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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview with Tariq Al-Hashimi; Interview With Peter Galbraith

Aired December 17, 2006 - 11:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11 a.m. in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4 p.m. in London and 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition." We'll get to my exclusive Sunday interview with the Iraqi vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, in just a few minutes. First, though, let's go to Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center for a quick check of what's in the news right now. Hi, Fred.
(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred. And as Fred just reported, in Baghdad today, another mass kidnapping. Let's get more on that and all the latest developments from our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson. Nic, looks like the situation in Iraq doesn't seem to get any better. It can get a whole lot worse. And that's what's going on.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly what's going on, Wolf. Twenty to 25 gunmen dressed in Iraqi police commando uniforms stormed into the offices of the humanitarian organization the Iraqi Red Crescent. They separated the men from the women, left the women, took 25 to 30 men at gunpoint.

No shots fired but bundled them into cars, drove them off from the area. Now, the Iraqi interior ministry, who the Iraqi police commandos report to, and it's not clear if these were genuine commandos or if they were wearing stolen uniforms. The interior ministry say there were police checkpoints in the area. There were police patrols in the area. Not clear if this is a sectarian kidnapping or a kidnapping to make money by insurgent or militia groups here.

But it happened right at the same time the British prime minister, Tony Blair, was meeting with Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister. Tony Blair told the Iraqi prime minister he had come to support the Iraqis at a time when they're trying to build unity, when they're trying to build a national reconciliation.

The Iraqi prime minister talked about the need for a handover of security to Iraqis. The British prime minister told him that would be done when the Iraqis were ready to take over security. Some daylight perhaps appearing here between the two prime ministers on the issue of when security should be handed over.

The Iraqis wanting more security, more power right now. The British prime minister saying very clearly, only when the Iraqi authorities are ready and capable of handling security will it be handed over to them. Wolf?

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Baghdad, thank you. Nic, we'll check back with you later.

This week, President Bush met here in Washington with Iraq's vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, the leader of the largest Sunni bloc in the government. A week earlier, he met with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the largest Iraqi Shiite bloc. It's all part of his intensive effort to try to come up with a new strategy in Iraq.

Last Sunday, I interviewed al-Hakim here on "Late Edition." This week, I had the chance to sit down with Tariq al-Hashimi to discuss what he was looking for from the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. Vice President, thanks very much for coming in. Welcome to Washington.

TARIQ AL-HASHIMI, IRAQ'S VICE PRESIDENT: My gratefulness.

BLITZER: You met this week with the president of the United States and other top U.S. officials. What was your main appeal to them? What was your main message?

AL-HASHIMI: Well, I was trying, in fact, to reflect my country's strategy to the president as well as to the American administration. And that's what I have done.

BLITZER: What do you need the most right now, if Iraq is going to remain a unified, democratic country?

AL-HASHIMI; I need first of all, in fact, to bridge the understanding between my country and the American administration, in fact, for various issues, especially in the security.

BLITZER: What is the major concern that you have in terms of the differences between the U.S. administration and your government?

AL-HASHIMI: There is no consensus agreement so far in fact as how to tackle the security, how to address various political issues, timing. And I tried to capitalize my time in fact by being in Washington to try to explain my views in fact and to reflect my vision at this particular time.

BLITZER: Give us two or three examples, specific examples in the security area what you would like the United States to do.

AL-HASHIMI: First of all, in fact, I would like to give a message that Iraq and United States now have, whether we like it or not, a common interest that have to be addressed jointly. And it's not only that the American people that worried about their troops, and they are very interested in fact to pull them back whatever the cost or whatever the consequences. This in fact made me quite worried about the future.

BLITZER: You want more troops to come in?

AL-HASHIMI: Well, timing, in fact, I do have problems, in fact, especially in Baghdad, I mean, because what I hear from the leaders, the American leaders, that troops are insufficient to handle the security as required in Baghdad, and you could see clearly in fact the increasing influence of the militia in Baghdad which makes things rather very, very difficult to the innocent people. So what I need, yes, definitely, in fact, I need more troops, in fact, to be in Baghdad.

And then, on the other hand...

BLITZER: More U.S. troops, you want?

AL-HASHIMI: U.S. troops, yes, definitely.

BLITZER: Because on this issue, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security adviser in Iraq, has a different perspective. He said the other day, "I think it is extremely important that they, the United States, reduce their visibility and they reduce their presence in Baghdad. They should be in the suburbs within greater Baghdad."

AL-HASHIMI: Who is going to replace the American troops (inaudible)?

BLITZER: He wants Iraqi troops to replace...

AL-HASHIMI: Iraqi troops, across the board, they are insufficient, incompetent, and many of them is corrupted.

BLITZER: Is that because mostly they are Shia?

AL-HASHIMI: Not necessarily, in fact. Shia or Sunni, in fact, the (inaudible) army is being built on a very wrong, wrong, wrong basis. And we do have, in fact, many evidences that these units, especially in Baghdad, in fact, being pro-militias, helping them, supplying with ammunition.

BLITZER: Have the militias, whether the Mehdi militia, the Badr army, the suicide groups, have they infiltrated the Iraqi army to the point that your people, the Iraqi Sunnis -- and you're the top Sunni politician in Iraq -- are endangered?

AL-HASHIMI: That's right. That's right. This is the exact situation, especially...

BLITZER: Do the Iraqi Sunnis fear the military because of the Shia infiltration?

AL-HASHIMI: I am not bothered about the Shia and Sunni, in fact. I'm bothered about the competence, I am bothered about the professionalism. And I can see easily, in fact, we at this present time, we do not have a competent, sufficient, professional, reliable armed forces. And mainly belong to ministry of interior. BLITZER: How worried are you that the training that the United States is giving this Iraqi military, the police force, the ministry of interior, in effect, the United States is helping to create a Shiite-led military security service that could be a trouble spot, a danger, for Iraqi Sunnis?

AL-HASHIMI: Well, the problem is in fact specifically the Bremer law, 19-1.

BLITZER: Paul Bremer, the former U.S. administrator.

AL-HASHIMI: Paul Bremer. That's right. That's right. In fact, the infiltration by the militia is done legally. So -- but this is the disastrous result that everybody is facing (inaudible) in fact.

BLITZER: What was the biggest mistake that was made after the downfall of Saddam Hussein?

AL-HASHIMI: Dissolve of Iraqi army, first of all; and second, to allow militia to infiltrate into newborn army.

BLITZER: And who do you blame for those two mistakes?

AL-HASHIMI: American administration.

BLITZER: The Bush administration?

AL-HASHIMI: Not necessarily the Bush administration. In fact, it's being done according to the recommendation given from the spot, from Bremer.

BLITZER: So you blame Ambassador Paul Bremer?

AL-HASHIMI: Definitely.

BLITZER: And the Pentagon -- he was working together with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

AL-HASHIMI: Yes, sure, definitely.

BLITZER: So those were huge mistakes.

Here's what the Iraq Study Group said about Sunni Arabs in Iraq -- the Iraq Study Group of James Baker and Lee Hamilton: "Sunni Arabs have not made the strategic decision to abandon violent insurgency in favor of political process. Sunni politicians within the government have a limited level of support and influence among their own population, and questionable influence over the insurgency."

Do you agree with that assessment?

AL-HASHIMI: To some extent, in fact. But we haven't got enough opportunity; we haven't got enough support from whoever might be concerned, in fact, to give us -- to enhance the dialogue that I have started myself, in fact, with the insurgency, what we call the national resistance. And eventually, in fact, I got stuck with problems that I can't myself, in fact, overcome, so I just left alone.

BLITZER: Because you yourself are a target for these insurgents because you work with the Iraqi government. You've lost several members of your own family.

AL-HASHIMI: No. We have to differentiate between two groups, in fact. The first is Al Qaida and the terrorism. They are different. They are still against any sort of political process.

BLITZER: But that's a relatively small part of the war right now. Most is sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia.

AL-HASHIMI: Let me explain my views, first of all.

There are two groups, in fact, that have to be differentiated, precisely. The terrorism -- they don't like the political process. They are against whoever might be in the political process.

The other group is the insurgents, the national resistance, that we call them. They are open-minded. They could be partner in the political process had they been given opportunities to be a partner in that, which is not, at the time being, in fact.

And I try my best to get them in the political process, but I haven't got the instrument. I haven't got the tools to get them into political process. And the terrorists continue.

The other problem, the other face of the violence is the militia and the sectarian tension and killing between the Shia and the Sunni. But primarily, we are talking about the militia. They are most active at the time being in Baghdad. And they are killing the innocent people, burning the Sunni mosques. And you know the story.

BLITZER: Do you have confidence in the prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki?

AL-HASHIMI: Well, definitely. He's my colleague in the government, in fact. I gave him -- I was one of the leaders who gave him my endorsement and blessing and wish him all the success. But it's quite unfortunate, in fact, that we have just reached this kind of situation that prevails at the time being.

BLITZER: Will his government, do you believe, survive?

AL-HASHIMI: Well, I hope so, in fact, but on the assumption that he will accommodate and honor whatever commitment has been done before the establishment of the current government.

It was a straightforward and clear-cut violation to all the commitment that we struggled, in fact, over the past four months, keeping discussing this face to face. And at the end of the day, this government has made straightforward violation to all these agreements.

BLITZER: Here's the fear, that so many Sunnis in Iraq are simply leaving right now. The United Nations recently estimated that 1.8 million Iraqis, and presumably most of them Sunnis have fled the country, have left.

AL-HASHIMI: Yes.

BLITZER: Nearly 2 million Iraqi refugees and another 1.6 million, internally, have been displaced from their own homes and are moving around inside Iraq.

It looks like the country is breaking up and maybe already has broken up into a Kurdish area in the North, a Shia area in the South, and, in the central parts where there were mixed neighborhoods, this, in effect, ethnic cleansing is going on.

Is that an accurate assessment of the picture in Iraq today?

AL-HASHIMI: In Baghdad, yes. In fact, there is continuous systematic cleansing in Baghdad. And the Sunni families are being kicked out and pushed toward Jordan, as well as Syria, at the time being.

There is a systematic cleansing in Baghdad that I might assign to the militia, unfortunately.

BLITZER: One thousand refugees a day going into Jordan; 2,000 a day going into Syria.

AL-HASHIMI: Two thousand, in fact, to 3,000 a day, moving to other neighboring countries.

The other issue, the violence in the middle and the South, is between the Shia themselves. Don't forget that. In fact, the militia, at the time being can become a real challenge to the government.

And the government -- as you know, al-Maliki is a Shiite. He is from the Dawa party.

BLITZER: Right.

AL-HASHIMI: So there is an internal fight, as well, between the Shia. The trouble maker, at the time being, is the militia. They are making difficulties to the Sunni...

BLITZER: Mostly Muqtada al-Sadr?

AL-HASHIMI: Well, not necessarily Muqtada al-Sadr. Because Muqtada al-Sadr keeps saying that those guns are not loyal to him. I don't know to whom they are loyal.

Anyway, at the end of the day, they are breaking the law. They are killing the government. And there must be a strong stand to overcome this threat.

BLITZER: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Iraq? AL-HASHIMI: I am optimistic.

BLITZER: Why?

AL-HASHIMI: Well, I think there is a great chance, in fact, to revive, to salvage Iraq.

BLITZER: If what happens?

AL-HASHIMI: If we address the security as required; if we go back to the common interests of the country rather than to pursue the sectarian aspiration and targets, to go outside the sectarian agenda, the ethnic agenda.

BLITZER: But I think you'll agree it's now up to the Iraqi people themselves to make those tough decisions. There's limited capability from the United States to force you to do it. You have to do it yourselves.

AL-HASHIMI: Agreed. Agreed. But the problem is, in fact, other countries now interfere in the decision-making in my country and are making things very difficult between...

BLITZER: Which countries?

AL-HASHIMI: Many countries.

BLITZER: Name names.

AL-HASHIMI: Iran, one of countries I mean, and other countries whom they are very active...

BLITZER: Syria?

AL-HASHIMI: Well, Syria, in fact, they play a role, but we came to an agreement with them just recently. And hopefully, they will commit with what they had agreed upon.

BLITZER: You've got a tough job ahead of you, Mr. Vice President. Thank you very much for spending some moments with us. And good luck to you and good luck to all the people of Iraq.

AL-HASHIMI: I thank you very much for this opportunity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just ahead, President Bush is examining his policy choices on Iraq. But how will any of them play politically? We'll ask the former White House chief of staff John Podesta and former policy analyst Danielle Pletka.

And later: Iraqis met in a reconciliation summit this weekend in Baghdad. Will it do anything, though, to stop the violence? We'll get the inside story from three top experts.

And coming up later today for our North American viewers, an hour of excellent analysis of all aspects of the conflict in Iraq. "This Week at War" with John Roberts, coming up at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, right after "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... delivering my plans, after a long deliberation, after steady deliberation. I'm not going to be rushed into making a difficult decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush, speaking out Wednesday. It's already clear he's not going to be rushed into a decision, as he just said. A policy speech rumored to be coming this coming week has been pushed back until early into the new year.

But how will any plans survive in post-election Washington? Can they survive? Joining us now to discuss this and more, two guests. Former White House chief of staff in the Bill Clinton administration, John Podesta. He's currently the president of the Center for American Progress here in Washington. And Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank here in Washington as well.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Is Iraq falling apart, Danielle?

DANIELLE PLETKA, FOREIGN AFFAIRS ANALYST: I don't think Iraq is falling apart, but there's clearly an enormous amount of chaos that needs to be brought under control. And we need to show some leadership in doing it.

BLITZER: You think it still can be -- the victory that the president talks about it be achieved, a democratic, stable Iraq at peace amongst itself with its neighbors?

PLETKA: That sounds lovely. I think it is achievable. I don't think it's achievable quickly. I don't think it's as achievable as we thought it was as fast as we thought it would be. But, yes, I believe Iraq can be stabilized. I believe Iraq is already democratic, and I believe that we can do a great deal more if we show the right kind of leadership and initiative. That's what's been missing.

BLITZER: How much longer do you -- it's been three and a half -- it's in its fourth year now. How much longer is it going to take?

PLETKA: I don't hold with these ideas that this is our last chance. Do you know how many last chances we've had already? There's no such thing as a last chance.

What there is is changing the strategy and adapting to ensure that we are on top of the situation. That's what we've failed to do over the last couple of years. That's what the president needs to do now. If he needs an extra month, that's right. But let's get it right this time.

BLITZER: So what do you think, another five months, six months, seven months to turn things around, or five, ten years?

PLETKA: I think about the right ideas and leadership, the president can turn things around in Iraq within a year. Whether Iraq will be a Jeffersonian democracy in a year, no. I doubt that. I think we're going to look at five to ten years of serious effort on our part.

BLITZER: What do you think, John?

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I think that the Iraqi study group put it right. It's grave and deteriorating. And I think we're on a downhill slide in Iraq, and I think that until the president changes his strategy and changes his course, we're going to continue on that downhill slide, and the chaos will continue.

BLITZER: Here's what retired U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey wrote in The Washington Post this week. He said, "We could immediately and totally withdraw. The resulting civil warfare would probably turn Iraq into a humanitarian disaster and might well draw in the Iranians and he Syrians. It would also deeply threaten the safety and stability of our allies in neighboring countries."

You agree with his assessment?

PODESTA: Well, I think no one's calling for an immediate withdrawal. The question is, what is the overall strategy? Are we going to begin to reduce the U.S. footprint there?

You know, we're there with 150,000 troops. Last summer, we were told that we needed to just surge in Baghdad and it will reduce the level of violence. We added 7,000 more troops. The violence went up. I think that the alternative to immediate withdrawal is not adding troops in Iraq. That's not a viable solution.

BLITZER: We heard from several Democrats, including Carl Levin, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to start a withdrawal, a significant withdrawal within four to six months.

PODESTA: You know, I think the question there, I think everyone's focused on the training mission, trying to get Iraqi forces to take over the security circumstances in Iraq. But the real question isn't so much training. There are now 300,000 Iraqi troops trained.

It's really a question of motivation. That's going to take a political process, and the pressure needs to put on the Iraqis to get to a circumstance where they have to, you know, take up and settle their differences. And the only way that's going to happen, I think, is if the U.S. doesn't continue to kind of hold their coat and do the fighting.

BLITZER: That was the assessment in the Iraq study group as well. Among other things, it said this, Danielle. It said, "Seventy- nine percent of Iraqis have a mostly negative view of the influence that the United States has in their country. Sixty-one percent of Iraqis approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces. If Iraqis continue to perceive Americans as representing an occupying force, the United States could become its own worst enemy in a land it lip liberated from tyranny."

Do you agree with that assessment of the Iraq study group?

PLETKA: I don't. I agree with very little that the Iraq study group came out with. I think the reason Iraqis are frustrated with the United States are because we are not winning. And not only are we not winning, but they are hearing from more and more people in the United States that we don't really care about winning.

That in fact what we want to do is find either a quick way or a short way or a cheating way to get out, whether it's by increasing our emphasis on training or it's by abusing the daylights out of the Iraqi politicians, suggesting that somehow they haven't done enough, they're not deserving of our good will. America doesn't really have interests here. Let's just get out.

That for me is what is really demoralizing the Iraqi people. What they want to see is that we have control of the situation, that we are getting a handle on delivering security. And that's what we must do sooner rather than later.

BLITZER: Because the American people have voted in November, and Iraq was a dominant issue. Clearly, the American public is frustrated, in the low 20s, the they think the president is doing a good job handling the situation in Iraq. The American people clearly, at least based on the polls, based on the elections, would like to see that U.S. military presence in Iraq begin to go down rapidly.

PLETKA: I don't think the American people have been given a very good choice. What they've been told over the last couple of years is, no, no, we're really trying to win. Let's stay the course. Let's do the same thing.

I don't think that they believe the president has a handle on the situation. They don't believe that the president knows what it takes to win. And it is his job, if he really wants to win in Iraq -- hang on a second, John -- it is his job to show that leadership and to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to, in fact, show the American people that we do need to win and what's at stake. You can't disagree that there's a lot at stake here.

PODESTA: The one thing I think that we can agree on is that the president doesn't know how to win or how to achieve stability in Iraq.

PLETKA: No, no, I didn't say that.

PODESTA: That's a place that maybe we can find agreement. I think the American public gets that, two-thirds of them have a sense that this is clearly not working. They want a different course, and they need to press ahead with a different course. I think we have strong disagreement about which direction that ought to go in. And you know, I would remind Danielle and others who are arguing for a bump-up in the number of troops there to go back and look at what they predicted in the past when those kind of things were happening.

It's just a year ago in December that the elections took place, that the president put out with great fanfare his new plan for quote, unquote, "winning the war in Iraq." Now what we need to get to is a stabilized Iraq, a stabilized region, and adding more troops isn't going to do that.

BLITZER: We heard from Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, retired chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the United States. He said earlier today he's not convinced, based on what he knows, and clearly he knows a lot about this situation, that another 20,000, 30,000 more U.S. troops right now would make much of a difference.

PLETKA: Well, AEI put out a plan this week along with General Jack Keane, the former three-star vice chairman chief of staff of the Army, to suggest exactly what it is we would need to do. A bump-up in troops isn't enough. This has not worked.

You can't put an extra 10,000 guys inside Baghdad and say, here, now we're going to win, and not do what it takes. You've got to take the neighborhoods, you've got to clear them. But you've also got to keep them. We've been doing is we've been taking neighborhoods, clearing out the bad guys and then checking out. The bad guys surge in from right behind us, and nothing has changed. That is meaningless sacrifice.

BLITZER: So who do you blame for that failure, for that strategic blunder? The president of the United States?

PLETKA: Well, I think, ultimately, of course, you have to blame the president of the United States. But frankly, the commanders on the ground take a lot of responsibility.

BLITZER: Should he fire them?

PLETKA: I think General Casey needs to be switched out. I think that they need to make some serious changes because that is going to be a signal that they get, that they haven't been doing what they need do. And not only that, they haven't even been doing what John suggests the president's been saying. They haven't been following a strategy. They've got to do that.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break, but we have a lot more to talk about. So stay with us. John Podesta, Danielle Pletka, they're not going anywhere. When we come back, their analysis on the political fallout from Iraq. Also bringing in Iran and Syria, is that a good idea? The partitioning of Iraq, the key to stopping the violence. That's what a former U.S. ambassador, Peter Galbraith, thinks is already a done deal. We're going to talk with him. And also coming up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on some very fierce gun battles between Palestinians themselves in Gaza. You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Once again, we're joined by the former Clinton chief of staff, John Podesta. He's president of the Center for American Progress here in Washington. And Danielle Pletka, vice president for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at AEI, the American Enterprise Institute.

John, is it a good idea for the United States to engage directly with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, try to appeal to them, to get their help in easing the crisis in Iraq?

PODESTA: Well, I think that they have interests in making sure that Iraq doesn't implode. And so I think we should engage with them and engage with those governments directly.

It's not because they're going to do us any favors or, really, probably even because they're going to do the Iraqi people, or certainly the Iraqi government any favors.

But they have interests in stability there. And I think, until we find some regional players to try to put pressure on the government to get a political reconciliation there and they're important in that, we're not going to make progress.

BLITZER: That was the conclusion of the Iraq Study Group as well, to get a dialogue going with both of these neighbors of Iraq, Syria and Iran.

PLETKA: Well, it's not entirely clear to me what makes people believe that Bashar al-Assad or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are seeking stability inside Iraq.

The Iraq Study Group didn't present any evidence. I've been studying those countries a long time. I've never seen evidence. The Iranians' intelligence show us they're playing both sides in the Iraq crisis to foment chaos inside Iraq. They're paying the Sunnis and the Shia.

So it seems to me that the idea that they're seeking stability and that they want to, quote, "help out the United States," end quote, is a little bit ridiculous.

But even if they were, I guess I would ask those who advocate this: What do you suggest we give up?

This is a negotiation. What do you think we ought to give to the Iranians and to the Syrians in order to buy stability from them? BLITZER: That's the point, John, that the secretary of state Condoleezza Rice made in an interview in The Washington Post this week, that the compensation, in her word, to both Iran and Syria would be too high from the U.S. perspective -- on the Iranian part, maybe going along and letting them enrich uranium and potentially develop a nuclear bomb; on the Syrian front, letting them have their way in Lebanon, for example.

Those were her concerns.

PODESTA: Right. Well, that, I think, suggests that we're there, kind of, bargaining for the security in Iraq. And I think that's the wrong paradigm.

I think what the regional players and the regional security requires is that the parties who have a lot at stake, including the Iranians and the Syrians, get together with the United States so that we're not trying to bribe them into the deal.

I agree that there's no way they're going to want to try to help us out of the mess that we've created there. But I think, as I said, they do have their own security issues that should put pressure on the Iraqi government to try to create -- and go back and do what the government said they were going to do a year ago.

BLITZER: James Baker and Lee Hamilton -- basically, they concluded, you know what? Challenge them; test them; see if they're ready to cooperate. And if they're not, then the whole world will see that. Go ahead and start this dialogue with Syria and Iran.

You're smiling.

PLETKA: What I love about James Baker is he's the man of a thousand chances. I mean, how many times has he himself been to Syria to beg cooperation from Assad's father when he was secretary of state?

And now believing that they are going to somehow play the game with us in Iraq -- you know, this is eternal optimism on their part, based on absolutely no factual information.

This was their predisposition going into the Iraq Study Group. It was no surprise that that was what came out.

And don't get me wrong. I have no objection to telling these guys how it is. We've done that before. Former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage went and talked to Bashar al-Assad. The bottom line is, they're not going to do it because their interest is in destabilizing Iraq and hurting the United States and stopping democracy.

PODESTA: You know, as long as we keep them out of the limits, never talk to them, stick our head in the sand on that regard, I think they're going to continue to do that.

PLETKA: We did talk to them. We did talk to them. PODESTA: And, you know, they'll continue to do exactly what I think that, you know, we're predicting the worst outcome, but I think we're actually creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

BLITZER: Here what's the president said this week at the Pentagon. Listen to this, John.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: If we lose our nerve, if we're not steadfast in our determination to help the Iraqi government succeed, we will be handing Iraq over to an enemy that would do us harm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PODESTA: You know, I think that he puts it in those terms -- I think he just -- but that is not a strategy. That's, you know -- I think that George Ball I think in 1964 said, the party, the political party that seems to be losing is going to be the party that tries to keep adding more fuel and escalating. And I think that until the president comes to grip with the fact that his strategy is not working and gets the country on a different path, all the macho rhetoric in the world isn't going to produce anything.

BLITZER: Do you think he's going to reject, when all is said and done and he delivers his big speech, the Iraq study group's recommendations?

PLETKA: I think he will at the end of the day reject those recommendations because they are, in short, a recommendation to exit Iraq, slowly, not as quickly as Senator Reid and Mrs. Pelosi have suggested, but nonetheless, they are a recommendation to get out by the end of next year without seeking victory. The word "victory" doesn't even appear with relation to American forces in Iraq. That means something.

BLITZER: They talk about -- all right.

PODESTA: Even Henry Kissinger's given up on it. So, you know, I think that when the public has gotten to the point where they actually are trying to cope with reality, it's time the president get there, too.

BLITZER: Listen to this. Hold on a second. Listen to this. The president and the vice president effusive in their praise of Donald Rumsfeld on Friday at a farewell ceremony in his honor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: On his watch of the United States military, helped the Iraqi people establish a constitutional democracy.

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don Rumsfeld is the finest secretary of defense this nation has ever had.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: What do you think?

PODESTA: I think finest secretary of defense this nation has had is right up there with mission accomplished. I think it will, you know, I think history will judge that for what that is.

PLETKA: I hate that sort of jingoistic response. You know, Don Rumsfeld is a man with a really important vision about the transformation of the American military. It doesn't happen to be the vision that was right for these times. In my view, I don't think that we did a good job in Iraq under his watch. But that being said, to dismiss him out of hand rudely is completely unnecessary. He served his country well.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton going to run for president?

PODESTA: I think so. I would say probably 90 percent chance.

BLITZER: Are you ready to support her?

PODESTA: Personally?

BLITZER: Yeah.

PODESTA: Yeah, personally, I'm, you know, I'm a big admirer of Senator Clinton's. There's a big field, a strong field. And I think she'll be challenged for the nomination, but she's got the strength, I think, and ideas to move the country forward.

BLITZER: Do you have a Republican favorite, Danielle?

PLETKA: I certainly don't. I think the Republican Party is lacking in ideas. They got their butts kicked in the elections. And it's a lesson to everybody to go back and look at what helped us win in the '90s and do that again.

BLITZER: Danielle Pletka, Tom Podesta, thanks very much for coming in.

PODESTA: Thanks.

BLITZER: And coming up next, is the government of the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, really in control of the country? We'll get an assessment from a former U.S. ambassador, Peter Galbraith. And later, could the violence in Iraq trigger a wider war across the Middle East? We'll get insight from a panel of experts on the region. Stay with "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Former U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith, now with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, has just published an important book entitled, "The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War without End." Earlier I spoke with him about Iraq and what he sees as its very dubious future. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.

PETER GALBRAITH, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: Very good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You basically have concluded that it's over in Iraq for all practical purposes, but the Bush administration hasn't come to that reality. Is that correct?

GALBRAITH: That's basically correct. And to be technically correct, I'm not in favor of dividing Iraq. That's something the Iraqis have already done. It's in the Iraqi constitution. The central government, under that constitution, doesn't even have the power to impose taxes.

Kurdistan, in the north, is basically totally independent -- its own flag, its own army. The Iraqi Army and the Iraqi flag are banned there. The south is governed as theocracies, and the rest of the country is basically a war zone.

So if we wanted to -- if we were serious about a unified Iraq, we would have to put that country back together again. That would require hundreds of thousands of troops. It would take years. And we probably wouldn't succeed.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about these three areas that -- you've been to Kurdistan. You've been going back and forth for, what, 20 years, to the northern part of Iraq.

When you land there and you go into the area, you have an American passport, what happens?

GALBRAITH: Well, I have an American passport, and in theory, you're supposed to have a visa to go to Iraq. But when I land in Kurdistan, my passport is processed by the Kurdistan authorities. It gets a stamp saying it's the Kurdistan region of Iraq. No visa. The flag that flies at the airport is the Kurdistan flag. The Iraqi flag is banned there. The airport is protected and the whole region by the Kurdistan Army. The Iraqi Army doesn't go there. The central government ministries aren't present.

BLITZER: And if you want to go from Kurdistan in the northern part of Iraq into central Iraq, you need to get another visa.

GALBRAITH: Well, you don't need a visa, but you certainly cross through a border. And, in fact, it's a hard border. And if Arab Iraqis want to come to Kurdistan, they are questioned for security reasons. And if they don't have a contact in Kurdistan, if they don't have somebody who will sponsor them, they aren't allowed in. The Kurds want to insulate themselves from the violence that's overtaking the rest of Iraq.

BLITZER: And what you're saying is the Shia in the south, where they are predominantly the population, in effect, they've created already a similar situation?

GALBRAITH: Well, it's certainly not governed from Baghdad. It basically is a theocracy. The human rights provisions of the Iraqi constitution don't apply. Islamic law, modeled on Iran, but generally harsher, is enforced by militias. And the Shiites are now talking about creating their own region. They've passed a law in the parliament to allow them to do it. And they're talking about having a hard border with the Sunni parts of Iraq.

BLITZER: Well, what about the mixed neighborhoods, especially in the Baghdad area, seven million people live there, the central part of the country, where you have Sunni living with Shia?

GALBRAITH: Well, this breakup of Iraq is accompanied by enormous violence. It is a tragedy what is happening in Iraq, and Sunni -- mixed couples are under pressure. People who lived in mixed neighborhoods are being cleansed if they're from the minority.

But that's already happening. And the advantage of acknowledging what is happening, facing up to reality, is that you could have -- the Sunnis could form their own region and provide their own security.

The current strategy, which is basically using a Shiite government, a Shiite army to fight the Sunnis, isn't working.

BLITZER: Here's what the Iraq Study Group concluded on this sensitive issue: "The costs associated with devolving Iraq into three semiautonomous regions with loose central control would be too high... A rapid devolution could result in mass population movements, collapse of the Iraqi security forces, strengthening of militias, ethnic cleansing, destabilization of neighboring states, or attempts by neighboring states to dominate Iraqi regions."

What's your response to that?

GALBRAITH: Almost all those things have already happened. The Iranians do dominate the southern half of Iraq. We aren't doing anything to counter that.

There is terrible ethnic killing and ethnic cleansing. We aren't doing anything to stop that.

If we were -- we aren't serious about a unified Iraq. We proclaim a goal, but we are not prepared to commit the resources to accomplish it. And I also -- I don't think we should.

After all, why should we force the Kurds, for example, to live in a country that they don't want to be part of and which has been a failure for them?

BLITZER: Here's -- I want you to listen to what General Chiarelli, the second ranking U.S. general on the scene in the battlefield in Iraq said earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHIARELLI: Normally, in these sectarian type of events, where it's Sunni against Shia, or one group against another group, the mere presence of American forces or coalition forces has an impact. And normally it stops immediately.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, do you think that's accurate?

GALBRAITH: It's probably true, where the U.S. troops are. But the footprint of the U.S. troops is very small. The rate of killing in Iraq is between 100 and 200 each and every day. We don't stop the car bombers. We don't stop the Shiite militias who are carrying out the -- who are the death squads.

BLITZER: You're an authority on this subject. You've written this important book, "The End of Iraq," op-ed pieces. You used to work on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Were you asked by the Iraq Study Group to appear, to testify, to offer your 20-year experience in this country?

GALBRAITH: The principals of the Iraq Study Group did not ask to meet me. I met very briefly with the experts at a meeting that was really quite insignificant. There was no serious consideration given to the reality -- this reality of Iraq.

And if you read that 98-page report, amazingly, the words "civil war" do not appear. This is what everybody is talking about and yet they don't -- they don't even use those words.

BLITZER: Ambassador Peter Galbraith, thanks very much for coming in.

GALBRAITH: Wolf, very good to be with you.

BLITZER: And coming up in just a few minutes, President Bush has been getting a lot of suggestions on Iraq policy. Some would require sending more U.S. troops into the war zone. Will that play in Congress? We'll ask two key U.S. senators.

And for our North American viewers, coming up at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, right after "Late Edition," "This Week at War" with John Roberts. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We're not going to give up. The stakes are too high and the consequences too grave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush crisscrossed Washington this week, looking for new answers to the Iraq problem.

But is he really looking for different ideas, or just political cover?

We'll discuss all this with two U.S. senators, Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona and Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

And in Iraq, the sectarian violence continues. Is it civil war or a bloody negotiation over political power?

We'll get the inside story from a panel of experts: retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Dan Christman; Vali Nasr, author of "The Shia Revival," and Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institution.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll get to my interview with Senator Jon Kyl and Jack Reed shortly. First though, let's go to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield for a quick check of what's in the news right now. Fred?

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Fred, thanks very much.

And as we just heard, there have been dramatic developments in Baghdad. Let's get some more detail from our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson. Nic, what's the latest?

ROBERTSON: Wolf, the very latest we've had from police here, they've discovered 32 bullet-riddled bodies across the city of Baghdad today, 30 of them, notably, in the West of the city, two in the East, an indication of the sort of sectarian divisions that the police now view.

In the city, we've seen as well the kidnapping of some 25 to 30 people who were inside the Iraqi Red Crescent offices in Baghdad. They were there, some of them were visitors, some of them were workers there.

Gunmen wearing Iraqi commando police uniforms burst into the building, separated the men from the women, took, left the women, didn't fire a shot but took all the men with them, drove off.

The Iraqi ministry of interior says that there were police patrols and were police checkpoints in the area but they weren't able to stop this kidnapping.

Of course, those uniforms worn by the kidnappers, uniforms that have been issued to the Iraqi ministry of interior for their commando police force, all of that happening as British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in the city.

He met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They discussed the ongoing efforts of this government here to build unity, a reconciliation conference that's ongoing. Prime Minister Blair pledged his support for that process.

They discussed security as well, the Iraqi prime minister talking about implementing Iraq's security plan in a turnover of power to the Iraqis; the British prime minister perhaps taking a slightly different position than that of the Iraqi prime minister, saying that the U.S. and Britain would turn over security to Iraqis only when they were ready. Wolf?

BLITZER: Nic, this reconciliation conference that occurred yesterday, trying to bring the Kurds, the Shia, the Sunni together, Nouri al-Maliki, reaching out, now suggesting, you know what? Maybe not all of those Baathists were bad, and maybe the disbandment of the Saddam Hussein military, not necessarily the best idea.

Does it seem to have had any impact, what occurred in Baghdad yesterday?

ROBERTSON: At this conference, Wolf, the prime minister wasn't even able to bring in a lot of the Sunnis that he wanted to reach out. Some of them just didn't feel that it was safe enough. Some of them didn't feel that the topics under discussion made it worth their while.

A lot of people here, particularly among the population, thought that this would just be another talking shop. And in many ways, that's what appeared to happen, Wolf.

There was no concrete progress, as far as was visible to the public here, that the politicians had made compromises; in fact, far from it. The prime minister talked about offering Baathists who weren't former Saddam Hussein regime government employees, who don't have Iraqis' blood on their hands, who are not killing people now with the insurgents -- he offered them a position back in the political fold.

And he told former Iraqi army officers they could join up for the army, too, but for some -- even Shias -- in the community here, they felt that the prime minister hadn't gone far enough, that he hadn't extended a big enough olive branch, far enough, to bring in enough Sunnis to make his offer credible and have any meaning.

Yet other Shias -- and the prime minister is a Shia -- yet, other Shias, more hard-lined, said that the prime minister had gone way too far. They asked how could he offer this kind of amnesty to people who may have killed relatives of people in the country?

So, really, rather than building bridges, it really just highlighted the divisions that exist right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Baghdad for us. Nic, thank you very much.

As the Iraq war clearly worsens, some U.S. senators who voted for the war have now come out against it; one of them now deeply, deeply frustrated about the current course, and blasting the Bush administration's strategy. I spoke with the Republican senator, Gordon Smith, earlier this week. He now says he is at the end of his rope, and that the administration's Iraq policy could even be criminal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon. Senator, a powerful, emotional statement, I know, coming from your gut, coming from your heart.

Why the about-face?

U.S. SENATOR GORDON SMITH (R), OREGON: Well, Wolf, if you have the privilege of representing one of the United States, and you have a voice and a vote, now is the time to speak up.

And I felt duty-bound to say what was on my heart, and to describe how this war had mutated from one thing to another, from taking out a tyrant and a terrorist and ridding him of weapons of mass destruction and establishing democracy, to now being street cops and a sectarian civil war.

That's not what I voted for. That is not what the American people are for.

BLITZER: So you've concluded this is now a civil war in Iraq?

SMITH: I have concluded that. You know, this is a fight, when you get right down to the root of it, between Sunnis and Shias -- it goes back a millennia of time -- over who is the rightful successor to the Prophet Mohammed.

That is not our fault. That is not our fight. And that's not something we can fix.

BLITZER: Was there one issue, one thing that happened that pushed you over to deliver this remarkable address on the Senate floor?

SMITH: Well, I've read a number of books recently that got me thinking and stirred up. And then I woke up Wednesday, I believe it was, to the news that 10 more of our fighting men, and maybe a woman -- I don't know -- but they were killed again, in another roadside bomb. And I just simply hit the end of the rope, if you will. And I felt I had to speak up.

Because if these sacrifices are being made in pursuit of a policy that cannot succeed, then we need to admit it and readjust in a way that the American people and our soldiers find worth the sacrifice. And this is not.

BLITZER: You used the word "criminal" in that statement, a very sharp, pointed word. If, in fact, some of the actions committed by the U.S. were criminal, who should be held accountable?

SMITH: Well, if you'll read my remarks in context, I was clearly speaking rhetorically, not in a legal sense, but I find examples like, when the British generals, day after day, in the First World War, would send thousands of their men running into machine guns, and not make adjustments? I find that criminal.

And when we send our young folks out in vehicles that cannot take out these, or rather accept these kinds of blasts to them without taking their lives, I don't find that smart. And I find that very derelict in duty.

Moreover, if you think we should be going out and fighting them, you have to answer the question whether the insurgency that this has become is worth doing.

If you say yes, it is, then you have to adapt your tactics. What we are doing -- and I have seen this with my own eyes in Iraq -- what we are doing is sending them out from the green zone, clearing, and then retreating back to the green zone.

Now, I've got to tell you, that doesn't make any sense, if you're fighting an insurgency. History will tell you, to fight and win insurgencies, you have to clear, hold, and then build.

So you build confidence in the people there, so that they become the foot soldiers.

They root out the terrorists, and they ultimately fight for their freedom. It's not our country, it's theirs.

BLITZER: So, let me repeat the question: Who should be held accountable for what you believe has now become, and I'll just use a word, fiasco. Or disaster, or some word along those lines.

SMITH: Well, I think all of us with positions of responsibility are accountable. But clearly, I can't be quiet anymore. I'm leveling this charge at no one man or woman, but I am clearly saying that the American people will and should hold us accountable.

So if you got something to say, now's the time to say it. Either let's fight the war intelligently for an objective that is obtainable, or let's admit it and figure out how to preserve the lives of our soldiers.

BLITZER: Because, morally speaking, if you do conclude it's futile right now, and that a year from now it's not going to make any difference what the U.S. does, that the situation's still going to be a sectarian civil war, your words, is it moral to keep U.S. men and women in harm's way and let another thousand or so Americans die over the next year if it's going to simply wind up exactly, if not worse than it is right now?

SMITH: It is not right to do that. Let me also add, though, that we have an ongoing interest in prosecuting the war on terror, a fight from which we can retreat only at the peril of our own nation. There are ways to reposition on the borders of Iraq, to take on terrorists, jihadists from Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and these are the people that we want to fight. That is our fight, and ultimately, that is a very important fight for our country, or for our sake, not just for Iraq's.

BLITZER: Knowing what you know now -- and obviously with hindsight we're all a lot smarter -- if you had to do it over again knowing that no WMD in Iraq, no al Qaida connection, knowing 3,000 Americans were going to be killed, $400 billion spent, $2 billion a week, would you have voted for that resolution to support this war?

SMITH: As I said on my, in my floor statement, had I known there were no WMD there, I would not have voted for it. But I do want to add that I believe it's a good thing that we removed Saddam Hussein. I think there would have been other ways to do that without the cost in life and treasure that our current approach has led us to.

BLITZER: One final question, Senator. Do you think President Bush is, as his critics charge, still in a state of denial?

SMITH: You know, what I say, I say in sorrow, not in anger. President Bush is my friend, and I know he agonizes day and night over this issue. But he has a very determined streak in him, and yet, I have to believe he knows, with the Iraq Study Group and what others are saying, that the time is now to rethink this and reposition the American war against terrorism.

BLITZER: Senator Gordon Smith, thanks very much for coming in.

SMITH: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just ahead, as the violence grows on the streets of Iraq, the question is this: Is there anything that American troops can do, or is it all up to the Iraqis right now? We'll get a reality check from a panel of Middle East experts.

And for our North American viewers, coming up at 1 p.m. Eastern right after "Late Edition," a comprehensive look at events in Iraq and analysis from experts and CNN correspondents, "This Week at War" with John Roberts, coming up after this program. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD: This is a time of great consequence. Our task is to make the right decisions today, so that future generations will not have to make much harder decisions tomorrow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speaking at his farewell ceremony on Friday. But what effect will any decisions by the United States really have on Iraq's future? Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

And joining us here in Washington, retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Dan Christman, he was head of the strategy, plans and policies department during the first Gulf War, and now senior vice president with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Shibley Telhami, he's the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and a fellow at the Brookings Institution here in Washington.

And joining us from San Diego, Vali Nasr of the Council on Foreign Relations. He's also the author of the book entitled, "The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future." Gentleman, thanks to all three of you for coming in.

And General Christman, I'll start with a statement that you made on November 27th, because it's provocative. I want you to explain to our viewers what you mean: "I think we're setting up an incredible clash between the senior uniformed military and our civilian community." Explain what you meant by that.

LT. GEN. DAN CHRISTMAN (RET), U.S. ARMY: I was looking at General Abizaid's testimony, and then subsequent to that action, the testimony from the army chief of staff, comments from General George Casey, about the situation in Iraq, in essence saying do not send more troops there. There's an issue there obviously about the patina of American occupation and really what could be done if troops were sent.

And the consequence of sending them has been often overlooked, and that is, what happens to the Army back in the states? An Army that in terms of the redeployment is really badly broken. And so, what you've got is a professional military that I think almost to a senior officer has said please don't do this. But a political inclination to do just the opposite. And I think that clash between military and civilian cultures is looming to be a very, very great divide.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, the president is reportedly leaning toward a surge in U.S. troops, Marines and soldiers going in, 20,000, 30,000. And what you're saying and what you're hearing from your former colleagues in the military is that that could break the U.S. Army.

CHRISTMAN: This has been repeated over and over again, Wolf. We have the best Army and Marine Corps in 50 years deployed in the field but the two-thirds that are not deployed are broken. They go into a death spiral as they redeploy and we're going to have to draw from that pool to accelerate deployments back to Iraq to increase the numbers. That is an enormous challenge for the Army and the Marine Corps. It's that that I was speaking to last month.

BLITZER: Here's what -- a comment you made, Shibley, on Tuesday. And I want to you explain to our viewers what you meant: "I think most neighbors of Iraq would cooperate because most neighbors are actually threatened by al Qaida, including the Syrian government, including arguably the Iranian government, not just the Saudi government. So in some ways, that actually is potentially a core issue for cooperation, not a core issue for conflict."

Those are controversial comments.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Well, first of all I think from the very beginning of this, I believe that most Iraq neighbors don't want Iraq to disintegrate, for their own interests.

It's got nothing to do with the U.S. On the other hand, most of them, many of them -- certainly Syria and Iran didn't want the U.S. to succeed. They were frightened by an American success, but they were also frightened by Iraq disintegrating.

The Syrians in particular have a high cost to pay for the disintegration of Iraq, if Al Qaida takes hold in Iraq as it has and then also takes hold in Syria, and you have the spillover into Syria.

This is a government that is dominated by a minority. You can have far more conflict in there, far more anarchy. It affects them. Al Qaida wants to see the regime in Syria down as much as it wanted to see the regime in Iraq down.

And so I think they don't want to see the disintegration. It doesn't mean they want to cooperate with America.

And so the real issue for the United States is to find a way where the two are together, where, in fact, their incentive to cooperate with America is high for other reasons, other than just Iraq.

BLITZER: So you think there can be an effort, as the Iraq Study Group recommended, for the U.S. to enter into a direct dialogue with Syria and Iran, and that could play a positive role on the situation in Iraq?

TELHAMI: I think that there is a caveat. And it's not a small one. Our ability to influence the outcome in Iraq is now small, in my judgment, no matter what we do, with or without anybody's help.

We can maximize the chance but we've lost control of the outcome. We still have a lot of instruments of influence, but we cannot control the outcome.

Any successful strategy means that you have to give in on other interests. And you have to ask the question, am I willing to pay the price -- for example, on Iran, is it a priority to confront Iran on the nuclear issue or is it not?

Is it a priority to confront Syria on Lebanon or is it not?

Do we want to revive the Arab-Israeli peace, Syrian-Israeli or not?

Because those are tied together. Syria isn't going to talk to the U.S. unless the Syrians say, well, you're going to bring me the Israelis to the table to talk about the Golan.

BLITZER: All right. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, telling The Washington Post this week, that would be compensation; it's too high a price to pay to Syria and Iran.

TELHAMI: Even though some Israelis want it.

BLITZER: Right. I think you're right on that point.

Vali Nasr, you wrote this in the New Republic, in the December 18 issue: "America's Iraq policy is becoming more and more overshadowed by America's Iran policy, whatever that is. The Bush administration has staked a very great deal on Iraq, but in the end, it may be administration's handling of Iran, more than of North Korea or even of Al Qaida, that defines the Bush era in foreign policy.

Vali, explain what you meant by that.

VALI NASR, MIDDLE EAST EXPERT: Well, in many ways, what we're seeing after the war in Iraq is that Iran is emerging as a regional power. It is not only a player in Iraq; it's also a player in Lebanon.

It is influencing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the peace process. And it also is saber-rattling in the Persian Gulf. It wants to be recognized as the dominant power in the Gulf.

And in many ways, the larger issue in the region is how to handle Iran. We've seen Saudi Arabia react adversely to the rising Iranian power.

We're seeing that the rest of the region is also very nervous about what the Iranians' ambitions are and what the U.S. commitment to controlling those ambitions are.

And as Shibley mentioned, even though, in Iraq, there might be room to negotiate with Iran around issues of common interest, it is the general tenor of Iran-U.S. relations that is even influencing whether or not we're willing to help our own situation in Iraq by engaging Iran.

BLITZER: Do you see any desire on the part of the government in Tehran, Vali, to cooperate with the United States as far as Iraq is concerned?

Because, as you know, the accusations are the Iranians are fomenting a lot of the violence and providing improvised explosive devices and other equipment that, in effect, wind up killing Americans.

NASR: I think the Iranians are following a policy of controlled chaos in Iraq. As Shibley mentioned, they don't want the United States to succeed in Iraq, but they also don't want Iraq to break up, not only because of Al Qaida; because they do not want the Kurdish territory in the North. They have a Kurdish minority as well.

Earlier, a few months back, Iran did make an offer to talk to the United States about Iraq. And the Iranian supreme leader also sanctioned that.

But those talks never happened. And since then, I think the Iranian leadership is divided as to whether this is the right time and at what price they should negotiate with the U.S. I think the Iranian president, in particular, does not want talks. But there might be other elements in Iran who might want talks with the United States.

And Iran has already stated that the condition for those talks are for the U.S. to assert a confirmed timetable for removing U.S. troops from Iraq.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. I want to continue this conversation. We have lots more to talk about, including the chaos. The chaos in Iraq is affecting other nations in the region, and there was a surprising scolding that the Saudis gave the vice president, Dick Cheney.

Is it possible the fighting in Iraq is going to escalate to the region?

But up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on the gun battles going on between Palestinians themselves in Gaza. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-SOUTH CAROLINA: Yesterday, we moved around in a tank. It's one of the most dangerous places on the planet. In a high-crime area, you don't send in less police, you send in more. I think it is imperative that we send in more troops quickly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina speaking to reporters in Baghdad earlier in the week, appealing for more U.S. troops to be deployed to Iraq. Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're discussing the situation in Iraq and its repercussions on the U.S. policy throughout the Middle East with former retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Dan Christman, Professor Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland and from San Diego, Professor Vali Nasr.

General Christman, Senator Graham, Senator McCain, they have been appealing for a long time, get the job done, send in more troops. You say that will break the U.S. Army, but at this point, does the president have another option, if he wants, quote, "victory"?

CHRISTMAN: He needs obviously to change strategy, in my judgment. I think he's on the path to doing that, as a result of the Iraq Study Group, a change in strategy, essentially moving from a direct ground combat role into a long-term training establishment for the Iraqi military. But I come back to the point, possible benefit in enhancing the troops there but the cost in terms of what you do to those families.

Keep in mind, Wolf, the vast majority of the folks that are stressed are your captains and your senior noncommissioned officers, the bulk of whom have had combat tours extended in Afghanistan and Iraq already, so they are not only stressed in terms of the op tempo, but their inability to train with the kind of new carbines, night- vision goggles, humvees to get them ready for the next deployment is already widely publicized. Huge problem.

BLITZER: Shibley, we're told when the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, went to Saudi Arabia, summoned, some say, by King Abdullah a couple of weeks ago, he was read the riot act about what's going on, because the Saudis supposedly very fearful of a Shia- dominated Iraq, representing a threat to Saudi Arabia itself, and then suddenly the Saudi ambassador here in Washington, Prince Turki al- Faisal, goes back and gives up his job after 15 months in Washington. What is going on?

TELHAMI: Well, there are obviously divisions in Saudi Arabia over what to do on Iraq, no question. I don't think it's just a one view, there are divisions, and what to do about the American role. Nonetheless, I think that if you look at all these worries, there certainly are worries about the empowerment of Iran, what might happen if there is an Iraq that is friendly to Iran.

There is a Shia/Sunni sectarian issue. But Arab public opinion in general -- I have to tell you this -- Arab public opinion in general is not shaping its views based on the Shia/Sunni division. We find that, for example, when I did the poll in six Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, their views of what's happening in Lebanon are more favorable to Hezbollah than to the Sunnis.

That tells you there's something else going on. The governments are insecure, they're worried. The American presence for now, one thing it's doing, maybe it's not, you know, affecting the civil war, but what it is doing is giving a fig leaf to governments who are being pushed to send more help to the Sunnis or to other groups within Iraq, and they're saying the U.S. is there, we can't do it.

There is a real worry that, with the escalation in Iraq, you're going to have a spillover effect. It's not just Shia/Sunni. We think of it as Shia/Sunni, of course, and Saudi Arabia has to worry about that, Bahrain has to worry about that. It's important. But there is something else going on here, which is anarchy. It's separate from sectarianism, and in Lebanon, it didn't start with just Shia/Sunni.

We have to worry about that, and I think one of the attitudes we took is that we don't like a government, let's remove it. Well, anarchy is much harder to deter than bad governments. We've seen that with Iraq, we've seen that with the Syrians. We have to be very careful about the consequences over there. That's why we have to have a policy now. Since we cannot affect the outcome in Iraq substantially, we have to make sure that we don't have a spillover into the region in a way that undermines American interests.

BLITZER: And Vali, I want to you weigh in on this, because a lot of people are now saying, as bad as the situation in Iraq is, it could get, for the United States, a whole lot worse if the fighting in Iraq escalates and spreads throughout the region. How worried are you that that could happen?

NASR: I think there say great deal of worry to be had. First of all, I think the general is correct. If we follow a policy of surge in Iraq, we might have to engage the Shia militias in the south much more, and the United States can also confront a Shia insurgency in the south, which it has so far not done. We are already stretched just policing the sectarian conflict and fighting the insurgents. We really cannot afford to get embroiled also in fighting against the Shias in the urban areas of the south. And also, if as Saudi Arabia is threatening, for instance that it begins to support insurgents in Iraq, that's very worrisome. It was the same policy before 9/11 that led to the rise of the Taliban and al Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The idea of Arab governments going to the assistance of insurgents means a great deal of backsliding on the war on terror. And as Shibley mentions, we can have a much broader set of conflicts in regions between governments, as well as anarchy, which will threaten the entire political order in the region, so I think there's a lot at stake in the coming months.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there, Vali Nasr. Thanks very much, Shibley Telhami. Thanks to you, General Christman. Always a pleasure having all of you here on "Late Edition."

Coming up, we'll talk to two key U.S. senators about President Bush's search for a new strategy in Iraq and how any strategy will play in the new Congress. "Late Edition" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

President Bush reportedly leaning toward sending perhaps another 20 additional troops into Iraq. How will the new Congress react?

Joining us from Phoenix, Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, and here in Washington, Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee

How would you react, Senator Reed, if another 20,000, 30,000 troops were sent in by the president?

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, I'd be very skeptical. General Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, pointed out that surging troops without a purpose doesn't make any sense. So I think we'd all have to understand what the purpose of this increase would be.

BLITZER: The purpose, presumably, would be to try to stop the fighting in the Baghdad area.

REED: Well, that might be the purpose, but Baghdad is 6 million people. We've already sent in additional forces, a few months ago, to try to stop the fighting. If it's just a short-term increase in troops, won't our adversaries simply adjust their tactics, wait us out and wait until we reduce again?

So I think you'd have to ask very serious questions about the utility of this.

And as General Christman pointed out, the stress on the Army would be excruciating, in terms of finding these troops, sustaining them and, indeed, sustaining them for any length of time.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Kyl?

Where do you stand on this notion of deploying another 20,000, maybe 30,000 troops to Iraq?

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Well, there are pros and cons, as has been pointed out. And the president is getting a lot of advice by very smart people who have very different views on what we should do. I agree with Senator Reed that we should be very cautious about doing this, unless there is a clear objective in mind. But for a long time, I have agreed with Senator McCain that it seems we need to do something differently, and that perhaps increasing the number of troops to achieve specific objectives in particular places would be one way to change the dynamic in Iraq.

So I hope that we can develop a consensus around whatever the ultimate decisions of the president is, to try to give it a chance, to enable us to finally achieve some semblance of victory in Iraq.

BLITZER: Here's what Senator McCain said in Baghdad -- and I'll bring this back to Senator Reed -- earlier in the week. And Senator McCain has been very consistent from day one, going back 3 1/2 years. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): I'd like to say that I believe conditions have improved, certainly, in Baghdad. They have not. I believe that there's still a compelling reason to have an increase in troops here in Baghdad and in Anbar province, in order to bring the sectarian violence under control.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Earlier in the day, Colin Powell, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the former secretary of state, said he doesn't see, himself, any justification, right now, for an increase in troops. He doesn't know if that would help.

REED: Well, I think General Powell's instincts are accurate. Again, what is the mission of these new troops?

Are they going to go take on these sectarian militias?

Are they going to simply augment troops that are on the ground today?

This is a city of 6 million people. It will require a huge number of security forces, not just another 15,000. My sense is that this is more of a political gesture, if the president does it, to try to...

BLITZER: Politically, it would be unpopular, presumably.

REED: Well, I think, with the base of right-wing neoconservatives who have been arguing for years and years and years that we just have to send more troops in -- I think that's what the appeal would be.

I think that's not going to change the dynamic. And again, I think the key feature here, in terms of making a difference, is not so much adding additional American troops.

It's getting the Iraqi government to make tough decisions about taking on the militias, about purging their security forces of militia influences, of real reconciliation, which apparently didn't work this weekend; and providing services so that the 70 percent unemployment rate in some of these neighborhoods can go down.

BLITZER: Senator Kyl, there was alarm alarming testimony this week from General Peter Schoomaker, the U.S. Army chief of staff, who had a very, very disconcerted warning. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. PETER SCHOOMAKER, U.S. ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: Over the last five years, the sustained strategic demand for deployed combat brigades and other supporting units is placing a strain on the Army's all-volunteer force.

At this pace, without recurrent access to Reserve components through remobilization, we will break the active component.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: "We will break the active component." When you hear that, I'm sure, Senator Kyl, you were alarmed.

KYL: Yes, indeed. And that's why, for a long time, I've supported increasing the size of our military. If the greatest power in the world cannot sustain an operation in one place, like Iraq today, without breaking our military, something is wrong.

Clearly, we brought it down to unacceptably low levels after the Cold War. And now that we have the experience of fighting in some places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and we understand how we need to reconstitute our forces to meet this kind of new challenge, I think we have an opportunity to rebuild the military in that way.

And I believe it will require a greater active-duty strength, both in the U.S. Army and perhaps also in some of the other forces, such as the U.S. Marines. BLITZER: He says it would put an enormous strain on the Army's all-volunteer force.

Senator Kyl, you think Congressman Charlie Rangel's idea of reinstating the draft, the military draft, might be appropriate right now?

KYL: No, I don't. And I don't and I don't see it as appropriate in the foreseeable future, either.

We've done a tremendous job of providing new incentives. In fact, it's one of the reasons why it does cost a lot more. It's about $1.2 billion to stand up about a 10,000 increase in our military forces.

The reason for that cost, significantly, is the increased benefits and pay and health benefits, and so on, that we're providing as incentives for an all-volunteer force. So I think that, probably, we could field such a force if we really put our mind to it. And it's pretty clear we're going to have to do that.

BLITZER: What do you think, Senator Reed?

REED: Well, since 2003, I've argued for a larger Army and Marine Corps. Chuck Hagel and I sponsored a resolution that was tabled to that effect, in 2003.

The problem, now, is it's much more difficult to field that force. As Senator Kyl pointed out, it's more expensive. But also, recruitment is very difficult for the Army.

But I do think we have to expand the force. But I think it's not going to be easy. And in the meantime, we have a force that is on the verge of breaking, as General Schoomaker said.

And that is, I think, a stunning indictment of this administration's handling of the Department of the Defense and the Army.

BLITZER: Is Charlie Rangel right when he says the Pentagon spends about $4 billion a year in advertising on television, radio, newspapers, magazines, simply to try to recruit members for the U.S. military?

REED: He is accurate in the sense of the scale of that number. I don't know if it's exactly $4 billion, but it's a huge contract for advertisement agencies, for recruiters in the field.

This is a big operation. And it's part of having a volunteer army. I think the volunteer army has been a great success, but you have to shape your strategy based upon your resources.

And at this juncture, the resources of the Army and Marine Corps are stretched so thin that this notion of increasing, substantially, our forces in Iraq is, I think, a real problematic question.

And also, we can't forget Afghanistan. There the commanders are asking for additional forces, NATO forces, but additional forces.

BLITZER: Senator Kyl, do you agree with the Iraq Study Group of James Baker, Lee Hamilton, the incoming secretary of defense Robert Gates, that it's time for the United States to enter a direct dialogue with Syria and Iran, to try to ease the crisis this Iraq?

KYL: No, I do not. It seems to me one has to distinguish between conveying messages and entering into negotiations. We convey plenty of messages to them and we hear their messages back to us.

If you're going to engage in negotiations, the first thing you have to ask is, what are they going to ask for, and are you willing to give it up?

Clearly, what they want are things that we cannot provide to them. And so I would suggest to anybody who says that negotiations with Iran and Syria are the answer is, just what are you willing to give up? Are you willing to concede to an immediate timetable for withdrawal of our troops from Iraq?

Are you willing to concede to allow the nuclear program of Iran to continue unabated?

These are very difficult questions. And unless you're willing to answer those, it seems to me to be foolish, actually, to suggest that we could achieve anything by actually negotiating with the Iranians, who one couldn't trust in any event.

BLITZER: What do you think, Senator Reed?

Because Condoleezza Rice seems to have the same view as Senator Kyl. She also is worried about the Syrians having a dominant role, once again, in Lebanon, as "compensation," in her word, if the U.S. were to seek Syria's help in Iraq.

REED: Well, the consequences of the strategy pursued by President Bush and Secretary Rice has an enhanced Iran and indeed, in some respects, and enhanced Syria.

They are taking advantage of the situation in Iraq. But this is a regional issue which has tremendous regional consequences.

And as, I think, the preceding panel pointed out, not all of these consequences are in the best interests of Iran or Syria. A destabilized Iraq could also engender destabilization elsewhere.

So I think that we have to look for areas in which there might be a common ground, not based upon altruism but self-interest, and that we can get the cooperation, hopefully, or at least work to that, of these other regional powers.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, Senator Reed. But I know you've been in touch with the family of Senator Tim Johnson, the Democratic senator from South Dakota who had emergency brain surgery this week.

How is he doing?

REED: He's doing well. There's genuine optimism. I spoke with Barb, his wife, his son Brooks was an NCO in Iraq with the 101st -- a wonderful family, and he's a wonderful gentleman.

And there's a real genuine optimism that he's coming through a very difficult process, but coming through at this point with very, very good signs of progress.

BLITZER: I know you and Senator Kyl and everyone wishes him and the family obviously a very speedy recovery. We have to leave it there, senators. Thanks to both of you for coming in, John Kyl of Arizona, Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

Still ahead, Iraq was the main topic on all the Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. We're going to tell you what the former House speaker and potential 2008 Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich had to say about changing course. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from some of the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. On CBS, former Secretary of State Colin Powell explained why he thinks Iraq is already in the midst of a civil war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL: When I see a situation where the government is having difficulty extending control essentially in the Green Zone, where you have a situation like just in the last 24 hours, 51 dead people show up who have been murdered in assassinated and another two dozen have been kidnapped this morning, and three more American soldiers have been killed in the last 24 hours, and nothing seems to be improving, it would seem to me that this looks like a civil war, and we ought to call it that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On ABC and Fox, Democratic senators Harry Reid and Ted Kennedy reacted to reports that more U.S. troops may be sent to Iraq. Senator Reid said Democrats would OK a troop surge, but only for a very short time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR HARRY REID, D-NEVADA: The American people will not allow this war to go on as it has. It simply is a war that will not be won militarily. It can only be won politically. The Iraqi people must be the people that determine their fate. They've got to get the Sunnis and the Shias and the Kurds together and solve that problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) U.S. SENATOR TED KENNEDY, D-MASSACHUSETTS: If they are going to enhance the numbers of the troops, there's going to be opposition to that, not only just by the members of the Armed Services Committee, but within the Defense Department itself. I mean, we've heard what General Abizaid has said, General Casey has said. This isn't a question isn't about individual members of the Congress or Senate.

But we have to understand that there is absolute chaos that has taken place there. This country is falling apart. The bottom is falling out of this thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And on NBC, the former Republican speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, also criticized the administration's Iraq policy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: This president is a very proud, very stubborn man. Has to come to grips with the fact that the policy he has followed with all good intention is not succeeding. Now, if that's true, it should be possible to build a bipartisan commitment to rethink from the ground up what we're doing, how we do it and what it takes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk. Let's take a quick look at what's on the cover of this week's major newsmagazines in the United States. It's Time magazine's Person of the Year issue, and for 2006, the person is you. The cover of Newsweek is, "The Race is On," the 2008 U.S. presidential race. And U.S. News and World Report has 50 Ways to Improve Your Life in 2007.

That's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, December 17. Please be sure to join us next Sunday and every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. We're in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday, 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern, another hour at 7. Until then, thanks for watching.

For our North American viewers, "This Week at War" with John Roberts is next.

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