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Iraq: 3 Years After

Aired March 20, 2006 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, three years after the war began, should the United States stay in Iraq? Was the president right to invade?
The debate starts now with "CBS Evening News" anchorman Bob Schieffer. He interviewed Vice President Cheney yesterday about Iraq.

Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California; Alan Simpson, the former Republican Senator from Wyoming; Michael Weisskopf, "Time" magazine's senior correspondent who lost a hand while covering the Iraq War; Robin Wright of the "Washington Post," an expert on Middle Eastern affairs; and CNN's Nic Robertson in Baghdad, they're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

One program reminder, Laura Bush will be our special guest Friday night, Laura Bush, Friday night on LARRY KING LIVE.

Let's begin our round robin here with Nic Robertson, CNN Senior International Correspondent, a day after the three year anniversary. What happened today Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was a day like any other for Iraqis, Larry. There was a roadside bomb in Baghdad, killed six people. Nine more bodies turned up in the city probably the result of sectarian killings. And, two bombs went off in the evening, one in a coffee shop, one in a restaurant, seven people dead, 36 wounded. Iraqis weren't out celebrating the day, Larry.

KING: Bob Schieffer, is this beginning to sound ordinary?

BOB SCHIEFFER, ANCHOR, "CBS EVENING NEWS": You mean this kind of report, yes.

KING: Yes, the report, you're not surprised by this.

SCHIEFFER: No, because this is basically what you hear every day. This is a report you get from Iraq. The administration continues to say, they began yesterday on "Face the Nation" with Vice President Cheney, the president said again today we are making progress but we just have to be patient but you know, this violence continues and you have to wonder how long can this go on?

KING: Senator Boxer, why isn't the public, despite the exuberance of the president and the vice president, why isn't the public buying it? SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: The public is seeing it just like during Vietnam. We saw it in our living rooms. And, you know, you see the whole administration almost dissembling around this because they keep telling us that what we're seeing isn't real and what they're telling us is real and the American people are very smart and they're way ahead of this administration and we need to change things, Larry.

KING: Senator Alan Simpson, you know the people at the top here better than anyone. What do you make of this?

ALAN SIMPSON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR (R), WYOMING: Well, I'll tell you, I'm very proud to be a member of a new group called the Iraq Working Group, five Democrats, five Republicans, chaired by Lee Hamilton, Jim Baker, consisting of Vernon Jordan, Bill Perry, Leon Panetta, Sandra Day O'Connor, myself, Rudy Giuliani, Bob Gates, serious business because it is time now not to just look at the death of the day or who did WMDs or BVDs or DVDs and what are we going to do now?

It's time to stop the recrimination, the emotion of it. I served in Germany at the end of the army of occupation for two years and more people were killed in peacetime in NATO, the whole NATO, than have been killed in the entire war in Afghanistan or Iraq.

I'm not saying -- that's painful, it's a horrible thing to even equate but the death of a day syndrome is the water torture of the ages and we'll see where it goes but it's time to stop right here and go forward and what the hell are we going to do now?

KING: Michael Weisskopf, is that going to work?

MICHAEL WEISSKOPF, "TIME" MAGAZINE: You know, Larry, there's such a gap here between the institutional achievements in this struggle and that is clearly the constitution and the forming of a parliament and the meeting of this parliament trying to sort itself out through to some kind of coalition government and the human side of this.

And, Bob talked about the kind of daily carnage that we're becoming so used to. Somehow there's got to be a connection between the two before anybody in this administration can point to some kind of gain from it all.

KING: Robin Wright, how do you see this whole, I wanted to say mess, I don't want to say mess, how do you see this whole situation?

ROBIN WRIGHT, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, we're beginning this period of nine months in the countdown to some kind of transition. This was the last, third and last phase of the transition which the United States was supposed to be able to begin drawing down.

You see the Iraqis taking over both in terms of the military and in governing the country with the election of a permanent government and we can see just how slowly it's gotten off too. Three months since they've had the elections and there is still no sign of a government anytime soon. The fact is that the army is facing a lot of problems in terms of defections, finding commanders who are senior enough to be able to take command of these Iraqi units.

There's a real issue, not just with sectarian fighting because I don't think we've reached the point of a civil war quite yet but there is a problem with the militias replacing or being the most central force in terms of security particularly the Shiite and Kurdish militias and that's a real danger because their loyalties are not necessarily to the central government but to their own people.

And so there are a lot of issues to sort out in this last nine months and there's just an awful lot to do and I find it hard to believe we're going to make that kind of deadline to bring back a third of our troops by the end of the year.

KING: Bob, what did Vice President Cheney or how did he defend the earlier statements that this was going to be welcoming in the streets and a breeze?

SCHIEFFER: Well, I asked him about that because he, after all, was the one who said we'd be welcomed as liberators. He said ten months ago that the insurgency was still in its last throws. And, I asked him how he squared that with what's going on now?

And he said, well he believed that what he said at the time was accurate at the time. But as you get past that, you know, it's not so much what we can do now, Larry, it seems to me.

The Iraqis have got to come together and form a government. And, if they can't do that, it's going to be very, very difficult it seems to me for American forces, however many of them there are, to help. They have got to come together.

The other day on "Face the Nation," Dick Lugar, the chairman, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee said there has to come a time when they have to decide if they want to be Shiites and Sunnis or do they want to be Iraqis and put together a government?

Until they do that this is going to be very, very difficult for us. I mean I do not think we can walk away but by the same token if they can't form a government, we have to begin asking the question what good is it going to do for us to stay?

KING: Senator Boxer, does your party have a plan?

BOXER: My party, as you know, is a very independent party. We don't march to any drummer downtown or anything else and I will say we are united on this. We don't think that they had a plan for this war that Bush did.

We don't think they've been honest with the American people. And, at this point, many of us do believe, if not almost all of us do believe and many Republicans who voted with us on this, we believe that 2006 is the year of transition, as Robin said. This is the year that the Iraqis have to step up to the plate. We cannot want democracy and freedom more for them than they want it for themselves. It's a pretty straightforward common sense thing. The American people see it and we can't forget about the sacrifice.

And, I know Alan Simpson says if you compare it to other wars, you know, it's not a lot and it's terrible but he sort of in my view diminished it. I have to tell you 23 percent of the dead are either from California or were based here and it is with a heavy heart that, you know, I go down to the Senate floor as Alan would do...

SIMPSON: Well, come on.

BOXER: ...if he was there and talk about it.

SIMPSON: Let's not get into that. That's just...

BOXER: But, you know what, but Alan, Alan I have to say you don't want to get into it. I want to get...

SIMPSON: Well you don't have to go use emotion and all that stuff. I know how you are.

BOXER: I want -- Alan, Alan...

SIMPSON: I know how you are. You're full of passion.

BOXER: you want to go to a funeral and not have emotion?

KING: One at a time guys.

BOXER: Yes, but if I could just finish my...

SIMPSON: Let me tell you something. I'm on the show too.

BOXER: I just want to finish my point. But I'd like to finish up.

SIMPSON: There's no need to bring that up. It's cruel. We lost Wyoming people there too.

BOXER: Because -- Alan, Alan, Alan.

SIMPSON: What are you doing?

BOXER: I'm going to bring it -- I'm going to bring it up every time I talk about this because not only do we have 2,300 dead but the 16,000, 17,000 wounded. The divorce rate is skyrocketing.

SIMPSON: Sure, it's called war. It's called war.

BOXER: When they come back the mental health -- the mental health problems are skyrocketing. Today the San Diego Union Tribune had a big expose about how they are just doling out antidepressants just like they would aspirin.

KING: Alan -- Senator.

BOXER: And I will bring it up every time. I will.

SIMPSON: Can I get, you know, to say something? You know maybe I could say something, you know, that would be good. I don't like that. It's a cruel way to deal with business. Do you think we feel less passion about the people who die from Wyoming?

Let me tell you something. I'll tell you what the American people would love. Dick Lugar is talking about the Shiites and the Sunnis being Iraqis. It would be damn good if Republicans and Democrats became Americans on this one and stop the emotion.

BOXER: Of course.

SIMPSON: And the passion of the day. What in the world? We're going to start from scratch, Barbara, and we're not going to go back and pick scabs and see who's -- if people hate Cheney and hate Bush and hate Rummy, forget it. We're going to move on from here as intelligent Americans from both parties. That's where I'm headed.

KING: All right, let me get a break and we'll be right back.

BOXER: Well, I think if you're intelligent you look at who's getting hurt.

KING: Hold it Barbara. We'll be right back. Hold it Barbara.


KING: We'll be right back with more. Don't go away.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yesterday we marked the third anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The time there is much -- at this time there is much discussion in our country about the removal of Saddam Hussein from power and our remaining mission in Iraq. The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was a difficult decision. The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision.




DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On the security front, we've seen major progress in terms of training and equipping Iraqi forces. Today, roughly half of all of the missions that are being conducted over there are with Iraqis in the lead. They've been very successful now in terms of training and equipping over 100 battalions of Iraqi troops and that continues to improve day by day. Those are the facts on the ground.


KING: That was Vice President Cheney appearing yesterday with our own Bob Schieffer here on his program "Face the Nation."

Michael Weisskopf, does Alan Simpson have a point that we should be Americans first?

WEISSKOPF: You know this is beginning to suggest the ranker of the Vietnam War. Actually, I was thinking about that today and looked back at 1968, particularly at the war costs and interestingly at the peak of the Vietnam War in '68 we were spending roughly what has been projected for this year, 2006, the difference being is that we have about a third fewer troops there today than during Vietnam.

But, this issue of this kind of divisiveness has taken place largely at an intellectual level, not at the street level in terms of kind of popular opposition. And, even on the anniversary there was a kind of drop off of protests nationwide, something the president could take heart in presumably. But it certainly is a potentially very divisive issue and will be a real hot button issue during the congressional elections coming up.

KING: Robin Wright, Senator Biden said today that the president should concentrate more on putting pressure on Iraqi officials to form a government. There's still no government months after last December's election. Did Biden have a point?

WRIGHT: Oh, absolutely and I think the ambassador there for the United States embassy is trying very hard to get the Iraqis to focus. There's deep disagreement on whether the current prime minister should continue. He wants the job. The majority of Shiites apparently back him on that but there are many in the Sunni and Kurdish communities who want an alternative.

But it underscores one of the big issues we haven't talked about and that is the fact that even conservative estimates suggest that 30,000 Iraqis have died. The former prime minister of Iraq said today in an interview with the BBC that 50 to 60 Iraqis are dying every day now, many of them from sectarian strife, as well as because of the, you know, the ordinary violence of the day in unexploded ordinances and suicide bombs and so forth that this is a security problem that affects Iraqis far more than it does us.

And, the realities of everyday life that are today tougher for Iraqis than they were under Saddam Hussein's rule, whether it's the fact that they have three to five hours of electricity today, lower than before the war, that they're down half a million barrels a day in productivity, that there are a lot of really difficult issues that we have to help them settle before we can afford to walk away.

There was a real steamroller going into Iraq and there's a certain danger that there will be a steamroller getting out that we have to be very deliberate and thoughtful about the terms and the conditions under which we leave.

KING: Yes. Nic Robertson, based on what Robin just said, what is the mood there?

ROBERTSON: The mood is one of confusion. It's one of severe mental stress and strain. Families that I talk to worry because they don't know when they go out in the morning if they'll come home, they don't know when their children go out to school if their children will come back. They don't know who's behind the violence.

They know they could be mugged that there would be policemen to turn to. They know they could have their homes robbed at gunpoint and there's nobody to call who's going to come and help them.

There are insurgents who they fear and sectarian death squads, religious death squads whom they fear. They don't know whose side the Iranians are on, whose side the Syrians are on, exactly what the motives of the United States are. There's a lot of confusion.

When you talk to people it's that mental stress and strain that really comes through. After three years of war if you imagine living through that confusion and that fear every single day, it's a weight that really sits heavily on people here -- Larry.

KING: Bob Schieffer, what's the end game?

SCHIEFFER: Well, I don't know what the end game is and that's the part that really worries me. I don't know at this point what the end game is but it seems to me we have to tell these Iraqi politicians that they simply have to form a government. They have to find a way to share power and we have to tell them that if they can't figure that out, then there's not much way that we can help them.

As I said before, I do not believe it's in our national interest for us to turn around and leave. That will be seen as a sign of weakness by everybody, not just these terrorists. I don't think that's a wise thing to do. But, at the same time, if they can't find a way to form a government here, how can we possibly help them?

KING: So what's the middle road?

SCHIEFFER: Well, I think in some ways we have to threaten to leave in order to get them to focus on what they're doing. You know sometimes when people think they have only one way to do it and it's up to them, they find a way. I think we have to put more and more pressure on them to find a way.

KING: We'll have Senator Boxer and Senator Simpson comment on that when we come back. Don't go away.


SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: All the president has to do, I know he doesn't watch television, but all he has to do is turn on any one of the Sunday programs or any one of the morning shows and he doesn't just see Biden. He sees Lugar. He sees Hagel. He sees McCain. He sees, you know, Republicans, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee and they're all saying "Mr. President, help, help, help." (END VIDEO CLIP)


KING: We're back. We'll go to your calls at the bottom of the hour.

Senator Boxer, what about Bob Schieffer's idea, say you're going to leave?

BOXER: Right. Well, Bob Schieffer is really right on point here and I would say another great American who is on point here is Senator Carl Levin of Michigan who's been saying for a very long time that we need to tell the Iraqis this is time for them to step up to the plate or we won't be there.

Now, when I was in Iraq it's almost a year ago now, I met with President Jaafari (sic) at that point and I said, "When do you think the Americans can leave?" This is a year ago. And he said basically, you could see from his body language, he didn't want to talk about it.

If they think that we're going to be there forever then things can just kind of coast. But now Jaafari is talking about a deadline, a time table, so I think we are making progress but I think Bob expressed it beautifully and I would agree with him.

KING: Senator Simpson, what do you think, say you're going to leave?

SIMPSON: Well, I think it would create the greatest suction vacuum that the world has ever seen and every terrorist that ever wanted to get rid of the infidels and the slobs of America and the cultural demons would find their way to this marvelous new Mecca called Iraq.

We leave, OK, civil war, OK. We had one of those that spanned five Aprils, not three, and we lost 650,000 people. Now that's reality. Maybe they will, maybe it will go into civil war but if we leave now, pull the plug without giving -- and they have already appointed a security council, I don't know why everybody loves to miss things.

The government isn't formed by the people of Iraq through their government have formed a security council to deal with the issue of internal strife, to deal with these terrible Sunni-Shiite and the mosques and all that. They've done that. It would be good to know, the American people let them know that that happened. Pull out and man oh man you got the greatest little country in the world to punch everybody's lights out. I think everybody in the area would be stunned.

KING: Bob.

SCHIEFFER: Let me just add one thing, Senator Simpson. I did not say I thought we ought to pull out. I said we ought to put pressure on the Iraqis... SIMPSON: I know you didn't.

SCHIEFFER: ...and tell them if they don't...

SIMPSON: I agree.

SCHIEFFER: ...get together and work...

SIMPSON: I agree.

SCHIEFFER: ...we may have to pull out, just to make sure of that.

SIMPSON: I agree with Barbara on that too. I agree with that totally with Barbara, with you.

BOXER: Oh that's a miracle. Thank you, Alan.

SIMPSON: I know. Well you and I used to get into it and enjoyed it very much. We had some good scraps.

BOXER: I know.

SIMPSON: But we were honest with each other.

BOXER: Absolutely.

SIMPSON: It was fun.

KING: Do you see an end game Michael Weisskopf?

WEISSKOPF: My colleague Joe Klein today in this week's magazine came up with an interesting calculus. He said that all we can do at this point is to prevent a larger catastrophe and certainly setting a time table for leaving, to pick up on what Senator Simpson said, probably wouldn't be the right way to do it because that would simply give, allow terrorists to wait it out and then attack and then really disrupt the place.

But if there is an end game in sight, it's really something that has to be asked of this administration and thus far the administration keeps falling back on this idea that we'll leave when the Iraqi troops are strong enough to take over the security forces.

The problem with that is that within Iraq the security forces are not considered to be neutral arbiters. They are to the Sunnis considered to be a Shia force. And, all that has done is fanned the flames of sectarian rivalry and suspicion. And so it's hard to see how that idea, the idea that we'll have to get the Iraqi security forces in place will be the final solution.

KING: Robin, do you see a shakeup at the White House?

WRIGHT: Because of Iraq? I'm not sure that we're likely to see a shakeup at the top. We've already seen a shakeup in terms of who's running policy at the Pentagon and we've seen it at the State Department as well with the emergence of Condoleezza Rice playing a little bit different kind of role than Colin Powell did. I don't anticipate a huge shakeup.

KING: Nic Robertson, what are they saying in Iraq about an end game?

ROBERTSON: Certainly the government of Prime Minister Jaafari has indicated that there's going to need to be a deadline. The Sunnis for their part are sort of caught betwixt and between. The demand is that the U.S. troops leave immediately but they also know that they could be the big losers out of that and many people standing in the middle would say we don't want to be left in that kind of power vacuum.

And, a lot of people will tell you, "Well, it's not just about Iraq. It's about the region." Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the big al Qaeda terrorist leader here, has already taken his fight to U.S. ally Jordan and the Saudis are feeling the same kind of al Qaeda punch.

Just recently there was an al Qaeda attack on an oil refinery there. Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia used to attack western expatriate workers. Now they're going after the oil fields.

So, there's -- it's not just Iraq and Iraqis are concerned about their situation. But I've talked to people, other countries in the region around here, Larry, they're very concerned there is an end game and that there is a solution here.

KING: We'll take a break and come back and we'll include your phone calls when we do. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This giant made from steel that grows every hour is ever pushing northward, ever pushing toward the Iraqi capital.



KING: We're back. Let's reintroduce the panel. In New York, here's Bob Schieffer, the anchor for CBS Evening News, moderator of CBS's "Face the Nation," had an exclusive interview with the vice president yesterday.

In Rancho Mirage, California, it's Barbara Boxer, United States senator, Democrat of California.

In Cody, Wyoming, Alan Simpson, former United States senator, Republican of Wyoming.

In Washington, Michael Weisskopf senior correspondent "Time Magazine."

In Washington, Robin Wright, "The Washington Post" correspondent, author of "Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam."

And in Baghdad is Nic Robertson, CNN's senior international correspondent.

We'll go to calls.

Baltimore, Maryland, hello. Baltimore, are you there?


KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: Yes, during our country's civil war, I wonder how we would have reacted if England had invaded us and tried to control our politics. But my question is President Bush has said many times that when the Iraqi soldiers stand up our soldiers will stand down. If it was so important to have Iraqis take over their own security, why then did it take our military so long to start training the Iraqi troops?

KING: Alan, do you want to take that?

SIMPSON: I have no idea. But these are the questions that are going to remain unanswered while we go forward and see what we're going to do from now on. We can go back. We can rehash.

In the civil war, there were a lot of people who wanted to get involved in our civil war like France and Russia and several others. War ships were passing back and forth. I mean, there was a lot of foreign intrusion in our civil war. I beg to respectfully differ.

And as far as the training and so on, we had to go in and take over a whole country that was in chaos. And we should have done other things. There's a lot of shoulds here. So I really don't want to get into that game. And I'm certainly not going to get into that game with the Iraq study group.

We're going to go forward. There are people that really hate George Bush's guts. They hate Rummy. They hate Cheney. They hated Tenet. And they don't like it. They're ugly. They're nasty. There are people who hate Gore. There are people who -- I mean, there's a lot of hatred going on in America, which is very sad.

Hatred corrodes the container it's carried in. I may be ornery and opinionated but I don't hate. As soon as we scrub the hate out of this system, maybe we can move forward as Americans.

KING: When did hate begin, Bob?

BOXER: Larry?

KING: Barbara, I'll go to you in a minute. Bob? Because he's right, there is hate in America.

SCHIEFFER: Well, we're living in a very partisan time. And this war is just one part of it. One part of it I think has to do with the fact that the way we hold our elections now. We have them only in these so-called battle ground states.

And in most states in America, during the last campaign, for example, the debate was never joined. Because one party or the other decided, we don't have a chance in that state. I think that's one reason for it.

A lot of it goes back to the way we run our campaigns now. A lot of it goes back to the way we, you know, sort of had to break down in Congress. Congress, nobody in Congress knows anybody anymore. So there are any number of reasons. But the bottom line is, this is one of the most hateful times of the last 25 or 30 years.

KING: Senator Boxer, you wanted to say something?

BOXER: I did. It's a very, very tough time. And it started to happen when I was in the House of Representatives. It used to be that you could disagree with someone, as Alan said, very fundamentally. But you still liked the individual. You still managed to keep it on the issues.

And I think this is a tough time in our nation. And a lot of it -- the communications is so instant and there's so many people that are communicating with others who have this personal view. But the issues are very serious.

And I think the way people view their country and -- what is our vision for what America should be? The role of the national government? These are all healthy questions. They tend to get very passionate.

But I would like to say to the woman who called in, I think one of the reasons it took so long for us was that the military was disbanded. The Bush administration chose that path. Look, as Alan says, you can go back and criticize it. But it is what it is.

So they have to start all over again. And General Petraeus, when I was there again a year ago, I saw the hard work that our people are doing to train these Iraqis. I think that, really, it is time that they did more about their own defense. I think they've got the training. Now they've got to step out and do it.

KING: Tampa, Florida, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Larry. My question is for Bob Schieffer, Nic Robertson and the panel. With the high-ranking U.S. military official saying there's no proof IEDS are coming from Iran and then President Bush saying there is proof, is this just a typical lapse of communication between the White House and the military?

SCHIEFFER: Well, I must say, I believe there is some evidence that some of the components that are being used in these weapons are coming from Iran. I mean, we have done stories to that effect. I'm not familiar with what the general said. But I do know what the president said. And I think on this one, I side with the president. I think there is evidence of that.

KING: Nic?

ROBERTSON: Well, the British military has come to the same conclusion in the south end of Basra. These are very smart devices. It's a lump of explosives with a piece of copper -- a copper disk -- on the end. And when the explosives ignite this copper disk just becomes a molten slug. And that slug smashes through the armor and hits the people inside the vehicle.

It's not like the roadside bombs Iraqis were making a couple of years ago. Exactly where that technology came from, it might have even been developed before the Iranians got hold of it. But certainly the British in the south where there is a lot of Arabian influence are very worried about it coming across the border there -- Larry.

KING: We'll be right back with more and more of your phone calls. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before we went to war in Iraq you said there were three main reasons for going to war in Iraq. All three of those turned out to be false. My question is, how do we restore confidence that Americans may have in their leaders?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The truth of the matter is the whole world thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It wasn't just my administration. It was the previous administration. It wasn't just the previous administration.

You might remember, sir, there was a security council vote of 15- 0 that said Saddam Hussein, disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences. The basic premise was, you've got weapons. That's what we thought.



KING: We are back.

Tucson, Arizona, for our panel. Hello.

CALLER: Hi, I had a question. What do the guests on your show think about the possibility of partitioning Iraq into three countries, Sunni, Shiite and Kurd and possibly putting the oil money into a trust fund to be distributed equally between the three countries?

KING: Michael Weisskopf.

WEISSKOPF: Well that's been the great solution for each of those groups. And the problem is that then it becomes much more of a regional sink and there are other countries in that region which would very much like that, Iran would love to pick up the connection to the Shia. I guess Turkey to the Kurds.

And it would cause a lot of combustion in that region. I think probably for that reason the British, who put the country together a long time ago, decided against it for that purpose.

KING: OK, to anybody else, you want to comment? Robin, do you want to comment on that thought?

WRIGHT: It would be an enormous mistake. This is a country that does not have equal distribution of oil resources and it would only ensure that a civil war would then become a war among the different country lets of Iraq.

And this would, again, encourage greater turmoil throughout the region. It would be a big mistake and I think the Iraqis themselves recognize that. I have been surprised to the degree to which Iraqis of different faiths, different tribes, different parts of the country, recognize their Iraqi nationality, even though it is a comparatively young country, dating back to the 1920s.

KING: Downey, California, hello.

CALLER: Hello and thanks for taking my call. To Senator Boxer, first of all, thank you for always showing your courage and your integrity in representing our state. I would love to see your name on a ticket, either top or bottom, in 2008. What is your thoughts on that?

And my second question is on perception. Senator Boxer, why do you think that the perception is always, mostly coming from the men, I understand that, that if we pull out of Iraq it's a sign of weakness, and not as great leaders of the past have shown us, that to admit one's mistakes and to help the healing as a result of it, that admission, be the greatest sign of character and the greatest sign of strength?

KING: Barbara? I don't hear Barbara. We've lost Barbara.

BOXER: Can you hear me now? Oh, you lost me.

KING: No, go ahead, Barbara.

BOXER: Oh, good. OK, let me just say that I will not be running for president, I will not be on the ticket. I love being in the Senate and I'm going to try to do my best to bring this war to an end there.

And I would agree with the caller when she says, it isn't a sign of weakness if we redeploy our troops and make sure that we are there if they need us and make sure that the Iraqi people govern themselves.

That's what the president said is important, that countries can go out there and defend themselves and protect themselves and run their own country. I don't think we should be there forever.

And just to throw a little interest into the discussion, the other individual who called in and said, what about three countries? He did say, Robin, make sure that the oil is under international control so everyone shares in the wealth of the country. I don't think that we should dismiss that.

It's not the best solution by any means, but if it is either that or a full-blown civil war, it's something that I think should always remain on the table. It's not the best thing.

KING: Los Angeles, hello.

CALLER: Hi, thank you for taking my call. First I'd like to say to Mr. Schieffer how much I admire his coverage on CBS and I love seeing him and love "Face the Nation" and yours as well, Larry.

My question is also directed toward Senator Boxer. My question is, what is the Democrats exit strategy in Iraq? And does it dishonor exiting now, does it dishonor those who have lost their lives there?

BOXER: I think that's an important question. There are those who will tell you that the way to show your love for the troops who died is to simply just stay there and stay there and stay there.

And there are those who say, "Why keep losing our young people?" I know that I was criticized on this very show for talking about that. But that's the reason why the American people want us to be gone, because they can't take it anymore. They can't take the loss and the wounded and all the rest.

But you know, I think the Democrats, as I said at the beginning of the show, are united around the premise that 2006 has to be the year that the Iraqis take care of themselves. And that's what we're really working for.

KING: And we'll take a break and come back with more. But before we do, let's check in with Anderson Cooper who will host "ANDERSON COOPER 360" at the top of the hour, what's up?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey Larry, yes, a lot coming up at the top of the hour.

We're also going to be focusing on the three-year mark in Iraq. You know, some in the administration have accused us, the media, of making things worse than they seem. We heard a lot oft he last couple of days. Well we're going to try to get to the reality on the ground in Iraq. And we'll talk to a former presidential adviser David Gergen about that strategy.

And back here at home, a problem that's costing us, taxpayers, billions of dollars, $35 billion to be exact. All of us have to pay our parking tickets, right, so why are big corporations in the United States getting away with not paying their fines for breaking the law? Tonight we're keeping them honest. All that and more, Larry, at the top of the hour.

KING: Thanks, that's "A.C. 360" at the top of the hour. Mike Wallace on Wednesday, Laura Bush on Friday. We'll be right back.


KING: We're back. Pineville, Kentucky, hello.

CALLER: Hello, directed to Senator Simpson. With all due respect, Sir, now that we have Saddam out of Iraq, when are we going into Korea to take out another dictator and how much will that cost our country?

SIMPSON: I don't know, I'm not going to answer that. We're not going to go into Korea. We're started negotiations. The reason we didn't get anything going is because we were giving each other the ice treatment. The ice treatment doesn't work in any human relationship. It doesn't work in marriage, it doesn't work in anything. And now at least we're talking, because they know they can't exist as a country unless they make an economic outreach.

We're not about to go into North Korea and bomb them, bomb their shorts off. But that's the kind of stuff that's going on in America. And the business of civility in Congress, I think we ought to check the civility level of the talk shows. Check it at the hockey rink, check it at the basketball court, check it at little league ballparks. And let's know that questions like that are destined just to bait.

KING: By the way, Nic Robertson has to leave us. One more question with you, Nic, does this get tougher and tougher to cover?

ROBERTSON: It does, actually, Larry. To get around the country, we need to rely on the U.S. military transport, helicopters to fly around. To go out on the streets. We need security. It does get hard to talk to Iraqis. It also gets harder for them to talk to us. They are concerned if they're seen with us, they're going to be targeted by the insurgents for colluding with the enemy. So it is tough. I still think we can do a good job here and it is a vital job. It is the best way, I believe, to get as accurate a picture as possible about what's happening here in this country, Larry.

KING: Thanks, Nic. As always you do a terrific job. As you can tell, it's dawn in Baghdad. Bixby (ph), hello.

CALLER: I'd like to ask about the influence of the Islamic clerics in Iraq. For example, Muqtada al Sadr and the battle for Najaf in the beginning of the war. It seems a likely result of the recent elections that there would be an Islamic theocracy and a good possibility of state-sponsored terrorism that we helped to create.

KING: You buy that, Bob?

SCHIEFFER: I'm not qualified to answer that question.

KING: Michael, are you qualified? I'm not.

WEISSKOPF: I've been there and met a lot of the clerics. And interesting part about al Sadr is that during the -- after the Golden Mosque bombing, even though his own followers were creating a lot of the havoc, he was calling for a stand down and for tranquility, which is an unusual development for him.

Interestingly, the Shia clerics are much more developed than the Sunni clerics, simply because the Sunnis didn't need religious leaders in the old days. They had political leaders. And so the Shia leaders in the mosques are -- have very well honed political agendas. And their ambitions often clash. It reminds me, I've spent some time in Iran IN the days after The Shah fell. After Khomeini seized power, there was a great deal of jockeying for power and bloodshed among the Shia cleric. So I think that it's a pretty combustible mix there.

WRIGHT: Can I add something, Larry? One of the most important things to understand about the security situation today is the fact that the important Shiite clerics, particularly the Grand Ayatollah Sistani have not weighed in and urged people to go to war. They've reined their people back.

After that tremendous bombing we saw on February 22nd of the Shiite shrine. There could have been an opportunity to let people take out their revenge for the death and the loss of a place that's very holy to them. And there wasn't. We've seen some very important political restraint on behalf of the clerics.

KING: And we'll be back with some more moments with Bob Schieffer, Barbara Boxer, Alan Simpson, Michael Weisskopf and Robin Wright. Don't go away.


REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I'm disappointed the way this war has been run. The biggest thing is the rhetoric. They keep saying, we're going to have victory, we're going to stay to the end, it's open ended. They can't be open ended. We have to give the Iraqis incentive. They met the other day for a half hour. You've got TO say to them, OK, this is your country, you've got your elections, you didn't elect the people we like but you elected who you want, you've got to take over your country.


KING: We're back. Wimberly, Texas, hello.

CALLER: Senator Simpson, I have a question for you. I hear a lot about how we're not allowed to look back and question whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction. I would like to say that I'm really grateful that there's a bipartisan team that's looking for a solution. I'm looking forward.

But I don't think we can solve a lot of the situations we're in now without looking back. When we're dealing with Iran, for instance, and the possibility of a nuclear program there. Or Korea. How can we have any credibility on a world stage when our intelligence was so flawed, and I think all the evidence points to the intelligence being manipulated by the Bush administration. How can we deal on the national stage? Thank you.

SIMPSON: Well, I didn't -- thank you very much. I didn't say anything about no one being allowed to do anything. This is America. You're allowed to do anything you want. I'm just saying, our group is not going to deal with that. And I remember Jim Michener came to this town. I knew him. I cherish his friendship. He was asked a question here, why don't you write a book about the Hart Mountain Relocation Center because your wife, Nise (ph), she was in one of those camps? Why don't you write that? He said, oh, no. It's time in America to stop the self-flagellation and stop the picking of scabs and if all we're going to do is go back and, you're allowed to do anything, God bless us, what a country. But if all we're going to do is flagellate and flog and pick scabs we're never going to get anywhere with any issue before us ever.

KING: Barbara, how do you learn unless you know what happened?

BOXER: I just don't agree with Alan on this point. I think it is part of the responsibility of the Congress, and I'm really happy he's in his working group -- those are great people there, Alan. And when I was asked about it I said, that's a wonderful thing.

But we have a Congress of the United States. And we are supposed to investigate. And we are supposed to look at what happened with the weapons of mass destruction and whether there was political maneuvering in the background there. We are supposed to look at whether the president is breaking the law when he spies on Americans without a warrant.

So these are things that have to be looked at. And the beauty of our country is we are so strong. We don't have to be afraid of that. And it doesn't have to tear us apart. And I really do agree with the caller. I think the truth is what makes us strong. And the truth is what -- because we are so -- we've always in the past, and we should be now, getting to the truth. It makes us stand out as a great nation. Worthy of emulation.

KING: I thank you all very much. I wanted to ask Bob Schieffer one question. What do you hear about your -- is it Katie Couric?

SCHIEFFER: Larry, I'm probably more of an expert on the Iraq war than I am on that. Katie's a great friend of mine. And frankly, I have no idea what Katie's going to do. And I suppose we'll find out. I hope she comes. I hope we can all --

KING: You hope she comes?

SCHIEFFER: Sure. I hope we can also get Diane Sawyer and Brian Williams and my friend Charlie over at ABC. I'm like George Steinbrenner, I want all the stars on my team. We'll see what happens. Frankly, the honest bottom line answer, I don't know what's going to happen.

KING: Thanks. Thanks to all or panel. Congratulations to our friend Donald Trump and his wife Melania on the birth early Monday morning of Darrin William Trump, Donald's fifth child, Melania's first. Donald Trump will call in tomorrow night to tell us more when Don Imus and his wife Dierdre will be our guests. Imus and Mrs. Imus tomorrow night and Trump calling in. It will not be dull.

Speaking of not being dull, Anderson Cooper is standing by to host "AC 360," and he is going to be dealing with what we were just dealing with, the three year anniversary of the war in Iraq, Anderson.


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