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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

U.S., Iraqi Troops Step up Offensive Near Samarra; Strategy Under Fire; Pakistan Furious About Bush's Deal To Transfer U.S. Civilian Commercial Nuclear Technology To India; Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern Urges Amnesty For Illegal Irish; Cuban Journalist Willing To Die For Free Speech, Internet Access; Clark Kent Ervin Interview; Hero Air Force Master Sergeant David John

Aired March 17, 2006 - 18:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Friday, March 17.
Live in New York, Lou Dobbs.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody.

Tonight, U.S. and Iraqi troops have stepped up their offensive against insurgents in Iraq. Is the offensive simply a show of U.S. force or is it a demonstration that the United States has a clear strategy for success?

We'll be live at the Pentagon with that special report.

President Bush insists the spread of democracy is the key to victory in the global war against radical Islamist terrorists, but some leading Republicans disagree with the president.

We'll be live at the White House with that report.

And I'll be talking about the intensifying criticism of the Bush White House with three of the country's top political analysts: former White House political director Ed Rollins; Michael Goodwin of "The New York Daily News"; "TIME" magazine columnist Joe Klein.

Also tonight, one week after the collapse of the Dubai ports deal, the Bush administration is on a new collision course with Congress. This time over the foreign threat to our airlines.

We'll have that special report.

And just how secure are our airlines, ports and other critical infrastructure? I'll be talking with Clark Kent Ervin, former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security.

All of that and more ahead here tonight.

We begin with the big U.S. and Iraqi offensive against insurgent positions north of Baghdad. Soldiers have captured more than 30 suspected insurgents and seized insurgent weapons and bombs. But U.S. commanders say the troops are facing only light resistance. Officials insist the offensive has nothing to do with the third offensive of the -- third anniversary of the war in two days' time or rising public anxiety about the president's conduct of this war.

Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon with the report -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf -- sorry, Lou -- that is absolutely right. The Pentagon says it has nothing to do with politics. Day two of Operation Swarmer, real questions about what is being accomplished.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): U.S. and Iraqi troops expect to remain in the Samarra region for the next several days. But so far, the largest air assault since the invasion of Iraq appears to be going quietly.

LT. GEN. PETER CHIARELLI, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL CORPS-IRAQ: The amount of resistance we had was very, very light, I think the last count I had is that we have 31 individuals that we have detained.

STARR: Iraqi intelligence had information weeks ago that insurgents might be hiding in the region. Commanders say the initial assault force of 1,500 U.S. and Iraqi troops was need to secure the 10-mile by 10-mile area. But clearly, this operation is also a chance to showcase the capabilities of at least these Iraqi units.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This operation which is getting an awful lot of hype somewhat puzzles me because it really is, from a military standpoint, a very modest operation. And so far, this results seem to be very modest.

STARR: Chiarelli pressing the case that Iraqi security forces are taking on growing responsibility.

CHIARELLI: By this summer, about 75 percent of Iraq will be in -- that battle space will be owned Iraqi units. We are finding Iraqi units with our support can be used in just about any operation we do in a counterinsurgency role.

STARR: But that 75 percent includes much of Iraq's uninhabited desert regions or the relatively peaceful areas in the south.

It is in Baghdad and other cities that the sectarian violence is still causing great concern. More than 3,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops are reinforcing the capital. Chiarelli says the possibility of civil war may be the highest it's been in the last three years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And Lou, General Chiarelli says the timing of this operation was not dictated by any domestic political agenda. He also says he still believes Iraq can avoid civil war -- Lou.

DOBBS: Barbara, thank you very much.

Barbara Starr from the Pentagon.

Insurgents have killed another of our soldiers close to the area where U.S. and Iraqi troops are conducting this offensive. The soldier, a member the 101st Airborne Division, was killed while manning an observation post in the town of Samarra. The military says the soldier was not involved in Operation Swarmer, however -- 2,314 of our troops have now been killed in Iraq over the past three years.

President Bush insists the spread of democracy around the world will help achieve victory in Iraq and defeat radical Islamist terrorists, but tonight some highly influential Republicans are questioning the president's reasoning and strategy.

Elaine Quijano reports from the White House.

Elaine, is there a split now in the Republican Party over the president's foreign policy strategy?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, a Republican who is involved in this issue says what he is seeing is a shift in the discussions, that within the GOP Republicans, some of them are now questioning the methodology, that it's not just -- it's not a question of whether or not democracy should be a major component of U.S. foreign policy, but rather how the administration is now pursuing it. And what's affecting that, of course, is what is happening in Iraq.

Now, that's certainly something we have heard about from senators, including Chuck Hagel and Richard Lugar. And critics of the White House, though, are going even further.

They point to the administration's approach there as evidence, they say, that democracy is not a one-size-fits-all approach. The White House, though, saying that the formation of democracy is a long and difficult process -- Lou.

DOBBS: It is certainly that.

Elaine, the White House also saying Iran's offer to hold talks about Iraq is a stunt. Why the skeptical reaction?

QUIJANO: Well, a senior administration official says this really boils down to the timing. They say it was about four or five months ago, in fact, that the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, was actually authorized to reach out to the Iranians on this issue and that it's now that we are, in fact, hearing the response from Iran at the same time that the international community, the U.N. Security Council is now taking a closer look at Iran's nuclear ambitions.

And a senior official says that this is perhaps evidence that, in fact, that international pressure, that international solidarity is having an effect. Additionally, this official saying that the U.S. is apparently picking up information within the Iranian government, perhaps there is a debate going on about whether or not the president there is on the right course, whether the Iranians maybe should take a way out, i.e., the Russian proposal to enrich uranium there.

Nevertheless, this administration official saying, make no mistake, the U.S. is not softening its position which when it comes to Iran's nuclear ambitions. This merely has to do with Iran's role in Iraq -- Lou.

DOBBS: Elaine, to be clear, did you say that the U.S. intelligence is suggesting there may be -- there is possibly a debate within the -- the elites of Iran?

QUIJANO: That's exactly right. And this is why the United States is so emphatic about getting out their perspective, if you will. Because as this has been played out in the media, they are taking note that this Iranian offer has been on the front pages of the media.

They want to ensure that in fact the U.S.' context is put into this. They want it known that, in fact, this is a response to the U.S.' original offer of reaching out and talking about the Iraq issue.

DOBBS: Thank you very much.

Elaine Quijano from the White House.

New questions tonight about another major U.S. foreign policy issue. Pakistan is furious about President Bush's deal to transfer U.S. civilian commercial nuclear technology to India. The Pakistani foreign minister says Pakistan may now turn to communist China for its nuclear reactors.

Kitty Pilgrim reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Bush administration is still touting the nuclear deal with India as a victory and a good strategic move.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: India is a rising power in Asia and a democratic power that is rising. And it is a multiethnic, vibrant place that is finding its place in the international economy and in international politics. And we need a broad and deep relationship with this rising democracy.

PILGRIM: But the biggest blunder may be in favoring India, causing a decline in U.S.-Pakistani relations. The State Department's spokesman was highly dismissive when asked about that in a press briefing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you sense any backlash from the Pakistanis? Do you that this is going hurt the relationship with Pakistan in any way, that they're not worthy of such a deal?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nope. Thank you.

PILGRIM: India and Pakistan are longtime regional rivals, and the deal puts Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, at odds with large segments of his country who are deeply suspicious of the United States.

Regional analysts say Pakistan may turn to China as an ally. HENRY SOKOLSKI, NUCLEAR EXPERT: Privately, the Pakistanis in this town have told me that they're very flustered and upset about this because they thought they were done making bombs for a while. Now they've got to get back into the business.

PILGRIM: India and Pakistan have nuclear parity right now at an estimated 50 to 100 weapons. But the new deal would allow India to produce enough nuclear fissile material for 50 more nuclear weapons a year, and already China has announced a new nuclear deal with Pakistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Now, U.S. lawmakers have complained that the deal was made without consultation with Congress. It's not at all clear the deal will get through. A large number of the congressional India caucuses, Lou, are not committed to supporting this deal at this point.

DOBBS: Not even the India caucus, so styled and named. "Nope" the answer from the State Department spokesman?

PILGRIM: Very dismissive.

DOBBS: Perhaps they'll be updating those comments at the State Department to make some new operative statement.

Kitty, thank you very much.

Kitty Pilgrim.

Still ahead here, the prime minister of Ireland makes a St. Patrick's Day appeal to President Bush. He wants amnesty for all Irish illegal aliens in this country.

We'll tell you what we think of that idea in our special report still ahead.

And yet another vacation recess for Congress. Our nation's lawmakers head out of town for spring break, and they leave an important piece of business unfinished. In fact, more than one.

We'll be telling you about that.

And a new White House national security giveaway is in the works. President Bush wants to make it far easier for foreign companies to control our nation's airlines.

We'll have that story as well coming up here next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern is in Washington this St. Patrick's Day urging amnesty for Irish illegal aliens. The Irish government, like the Mexican government, now believes it has the right to influence U.S. immigration policy and apparently believes Irish illegal aliens in this country deserve special treatment.

Casey Wian has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): St. Patrick's Day is a day for parades, and this year protests demanding amnesty for Irish illegal aliens in the United States.

BRIAN MCKENNA, IRISH ILLEGAL ALIEN: I am one of them, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long have you been here?

MCKENNA: I've been here nine years now as a plumber. I'm working in the city, down in Manhattan here. So I feel it's very, very important that all of these people at this table here and myself, that we get a chance, the same as our grandfathers, our uncles and forefathers before us.

WIAN: Many are supporting a bill by two Irish heritage senators, John McCain and Ted Kennedy, that would grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens from all over the world.

CAROLINE LYNCH, IRISH ILLEGAL ALIEN: I am here. I'm a good person. I work very hard. And I contribute to this country. And that's why that I would not be here if this bill's not passed.

WIAN (on camera): There are about 50,000 to 70,000 Irish illegal aliens in the United States. That's a tiny fraction of the number who are here from Latin America and Asia. But the political influence of the Irish illegal alien lobby is much greater than their numbers.

NIALL O'DOWD, IRISH LOBBY FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM: And obviously, because we're Irish, we have a lot of Irish-American politicians, we have a lot of legislators. Before (INAUDIBLE) we were very pleasantly surprised.

WIAN (voice-over): Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern met with President Bush on St. Patrick's Day.

BERTIE AHERN, IRISH PRIME MINISTER: I would like to express the hope that a pact may be found to enable current Irish immigrants to legalize their status in the United States on a permanent basis.

WIAN: He's also met with congressional leaders. While the Irish lobbying effort might play well on Capitol Hill, critics don't expect widespread support.

IRA MEHLMAN, FED. FOR AMER. IMMIGRATION REFORM: I suspect that they are trying to flex their muscles in states where there are large numbers of Irish voters, but I don't think even Irish-American voters in those states are going to be swayed by amnesty for millions of illegal aliens, even if some of the beneficiaries happen to come from Ireland. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: Irish politicians say they're not asking for special privileges for Irish illegal aliens, only consideration for their long history in this country. The problem is, other ethnic groups can make the same claim -- Lou.

DOBBS: It's actually quite a problem, the idea that any group of people would ask for amnesty here. They violated the law, and straightforwardly, they have to be responsible for their actions.

Why would there be even on St. Patrick's Day, yet another ethnic holiday in which we seem to want to celebrate our differences more than our similarities and commonalties, why in the world should there even be an ear for this sort of thing?

WIAN: There shouldn't, Lou, but the desire and the strategy appears to be contagious. We've seen it happen over and over again with Vicente Fox's government in Mexico, and now we're seeing it from Ireland -- Lou.

DOBBS: And now, instead of using the language of choice for this broadcast, which is "illegal alien," rather than "undocumented worker," which is the language of choice for open border illegal alien activist support groups, the Irish prime minister comes up with "current immigrants."

I love that language. Don't you?

WIAN: Yes. It is very creative, but not exactly accurate -- Lou.

DOBBS: Not exactly. Thank you very much.

Casey Wian.

Congress has once again fled Washington for yet another vacation. Lawmakers left town without reaching any agreement on border security and immigration reform. Frustration at Washington's failure to make progress on the illegal alien crisis and border security is rising all across this country.

Louise Schiavone reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOUISE SCHIAVONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is putting border security at the top of the Senate agenda when Congress returns from next week's break.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: A country that cannot secure its borders cannot secure its destiny.

SCHIAVONE: Under the time pressures of yet another recess and an evaporating legislative year, the Senate leader basically told the Senate Judiciary Committee, time's up. FRIST: Our attention is to focus on border security when we come back. Our country needs security at our borders in order to stop the flow of illegal immigration and make America safer from foreign criminals and terrorists.

SCHIAVONE: The Frist bill preempts a complex bill that the Senate Judiciary Committee is not yet done with, doesn't touch the hotly debated issue of guest worker programs, but goes straight to enforcement.

ROSEMARY JENKS, NUMBERSUSA: A role for state and local police, some fencing along the border, additional Border Patrol agents and so an, and most importantly, workplace verification so that we can take the jobs magnet away.

SCHIAVONE: Senate Judiciary Committee members grumbled that with Frist rushing them along on this issue, there was no way that something as complex as a guest worker program could be drafted on the Senate floor.

But that's sort of the point.

DAN STEIN, FED. FOR AMER. IMMIGRATION REFORM: Senator Frist has been pretty clear from his behavior for the last six years that he doesn't think the party is going to benefit at the polls from passing anything that's going to increase the amount of foreign labor coming in to the economy. And he clearly has his sights set on the White House at this point.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHIAVONE: Lou, under the Frist strategy, the outlook for amnesty programs and guest worker programs in this session of Congress is bleak. A more likely outcome, improved border security. And that's a win-win for a Republican leader running for president -- Lou.

DOBBS: Establishing border security would be a win for all Americans.

Thank you very much.

Louise Schiavone.

That brings us to our poll question tonight. Do you believe Congress will take effective action to address the lack of security at our nation's borders and the worsening illegal immigration crisis in this country?

Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll have the results coming up here later.

Also ahead, did the White House learn anything from the Dubai ports fiasco? Congress is vowing to stop yet another great American giveaway. This time brought to you by the Bush administration involving our nation's airlines. And the Cuban journalist willing to die for free speech and access to the Internet. The story of his desperate struggle against the communist Castro regime coming up.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Victims of a brutal crackdown by Cuba's communist government are being honored around the world today. Three years ago, Fidel Castro's security forces rounded up 75 journalists and political dissidents. Most remain in jail, accused of undermining the island's communist government. Even as supporters as far away from the Czech Republic salute these brave men and women, the persecution continues in Cuba today.

Havana Bureau Chief Lucia Newman has the report -- Lucia.

LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF: Lou, the Cuban government calls them mercenaries in the pay of the USA. Many of them serving sentences of up to 28 years in prison. But despite the crackdown, there are those who continue to oppose the Castro government.

Here's the story of one man who's fighting for something most of us take for granted.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NEWMAN (voice-over): It's hard to imagine that anyone would be willing to die for access to the Internet. But Cuban opposition journalist Guillermo Farinas claims he's putting his life on the line in just such a quest.

The 43-year-old former psychologist is inside this hospital in Santa Clara in central Cuba in critical condition, says his family, because of a hunger strike that began more than 40 days ago. Farinas' mother says he vows to become a martyr for freedom of information, unless he's allowed access to the World Wide Web.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): He's asking for something that's very hard to get in this country, that's not available to everybody. I don't know how the government will react. I feel impotent as I see him slowly fade away.

NEWMAN: Farinas had been sending accounts of human rights abuses to foreign news organization from a computer at this local Internet cafe until the government started blocking his mails.

(on camera): The government keeps a tight rein on information. All print and broadcast media is owned and controlled by the states. Satellite television is strictly forbidden for ordinary citizens. And when it comes to the Internet, the controls are almost as rigid.

(voice-over): Even though children are taught to use computers, Cuba has the lowest number of Internet users per capita in the hemisphere. Sites critical of the communist state are usually blocked. And while there are a few state-run cyber cafes, at $4 to $6 an hour, half a month's wages, the Internet is out of reach for most Cubans anyway.

Post offices provide e-mail services, but users can only surf Cuban sites.

Not willing to take no for an answer, many Cubans resort to the black market, where they can buy passwords for clandestine computers.

The government says Internet access is restricted because of limited bandwidth, due in part to the U.S. economic embargo. President Fidel Castro is, nevertheless, a big fan of the World Wide Web.

"The day will come when millions of Cubans will communicate via the Internet with millions of more citizens of the world," he said recently.

The question is, when?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NEWMAN: And the answer, sadly, is probably no time soon, Lou, even though Cubans read and hear about the Internet every day.

DOBBS: Unfortunately, Lucia, that is the dateline, the timeline for most of the pressing issues in Cuba, as you reported so well and so vigorously over the years.

Lucia Newman is leaving CNN, and we could not allow her to depart us without paying our respects and to salute a great and skillful, talented, bright colleague with whom we've had the pleasure to work over the past two decades.

Lucia Newman, you're a delight. We're wishing you all the very best and we thank you.

NEWMAN: Thank you very much Lou.

DOBBS: Taking a look now at some of your thoughts.

Judy in Missouri wrote in to say, "Dear Lou, I'm sick and tired of all your Bush bashing. Can't you even give him some credit for all of the wonderful new jobs he's created for the illegal aliens?"

Harold in Nevada: "Why does the White House say that they are concentrating on the will of the people when the will of the people is two-thirds against them?"

David in Indiana: "I hear the buzz around Washington is the White House needs new blood. I believe they need a total blood transfusion and a heart transplant and a few arteries replaced."

Ed in California: "Rather than increasing the debt limit, Congress needs to get on a kosher diet. No pork." Sandy in Ohio: "Dubai ports deal, $6.8 billion. G.W. Bush budget deficit, $423 billion. The national debt, $8 trillion. Congress listening to the American people: priceless."

Send us your thoughts at loudobbs.com. We'll have more of your thoughts coming up here later in the broadcast.

Up next, first it was our seaports, now it's our airlines. The Bush administration wants its way again. Congress says no.

We'll have the special report.

And the latest on aviation security. The passenger screeners found the nail clippers. They missed the explosives, however. I'll be joined by former homeland security inspector general Clark Kent Ervin.

And the Bush White House trying to push past another tough week. We'll look at this week's political developments. Three of the country's sharpest political analysts join us here next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The Bush White House is again on collision course with Congress. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta says he will proceed with a rule change that would allow foreign airlines to take control of U.S. airlines. That, despite the fact that early this month Republicans and Democrats in the House made it very plain they do not like and will not tolerate the prospective change.

Bill Tucker reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Congress, at least on the House side, is making its opposition known to a plan granting foreign investors control over domestic airlines. In a hearing last month, in a letter at the beginning of March, and again on the floor last week...

REP. PETER DEFAZIO (D), OREGON: The issue is bigger than the UAE takeover of the U.S. port facilities. It's about other foreign takeovers of our assets. The administration is still rushing ahead to allow foreign airlines to control U.S. airlines.

TUCKER: The anger is directed at a rule change by the Department of Transportation which would give foreign investors control of the day-to-day operations of an airline.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It makes no sense. It's crazy to turn the operational control of U.S. airlines over to foreign investors, and if I have anything to say about it, we're going to stop it.

TUCKER: The DOT thinks the change is being blown out of perspective. Quote, "The Department's proposal would require U.S. citizens to maintain control of all decisions affecting the security, safety and national defense obligations of domestic airlines."

But foreign investors could have control over what planes to buy, which routes to fly, who staffs the planes. They could hold the purse strings.

CAPT. DUANE WOERTH, AIR LINE PILOTS ASSN.: This needs to be stopped. Congress should prohibit this.

TUCKER: A spokesman for DOT insists there's no deadline for making a decision or implementing one, but Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta made it clear the rule change will be made. Some in Congress have their own ideas of when it might be implemented.

REP. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON (D), TEXAS: We will be out of Congress for another week or so, and that's when they intend to implement things like this, when we're on recess.

TUCKER: If the administration pushes the rule change, expect a fight. There's already legislation in the House with 160 co-sponsors to stop it. The importance of or domestic airlines to our military cannot be overstated.

So far in just Operation Iraqi Freedom, over 1.5 million military personnel have flown overseas on U.S. commercial aircraft and 320,000 tons of military equipment carried.

Bill Tucker, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOBBS: The House Appropriations Committee last week told the Bush administration to postpone implementing that plan for 120 days. The committee says the U.S. aviation industry is part of our national critical infrastructure, just like our ports.

Turning now to security at our nation's ports, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chernoff today vowed to issue secure identification cards to every U.S. port worker in the country. The Homeland Security secretary promised to have these cards in the hands of all approved U.S. seaport workers by the end of this year.

Congressional investigators uncovered serious gaps in airport security. They smuggled bomb ingredients past security screeners at 21 airports. The Government Accountability Office conducted its investigation this winter, at the same time passengers screeners were being trained to find bombs.

The head of the Transportation Security Administration says he doesn't find this report alarming. But he says his agency needs to do more to prevent threats from improvised explosive devices.

CNN security analyst, former Homeland Security inspector general Clark Kent Ervin joins us tonight. Clark, good to have you here.

CLARK KENT ERVIN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: What is your reaction to the TSA chief's response to this?

ERVIN: Well, I'm absolutely appalled by it frankly. You know, one of the rationales, the rationale that TSA had for recently relaxing the rules on carrying small knives and other implements onto planes is that the danger nowadays really is largely from bombs.

And yet, we have this report out, which you just noted, that says that in 21 airports, the investigators were able to smuggle bomb materials undetected. That's very troubling indeed and it's just the latest in a series of reports showing just how poor airport security is now, nearly five years after 9/11.

DOBBS: It's just mind-boggling that this administration with the war on terror at the forefront of its political agenda, as well as at the center of its responsibilities, is wanting to sell control of our airlines to foreign airlines, wanting to turn over port operations to foreign government-owned companies. What in the world's going on here, Clark?

ERVIN: Well, I think a couple of things. There just seems to be a sense on the part of the administration that because we haven't been attacked in the last five years, we can essentially relax. And, after all, we have a department now called the Department of Homeland Security and therefore, ipso facto, the homeland is secure.

The creation of the department really was just the beginning, not the end of things and the department has not lived up to its programs and there's example after example of that. And, as I say, this report is just the latest one of them.

DOBBS: And you are a man who has obviously had a belly full of the Washington spin on critical national security issues, specifically homeland security. In a recent article in the "Washington Post," you took to task a couple of people for not speaking the same language as when they were in responsible posts within this -- within this government. Why so?

ERVIN: Will I think it's very important for officials to be straight with the American people when they're in office, because after all, it's only when they're in office that they're actually able to act and do anything.

You're referring specifically to my having said that the former deputy secretary of Homeland Security now says, now acknowledges, now admits, there are lots of holes in port security when he made no such claim and made no such acknowledgement when he was actually in the position to correct these flaws.

That said, if there's any good news in this now scuttled port deal, I hope it will refocus the attention of the administration and both parties in Congress on just how porous our ports are and just how critically important it is to close the gap to the extent that we can.

DOBBS: Clark Kent Ervin, I can say this with absolute conviction. You're one of the good guys. Thanks for being here.

ERVIN: Thanks so much, Lou.

DOBBS: Still ahead, our panel of top political analysts join me. We'll be examining the prospects for this White House in the face unrelenting bad news, bad policy decisions, and bad poll numbers.

In "Heroes" tonight, our weekly salute to our men and women in uniform, you'll meet a master sergeant whose accomplishments set new standards for our troops in Iraq. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The White House is having what could be described as difficult time this week finding good news, whether at home or abroad. The president's approval rating is standing at about 36 percent.

There's -- that, by the way -- the CNN/"USA Today" poll is five points higher than the Pew, 33 percent, one point below the Fox poll rating, by the way. Overall the president's approval is stocked at just about 37 percent.

That's an historic low and Americans are finding less -- or feeling quite -- a bit less optimistic about events in Iraq. Our CNN/"USA Today" poll shows 60 percent of Americans say the war is going poorly. Only 38 percent say well.

The poll taken before the launch of Operation Swarmer and joining me now to discuss the political problems now swarming around this White House are three of the country's sharpest political minds: former White House political director Ed Rollins, Michael Goodwin of the "New York Daily News", "Time" magazine columnist Joe Klein.

Joe, Operation Swarmer to begin with.

JOE KLEIN, COLUMNIST, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Can I just say, I was watching cable news networks, all of them, yesterday, and we bear some of the responsibility to this. Our coverage was irresponsible, it was ridiculous. You're talking about a two battalion maneuver.

DOBBS: Fifteen hundred troops.

KLEIN: Yes, it may have been the largest helicopter assault, but it's nothing compared to the kind of movements we had in Samarra, in Fallujah, in Ramadi, in Talafar even. And for us to buy the line that this was some kind of huge, you know, military initiative was, I think, irresponsible.

DOBBS: Are you suggesting cable is conduit?

KLEIN: Well I'm wondering where the military experts are in the staff of all three of the cable networks. I mean, anybody who's involved in military knows that 1,500 troops isn't even a brigade. It's half a brigade.

MICHAEL GOODWIN, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: I think that no matter the intent of this maneuver was, I think that the problem for the president now is not really one of ideology or a new speech.

I think his problem is performance, and the argument against him now making its way around and I think it's getting a lot of support is incompetence. And I think unless the performance can improve, another speech, even another military maneuver is not going to persuade people. He's got to perform better and that's the danger to everything he's trying to do now.

DOBBS: The danger to what he's trying to do now. What do you mean by that?

GOODWIN: Well in other words I think the lack of confidence in his ability to deliver what he says he's going to do. It undermines any program, any -- he's got no support anywhere for anything he's doing because of the doubts about competence.

DOBBS: I want to turn to you, Ed Rollins. But first, if I may, let's listen to what President Bush had to say at a GOP fund-raising dinner last night. During that GOP dinner he was telling his party to not fear the future, effectively.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ours is a party that can see into the future. We don't fear it. We welcome it, because we intend to continue to lead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOBBS: What did he mean?

ED ROLLINS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well he doesn't have to fear the future, because he's not up for re-election. But that was an audience spending money to raise money for congressional candidates and a lot of them are fearing next November.

It was kind of a silly speech and I think the interesting thing is these are diehard Republicans who contribute a great deal of money and it was a tepid response, a tepid response throughout. And I think that's the most telling thing, is that even the diehards are starting to basically have some serious doubts and they hope something gets turned around. They've not lost affection for this president, but they just have lost confidence and I think Michael's point is a very valid one.

KLEIN: Yes, I think, Republicans need not fear the future but they probably do need to fear the president. It's looking like a really terrible year for them.

DOBBS: Well we were talking about this in political terms, but it is an even tougher year for working men and women in this country. Wages actually declining in real terms, 4.8 percent unemployment.

But the fact is, there is an assault going on right now. I've asked a number of members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, to define one thing that this Congress has done for working men and women in this country.

ROLLINS: Added $30,000 per man, woman and child to their debt.

DOBBS: Thank you for raising the national debt ceiling.

KLEIN: It's really a remarkable situation. You have two Houses of Congress and the presidency controlled by the same party and these guys can't even agree on a budget. I mean, nothing is passing in this Congress right now, in part because it's a political year but in part because you have gridlock even within the Republican Party.

DOBBS: Well I'm going to be very honest with you, Joe. I happen to be a big fan of gridlock. Whether...

KLEIN: Me, too.

DOBBS: .. And I haven't come to that -- I've always believed that.

KLEIN: You know, the founding fathers built it in. This is a very conservative democracy and you should have to get 80 votes in the Senate if you want to pass something like universal health insurance. But I think that the public is reaching the point where they want big things done, like immigration reform, like universal health insurance and like some sort of rational action in foreign policy.

DOBBS: This Congress, this president, they're rejecting the will of the people. Every public -- they're lined up on nearly the wrong side nearly every polling question. American people, 70 percent against illegal immigration, 70 percent, outraged that there's a lack of security at our ports and no security on our borders.

What in the world kind of governance is this? On the part of both parties, but certainly the Republicans and this White House.

GOODWIN: Well if you talk, for example, something like the ports. I think had things been going better in Iraq, had Iraq sort of been a smooth operation, where people had confidence in it, then something like the port, the president would get the benefit of the doubt.

And that's where I think Iraq continues to undercut everything he wants to do. It's the performance in Iraq, it's not the ideology, it's not even the spin. It's the fact that things are not going well and people feel that. They feel it in terms of immigration. Illegal immigration does drag down wages for working people.

DOBBS: And, my God, to see Bertie Ahern at the White House begging for special consideration for Irish illegal aliens. I mean, the temerity.

ROLLINS: Well, the whole thing is absurd. And I think none of these people want to touch tough issues. They don't even want to do lobbyist reform when they're all about to be tainted. I mean, they don't want to take themselves off a private airplanes. The American public ever found out how much flying around they do in private airplanes, they'd throw them all out. We all have to climb on airplanes and fly in seats that now cost extra to fly on an end seat.

DOBBS: The issue isn't just private aircraft, it's who owns those private aircraft, is the real issue. And it ain't the friend of the working man and woman in this country, and middle class families who would like to see the foundation of opportunity for everybody. That is, higher and better educational achievement for their children, my God.

KLEIN: Look, I'm in favor of better policed borders, much tighter borders. But I'm with the illegal immigrants on this one. These people have performed -- the city that we're sitting in right now, illegal immigrants saved in the 1980s. When people were rushing away from it. I think...

DOBBS: Oh balderdash, Joe, that's just ridiculous.

KLEIN: That is not ridiculous.

DOBBS: Let me help you out here. Illegal employers exploited them for their labor and big business and big government in both political parties embraced the concept and depressed wages about $200 billion a year.

KLEIN: And they added how much in our taxes?

DOBBS: Oh, come on, they're not paying taxes.

KLEIN: They're not paying sales tax, they're not paying local taxes here? I don't know about that sales tax.

DOBBS: Give me a break, well they are paying sales tax, absolutely.

KLEIN: They certainly area. The history of this country...

DOBBS: ... But, if I may finish, Joe.

KLEIN: OK.

DOBBS: This is not a sensible rationale. The fact is if we need labor, we have an immigration policy and, by the way, agency. Then let them do it.

KLEIN: And then drastically expand the number of immigrants allowed into this country.

DOBBS: Well that's different statement.

KLEIN: No, but it's an important statement to add...

DOBBS: ... The fact is that the illegal...

KLEIN: If you're going to bash illegal immigrants, it's an important thing to do.

DOBBS: ... Joe, Joe, Joe, we're not -- but there's no way you can rationally embrace illegal immigration. It is counter to the interest of the country. It's a very simple syllogism. If you can't control your border security, you can't control immigration. Do you agree? Do you agree with that?

KLEIN: Absolutely.

DOBBS: And if you can't control immigration, you can't reform.

KLEIN: Do one of you guys want to help out here?

ROLLINS: I think both sides of it argued very well. I think the critical thing though, you can't make them one in the same, in the sense we have to tighten our borders, we have to make sure in the homeland...

DOBBS: ... There shouldn't even be a question about it.

KLEIN: No, there is no question about it.

ROLLINS: There should not be. And the reality is, that measure ought to be passed, we've got to stop illegals coming across this point in time. We ought to make sure that the customs department...

DOBBS: ... and that point deal with those who live in this country.

ROLLINS: Then you tackle some of the other issues.

GOODWIN: But I think also you have another class of immigrants who do play by the rules. Immigrants who do play by the rules, who wait in turn at the embassies around and consoles around the world, trying to get to the United States. It's not fair to them that people rush in and suppress their wages as well. I mean, if we're going have a system we have to enforce it.

DOBBS: I promise you the last word so I will constrain myself. Thank you for being here.

ROLLINS: Don't forget, though, there has been a change in the White House. There is a new pastry chef, which is very important.

DOBBS: I'll be thinking about that over the weekend, Ed Rollins. Thank you very much.

KLEIN: The last one went to a casino.

DOBBS: I keep trying to give you the last word. It's impossible with this crowd. Thank you, gentlemen, appreciate it.

Coming up at the top of the hour, "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer. Sorry Wolf, I lost complete control of this broadcast. What are you working on?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ah, we're working on other news that we're following, including Lou, the Taliban. Is it making a comeback? It's in control of parts of Pakistan and making some horrifying documentaries to prove it. We're going to show you what's going on.

Plus -- he was Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief-of-staff and a key administration official. Now he's a harsh critic of the decision to go to war in Iraq. I'll talk with Colonel Larry Wilkerson.

And no smoking even outside. We'll take to you where this strict new smoking ban, possibly the toughest in country, is taking affect today. Lou, all that coming up at the top of the hour.

DOBBS: Looking forward to it, Wolf, thank you very much.

A reminder now to vote in our poll tonight. Do you believe Congress will take effective action to address the lack of security at our nation's borders and the worsening illegal immigration crisis in this country? Cast your vote at loudobbs.com, we'll have the results in just a few moments.

And still ahead, we'll have more of your e-mails and thoughts and in "Heroes" tonight, he led convoys across nearly half a million miles of Iraqi desert without a single casualty. You'll meet a true hero here tonight, next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: In "Heroes," our weekly salute to the men and women who serve this nation in uniform. Tonight, the story of Air Force Master Sergeant David John, a 20-year military veteran who was called to perform one of the most dangerous jobs in Iraq. Philippa Holland has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILIPPA HOLLAND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In March 2005, Air Force Master Sergeant David John was called to serve in Iraq, his first deployment to a war zone after two decades of military service.

MASTER SGT. DAVID JOHN, U.S. AIR FORCE: I finally get the opportunity to do what I've been trained to do, and to lead troops into battle.

HOLLAND: He would serve as a convoy commander, in charge of as many as 35 vehicles traveling the most treacherous routes.

JOHN: Anytime one of the more dangerous missions would come up, I would try to take those missions.

HOLLAND: His convoys did come under attack.

JOHN: We had about 26 IED strikes, and then we had multiple small arms fire, multiple engagements.

HOLLAND: In seven months, he oversaw more than 800 convoys, traveling more than 450,000 miles. A testament to his leadership, not one single casualty under his command. JOHN: We tried to instill in our airmen that don't be afraid to utilize your weapon, you know. Utilize your escalation of force. Remember your rules of engagement. We typically ran our convoys as fast as the slowest vehicle would go.

HOLLAND: Master Sergeant John also developed new ways to handle the challenges of the dangerous roads. He and his men started shooting flares to force oncoming vehicles out of the way before firing live rounds. It became standard operating procedure. His expertise also resulted in a new gunner's turret design.

JOHN: We designed a turret that was about anywhere from a foot to a foot and a half taller than the original turret, which gave them better all-around protection. So it gave the gunners more confidence. Also provided better security for the convoy in general.

HOLLAND: Master Sergeant John was awarded the Bronze Star for his meritorious service in Iraq. The citation reads that his contributions were invaluable to the Air Force and the United States Army.

Philippa Holland, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOBBS: Sergeant John has just received another award, the Security Forces Outstanding Senior NCO of the Year. He continues to serve at Elmendorf Air Force base in Alaska.

Still ahead here tonight, we'll have the results of our poll, and we'll have more of your thoughts. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The results of our poll tonight: 96 percent of you apparently paying attention to the fact that Congress for the first time is taking a 10-day St. Patrick's Day recess. Ninety-six percent of you do not believe Congress will take effective action to address the lack of security at our nation's borders and the worsening illegal immigration crisis in this country.

Each week here, we salute the individuals and organizations who make positive contributions to the nation. Those earning our admiration and respect this week include Ambassador John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who stood up to the General Assembly, fighting hard to defeat a United Nations Human Rights Council that was approved against the wishes of the United States this week, and in defiance of the Secretary-General Kofi Annan's promise for reform. Bolton says the new body may be powerless to prevent most human rights abuses, and maintains the United Nations is in need of major reform.

Also tonight, three of our nation's most distinguished universities -- Harvard, Princeton and Stanford -- all three now have programs that waive tuition for low-income students and working-class families, and offer reduced tuition for middle-class students as well. The universities agreed they can't afford to lose talented students because of rising tuition costs.

More of your thoughts now. Robert in Illinois said -- "Lou, I have a question. Maybe you can help. What I want to know is what happens when the countries that are now holding our debt demand payment?"

Kenneth in Washington -- "If they sell off everything of value in America, what are they going to do when the foreign banks call the loans in?" Similar question.

Elwood in Nevada had a couple of ideas for bumper stickers, by the way. "American unions: Buy American. U.S. Treasury Department: Buy America."

Wayne in California -- "Is it possible, what with Bush's convoluted way of thinking that he considered the sale of the ports as a positive step towards homeland security, thinking that if they own it, they won't bomb it?"

And Mary Ann in California -- "Dear Lou, Bush was not able to get the ports deal to go through, so now he's wanting to sell our airlines to foreign countries. What will he want to sell next? The White House?"

And Paul in Texas -- "Lou, Mexicans should be warned to expect a reverse invasion of illegal U.S. immigrants as we flee from the Bush government, through that break in the border that Bill Schneider showed us the other day. Today, I have truly, truly had a bellyful, and it's just not that awful mixture of tuna and powdered milk, either."

"Dear Lou, I'm in such a shock what this administration is doing that I can't think of anything clever enough to get your book." You just did. We thank you.

Send us your thoughts at loudobbs.com. Thanks for being with us tonight. Have a great weekend. Good night from New York. "THE SITUATION ROOM" begins right now, with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

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