its primary job in Iraq. Its job was to topple the regime and defeat the Iraqi army. And that's been done. Counter- insurgency is primarily a political fight. So going forward on that point, I would agree with Congressman Murtha, that the military has to take a back seat to the political process.

BLITZER: Evan, what do you say? You were there at the beginning.

EVAN WRIGHT, AUTHOR: Well, I think that Murtha has not called for a complete withdrawal in the way that people think he has. He's actually said we should keep forces based around Iraq, and I think that's going to happen.

And I also think he's calling for bringing in the international community. And I think at the end of the day, we're going to end up sitting down at a table somewhere with the French maybe, the Russians, people that we don't necessarily want to sit down with, and we're going to have to hash this thing out because it's a mess as it is today.

But I don't think we're just going to completely withdraw. I don't think we could because of destabilization of the region.

BLITZER: And a potential civil war, presumably, that could result in -- you're right. He's calling for a six-month timetable, but keep the troops over the horizon in nearby countries like Kuwait or Qatar or elsewhere to be available, if necessary, to go back. And that's precisely what he's suggesting. Go ahead, Evan.

WRIGHT: And Kuwait's only, you know, a ten-minute drive. One of the things that I always think about is when the Marines went in there, when I was embedded with Nate's unit, it was kind of strange because for six weeks, they fought the war not knowing what the name of the war was. They weren't told what the operation was called until after the fall of Baghdad.

And I always think of that as a sort of metaphor because the other thing that no one talked about then was truly defining victory. And defining victory, I think, is key to actually knowing what it is. And we still really haven't done that. When the president talks about victory in Iraq, I don't think anyone knows what he's talking about at this point in time.

BLITZER: But Nate, when you went in with the Marines early on, wasn't the assumption that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime and liberating, if you will, Baghdad, that was the goal of this operation?

FICK: Absolutely. And in many ways, we had a much easier job than the Marines and soldiers on the ground today do, because victory for us was clearly defined. It was the military defeat of the Hussein regime, and then the political toppling of the regime. So on April 9, when that statue came down in Ferdos Square, that phase, at least for us, was successfully completed.

BLITZER: Let me read...

WRIGHT: One could almost...

BLITZER: Go ahead, Evan.

WRIGHT: One could almost argue that the war was won on about April 9 or 10, and it's been steadily lost ever since. BLITZER: That as when the statue went down. Did you assume when you went in there -- and I'll ask this question to both of you -- that the Iraqis would be receiving the U.S. and coalition forces with open arms, with flowers, and that once Saddam Hussein's government was removed that everything would be quiet, that they had a plan, in other words, to deal with a post-war situation? Start with you, Evan.

WRIGHT: Well, I can report that they did receive Nate's unit in one neighborhood of Baghdad with flowers, as I recall. Roses, I think. And that was the reaction throughout Iraq. But the interesting thing that we saw, that I saw with Nate's unit, is Baghdad -- they rolled into Baghdad and the city was relatively intact.

And over the ensuing couple of weeks during those early days of the occupation is when the city was completely sacked, which I think is an unusual, you know, event in history. And that's really when the Iraqis began to turn against us.

There's an incident in my book where I talk about Nate's unit trying to give medical aid to a teenage girl about a week after the invasion. And they were unable to give her medical aid because we weren't, the Americans weren't prepared to render it.

And Nate was extremely disgusted. And that little incident, I think Nate would probably agree with me, sort of stood for what the American occupation was and how we lost the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people early on.

BLITZER: Do you agree with Evan, Nate?

FICK: I do agree, Wolf. I think that the United States had a lot of political capital and a lot of trust among the Iraqi people in April of 2003. And historians, in my view, are going to focus on May, June, and July of that year as the period in which the war turned. That's the pivot.

When the president landed on that aircraft carrier with the "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him, as a snapshot moment in time, it was largely true. The regime had been defeated, and the insurgency hadn't yet begun. I date the beginning of the insurgency to August of '03 with the bombing of the U.N. headquarters and the death of Sergio de Mello, or of the bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad.

And political and strategic decisions were made during that spring and summer, and we've continued to suffer from the adverse effects of those decisions...

BLITZER: The lack of...

FICK: ... things like...

BLITZER: The lack of planning. But let me read to you from your book, "One Bullet Away," Nate, and just this one paragraph: "The key, though, would be continuity. We had to develop personal relationships and deliver on our promises. We had to be in the same places day after day, learning the routines, learning names and faces, and learning to sense when something was amiss."

The problem, though, was -- and tell me if I'm right or wrong -- you didn't have enough troops to do that.

FICK: That's true, at that point. In May and June of 2003, my platoon was responsible for a vast swath of northern Baghdad.

FICK: And there simply -- we didn't have the people or the resources to do everything we were tasked to do.

WRIGHT: You know, it's...

BLITZER: It was -- go ahead.

WRIGHT: What's interesting, Wolf, is I remember clear as yesterday, Nate and I standing at this cigarette factory at the edge of what's now called Sadr City in Baghdad. And it was about April 10th or 11th, and Nate had just given a talk to his troops saying, "We're going to be stabilizing this neighborhood, this area of Iraq."

And Nate and I sat down afterwards, and I remember saying, "This is actually going to be the most interesting part of the story I'm writing, what you guys actually do in Baghdad to stabilize the situation."

And what Nate told his troops they were going to be doing, they never really were given the chance to do. The orders kept changing. I think Nate might agree, there was almost a sense that there was no plan above.

And I know at the battalion level, Nate's commanders were wrestling with this, too. The battalion commander kept saying, "We're going to be in this neighborhood," and then it would change.

And there really -- Nate's men, as I saw it, were -- not only were there not enough numbers, but they didn't really have the means or the strategies to stabilize their region of Baghdad.

BLITZER: And let me just read to you from your book, "Generation Kill," Evan, because you're referring to Nate specifically. You wrote this: "Fick appears to have lost his belief in his mission here. The problem is not so much the city has unraveled before his eyes in the past week. He pretty much expected Baghdad to be in total chaos. Instead, what's come undone is his belief that the Americans have any kind of occupation plan to remedy the situation."

Was that accurate, Nate?

FICK: I was surprised, Wolf, at how our daily missions and our tasks, which had been very focused and very defined up until the fall of Baghdad, all of a sudden became catch as catch can. And it was unsettling, yes. BLITZER: Here's another excerpt from your book, Nate: "Each man carried a Syrian passport, complete with official Iraqi entry visas. The visas were stamped in red ink with blank lines for the date, place, and reason of entry to be written in by hand. Each of the dead men had entered Iraq during the first week of the war at a crossing point of a Syrian border. Their written reasons were all the same. Jihad."

What you're writing, Nate, in your book is that this insurgency started almost right away.

FICK: In a sense. I think the leadership was primarily foreign from the start. During the war, my view was we were fighting exactly the people the administration said we were fighting: Baath Party hard-liners, criminals and foreign jihadists, primarily foreign jihadists.

When we engaged more capable units that actually inflicted some damage on us, almost invariably, they were not Iraqis. In that case, they were Syrian. So the three ingredients of insurgency: men, money, and weapons, in my view, were flowing into Iraq from the very beginning.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Up next, Marine Captain Nate Fick and Rolling Stone writer Evan Wright discuss the harsh realities of war. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is Part Two of my interview with retired U.S. Marine Captain Nate Fick and Rolling Stone magazine contributing editor Evan Wright. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Evan, you also write this about Nate in your book, and you were one of the embedded reporters on the scene. You write, "Fick" -- referring to Nate -- "returns from his meeting with his superiors and gathers his team leaders for a briefing. 'The bad news is, we won't get much sleep tonight,' he says. 'The good news is, we get to kill people' It's rare for Fick to sound so 'moto', regaling his men with enthusiastic talk of killing."

Describe what you saw, and then I'm going to let Nate weigh in, because it had some effects, that passage from your book.

WRIGHT: Let me contextualize that passage. Nate's unit was rolling ahead of the main Marine invasion force. Nate's unit was in open, unarmored Humvees, and they were basically being used as bait, to bait enemy ambushers to shoot at them.

When Nate -- when I quoted Nate saying that, he was actually speaking of what was a promised change in tactics. The Marines, that day, were supposed to go out and hunt for enemy forces to kill, as opposed to being the hunted.

So that quote, which I understand later got Nate in some trouble, was really -- he was really speaking to his men about a promised change in tactics which, as I recall, never occurred.

We continued getting shot at the following hours after that quote, and we -- they continued being prey for the enemy ambushers.

BLITZER: It got you in trouble, Nate, when you were applying for graduate school.

FICK: That it did, Wolf. As a military officer, I had two responsibilities: to accomplish my mission and to look out for the welfares of the Marines in my charge. And when you send the military into war, like it or not, war is about killing people.

I did get out of the Marines, and as I was applying to grad school, that quote was thrown back at me by an admissions officer at a business school. And I declined the opportunity she gave me to explain it to her because I figured if I had to explain it to her, we were never going to see eye to eye. And I was ultimately gratified to get an acceptance letter from her anyway about two months later.

BLITZER: Was that Harvard Business School?

FICK: It wasn't. It was another one.

BLITZER: But you decided to go to Harvard instead?

FICK: I did. I chose Harvard instead.

BLITZER: And that's where you are right now?

FICK: That's right. BLITZER: All right, let me read one final passage, Nate, from your book. It's a moving passage, page 239: "We had seen people, flashes, maybe rifles, that had fired. But they weren't soldiers. We had shot two kids, and now, at least one of them was bleeding to death in front of my platoon. 'The colonel's asleep, just tell them to go back to their house. We can't help them.' He went back to his food, dismissing me."

And Evan, I think you write about the same incident in your book. "'I'm going to have to bring this home with me and live with it,' he says. 'A pilot doesn't go down and look at the civilians his bombs have hit. Artillery men don't see the effects of what they do, but guys on the ground do. This is killing me inside.' He walks off privately, inconsolable." Were those two incidents the same incident?

WRIGHT: It was the same incident. And you just quoted from my book, you started with Nate's, and then you went to, which was wonderful, Sergeant Brad Colbert (ph), who was Nate's team leader for team number one, who was an extraordinary person. And I should just add from that incident that's so wonderfully written about in Nate's book, and which I wrote about also. It's wonderful that Nate and I are here, but the men in his platoon were extraordinary people. And my book is very critical of many aspects of things that happened, but I would not have stayed embedded with that platoon, which was under so much fire, if those guys that were working for Nate hadn't been just incredible professionals.

And they were ranging in age from 19 to 25 or somewhere a little bit older.

WRIGHT: And that passage where you quoted Colbert saying, I'm going to have to take this home and live with it really spoke to me of his compassion and humanity in the midst of these horrific situations.

BLITZER: You saw innocent people dead as a result of this war, Nate. And you live with that all the time, don't you?

FICK: Of course. Yes, you can't put that burden down. That stays with you.

BLITZER: One final question to both of you then I'll let you go: The latest CNN-USA Today poll asks this question, was the situation in Iraq worth going to war over? Thirty-eight percent say yes; 60 percent say no, a dramatic turnabout from two and a half years ago.

A final word on this whole war from you. Nate, first.

FICK: Success has a thousand fathers, Wolf. And I think it's important to realize, though, that dissent at home or political opposition at home, in my view, doesn't hurt the troops.

I find that I get along much better with people whose political views may be very different than mine so long as they're engaged and they care.

And when I saw Congressman Murtha at his press conference the other day and I saw the tears in his eyes, I thought that's a Marine officer I would have been honored to serve under because he cared.

The people who bother me and who I think don't resonate so well with troops on the ground are the apathetic middle who go through daily life forgetting that we even have 180,000 Americans on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So, my parting word would be that we must remember that every single day.

BLITZER: And a final word from you, Evan?

WRIGHT: Yes, when I look back on the invasion, the thing that was foremost in the minds of Nate and General Mattis, who was the commander of troops on the ground then, was not harming civilians in Iraq as we moved through there with this violent force, and what happened is we Americans got into a much stiffer resistance than we expected from inside the cities. And the bar of not killing civilians continually got lowered, until just a few days ago there was a report of U.S. Army troops opening up on a minivan with women and children in it.

And what that says to me is this war went into, you know, a direction that no one anticipated, both in the Iraqis' behavior and in our own behavior.

But having said that, we are there now, and there's no easy way out. And there are people that Nate and I both know very well, whose lives are on the line today, and I certainly agree that dissent is important. But just picking apart what happened in the past isn't going to necessarily be constructive. We've got to understand the realities of what's on the ground to the troops there, and the realities of the politics of the Middle East, where I don't think we can pull out anytime soon.

BLITZER: Evan Wright's book is called "Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Icemen, Captain America and the New Face of American War." Nathaniel Fick's book is "One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer."

Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us.

WRIGHT: Thanks for having us.

FICK: It's a pleasure. Thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We'll be right back. But first, this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(UNKNOWN): Jean Schmidt. What's her story? The first-term Republican congresswoman from Ohio is under fire for comments she made on the House floor. She suggested that a decorated Vietnam veteran, Congressman John Murtha, was a coward for pushing for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Democrats erupted, and demanded her words be stricken.

The 53-year-old is known for her rough-and-tumble brand of politics. Called mean Jean by her critics, Schmidt was elected in a special election three months ago. She barely edged out Iraq War veteran Paul Hackett, a Democrat, in a heavily Republican district. Schmidt says she regrets referring to Murtha by name, and that she didn't know about his military background.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The results of our Web question of the week. Remember, not a scientific poll. That's your "Late Edition" for Sunday, November 27th. Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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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