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AMERICAN MORNING

The Fight for Iraq; Mark Foley Investigation; Two Weeks to Go

Aired October 24, 2006 - 07:59   ET

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


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Tuesday, October 24th.
I'm Miles O'Brien.

S. O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien.

Let's begin right at the news wall this morning. Our big story is Iraq.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the top American general there have just wrapped up a news conference. They say Iraq should be able to take -- Iraqi security forces, rather, should be able to take full control of security there within 12 to 18 months. That is with some minimal U.S. support, according to General George Casey. And he says that means the U.S. can continue to think about troop draw-downs in the long term. Short term, however, he says more U.S. troops could be needed.

M. O'BRIEN: Also happening in America this morning, a search under way -- or not in America, but on AMERICAN MORNING, a search under way for a U.S. Army soldier who went missing Monday evening in Iraq. There are fears the Iraqi-American interpreter was kidnapped.

S. O'BRIEN: Just two weeks to go until the midterm elections. New polls released just this morning show that Americans have their doubts about both parties in Congress.

M. O'BRIEN: The Mark Foley scandal investigation rolling on today. Another top Republican, Congressman Tom Reynolds, slated to testify before the House Ethics Committee.

S. O'BRIEN: It's the top of the hour. Let's check the weather with Chad.

Good morning.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And good morning.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Chad.

The top civilian and top U.S. military leaders in Baghdad just wrapped up a news conference a little while ago, saying within 12 to 18 months they believe Iraqi security forces will be able to take additional control of the security situation there, but also conceding that there is a real problem, a problem that has changed significantly in recent weeks and months in Iraq.

Complete coverage now from Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Ed Henry is at the White House.

Michael Ware is in Baghdad.

Let's begin at the Pentagon with Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, General Casey, Ambassador Khalilzad talking a good deal about the sectarian violence that has overtaken many parts of Iraq. General Casey and the ambassador being very blunt, saying that both Iran and Syria are, in General Casey's words, I believe, decidedly unhelpful, that they are supporting some of the sectarian violence militias and death squads.

Now, as you say, General Casey indicating that he believes in 12 to 18 months Iraqis could begin to take additional control of provinces and the security situation in that country, but -- and this is a very significant "but" -- Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mehdi army, one of the largest, if not the largest militia movements, will be key to this. There is simply no question.

Will he fall in line? Will his militia movement give up their arms and their violent activity?

Ambassador Khalilzad saying that today -- acknowledging that so far they have at this point no direct contact between the United States and al-Sadr, and they are simply hopeful that the new Iraqi government, under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, can reach an accommodation with this militia movement, that there will be some political effort to do that. But whether this Mehdi army will disband itself as a violent militia movement remains to be seen, and that simply might be they key, that might be a very crucial step in getting real progress in Iraq.

On the question of more U.S. troops, the position of the U.S. military has long been that a significant additional number of U.S. troops would not change the situation on the ground, might only provide more targets. But General Casey saying maybe, in his words, more troops, whether Iraqi or U.S., might be needed in Baghdad to help take control of the security situation there. So we will have to see whether the U.S. does, indeed, put more troops into the capital -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Barbara Starr, thank you very much.

Let's get right to Baghdad now. Our Michael Ware is there.

Michael, for the top general in Baghdad to at least put the prospect of additional troops on the table, that seems like it's a little bit of a shift.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is. I mean, the president, the administration's position has always been, if they ask for it, they shall get it. However, the commanders here on the ground, the generals of the multinational force in Iraq, have maintained that they have the forces they need to do the job as it currently stands.

They've always left the doors open just a nudge. Perhaps now we're starting to see them peek through that small gap in the doorway.

But essentially, by and large, the outtake from this press conference from both Ambassador Khalilzad and General Casey is that they still believe that the Iraq mission is not only salvageable but can succeed, and within -- as Ambassador Khalilzad said, reasonable timetables. They then laid out their expectations, America's expectations for what Iraq and the Iraqi government must deliver. They outlined a series of benchmarks that they expect this government to meet.

However, they're many of the same things we've heard time and time again, rolling back de-Ba'athification, engaging with the insurgency, tackling the militias. These are all things we've heard over and over again without any result. It's more wind so far.

We also saw Ambassador Khalilzad pointedly target the role being played by the regional actors here, Syria, and particularly Iran. He directly linked them, yet again, to the violence here in Iraq, funding and supporting that violence, looking to destabilize the U.S. mission. So he very much ramped up and reinforced the rhetoric on these external actors, all the time saying that what happens in Iraq is vital, profoundly important to the region, to American security, and to global security.

But at the end of the day, the one question that went unanswered is, or what? If these Iraqi partners who have proven to be weak, who don't share American interests or actively opposed to American interests here in Iraq, do not step up to the mark, as Ambassador Khalilzad, what will happen? That was not said -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, and they -- but what was said is that they do not have any direct conversations. The U.S. does not have any direct conversations with the Mehdi army Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader.

To what extent is Muqtada al-Sadr dealing with this fledgling Iraqi government? Or is he really operating on his own at this point?

WARE: Well, Muqtada is always Muqtada's own man. I mean, U.S. military intelligence, for example, believes that he's receiving millions of dollars a month from Iranian sponsors. Yet, even if that's true, and true to that extent, the Iranians themselves would have difficulty dealing with Muqtada. He's his own player.

However, he effectively is underwriting the prime ministership of Nouri al-Maliki. That gives him a huge stake and a huge say.

Now, the Americans so far have appeared to be incapable of taking Muqtada on militarily or politically. And there was nothing new in today's preference conference that would suggest that that's about to change -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Michael Ware in Baghdad.

Thank you very much.

Reflecting somewhat the status quo there in that news conference. Nevertheless, a rhetorical shift at the White House.

"Stay the course" has been expunged from the White House vocabulary. The president will no longer use that catch phrase to describe the strategy in Iraq.

CNN's Ed Henry joining us from the White House with more on whether that change in rhetoric reflects anything deeper than that -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Miles.

Probably not a change in policy, but you're right, in the words of "The Washington Post" this morning, the president cutting and running from a phrase he has used over and over, "stay the course." White House spokesman Tony Snow saying that basically it no longer accurately reflects exactly what the administration is doing.

Their approach, as you heard General Casey in that news conference, the administration saying their approach really is to constantly adapt strategy on the ground to try to deal with the enemy. So where, then, did we get the "stay the course" phrase? We got it from the president himself, obviously.

He said that repeatedly in recent months, that "stay the course" was the antidote to the Democratic plan, as he described it, cut and run. Basically, withdraw troops from Iraq. But that was then. This is now.

Now is two weeks before the midterm elections, when Republicans are very concerned about losing control of Congress, largely because of Iraq. So this White House is desperate to make sure that it does not look like they're in favor of the status quo.

Here's Tony Snow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Because it let the wrong impression about what was going on and it allowed critics to say, well, here's an administration that's just embarked upon a policy and not looking at what the situation is when, in fact, it's just the opposite.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: So this change in language, if not policy, comes at a time when the White House this morning is facing new pressure from a top Republican senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, member of the Armed Services Committee, up in the Senate saying this morning about Iraq, "We're on the verge of chaos and the current plan is not working." Asked in an Associated Press interview -- that's where he said that -- whether or not he believes Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or military generals like General Casey should be held accountable, Graham said, "All of them" -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Ed Henry at the White House.

Thank you very much -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, House Republican leader Tom Reynolds is expected to testify before the Ethics Committee today. That's the committee investigating Mark Foley's scandal.

Our congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel, live for us on Capitol Hill this morning.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

Well, Congressman Reynolds, who is, himself, in the fight of his political life, is one of two top Republicans who claims that he told House Speaker Dennis Hastert about Foley's inappropriate e-mails last spring. That is months before Hastert says he first learned the news.

Now, according to a timeline that was released by Hastert's office, the speaker claims that he does not remember such a conversation either with Reynolds or with House Majority Leader John Boehner, who testified before the Ethics Committee last week. Rather, Hastert says that he first heard about those inappropriate e-mails when everyone else learned about it, certainly in the general public, and that was late last month when the news media, ABC News, first reported it.

Now, yesterday Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, went behind closed doors to testify for six and a half grueling hours. When he finally emerged, his attorney issued a very short statement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT FREDERICKSEN, SCOTT PALMER'S ATTORNEY: Scott was very pleased to have had the opportunity to testify before the committee. Scott's testimony has been consistent with the position he's taken all along.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: For three straight weeks now the House Ethics Committee has interviewed over a dozen lawmakers and their aides to try to get to the bottom of whether or not Republican leaders, including House Speaker Hastert, tried to cover up the Foley scandal. However, House Speaker Hastert has yet to come before the committee. But yesterday, Soledad, when he was out on the campaign trail, he told reporters that he expected to come before the committee this week -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Andrea Koppel for us. She's live on Capitol Hill.

Andrea, thanks. And with just two weeks until those midterm elections, the latest CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll shows that Americans are having their doubts about both parties in Congress. Take a look at this.

Only 38 percent of people polled think Democrats have a clear plan for solving the country's problems. Republicans fared worse. Just 31 percent of people polled say they believe in Republicans' problem-solving skills.

Just about even on whether the parties possess high ethical standards. Forty-nine percent for Dems, 46 percent for Republicans.

And as for which party can protect Americans, well, the responses for Democrats and Republicans were identical and positive. Fifty-nine percent on both side says yes.

So what do the polls tell us about the election two weeks away? You'll want to watch CNN's special series of reports this week. It's called "Broken Government".

Tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, we're talking about "Two Left Feet," a look at how Democrats can turn around years of losing elections -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Some of the stories we're following for you.

The computer code for some of Diebold's electronic machines may have been leaked.

Plus, day two of our series that we're calling 'Prescription Iraq". Today we'll look at the argument for a phased withdrawal.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Some of the top stories we're following for you this morning.

China says North Korea has no plans for a second nuclear test.

And former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling is headed to prison for 24 years. Skilling was sentenced for the scam that caused Enron's collapse and left workers with worthless pensions.

Fifteen minutes past the hour. Before you head out the door, let's get a quick check of the traveler's forecast from Chad.

Good morning.

MYERS: And good morning.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Chad. "Stay the course" is no more, gone to the retired presidential slogan file. You know, the one with "whip inflation now" and "a chicken in every pot."

John King is here to talk about politics, wars, slogans, and some poll numbers.

John, always a pleasure having you drop by.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Especially nice in person.

Let's talk about "stay the course." This slogan clearly was not resonating, as they say in the political world, anymore, was it?

KING: No, it was not. And on this one the president was way behind not only the American people in deciding "stay the course," the American people are watching the pictures, especially this month, the deadliest month in Iraq this year. You just had the news conference on earlier in the program. The general and the ambassador trying to defend the U.S. policy.

Almost 60 percent of the American people say this war is going in the wrong direction. And more and more Republicans are coming to the White House in this campaign season, saying, Mr. President, we can't sell that message. We are -- you can't sell "stay the course." So, as more and more Republicans break, the administration had to at least change how it talks about the war.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. I mean, on the one hand, I assume the White House is thinking, this shows our courage of our determination. But it could look like a bit of a tin ear from reality.

KING: Well, I think they're way late in terms of the American people made this judgment a long time ago that they need to change their strategy. Now I think the question Democrats are asking is, well, we said benchmarks and milestones nine months ago and you told us we were cutting and running, now you're for benchmarks and milestone. What are they? Lay them out, put them on paper, make them real. Don't make it just rhetoric.

M. O'BRIEN: This is an important shift in the debate, you know, two weeks away. And let's share with some folks -- we've got a lot of numbers out this morning. I don't want to deluge people with them, but this one struck me.

And this is our recent CNN Opinion Research poll, and the question was, "Should there be a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq?" Fifty-seven percent of those we asked favor that, 40 percent oppose.

Clearly, the White House is looking at those numbers.

KING: Clearly the White House is. And look, 30-something percent of the American people are Republicans. So, if you have a poll that says 57 percent of people want withdrawal or what a timetable for a withdrawal, that means a significant number, a substantial number of Republicans also think there needs to be a plan to get out of Iraq. And that is the pressure on the president.

If it was only 33 or 35 percent, the White House would say, those are the Democrats, they're not going to vote for us anyway. But in this election environment -- this is much bigger than the election, of course, but in the election environment, that is a number that tells the White House, some of our own people who we need to vote for our candidates two weeks from today are not happy.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's go back to another election ear, when it was, "It's the economy, stupid."

The president yesterday on CNBC with (INAUDIBLE) talking about the economy. And he's got a good story to tell about the economy. He's got the tax cuts, the GOP tax cuts. He's linking it to low inflation, low unemployment, and a stock market that seems to be doing well.

Does that trump Iraq?

KING: It has been the most frustrating issue for the White House. Bill Clinton survived impeachment, Bill Clinton survived a whole number of political problems because the economy was doing well and he got credit for it.

By the numbers, the economy is doing well again, but this president is not getting the credit for it across the country. It is the most frustrating political dynamic for the president.

M. O'BRIEN: So, implicit in that response is that Iraq does trump the economy. People are so worried about Iraq, they're not happy about what's in their billfold.

KING: I think the legacy of Iraq will be that it put the country in a sour mood. And so people are less positive about everything, and some would say more negative about everything, and they just simply will not let themselves get in a good mood.

M. O'BRIEN: It's interesting, though. They say throw the bums out, but when it comes to, you know, your local congressman, they tend the pull the lever for them because they're familiar with that person. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Final thought. Today, just to give people a preview, talk radio day at the White House. We're apt to hear some interesting things on the radio waves today and in coming days.

KING: This is a strategy that past White Houses have done. You bring in these talk radio hosts from all over the country. It's kind of like coming to the new set. You say, gee whiz, and you're in a better mood about it.

They hope all these people are caught up in the glamour of the White House, and then the administration sends cabinet members, senior staff members out to talk to talk radio. And look, we talk about the Internet, we talk about the new media all the time, but old media, the radio, is still very important, especially in talking to the conservative Republican base.

So, they will get out there. They will try to sell the war strategy. They will try to talk up the economy.

They are trying to convince Republicans, as mad as you might be, whether it's the war or whether it's the deficit, as mad as you might be at us, if you vote for the Democrats, it will get worse. That is the White House's closing strategy.

M. O'BRIEN: Of course, maybe they should have a YouTube day, given the way the media is going these days. But that -- that's to come.

KING: I suspect there will be a few cameneras out on the White House lawn today.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Are you in a better mood for coming to the set?

KING: How could you not be? It's fantastic.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you, John King.

John is part of the best political time on television. John will be joining us all this week at this time. We're going to do a ramp-up to the election and sample what's going on in the political world with him. No better guy to do it with -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: And thank you, John. We appreciated the compliment on our new set.

We're just two weeks from the midterm elections. And there are some big concerns over the reliability of electronic voting machines.

There is a claim this morning that the source code for Diebold electronic voting machines has been leaked. A former Maryland state legislator who is also a vocal critic of electronic voting says she was given disks that contained code to some of the Diebold Company's voting machines. The company says the code that was leaked is for machines that aren't currently in operation.

Diebold faced criticism about the security of its machines during the 2004 election.

Meanwhile, there are more security problems, this time in Chicago for voters there. A local watchdog group has discovered that the personal information of voters can be stolen off a Web site that lets voters cast their ballots online. About 780,000 people have their Social Security numbers listed on the site. The city of Chicago says they've fixed that problem.

And a reminder for you. CNN is going to bring you a special series of prime-time reports all this week called "Broken Government". Look for reports from the best political team on TV. It continues tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Here's a look at some of the stories we're following for you this morning.

Madonna is going to go on Oprah. That planned adoption of that little boy from Malawi, we'll hear what Madonna's got to say about that.

And a revealing new ad exposes the secrets behind images of beauty in the media.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Some of the top stories we're following for you.

In Iraq, a possible light at the end of the tunnel. Iraqi security forces expected to take full control of the country in the next 12 to 18 months. That could pave the way for U.S. troops to start coming home.

That was the message from the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the top U.S. general there. They spoke at a news conference just a short while ago. You saw much of it here.

In Mexico, residents bracing for Hurricane Paul, now expected to hit the country as early as tomorrow. We're watching that as well -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Miles, think you could be the next supermodel? With endless primping and -- you or anybody -- endless primping and plucking and the right computer program, you could.

An average face suddenly can become stunningly beautiful. And that's exactly what happens in one of the most popular new videos that's been posted on YouTube.

Brooke Anderson has our story this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice over): They say beauty is only skin deep, but today the adage could be beauty is only a click away.

This new ad from Dove exposes the secrets behind the so-called perfect images splashed all over magazines and television today. With a little help, Stephanie is given a whole new look in a matter of seconds. She's photographed and then the clicking begins.

KATHY O'BRIEN, MARKETING DIRECTOR, DOVE: They start to enhance her features, you know, plumping up her lips and enlarging her eyes, and even lengthening her neck. And that's the part that I find to be startling. ANDERSON: Startling and problematic. According to Dove's marketing director, Kathy O'Brien, she says it's digital techniques like these that, like the ad says, are distorting society's perception of beauty.

K. O'BRIEN: I understand why photographs and fashion magazines want to really portray the most beautiful images that they can, but what we're finding through the work that Dove has done is that these images are really unachievable for women.

ANDERSON: Roshumba Williams is a professional model and has even written a book about it.

ROSHUMBA WILLIAMS, MODEL AND AUTHOR: I've seen them slim thighs and take off weight, even add boobs and things like that. "Cosmo" covers, they do it all the time. They add cleavage.

ANDERSON: Williams says the altered pictures are harmless, that consumers aren't naive, they know photos are enhanced, but still buy the magazines for the fantasy.

WILLIAMS: They want to escape, they want to have the dream, they want to get away. It's easy, it's harmless. I don't think it's a bad thing. I think it's a good thing.

ANDERSON (on camera): Dove's mission to change the preconceived notion of beauty is a familiar quest for the star of the highest rated new television show this fall, "Ugly Betty".

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, "UGLY BETTY": Downsize these hips about 15 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "UGLY BETTY": At least.

ANDERSON (voice over): With an average of 14 million viewers a week, "Ugly Betty," a less than glamorous fashion magazine assistant, went head to head with the practice of retouching photos. And in the end, like Dove, chose to broaden the definition of real beauty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I started seeing that we are all just an hour away from ugly. That's my new catch phrase.

ANDERSON: Whether it's skin deep or with a click of the mouse, beauty will always be in the eye of the beholder.

Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: The Dove ad is clearly striking a chord. It's one of the most popular videos on YouTube. More than a million views and still counting -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Can they do that to me? I'd like to get rid of these bags here if I could.

Anyway, Frito-Lay is rolling out new snacks for healthy eaters, but are they really healthy, Andy Serwer? Tell us the real story.

ANDY SERWER, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "FORTUNE": Oh, well, what do you think?

M. O'BRIEN: I think not.

SERWER: You know...

M. O'BRIEN: That's my guess.

SERWER: ... if you really want to eat something healthy, just go out there and get an apple. I mean, that's really the bottom line.

This is a flavor segment here. And maybe flavor has gone a step too far.

Frito-Lay has announced a new line of salty snacks based on fruits and vegetables. It's called Flat Earth. It should be in stores fairly soon.

And here are some of the flavors -- garlic herb, tomato ranch -- not ranch -- peach mango and wild berry chips. Now, here's the thing, you will get real fruit and veggies in these chips, but when you start to really break it down and look at the numbers, it's pretty much the same fat and calorie content as a regular bag of chips that they make.

M. O'BRIEN: The payoff line was coming.

SERWER: Yes. And obviously they're trying to make healthier foods. I mean, you are going to get something in there, but one health expert said, you know, if you really want to be healthy, just go out and get a salad. Right?

M. O'BRIEN: It's like those terrible fruit rollups. You know, people think -- parents buy them, thinking they're healthy for the kids. It's all sugar. It's all it is.

SERWER: Yes. It's a little bit of juice rolled up with a little...

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, exactly. Yes.

SERWER: Other flavors whose time probably should not have come, we're talking beer here. And, you know, you've probably seen this if you've gone into the liquor store or the beer store, and you kind of pay attention to stuff. More and more flavors -- blueberry, ginger, apple.

What are they thinking? And now for the holiday season, we've got some that are really kind of out of this world. How about chocolate beer?

M. O'BRIEN: How about not?

SERWER: Yes. Well, both Anheuser-Busch and Miller are introducing chocolate beer for the holidays. Anheuser-Busch, also Michelob has vanilla beer, vanilla beer -- vanilla oak -- vanilla bourbon ale. Pumpkin is going to be a big flavor, too. Pumpkin beer.

And, you know, remember that...

M. O'BRIEN: That makes me...

SERWER: ... turkey soda that comes out?

M. O'BRIEN: Turkey soda?

SERWER: Yes. We'll have to talk about that as we get near Thanksgiving.

M. O'BRIEN: It makes me hopping mad.

SERWER: I can understand that.

M. O'BRIEN: It's all I can say.

All right, Andy Serwer. You're no turkey. That's for sure.

SERWER: Well, I appreciate that, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Always a pleasure having you drop by.

SERWER: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Some of the stories we're following right now, a major news conference out of Iraq. The top U.S. commander there and the top U.S. diplomat there saying Iraqi forces should be able to take over security in that country in 12 to 18 months.

Plus, a tight Senate race leading to a heated confrontation in Tennessee. We'll tell you more about that ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien.

(NEWSBREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: With a whole lot of seats up for grabs and the power structure on Capitol Hill hanging in the balance, some races are getting not just dirty, but downright personal.

CNN's Candy Crowley shows us a race in Tennessee which is the political equivalent of a food fight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You don't need polls to tell you when a race is close. In Memphis, a parking lot will do.

BOB CORKER (R), TENN. SENATE CANDIDATE: It's a true sign of desperation that you would pull your bus up when I'm having a press conference.

REP. HAROLD FORD JR. (D), TENN. SENATE CANDIDATE: No, sir, I can never find you anywhere in the state.

CORKER: I'm out there. And I admit I was in Jackson last night. I saw your...

CROWLEY: Welcome to the Tennessee Senate smackdown. Screen left, Democrat Harold Ford, who tried to crash a press conference held by, screen right, Republican Bob Corker.

CORKER: Matter of fact, this is my press conference, not yours, OK.

FORD: But I'd love to hear you talk about Iraq though.

CROWLEY: They don't like each other much, but mostly they are radiating the heat of a pivotal race. There are no last words, just the next ones.

FORD: What kind of a man attacks another man's family in the face of a campaign? I'll tell you the kind of man, his name is Bob Corker.

CORKER: I've never said a negative word about his family. He came in, in almost a juvenile fashion, and crashed a press conference on Friday. It's been called the Memphis Meltdown. And he just got through saying a load of non-truth.

CROWLEY: This is nastier than most because it's not just about winning this race, it's about who will control the U.S. Senate. Republicans are trying to build a firewall to hold on to their majority status. If you weed out four Republican seats that look ready to fall, there are three must-wins for Republicans, Virginia, Missouri and Tennessee.

Money is pouring into this state like a Niagara Falls of the South, some of it in ads, including this beaut.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I met Harold at the Playboy party.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd love to pay higher marriage taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Canada can take care of North Korea. They're not busy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So he took money from porn movie producers. I mean, who hasn't?

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: Even in this brawl, that's rough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Harold, call me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FORD: And I think my opponent has gotten very nervous and skittish. And this isn't the first ad that's been in the gutter.

CROWLEY: Not that Ford hasn't thrown some punches on the air, but even Corker says his party's ad is over the top.

CORKER: We think the ad is tacky. We think it's not senatorial. We think it has no place in this race.

CROWLEY: The ad is still playing. Did we mention this race is close?

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

M. O'BRIEN: All week long CNN is looking at America's "BROKEN GOVERNMENT." Tonight at 8:00, two left feet. We'll look at how Democrats are trying to overcome years of losing. Once again, 8:00 Eastern, right here on CNN -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Iraqi forces should be able to take over full control of security there within a year to 18 months. That is the word from a top commander in Iraq.

The search is on for an American soldier who missing in Iraq, as well. He disappeared last night, and there are fears now that he is kidnapped. The identity of the soldier has not been released, but our own John Roberts is reporting that he is an Iraqi-American who's been working as a translator in Iraq.

And what's the best way to fix all that is wrong in that country? Our week-long series "Prescription: Iraq" continues today as we check in with an expert who has a plan for turning the tide in Iraq. Today, a closer look at phased withdrawal.

Professor Fawa Gerges is a Carnegie scholar. He's also a visiting professor at the American University in Cairo. He's the author of "Journey of the Jihadist."

Nice to see you, Professor Gerges. Thanks for talking with us, as always.

Yesterday we talked to a guy who said that, no, in fact, it's more troops that are necessary. You say that phased withdrawal is the plan that the U.S. should be looking at. And let's throw up a graphic here. We can show what your plan -- a little bit of a closer look. Your plan would say a smaller force that would be in place. You would have international conference that would help oversee everything, and then a reconstruction plan and funded by the U.S. heavily as well.

Let's begin with the whole smaller force. How many troops need to go and when would that start?

FAWA GERGES, "JOURNEY OF THE JIHADIST": Well, Soledad, two points at the beginning. First, I think the American military presence has become a liability to long-term political stability in Iraq. Point one.

And point two, the American presence in Iraq is radicalizing mainstream Muslim public opinion throughout the Muslim world, not just in Iraq. And for a person like me who resides for long periods in Iraq, who interviews scores of Muslim activists and opinion makers, I don't think American policy makers have an appreciation of the gravity of the crisis and the damage that the American military presence has done to vital American interests in the region.

If you accept my reading of the situation, then shifts in tactics won't do. You need a shift in strategy. And what do I mean -- as you suggested, Soledad -- what do I mean by a shift of strategy? A shift of strategy would have the United States make a firm commitment to pulling out 70 percent or 80 percent of the American forces in one year, a firm commitment to Iraqis and the American public that the United States will not have permanent military bases in Iraq. And concurrently with that...

S. O'BRIEN: Let me interrupt you there. Professor Gerges...

GERGES: ... when you make...

S. O'BRIEN: I'm going interrupt you there. Because as you well know, that issue in and of itself has been a big sticking point for the Bush administration, which has said if you do that, you basically circle a date on a calendar that the insurgents know is the date when there will be fewer troops in the U.S., and that's actually more dangerous to U.S. forces there. You disagree with that argument?

GERGES: Absolutely. Not only am I disagreeing with that, Soledad, I am suggesting that the argument itself is a fallacy. It's a fallacy because I'm suggesting that the very presence of the American forces in Iraq is pouring gasoline on the raging fire.

And this is really the predicament facing American foreign policy. And this is why what you want to do is you want to change the strategy, you want to create new conditions and new dynamics. You do that, we not only say we're going to leave in Iraq in one year 75 percent of our forces, but we also want to deepen our economic investments in the country in order for Iraq stand up on its feet. A $15 billion commitment for the next 15 years, and here you have the United Nations and the international community investing in Iraq, investing, using the American money through the channels of the United Nations itself. Along with that, Soledad, you need to have a major reconciliation conference in a neutral Muslim country, let's say Indonesia, where all Iraqi factions, all of them, including the armed resistant factions, with the exception, of course, of al Qaeda, who would go to this neutral country along with Iraq's neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria, even Iran. Because, ultimately, you want to replace American troops with a neutral Muslim force that helps Iraq stand up on its feet, helps Iraq develop a national army. The army that exists in Iraq today, Soledad, is based on, you might say, sectarianism.

S. O'BRIEN: Which is exactly my...

GERGES: This army cannot protect Iraq.

S. O'BRIEN: Which is exactly my question, back to security.

GERGES: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: I mean, to some degree, don't you leave a power vacuum, even if you're talking about this big international conference and you're talking about funding coming from the U.S. and other countries as well? If you have sectarian violence, you have Iraqi troops that are clearly not yet ready to be taking over the security of their country. Don't you leave a big power vacuum in place?

GERGES: Soledad, I didn't say that we should really pack and leave overnight. That's not my argument. My argument is that we should really have a commitment, a firm commitment, to reducing American troops by 70, 80 percent in one year. We should take American troops out of the cities in order to support the Iraqi government in case a major assault was launched against the Iraqi government.

You want to convince Iraqi neighbors to send a neutral Muslim force into the country to help bring about stability and try to really train the Iraqi army. After all, the Iraqis and the American officials say that the Iraqi forces will be able to take care of security in 15 months. Why not shift strategy? Why not convince the Iraqi public opinion we're not there to stay? Why not convince world public opinion that we are not going to stay, not only by saying we're going to leave Iraq, we'll go and let you have military bases?

Because everyone I talk to here, Soledad, in this part of the world, says the United States is not genuine about leaving. The United States is planning to have military bases in the country. And this is why a shift in strategy takes into account the political situation in the country, the fragile political situation, and the need to bring in Iraq's neighbors to help Iraqis stabilize the country in the next 15 months from now.

S. O'BRIEN: Fawa Gerges with the American University in Cairo. Nice to see you, professor, as always. Thanks.

We're going to continue our series, "Prescription: Iraq," all this week, and then Friday, each expert will return for a final discussion on just how the tide could be turned in that country -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Some of the stories we're following for you this morning, more than 1,600 pounds of ground beef recalled, due to possible E. coli contamination.

Plus, a look at how cholesterol-lowering statin drugs could slow down lung damage from smoking. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Some of the top stories we're following for you this morning.

In Washington, New York Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds is set to testify before the Ethics Committee today. Members want to know what he knows about the Mark Foley scandal.

And some reassuring news from China. Government officials there say North Korea has no plans for a second nuclear test.

A Connecticut company is recalling over 1,600 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli. Omaha Beef Company in Danbury, Connecticut, recalled its 10 pound boxes of hamburger patties, and five and ten pound bags of hamburgers. They were distributed to restaurants in Connecticut and in parts of New York state. Now, no illnesses have been reported yet linked to that.

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: In this morning's "House Call," a new study says drugs normally used to lower cholesterol could help people with chronic lung damage.

CNN medical correspondent Judy Fortin with more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHIP GATCHELL, COPD PATIENT: Picture if you were trying to breathe through a straw. That's the amount of breath often that we're able to get.

JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's how Chip Gatchell describes what it's like to suffer from COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It's a lung disease that combines emphysema and chronic bronchitis, making it difficult to breathe.

Chip is one of an estimated 24 million Americans with impaired lung function. For them, there are no approved medications that be slow the progression of the disease.

GATCHELL: We have a regimen of meds that we can take that are considered maintenance meds.

FORTIN: Not smoking is the best way to maintain healthy lungs, but if you already have COPD, the damage has been done. So researchers have been trying to develop drugs that can slow the decline in lung function. Early research in animals has shown existing cholesterol-lowering drugs or statins do just that. Now for the first time, researchers have seen the same results in humans.

After reviewing medical records of 485 current and former smokers, researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center found those taking statins lost lung function more slowly and had fewer hospital visits.

DR. JESSE ROMAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY: There's a lot of information that suggests are say COPD and other pulmonary disorders are associated with excessive inflammation in oxidant stress. If statins are able to inhibit or ameliorate those, then they may prevent disease or at least help halting its progression.

FORTIN: Until larger studies confirm these initial results, lung experts like Dr. Roman remind patients there's something they can do themselves.

ROMAN: The most important thing for patients to do is to really stop smoking. We hope that these drugs will be helpful, but it will be more useful to not smoke.

FORTIN: Judy Fortin, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: And "CNN NEWSROOM" is just a few moments away. Tony Harris is at the CNN Center. He's got a look at what's ahead this morning. Hey, Tony, good morning.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Soledad, good morning. Good morning.

We've got these stories on the "NEWSROOM" rundown this morning. While U.S. soldiers fight in Iraq, politicians fight it out over Iraq. Midterm election just two weeks away. Does either party have a solution for Iraq? We'll ask the heads of the Democratic and Republic parties when they join us in the "NEWSROOM."

And a faithful follower of a Montana senator captures every word, gesture and snooze. The guy behind the lens works -- well, he works for the opponent. And he shares what he captures on one of the hottest sites on the Web.

Join us in the "NEWSROOM." We get started at the top of the hour right here on CNN.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, looks good, Tony. Thanks. We'll see you at the top of the hour.

Ahead this morning, "Sesame Street." Its impact from Boston to Bangladesh. There's a new documentary about the children's show that has literally changed the world. That's ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) S. O'BRIEN: For more than 35 years, children and their parents have known how to get to one street, and they've been all the better for it.

Jason Carroll joins us this morning with a look at a new documentary about the cultural relevance and importance of "Sesame Street." Jason, good morning.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you. I think a lot of us grew up watching "Sesame Sreet," but this documentary is an example of how "Sesame Street" is touching people all over the world. The show is now seen in places as far away as Africa and China. Not bad for a show that started on a little street right here in New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHILDREN (singing): Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?

CARROLL (voice-over): It's a question children have been answering ever since 1969, when "Sesame Street" debuted on American television. The show's original premise teach inner-city children learning skills; and have muppets, creator of their creator Jim Henson, help with their instruction, along with diverse members like Sonia Manzano.

SONIA MANZANO, "MARIA": When I first got on the show somebody said to me that Jim Henson was a visionary. And I have to say that at that time, I didn't know what that meant. But I think I do now.

CARROLL: The vision is worldwide. The muppets don't just live on this iconic street anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like lots of animals going along the street, and it's very -- it's cool.

CARROLL: In Britain and China...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

CARROLL: ... Big Bird is a household name. But in Germany, it's a giant bear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

CARROLL: There are "Sesame Streets" in 130 countries, although they don't all look like the one here in the United States.

In a new documentary called "The World According to Sesame Street," show producer Nadina Zylstra goes to Bangladesh to develop a show. Instead of a street, children gather around a tree called a parra (ph).

NADINA ZYLSTRA, "SESAME STREET" PRODUCER: It's a rue in France, a parra in Bangladesh, a galley (ph) in India. Each country creates its own content.

CARROLL: Each country has its own characters and themes. In South Africa, a muppet called Cammy (ph), who is infected with HIV, speaks to former Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

ZYLSTRA: I think one of the exciting things about these muppets is that you are able to find ways to tackle subjects that might be very difficult to talk about in another environment.

CARROLL: Sonia Manzano has been a cast member on the U.S. version since 1972. She says no matter what country, it's all about putting children first.

MANZANO: Every child has the right to an education. Every child has the right to be loved. Every child has the right to feel secure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: The documentary "The World According to Sesame Street" airs tonight on PBS. It is also being released today on DVD, so you got to catch.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, I -- absolutely. We watch a lot of "Sesame Street" at my house.

CARROLL: I'm sure you do.

S. O'BRIEN: As you can imagine. What happens next? I mean, what do they do now, 35 years and more?

CARROLL: Well, they're still looking to expand in other countries. And, in fact, they're developing a show right now in Indonesia, and they don't even have a name for it. But there is one place where they'd like to develop a show where they haven't had an opportunity to get into yet, and that's in West Africa. So they're hoping that might be sometime in the future.

S. O'BRIEN: Sadly, there's a lot of places that need a "Sesame Street" in this day and age. Jason, great story. Thanks.

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Jason, were you on "Sesame Street"? Is that true?

CARROLL: Miles, do we have to talk about this?

M. O'BRIEN: A little birdie has just told me that.

S. O'BRIEN: Is that true?

CARROLL: I don't want to talk about it.

S. O'BRIEN: Wait. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Were you on...

M. O'BRIEN: Just a few years ago. He was five.

CARROLL: Thanks, Miles. I appreciate that.

S. O'BRIEN: What did you do? What was the letter of the day?

CARROLL: I don't remember.

S. O'BRIEN: What was the number? Did you meet Elmo? What was he like?

CARROLL: Let's move on.

M. O'BRIEN: Why do we do that? Why do we do that? Sorry, Jason. Had to do it.

Coming up at the top of the hour, battling it out for control on Capitol Hill. What are the parties going to do to get your vote? The chairpersons of both parties are ahead in the "NEWSROOM" and in Baghdad.

On the hunt, U.S. forces comb the Iraqi capital for a missing U.S. soldier. We'll have the latest on the search at the top of the hour. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: That's it for us on AMERICAN MORNING. "CNN NEWSROOM" with Tony Harris and Heidi Collins begins right now.

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

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